In this weekly article, we’ll use the early betting lines from Vegas to take a deeper look at which games to target and avoid for NFL DFS. Implied team totals have positive correlations with fantasy output, especially for quarterbacks. Plus, we’ll highlight some potentially under the radar teams with high implied team totals despite a lower over/under. Note that these lines will probably change over the course of the week, which is why we call it ‘starting’ points.
Tennessee at Houston, Total 56.5
Although Houston has nothing on the line here, the Titans are playing for a post-season berth. Still, the Texans and Deshaun Watson say they will play him as long as he suffers no setbacks during practice this week. I’m obviously more interested in Tennessee here, but it’s nice to know that Houston might try to make a game of it. Houston is the league-best RB matchup for fantasy, and Derrick Henry is the league-best RB, so this is a match made in DFS Heaven. Henry has had a lot of good individual game performances, but none better than his 212 rushing yard, 52 receiving yard, 2 TD game earlier this season vs. Houston. I could see using A.J. Brown or Corey Davis, or Jonnu Smith for that matter, in tournaments this weekend, but Henry is the guy to prioritize.
It may surprise you to recall that Ryan Tannehill was also awesome in that previous game vs. Houston, passing for over 360 yards and four touchdowns. I have more confidence in Henry, but if you read this column regularly, you know that sometimes I like to pair a QB/RB and account for all the scores. This feels like one of those weeks.
Green Bay at Chicago, Total 50.5
The Packers are the favorites to get the coveted NFC bye week as they merely need to win or have the Seahawks lose. So they’re motivated. Chicago is playing to win and get in, though they’re still in if Arizona loses if they lose. I hate being obvious, but Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are it. Chicago isn’t a good on-paper matchup for WR or QB, but Rodgers threw four touchdown passes against them in Week 12, to four different receivers (two tight ends). Heck, I’m hoping for snow in Chicago after the way Adams and Rodgers played in Week 16. Domination. I’m looking for more of the same as this team is keeping its foot firmly on the gas heading into the playoffs.
Chicago can’t be ignored either. David Montgomery has come on strong in his recent plus matchups, including against Green Bay in Week 12, when he had his first 100-plus yard rushing game and caught his second touchdown pass of the year. The Packers rank fifth in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Mitchell Trubisky and Allen Robinson are coming off a nice game, in which Robinson was targeted 13 times (he caught 10). Look for more of the same in this critical game, though for more of a risk/reward play, consider Cole Kmet or Darnell Mooney, both of whom are seeing significant targets despite not producing like Robinson or Jimmy Graham lately.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay, Total 50.5
The Bucs have clinched a playoff spot but are hoping to face the NFC East winner as the 5-seed in Round 1. That’s enough motivation for me to trust this Bucs passing game. Tom Brady, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans were great on Saturday. The problem with Tampa Bay is choosing a receiver to play with Brady, or choosing Rob Gronkowski. There are too many riches. Now Ronald Jones is activated off the COVID list too, which might further impact the game plan. Atlanta remains a far better passing than rushing matchup, allowing the most fantasy points to opposing QBs, and very few to opposing RBs. They also rank third to WRs and second to TEs. I might go solo Brady for value on a couple sites; he’s QB10 on Yahoo, QB8 on DraftKings, but QB4 in pricing on FanDuel. Otherwise, I feel like you have to hedge and use all four Bucs pass-catchers to cover yourself. Mike Evans is getting the most targets, so if you must choose one, it’d be him. Two weeks ago, Brown and Leonard Fournette were the most valuable Bucs against the Falcons. However, I’m avoiding both Jones and Fournette this weekend.
Minnesota at Detroit, Total 54
Neither of these teams have anything to play for, but given the high total and fantastic fantasy matchups, any of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Kirk Cousins, or D’Andre Swift could be slotted into DFS lineups this week. I think Dalvin Cook is too expensive given the lack of motivation, but can’t argue with you if you fit him in given the primo matchup.
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New York Jets at New England, Total 39.5
This is one of four games I count with absolutely no playoff implications. Both teams rank in the bottom five in points scored this season, and the Jets’ defense has been pretty trash too. One could imagine a scenario where Cam Newton, Jakobi Meyers and Bill Belichick go out in a blaze of glory in such a fantasy-friendly environment, but I can also see those plans going up in smoke. Maybe this will be the week the Patriots use a tight end or two? Maybe they do start Jared Stidham again? Yawn, frankly all of the scenarios in this game bore me, and I’ll be looking elsewhere to fill my lineups this week. I won’t even trust the Pats’ D/ST against the Jets after Monday Night Football.
Arizona at LA Rams, Total 39.5
The Rams are in the unfortunate position of needing to win to get in, or having Chicago lose (what they’re hoping for). They are already without Jared Goff, Darrell Henderson, and Cooper Kupp and it’s only Tuesday. Their outstanding defense might pull them through, but it’s hard to trust guys like Robert Woods with a backup QB we don’t know much about. They often tend to look for guys they know from the second team, so we see some strange stat lines in these situations. If Cam Akers is back, he’s usable here, and if not, I could trust Malcolm Brown, but that’s about it. Good luck, Rams.
The Cardinals are also in a win and get in game, with their QB ailing. Kyler Murray has a shot to play this week, but both he and DeAndre Hopkins are on the injury report to start the week. They could make for interesting tournament plays if active, but this looks like a strong spot for the Cardinals D/ST. The low point total and unknown play of John Wolford makes them viable at a cheap price.
Indianapolis vs. Jacksonville, Total 50
The Colts need to win and have some help to win their division, but the win should be well within their control. Jacksonville has allowed the second-most points per game and fantasy points per game to opponents, so the big spread should translate to fantasy value nicely. Target Philip Rivers, Zach Pascal (leading fantasy scorer the past two weeks, sorry T.Y. Hilton believers), and Jonathan Taylor. I’m still avoiding the multi-headed TE monster in Indy, but those three make for a strong stack usable in cash games or tournaments, given the matchup and stakes.
Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh, Total 42.5
The line on this game moved around six points as the Steelers announced they would rest Big Ben Roethlisberger and maybe others to keep them fresh for the playoffs. Cleveland will face Mason Rudolph, who has been a very mixed bag from a fantasy perspective over the last couple years. The Browns’ D/ST is another tempting possibility, but I prefer to spend less on a better prospect, like Arizona at this point. If further players are announced out, I may change my mind. On the offense, it again depends a lot on whether any Steelers’ defensive players are resting. Pittsburgh has been formidable, leading the league with 3.5 sacks per game and tied with Miami at 27 takeaways. They rank second in fewest points allowed and fewest fantasy points allowed to opponents, despite the recent losing streak.
I’d use Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Austin Hooper, Jarvis Landry, Kareem Hunt and Rashard Higgins in various tournament lineups, but not in any cash game lineups. Cleveland has a lot of ways to get into the playoffs, though a win would be simplest. I just don’t see it being an easy one, unless the rest picture changes.
Baltimore at Cincinnati, Total 44.5
The Ravens should continue to roll, with Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown playing well the last three weeks. Baltimore is in with a win or several other scenarios, including a Cleveland loss. The Bengals are notable for the number of sacks they take and the number of giveaways they have (22), both of which generate interest in the Ravens’ D/ST in addition to their offensive stars. I’ve had some success using tight ends against Cincinnati, and given that the Chiefs are resting Patrick Mahomes and possibly others, Andrews is at the top of my TE wish list this weekend. They give up the sixth-most fantasy points to the position, and Andrews is extremely affordable across the sites. After Andrews, my next favorite plays are Dobbins and Jackson, in that order. Jackson is only $34 on Yahoo, but is the most expensive option on both FanDuel and DraftKings, making it hard for him to pay off. Dobbins is a bona fide bargain on both Yahoo and FanDuel.
The Bengals’ have managed to keep Giovanni Bernard busy and productive, though I don’t love this spot for him given Samaje Perine’s apparent ability to take over the majority of red zone rushing duties for Cincinnati. Betting on big games from Tee Higgins or Brandon Allen feels like a fool’s errand, too. I’m fading the Bengals in this final week of the regular season, but already looking forward to using them next year!