Championship Matchups

Nothing extra up here this week. Let’s get started on some playoff football!

We will wrap up the NFL Edge for the year with our first ever Championship Weekend writeup. In the past, we have always stopped the NFL Edge at the end of the Divisional round, as a two-game slate introduces too many variables to be considered much more than a crapshoot (or, at least, an opportunity for multi-entry strategies that mix and match “likeliest scenarios” with pure upside plays). But with so many of you surely playing this slate, we’re going to dig into the matchups and the likeliest scenarios in each game on the weekend. Working in our favor is a pair of high-total games that will provide opportunities for points to pile up (and for some lower-priced players to potentially exceed expectations). It will further work in your favor to look beyond what is “likeliest to happen,” and to read between the lines in these writeups for outlier instances that could provide a path to the top of the leaderboards. A great example of the potential in this approach was our exploration of the Rams’ backfield last week, where we said that “the likeliest scenario” was C.J. Anderson mixing in for a non-negligible number of touches. Because C.J. is lightly involved in the pass game and Dallas was so stout against the run, the “likeliest scenario” was still a low-output day for C.J., but with ownership last week bordering on 0% and our expectation that he would see genuine touches, he was the kind of play that we could reasonably isolate and say, “Here’s a guy who has a realistic path to a big game, and we’ll bet on this less-likely scenario in order to try to isolate some upside that others are missing out on.” I built four rosters last week and had C.J. on none of them, but it stood out to me that Sammy Watkins, Michael Gallup, and Tyrell Williams (three of the “less-likely” plays I isolated for upside myself) were all under 5% owned on a small, four-game slate. Keep that in mind as you build this week: Even on a slate this small, there are players who will go overlooked.

With that, let’s dig into “what is likeliest to happen” in these games, and we’ll see what rosters we can create from there.

Kickoff Sunday, Jan 20th 3:05pm Eastern

Rams (
26.75) at

Saints (

Over/Under 57.0


Key Matchups
Rams Run D
20th DVOA/16th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O
13th DVOA/31st Yards per carry
Rams Pass D
22nd DVOA/27th Yards allowed per pass
Saints Pass O
20th DVOA/22nd Yards per pass
Saints Run D
25th DVOA/22nd Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O
7th DVOA/8th Yards per carry
Saints Pass D
11th DVOA/23rd Yards allowed per pass
Rams Pass O
10th DVOA/3rd Yards per pass


Rams at Saints kicks off one of the most exciting Championship weekends I can ever remember, with the clear Top Four Teams all reaching the final four, and with a great Super Bowl matchup (and some great Super Bowl storylines) on tap regardless of which teams win this weekend. When the Saints and Rams played earlier this year, the final score was 45-35 (in favor of the Saints) — good for 80 total points. When the Patriots and Chiefs played earlier this year, the final score was 43-40 (in favor of the Patriots) — good for 83 total points. It’s unlikely that either game reaches quite that level again, but we’re in for a fun, points-heavy Championship Sunday, with the decade-plus combination of Sean Payton and Drew Brees playing host to the two-year-old combination of Sean McVay and Jared Goff in the first game of the day.


Somewhat lost in the storylines of this weekend — which have mostly centered around “old vs young” and “the four highest-scoring offenses in the league” — is the fact that three of the teams playing this weekend ranked in the top eight in the NFL this year in rush play rate, with the Rams, Saints, and Patriots all leaning on the run at an above-average clip. The run (and the plays that the run game sets up) is a huge part of what the Rams and Saints both do, and that was part of what made it difficult for the Rams to get their feet under them in the early portions of this matchup last time around, where the Saints took a 35-14 first-half lead and held up Todd Gurley through the early portions of the game. On the season, the Saints ranked a no-joke third in run defense DVOA and second in yards allowed per carry; no team allowed fewer rushing yards than the Saints, and only one team allowed fewer scrimmage yards to the running back position. Much is being made about the loss of Sheldon Rankins, and that will certainly make it easier for the Rams to run the ball, but the loss of Rankins will primarily hurt from a depth perspective (which will show up the most in the third and fourth quarters), and until that point in the game this should still be considered one of the toughest run game matchups in the league.

The flip side of that, of course, is that the Rams have the best run blocking unit and the most well-designed run game in the NFL. The Rams also run a system that produces running back touchdowns at an unbelievable clip, with Gurley piling up five more red zone rushing touchdowns than any other back in football in spite of missing two games. We should expect the Rams to work toward establishing the run throughout the entirety of this game, as a healthy run game is necessary for their pass game to operate at optimum effectiveness, and we should expect them to rotate Gurley (43 snaps last week) and C.J. Anderson (34 snaps last week) to try to match up fresh legs with the tired legs of the Saints’ defensive line. We should also expect Gurley to soak up his typical four to seven targets (while likely playing a larger share of the snaps than he played last week), giving him some additional paths to upside. Gurley is best considered to have a lower floor than normal, but he does still keep a path open to a big game. Anderson is best considered a yardage-and-touchdown back in a tough matchup — though that was the case last week when he turned 23 carries into 123 yards and a pair of scores.


In seven games since losing Cooper Kupp, Jared Goff has two performances with four touchdown passes…plus two with one touchdown pass, and three with zero touchdown passes. He has failed to top even 216 passing yards in five of these seven games…but he has gone for 413 yards and 339 yards in his other two. The Rams have managed to still score 30+ points in five of these seven games (highlighting the fact that “a high-scoring affair” does not necessarily guarantee a golden Goff performance), while Goff has thrown the ball under 30 times in three consecutive games. While the matchup on the ground is difficult for the Rams, look for them to try to squeeze as much value as they can out of that side of their offense, as the Saints will gain an edge if the Rams become one-dimensional.

With that said: 32 to 36 pass attempts is still a comfortable range of production for Goff — and even if we assume a high-end seven looks going to Gurley, this should leave plenty of targets available for the concentrated weaponry of the Rams, with Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks the clear alphas in this attack. Woods has eight or more targets in five of seven games without Kupp, with his spike in slot responsibilities giving a nice boost to his floor, and with his route tree still giving him enough downfield work to be considered an Upside piece. Cooks has remained a lock for six to eight targets every week, with an iffy floor, but with plenty of upside on the downfield looks he sees. While Cooks can never be considered “safe,” the Saints gave up the 10th most pass plays of 20+ yards this year, and Cooks has a couple games this year of double-digit targets — each of which boosts his chances of hitting his ceiling.

Josh Reynolds has seen his targets swing all over the place (since Kupp went down :: 8 // 5 // 7 // 12 // 2 // 7 // 4), and he is best considered a “four to seven looks” piece who only gets a few schemed targets each game — though on a slate this small (especially with the Rams trusting him in the red zone), he’s worth a look in tourneys.

Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett both have a tough matchup against a Saints defense that allowed the fourth fewest yards to the tight end position this year — with Everett the likeliest to break out in this spot, though with neither of these guys a remotely safe bet.


We have spent the whole season in this space talking about how the Rams have the pieces to stop the run when they have to, but how they are bad against the run because their defensive approach is to get after the quarterback and to be comfortable giving up rushing yards between the 20s. Last week, the Rams’ run defense showed up in a big way against Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys — essentially daring Dak Prescott to beat them — but there is a strong argument to be made that the Rams will not want to “force Brees to beat them” this week, and will instead return to their standard style of play.

Regardless of what the Rams do in this department, this game sets up well for Alvin Kamara. If the Rams play their standard style, they will present a run defense that ranked 32nd in yards allowed per carry; and if the Rams instead try to tighten up against the run and “force Brees to beat them,” this pass-heavy approach from New Orleans would lead to plenty of action for Kamara. It is worth noting that last week, with the season on the line, the Saints played Kamara on 51 out of 74 snaps (while Mark Ingram played 29 snaps) — and as long as this game stays close, another 65% to 70% snap rate for Kamara should be expected. Last week, this was enough for Kamara to pile up 16 carries and four catches — the fourth time in his last five games he touched the ball 17+ times. Kamara has zero games above 23 touches since Ingram returned (with high-water marks of 23 // 21 // 20 across 12 games in this stretch), but he’ll have a shot at upside in a game in which he should be able to push toward the higher end of this range.

Ingram should also be involved, but he has topped 13 carries only twice (both blowout wins) and has only two games north of two catches (in each of those games, he had three); Ingram will ultimately need a multi-touchdown game in order to really become useful.


When these teams last played, Michael Thomas saw 15 targets (one of only four games of double-digit looks since Ingram returned), torching the Rams for 211 yards and a touchdown. In that game, the Rams used Marcus Peters on Thomas (a matchup that Sean Payton famously said after the game the Saints “loved”), and while Peters has been on the hunt for payback since that week, it seems likely that L.A. will try to avoid the Thomas-vs-Peters matchup as much as they can. Thomas is one of the best technicians in the NFL, while Peters is a big-time playmaker with iffy coverage skills. Aqib Talib was on the sidelines the last time these teams played, and it appears likely the Rams will try to match up Talib on Thomas as much as they can this time around. None of this is to say Thomas “should not be expected to produce”; as always, he has a high target floor as one of the core pieces of this high-powered attack — and he runs over 30% of his routes out of the slot, where Talib rarely travels. But this is a tougher spot than that Week 9 game makes it appear, as the matchup will likely be different most plays this time around. Thomas will especially benefit if this game turns into a shootout, as this will elevate his target count and give him an opportunity to become a big-play threat instead of just being a short-area tactician.

If the Rams do indeed shift Talib over to Thomas, this would create plenty of Ted Ginn on Peters. Last week, we expected the Saints to try to get Ginn involved — and the Saints obliged from the very first play, on which Brees underthrew Ginn on what would have been a long touchdown to open the game. While Ginn came away with only 44 yards on three catches, his seven targets were encouraging. Pump fakes and double moves to take advantage of Peters’ aggressiveness will provide some opportunities for Ginn to hit deep. The downfield nature of his role keeps his floor low, but the upside is tangible on what should be another six to eight target game (the range in which he has landed in all five of his healthy games this year).

As noted weekly: touchdown opportunities will also have a chance to pop up on this team for Keith Kirkwood, Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill, Tre’Quan Smith, Taysom Hill, etc., but none of these guys see enough looks to post legitimate upside even when they score. Behind Kamara, Ingram, Thomas, and Ginn, this offense is purely “guessing and hoping for a miracle.”


The Rams’ offense will face a tough test this week against a Saints unit that has the pieces to make them one-dimensional (where they become far less effective), while the potential for another split workload this week makes Gurley less of a slam-dunk than he typically is. He’s in the decent floor, high ceiling conversation, while Anderson lands in the “scary floor, solid ceiling” department.

If the Rams are forced to become a more pass-heavy unit, this will likely spell the end of their season, but it will also spell more DFS points for their pass catchers as targets pile up. I like Woods this week as a floor/ceiling piece and Cooks as a ceiling piece, while Reynolds (and to a lesser extent, Everett and even Higbee) can be considered as a salary saver with legitimate upside. If the Rams are forced to pass more than normal, Reynolds will likely see a tangible boost in production. As for Goff: he’s clearly behind Mahomes on paper, but he’s certainly in the conversation alongside Brees and Brady, as the Rams are going to need him in this spot in order to have a shot — especially near the goal line. If golden Goff shows up this weekend, he could put a dent into this slate.

On the Saints’ side, Kamara should be locked into around 17 to 20 touches; Ingram should be locked into 12 to 15; Thomas should see eight to 10 targets (with upside for more if this game turns into a shootout); and Ginn should see six to eight looks. Kamara carries the most all-around floor and ceiling, followed by Thomas, then Ingram, then Ginn — though Ginn is attractive for his upside at his price. With price (and positional scarcity) factored in, I like Kamara the most of the bunch, followed by Ginn (followed by Thomas, then Ingram), but all four are (obviously) very much in play in a slate this small. The same goes for Drew Brees, who does not have the same on-paper touchdown upside as Mahomes in the evening, but who can certainly still piece together a box score masterpiece if this game turns into a pass-leaning shootout.

Kickoff Sunday, Jan 20th 6:40pm Eastern

Patriots (
26.25) at

Chiefs (

Over/Under 55.5


Key Matchups
Patriots Run D
1st DVOA/1st Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O
11th DVOA/11th Yards per carry
Patriots Pass D
13th DVOA/9th Yards allowed per pass
Chiefs Pass O
6th DVOA/19th Yards per pass
Chiefs Run D
27th DVOA/24th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O
23rd DVOA/24th Yards per carry
Chiefs Pass D
5th DVOA/2nd Yards allowed per pass
Patriots Pass O
29th DVOA/28th Yards per pass


The football gods have smiled down on us this year, with the top offenses of the Rams, Saints, and Chiefs all reaching Championship weekend — joining the annual mainstay New England Patriots. Patriots at Chiefs pairs the league’s number four scoring offense and number one scoring offense, with 41-year-old Tom Brady and 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes squaring off for the right to go to the Super Bowl. When these teams met earlier in the year, the Patriots pulled out a 43-40 victory at home. This game, of course, will be at Arrowhead, where the Chiefs have been practically unstoppable. In Bill Belichick’s career, he has given up 40+ points on seven occasions. Three of those games have come against Andy Reid. Buckle up for what should be an awesome game to watch.


While the Patriots have proven over the years to be the greatest “find a way to win” team in the NFL — reaching their eighth consecutive championship game in spite of rarely having a top four on-paper roster (that is to say: in spite of rarely having a top four on-paper “top-heavy” roster) — the one thing this team cannot really afford is to fall far behind. With Gronk a shell of his former self and Josh Gordon gone, this team typically has to build drives in order to score, rather than being able to strike quickly. And while this team somehow managed to put together the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history with a similar setup (Gronk on the sidelines; Edelman and White as the primary pieces), that is a worst-case scenario for this team. Furthermore, the greatest strength of the Chiefs’ defense is their pass rush (first in the NFL in sacks this year), and the best way for the Patriots to mitigate the threat of Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones is to A) avoid second-and-long and (especially) third-and-long, and B) get the ball out quickly on early-down passing plays. We should expect the Patriots to use their constant misdirection to try to spring Chris Hogan and/or Phillip Dorsett on a downfield look or two, but the primary goal of the Patriots on first down will be creating second-and-manageable, and their primary goal on second down will be avoiding third downs. Look for the Pats to hammer the Chiefs with plays designed to pick up five, or seven, or 12 yards at a time, and look for them to use tempo to their advantage (quick-snaps, quick substitutions, plays where they get up to the line quickly and then wait a while before snapping the ball, etc.). In this way, the Patriots will try to stay in front of the Chiefs, while doing their best to remove the crowd from the game.

While the Patriots certainly would not have requested “at Chiefs” for their AFC Title Game matchup, there are a number of ways in which this matchup sets up well for them, as the Patriots’ primary pieces in this spot (Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, and James White) all match up well against weaknesses of the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have been poor against the run this year, ranking 31st in yards allowed per carry and notably giving up 4.4 yards per carry on runs up the middle, where 35.2% of Michel’s runs have gone this year. While the Patriots have been extremely predictable in run/pass calls with Michel on the field, they have been unpredictable with where he will go, with an even split among carries to the left and to the right (and with an even split among interior runs and outside runs). The Chiefs have a number of weaknesses in the run game, and Michel will look to exploit all of these. There is also a chance the Pats change up some of their season-long tendencies and throw more often with Michel on the field to confuse the Chiefs’ defense. We should go into this game leaning on Michel as nothing more than a yardage-and-touchdown back (keeping his floor dangerously low in PPR and half-PPR scoring), but the matchup sets up well for these yards and touchdowns to pile up, while he might grab one or two unexpected receptions along the way.

One of the greatest vulnerabilities for the Chiefs this year on defense was pass catching running backs, with KC allowing the 10th most catches, the fifth most yards, and the most touchdowns to the position. It’s not reactive or “recency bias” to believe that White will be a big part of the Pats’ offense once again in this spot. Look for another heavy dose of quick passes to the Pats’ elite weapon out of the backfield. He’ll have a chance to push for eight or more receptions once again.

(Last week, when all the chips were on the table, Rex Burkhead played only 11 snaps — and while that could have been a game plan specific approach from New England, this is another spot that sets up better for the inside running of Michel and the short-area quickness of White. Burkhead will mix in, but he’ll likely need a big play or another touchdown to reach value.)

Expectations should be held in check for Edelman compared to his career day in Week 19 — but this has more to do with Edelman’s typical range of production than it does with the matchup, which works strongly in his favor. The Chiefs have been incapable of stopping passes over the short middle this year, allowing a 78.1% completion rate to passes thrown in the middle of the field within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage (and they’re not much better to the short right, where Edelman runs another large percentage of his routes). The Patriots will look to lean on their star slot receiver’s short-area quickness to pick up short and intermediate gains throughout this contest. It is worth keeping in mind, of course, that Edelman topped 90 yards only twice in the regular season (going for 104 yards both times), and two-touchdown games from Edelman are about as rare as Super Blood Wolf Moon lunar eclipses…but he should carry a very strong floor yet again, and he has clear and obvious paths to reaching ceiling in this spot.

We will also see opportunities for Hogan (target counts without Josh Gordon of 0 // 11 // 5) and Dorsett (target counts without Josh Gordon of 0 // 5 // 5) to produce — primarily on the perimeter. Hogan is better suited to zone-beating routes than to man-beating routes (the Chiefs are one of the man-heaviest teams in the league), but four to seven targets is his likeliest range, and while his floor is close to zero, his ceiling is intriguing. Dorsett should get a couple opportunities to win one-on-one matchups, with the Patriots sure to take a couple shots 15 to 25 yards downfield to keep the defense honest. Four to seven targets is his likeliest range as well.

The true wildcard here is Rob Gronkowski, who has a tremendous matchup against a Chiefs defense that allowed the fifth most catches, the sixth most yards, and the most touchdowns to the tight end position, but who looks like a poorly-oiled robot on the field right now. Stunningly, Gronk has topped 26 yards only once in his last six games. Even more stunningly, that outlier game produced an 8-107-1 line on eight targets against Miami. Since returning to the field in Week 12, Gronk has faced five difficult tight end matchups in seven games. He needs to be considered a low-floor play right now, but he has a chance to be a sneaky, difference-making X-factor in the pass game for New England — keeping him in the tourney conversation this week.


The Patriots are one of the man-heaviest coverage teams in the NFL — comfortably deploying Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and J.C. Jackson in one-on-one matchups that allow plenty of freedom in other areas of the field; but man coverage against Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs creates even more opportunities for Hill to break off an explosive play. This week, we should expect the Patriots to either A) mix in more zone than normal, in the hopes of taking away the deep ball, or B) keep a safety over top of Hill as often as possible in the hopes of taking away the explosive play. Ultimately, there is no “stopping” this Chiefs offense, but the Patriots will hope to create enough mistakes and stalled drives to give their offense the edge. And while the starting point for this plan will be isolating and eliminating Hill in some way, shape, or form, we should also point out that Hill’s two career games against New England have gone for 7-133-1 (with Alex Smith) and 7-142-3. As always, Hill’s floor is low for the high end of the price range, but he has legitimately top-score-on-the-slate upside.

While the Patriots have struggled to contain Hill the last two years, they have done a strong job against Travis Kelce, holding him to 5-40-0 last year in a game in which the Chiefs scored 42 points, and holding him to 5-61-0 this year in a game in which the Chiefs scored 40 points. An argument can be made that if you have a good offense on the other side of the ball, the best way to beat an offense like the Chiefs is to “force them to throw deep.” The thinking being: the Chiefs are going to score points regardless, and if you try too hard to take away the deep ball, they’ll rip you apart underneath and easily march the field; on the other hand, if you take away the short stuff and force them to go deep, they’ll hit some huge plays, but they’ll also have some deep throws that simply miss, and some drives that stall out as a result. The Patriots can pretend like they’re not thinking about the weather, but the ball doesn’t travel as well in cold temperatures, either (this game is expected to be played somewhere in the range of zero to 15 degrees), and if they can force the Chiefs to win with Hill, they could essentially force the Chiefs into a more one-dimensional style that will lead to plenty of points, but also to one or two more punts than normal. This is all conjecture, of course (and ultimately, the Pats would love to eliminate both Hill and Kelce), but there is no getting around the fact that the Pats have done a better job than most teams figuring out ways to limit Kelce’s impact. His ceiling is as high as ever, but his floor should be considered lower than it is in most other spots.

It surprised me last week that ownership on Sammy Watkins was under 5% on DraftKings, as he now has target counts in his healthy games this year of 5 // 7 // 8 // 1 // 8 // 4 // 7 // 9 // 5 // 8. Across 10 healthy games, he has notched 11+ DraftKings points and 8+ FanDuel points seven times — with legitimate alpha-caliber production showing up on multiple occasions. The matchup this week is not good, as the Patriots have pieces that can contain Watkins one-on-one (they were one of the three teams this year that held him below the above-mentioned level of production), but he’ll be on the field plenty, and he’ll be involved enough to be considered on a slate this size.

This passing attack is extremely concentrated, but there is outside potential for Chris Conley (54 out of 82 snaps last week) or Demetrius Harris (37 out of 82 snaps last week) to trip into production.


The Patriots were above-average this year in terms of preventing fantasy points to the running back position, as they ranked middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed and — for the third consecutive year — ranked top two in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs; but between the 20s, they are a great matchup for Damien Williams, who has almost certainly shown enough to lead this backfield in touches even if Spencer Ware finally returns to the field this week. The Patriots ranked 29th in yards allowed per carry, and even more importantly for Williams (recent target counts of 5 // 6 // 7 // 1 // 6 — with the one-target game coming in a 35-3 blowout win), the Pats were below-average against pass-catching backs, allowing the 12th most catches and the ninth most yards to the position. While this is a slightly below-average matchup, the slate is small enough that Williams’ role still very much keeps him in the running for a top-two running back score this week.

(There is a chance Ware also mixes in for 10+ touches if healthy this week — though given the way Williams has played, and given the importance of this game, I would be surprised if this ends up being the case.)


Edelman and the Patriots’ two primary backfield pieces are obviously the plays that stand out to me the most on the Patriots’ side of the ball, but Hogan, Dorsett, and Gronk are all in the tourney conversation. None of these three carry any floor certainty, but any of them could push for seven targets, a solid yardage game, and a touchdown. Gronk, in particular, stands out as a piece the Patriots may try to sneak some involvement out of when the Chiefs are least expecting it. As for Tom Brady: fear of touchdowns on the ground keeps him in the same category as Brees and Goff (behind Mahomes), while his lack of a true big-play threat will make it tough for him to produce the highest yardage total on the slate. He’s fourth in raw projections, but this offense is good enough, and this slate is small enough, that I obviously wouldn’t mind the idea of throwing Brady onto some teams if multi-entering, and I wouldn’t be averse to arguments that push him to number two or three in the raw projections list.

On the Chiefs’ side, Hill is very much worth the risk in tourneys — and I would worry less about ownership (yes, he’ll be somewhat highly owned; there are only two games, after all) and more about the construction of the rest of your roster. Because you are giving up some floor by allocating extra salary to a high-variance player, try to secure a bit of extra floor in one or two other spots on your Hill rosters; this will put you ahead of the portion of the field that pairs the risk of Hill with too much additional risk from other spots.

Kelce and Watkins carry a lower floor than normal, though each guy still holds onto his ceiling. It won’t be a surprise if one of these two outperforms price-considered expectations, but it also won’t be a surprise if one of these two fails again — as they both did in Week 6 when these two teams last played.

Williams remains extremely intriguing in this spot (Kareem Hunt tattooed the Patriots for receiving lines of 5-98-2 and 5-105-1 the two times he played them, adding 148 yards and a touchdown on the ground the first time around and an additional 80 yards on the ground the next time around), even with the Pats presenting a slightly below-average on-paper matchup.

As for Patrick Mahomes: he obviously, no-doubt carries the highest on-paper quarterback projection on the slate, making him a strong play this weekend. On the flip side: the games still need to be played on the field, and there is certainly a chance any of these other three quarterbacks outperforms Mahomes, if you want to slide in a different direction at the quarterback position.