XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
The Wild Card round concludes with Dallas visiting Tampa as a short road favorite (2.5) in a game with a 45.5 total (side note here: it feels weird to me that the 12-5 Cowboys have to play on the road against the 8-9 Bucs but nobody asked me about how NFL playoff seeding should work – their loss). Both defenses are strong, with the Cowboys, as we know, being elite, ranking 2nd in overall defensive DVOA while Tampa is solid at 13th. Both offenses are middle of the pack, ranked 15th and 16th in DVOA (Dallas is 15th).
We’ll start by looking at the Bucs and their run game, which has struggled on the ground all year behind a poor run-blocking offensive line. That has led to Leonard Fournette averaging just 3.5 yards per carry while backup Rachaad White is at 3.7. Exciting! Receiving volume buoys the floor and ceiling here with Uncle Lenny averaging just over five targets per game and White soaking up another 3.4. Fournette has been on the larger side of a timeshare in the second half of the season as White’s role has grown but there’s a big question mark here to me around workload and usage. Teams generally condense their offense in the playoffs to focus on their best players, and while I don’t know that Fournette is any better than White, we know that Brady trusts his veterans and also highly values ball security, and Fournette hasn’t fumbled once the season (White has done so three times). My tentative expectation is that White is still going to get some action but the workload split will lean more in Fournette’s favor in the playoffs; maybe it goes from the 55-45 or so split we’ve seen the past few weeks to something like a 70-30 split. Now, this is conjecture but if it plays out this way, that would make Fournette quite underpriced for a bell cow role at $7,200, especially with a very strong passing game role (remember playoff Lenny last year?). In that scenario, White at $5,400 would be quite overpriced. The way I’m going to play this is that while I’m fine playing Fournette and White together in the flex, in rosters in which one of them is the captain, I will be excluding the other (for one to end up being the optimal captain, we likely need them to see the bulk of the work).
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In the passing game, we’ll see Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as the primary wideouts with Julio Jones and Russell Gage sharing the WR3 role. We’ve seen guys like Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman, and more recently Deven Thompkins, rotate in during the regular season, but I expect in the playoffs that those guys won’t see much action unless there’s an injury in front of them; you can include them in player pools but they are very thin punt options. The Bucs offensive line struggles have led them to adopt a somewhat ludicrously high-volume passing attack, with Tom Brady averaging an insane 44.8 pass attempts (not dropbacks – pass attempts) per game during the regular season (not including Week 18) albeit with a tiny 6.4 yards per pass attempt (second lowest of his career). What we’re seeing is a high volume, short area offense, and with Dallas having an elite pass rush (2nd in the NFL in adjusted sack rate while the Bucs O-line is dead last in this metric), we should expect to see that same short-area offense as the game plan going into this one. That plan of attack favors Chris Godwin, who has reached double-digit DK points in every game this season but one, however, he has only gone past 20 DK points twice (and has hit 30 just once). Godwin is a very safe play who has volume-based upside and who has more ceiling than the season’s data shows, as he only has three touchdowns on the year despite leading the team in targets inside the 10-yard line. The quick-out passing attack has really hurt Mike Evans this season. Evans has also struggled with converting air yards into production, as he ranks in the top 10 of wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game. Some of this is on Evans for missing catchable balls, and some of it is due to poorly thrown passes due to pressure. The net result is that Evans has two games of over 30 Draftkings points (including Week 17’s 10/207/3 explosion which came against a Panthers team with no appreciable pass rush at all), but he also has a whopping seven games of under 10 DK points. Yikes. Godwin’s my preferred play here, though Evans of course still has a strong ceiling but I’m more likely to come in underweight the field given that his ownership has generally tended to be in the 40-50% range in Showdowns this year. The WR3 role is one that I expect to see Gage in the lead for, with Julio mixing in for something like 25-40% of the snaps. That makes Gage at $5,200 an appealing option while Julio gets relegated to the tourney boom/bust group. At tight end, we should expect Cade Otton to lead the way in snaps with some combination of Cam Brate, Ko Kieft, and Kyle Rudolph rotating through (with the caveat that, as with Fournette and White, there’s a possibility that usage swings back to the veteran Brate in the playoffs but personally I think Otton has earned Brady’s trust and is most likely to be the lead guy). If Otton leads the way at the position, at just $1,800, he represents a very strong value play; his skillset aligns well with the type of offense the Bucs are running, and Brady has a long history of supporting strong tight end production. Everyone else is a tourney punt option. On the whole, my favorite Bucs skill position players are Godwin, Fournette, and Otton.