Our DVOA-adjusted pass and run game targets are back for the Divisional Round!
I will once again peel back the curtain on my EPA stats to help elucidate my favorite matchups by position. All EPA-related stats provided in this article are since Week 10.
The chart below indicates defensive EPA rank by position and is ordered by points per game allowed:
Josh Allen had better knock off those red zone turnovers, and fast. In Buffalo, with Damar Hamlin fresh in their minds, I expect the Bills’ players to play “out of their minds.” Cincinnati can be beaten by WRs, ranking 18th in EPA and 14th in pass defense DVOA. Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis are both in another prime spot. The Bengals’ defense is slightly worse vs. slot WRs, but would that be injured Isaiah McKenzie, rookie Khalil Shakir, or recently re-added Cole Beasley? Pair up Allen with two WRs for double the fun. I will fade Dawson Knox and the RBs here due to the EPA matchup disparity; Cincinnati is fourth vs. TEs and sixth vs. the rush (and a decent 14th in rush defense DVOA).
All signs point to this being a Tyler Boyd game. What? With all-world talent Ja’Marr Chase and the excellent Tee Higgins healthy and starting? Let’s think about the Bengals' offensive situation. They are down three starting linemen, including their blindside-protecting left tackle. The Bills smell the blood in the water and will be swarming. As a matter of game theory, the Bills know that the Bengals have a subpar offensive line protecting Joe Burrow. Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor knows that the Bills know about the weak line. Therefore, he will gameplan around it. How can he do that? Quick passes and short routes. One viable option is to feed Chase screen passes.
Another option is to get it out to TE Hayden Hurst, except that he will likely be needed to block more and will face the Bills’ second-ranked TE defense. The best option, in my opinion, is to have Burrow funnel the team targets toward their shifty slot WR. That player faces the 30th-ranked Bills slot WR defense and has already scored on them in their “non-game” this year. Boyd will be a lock for me in any lineup I construct due to these circumstances. The Bills' pass defense DVOA might be ninth, but they are terrible against slot-aligned receivers. Joe Mixon is another “pass” for me, as the Bills' defense is third in rush DVOA and eighth in rush EPA. However, that makes Samaje Perine an interesting pass-catching RB option, especially if the Bills can build a lead.
I wish there were better news for Jacksonville’s offense, but the Chiefs' defense has been above average in all EPA categories. The best way to attack them is through the air, with Kansas City’s pass defense DVOA ranked 20th (vs. 15th for rush defense DVOA). It is no surprise that Christian Kirk and Zay Jones are your most optimal Jaguars this week, with the Chiefs’ WR defense EPA ranked as mediocre vs. wide-aligned (14th) and slot-aligned (13th) receivers. Evan Engram faces the 10th-ranked TE defense but gets enough looks to make him a worthwhile flier, though there are two TEs that have much nicer matchups this weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City gets a juicy matchup for its passing game, as Jacksonville ranks 30th in pass defense DVOA, 32nd in TE defense EPA, and 31st in slot WR defense EPA. The Jaguars' defense is actually ranked first vs. wide-aligned WR and second vs. the rush. That means that Travis Kelce is the top TE and Kadarius Toney is among the top WR options this week. I can see Patrick Mahomes dink-and-dunking his way to 350 yards passing using these two as primary targets.
Dak Prescott looks to overcome decades of Dallas playoff disasters against the vaunted 49ers defense. However, they are not quite as invincible as many would have assumed. DK Metcalf took the top off of them, contributing to San Francisco’s defense ranking only 24th vs. wide-aligned WRs. Michael Gallup (93.9% wide) and Ceedee Lamb (40.1%) will be the beneficiaries. Dalton Schultz is even a feasible play against the 15th-ranked TE defense. Many people in the fantasy/betting industry say that the “under” on the total is the smart play with two outstanding defenses. But in DFS, being contrarian can lead to large payouts. This game could shoot out. Double-stack Dak with two of his pass-catchers on a few lineups while most others overlook them. Caveat: keep an eye on the weather report; there could be a downpour. I will fade both Cowboys RBs since SF’s defense is second in rush DVOA and first in rush EPA.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco hopes to deny Dallas another road victory. While the Cowboys' defense is excellent vs. the run (fifth in rush DVOA and fourth in rush EPA), they can be beaten through the air. SF WRs will enjoy playing the 32nd-ranked wide-aligned WR defense. That list includes Brandon Aiyuk (83.5% wide), Seahawk-destroyer Deebo Samuel (60.6%), and even Jauan Jennings (58.8%). Unfortunately for George Kittle enthusiasts, the Cowboys' defense ranks first against TEs. While Dallas is tough against the rush, Christian McCaffrey catches many passes and could be rookie QB Brock Purdy’s security blanket when the inevitable blitzes come.
New York Giants
The G-men have no easy task this week, playing the excellent Eagles. For the season, Philadelphia’s defense ranks first in pass DVOA. However, they have been less effective against the rush, ranking 21st in DVOA and 12th in EPA. Saquon Barkley might be able to break off some long runs if the Giants focus on playing keep-away to stifle the potent Eagles offense. Interestingly we pinpointed the mostly-wide-aligned WR Isaiah Hodgins last week based on the matchup, but this week favors Giants slot WRs. Philadelphia ranks 29th vs. slot-aligned WRs like Richie James (80.3% slot). The Eagles are also only 19th vs. wide-aligned WRs, so Hodgins is still a viable play. He actually leads the team with 2.48 yards per route run from the slot since Week 10. Daniel Jones will also run to pick up crucial third-down conversions and to keep the clock ticking. His versatility can make him the top QB play on the slate, given the proper game script.
Speaking of versatile QBs, Jalen Hurts is finally off the injury report. He is just in time to face the Giants’ 31st-ranked TE defense and 32nd-ranked rush defense. That means we can stack up Konami-code Hurts with TE Dallas Goedert and RB Miles Sanders in a contrarian A.J. Brown-less DFS grouping. The Giants limited Justin Jefferson decently but let T.J. Hockenson run wild. We could see a mirror outcome with Goedert getting the looks while Brown is kept from a spike week. He is the second-best TE play after Travis Kelce. The far-and-away best RB play this week is Sanders. The Giants' defense ranks 32nd in rush EPA and 32nd in rush DVOA. That’s bad.