Johnny's Cash Game Plays: Wild Card

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Johnny's Cash Game Plays: Wild Card

My last 3-4 weeks of the season with this column were my best weeks of the season, so hopefully I can stay on that path and make mostly good recommendations. I would think so, since I’m able to truly home in on the matchups with only six this week.

Here’s what I got.

QUARTERBACKS

Josh Allen (Buf, vs. Ind - $7500 on DK and $9000 on FanDuel) - The obvious choice for the week, Allen is the second-most expensive QB on both sites, yet he comes in as the best value with 27.6 and 24.6 projected FP in this game. Obviously, we need to confirm Stefon Diggs is active (and Cole Beasley if you’re on the fence with Allen, whose potential improves with his guy Beasley). I’m sure the Colts will devise a solid plan to try to contain Allen, but Indy will be down a starting corner in Rock Ya Sin, and they have been flat-out mediocre against the pass for about three months now. They have allowed seven 300+ yard performances in their final 11 games with 2 TDs or more given up in four straight. In their last four, QBs are completing 70% of their passes for 323/2.3, good for 23.4 FPG. They haven’t given up much rushing production in that span (only about 3 FPG), but Allen is a threat to easily put up 10+ FP with his legs, and in his last four games he’s averaging 5.5 FP on the ground, so if current trends prevail, Allen’s a good bet for 25-30 FP. 1/9 update: Beasley is active, which only helps.

Philip Rivers (Ind, at Buf - $5500 on DK and $6900 on FanDuel) - It’s all about price and expected game script for me with Rivers, who is a top-4 value for the week on both sites. The weather should not be a problem at around 32 degrees at kickoff with light winds. It may not be for Phil, but I’d actually call that perfect football weather. Rivers’ numbers were declining down the stretch, but that had a lot to do with Jonathan Taylor’s dominance. In the games this year in which he’s had to throw the ball 35+ times, his passing numbers are mostly very good: 363/1, 371/3, 227/0 (Bal), 308/1, 288/3, 295/2, and 285/2. I’ve somewhat conservatively given Rivers 37 attempts, but this could easily be a 40+ attempt game. I don’t think we need to worry about Tre’Davious White traveling with and shutting down TY Hilton, and Rivers has a great pass-catching duo in his backfield and solid complementary players Zach Pascal and Michael Pittman. The biggest downside I see to Rivers is if he throws a couple of picks (he has 2 INTs in his last four) and the Bills have been collecting them lately (1.3 per game the last four weeks). But I’m thinking his upside is about 325 yards and 1-2 TDs, which would make using him a success.

Drew Brees (NO, at Car - $5700 on DK) - He’s not much of a value on FanDuel, so I’ll list him for DK only. The big concern I have in this one is the Bears not putting up much of a fight, meaning Brees’ stat line could look something like 215/3 with fewer than 30 pass attempts and 0 rushing yards. Brees has thrown for 3 TDs in 2 of his last 3, and the one game without a TD in that span was the Alvin Kamara 6-TD game, but Brees did throw for 311 yards on only 26 attempts in that one. Brees completed a solid 31-of-41 passes for 280 yards (7.8 YPA) and 2 TDs against the Bears in Week 8, and Chicao’s defense has really fallen off the second half of the season. They’ve lost slot corner Buster Skrine, and impressive rookie Jaylon Johnson, a starting CB, has missed the whole week in practice. Star LB Roquan Smith was also out of practice all this week, so he’s still very questionable. Chicago with those guys out or banged up the last four weeks is allowing a 70% completion rate and 2.3 TD passes a game on only 31 attempts, so unless the RBs bogart all the TDs on the ground, Brees should clear 18 FP, qualifying as a win.

HIGHER-END GUYS I’M OKAY WITH

Lamar Jackson (Bal, at Ten - $7800 on DK and $9300 on FanDuel) - The Bal-Ten game has the highest total on the board this weekend, but I’m not entirely sure it’s going to be a bonanza, especially with Titan WR AJ Brown missing more practice time than usual. I’m not feeling great about backing Tannehill at his higher price point, but I do like Jackson right now and in this matchup. Jackson has 80+ rushing yards in 4 of his last 5 with 22+ FP and multiple scores in each of those games. The Titans still have no pass rush and are really struggling on the back end, giving up 7 TDs to Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers in the last two weeks, and they have given up 3+ TDs to QBs six times this season. Over the last four weeks, QBs have completed 69% of their passes for 296/2.3, so I’m not concerned about Lamar’s poor showing in this matchup back in Week 11, when he posted only 186/1 passing with 51 rushing yards. Jackson has turned a corner and is playing better, so I think 25+ points are a near certainty.

BARGAIN BASEMENT GUYS

None of note.

OTHER QB PLAYS I’M INTO THIS WEEK

Ben Roethlisberger (Pit, at Cle - $6100 on DK and $7500 on FanDuel) - He’s only the sixth-best value on both sites, so he’s not a must-use, but he does compare favorably in terms of matchup/upside and cost to guys like Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and even Ryan Tannehill. Big Ben got a week off last week, which may help, and he did have success throwing it downfield in his last game, Week 16 against the Colts. The Browns are a mess and won’t have impactful DE Olivier Vernon and S Ronnie Harrison, and they may not/probably won’t have top CB Denzel Ward and CB Kevin Johnson. I do think they may actually have success running the ball, but let’s be real here: this is a passing team. So I expect 35+ attempts, and success.

1/9 update: CB Denzel Ward will not play, which is important. He’s their best corner.

RUNNING BACKS

Ronald Jones (TB, at Was - $5500 on DK and $6700 on FanDuel) - I had to decide which Bucs RB was more unreliable and annoying - they both are - but I had to go with Leonnard Fournette as more unreliable, so Jones gets the nod here. The bottom line is I see the Bucs jumping out to a big lead and then just riding their running game this week. Jones out-snapped (36 to 30), out-touched (12 to 7), and out-gained (78 to 27) Fournette last week, and LeSean McCoy won’t play, so we’re looking at a lot of work for Jones. It’s not a good matchup overall, with TFT giving up just 4.1 YPC to RBs the last four weeks and 21/87 rushing. But if Jones can score, he should be a lock for 15+ FP. It’s entirely possible that he goes for 100+ total yards and multiple TDs, so Jones has upside.

J.D. McKissic (Was, vs. TB - $4900 on DK and $5400 on FanDuel) - It’s obviously quite simple with McKissic: you want him when TFT is playing from behind, and they will be playing from behind most of this game, as the Bucs are 8-point road favorites. Starting in Week 4, here are McKissic’s catch totals in losses by TFT: 7, 6, 6, 9, 7, 9, and 8. We do have a potential issue with QB Alex Smith, who may have to give way to Taylor Heinike, who completed only one pass to McKissis out of 19 attempts when Heinike replaced Dwayne Haskins in Week 16. However, that was very late in the game and they were down by two TDs, so Heinike was throwing down the field. For what it’s worth, in his lone NFL start up until this point, Week 17 of 2018, he did complete 12-of-13 passes intended for Christian McCaffrey, so I’m fairly confident he can get the ball to McKissic in the passing game. JD has three 15+ FP performances his last five games, so he’s no stranger to coming through for DFS owners.

HIGHER-END GUYS I’M OKAY WITH

Derrick Henry (Ten, at Car - $9200 on DK and $10200 on FanDuel) - Despite his high price tag, Henry still came out as the second-best value on DK and the best value on FanDuel. There’s always a downside to Henry when he’s this expensive, but it’s rare his owners actually see it. The Ravens really did a good job against Henry in Week 11, but he still ran for 133 rushing yards and the game-winning overtime TD to win. Henry has seen 23+ carries in 6 of his last 7, and while it’s possible, it’s hard to imagine the Ravens pulling far enough away on the scoreboard for him to become a lot less relevant.

BARGAIN BASEMENT GUYS

Latavius Murray (NO, vs. Chi - $4500 on DK and $5400 on FanDuel) - He’s a top-6 value on both sites, but keep this in mind: I can’t really project him to get 15+ carries as he grinds out an easy win, but that’s exactly what I think we will see. We really don’t know about Alvin Kamara’s overall health right now, but I’d have to imagine if the Saints are looking to seal up a win, they’ll be doing it late with Murray, who has looked good this month. I’m thinking 75 total yards with 1-2 catches and at least 1 TD.

OTHER RB PLAYS I’M INTO THIS WEEK

Cam Akers (LAR, at Sea - $5100 on DK and $6100 on FanDuel) - He’s a top-8 value on both sites, and slightly better on FanDuel. Akers’ 1.6 YPC last week was a worrisome number. What was not a worrisome number, though, was 25, which was his number of opportunities/touches. He also had his best day of the season as a receiver last week with 4/52. Akers does not have an injury designation for the week, which means he’s probable, which is a good sign. The matchup isn’t great by the numbers, as the Seahawks are giving up only 3.6 YPC to RBs the last four weeks and are generally solid against the run. But Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown combined for 32/160/3 rushing (5.0 YPC) in two games against the Seahawks this season, giving Akers legit hope. I’m not totally convinced he will come through, but I am intrigued enough by his upside with high volume and a ton of talent. I also think this game will be close, so I think we’re looking at another 20+ carries for Akers.

James Conner (Pit, at Cle - $5000 on DK and $6200 on FanDuel) - He’s only the 8th-best value on DK and the 11th-best on FanDuel. He’s obviously shaky, but he may not have a high ownership percentage, Conner has played more than 60% of the snaps in his last two games, and he’s been more active in the passing game, with 10/70 receiving on 13 targets those last two weeks. He’s at least been over 4.1 YPC these two weeks, as he and the OL have shown some signs of life. Conner is still not easy to trust, but I see an advantage to backing him, since the Browns are a mess and the Steelers should handle them with relative ease. It would be smart for them to try to commit to their running game early and/or roll with it late to grind out a win. Either way, Conner looks like an investment that has a good chance of paying off.

1/9 update: CB Denzel Ward will not play, which is important. He’s their best corner, so that help the offense, and hopefully also Conner.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Corey Davis (Ten, vs. Bal - $4800 on DK and $6400 on FanDuel) - He’s the top value on DK and the #2 value on FanDuel. We’ve learned over the years that Davis is better against man coverage and can struggle vs. zone, which may help explain how he made some big plays against this defense back in Week 11 with 5/113 receiving on 7 targets (Ravens play more man than most). Davis has fallen into the small slump lately, with fewer than 9 FP in 3 of his last 4, but this game does have the highest expected total on the board at 54, and AJ Brown’s health is a bigger question this week than it’s been, since he missed practice on Thursday and Friday. I do think points will be scored in this one, so I’d expect well over 30 attempts for Tannehill, which should give Davis a good chance for 5+ catches. He can do a lot with a little, so he stands out to me this week.

TY Hilton (Ind, vs. Jax - $5100 on DK and $6200 on FanDuel) - He’s the third-best value on both sites. Hilton has seen 8+ targets only once in his last 10 games, but he’s obviously been way better for fantasy the last two months and he has a TD and/or 60+ yards in six straight. He’s also scored a TD in 4 of his last 5, as his chemistry with Philip Rivers has finally clicked. The matchup isn’t great, as the Bills are giving up just 32.5 FPG to WRs (4th-fewest) this season, and Diontae Johnson managed just 4/40 receiving against them back in Week 14. But I do not think they will travel Tre’Davious White against Hilton, who lines up all over the place. It’s possible, but that’s now how they have played White, so TY may catch a break. Given his recent play and production and the fact that I think they will be throwing a lot in this one playing from behind, I’m very comfortable backing Hilton.

1/9 update: It could happen, but Bills beat writers this morning aren’t expecting CB White to travel with TY.

Marquise Brown (Bal, at Cin - $5400 on DK and $6200 on FanDuel) - He’s the second-best value on DK and the best value on FanDuel, per our projections. Getting production out of Brown has been like pulling teeth, but even though the Titans should have Adoree Jackson on the field, they have been all kinds of vulnerable on the back end, thanks in part to their non-existent pass rush. In their last four games, for example, they are giving up 18/214/2 to WRs, which is a lot. Brown did get hot at the right time, at least, which makes sense because he and Lamar Jackson didn't have a typical off-season, and he’s hit 12+ FP in six straight with 6 TDs in those six games. He had only 2 targets in the first meeting back in Week 11, but he did score at least. Brown can absolutely eat up the zone coverage the Titans typically run, so I think he could have a 5-6 catch game with 100+ yard potential.

HIGHER-END GUYS I’M OKAY WITH

Diontae Johnson (Pit, at Cle - $6200 on DK and $700 on FanDuel) - He’s a top-10 value on both sites, and top-6 on FanDuel. This is not a great week for high-end WRs, so I will give out guy Diontae some love here because he’s been so darn steady, posting 12+ FP in 8 of his last 9 games and with 6+ catches in 7 of those 9 games. He put up 3/96 on only 4 targets with Mason Rudolph in this matchup last week, and the Browns may not have top corner Denzel Ward, which is huge.

1/9 update: CB Denzel Ward will not play, which is important. He’s their best corner.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pit, at Cle - $5500 on DK and $6500 on FanDuel) - He’s a top-9 value on both sites. I don’t like backing injured players, but JuJu has lived on the injury report this year, and he’s been more than fine. Smith-Schuster put up a strong 6/65/1 on 8 targets against the Browns last week, and he now has 6+ catches and a TD in 4 of his last 4. He did post only 2/6 in this matchup back in Week 6, but Ben Roethlisberger attempted just 22 passes that week. The Browns have been shaky covering slot receivers all year and give up the 8th-most PPG to slot receivers on the season, per SIS, so I feel compelled to back JuJu, who is staring at playing his last game as a Steeler every remaining game starting now.

Tyler Lockett (Sea, vs. LAR - $6800 on DK and $6900 on FanDuel) - He’s not a value on either site, and he’s actually more expensive than DK Metcalf on DK. I don’t want to be heavily invested in Lockett in this struggling offense, but DK will see a lot of Jalen Ramsey, which has been a problem, and Lockett won’t see much of him at all, most likely. Lockett can be streaky, and he did throw up 12/90/2 on 14 targets last week against the 49ers. He had a decent 8/110 receiving on 14 targets in two games against the Rams, which was better than DK’s 8/87 on 12 targets. On the chance Lockett and Russell Wilson continue their pitch-and-catch from last week, I’d be inclined to use Lockett in a lineup or two.

BARGAIN BASEMENT GUYS

John Brown (Buf, vs. Indl - $4700 on DK and $5700 on FanDuel) - He’s a top-5 value on both sites. With Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley banged up, and with the Bills down a starting corner, I like Brown to exceed expectations this week. Brown returned for Week 17 after not playing since Week 10, and he didn’t skip a beat, putting up 4/72/1, which gives him 70+ receiving yards in his last three active games. The Colts have given up 13+ FP to pairs of WRs in four of their last five games, and they won’t have starting CB Rock Ya Sin, which helps. Brown has been Josh Allen’s big-play guy, so I’m sure we will see multiple shots to him down the field in this one, so I would not be surprised at all if he hit 100+ yards. If he does and he scores, he’s a major win even if he hauls in only 3-4 balls.

TIGHT ENDS

Mark Andrews (Bal, at - $5200 on DK and $7000 on FanDuel) - He’s the #2 value on DK and the top value on FanDuel. It took a while, but Andrews is officially back to the player he was most of last season. He’s got 4-7 catches in six straight, and he posted a season-high 96 receiving yards in this matchup in Week 11 with 5/96/1 on 7 seven targets. Looking at SIS data, the Titans have been one of the 5-7 worst teams this year in terms of FP per target, yards per target, and success allowed to TEs, so Andrews should be busy and productive.

Logan Thomas (Was, vs. TB - $4900 on DK and $6200 on FanDuel) - He’s a top-5 value on both sites, and the #2 value on FanDuel. Your TE3 on the season has put up 10+ FP in six straight, and in the last four weeks he’s averaging a whopping 10.3 targets/game and 7.3 catches/game. The Bucs have allowed 12+ FP to TEs in 4 of their last 5, and the only TE not to produce against them was T.J. Hockenson, who lost his starting QB early in the game. They’ve given up 6 catches a game to TEs the last four weeks with 3 TDs surrendered. It’s a good matchup by the numbers, and while it would suck if Alex Smith didn’t play, I’m guessing he will, and I’m seeing some major GTP opportunities for Thomas yet again.

HIGHER-END GUYS I’M OKAY WITH

Jared Cook (NO, vs. Chi - $4600 on DK and $5900 on FanDuel) - He’s not exactly “high-end” but he is one of the four most expensive options on the board this week on both sites. He’s a top-3 value on FanDuel, but only the 10th-best value on DK. Cook has been a little volatile this year, as many expected, but he has put up 11+ FP in 4 of his last 5 with 3 TDs scored, and he did have his best game of the season in this matchup in Week 8 with 5/51/1 receiving on seven targets. The Bears have been shaky against the TE all year and have given up 3 TDs to the position the last four weeks, plus LB Roquan Smith may not play, which definitely would make Cook’s matchup easier.

BARGAIN BASEMENT GUYS

Jonnu Smith (Ten, at - $3200 on DK and $5200 on FanDuel) - He’s the #1 value on DK and the sixth-best value on FanDuel. This entry is a flyer for those looking to completely cheap out at the position. Jonnu’s breakout season got derailed by their injuries at OT, and he will have to block more again in this one I’m sure, but with 54 points expected to be scored, I think he’s worth a shot, especially with AJ Brown pretty banged up and out of practice Thursday and Friday. Jonnu did put up 4/20/1 on 6 targets against the Titans in Week 11,

Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Famer John Hansen has been an industry leader and pioneer since 1995, when he launched Fantasy Guru. His content has been found over the years on ESPN.com, NFL.com, SiriusXM, DirecTV, Yahoo!, among others outlets. In 2015 he sold Fantasy Guru and in 2020 founded FantasyPoints.com.

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