Welcome to the Divisional Round, where we get competent quarterbacks, solid defenses, and play-callers who actually adjust to opponents. While everyone loves to discuss the volatile (unpredictable) nature of the NFL, am I the only one who feels we’re right where we should be? It’s so easy to be trapped in one, two, or three game samples throughout the season and make declarations about players and coaches, label teams as good or bad, and move on. Then we get outcomes that bring our minds back in the other direction, and we’re “surprised” once again. The truth of each NFL season is this: over the short run, we know nothing, but in the long game, we know plenty. We should always strive to remain long-term in our thinking, it’s where we can be the most profitable. But, if nothing else, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride with me this season in trying to reign in this long-term mindset into short weeks. We’ve had some wins and some losses, but how does that popular saying go? The joy is in the journey, not the destination.
The AFC is left with the best three healthy quarterbacks standing (Lamar, Mahomes, Allen) and possibly the fourth (Stroud). The NFC gives us two of the four preseason favorites (SF, DET) along with two teams playing their best football of the season (TB, GB). Writing these two sentences makes me feel incompetent for leaning into the Cowboys and Eagles last week. In hindsight, it was possible to see the coaching mismatches in the GB/DAL game, along with the sinking ship that was the Eagles, who were primed to lose to just about any team. In looking ahead to this weekend, I’m ready for four great games. Three of four of these happened already this season, and there are some outcomes we may be able to draw from this week. For instance, there were nine combined sacks in the Week 1 matchup between Houston and Baltimore. The Bucs blitzed Goff a bunch (22 of 44 times) back in Week 5 but only generated a 14.6% pressure rate. And speaking of under pressure, the Chiefs had Allen running all game back in Week 14 (38.8% pressure) despite losing the game. The Packers and 49ers didn’t meet this season, but we have the infamous NFC Championship game from two seasons ago featuring the same head coaches, where San Francisco ran the ball, then ran some more, and ran even more after that en route to a dominant win. These are just some of the thoughts coming into my mind as we settle in for some playoff football. This is all information we have and our competition has, use it to outsmart them in how you build winning lineups this weekend.
Sure, Larejo, let’s feature the QB of the team with the highest implied team total (30). I have no idea how ownership will shake out, nor will I let that deter me, but it’s likely CMC is the highest or second highest owned player on the slate. If that’s the case, I won’t sit here and make a case to fade the man, especially because the matchup still dictates (like it did two seasons ago) that SF should attack GB on the ground. Playing CMC accounts for Kyle Shanahan’s alpha-male tendencies, in case he comes out and tries the same exact approach of running the ball down the Packers throats. But . . . if he doesn’t, pairing Purdy with CMC is a great way to expose our rosters to “all the touchdowns” on the 49ers and also account for a different game plan, should Shanahan assume LaFleur and Joe Barry sell out to stop the run and “make Purdy beat them.” For the record, this is what I think they will try to do. And the positive news for the 49ers is that Purdy can beat them and likely will in this scenario.
Obviously, if this more pass-heavy game plan plays out for SF, including CMC in lineups is safe in that his usage in the passing game is always robust. Beyond McCaffrey is where things get interesting. You could really lean into any of Deebo, Aiyuk, or Kittle as we play out this scenario. With all the strong offenses on this slate, having QB/RB/WR from one team may prove to be lower owned than it should as well. We do want to watch Packers CB Jaire Alexander’s availability but when differentiating between players, I am a sucker for going wherever the crowd isn’t. With how dominant the SF offense has been throughout the year, we could simply pull up ownership projections and pick the lowest 49er to plug in. But with Kittle’s volatility in a run-heavy game script, and Deebo’s need for YAC, Aiyuk is my guy this week. He may have had the quietest 1,300+ yard receiving season you’ve ever seen, but if Purdy is looking to exploit the Packers secondary, it could be Aiyuk being left one-on-one often (especially if the Packers stack the box) which would lead to a nice day for BA.
Lastly, in this scenario of the Niners planning for and winning through the air, we’d need the Packers to respond with points for Purdy to keep on throwing. Selecting a Packers pass-catcher or two (Aaron Jones included) is a difficult exercise that many will throw their hands in the air about. Don’t be one of those people. You can do this. When healthy, Watson and Reed are likely their two most talented WRs, while Doubs and Wicks can win in their own right and Bo Melton even can pop for 100 yards. The price point on DK selects Watson for us, as the cheaper of Doubs, Reeds, and even Wicks, while Reed is a player who Green Bay could easily scheme for after avoiding him last week with heavy 12-personnel sets. No matter where you go, go somewhere, and I wouldn’t fault you even to include Jones in this type of build as he can rack up points in many ways with or without AJ Dillon, as we saw last week.