With the limited slate of games for NFL wildcard week, dfs roster construction has a much different feel than during regular season. Stacking is almost unavoidable; positional correlation is magnified. In perusing the available players from the 4 games this weekend, it becomes clear that punting at least one roster slot is nearly inevitable. Despite only eight teams on the slate this weekend, the running back market seems particularly merky.
Seattle at Minnesota
This matchup offers the two premier runningback options for the weekend in Adrian Peterson ($8,400) and Marshawn Lynch ($7,800). With so much uncertainty in backfields this weekend, it might be tempting to pay up for one of these names.
I’ll argue that Lynch doesn’t provide much certainty in his own right. This will be his first game back from an injury which required surgery a little over a month ago. While his presence eliminates the likes of Christine Michael and Bryce Brown from consideration, I’m not willing to believe Lynch is given a full workload in this circumstance. Could Michael and/or Brown be given a series or two to lighten Marshawn’s load? Could we see a bit more of old reliable Fred Jackson than we’ve been accustom to this year? Let’s also not be quick to forget Russell Wilson’s running ability. Getting Wilson out in space in these conditions soups be a strategy I would look to employ if designing a gamelan. For these reasons, I’m avoiding Lynch this week. The myriad of questions around him don’t justify the nearly $2,000 increase in price over most other options this week.
Peterson, on the other hand, is probably the safest choice this week in terms of expected opportunity. I don’t see Minnesota opting for a gameplan of flinging the ball around in these frigid conditions against Sherman, Thomas, and company. A prior matchup in early December between these two teams is relatively fresh, one in which Peterson was embarrassed to the tune of 18 rushing yards. Revenge will certainly be on Minnesota’s mind, and Peterson will undoubtedly be seeking vindication. I don’t anticipate another stinker from Adrian in this one, so if you’re looking for a safe haven at the runningback spit this week (perhaps in a cash game lineup), Peterson is likely you’re man.
Green Bay at Washington
This matchup has some mystique, as both squads have experienced seasons that did not match preseason expectations. Washington exceeded expectations by winning the division in the back of Kirk Cousins, while Green Bay disappointed by only securing a wildcard spot after losing six of their final ten games.
Despite being merely a plodder, Alfred Morris ($5,500) appears to have established a decent grasp on the backfield work in Washington. There were moments when the likes of Matt Jones and Chris Thompson threatened to emerge, but neither took hold of opportunity. Over the past three weeks, Morris has received about 65% of his team’s running back carries. On the season, Morris ranks 14th in the NFL in rushing attempts. Despite his relatively healthy diet of attempts, Alfred only logged two games with fantasy output exceeding 10 points. It’s hard to see much of a ceiling with Morris considering this predestination seasonal output. With that in mind, Morris will be low on my hierarchy of RB plays this week. I won’t exclude him entirely, as usage is likely, and RB fantasy scoring this week should be very dependant on touchdowns. Despite only one touchdown on the year, historically Morris had had a knack for finding the endzone, including posting five career multi-TD games.
Eddie Lacy ($6,000) offers a nice option this week for DFS. In a slate with only 4 games, it’s unrealistic to peg any player as “under the radar,” but I feel that Lacy has burned enough players this season that he comes close to that categorization. In fact, I was burned by him early this season and vowed never to play him again. This week, I’m breaking that vow. Lacy epitomizes the concept of “late season” or “playoff” type running back with his “wear you down” style. There was a stretch of games this season where it appeared Lacy’s time as the feature back in Green Bay had ended, but James Starks failed to capitalize on his opportunity. Over the last seven games, Lacy has out-carried Starks by a ratio of 2 to 1. Like Morris, Lacy is a running back with a nose for the endzone, having also amassed five career multi-TD games (in one less season than Morris). The playoff environment suits Lacy’s style, and at $6,000 he’s my top choice at RB this weekend.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
This might be the most interesting wildcard matchup from a national perspective, as these bitter rivals face off for the third time this season.
Cincinnati represents another backfield situation that has been tumultuous this year, with Jeremy Hill ($6,700) severely failing to live up to lofty expectations. There were points in the season where it looked like Gio Bernard was ready to overtake Hill in the pecking order in Cindy’s backfield. The Bengals sick with their power back, and he is expected to be the lead carrier this weekend. With 2nd-year backup QB AJ McCarron behind center this week, it is reasonable to expect Pittsburgh to load the box to stuff the run, dating McCarron to beat them through the air. As it is, Cincinnati only averaged about 70 yards on the ground in the two previous meetings this season. I don’t expect much to change in this game, and at $6,700 Hill won’t be on my DFS radar this week. For those grasping for some differentiation, Gio Bernard at $5,600 could appeal. If this game quickly gets out of hand in favor of Pittsburgh, Bernard as the passing down specialist could see a spike in usage.
Fitzgerald Toussaint ($5,700) is another interesting running back this week. Too be blunt, Toussaint hasn’t enjoyed sustained success in his career since early in his collegiate days when playing alongside Denard Robinson at Michigan. After Robinson and his scrambling threat left Michigan, Toussaint was pedestrian for the remainder of his college days. In the limited action he’s seen in the NFL, he’s been pedestrian as well. Despite this unappealing resume, I think a big game is quite possible. Consider what Le’Veon Bell and Deangelo Williams are able to accomplish this year. As a tandem, they AVERAGED over 20 fantady points per game. While Bell is considered a special talent by many, Williams was widely considered washed up coming into the season. I believe some of the success enjoyed by this pair of Pittsburgh running backs has to do with the system and the environment. Teams absolutely can not afford to stack the box against Pittsburgh with potent passing attack of Big Ben, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Marcus Wheaton, and Heath Miller. In keeping with this thought process, would it be a surprise to see Toussaint have a big game this weekend? Some have speculated of a possible timeshare with Jordan Todman. Pittsburgh seems to me too be one of the few teams that prefers to avoid timeshares. Even after signing Legarrette Blount to a nice offseason contact last year, he was rarely used in his time with Pittsburgh. Toussaint is my second favorite pick this week.
Kansas City at Houston
The Chiefs visit Houston in what opened in Vegas as the lowest predicted scoring game of the slate.
Charcandrick West ($6,400) will be a popular choice at the running back spot for DFS lineups this week, but I am avoiding him. I like the talent and explosiveness he possesses, but his ceiling is too limited by the presence of Spencer Ware ($5,400). This has become a classic backfield share situation which had crippled the fantasy value of both backs. Ware is the TD vulture, having scored five TDs over the past seven weeks while West had only scored once. Ware, however, does not offer enough in terms of yardage/reception production to warrant stand alone fantasy consideration. West has a decent floor with handling passing situations, but with little hope for touchdowns and Ware’s limited but still existent cut of the early down work, West’s only hope for a usable fantasy day is to break off a long TD. I’m avoiding both players this week.
Alfred Blue ($5,700), on the other hand, doesn’t face the same timeshare threat as the Kansas city running backs; he’s essentially the lead dog. From a talent standpoint, he doesn’t stand out. He had been acceptable in his role as Arian Foster’s replacement, which says something in light of all the running backs around the league who have failed to seize opportunities this season. On that note, in games when Blue was the leaf back this year (e.g., no Foster), he averaged over 10 fantasy points per game. Further, Blue tended to be more hit or miss in terms of fantasy production than you would expect from a non-explosive player, suggesting lower floor but higher ceiling. I tend to like ceiling in such a limited slate, and Blue is a bit of a surprise high-ceiling player. At $5,700 I’ll sprinkle Blue into some lineups this week.