Graham Barfield

Post-Season Fantasy Football Guide

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Championship Round Tiers

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


The Championship Round is upon us, and if you’re like me, you have to be excited for the two games on the docket on Sunday. The NFC and AFC Championship games are arguably the two best football games fans get every year and both games have intriguing matchups on both sides of the ball.


If you’re also like me and can’t get enough of fantasy football, there are still DFS games to be played and fantasy options to look at. So, in this column we’ll take a look at the two big games through a daily fantasy lens.


Since these are fantasy “tiers”, they are not meant to be linear ranks. Each “tier” separates the relative strength of play and the player order inside of the relative tier is not necessarily a direct rank.


Here’s to some good football this weekend.


Editor's Note: Stay up to date on all the breaking news at the Rotoworld Player News page, and follow @Rotoworld_FB and @GrahamBarfield on Twitter.


Quarterbacks


Tier One


Cam Newton: Carolina got ahead quickly on Seattle in the Divisional Round, wrecking Cam’s big-game potential with negative game script. I’m not sure that will happen in the Championship Round. Carolina (31.2) and Arizona (30.3) are currently No. 1 and No. 2 in points scored per game and both teams finished the regular season in the top-12 of offensive yards gained per play. Newton only had to throw the ball 22 times against Seattle in the Divisional Round, but averaged 31 attempts during the regular season. Due to Arizona’s strength on offense, I’m expecting some positive regression towards the mean for Newton.


Carson Palmer: The same analysis above for Newton applies, in part, for Palmer. This Arizona at Carolina game has major shootout potential, with both high-powered offenses trading blows. While Carolina’s defense has played well all year -- in large part thanks to Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly -- their pass defense has quietly sprung a leak. The Panthers have allowed three straight 300-plus yard passing performances dating back to the regular season to Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, and Russell Wilson (Divisional Round). Palmer looked shaky at times against the Packers' blitzing fronts in the Divisional Round, but the big scoring potential mixed in with a Panthers' secondary that has been hampered by injuries gives Palmer a rosy box score outlook in the Championship Round.


Tom Brady: I used Brady against the Chiefs in DFS last week on the back of Julian Edelman’s return -- which worked out well -- but the only issue was I didn’t roster Brady with Edelman and/or Rob Gronkowski. I’ll write more on that below. Regardless, the Championship Round is a completely different spot for the Patriots' offense. New England is now on the road against a Denver secondary that has allowed just two 300 passing yard outings to opposing quarterbacks all year, both of which came by the shoulder of Ben Roethlisberger. I will note that Brady posted a 280-3 (on 42 attempts) in Denver when these two teams met in Week 12. The stat-stuffing potential is always there for Brady (as we saw last week), but I do feel fairly confident saying he’s firmly behind Cam Newton in terms of a fantasy projection this week.


Tier Two


Peyton Manning: Clearly in the twilight zone of his career, Manning simply does not offer the upside that Newton, Palmer, and Brady possess in the Championship Round. Coming off of the Divisional Round game where the Patriots pressured Alex Smith on 40.4 percent of his drop backs, the ball will have to come out of Manning’s hand quickly on Sunday. That may have already been the case with his arm strength waning, but the fact is Manning’s passing yardage (222.4 per-game) and touchdown per attempt percentage (2.7) totals this year point to a middling floor/ceiling combo. Manning will probably be the lightest owned signal-caller in the Championship Round slate on DFS sites, but for good reason.


Running Backs


Tier One


David Johnson: Even though he was slowed down on the ground (15-35) against the Packers in the Divisional Round, Johnson still saw nine targets in the passing game and turned them into 6-43. A true definition of a workhorse, Johnson can have an off day rushing but still offer a safe floor and some upside due to his ability in the passing game. Frankly, any running back that has the potential to see 22% of his team’s targets (like Johnson did in the Divisional Round) has massive fantasy scoring potential. In just a two-game slate, we’re looking for fantasy scoring outburst upside. Johnson has six or more targets in four of his last five games and no fewer than three receptions in each of those contests.


Tier Two


Jonathan Stewart: One of my failures in the Divisional Round was inaccurately forecasting Stewart’s potential for a big game against Seattle. I’m not sure anyone could have predicted Seattle falling behind so sharply on the road, but J-Stew reaped the benefits of Carolina’s positive game flow by ripping the Seahawks for 19-106-2. The only reason Stewart isn’t right behind Johnson in Tier One is due to the fact he’s minimally involved in Carolina’s passing attack (1.7 targets per game in his last six contests). If the Panthers get behind against Arizona, Stewart becomes an ancillary piece in the offense. Still, he’s comfortably the No. 2 running back play on the slate due to his offenses scoring potential.


Tier Three


C.J. Anderson/Ronnie Hillman: This has been a common theme in the playoffs, but here is where things start to get murky at the running back position. Anderson and Hillman split snaps almost down the middle (37:33) in the Broncos’ opening playoff round with Anderson drawing the slight edge in touches (17:16). I should note that Anderson was far more effective than Hillman against the Steelers, converting his 15 carries into 72 yards and a score, while Hillman rushed for 16-38. Anderson and Hillman combined for 172 rushing yards on 29 attempts against New England in Week 12, but that was after run-stopping OLB Dont’a Hightower (knee) left early with an injury and only played 40 percent of the Patriots snaps. Anderson has rushing yardage totals of 73, 95, and 72 in his last three games, scoring a touchdown in each while Hillman has eclipsed 70-plus yards rushing once in his last seven games.


James White: I really could just copy and paste my analysis for White from last week here. Pass catching-only backs are extremely hard to forecast and White is certainly no different. On one hand, Denver did give up the eighth most receptions (6.0) to running backs per-game during the regular season. On the flip side, White has target totals of (5, 13, 6, 8, 5, 3, 3) in his last seven games. White did play a season-high 72.4% of the Patriots snaps in the Divisional Round, so perhaps the ceiling for an 8-13 target game is still in place. I just don’t have a grip on what to expect.


Tier Four


Steven Jackson: Literally the only thing going for Jackson in DFS this weekend is the fact he has five of the seven possible running back red zone rush attempts since joining the team in Week 16. At 32-years young, Jackson doesn’t have much gas left in the tank. His longest run on his 21 total attempts in a Patriots uniform is seven yards.


Mike Tolbert: Logged seven carries plus one target against Seattle in the Divisional Round and ran the most pass routes (10) of Panthers backs (Stewart ran 7 routes, Cameron Artis-Payne: 3). He’s still a complete dart-throw only in this two-game slate.


Andre Ellington: Played just 10.6 percent of snaps in the Divisional Round and logged three touches.


Brandon Bolden: Only played four total snaps in the Divisional Round.



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