This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments 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 — 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 the best 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.
- RB Devonta Freeman, ATL vs. CAR ($5,400)
Freeman got 17 carries and five targets on 66 percent snap share last week, stepping right back in as the Falcons' lead back after he missed a couple games with a foot sprain. The workload didn't lead to production against a tough Saints defense, but Freeman shouldn't have trouble taking advantage this weekend versus a Panthers team that ranks dead list in run defense DVOA (17.8%), DraftKings points allowed to RBs (27.8) and YPC allowed to RBs (5.4). Remember that Freeman's per-game averages include one contest where he was ejected and another where he left early with the foot injury, not to mention a September/October timeshare with Ito Smith (IR-neck).
- WR Mike Williams, LAC at JAX ($4,500)
Williams doesn't fit the profile that comes to mind when we think of a reliable wide receiver, but his ability to produce at least one big play per week has become bankable. He's picked up at least one gain of 20-plus yards in 10 consecutive games, with no fewer than 7.5 PPR points in any of those contests. His average of 11.1 DraftKings points works out to 2.5x on his Week 14 salary, and he's done that without scoring any touchdowns. This could be the week where Williams finally hits paydirt, facing a Jacksonville defense that has each of its top three cornerbacks and starting safety Ronnie Harrison (concussion) listed on the injury report.
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.)
49ers (21) @ Saints (23.5)
My thinking here is pretty simple: we're getting discounts on some premium players in difficult matchups. I think it's a perfectly good trade off for game stacks, though it does kind of worry me that both teams are so averse to throwing downfield — Drew Brees ($5,900) and Jimmy Garoppolo ($5,600) both rank in the bottom 5 for aDOT.
On the other hand, Brees in the SuperDome at $5,900 seems like a good play in any matchup, with his severe home/road splits holding up for yet another year. He's averaging 335.3 yards and 2.0 passing TDs at home, after 321.6 and 3.0 last season.
Michael Thomas ($8,300) and Alvin Kamara ($7,000) also come with steep discounts, as does George Kittle ($5,900) on the other side. Kamara tends to get more playing time in games that are more important, and Kittle played 100 percent of snaps last week in Baltimore.
- Best Stack: QB Brees + RB Kamara + WR Thomas + TE Kittle
Dolphins (20) @ Jets (25.5)
This matchup got some traction for game stacks back in Week 9, ultimately working out well for the Miami side but not the New York side. A rematch in East Rutherford looks good for both teams, with the Dolphins improved on offense and still struggling mightily on defense. The Jets pulled a no-show last week in Cincinnati, but I'll at least mention that the Bengals defense has been much better since a Week 10 dismantling at Baltimore.
Sam Darnold ($6,000) and Jamison Crowder ($5,300) both get a nice rebound spot, and Robby Anderson ($5,100) is an obvious choice for any Darnold stack after big games both of the past two weeks. We can also use Ryan Griffin ($4,100), though I actually prefer the tight end on the other side of the game, with Mike Gesicki ($4,000) facing a Jets defense that probably won't have safety Jamal Adams (ankle) in the lineup.
The Jets also have outside cornerback Arthur Maulet (calf) and slot man Brian Poole (concussion) looking doubtful, leaving excellent matchups all around for Ryan Fitzpatrick ($6,000), DeVante Parker ($6,900), Allen Hurns ($4,100) and Albert Wilson ($4,000). The new price for Parker feels steep, but it's perfectly reasonable given his recent production and friendly matchup.
The running backs are the one part of this game that doesn't really interest me, as Le'Veon Bell ($7,200) hasn't done better than 23.2 DK points in any game this season, while the Miami backfield appears up for grabs between Patrick Laird ($4,100), Myles Gaskin ($3,300) and Zach Zenner ($3,000). Laird is the safe bet for touches, if you must.
- Best Stack: QB Darnold + WR Crowder + WR Anderson + TE Gesicki
Chiefs (22.75) @ Patriots (25.75)
This is arguably the most interesting game of the week from a non-fantasy perspective and also the game with the largest over/under, but we do run into the problem of the Patriots being so much better on defense than they are on offense. Granted, both teams like to come out throwing early in games, and the Pats usually go uptempo when they're in Foxborough.
The hope here is that elevated snap/passing volume makes up for the difficult matchups, with New England ranked No. 2 in pass defense DVOA and Kansas City not too far behind at No. 6. Of course, the Chiefs have been awful against the run (No. 30 DVOA), and the Pats have at least been semi-beatable in that regard (No. 7). It's easy enough to argue that the matchups actually favor Sony Michel ($5,600) and LeSean McCoy ($4,400), with the latter the best value from this game — at least in my mind — if Damien Williams (ribs) can't play.
Tom Brady ($6,000) and Julian Edelman ($7,100) carry reasonable prices relative to their production and general volume expectations, while the KC passing game feels a bit scary on the road against a defense that's so good at erasing an opponent's top weapons. I think the lower-than-usual ownership for Travis Kelce ($6,200) and Tyreek Hill ($8,100) will be justified, especially with the latter priced all the way up at WR2 overall. Kelce at TE1 overall is more reasonable, but I still don't love it.
- Best Stack: QB Brady + RB McCoy + WR Edelman
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 Joe Mixon ($5,800) + D/ST Bengals ($2,100) at CLE
Mixon has turned his season around since a Week 9 bye, averaging 20.5 carries, 2.5 targets, 100.8 total yards and 0.5 touchdowns over four games. His snap share went up to a season-high 80 percent in last week's win over the Jets, and his recent stretch of production has mostly come against defenses that do a decent job defending the run. Cleveland certainly doesn't fall in that category, sitting 23rd in run defense DVOA and 25th in YPC allowed to running backs (4.6).
The Browns also have been reasonably generous to opposing D/ST units — 19th in fantasy points allowed, 24th in turnover rate (13.4 percent of drives) and 20th in sack rate (7.2). Meanwhile, the Bengals defense actually played pretty well the past three weeks, piling up 10 sacks while allowing just 13 points per game. I'm not saying I fully buy the improvement, but this at least looks like a fairly even matchup against Cleveland's middling offense.
Honorable Mention: RB Kenyan Drake ($5,200) + D/ST Cardinals ($2,400) vs. PIT
- RB Leonard Fournette, JAX vs. LAC ($7,800)
Fournette has topped 12 DK points in every game this season, averaging 19.3 despite scoring just three touchdowns from 1,433 scrimmage yards. The rushing production hasn't been consistent, but he's made up for it with five consecutive games catching five or more passes. The floor is as good as it gets for any player not named Christian McCaffrey, and we saw the ceiling a couple weeks ago when Fournette put up 36.9 DK points in a blowout loss to the Titans. He now draws his best matchup since October, facing a Chargers defense that ranks 24th in DVOA against the run and 26th in DK points allowed to running backs.
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.
- TE Vance McDonald, PIT at ARZ ($4,400)
McDonald gets the legendary 'TE vs. Cardinals' matchup, but it comes with a $900 price increase, and there's a good chance he won't see enough targets to take advantage. Devlin Hodges has thrown 20 and 21 passes in his two starts, with McDonald seeing just four targets in those two games. I don't doubt that the Steelers will be aware of the favorable matchup when they do decide to throw; I just think it's pretty clear they'd rather stick to the old fashioned running-and-defense blueprint. McDonald's best chance at a big game involves Kyler Murray getting off to a fast start against a fierce Pittsburgh defense...not exactly something I want to bet on.
Other Fades: WR Odell Beckham, CLE vs. CIN ($6,300)
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 Jamison Crowder, NYJ vs. MIA ($5,300)
Shut down to the tune of 26 yards on 13 targets the past two weeks, Crowder should bounce back in a hurry with the help of an A+ matchup. The Miami defense has been a travesty in pretty much every regard, and slot corner Jomal Wiltz has been especially bad. Among 41 cornerbacks with 100 or more snaps guarding the slot, Wiltz ranks 33rd in yards allowed per cover snap (1.36) and 40th in touchdowns allowed (four), per PFF. His 46.2 PFF grade for the season is fourth-worst among qualified CBs, just a tick ahead of teammate Ryan Lewis (43.2). Crowder dusted the Dolphins for 8-83-1 on nine targets back in Week 9, and he should do something similar in the rematch.
The Bargain Bin
QB Derek Carr, OAK vs. TEN ($5,000)
RB LeSean McCoy, KC at NE ($4,400)
RB Duke Johnson, HOU vs. DEN ($3,900)
WR Mike Williams, LAC at JAX ($4,500)
WR John Ross, CIN at CLE ($4,400)
WR Allen Hurns, MIA at NYJ ($4,100)
WR Albert Wilson, MIA at NYJ ($4,000)
WR Chris Conley, JAX vs. LAC ($4,000)
WR Parris Campbell, IND at TB ($3,200)
TE O.J. Howard, TB vs. IND ($3,200)
TE Jonnu Smith, TEN at OAK ($3,100)
D/ST Colts at TB ($2,400)
D/ST Cardinals vs. PIT ($2,400)
D/ST Buccaneers vs. IND ($2,300)
D/ST Bengals at CLE ($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 Dalvin Cook (chest), MIN vs. DET
It sounds like Cook will suit up, but a change of heart would leave Alexander Mattison ($4,500) as arguably the best value play of the entire 2019 season. I'll want Mattison in every lineup if Cook ends up inactive.
- RB Damien Williams (ribs), KC at NE
With Darrel Williams (hamstring) on IR and Damien looking doubtful, LeSean McCoy ($4,400) may be left as the lead back in a high-powered offense. Of course, the matchup is brutal, and Darwin Thompson ($4,000) could also have a key role. Even so, I'll happily fire up Shady as a tournament play if Damien Williams lands on the inactive list. I don't doubt that Andy Reid will go light on his 31-year-old RB down the stretch, but this isn't the time or place to worry about anything besides winning. The Chiefs have zero shot at a bye week if they lose to the Patriots.
- RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder), OAK vs. TEN
Jacobs was held out of practice Wednesday and Thursday, after he revealed that he's been playing through a fracture in his shoulder. He'll likely try to gut it out for another week given the importance of his matchup for Oakland's wild-card hopes, but another absence Friday would be problematic nonetheless. I prefer DeAndre Washington ($3,000) over Jalen Richard ($3,900) in the event of a Jacobs absence, as the former has typically been the one to sub in for early downs when the rookie needs a breather. It could shape up as a typical two-man backfield, with Washington dominating carries while Richard gets most of the targets.
- RB Jamaal Williams (knee), GB vs. WAS
Williams was added to the injury report Thursday, so it's hard to know if this is a legitimate injury or not. If so, Aaron Jones ($6,700) would be primed for a large workload against the shaky Washington defense. Jones played 84 and 67 percent of snaps when Williams was injured earlier this year, averaging 16 carries, 7.5 targets, 120 scrimmage yards and 2.5 TDs over a two-game stretch. I'm not saying we should expect anything close to that production, but 15 carries and five targets would be reasonable, considering the Packers don't seem to trust Dexter Williams.
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee), PIT at ARZ
I think we need one or both of Jones/Hooper ruled out in order to justify the $6,700 price tag for Calvin Ridley or even the $4,800 for Russell Gage. Another absence for Jones would leave Christian Blake ($3,300) as a reasonable punt play, though I wouldn't personally bother with it. Devonta Freeman ($5,400) is still the best pick from the Atlanta offense in any of these scenario.
- WR T.Y. Hilton (calf), IND at TB
Hilton appears likely to miss another game, leaving the Colts to rely on Zach Pascal ($5,500), Jack Doyle ($4,600), Parris Campbell ($3,200) and some other random guys that nobody cares about. The Bucs are a great matchup for any passing game, but the price bumps for Pascal and Doyle feel steep. I prefer the latter over the former, and I prefer Campbell over both (assuming we don't see any reports about the rookie having a limited role).
- WR Adam Humphries (ankle), TEN at OAK
This is a good spot for A.J. Brown ($5,300) to get his first high-volume game of the year, though he was added to the injury report Thursday with a calf injury. In the unlikely event both Humphries and Brown are inactive, Corey Davis ($3,900) might come out of his grave. Assuming it's just Humphries who misses the game, I'd rater pay more for Brown, who I wrote about earlier this week in my matchups column.
- WR Adam Thielen (hamstring), MIN vs. DET
The price for Stefon Diggs ($7,600) feels steep, but it's at least a reasonable decision if Thielen is out another week. The same goes for Kyle Rudolph ($4,400) and Irv Smith Jr. ($3,300)...I wouldn't call it value, but I can understand the logic given the pretty matchup.
- WR Dede Westbrook (personal), JAX vs. LAC
It isn't clear if Westbrook is in legitimate danger of missing Sunday's game. If he does sit out, D.J. Chark ($6,200) and Chris Conley ($4,000) would have less competition for targets, with Keelan Cole ($3,000) stepping into a top-three role. With Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward potentially shadowing Chark, it's probably a better bet to roll the dice with Conley or Cole (if Westbrook is out).
The forecasts look shockingly tame given that we're dealing with a 13-game December slate that includes contests in Green Bay, Cleveland, Buffalo, East Rutherford and Foxborough. The biggest concern is wind in Buffalo, Green Bay or Cleveland, but current projections call for the 15 mph range, which isn't a major setback for quarterbacks or pass catchers.
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:
- Ryan Tannehill ($7,300), A.J. Brown ($5,400) and Darren Waller ($5,800) all carry much better prices on FD than they do on DK. This is a great FD-only stack that allows for a star-studded lineup elsewhere.
- Leonard Fournette ($7,500) is too cheap on both sites, but especially on FD. Fire him up!
- Benny Snell ($6,100) is at least tolerable, whereas he's massively overpriced on DK for reasons beyond my understanding.
- I'm on record as being anti-D.J. Chark Jr. ($6,200) this week, but that doesn't change the fact that he's perpetually underpriced on FanDuel.
- DeVante Parker ($7,200) and D.J. Moore ($7,100) are priced as mid-to-high WR2s on FD, compared to low-end WR1s on DK.