Making a Cocktail From the Divisional Round DFS Slate

by Chase Vernon · Strategy
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There are some you win and some you lose. Saturday’s Old Fashioned didn’t taste quite as delicious as Sundays, but neither were my best. Josh Allen was my top pick on the entire weekend, and I loved the pairing of Stefon Diggs with either Devin Singletary or Dawson Knox. It became an issue when Diggs was the odd man out, keeping us from winning big money in tournaments.

We also had Amari Cooper and Deebo Samuel as must-plays on Sunday, but you were left wanting more if you played Dak Prescott or Jalen Hurts. On Sunday, Patrick Mahomes was the big winner, stacked with Travis Kelce and Byron Pringle. If you called Jerick McKinnon having an insane game, I’m jealous because I wanted him to produce all year.

Either way, we have to get back on the horse and figure out what we must do to secure the best options in an extremely high-scoring slate. 

Breaking Down the Game to Target  

Both the Bengals-Titans and 49ers-Packers games are going to be slow. They all rank No. 25 or lower in terms of Pace of Play. However, I don’t expect that to hinder the scoring as much. Three teams have top 10 explosive pass play rates, while all four rank bottom 12 in explosive pass play rates allowed. 

Sunday games’ pace of play versus explosive play percentages on offense and allowed on defense are quite the opposite. Regardless, I don’t see any of these games hitting for less than 48 total points, which puts them all in play.

Looking into the weather conditions, the Packers game will be frigid, but both teams’ style of play shouldn’t allow the weather to affect the game. The games in Tennessee and Kansas City will also be cold, but once again, not concerned. 

At this point, I’ll pivot to ownership percentages.

I expect the Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen ownership to be through the roof. 

We already expect a massive game from the Bills at the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the 49ers defense looked sharp against the Cowboys, but the Cowboys essentially beat themselves. You can take shots on any of these guys, but know you’ll have to get a little weird to make stacks with those three quarterbacks work. 

Vieux Carre 

Now, I could go on to talk about playing Patrick Mahomes, linking him up with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, or putting Josh Allen with Stefon Diggs and Dawson Knox. However, I’d like to dive into three quarterbacks I did not mention and build a more complex DFS lineup. I will focus on balance and chaos, just like the city of New Orleans. 

The Vieux Carre cocktail is somewhat opposite of the Old Fashioned build. I compared Saturday slate in the Wild Card round to an Old Fashioned, being very top-heavy and correlating with the primary game. This week, allowing yourself to have equal spreads across your lineups could break the mold and offer you a different way to pay out tournaments across the board. Instead of focusing on getting 30-plus points from a handful of players in one game and finding multiple cheap options to make it work, we will look at balancing our stack pricing with individual players. It should allow us to sneak in solo plays at comparable prices to our stacks, creating a nice balanced cocktail with plenty of depth. 

One could argue that rye whiskey is the Vieux Carre’s base, while the others could say the brandy. However, I believe the whiskey, brandy, and vermouth all play a role in creating one of my favorite cocktails of all time, so it doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s balanced. 

The Base, Part I

Matthew Stafford $6,200

Cooper Kupp $8,600

Joe Burrow $6,600

Ja’Marr Chase $7,100

Ryan Tannehill $5,800

A.J. Brown $6,200

Just like a Vieux Carre, we are starting these lineups with a blend of power and finesse. Finding cheap options on this slate at quarterback could pay off and starting at 29.6-percent for 22.2-percent of the lineup is a solid bargain. By playing the second most expensive alpha stack in Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp – which underproduced in the Wild Card – we could see far lower ownership percentages than five of the other options. Keep in mind, Stafford has only completed more than 23 passes once in the past six games and hasn’t hit over 25 points since Week 12. Competitors will see and take notice. However, what many will miss are the stats behind the scenes.

Stafford has 2,831 (No. 1 among qualified quarterbacks) Completed Air Yards, 116 (No. 3) Red Zone Attempts, 7.8 (No. 3) Adjusted Yards per Attempt, and a 6.8-percent (No. 1) Touchdown Rate. He’s doing this with one of the best receivers in the NFL out of the slot. The Buccaneers have 120 (No. 7) missed tackles, a 5.51 (No. 20) DOCE Score, and allowed 26 (No. 15) passing touchdowns against one of the weakest schedules versus quarterbacks.

The last time the Rams and Bucs went head to head, Stafford threw for 343 yards with four touchdowns in a 58-point game. I don’t see any reason he couldn’t do it again. The Bucs struggled in the slot more than anywhere else on the field, so Kupp should take up right where he left off in the regular season.    

The stack with Joe Burrow is even sexier.

Joe Mixon hasn’t done much lately outside of the game against Baltimore, and the Titans are one of the best teams against running backs. Burrow’s connection with his receivers has been unreal. Ja’Marr Chase has scored at least 22.5 points in four of the past six games—only two of which he caught a touchdown. As people figure out what you could do with his pricing, we could see his ownership percentage continue to climb throughout the week.

As for now, Burrow creates an interactive situation being the first game on the slate. If he crushes and puts up over 30 points to start the week, you can optimize your lineups to make a run in the bigger tournaments. On the other hand, if he is mediocre, you could pivot to play it safe and end in the green, or ultimately sell out for a volatile option who may or may not hit. 

However, as Jakob Sanderson pointed out on our Tuesday DFS Show, you’re stuck with whatever Burrow gives you. If you don’t start him and he puts up 40, you can adjust your other lineups knowing Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen are must-plays because none of the other quarterbacks have it in their range of outcomes. If he puts up 25, you can continue to attack the strategy already set; however, if he gives you anything less than 18, your lineups are dead in the water.    

Regardless, I’m playing Burrow. The Titans allow a nine-percent (No. 21) Explosive Pass Play Rate while not allowing any team to gain 100-yards rushing from their backfield since Week 5. In addition, they struggle with speed receivers on the outside. Don’t miss out on running this stack in multiple lineups. We could be looking at a repeat of Weeks 16 and 17. 

On the other side of the matchup, we have Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown

I can’t say I’m 100-percent confident Ryan Tannehill will produce. Over the past three games, the Bengals have allowed at least 5.34 yards per carry to the running backs. And with Derrick Henry possibly returning, Tannehill could see 20 completions. However, could this force the Bengals to sell out to stop the run, opening up A.J. Brown to see efficiency as he did in 2020?

The Bengals allow a 10-percent (No. 29) Explosive Pass Play Rate, and the Titans threw for a 9-percent (No. 13) Explosive Pass Play Rate in 2020. In addition, Tannehill is significantly more efficient with Henry, Brown, and Julio Jones on the field. 

Typically when I’m building DFS lineups, I look for them to tell me a story, and the avenues for Tannehill to produce are aplenty: 

  • Throughout a high-scoring game, the Titans can move the ball on the ground or in the air. However, with Henry in his first game back, he struggles to punch the ball into the end zone on goal line carries – whether it be to lack of opportunity or just rust – leaving Tannehill to put up three to four passing touchdowns. 

  • The Bengals take advantage of a defense that has struggled to stop the deep ball. Burrow throws for over 300 yards while getting vultured at the goal line by Mixon. Tannehill is forced to pass the ball throughout the second half but does so with multiple big plays to Jones and Brown.

  • The Titans come off a bye week confident in their play calling. They use multiple bootlegs and play actions to allow Tannehill time for deep shots. Although this hasn’t happened since the beginning of the season, the bye week allowed the coaching staff to get a bit more creative. In doing so, Tannehill has one of his best games of the season. 

  • Henry doesn’t make it off IR, and the committee doesn’t do enough to keep up with the Bengals, forcing the offense to go against their instincts. 

The scenarios are endless, but I’m not creating these concepts in hopes Tannehill will be the highest scorer on the slate. Instead, I’m looking at his price and ownership levels, hoping he will finish within seven-or-so points of the top-scoring quarterback. 

At $5,800, his price allows us to work in some star-studded lineups starting with Brown. Additionally, the stack only accounts for 24-percent of your salary, making for the cheapest alfa stack on the slate. Do you want to play Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel in your lineups? Tannehill allows you to run without a secondary or tertiary option as one of the three receivers. 

The Base, Part II

Finding pieces to compliment the skinny stacks aren’t tricky; I expect all these games to put up at least 48 points. The key to this is maximizing the opportunities each player sees. Players like Tee Higgins and Julio Jones will be utilized in the lineups where I want stronger running backs. Meanwhile, I will maximize the exposure to primary pass catchers. 

In the 2020 Division and Conference rounds, only three wide receivers across six games – or 12 opportunities – finished with more points than their teams’ primary. Don’t get too cute; good quarterbacks trust the guys they have been using all year. However, instead of correlating these players directly as runbacks from the Bills-Chiefs and Packers-49ers, you could help eliminate chalk by adding one from each game to a stack above.

Playing Ja’Marr Chase and Deebo Samuel with a Chiefs stack was the recipe for success in the Wild Card. Correlations can occasionally hurt your stacks, pending how one team gets there.

As I said, I believe all these games will be high-scoring, so which ones in each matchup will be a more significant part of their team’s offense? I propose picking one then pivoting to an unrelated game.   

I will briefly break down a couple of prominent players and runbacks without seeming too generic. Following, I will break down some of the plays not so easy to find:

Deebo Samuel $7,600

Davante Adams $8,500

Deebo Samuel should obliterate the Packers short-yardage defense while Davante Adams eats against a busted 49ers secondary. Will the Packers allow other players to run free while taking Samuel out of it? Will the 49ers be able to limit Adams like they did CeeDee Lamb

Stefon Diggs $6,500

Tyreek Hill $6,600

Two big-play receivers who haven’t seen nearly the same production level as they did in 2021 for two different reasons. Tyreek Hill has seen a significant drop in his Average Target Distance, while Stefon Diggs can’t seem to connect with Josh Allen. I don’t expect either to have issues this week, but will the other pass catchers on their offense siphon opportunities? 

As for the other players I want to focus on:

Elijah Mitchell$5,800

Derrick Henry $7,500

Devin Singletary $5,900

Tee Higgins $5,700

George Kittle $5,300

Cam Akers $5,500

Leonard Fournette $5,700

Mike Evans $6,800 

Travis Kelce $6,500

Rob Gronkowski $5,800

When I first started my research, I loved Mike Evans against the Rams. However, in Week 3 when they last faced off, Jalen Ramsey was tasked with covering Chris Godwin for most of the game. In 2020, Ramsey shut Evans down and will likely shadow him for the entirety of the Divisional Round. As a result, play Evans with caution.  

Moving Evans down puts Elijah Mitchell at the top of my list for players in the mid-price range. By fading the top options at running back – which I am doing heavily – you allow yourself to invest heavily in the alfa receivers. But it’s not just about the price.

The Packers can’t contain explosive running backs, and Mitchell is just that.

While playing just two-thirds of the games, Mitchell has eight (No. 17) Breakaway Runs with a 52.4 (No. 15) Run Blocking Efficiency rating. Playing against a 56.0-percent (No. 2) Base Front Carry Rate doesn’t allow backs to take advantage of one missed tackle because there are still safeties to come up and make the play. There were only three backs with eight-plus Breakaway Runs who faced Base Front Carry Rates over 40-percent, and only one with over a 50-percent rate. 

Per NextGenStats, on Mitchell’s four 100-plus-rushing yard performances, he faced eight-plus defenders in the box on 36.8-percent, 52.4-percent, 38.9-percent, and 59.3-percent of the snaps. In those games, he had 16 rushes of over 10 yards and five over 20. The Packers have the least number of defenders in the box per snap. However, if the 49ers open up the run, we could see Green Bay sneak defenders up, opening Pandora’s Box for Mitchell.

I don’t love Cam Akers this week, but the high score potential makes him relevant. In addition, Tampa’s DOCE Score is looking more like the beginning of the season over the last three games. They have allowed at least 9.6 points to the running backs in the air over the three-game span and a whopping 56.3 points in the previous two combined. 

Keep in mind, Matthew Stafford hasn’t been targeting the running backs on the season, and the Rams haven’t targeted a running back more than 12.6-percent of the time in a year since Todd Gurley left. However, Akers did see three targets on 20-percent of the snaps when losing to the 49ers. So although I’m looking for touchdowns, a negative Game Script might not be the worst thing for Akers.       

Building the Base, Part III

These lower-end options are just as crucial, so we need to see a 12-point base from each one. They all have the ability to get you north of 18, but starting at 12 points is a requirement. Since none of these players will likely see double-digit touches, a touchdown or two must be in play. 

Dawson Knox $4,900

Odell Beckham $5,300

Julio Jones $4,700

A.J. Dillon $5,100

D’Onta Foreman $5,400

Tyler Boyd $4,800

Allen Lazard $4,400

Van Jefferson $4,200

Starting with A.J. Dillon, $5,100 is the cheapest he has been since Week 10. His threat on the outside in the receiving game is real, and although the 49ers have a 4.77 (No. 10) DOCE Score, they have allowed multiple big plays to receiving backs. The Packers will score numerous times in this matchup, resulting in a high touch premium for Dillon. 

Odell Beckham seems to be enjoying himself as a Ram. he has seen at least one red-zone target in all but two games where he’s been integrated into the offense, scoring in those six games as well. What is interesting with Beckham is since Week 10, the Buccaneers have had issues covering receivers deep when they are focused on the slot. Sean McVay has been brilliant when using Cooper Kupp as a decoy to open other receivers, creating a juicy matchup for Beckham or even Van Jefferson.

Tyler Boyd is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Titans bleed volume to the slot receivers constantly. If the Bengals go up in this matchup, we could see the Bengals use Boyd as an extension of the run game if Joe Mixon struggles.   

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The Finishing Touches

You can’t leave this cocktail without the Benedictine and bitters. Adding in 0.25 ounces of the Benedictine will suffice, and since the cocktail is 2.5 ounces before dilution, I would use four dashes of bitters. Peychauds and Angostura is the traditional way, but I like to switch it up with orange and ginger or X’Mole. As for the last little bit to these DFS lineups, sneaking in a flyer or two differentiates your lineups and allows for a slightly higher-priced pivot.

Anthony Firkser $3,100

C.J. Uzomah $3,600

Tyler Johnson $3,800

Marquez Valdes-Scantling $4,300

Giovani Bernard $5,000

Let me start by saying Giovani Bernard saw a significant workload because Leonard Fournette was out. If Fournette sits again, Bernard is no longer just a flyer since he will see a considerable workload. However, if Fournette does play, I’m not convinced he plays all three downs. The last time the Bucs and Rams faced off, Bernard had nine receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown in the air alone. With the Rams’ 5.7 (No. 22) DOCE Score, there is plenty of reason he could give you 20 fantasy points once again.

As for Tyler Johnson, he should have had a much bigger performance but seemed out of sorts with Brady. I don’t expect it to happen for a second-straight game. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is another receiver who runs routes on almost every snap for his team. If I’m playing Deebo Samuel without Davante Adams, there’s an excellent chance either Allen Lazard or Valdes-Scantling is in my lineup. Lock in the Packers for at least three touchdowns; the difficult part will be figuring out who gets them. 

As for the tight ends, I love Anthony Firkser‘s second straight year of production as we close out the season. It might not be as glorious as 2020, but he has two touchdowns with back-to-back double-digit games. At $3,100, he makes a ton of lineups work you might not have thought were possible. He gives you a monstrous return on investment if he can get to three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. I’m not convinced any tight end gets you north of 20 to 25 points, so the difference between his production and another on the slate shouldn’t be an unobtainable gap.

All-in-all, can we just hope the Packers play the Rams in the NFC Championship game so we can roll out Allen Lazard in the captain? We all know what will happen when Dont’e Deayon lines up as the slot corner in the red zone.