Bills at Texans
Team Totals: Texans 23, Bills 20.5
Buffalo and Houston kick off Wild Card weekend after taking advantage of Week 17 opportunities to rest starters, and both clubs should be in plus condition for Saturday’s opener. The Bills are among the AFC’s most dangerous teams, having yielded more than 24 points once over their last 19 games via Sean McDermott’s fundamentally sound defense, and offering explosive offensive potential keyed by erratic playmaker Josh Allen, who finished 2019 third among NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards (510) and first in rushing TDs (9), and now faces a Texans defense that’s allowed the league’s seventh-most QB rushing yards. Only Arizona and Miami gave up more fantasy points to quarterbacks than Houston. Allen is a scary playoffs-bracket pick because Buffalo’s chances of Divisional Round elimination are high, but the Bills did play Baltimore to a one-score outcome in Week 14 (24-17). Either way, I love Allen as a Wild Card Round DFS starter and high-ceiling contrarian play in full-postseason fantasy tournaments.
The Bills gave Devin Singletary honorary on-ice treatment in last week’s meaningless loss to the Jets after deploying him as a true every-down back in their prior-week attempt to usurp New England for the AFC East crown. Singletary logged a season-high 96% of Buffalo’s Week 16 offensive snaps and has cleared 16 touches in six straight appearances. On two snaps, Frank Gore didn’t touch the ball against the Pats. Singletary’s ceiling can be capped by Allen’s penchant for close-in TD vulturing and scrambling instead of checking down, but Singletary shouldn’t have to worry about Gore in Saturday’s do-or-die game. And his matchup is pristine; Houston got clocked for 220/1,083/7 (4.92 YPC) rushing by enemy backs over its last nine games, while Texans DC Romeo Crennel’s defense has coughed up the league’s second-most receiving yards to Singletary’s position (891). LE J.J. Watt’s (pec) return is notable, but he is one player coming off a debilitating arm injury that could easily limit Watt’s effectiveness after over two months off. Singletary is an exciting usage- and matchup-based DFS play and postseason bracket pick.
Allen’s Weeks 13-16 target distribution: Cole Beasley 32; John Brown 26; Dawson Knox 17; Singletary 16; Isaiah McKenzie 10; Robert Foster 9; Tyler Kroft 3; Andre Roberts 2; Gore 1. … Beasley never feels like a fun fantasy play, but he’s cleared 70 yards and/or scored a touchdown in 11-of-15 appearances (73%) and leads Buffalo in red-zone catches (7). Beasley runs 78% of his routes inside, where Texans slot CB Vernon Hargreaves has hemorrhaged 65 receptions on 88 targets (74%) for 865 yards (9.8 YPA) and five TDs this season. … Brown’s consistency is likewise underrated with 70-plus yards and/or a score in 10-of-15 games (67%), while fellow outside WRs A.J. Brown (4/124/1, 8/114/1) and Breshad Perriman (7/102/0) took turns torpedoing Houston’s secondary over the last three weeks. The Texans have given up the NFL’s eighth-most 20-plus-yard completions (58), while Brown ranks top ten in the league in targets thrown 20-plus yards downfield (27). Brown’s ceiling is among the highest on Week 18’s wide receiver slate. … Knox and McKenzie are long-shot dart throws against the Texans. Houston has yielded the league’s seventh-most receiving yards to tight ends, giving lightly-used Knox a shot at paying matchup-based dividends enhanced by the Texans’ placement of FS Tashaun Gipson on I.R. this week. McKenzie has been Buffalo’s decoy-type No. 3 wideout for most of the year.
Deshaun Watson enters Week 18 battling back and ankle injuries to face a ceiling-capping Bills defense that has allowed the NFL’s fewest 20-plus-yard completions (34), plays a suffocating zone that keeps eyes on dual-threat QBs, has yielded the NFL’s fifth-fewest quarterback rushing yards this year (155), and trots out Tre’Davious White to tangle with DeAndre Hopkins. Only the Ravens and Patriots have permitted fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks than Buffalo. Late-week reports indicated Will Fuller (hamstring, groin) will not return; Watson averages 1.5 fewer career yards per attempt, 49.3 fewer passing yards, 0.96 fewer touchdown passes, and 4.7 fewer fantasy points per game sans Fuller.
Bill O’Brien’s year-long preference for Carlos Hyde over Duke Johnson combined with O’Brien’s Week 17 willingness to play Johnson on 32% of Houston’s offensive snaps versus Hyde’s 8% in a meaningless game reinforced his backfield pecking order. Hyde’s near-utter lack of passing-game involvement keeps his DFS floor low, but McDermott’s purposeful concession of rushing production in exchange for limiting big-play passing also favors Hyde over Johnson from a matchup standpoint. As usual, Hyde is a touchdown-or-bust fantasy gamble. Johnson doesn’t stand out as a 7.9 touches-per-game back.
Hopkins’ target counts in the Texans’ five-game non-Fuller games are 13 > 12 > 11 > 13 > 12. He dips to a 9.2-target average when Fuller plays. Hopkins’ trip to Tre’Davious White island is no cakewalk, but his volume projection rivals Michael Thomas for highest on Week 18’s wideout slate. … Among the NFL’s least predictable producers, Kenny Stills is a full-on DFS-tournament play on Wild Card slates whose outlook is enhanced by White’s likely sticky coverage on Hopkins. No. 2 CB Levi Wallace’s Week 17 ankle injury may force Buffalo to dig into its cornerback depth. … Even on the off chance Fuller plays, he will be a severe in-game setback risk with slate-breaking upside but a devastating floor. … O’Brien has stayed committed to two-tight end “12” personnel as his base offense, keeping Keke Coutee and slot WR competitor DeAndre Carter in an ongoing practice-based battle for playing time. With Steven Mitchell also involved for slot snaps, the Texans’ third receiver job is entirely up in the air assuming Fuller misses. … TE Darren Fells has drawn only one fewer red-zone target (13;12) and one fewer target inside the ten-yard line (5;4) than Hopkins. Neither Texans tight end catches a positive matchup against athletic phenom LBs Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano nor safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, yet Fells continues to be the superior touchdown-or-bust bet ahead of Jordan Akins.
Score Prediction: Bills 24, Texans 20
Titans at Patriots
Team Totals: Patriots 24.5, Titans 19.5
Back from his balky hamstring, Derrick Henry parlayed Week 16’s rest game into season highs in carries (32), rushing yards (211), and touchdowns (3) versus the Texans in last week’s playoffs-sealing win and emerged as the NFL’s rushing leader. The Big Dog now catches a Patriots team whose run defense has stiffened lately, permitting a combined 100/356/0 (3.56 YPC) rushing line to enemy backs over its last five games. Henry’s usage remains secure – he’s averaging 21.4 touches per game and hasn’t dipped below 19 since November 3 – while Tennessee’s odds of pulling off Saturday’s upset look real against the offensively-challenged Patriots. Mike Vrabel’s team destroyed New England 34-10 in Week 10 of 2018, likely enhancing confidence in an ordinarily imposing spot. Henry hit pay dirt twice in that game.
Ryan Tannehill is a tougher Week 18 fantasy sell with colossal difference-maker A.J. Brown likely to be draped in Stephon Gilmore’s coverage, Tennessee’s passing-game weapons limited beyond Brown, and Titans-Patriots projected as a relatively low-scoring affair. Tannehill hasn’t faced a single AFC East team during his ten-game hot run as Tennessee’s season savior. But Bill Belichick has taken on Tannehill eleven times, holding him to a combined 4-7 record, 15:11 TD-to-INT ratio, 60.1% completion rate, and 7.35 yards per attempt, marks all way below Tannehill’s Titans numbers (7-3, 22:6, 70.3%, 9.6 YPA).
Tannehill’s 2019 target distribution: A.J. Brown 62; Corey Davis 46; Jonnu Smith 37; Tajae Sharpe 25; Adam Humphries and Anthony Firkser 24; Dion Lewis 16; Henry 13; Kalif Raymond 12; MyCole Pruitt 7. … Even after DeVante Parker (8/137/0) revealed that Gilmore is human in Miami’s Week 17 upset of New England, there’s no doubt this is Brown’s toughest NFL matchup to date, rendering him a boom-bust selection in both playoffs-only fantasy leagues and Wild Card DFS formats. … Davis was a decidedly pedestrian 2019 producer with just two touchdowns and two games above 60 yards all season, yet Gilmore’s probable shadow coverage of Brown and Davis’ historical ownership of New England give him some sleeper life. Albeit in a miniscule sample, Davis has shredded the Pats for stat lines of 5/63/2 and 7/125/1 in two career meetings. … Sharpe is operating as Tennessee’s primary slot receiver, where Cole Beasley (7/108/0, 7/75/0), Golden Tate (6/102/1), Randall Cobb (4/86/0), JuJu Smith-Schuster (6/78/0), Jarvis Landry (5/65/0), Kenny Stills (3/61/1), and Albert Wilson (5/59/0) have given the Pats fits. Sharpe is a replacement-level talent with an unexciting role, but he’s worthy of deep punt-play mention on a four-game DFS slate. … Highly athletic but utilized inconsistently in Tennessee’s passing attack, Smith is always a high-variance investment. Smith ran only three more routes (13) than Firkser (10) in Week 17. Pruitt logged a 52% snap rate and vultured both on a one-yard second-quarter score against Houston.
Even beneath dyed-dark hair to make himself look younger, Tom Brady played his least-accurate game of the season in New England’s Week 17 loss to Miami. Trust factor low with his receivers while nursing his own throwing-elbow woes, Brady struggled to locate his delivery and is averaging an abysmal 6.01 yards per attempt over his last ten games. The good news is Tennessee struggles to create pressure – DC Dean Pees’ unit ranks 27th in QB Hit Rate (13.4%) and can be picked apart in the short passing game, yielding the NFL’s tenth-highest completion rate (64.5%), which is Brady’s bread and butter. Still short on upside and catching a hot stretch-run first-round opponent, Brady is a contrarian DFS- and playoffs-tournament pick whose fantasy appeal is tied to New England’s history rather than his own 2019 play. … Sony Michel enters Week 18 following consecutive touch counts of 20 > 22 > 18, albeit with just three receptions over his last six games. In theory, Tennessee’s allowance of the NFL’s third-most running back catches (101) should set up James White and Rex Burkhead for expanded matchup-based roles. Ultimately, the three-man nature of New England’s backfield renders each member a low-floor fantasy dart throw against the Titans and beyond. Each back does seem certain to go low owned across formats.
Brady’s Weeks 13-17 target distribution: Julian Edelman 41; White 30; Mohamed Sanu 24; N’Keal Harry 16; Jakobi Meyers 13; Phillip Dorsett 12; Matt LaCosse 10; Burkhead 9; Ben Watson 8; Michel 6. … Knee and shoulder injuries have seemed extremely debilitating to Edelman, who hasn’t hit pay dirt or cleared 75 yards since Week 14. In theory, Edelman’s quickness and option-route dominance give him an edge on physical Titans slot CB Logan Ryan. I’m just not sold Edelman will have those qualities at his Week 18 disposal. … Sanu’s box-score results have been abysmal, but he’s topped 80% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps in three straight games and drawn five-plus targets in all three. Last week was the best Sanu has looked physically since he arrived from Atlanta. With Edelman more hobbled at this stage, Sanu is a viable opportunity-based DFS-tournament gamble. … Harry has yet to clear 30 yards in an NFL game, but the Pats are continually trying to get him going with five rushing attempts over the past three weeks and a season-high seven targets in Week 17. Harry offers long-shot breakout appeal against Tennessee’s injury-depleted and limited-talent perimeter pass coverage. … Dorsett supplied a brief offensive spark on last week’s 50-yard bomb against the Dolphins, but it wound up as his lone catch of the game. He’s been demoted along with Meyers into No. 4 and 5 receiver roles behind Edelman, Sanu, and Harry.
Score Prediction: Titans 21, Patriots 20
Vikings at Saints
Team Totals: Saints 29, Vikings 20
Vikings-Saints is lined at nine, by far Wild Card weekend’s biggest spread and a red flag for playoffs-only fantasy leaguers focusing on players on teams likely to accrue points in multiple games. All Vikings skill players are contrarian picks in postseason formats and Wild Card DFS. … On the bright side, Dalvin Cook (shoulder) sounds legitimately recuperated after limited participation in Weeks 13-15 followed by full inactivity in the last two regular season weeks, while starting OTs Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill benefited from Week 17 rest. Even without DT Sheldon Rankins (Achilles’) and DE Marcus Davenport (foot), the Saints have shown no signs of running back vulnerability – limiting enemy backs to 3.64 yards per carry and a below-par 38.6 receiving yards per game – but Cook has matchup-proof capability when healthy, projects to rarely leave the field, and will surely go lightly owned in DFS. No. 2 back Alexander Mattison is coming off a dreaded high ankle sprain. We probably won’t see Week 17 sensation Mike Boone at all.
In addition to being Week 17’s highest-lined game, Vikings-Saints boasts the Wild Card Round’s largest projected point total (49) and carries no weather concerns inside New Orleans’ Superdome. Kirk Cousins is therefore theoretically positioned for elevated pass attempts in comeback mode with passing-game playmakers Cook and Adam Thielen (hamstring) back near full strength to complement Stefon Diggs in a potential shootout. Albeit in Minneapolis, Cousins touched up Saints DC Dennis Allen’s defense for 359 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 21 rushing yards, and 8.6 yards per pass attempt in these clubs’ Week 9 date in 2018, while Cousins’ career YPA shoots from 7.52 with a 93.1 passer rating in outdoor games to 7.99 and a 107.4 rating inside domes. On the heels of a season where he established career bests in TD Rate (5.9%), interception rate (1.4%), adjusted yards per attempt (8.7), and QB rating (107.4) under Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak, Cousins is a premium DFS-tournament option on four-game Wild Card slates. The Saints played rock-solid defense for most of the year but did allow point totals of 28 (Titans), 48 (49ers), and 31 (Panthers) over the course of their last six regular season games.
Including playoffs, Stefon Diggs has faced Allen’s secondary three times over the past three seasons, delivering monster lines of 6/137/1 > 10/119/1 > 7/93/2. Ala Cousins, Diggs’ career TD Rate (59.4%) and yards per target (9.8) skyrocket indoors versus outdoors (30.6%, 7.9). The Saints have used top CB Marcus Lattimore in a variety of ways in past Minnesota meetings, leaving us without predictability as to Diggs’ individual cornerback matchup. Ultimately, Cousins-to-Diggs stacks will probably not be as heavily owned as they deserve to be in DFS tourneys. … Adam Thielen’s stat lines in such affairs were 6/74/0 > 7/103/1 > 9/157/0, and his DFS ownership will also be depressed by recency bias with three catches for 27 scoreless yards combined since Week 7. No. 2 CB Eli Apple’s (ankle) absence will force the Saints to turn to late-season waiver pickup Janoris Jenkins, a talented but inconsistent gambler Cousins shouldn’t hesitate to attack. … TEs Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith’s box-score expectations go way down with Thielen back, but they maintain touchdown-reliant appeal on four-game DFS slates. Rudolph hasn’t topped three targets since Week 13. Smith hasn’t topped four targets since Week 10. … Olabisi Johnson is a deep but low-upside sleeper playoffs-only drafters may want to consider in leagues preventing you from picking more than one player from each team. Johnson should log around 60% of Sunday’s snaps at slot receiver and can be overcome as a punt play if the Vikings are eliminated in the first round.
The Saints are projected as Wild Card weekend’s likeliest winner and have realistic Super Bowl chances peaking at the right time with a sparkling plus-95 point differential over their last seven games, the NFL’s No. 2 stretch-run-weighted offensive DVOA at Football Outsiders, and top-ten weighted defensive DVOA in an NFC bracket lacking one dominant team. Inside the Superdome facing Minnesota’s pass-funnel defense, Drew Brees’ upside is immense with his supporting cast near full strength, critical Vikings MLB Eric Kendricks (quad) well short of 100%, underrated slot CB Mackensie Alexander (knee) dinged up, and no one on Mike Zimmer’s roster capable of stopping Michael Thomas. Even going on age 41, Brees finished 2019 on absolute fire. He returned from an early-season hand injury in Week 9 and went on to complete 246-of-330 passes (74.6%) for 2,571 yards (7.8 YPA), 25 touchdowns, and just two picks over New Orleans’ last nine games. On the season, Brees’ 116.3 passer rating was the best of his career.
Severely victimized by the aftereffects of his early-season high ankle sprain for so much of 2019, Alvin Kamara finally found a groove with 5.61 yards per carry, four touchdowns, and 13 catches over New Orleans’ final three regular season games. Kamara logged touches/yardage/TD counts of 15/105/1 > 20/76/2 in his last two clashes with Minnesota, while coach Sean Payton has shown a consistent willingness to feature Kamara over inferior RBBC partners Mark Ingram and Latavius Murray in high-leverage scenarios like playoff games. Heavily favored at home with his legs seemingly, finally, back on a team that should make a multi-game postseason run, Kamara is an exciting fantasy pick in all formats. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that this is a “revenge” game for ex-Vikings, now-Saints No. 2 RB Murray.
Brees’ 2019 target distribution: Thomas 120; Kamara 66; Jared Cook 42; Ted Ginn 33; Murray 29; Tre’Quan Smith 22; Josh Hill 20; Taysom Hill 16. … Even as the Saints and Vikings have often played over the past three years, Thomas has never faced a Minnesota secondary as soft as this one. Over the last eight weeks, Zimmer’s unit hemorrhaged WR stat lines of 11/147/1 (Amari Cooper), 6/140/1 (Tyreek Hill), 13/116/0 (Davante Adams), 5/113/0 (Courtland Sutton), 6/106/1 (Randall Cobb), 9/99/0 (Keenan Allen), 4/77/0 (Tim Patrick), 4/76/1 (Michael Gallup), 6/75/0 (D.K. Metcalf), 4/71/1 (Mike Williams), 9/71/0 (Allen Robinson), 2/65/1 (David Moore), 7/63/0 (Sammy Watkins), 6/58/1 (Kenny Golladay), and Allen Lazard (5/45/0). Thomas is Wild Card weekend’s clear No. 1 wideout play. … This isn’t a bad matchup for white-hot Cook, either. Minnesota has yielded the NFL’s eighth-most catches (84) to tight ends, while Cook has delivered 50-plus yards and/or a touchdown in ten straight games, establishing a high floor and ceiling with Brees under center. … The story never changes for Ginn and Smith as low-floor dart throws in a concentrated passing game where both are low-priority contributors. Ginn is the best bet of the two based on opportunity and matchup versus Minnesota’s burnable perimeter pass coverage. Only eight NFL defenses allowed more yards to wide receivers than the 2019 Vikings (2,727).
Score Prediction: Saints 30, Vikings 23
Seahawks at Eagles
Team Totals: Seahawks 23.5, Eagles 22
Depleted by injuries to LT Duane Brown (knee), C Justin Britt (ACL), RB Chris Carson (hip), TE Will Dissly (Achilles’), RB Rashaad Penny (ACL), RB C.J. Prosise (arm), and WR Josh Gordon’s suspension, Seattle limps into Lincoln Financial Field having lost three of its last four games with a six-point win over 5-11 Carolina mixed in. The Seahawks beat an opponent by more than one score once all year. Although his pass-catcher corps matches up favorably with Philadelphia’s talent-deficient secondary, Russell Wilson’s pass protection is a major concern on the road against an Eagles defense that ranks top 12 in sack rate (7%) and top five in QB Hit Rate (17.9%), rendering Wilson an entirely boom-bust fantasy bet. Wilson has cleared 300 passing yards just once since Week 3 and was not a fantasy asset in the second half of 2019. Philadelphia’s D/ST is firmly in play at home with high-upside sack potential.
The Seahawks deployed a two-man RBBC in Week 17’s loss to San Francisco but relied heavily on rookie Travis Homer over newly signed Marshawn Lynch, not playing Robert Turbin at all and dedicating 67% of their offensive snaps to the former. Homer is up to 13 targets over Seattle’s last two games, out-touched Lynch 15 to 12 against the Niners, and earned post-Week 17 praise from Pete Carroll for his physical running and plus versatility. At 5-foot-10, 201, Homer blazed 4.48 coming out of Miami (FL) and tallied 2019’s No. 3 SPARQ rating among drafted running backs. Lynch remains the Seahawks’ favorite for goal-line carries, but Homer is likely to continue to out-snap him and contribute far more in the passing game, especially notable this week on the road versus Philadelphia’s run-tough defensive front.
Gordon’s suspension plus injuries to Jaron Brown (knee) and Malik Turner (concussion) should solidify Week 18 mega-sleeper David Moore into three-receiver sets behind D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. It goes without saying that Metcalf and Lockett are set up beautifully versus an Eagles secondary that couldn’t cover anyone before losing top CB Ronald Darby (hip) to I.R. Moore logged Week 17 season highs in snaps (72%) and routes run (39) against the 49ers and has flashed playmaking ability in the past, averaging 17.3 career yards per catch. Albeit entirely unsafe, Moore checks boxes for opportunity, talent, matchup, and price as one of Wild Card weekend’s top pound-for-pound DFS punts. … Luke Willson’s (hamstring, hip) return casts doubt on Jacob Hollister’s floor, although Willson hasn’t played since Week 9 and can’t even be considered a safe bet to make it through Sunday’s game unscathed considering his slew of setbacks. Hollister is an opportunity-based dart throw with six-plus targets in four of Seattle’s last five games but limited production to show for it and some risk of playing-time loss.
Fresh off taking care of Week 17 business in their 34-17 road win at the Giants, the NFC East champion Eagles return to The Linc to face a Seahawks team cane-walking into the Wild Card Round. Carson Wentz’s supporting cast is in similarly poor shape – stud RG Brandon Brooks (shoulder) has joined Philly’s already lengthy list of I.R. casualties, and Miles Sanders (ankle) is banged up now, too – but Wentz’s volume projection and matchup should be in minimal doubt with 40-plus pass attempts in seven straight games facing a Seattle defense that allowed an average of 27.0 points over the past five weeks. Philly’s injury depletion is an obvious concern for Wentz’s box-score ceiling, but he overcame it throughout December and, for better or worse, will continue to have the Eagles’ offense on his back.
Miles Sanders is believed to have avoided a dreaded high ankle sprain in last week’s playoff-clinching defeat of the Giants, but he was unable to return to the game and barely practiced this week. The Eagles were concerned enough to elevate Elijah Holyfield to the 53-man roster on Monday, while Boston Scott and Jordan Howard are all systems go versus Seattle. Particularly without difference-maker RG Brooks and RT Lane Johnson (ankle) far shy of 100% to reduce Philly’s chances of fielding a dangerous between-the-tackles rushing attack, space-type back Scott is my personal pick to lead Philadelphia’s backfield in Week 18 fantasy points with Sanders second and probable touchdown-or-bust dart throw Howard third.
Wentz’s Week 18 target distribution: Dallas Goedert 10; Greg Ward 7; Scott and Josh Perkins 6; Sanders 5; Deontay Burnett 4; Robert Davis 2; J.J. Arcega-Whiteside 0. … Zach Ertz seems highly unlikely to play due to a cracked rib and lacerated kidney. Yet the Eagles held strong to their 12-personnel, two-tight end conviction in Week 17’s must-win game; Goedert played 74-of-74 snaps and led the team in targets, while Perkins emerged as a 78% player in Goedert’s old role, running 33 routes. Assuming Ertz sits, Goedert is Week 18’s No. 1 fantasy tight end play, and Perkins is playable in DFS lineups alongside him. Only the Cardinals allowed more fantasy points to tight ends than Seattle in 2019. … Slot man Ward has clearly earned Wentz’s trust, commanding target counts of 9 > 9 > 5 > 7 over Philly’s last four games. Slot coverage was a revolving-door deficiency in Seattle’s secondary all year. … With Arcega-Whiteside (foot) clearly debilitated by injury, Davis stood in as Philly’s Week 17 No. 3 wideout but was out-targeted by Burnett despite logging a 78% playing-time rate to Burnett’s 20%. Both are ultra-thin dart-throw options in a passing game likely to be dominated by the Eagles’ running backs, tight ends, and Ward.
Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Seahawks 23