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Wild Card Weekend: DraftDay Value Plays

C.D. Carter searches for value as he constructs his daily fantasy football lineup.

Andrew Luck, Daily fantasy football
Andrew Luck, Daily fantasy football

Dec 29, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Daily fantasy football value can be found this weekend in a couple basic misunderstandings of teams’ strengths and weaknesses.

There’s a lot less to analyze once we reach the NFL playoffs and our lineup options become almost laughably limited. You’ll find that even in head-to-head matchups, your Wild Card weekend daily games will often come down to a player or two.

That, as you might imagine, effectively eliminates the edge of hardcore daily gamers.

I think there are a couple common misconceptions of what this week’s playoff teams do well with, and what they’ve struggled with in recent weeks and months. A better grasp of these strengths and weaknesses might provide the edge we need to win a little cash-money on DraftDay this weekend.

Kansas City Chiefs defense

We think of the Chiefs’ defense as a fantasy force because of the unit’s incredible opportunism in the first half of the 2013 season. Kansas City’s defense and special teams seemed to score at will, winning daily tournaments almost single handedly.

The team’s secondary, however, has been exposed as something of a fraud over the past month and a half, as the Chiefs’ front seven has consistently struggled to apply any sort of pressure on the passer.

The Chiefs’ coverage struggles are reflected in their cornerbacks’ Pro Football Focus ratings. Sean Smith has the unit’s best coverage rating, coming in at 58th out of a qualifying 110 cornerbacks. Marcus Cooper comes in at 77th, and Brandon Flowers an abysmal 96th in coverage. This all speaks well of the prospects of every Colts’ pass catcher this week. It’s gotten quite ugly for that trio.

I think there’s quite a bit of value to be had in the Indianapolis passing attack against Kansas City, despite offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s penchant for conservative play calling and occasional refusal to use his most potent weapons. Da’Rick Rogers has a chance to exploit a secondary that has struggled to cover pass catchers of his size and speed (see Andre Johnson, Keenan Allen and Eric Decker) and slot receiver Griff Whalen could very well make PPR hay against the Chiefs’ soft coverage unit.

New Orleans Saints defense

No one should expect much from either defense in the Eagles-Saints tilt, projected by Vegas to be a 54.5-point affair. The Saints’ defense — sadly for fantasy owners who targeted them throughout 2012 — has been a legit unit in 2013, though it’s critically important to understand where they excel.

New Orleans sports a top-12 pass coverage unit, according to Pro Football Focus’ rating system, while their run defense is middling, and has been exploited in spots.

When teams aren’t in full-fledged catchup mode against the murderous Saints’ offense, running backs have run amok. The Jets piled up 168 rushing yards against the Saints in Week 9, just two weeks after the Patriots rushed for 128 yards against Rob Ryan’s defense.

The Rams, in another game in which the Saints didn’t jump out to a big lead, piled up 133 rushing yards. DeMarco Murray, before Drew Brees and company nuked the Cowboys’ defense, gained yards by the handful against a soft Saints’ front seven.

It’s hardly news that LeSean McCoy is a must-play across all daily sites this week, but knowing that New Orleans’ vulnerability is on the ground — not through the air — might help us avoid a less-than-stellar game from Nick Foles and his pass catchers. Only four teams ran the ball more than the Eagles in 2013. Foles’ opportunities could (should) be limited barring a game flow nightmare.

In Philadelphia’s six games against bottom-10 in yards per carry allowed, the team has averaged 179.9 rushing yards per game (6.1 YPC). The Saints allow the fourth most yards per tote. We could see the Eagles call more than 40 runs Saturday night.

Wild Card Weekend DraftDay Value Plays

Player Projected points
Andrew Luck 24.6
Alex Smith 20.8
Andy Dalton 19.1
  • The Bengals took the air out of the football during their Week 14 game in San Diego. Dalton missed a few easy throws against one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, eventually salvaging his day with a late touchdown pass to A.J. Green. I worry about Dalton being converted to little more than a game manager in this one.
  • My Luck and Smith projections likely hinge on the Colts and Chiefs combining for more than the 46 points Vegas odds makers say they’ll score. Both defenses can be had. And if you think Andy Reid is going to run it 35 times, you don’t know the Kool-Aid Man.
Player Projected points
Darren Sproles 12.6
Frank Gore 14
Donald Brown 10.2
  • Sproles, if Thomas somehow misses Saturday night’s game with a lingering chest injury, should be a staple in daily fantasy lineups of every kind, especially on DraftDay. Sproles is the 11th highest priced running back on DraftDay, just behind Trent Richardson. Sproles will roast Philly’s linebackers in space if given the chance.
  • Gore salvaged an otherwise forgettable fantasy day against Green Bay in Week 1, when he rushed 21 times for a meager 44 yards. The Packers’ rush defense has been brutalized in recent weeks, allowing more than 20 fantasy points to enemy runners in four of their last six contests. Only four teams give up more schedule-adjusted points to runners than the Packers.
Player Projected points
Griff Whalen 10
Da’Rick Rogers 11.9
Marques Colston 15.4
Dwayne Bowe 10.9
  •  Whalen has 15 receptions over the Colts’ past three games. Luck trusts him, and I think daily gamers could convert that trust into easy fantasy points. Whalen if priced side by side with Ryan Whalen, a Bengals’ receiver who will hardly see the field. Grab Whalen at DraftDay’s minimum price and stock up on big names elsewhere.
  • It’s hard to overstate just how awful the Eagles’ pass defense can be. Lest we forget that Matt Cassel roasted Philly’s secondary on a spit a few weeks back, finishing with 382 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints’ could fall out of bed and put up 300 passing yards this week. Colston, among other pass catchers, will reap the benefits.
Player Projected points
Zach Ertz 10.2
Coby Fleener 8.2
  •  My hope for Ertz is that he can do what Tim Graham did to the Saints last week and post a hefty stat line thanks to the absence of safety Kenny Vaccaro. Ertz, no matter how you cut it, is a big-time gamble. Here are his targets over the past seven weeks: 0, 3, 6, 0, 9, 1, 5. That’s downright terrifying. Unless you have a comfy seat in Chip Kelly’s office, there’s no sure way to know if Ertz or Brent Celek will be deployed against the Vaccaro-less New Orleans secondary. I’d lean Ertz, if only because he’s so very cheap on DraftDay.

Wild Card Weekend Optimal DraftDay Tournament Lineup

QB: Drew Brees ($22,300)
RB: LeSean McCoy ($19,200)
RB: Darren Sproles ($7,000)
WR: Griff Whalen ($5,000)
WR: Da’Rick Rogers ($6,700)
TE: Jimmy Graham ($18,000)
FLEX: Giovani Bernard ($10,200)

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