Thursday January 7th, 2016

Time's up on season-long fantasy football leagues, but daily fantasy football keeps going throughout the playoffs.

Obviously, postseason DFS is very different animal than regular-season DFS, but it’s a good kind of different. The slate of games is a quarter of the size of what we’re used to, and though the smaller number of teams polarizes our range of possibilities, there’s still a sizeable array of viable player combinations.

Let’s look at what I consider to be the top FanDuel plays for the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.

Smart bargains

A.J. McCarron, QB, Bengals ($6,400) – Assuming that Andy Dalton doesn’t make a miracle return from a broken thumb, McCarron will start this week, and he’s the only cheap QB I’ll consider. The Steelers have given up 271.9 passing yards per game this season, and McCarron threw for 280 yards and two TDs against them in Week 14 in his first NFL start. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the Bengals are forced to throw in order to keep up with Pittsburgh’s high-octane offense.

Playoff fantasy football: Complete player rankings by position

Charcandrick West, RB, Chiefs ($6,400) – Spencer Ware has stolen some of West’s thunder, but West has nonetheless handled double-digit carries in eight of his last nine games. The upside might not be what it was two months ago, but West is still a solid value at this price, even against a pretty good Houston run defense.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers ($6,000) – Lacy has taken DFS players on a roller-coaster ride this season, and trying to predict his week-to-week usage and productivity has been a fool’s errand. Still, there are two reasons I’m drawn to him this week: (1) The Green bay offense is no longer capable of vanquishing foes with the passing game alone, and (2) the Washington run defense has given up 4.8 yards per carry this season.

Matt Jones, RB, Redskins ($5,400) – There have been several times this season when Jones made me feel like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. Occasional big games were followed by long droughts, and every time it looked as if Jones might be on the verge of seizing the lead role in the Washington backfield, Alfred Morris would interrupt the coronation. I have a hunch the Redskins will realize that their talented rookie gives them a better chance to make noise in the playoffs than their TD-allergic veteran. But then again, I’ve been wrong about the Jones/Morris dynamic on numerous occasions.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks ($7,300) – Remarkably, Baldwin did not have a TD catch in the Seahawks’ Week 17 win over the Cardinals; it was the first time he’d been held without a touchdown since the weekend before Thanksgiving. In between those scoreless games, Baldwin racked up 11 TDs over a five-week stretch. The affordably priced Baldwin has also averaged 90.5 receiving yards over his last eight outings.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs ($7,200) – Over his six games, Maclin has caught 39 balls for for 476 yards and six TDs. Houston plays tough pass defense, but it’s hard to pass up the talented Maclin at this price.

Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers ($5,900) – Remember how Ben Roethlisberger talked up Wheaton before the season began? We rolled our eyes at the time, but we’re now seeing that Big Ben wasn’t merely blowing smoke. Wheaton has four TD catches in his last six games and has averaged 7.8 targets a game over that stretch. Bothered by illness and a neck injury, Martavis Bryant has caught only two passes in Pittsburgh’s last two games, and Wheaton seems to have taken over as the Steelers’ primary field-stretcher. This is an inexpensive way to invest in the Pittsburgh passing game.

Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs ($6,200) – Honestly, the only reason not to jump on Jordan Reed at a very reasonable price would be the desire to forge a contrarian path. This is as far down that path as I’d be willing to go. Richard Rodgers ($5,200) is cheap enough to raise an eyebrow, but Rodgers offers zero big-play ability (Hail Marys notwithstanding), while Kelce has big-play ability in spades.

Chalk plays

Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks ($8,600) – Among the higher-priced options at quarterback this week, I prefer Wilson over Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. Roethlisberger has been off his game in recent weeks, and he failed to throw a TD pass when he faced the Bengals in Week 14. Rodgers hasn’t been himself in months, and given the myriad problems with the Green Bay offense, I’m not betting on a dramatic turnaround Sunday in Washington. Wilson has been on fire, throwing 24 TD passes over his last seven games, and he’s priced only slightly higher than Roethlisberger and Rodgers. It’s worth noting that Wilson completed 21 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three TDs, and also ran for a touchdown, when the Seahawks visited Minnesota in Week 13. One mild concern here: Minnesota is going to have frostbite weather on Saturday, conditions that could make precision passing difficult.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings ($8,400) – With DeAngelo Williams’s status in doubt due to a foot injury and Marshawn Lynch coming off hernia surgery, Peterson is the only expensive running back I’m considering. He has a daunting matchup against a Seattle defense that has allowed fewer rushing yards this season than any other, but the Vikings’ best hope of beating the Seahawks is to control the ball and force-feed Peterson.

Fantasy MVPs, LVPs by position: This season belonged to Cam Newton

Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers ($9,500) – He’s the most expensive commodity on the market this week, but it’s still awfully hard to pass him up. In the 12 games that Ben Roethlisberger played this year, Brown averaged 9.9 receptions, 133.3 yards and 0.8 TDs. He’s seen double-digit targets in nine consecutive games, averaging an astounding 14.1 targets a game over that span. Is there any doubt Brown will be heavily involved in a playoff game?

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans ($8,800) – I don’t like Hokpins’s price relative to Antonio Brown’s price, but I think there’s a decent case to be made for buying both of them and skimping at other positions.

Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins ($7,400) – The young Redskins tight end has spent the season demonstrating that when he’s healthy, he’s capable of amassing Gronkowski-esque numbers. Reed has 10 TD catches in his last 10 games and has topped the 100-yard mark in two of his last four. Unless you’re hell-bent on taking a contrarian approach at tight end this week, Reed is a must-buy.

Top kicker values: Dustin Hopkins ($4,600), Chris Boswell ($4,900), Steven Hauschka ($5,100)

Top defense values: Kansas City ($5,100), Seattle ($5,100), Pittsburgh ($4,500)

Pat's lineup

Here’s the lineup I’m entering in FanDuel’s $18K Saturday NFL BIG $10 Triple Up:

A.J. McCarron ($6,400)
Charcandrick West ($6,400)
Eddie Lacy ($6,000)
Antonio Brown ($9,500)
Doug Baldwin ($7,300)
Jeremy Maclin ($7,200)
Jordan Reed ($7,400)
Dustin Hopkins ($4,600)
Kansas City ($5,100)

Lineup construction began with Brown and Reed. They’re both going to be widely owned this week, but I felt like I’d be way behind the curve if I left either of them off my roster. I rounded out my pass-catching group with Baldwin and Maclin, both very solid values. I’m willing to go the cheap route at quarterback this week, hoping that A.J. McCarron can produce something like 250 passing yards and a couple of TDs against the leaky Pittsburgh pass defense. The RB position is a minefield this week, and I can’t claim to have supreme confidence in either West or Lacy. But they seem like decent enough value propositions, and both are good bets for at least a dozen carries. Dustin Hopkins offered value at kicker, allowing me to take the relatively high-priced Kansas City defense. The Chiefs put the clamps on Texans QB Brian Hoyer back in Week 1, and their defense has improved by leaps and bounds since then.

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