FanDuel & DraftKings NFL DFS Championship Round Slate Breakdown
On a short slate, it’s usually wise to favor GPPs and avoid or limit cash games. With so few players on the slate, there is more overlap between lineups than on the main slate, which leads to much more variance—exactly what we are trying to avoid when grinding cash games.
For those used to playing full slates, consider these potential adjustments or listen to this DFS MVP theory segment on playing short slates:
- Short slates are not all about value - With so few players in the pool, there will inevitably be a ton of overlap in lineups which naturally leads to a high variance slate. For this reason, it makes sense to focus on GPPs. (Putting your tournament lineups in small 50/50s or multipliers, however, can be a nice way to give your lineups a floor). Rather than building lineups with all of the best point-per-dollar plays, consider game flow scenarios and build lineups that follow a logical narrative relative to those scripts—strategies such as full onslaughts are very much in play.
- Consider non-traditional lineup builds - On short slates, there are some lineup construction strategies to consider that would never make sense on a full slate. Some examples are playing more than one running back from the same game or team in a lineup, rostering one or two players against your defense, and leaving salary on the table. It’s going to be tough to find contrarian stand-alone players—look for other ways to be unique.
- There is leverage to be had at the “onesies” - Full slates will rarely have any quarterback, tight end, or defense in more than 15%–20% of lineups in large-field GPPs. On slates such as this one, players at those positions could approach 50% ownership in even the largest fields. This presents a rare opportunity to be contrarian at positions where ownership is usually quite flat.
- Stick to a (relatively) small player pool - It’s tempting to try to cover all of your bases when the player pool is so small but that will only dilute your good reads. Narrow in on a small core with your favorite off-the-board plays and be way overweight on those players. Coupled with strong correlation plays, this is how to build a profitable portfolio on a short slate.
- Don’t forget about late swaps - With no overlap between games, this slate may offer the biggest edge of the year when it comes to late swap. Teams that are contrarian early have an especially big edge with the ability to swap off of popular players in late games if they are doing poorly or stay on chalky players if their early contrarian plays hit. For more information on late swap theory, listen to this DFS MVP segment.
The point totals are tight on this slate with no team total above 24.75 or below 22. With loose salaries, this will likely result in relatively flat ownership for such a short slate.
Eagles (-2.5) vs 49ers; O/U 46.5
Christian McCaffrey is nursing an injured calf that led to Elijah Mitchell out-carrying CMC 14–10 in the Divisional Round. Still, McCaffrey has 19% of the 49ers' post-season targets, including a team-high eight targets for a 31% target share last week.
In San Francisco’s two post-season games, Deebo Samuel has dominated targets, with 16 looks going his way for a 30% target share.
Other than Burrow against KC, Philadelphia’s wide receiver corps has the best positional matchup of the week—San Francisco has allowed the seventh-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points to wide receivers.
Over the last month, including the playoffs, no remaining player has a higher target share than DeVonta Smith (35.6%).
Miles Sanders has the most difficult fantasy matchup of the week as the 49ers surrender the fourth-fewest schedule-adjusted points to running backs.
Chiefs (-1.5) vs Bengals; O/U 48.0
Patrick Mahomes’ ankle injury changes the outlook of the slate and could alter how the Chiefs will play. In their Week 13 matchup against the Bengals, Mahomes had his highest average throw depth (10.5 yards) of the season (SportsInfoSolutions). That throw depth will plummet if Mahomes is relegated to quick throws from the pocket.
Nate Taylor, Chiefs writer at The Athletic, laid out some potential adjustments the Chiefs could make in their game plan with Mahomes injured. The highlights: more 12 personnel, increased carries for Isiah Pacheco, and a heavy dose of screen passes and jet sweeps.
Joe Burrow has the easiest on-paper positional matchup of the week against a Chiefs defense ranked 28th in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Over the last six weeks, including the playoffs, no team has a higher passing rate over expectation than the Bengals.
In their two playoff games, Joe Mixon has played 59% of snaps to Samaje Perine’s 45% with 74% of third down snaps going to Perine. While Mixon still dominates carries, they have a near-equal target share in the post-season, boosting Perine’s outlook in a pass-first game plan.
Ownership and Leverage
With DeVonta Smith out-targeting A.J. Brown in recent weeks, expect the two to carry similar ownership at roughly the same salary on both sites.
Although Deebo Samuel has heavily out-targeted Brandon Aiyuk in the playoffs, the salary difference should keep Aiyuk in the third tier of wide receiver ownership, right behind Deebo.
The Bengals project as the most popular passing attack on both sites with Ja'Marr Chase likely to be the highest-rostered player on both FanDuel and DraftKings. Tee Higgins will be in the mix as the WR2 in terms of ownership.
JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t super-contrarian but he will be in a lower ownership tier than many of his wide receiver peers. If Mahomes is forced into lower-depth throws, Smith-Schuster could see heavy target volume and will be an exceptional play if Kadarius Toney’s ownership gets juiced up by fantasy players enamored by his efficiency.
Tyler Boyd is one of the rare starters offering sub-20% ownership, making him an ideal addition to Bengals' onslaughts over Higgins or Hayden Hurst.
The 49ers offer the most leverage at the “onesie” positions. At quarterback and DST, Brock Burdy and 49ers DST will fall behind a bunched-up ownership field. George Kittle won’t be super-contrarian but should draw the lowest ownership of the four tight end starters given his middling salary and Kelce’s position-lapping projection.
In the event that the Chiefs play more two-tight-end sets than usual, Noah Gray is worth a dart throw after accounting for 16% of KC’s air yards in the Divisional Round, second on the team to Kelce.
If Pacheco gets an increased workload to alleviate some pressure off Mahomes, Pacheco could prove to be one of the biggest leverage plays of the week. However, this also sets up a spot for a contrarian build using both Chiefs' running backs if Kansas City also uses McKinnon heavily in the screen game. This approach works best without Kelce in the lineup.
DFS players can also consider doubling up on San Francisco’s backfield. In all likelihood, McCaffrey will get every shot to carry the load as long as his ankle holds up. If the 49ers gain a lead, Elijah Mitchell could get increased work, even if CMC feels fine.
Game Flow Consideration
It’s tough to imagine a scenario where the over is the most likely option in the early game—both teams will run as much as possible with a lead and the 49ers have the most dominant defense in football. The best chance for an early-game onslaught to overcome the late game may be a Mahomes re-injury so it’s probably best to include Cincinnati players in a build that is heavy on Eagles and 49ers.
Because Jalen Hurts relies so much on his legs and San Francisco so much on their running backs, consider lighter stacks with Hurts and Brock Purdy than those you would build with the AFC passers.
One scenario that could play favorably into the low ownership of the 49ers is a San Francisco blowout. SharpClarke’s basic thesis for the scenario is this: Philadelphia has had a cupcake schedule and Hurts’ efficiency plummets in unfavorable situations. “If the 49ers' defense can stop the run and force Hurts and company into obvious passing situations where the run game is taken off the table…” things could spiral out of control.
This still doesn’t necessarily mean that a Purdy onslaught is preferable, but playing Purdy with one pass-catcher, possibly both backs, and the 49ers DST is a build that won’t be found much on Sunday.
Everyone is expecting Mahomes’ ankle to severely impact the game. This sets up two distinct roster constructions around the Chiefs' offense.
A hobbled Mahomes likely means more quick passes from the pocket with a relatively short target depth and heavy involvement from both running backs. This scenario favors Smith-Schuster over the other Kansas City wide receivers but could slow down the game and hold back late-game onslaughts from winning tournaments. Consider builds that are more balanced between the two games in this scenario.
If Mahomes feels better than expected, heavily stacking this game and building around a huge point total makes more sense. Burrow doubles will be popular so going Chiefs-heavy and bringing back as many as three Bengals may be a profitable build. Probably Pacheco gets the biggest downgrade in this scenario, followed by Smith-Schuster.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson—the only two Chiefs with average target depth above 10 yards this season—benefit from a comfortable Mahomes in the event that he replicates his season-high average throw depth from Week 13 against Cincinnati. In that contest, MVS tied for the team lead in targets (6) and led the team in receiving yards (71) and air yards (139)
Toney fits into any build since anyone using him is relying on his efficiency around the goal line.
The chance that Mahomes reaggravates his injury cannot be ignored—don’t forget about the Bengals DST in a full fade of the KC offense.