By TJ Hernandez, 4for4
Special to Yahoo Sports
For Wild-Card weekend, Yahoo has made the Saturday three-game slate the main slate with the $100K Baller as the main event, awarding $20,000 to first place. There is also a $50K Baller for the Sunday slate. The following will offer a game-by-game analysis for both slates but before that, DFS players that are used to playing full slates should consider some of these short-slate lineup-building techniques:
Short slates aren’t always about value - With so few games, there will be a ton of overlap in lineups which naturally leads to a high variance slate. Rosters should center around game flow scenarios and build lineups that follow a logical narrative relative to those scripts.
Consider non-traditional lineup builds - Some examples are playing more than one running back from the same team in a lineup, rostering one or two players against your defense, and leaving (lots of) salary on the table.
There is leverage to be had at the “onesies” - Full slates will rarely have any quarterback, tight end, or defense in more than 15%–20% of lineups in large-field GPPs. On small slates, players at those positions could approach a 50% rostered rate in even the largest fields. This presents a rare opportunity to be contrarian at positions where rostered percentages are usually quite flat.
Stick to a (relatively) small player pool - Narrow in on a small core and your favorite off-the-board plays and be way overweight on those players. Coupled with strong correlation plays, this is how to build a profitable portfolio on a short slate.
Don’t forget about late swaps - If your lineups are slanted towards game stacks, especially for the earlier games, it’s imperative to see where you stand before the other games start. If your lineups get off to a bad start, swapping to contrarian players in late games is often the only way to gain ground on the field.
Colts @ Bills (-6.5); O/U 51.5
The Bills have the highest implied point total on Saturday and will be the most popular offense to build around — expect to see Josh Allen ($40) in roughly half of Baller lineups with Stefon Diggs ($35) on over two-third of rosters. Even with their high rostered rates, DFS players shouldn’t be overly contrarian by fading this primary stack. Instead, look for ways to be unique around a high-scoring Bills game.
After John Brown ($17) posted a 4/72/1 line on just 47% of snaps in Week 17, he will be a fashionable player to include in a Buffalo trifecta. DFS players trying to get unique on the Bills’ side can look to Gabriel Davis ($15) or Cole Beasley, depending on Beasley’s status. The Colts surrender the seventh-most yards to wide receivers lined up inside, according to SportsInfoSolution, and Davis will likely see increased work on the inside if Beasley is out.
As an underdog by nearly a touchdown, Jonathan Taylor ($36) will see a somewhat modest rostered percentage, at least for a short slate — he, Chris Carson, and Cam Akers will likely absorb most of the rostered percentage at running back with rates approaching 40%. Because of Taylor’s heavy workload, he is the running back to be overweight on.
T.Y. Hilton should spend much of the day covered by Tre’Davious White so DFS players that roster heavy chalk on the Bills side could add Zach Pascal ($12) to game stacks. Pascal was the only Colts player besides Hilton to average over four targets per game over the final four weeks while accounting for nearly a quarter of air yards.
Rams @ Seahawks (-3); O/U 41.5
The likely low-scoring nature of this game makes it suitable for mini-correlation plays as secondary stacks rather than as one game to stack. The primary DFS targets in this game are Chris Carson ($25) and Cam Akers ($20). Los Angeles doesn’t have a weak spot on defense but they are ferocious against the pass and Carson is one of just three backs on the slate that isn’t facing a potential timeshare. Playing on a questionable tag in Week 17, Akers still saw 25 touches and should see a similar workload, especially if John Wolford gets the start.
If Jared Goff plays, Cooper Kupp ($19) and Robert Woods ($23) are both usable as stand-alone plays but Tyler Lockett ($21) is the intriguing, unique wide receiver play. DK Metcalf will be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey and while LA has held both receivers in check in two meetings this season, avoiding Ramsey gives Lockett a boost.
Buccaneers (-7.5) @ Washington; O/U 44.5
Tampa Bay is the offense to target when not building around the Bills game. The question to answer in this game is which Buccaneers pass-catchers to favor.
Washington’s strength has been defending the pass in the middle of the field — they allow the sixth-fewest schedule-adjusted fantasy points to tight ends and give up the third-fewest yards per target to slot wide receivers. This points to favoring Antonio Brown ($23) and Mike Evans ($25) if he suits up.
While Ronald Jones will draw the eye of DFS players because of the large point spread, J.D. McKissic ($15) is my preferred back to roster in this game. He should be heavily involved if game script goes to plan and can be used as a contrarian addition to game stacks as most lineups will include Logan Thomas or Terry McLaurin.
Ravens (-3.5) @ Titans; O/U 54.5
Rostered percentages will concentrate heavily on this game and Lamar Jackson ($36) is my preferred quarterback to be overweight on. Because Jackson does so much damage on the ground, he works best in single stacks with either Mark Andrews ($25) or Marquise Brown ($22), rather than stacking all three. Players anticipating a Baltimore blowout could include J.K. Dobbins ($24) — the best running back value on the slate — in team stacks, although he works better in non-Lamar lineups.
While this is an expensive way to approach this game stack, pairing Derrick Henry ($40) and A.J. Brown ($33) together in Ravens stacks is worth it in an attempt to corner all the scoring in this game. Baltimore limits big plays, making Brown the preferred play over Corey Davis ($19) — who relies heavily on deep balls — despite the salary savings that Davis offers. Jonnu Smith ($16) has matched Browns’ touchdown expectation over the final month of the season, making the Tennessee tight end the contrarian play to target on the Titans side.
Bears @ Saints (-10); O/U 47.5
Drew Brees ($25), Michael Thomas ($26), and Alvin Kamara ($37) haven’t all been on the field for over 50% of snaps since Week 1 but when all three play, touches funnel to MT and Kamara. Even with Kamara not practicing all week, he and Thomas should see the highest rostered rates at their positions on Sunday.
Saints onslaughts are in order and the unique pieces to consider are Latavius Murray ($16) and Jared Cook ($18). Murray should obviously not be used with Kamara but game script could result in both New Orleans running backs returning value. When adjusted for strength of schedule, the Bears rank 30th in fantasy points to tight ends and Cook leads the Saints in expected touchdowns over the last four weeks.
New Orleans’ defense has been dominant, while the Bears’ recent numbers are inflated because of the bad defenses they have faced down the stretch. Allen Robinson ($23) could be used as a bring-back option but this matchup has blowout written all over it.
Browns @ Steelers (-6); O/U 47.5
Pittsburgh throws at the highest rate in neutral game script but Ben Roethlisberger ($29) will likely be in fewer lineups than Jackson, Tannehill, and Brees. Big Ben is the best target for low-rostered quarterbacks on this slate with Pittsburgh projected to score over 26 points. Diontae Johnson ($22) will be among the most popular wide receivers but targeting Chase Claypool ($21) — who leads the team in expected touchdowns and target depth over the last month — offers some leverage against a Browns defense down a starting safety because of COVID.
Because of those COVID concerns and no practice time, Cleveland isn’t an offense to target heavily in stacks. Austin Hooper ($10) stands out as the player to use as a correlation play within Steelers stacks. The Browns tight end has seen at least five targets in three straight games, with a score or 70 yards in each contest. If Pittsburgh gets up big as expected, Kareem Hunt ($19) will see an increased role in the passing game and he offers salary relief at a top-heavy position.
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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.