This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments section below, or on twitter (@RotowireNFL_JD).
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the logic can be applied to other sites across the DFS industry. Discussion is limited to players from the "main slate" of games kicking off at 1:00, 4:05 and 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday. The strategy below is meant for large-field tournaments, where payouts typically are limited to ~20 percent of lineups, with the vast majority concentrated at the very top.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — the guys that are good plays both for cash games and large-field tournaments. While we don't want our tourney lineups to look like cash-game lineups top to bottom, there's nothing wrong with using a few "chalk" picks that have strong odds to outperform their salaries. These players, along with a couple passing-game stacks, tend to form the core that remains fairly consistent throughout my lineups.
- WR DeVante Parker, MIA at CLE ($5,200)
Parker finally went over 100 yards last week, giving him a seventh consecutive game with double-digit PPR points. He's averaged 5.0 catches for 75.0 yards and 0.33 touchdowns in Ryan Fitzpatrick's six full games, including 10 targets in back-to-back contests since Preston Williams suffered an ACL tear. The Browns have a solid group of cornerbacks led by Denzel Ward, but Parker should have a bit of extra time to get open against a defense that's expected to be missing its top three pass rushers — DE Myles Garrett (suspension), DE Olivier Vernon (knee) and DT Larry Ogunjobi (suspension).
- RB James White, NE vs. DAL ($5,300)
I hyped White in my matchups column earlier this week, focusing on the Cowboys' multi-year tendency to bleed receiving production to running backs. The matchup now looks even better than I'd expected, with LB Leighton Vander Esch (neck) unlikely to suit up for the Cowboys and both Mohamed Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) uncertain for the Patriots. White could see added volume beyond his 2019 averages of 6.9 targets and 4.1 carries per game, with the Patriots lacking reliable weapons apart from Julian Edelman. The running back's average of 12.9 DK points already makes him a solid value relative to his Week 12 price, and I expect he'll be closer to 15 ppg from here on out, likely benefitting from positive touchdown regression. White has just two TDs from 522 scrimmage yards, well below his career rate of one score for every 127.3 yards.
Stacks are the centerpiece of any tournament lineup, seeking to take advantage of positive correlations between players. It rarely makes sense to use a quarterback without one or two of his pass catchers, even if the player in question scores a decent portion of his fantasy points with his legs. Ideally, a stack also includes a pass catcher from the other side of the contest, hoping to take advantage of a tight game where both teams are still chucking the ball around late in the fourth quarter. (Implied team totals are listed in parentheses.)
Buccaneers(23.75) at Falcons (27.75)
I'm a partial believer in Atlanta's defensive turnaround, with the improved results backed by a number of significant changes, including new play callers, lower blitz rates, more playing time for DE Adrian Clayborn, and top cornerback Desmond Trufant returning from a toe injury. Still, it's probably a matter of the Falcons achieving respectability, rather than the dominance we saw the past two weeks. Their flaws didn't disappear overnight — namely a secondary that lacks quality beyond Trufant.
That's all to say that Jameis Winston ($6,200), Mike Evans ($7,300) and Chris Godwin ($7,200) are in play this week, with Cameron Brate ($3,600) also an option if you're willing to gamble on Bruce Arians' confusing usage of his tight ends. The other side of the game barely requires discussion, as the Bucs consistently bleed points to quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends. With Austin Hooper (knee) presumably out another week, Julio Jones ($8,000) and Calvin Ridley ($6,500) are safe bets to pile up targets from Matt Ryan ($6,700).
- Best Stack: QB Ryan + WR Jones + WR Ridley + WR Evans/Godwin
Dolphins (17.25) at Browns (27.75)
I generally don't like to stack games with double-digit spreads, but I'm willing to make an exception when the prices are favorable for multiple players. DeVante Parker is an easy choice from the Miami side, while the Browns offer up Nick Chubb ($8,100), Kareem Hunt ($5,600), Odell Beckham ($7,000) and Jarvis Landry ($6,300) as viable options.
Baker Mayfield ($5,900) is still searching for his first blow-up game of the season, and I'm thinking this could be the one after he reached 17 DK points each of the last three weeks against above-average pass defenses — Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Denver. The Dolphins land all the way on the other end of the spectrum, and they may get even worse after placing both starting safeties on injured reserve Wednesday morning.
Ultimately, I want to pair Mayfield with the guys that are most likely to see high-value targets, which means Beckham and/or Landry rather than the running backs. If you're looking for a good narrative, how about Freddie Kitchens using this cushy matchup as a way to boost Mayfield's confidence, perhaps letting him air it out more than is necessary to secure a win?
- Best Stack: QB Mayfield + WR Beckham + WR Landry + WR Parker
Cowboys (19.25) at Patriots (25.75)
I've changed my mind on Tom Brady ($6,000) vs. Dak Prescott ($6,000) since I posted the tweet above, believing the latter's running ability and better arsenal of weapons outweighs the impact of a much more difficult matchup (also, Prescott has simply been the better player this year). I'm not sure how committed I am, but I figured I'd share the thought once it was already out there in the twitterverse.
- Best Stack: QB Prescott + RB White + WR Gallup
We can pair a running back with his team's defense to double our bet on favorable game script in certain matchups. Just keep in mind that the scoring correlations aren't nearly as strong as those between quarterbacks and pass catchers, so it isn't worth forcing into a lineup unless the prices for each individual commodity make sense. We also need to account for specialized backfield roles, i.e., using Marlon Mack rather than Nyheim Hines in conjunction with the Indianapolis defense.
- RB Phillip Lindsay ($5,200) + Denver Broncos D/ST ($2,400) at BUF
I'm not sure if the Broncos will keep this game close, but I'm pretty sure if they do it will be a product of Lindsay and the defense thriving, along with one or two Courtland Sutton highlights. A four-point spread hints at a closer matchup than the teams' respective records might seem to suggest, with Buffalo profiling as the weakest 7-3 team in recent memory. Pro Football Reference's simple rating system tabs Buffalo's schedule as the easiest in the league, and a plus-41 point differential (ninth-best) isn't exactly overwhelming.
The pricing here is excellent for a solid defense against a mistake-prone quarterback, and Lindsay also feels like a bargain after his role expanded to a season-high 64 percent of snaps last week. He wasn't able to take advantage in the box score against Minnesota, but the efficiency should improve versus a Bills unit ranked 27th in run defense DVOA (0.7%) and 21st in DK points allowed to RBs. I really like this cheap duo as a way to offset those expensive Bucs-Falcons stacks.
Honorable Mention: RB Devin Singletary ($5,400) + D/ST Buffalo Bills ($3,400) vs. DEN
- RB Alvin Kamara, NO vs. CAR ($8,200)
Held back by an ankle injury as well as some difficult matchups, Kamara hasn't enjoyed a true spike game since Week 3, instead providing solid but unspectacular production. A lot of that simply comes down to poor touchdown luck, with the superstar back somehow managing just two scores from 845 scrimmage yards. It may not feel like it, but Kamara's per-game average of 105.6 scrimmage yards is essentially the same as what he did in 2017 (97.1) and 2018 (106.1). He also seems to get a pass-catching boost with Drew Brees, piling up 28 targets in the three games both players have started and finished. The Week 12 matchup should allow Kamara to start chipping away at those touchdowns, with Carolina ranked 32nd in run defense DVOA (10.6%), 29th in YPC (4.9) and 29th in DK points allowed to running backs.
Honorable Mentions: WR Julio Jones, ATL vs. TB ($8,000)
Fading the Field
Every week we see at least one or two players carrying high ownership without the backing of a top point-per-dollar projection. Recency bias is often to blame, but in some cases it even makes sense to fade a player with a strong projection, particularly when there are good alternatives at the same position and price range.
- RB Josh Jacobs, OAK at NYJ ($7,300)
I was happy to fork over $6,900 for Jacobs in a home game against the Bengals last week, but I have no interest in going even higher for a sneaky-tough road matchup. The Jets are second in DVOA against the run (-27.3%), first in YPC (3.0) and ninth in DK points allowed to running backs, instead getting beat to a pulp by wide receivers. Jacobs' inconsistent pass-catching production makes it difficult to justify this price unless we expect him to reach the 100-yard rushing bonus, something only Ezekiel Elliott has done against the Jets this year.
Other Fades: TE Darren Waller, OAK at NYJ ($5,700)
The SMASH Spot
Volume is king, no doubt. But we still need to account for efficiency, pinpointing situations that give players good odds to outperform their typical marks for YPA, YPC or YPT.
- WR Calvin Ridley, ATL vs. TB ($6,500)
I'd normally be wary of high ownership in combination with a $1,000 price increase from the previous week, but it truly does seem that Ridley has every possible factor working in his favor. For starters, he's playing a home game in a dome against a pass-funnel Tampa Bay defense that's given up league-high marks of 2,022 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns to WRs. In the past, we might have questioned whether Ridley would see enough volume to take advantage of the friendly matchup. That's no longer the case with this current version of the Falcons, featuring Russell Gage and Jaeden Graham instead of Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper (knee). Ridley led the team in routes each of the past three games, including 33 on Matt Ryan's 34 dropbacks during last week's explosion in Carolina.
Honorable Mention: WR D.J. Chark, JAX at TEN ($6,400).
The Bargain Bin
QB Nick Foles, JAX at TEN ($5,400)
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA at CLE ($5,000)
RB Kalen Ballage, MIA at CLE ($4,400)
RB Bo Scarbrough, DET at WAS ($4,200)
WR Cole Beasley, BUF vs. DEN ($4,400)
WR Demaryius Thomas, NYJ vs. OAK ($3,800)
WR Allen Hurns, MIA at CLE ($3,300)
TE Vance McDonald, PIT at CIN ($3,500)
TE Mike Gesicki, MIA at CLE ($3,400)
TE Ben Watson, NE vs. DAL ($3,100)
D/ST Denver Broncos at BUF ($2,400)
D/ST Cincinnati Bengals vs. PIT ($2,100)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. We can formulate plans ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- RB Jordan Howard (shoulder), PHI vs. SEA
Miles Sanders ($5,000) was a disappointment last week, but his 85 percent snap share created hope for future production if Howard were to miss additional time. I'll move Sanders up to a top-five play at RB if his backfield mate is inactive again.
I actually like Jeffery at $4,900 if he's cleared to play, though it would be nice to see a full practice session and/or a favorable report regarding workload expectations. Zach Ertz ($6,000) is coming off back-to-back games with 11 targets, and Dallas Goedert ($3,700) has averaged 5.6 the past five weeks. Both tight ends are solid plays.
I'll probably just stick with my beloved James White, but I know there will also be interest in N'Keal Harry ($3,300), Jakobi Meyers ($3,000) and Ben Watson ($3,100). The 38-year-old tight end has played at least 70 percent of snaps in each appearance this year, and the Dallas defense tends to encourage shorter passes. As for the wide receivers, Harry had a 32-to-19 advantage in snaps and a 4-to-2 advantage in targets last week, with his draft pedigree and athleticism apparently taking precedence over Meyers' strong work earlier in the season. Given the minimal price difference, I'd favor the first-round pick if forced to choose between the two.
Forecasts look good across the board, though we could run into some minor issues if wind picks up in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington or Buffalo. All four are projected around 12-15 mph, which isn't enough to cause concern.
Adjusting for FanDuel Prices
The prices listed in this article are from DraftKings, and while most of the logic applies to any DFS site, there are a few specific changes I'll need to apply for FanDuel:
- Matt Ryan ($7,900) should be priced at QB1 or QB2 on this slate, not QB4. Yes, please.
- Miles Sanders ($5,600) is further removed from the Singletary-Lindsay-White trio I like so much, whereas all four are closely bunched together in pricing on DK.
- Kareem Hunt ($5,600) gets a much better price, albeit on a half-PPR site rather than full.
- Odell Beckham ($7,000) is WR11 on FD, compared to WR6 on DK.
- D.J. Moore ($6,400) is still too cheap.
- Is this really the price for Zach Ertz ($6,100)?
- The Washington defense ($3,000) is priced all the way at the bottom for a home game against Jeff Driskel.