Making a Cocktail From the Conference Championship DFS Slate

by Chase Vernon · Strategy

There are three quarterbacks in this Conference Championship round with three stacks you can feel confident in for DFS. If you want to get spicy, you could even include Jimmy Garoppolo in hopes the 49ers can’t run the ball, George Kittle gets involved, and Deebo Samuel takes a couple of dump-offs to the house.

However, in the playoffs thus far, you haven’t won money unless your quarterback put up over 30 points. If you didn’t play Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes, or Josh Allen, you weren’t able to make the big bucks. So if you are chasing the dragon with Garoppolo, there is a way to make it happen, but do it sparingly. 

The Rams are coming in with a top 10 Pace of Play while the 49ers rank No. 30. So the game flow could work in our favor, just as it did in Week 18. 

In Week 18, with the 49ers down by a touchdown, Kyle Shanahan did something very few teams have done all season: run the ball 10 consecutive times on the way to a touchdown. The play resulting in a touchdown was a fake, with Samuel launching it to Jauan Jennings. Garoppolo didn’t attempt a single pass. The Rams have only allowed one other touchdown drive with double-digit rushing attempts in 2022—also against the 49ers. 

Although the 49ers have shown they can run it against the Rams, the Rams have been a much better team up front. They haven’t allowed one since after allowing two 100-yard rushers in the first two weeks. In fact, Elijah Mitchell holds the following two highest rushing totals at 91 yards and 85; however, it took him 48 attempts to get there. The secret was Samuel’s ability to convert his rushing attempts into significant gains, allowing the drive to continue. 

The issue with this game plan moving forward is the more Deebo continues to see rushing attempts, the less effective he has become. Over the first eight games, he saw six rushing attempts. In Week 10, he saw five and hasn’t seen less since. In his first three games with high rushing usage, his 7.9 yards per carry were astronomical, but has tailed off to just 5.1 closing out the season.

I’m not saying he hasn’t been effective, but if the Rams find a way to slow him down and reduce the explosive rushing plays like they have all season, Shanahan might be forced to open the offense. When Garoppolo has been allowed to pass at least 30 times in a game, he’s pushed 18-plus fantasy points in all but one (16.68).

But let’s get real. The Bengals-Cheifs game is likely where you want to put your money. I don’t mind the Stafford plays, especially considering how bad their run game has been since Cam Akers returned. On the other hand, both the Rams and 49ers funnel teams to pass against them. The difference between the two is the Rams allow passes underneath and the 49ers allow teams to go over the top. 

When playing the Rams, the last thing you want is to allow teams to beat you deep. I get it’s a divisional game and the outcome has been in the 49ers favor on both occasions, but I don’t see the same result a third time. With that said, I’m not going to miss out on a Stafford blowup game or a Garoppolo perfect storm. I’ll just have lower ownership on both. 

For that reason, I’m building the Conference Championship DFS lineups around a Sazerac. 

The Sazerac

The Sazerac has two possible bases to start with, pending on who you ask. Some believe the official cocktail of Louisiana and staple of New Orleans used a cognac due to the area’s connection to French spirits. Others believe it was made with rye whiskey and is currently is the more popular build. It’s the perfect cocktail to discuss the Conference Championship for DFS. Make the base with your liquor preference as long as it’s one of the two, just as this slate will likely have two options to stack.

Side note: I do know people who use both cognac and rye, which is delicious, but since you can’t use two quarterbacks in the DFS slate, the combination of the two is irrelevant. 

Building a Base

Patrick Mahomes $7,400

Joe Burrow $6,600

Tyreek Hill $7,000

Ja’Marr Chase $6,700

Travis Kelce $6,500

Tee Higgins $5,700

Joe Mixon $6,800 

Sorry to throw chalk at you, but there are very few outcomes where I see a non-chalk option producing like Gabriel Davis. Of course, there are guys I like (Byron Pringle, C.J. Uzomah, Mecole Hardman), but they wouldn’t end up in over 30 to 40-percent of my lineups like these guys will. So the decision you have to make is, do you go with a single stack in hopes of getting a Davis-like stat line and run it back with multiple players, or pick various players to stack and run it back with one player? 

For example, Mahomes-Hill and run it back with Chase-Higgins-Mixon or Mahomes-Hill-Kelce and only play Chase on the other side.

Overloading players in this game could be a mistake as you’ll likely have significant chalk. Keep in mind, only twice have two receivers on the same team surpassed 15 points on DraftKings DFS in the Conference Championship since 2017: Davante Adams with Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Tyreek Hill with Sammy Watkins

As for the numbers, the player I will have rostered in most lineups is Joe Mixon. In three of the past four games, he has double-digit fantasy points receiving and now faces the Chiefs, who are allowing a 6.32 (No.26) DOCE Score. The crazy part is the Chiefs have only allowed one receiving touchdown to a pass-catching back (minimum 10 routes run in a game) all season. 

In comparison, the Chiefs allow 10.7 Fantasy Points Per Game to pass-catching backs while the Jets allow 11.2. However, 3.3 points per game are coming from touchdowns compared to just 0.4 points by the Cheifs. If this is a high-scoring affair and Mixon breaks off a screen or dump off for a receiving touchdown, we could see a massive swing by taking away what could be a touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins. Mixon has scored three receiving touchdowns in eight games where he’s seen at least five targets. 

You should avoid heavy chalk if you play Mixon on the other side of a Mahomes stack without Chase or Higgins. In fact, any Mixon play revolved around this game without Chase or Higgins should help avoid the chalk. However, Mixon or this next player will likely be the most owned player on the entire slate.

Conference Championship Absinthe Rinse for DFS Lineups

Every Sazarac should have an Absinthe rinse. It’s necessary to the aromatics of the cocktail while leaving a hint to the depth of flavor. There is one flavor that needs to be added to every cocktail, and just like the price of the Absinthe bottle, it will be the most expensive thing in your lineup.

Cooper Kupp $8,800

Cooper Kupp should be played, regardless of chalk. There’s only been one week where he had less than 16 points, and his worst performance since Week 5 was still 17.1. I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t, and I realize some people will argue that it could break the slate if he doesn’t perform. However, Kupp becomes near impossible to play with Mahomes-Hill-Chase stacks (without Mixon or Kelce) and remains difficult with Burrow stacks as well.

When I mentioned playing skinny stacks above, the primary reason was the inability to get Kupp into your lineups due to the pricing. If you don’t eat the chalk with Kupp, you’ll likely see your winnings dwindle as soon as the late game starts. 

Pour Some Sugar on Your DFS Conference Championship 

Of course you need a little sugar, but don’t overdo it. 0.5 ounces works for me; anything over 0.75 will ruin the drink. These players have a chance of hitting but deal with matchup difficulties, snap counts, positional competition, or chalk that might not hit. 

Deebo Samuel $7,200

Clyde Edwards-Helaire $5,300

Jerick McKinnon $5,100

George Kittle $5,000

Odell Beckham $5,100

Tyler Boyd $4,200

Jauan Jennings $3,200

Mecole Hardman $4,000

Byron Pringle $4,300

Sony Michel $4,600

Tyler Higbee $3,700

Ok, I get it. There were few players I left off in this range, and to be honest, I had to fight not to include Brandon Aiyuk in the next section. However, based on how you build your stacks, there could be ways to get a lot of these players in your lineups. For example, I feel a lot more comfortable playing Mecole Hardman in lineups with Ja’Marr Chase on the other end, maybe some C.J. Uzomah, but very few with Mixon. 

Although Mixon should have at least a couple of breakaway plays in this game, he would likely need to see 20 touches minimum to have a solid fantasy performance. If Mixon hits that threshold, expect the plays run and Pace of Play to both decrease. Unfortunately, that’s not good news, as Hardman’s snap count has gone down significantly.

Although Hardman’s usage snap percentage has plummeted since Week 10, his efficiency has skyrocketed. Before Week 10, Hardman was averaging just 0.3 (outside the top 75) points per route run. Since then, he has been averaging 0.46 (top 30) while getting more red-zone looks per game, more air yards per target, and more rushing attempts. 

If he’s been so efficient with less opportunity, why does it matter if the game slows down?

Although Hardman has been more efficient, his usage has only been enough to make him fantasy relevant once. The deep shots lately are great, so are the 16 (No. 16 among qualified wide receivers) red zone looks. Meanwhile, the 5.41 (No. 49) Target Quality Rating doesn’t do him justice. However, his 22-percent Target Rate since Week 10 isn’t enough if Mahomes is only attempting 30 passes and Hardman is only running routes on 40-percent of them. Hardman needs to run north of 25 routes and get a touchdown on at least one to be fantasy relevant which is why I want the explosive playmaking ability of Chase over a grinder like Mixon. 

As for players like Byron Pringle, he’s on the field constantly, being used to convert first downs and score when close to the endzone. He won’t be affected nearly as much because his involvement is based on catchable, high-value targets. He has a 6.63 (No. 12) Target Quality Rating and an 81.7-percent (No. 18) Catchable Target Rate. In addition, he’s run at least 19 routes in every game since Week 7. Pair him up with Mixon and have no concern. 

Samuel is absolutely someone I want to roster, but there are four elite receivers. Unless you decided to play Garoppolo, punt the defense, tight end, and play running backs with shared roles, there is no way you’re getting all four in your lineups. You can make a few happen if you pivot off Chase and go to Higgins or opt for a lower-priced receiver instead of Hill and play Kelce. However, getting all four in your lineups isn’t going to happen.

Due to the pivots, I expect to see a lower roster percentage on Chase, but Kupp’s should still be through the roof, opening the run back for Samuel and increased exposure for most. Of the four elite receivers, Samuel has the lowest upside with the lowest correlated floor (since I’m targeting the AFC game heavily), so he will have the least amount of shares throughout my lineups. However, I’ll still get him in quite a few around the NFC builds.

Jauan Jennings will be one of my favorite plays to get leverage off Samuel. Playing 71.9-percent out of the slot in the playoffs, he will match up against Dont’e Deayon. Jennings has a 6-inch, 60-pound advantage on Deayon and took him 3-4 for 56 while in coverage during Week 18. In addition, Jennings has scored on five of his eight red-zone targets on the season, with seven targets coming in the last nine games.     

 Look for Jennings to be a factor for the second time against the Rams, even if it’s Samuel passing him the rock. 

A Few Dashes of Bitters

I just need a few dashes of Peychauds to complete the Sazerac. It’s the perfect bitter to complement this cocktail, tying all the flavor together. However, if you overdo it, the Peychauds could leave you overwhelmed. For the DFS lineups, it would leave you more underwhelmed. 

Van Jefferson $3,900

Ben Skowronek $3,000

The story with Van Jefferson is similar to Hardman’s as he has seen a significant reduction in targets toward the tail end of the season. The difference is Jefferson is still running about the same percentage of routes. Unfortunately, Jefferson has gotten game scripted out in favor of Odell Beckham and Tyler Higbee.

Jefferson went from running just 23.3-percent of the routes from the slot to over double with 50.2-percent. Beckham assumed Jefferson’s old role outside while Jefferson now has to run longer developing routes similar to what we see with receivers such as Christian Kirk.

Jefferson’s 14.6 Average Depth of Target since Week 12 is the highest of any receiver playing at least 50-percent of the snaps from the slot. In Week 18, Stafford faced 18 pressure which was the most he’d seen all season. If he sees a similar amount of pressure forcing him to get rid of the ball early, Van Jefferson might not have a chance to get open. 

Ben Skowronek is the only other player I’m putting in the flyers section and typically wouldn’t. However, if you’re not playing Kupp, you’re likely thinking he gets injured, in which case Skowronek would step in.