Piecing together a FanDuel lineup for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs is tricky because there are few defensive weaknesses left to exploit. Gone are the salad days of the regular season when FanDuel players could take advantage of defensive lightweights like the Saints, 49ers and Eagles. Six of the eight remaining playoff teams ranked in the top 10 in yardage allowed during the regular season. (Green Bay finished 15th, Pittsburgh 21st.) All eight remaining teams finished in the top 12 in points allowed, and only Green Bay (20.2) gave up more than 20 points per game.
Also making lineup construction a challenge this week is a crisis-level shortage of studs at the RB and WR positions. There’s only one high-priced running back worth splurging for, and the uncertain status of Antonio Brown and Jeremy Maclin leaves a shallow pool of attractive candidates at wide receiver.
It’s tough sledding out there this week, my DFS-loving friends, but let’s wax up the toboggan and hit the hill running. Here are some of the players I like this week:
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos ($7,000): Manning looked dismal early in the season, and it isn’t easy to climb back aboard the bandwagon. But as I mentioned earlier, there aren’t many defensive weaknesses left to exploit, but the Steelers are one of the few remaining teams with a defensive Achilles heel: their pass coverage. If Manning gets time to throw, he should be able to do damage against the Pittsburgh secondary, even with that Fettuccine arm of his.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers ($6,300): J-Stew should be well rested after sitting out the Panthers’ last three games with a sprained foot. He ran for 78 yards and two TDs against the Seahawks back in Week 6.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers ($6,200): The Packers couldn’t get much going offensively against the Cardinals back in Week 16, but Lacy managed to produce 88 yards from scrimmage and a TD. The Cardinals will be without a key run defender: LB Alex Okafor, who’s been placed on IR. Lacy ran 12 times for 63 yards and a TD against the Redskins last week.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos ($5,400): Anderson has rushed for 168 yards and two TDs in his last two games, and the bargain-basement price is hard to resist.
John Brown, WR, Cardinals ($6,700):The Packers’ pass defense is pretty decent, but it’s certainly less frightening than the pass defenses of the Seahawks, Broncos and Panthers. In a week with so many smothering pass defenses in action, all of the Arizona receivers are in play this week, and Brown and Michael Floyd are better values than Larry Fitzgerald, in my opinion.
Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals ($6,500): At this price, he’s hard to resist. Floyd has produced more than 100 yards in five of his last eight games. He put up 111 yards against the Packers in Week 16.
Jared Abbrederis, WR, Packers ($4,900): Here’s the flea-market bargain of the week. Davante Adams is unlikely to play this weekend due to a knee injury, leaving Abbrederis as the Packers’ No. 3 receiver. As often as the Packers use three-WR formations, Abbrederis should see a lot of snaps, and Aaron Rodgers has been talking him up for weeks. It’s hard to be sneaky in DFS when there are only eight teams left, but this is an intriguing stealth play.
Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals ($8,900): Before I get to Palmer, I want to mention that I’m passing on Cam Newton this week because of his matchup with Seattle. The Seahawks have held five of their last six opponents to fewer than 14 points, and Newton posted his second-worst passer rating of the season when he faced Seattle back in Week 6. As for Palmer, he has a terrific set of weapons, he’s playing at home, and he averaged 9.82 yards per pass attempt while dicing up the Packers in Week 16.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots ($8,600): The Patriots’ offensive line woes are worrisome, but WR Julian Edelman’s anticipated return from a broken foot should reinvigorate New England’s short passing game.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks ($8,400): It took subzero wind-chill temperatures in Minnesota to cool off Wilson, who had accounted for 25 TDs over a seven-game stretch before throwing just one TD pass in a wild-card win over the Vikings last week. The Panthers’ defense is tough, but Wilson has been such a playmaker over the second half of the season that it’s hard to pass him up.
David Johnson, RB, Cardinals ($8,500): If you’re a single-entry player like I am, there’s no way you can leave Johnson out of your lineup this week. Since the start of December he’s averaged 131.6 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown per game. When he faced the Packers in Week 16, he racked up 127 yards from scrimmage and a TD despite getting his last touch of the game less than a minute into the second half.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos ($8,100): When Peyton Manning was struggling earlier this season, Thomas was still seeing plenty of targets. The leaky Pittsburgh secondary doesn’t have a cornerback who can hang with him.
Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots ($7,800): How integral is Edelman to the Patriots’ offense? The Pats are 9-0 with him this season, 3-4 without him. Edelman is coming back from a broken foot as has a challenging matchup against impressive rookie CB Marcus Peters, but Edelman is a prolific target hog who figures to be heavily involved in the New England offense on Saturday.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks ($7,400): Don’t be spooked by a possible matchup against Josh Norman. Baldwin works primarily out of the slot, and Norman rarely covers slot receivers.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots ($8,300): It’s debatable whether Gronkowski or the Panthers' Greg Olsen offers better value for money. The case for Gronk is that he’s historically been the far more prolific TD scorer. In a week where it’s almost hard to spend up to the FanDuel salary cap, there’s a good case to be made for lavishing money on the big guy.
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers ($6,500): As usual, Cam Newton’s favorite target is priced right. The only red flag here is that Olsen has caught only one TD pass in his last six games. One of Seattle’s few defensive weaknesses is its inability to cover tight ends.
Top kicker values: Chandler Catanzaro ($4,800), Stephen Gostkowski ($5,200), Steven Hauschka ($4,700)
Top defense values: Denver ($5,300), Pittsburgh ($4,700), New England ($4,700)
Here’s the lineup I’m entering in FanDuel’s $75K Saturday NFL Scramble (single entry):
QB Peyton Manning ($7,000)
RB David Johnson ($8,500)
RB C.J. Anderson ($5,900)
WR Demaryius Thomas ($8,100)
WR Doug Baldwin ($7,400)
WR Michael Floyd ($6,500)
TE Greg Olsen ($6,500)
K Chandler Catanzaro ($4,800)
DST Denver ($5,300)
I’m betting big on the Broncos and Cardinals. It’s possible that Manning will remain a limp-armed interception machine, but I really think he can do business against the Pittsburgh secondary, and if that’s the case, Demaryius Thomas is likely to be in on the fun. The Steelers’ defense is much tougher against the run, but Anderson has looked terrific in recent weeks, and his price is easy to stomach. I also like the Denver defense against a Pittsburgh offense that’s appeared out of sorts in recent weeks—especially with Ben Roethlisberger’s AC sprain and Antonio Brown’s unknown status. David Johnson is a no-brainer this week, and Floyd is a solid value. The Cards should be able to put up some points at home, which makes Catanzaro a logical choice at kicker. Olsen has been a near-weekly fixture in my lineups for much of the season, and I couldn’t turn down the reasonably priced Baldwin, who’s been such a prolific TD scorer over the last two months.