At this stage, we can reasonably assume elite-level communication between the offensive and defensive sides of the coaching staffs for the four teams still alive. With that detail in mind, we’re going to see each of the four teams pull out all of the stops in order to manipulate one another. Pre-snap reads, receiver motion viability, and coverage scheme creativity will be put to the test. Unlike last week, the weather factor that led to low scoring outputs in Green Bay and, to a lesser extent, Tennessee this past weekend has been all but eliminated. Both games will be played in comfortable confines, without wind playing a role. You can see for yourself below:
To magnify their importance toward processing the matchup data, familiarity with frequently used abbreviations are key. You’ll find the following acronyms frequently used whenever referencing defensive coverage statistics:
Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = YPCS
Fantasy Points Allowed Per Coverage Snap = FP/CS
Air Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = AY/CS
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., Passer Rating on Targets into Coverage) = TPR
Offensive abbreviations used when referring to the performance of QBs/RBs/WRs/TEs:
FPs/Dropback = FP/Db
FPs/Route = FP/Rt
FPs/Touch = FP/Tch
Yards/Route Run = YPRR
Air Yards/Attempt = AY/Att
Air Yards/Target = AY/Tgt
Yards/Target = YPT
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., QB Passer Rating When Targeting Receiver) = TPR
If you’d like to learn more about/refresh yourself with each of the defensive coverage shells and other relevant schematic details mentioned throughout this series, utilize the following resources:
*113-100 (53%); 1-3 in the Divisional Round
Cincinnati Bengals (+7.0) at Kansas City Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers (+3.0) at Los Angeles Rams
*106-84 (56%); 3-1 in the Divisional Round
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (Over 54.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Over 46.0)
*136-72 (65%); 1-3 in the Divisional Round
Cincinnati Bengals (+260) at Kansas City Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers (+150) at Los Angeles Rams
Matchups to Target
Joe Burrow, CIN ($6.6K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Chiefs’ Cover 2 | 6 | 1
The Chiefs appear well on the way toward having Rashad Fenton and Tyrann Mathieu on the field for the AFC Conference Championship. Fenton has been absent from the first two playoffs games due to a back injury suffered during warmups for the Super Wildcard Round. Mathieu was forced out of the Divisional Round after only seven plays with a concussion. For mere mortals, seeing the healthy return of a top-five corner and strong safety would be intimidating. But Joe Burrow is no mere mortal on the gridiron.
After what he did in Week 17, Kansas City will no doubt view this matchup as a daunting task. While completing just under 80% of attempts, Joey Franchise accumulated 446 passing yards, and four TDs to a KC defense at full health. And the Chiefs didn’t hold back any punches in that game. They pushed out the fourth-highest rate of Cover 2 against Cincy – the base scheme Steve Spagnuolo used to pull his defense out of the gutter beginning in Week 8. The Tiger King led Cincinnati to a victory that made them the only team to defeat Kansas City over the last 12 weeks. Judging by the back-and-forth fireworks between the Bills and Chiefs last week, this is a matchup destined to pop.
We didn’t get much in the way of actionable playoff coverage expectations from Kansas City in their destruction of Pittsburgh. However, Spagnuolo was forced to pull out all of the stops against Buffalo, and we have all of his cards. They used the highest rate of Cover 1, third-highest of Cover 2, and also the third-highest of Cover 6. None of those schemes will get in the way of Joey Cool. The only QB who has been better against Cover 1 during Burrow’s 26-game career has been Kirk Cousins. We already saw what Burrow can do against the Chiefs’ Cover 2 – 10-of-12, 147 yards, one TD, a 145.5 passer rating, and 0.76 FP/Db. And Burrow is the most accomplished against Cover 6 among all of the remaining QBs.
Burrow is averaging 0.63 FP/Db (second-most), a 114.2 passer rating (second-highest), 23% spike in YPA (second-most), and 27% increase in AY/Att (fifth-most) when working against Cover 1 during his career. On 20% of dropbacks, Burrow has connected on 29% of his yardage, and 35% of his career TDs across from Cover 1. When defenses have put a Cover 6 across from Burrow, he’s responded with 0.38 FP/Db (sixth-most), and a 94.6 passer rating (eighth-highest). Burrow is the only QB to throw for a greater percentage of total yardage (13%) and TDs (12%) than career dropbacks (11%) when dealing with a defense in a Cover 6.
Ja'Marr Chase, CIN ($6.7K DK | $8.0K FD) vs. Charvarius Ward, KC
Do I even need to remind anyone about what Ja’Marr Chase did to the Chiefs in Week 17? Some records may have been set. Like Burrow, sans dedicated double-coverage, Chase is not going to have any scheme-related issues with KC. As for the chances Kansas City places a double-team on Chase, it’s not a great idea against this offense. Assigning two-on-one would leave the rest of the defense in man-to-man on Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and C.J. Uzomah. And it would also result in placing additional pressure on their most vulnerable area, defense of slot receivers. Needless to say, it’s a decision that would result in an offensive explosion from any of those three receivers. Considering Chase did a number on the coverage metrics from Charvarius Ward’s season, the expectation is that he will want another go at the rookie. And the alignment averages back that up.
Of his 11/266/3 line from Week 17, Chase collected 3/83/1 of it on three targets and 13 routes when facing the Chiefs’ Cover 2. Those numbers – 1.59 FP/Rt and 6.39 YPRR – essentially remove all doubt that Chase will obliterate Cover 2 if put into the same position. How good is Chase? He is the only WR over the last three seasons to generate FP/Rt averages inside the top-10 at the position against Cover 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6. We’re going to see Cooper Kupp get there when he has three full seasons working with Matthew Stafford, and Michael Thomas is the next-closest with top-10 marks against four of those five schemes. Across from Cover 1, Chase mauled opponents with 0.71 FP/Rt (fourth-most), 3.63 YPRR (fourth-most), and 14.5 YPT (second-most). And when taking care of business against Cover 6, Chase created 0.54 FP/Rt (fifth-most), 2.42 YPRR (ninth-most), and 15.3 YPT (fifth-most). Even if Ward is up to the challenge, keep in mind that Chase assembled 8/183/2 of his Week 17 line away from Ward.
Patrick Mahomes II, KC ($7.4K DK | $8.8K FD) vs. Bengals’ Cover 2 | 1 | 3 | 6
Josh Allen was unstoppable during the Divisional Round, but Patrick Mahomes II was not all that far behind the same distinction, particularly during the fourth quarter and overtime. During those final two frames, Mahomes completed 69% of 16 attempts, fabricated 52% of his passing yardage, and two-of-three TDs on only 30% of the total clock time. Unlike that back-and-forth in the Divisional Round, back in Week 17 against Cincy, Mahomes wasn’t forced to push the ball through the air until the second half after KC managed a 28-14 lead with 2:18 remaining in the first half. And Cincinnati shut him down over the final two quarters, only completing nine passes for 50 yards, and a 75.8 passer rating.
How were the Bengals able to manage shutting Mahomes down over a full half of play? The main answer lies in keeping their offense on the field. But they also mashed together a complete hodgepodge of each of the common coverage schemes. We may see that again this week. Or, we could see them repeat their use of Cover 3 that stood as the highest rate among Divisional Round teams. Either way, the three-year coverage success from Mahomes is just too good to disregard. Mahomes and Stafford are the only two QBs to post FP/Db averages among the top-10 QBs when working against Cover 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.
Since the need to promote the passing numbers from Mahomes is entirely unnecessary, I’ll conclude by stating that this entire game could be decided by the O-line quality from Cincinnati. If the Chiefs are able to put the same amount of pressure on Burrow that he dealt with against Tennessee, Kansas City will roll downhill to the victory, and we may end up seeing some disappointing numbers from Mahomes. If the Bengals’ O-line holds up in pass pro, we may see some playoff records established, a scenario that would result in video game numbers from Mahomes, and, in my view, would play out in favor of Cincinnati.
Travis Kelce, KC ($6.5K DK | $7.7K FD) vs. Bengals’ Cover 2 | 1 | 3 | 6
Like Mahomes, I just don’t need to sell Travis Kelce as an elite play. Zeus is the TE1 of the Conference Championship Round and it’s not even close. With top-six TE FP/Rt averages across from Cover 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, he joins George Kittle as the only two sharing that distinction – Mark Andrews and Darren Waller rank in the top-six across four of the schemes.
Am I the only one that got the feeling that Kelce was holding back during the regular season in order to blaze a path toward another Super Bowl? It would only cement his Top-3 all-time TE status. The 13/204/2 combined line during the first two weeks of the playoffs and 26.2 FPG, Kelce is riding the ultimate upside wave after dusting the Bills with 3/43/1 over the final four minutes and 18 seconds.
Final notes on Cincinnati
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Low
Carry Share: 19%
Route Share: 40%
Target Share: 43%
WR (Very Low)
- Route Share: 5%
- Target Share: 3%
- Route Share: 20%
- Target Share: 15%
We know what we’re getting at this stage with Joe Mixon ($6.8K/$8.2K). Around 80% of the carries and 60% of the RB target share. And mediocre assistance before contact from his O-line and average elusiveness from Mixon. Essentially mediocre efficiency that favors volume over quality. In their first two playoff games, the Chiefs’ defense has held RBs to 41.5 rushing yards, 2.96 YPC, and 5.8 FPG to opposing RB1’s. As long as it’s clear we’re wagering on the volume creating scoring opportunities, Mixon will matter this week with few explosive options available.
Rashad Fenton will return to defend Tee Higgins ($5.7K/$6.4K) this week. In Week 17, Fenton held Higgins to one catch for 39 yards of his total 3/62/0 receiving line. Fenton limited his coverage responsibilities to the eighth-fewest FP/CS (0.17), 11th-fewest YPCS (0.82), and ninth-fewest AY/CS (0.08). And Higgins hasn’t scored a TD vs. Cover 2 or Cover 6 in his NFL career. So, Higgins’ value will be entirely tied up in the Cover 1 rate rolled out by KC. A top-15 wideout, across the board against Cover 1, Higgins has scored 50% of his career TDs on only 22% of routes across from Cover 1.
Tyler Boyd ($4.2K/$5.8K) will see a variety of defenders in coverage. There is certainly an opportunity with Kansas City being extremely vulnerable to inside production. Boyd pulled a 4/36/1 line against the Chiefs in Week 17, scoring the five-yard TD across from Tyrann Mathieu. With top-25 WR metrics across from Cover 1 and Cover 2 the last three seasons, Ty-Borg will hold the upside advantage over Higgins. However, if KC does double Chase, Higgins is the guy most likely to pop – large-field (LF) GPP degens take notice. Boyd has accounted for 35% of his yardage and 36% of his total TDs on only 26% of routes against Cover 1 over his last 47 games.
Considering KC used the highest rate last week and the chance Chase could be doubled, we may see the Chiefs play enough Cover 1 to make C.J. Uzomah ($3.4K/$5.6K) matter. Over his last 36 games, Uzomah has found 63% of his TDs on 22% of routes vs. Cover 1, and posted a 137.2 TPR, leading all TEs over the last three seasons.
DFS inactive list:
Samaje Perine ($4.2K/$4.7K)
Chris Evans ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Mike Thomas ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Stanley Morgan Jr. ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Drew Sample ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Final notes on Kansas City
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = High
RB (Very High)
- Carry Share (with CEH on the field): 41%
- Route Share (with CEH on the field): 56%
- Target Share (with CEH on the field): 61%
- Route Share: 25%
- Target Share: 25%
- Route Share: 27%
- Target Share: 16%
Jerick McKinnon ($5.1K/$6.2K) is averaging 42.5 rushing yards, 67.5 receiving yards, 6.5 targets, 5.5 receptions, and 16.5 FPG during these playoffs. Not to mention 213 total yards after contact and 1.85 YPRR. Even with Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($5.3K/$5.7K) back in the mix, McKinnon ran 78% of team routes vs. 22% for CEH. And he drew 78% of the targets and carried 59% of the backfield load. Just keep in mind the ownership numbers are going to account for McKinnon’s excellent play. The Chiefs will EASILY face the most vanilla run defending unit of the conference championship.
It does appear as though Darrel Williams ($4.2K/$5.0K) will make his return, so some touches will be sacrificed. That said, it would be ludicrous for Kansas City to slow down the touch rate on McKinnon while he’s playing out of his mind, particularly in passing situations. That’s why we are going to see him owned at twice the percentage of CEH. McKinnon is a Cash/Single-Entry (SE) staple and, if you decide to fade, CEH is an excellent leverage play.
Tyreek Hill ($7.0K/$8.1K) just waits patiently for the coverage to make a mistake. One false step forward, Cheetah’s gone. But we have seen the opposing coverage play mostly error-free ball, limiting Hill’s numbers. Cincinnati will most likely look to split the coverage responsibility similar to in Week 17 when between six defenders took part and held him to a 6/40/0 line on nine targets. And Hill only managed 2/10/0 of that across from Chidobe Awuzie. Although, in all but one game this season, when Tyreek hit at or above value, he recorded at least a 30-yard reception. And the Bengal CBs have permitted the second-most receptions, yards and fifth-most TDs on 30-plus targets.
I will have some LF GPP exposure to both Mecole Hardman ($4.0K/$5.3K) and… I’m really about to type it out… Demarcus Robinson ($3.8K/$4.8K) this weekend. When the Chiefs use four WRs, it’ll force Vernon Hargreaves III onto the field, something the Titans were unequipped to do last week. I am viewing Byron Pringle ($4.3K/$5.7K) as being extremely TD-dependent. Not the worst classification for a guy that’s scored five TDs over his last five games. But Mike Hilton is playing out of his mind. Over his last three games, he’s held his responsibilities to a combined 4/53/0 line in coverage.
DFS inactive list:
Derrick Gore ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Marcus Kemp ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Noah Gray ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Blake Bell ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Matchups to Target
Jimmy Garoppolo, SF ($5.4K DK | $6.2K FD) vs. Rams’ Cover 3 | 4 | 6
Jimmy Garoppolo has averaged 292 passing yards and thrown four TDs vs. two INTs in his two games against the Rams with Jalen Ramsey on the roster. Consistent to what they used last season, Los Angeles is using the fourth-highest rates of Cover 3 and 6, and the ninth-highest of Cover 4.
Over his last three seasons, Garoppolo has created the fifth-most FP/Db (0.46) across from Cover 3, and seventh-most across from Cover 4 (0.38).
It’s guaranteed that Jimmy G will be the lowest-owned QB on the slate and, while it’s a tough matchup, it’s one where Garoppolo has shown he’s been primed for success. With QB4 pricing, we only need 16.2/15.5 FPs for profit over value.
Deebo Samuel, SF ($7.2K DK | $8.4K FD) vs. Jalen Ramsey, LAR
It’s up in the air how the Rams will proceed in covering Deebo Samuel this week. But it is clear they will not use a Jalen Ramsey in full-on shadow mode since Samuel does so much work out of the backfield. And we can also count on seeing them dedicate at least 15 touches to The Professional Bully. It’s really quite simple for me concerning my approach to Samuel each week. Will we see enough Cover 3? And I like the answer. LAR has used Cover 3 on just under half of their snaps the last three weeks – including over 50% in their Week 18 showdown.
Do not take this lightly, no other WR has obliterated Cover 3 in the fashion Samuel has during his career. He leads all WRs in FP/Rt (0.65), is third with 3.35 YPRR, and he’s scored 50% of his career TDs against Cover 3 on only 32% of routes. I keep a healthy respect for all route percentages run inside Ramsey’s coverage. However, Deebo’s pre-snap alignment is simply too slippery for Ramsey to track, and Samuel has made it clear in the past that he saves his best for matchups across from Ramsey. In four matchups across from Ramsey and the Rams, Deebo has created at least 24 FPG in three, and averaged 23.8 FPG overall.
Cooper Kupp, LAR ($8.8K DK | $9.7K FD) vs. K'Waun Williams, SF
Be prepared to devote upwards of 45% of your cap dollars to your three featured WRs this week. And just get ready to view Cooper Kupp as one of those staples. In two games against the 49ers and with Matthew Stafford under center, Kupp has generated an 18/240/1 combined line, and 24.0 FPG. High enough floor and upside to lock Kupp into our Cash/SE lineups. No matter the final outcome, Kupp is going to blow up.
As mentioned, it’s only a matter of time until Kupp’s FP/Rt numbers are each in the top-7 territory when facing Cover 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6. He only lacks the reps with Stafford leading the offense. Does the coverage of K’Waun Williams concern me? Of course. K1 has been a top-10 insider corner all season. However, Kupp is only adding to one of the finest seasons from a WR in NFL history. Gotsta pinch them cap dimes.
Final notes on San Francisco
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Very Low
RB (Very Low)
- Carry Share (with Elijah Mitchell on the field): 11%
- Route Share (with Elijah Mitchell on the field): 38%
- Target Share (with Elijah Mitchell on the field): 47%
WR (Very Low)
- Route Share (without Mohamed Sanu Sr.): 7%
- Target Share (without Mohamed Sanu Sr.): 6%
TE (Very Low)
- Route Share: 12%
- Target Share: 3%
You might have noticed that I have not selected a RB to feature as a dedicated Target. Double KC RB stacks are entirely on the table, that’s the situation we are facing. Elijah Mitchell ($5.9K/$7.0K) managed a 29/96/1 rushing line (15.5 FPs) against the Cardinals and 17/53/0 (10.1) against the Packers. The Rams have held opposing RBs to a non-existent 2.61 YPC during the playoffs. And they are only issuing 6.4 FPG on the ground to opposing RB1’s. While he did catch three balls last week, Mitchell is very TD-dependent, and very much lacking in the upside-department.
Darious Williams has not been the dominant presence he was last season.
His season-long metrics tell the tale of a top-35 CB. And he was responsible for a 9/135/1 line from his Tampa Bay responsibilities last week. That said, poor coverage scheme numbers from Brandon Aiyuk ($5.0K/$5.6K) must be overcome. Tread carefully. I have a feeling that we are going to see a very low ownership number for Jauan Jennings ($3.2K/$4.9K). That would be outstanding! His breakout game came across from these L.A. Rams in Week 18. Since then, he’s tied with Deebo in receptions and has scored the only two receiving TDs during the 49ers’ last three games. Love me some Jennings this week, whether it’s with David Long Jr. or Dont'e Deayon in coverage.
No TE has scored a TD against the Rams over their last seven games. George Kittle ($5.0K/$5.8K) is never an outright GPP fade guy with his decorated coverage profile but, if I’m paying up at TE, it’ll be in an effort to get up to Kelce.
DFS inactive list:
Jeff Wilson Jr. ($4.4K/$4.6K)
JaMycal Hasty ($4.0K/$4.6K)
Trent Sherfield ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Travis Benjamin ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Charlie Woerner ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Ross Dwelley ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Final notes on Los Angeles
Overall Backup Opportunity Level = Low
- Carry Share (with Cam Akers starting): 28%
- Route Share (with Cam Akers starting): 38%
- Target Share (with Cam Akers starting): 29%
WR (Very Low)
- Route Share (with OBJ on the field): 6%
- Target Share (with OBJ on the field): 6%
- Route Share: 10%
- Target Share: 6% (25% target share for Kendall Blanton in Divisional Round)
The 49ers have dedicated their defense to the fifth-highest rate of Cover 3 and seventh-highest of Cover 4. Over his last three campaigns, Matthew Stafford ($6.3K/$7.5K) has created the sixth-most FP/Db (0.37) across from Cover 4, but it’s a full 22% below his overall average, and his 88.7 passer rating ranks 24th. But those numbers actually make up his upside in this matchup. In two games against San Francisco this season, he’s only averaging 15.7 FPG, and he’s thrown four INTs. One of the reasons is the high Cover 3 rate of the Niners.
Over his last 43 games, Stafford has generated the 10th-most FP/Db (0.41 – a 17% decrease to his average), and nine TDs vs. 12 INTs against Cover 3. And the wheels have come off for him with zero TDs vs. four INTs over his last six games when defenses utilize Cover 3. It’s a scheme that purposefully leaves two underneath zones uncovered. And, judging by some of his decisions, Stafford has had as much of an issue reading the scheme as he has in forcing the ball deep.
The real test for Cam Akers ($5.0K/$6.2K) was to prove he’s at 100% health. He did that. It’s no surprise that he was shut down by the Bucs last week. And the 49ers are not going to offer him any break after holding opposing RBs to 3.46 YPC and RB1’s to only 3.6 FPG on the ground during the playoffs. Akers will need to be much more active as a receiver if he’s going to help us this week. Emmanuel Moseley held Odell Beckham Jr. ($5.1K/$6.3K) to a 2/18/0 line on five targets in Week 18. OBJ was just not able to separate. And don’t count on seeing the type of Cover 2 rate Beckham has excelled against the last three seasons. In spite of facing Ambry Thomas, Van Jefferson Jr. ($3.9K/$5.2K) only managed a 2/31/0 line. But Jefferson has fabricated 0.49 FP/Rt (11th-most) and 128.1 TPR (sixth-most) across from Cover 3 during his career.
The 49ers have been a top-5 TE defense all season. But they have handed out the fourth-most TDs/game to the position (1.0). The definition of TD-dependency for Tyler Higbee ($3.7K/$5.5K), but also why I feel Kendall Blanton ($2.7K/$4.4K) is a salary-saver option. He was in on one-of-three red zone plays, resulting in his seven-yard TD last week.
DFS inactive list:
Sony Michel ($4.6K/$5.3K)
Darrell Henderson Jr. ($4.5K/$5.0K)
Bennett Skowronek ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Johnny Mundt ($2.5K/$4.0K)