Wildcard weekend was wildly wonderful, and the joy of playing daily fantasy football is once again upon us. The divisional round of the playoffs brings a star-studded four-game slate that kicks off on Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at two quarterbacks at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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- Patrick Mahomes: $7,000 DraftKings; $9,000 FanDuel
- Andrew Luck: $6,200 DraftKings; $8,400 FanDuel
Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 54.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (1/12): The game total has dropped significantly due to snowy and windy conditions in Kansas City. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) is questionable but expected to play. Running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) is officially questionable, but he’s expected not to play.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we talked about Mahomes as the slate’s top option, and it’s not hard to see why we’re enthusiastic.
Almost a lock to win the 2018 Most Valuable Player award, Mahomes painted a masterpiece of a campaign over the past few months: In the regular, he led the league with his 9.6 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) and 81.7 Total QBR. With his 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns passing, Mahomes is only the second 5,000-50 quarterback in NFL history. The first was Peyton Manning in his record-setting 2013 MVP campaign.
To no one’s surprise, Mahomes has had the most productive fantasy season ever for a quarterback.
Mahomes is dominating the league with a position-high 26.9 DraftKings points per game. For context: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is second with 22.3. Mahomes easily leads the position with an obscene +7.71 Plus/Minus, and his emergence has been the story of the season.
Mahomes’ weekly consistency is outstanding. Not once has he scored fewer than 18 FanDuel points. In only three games this season has he failed to throw for either 300 yards or three touchdowns.
Although the Chiefs went 3-2 after their Week 12 bye, they are still the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and on a per-game basis they’ve …
- Outscored their implied total by 6.2 points (No. 1 in NFL)
- Exceeded their game total by 8.3 points (No. 1)
The Chiefs rank first in scoring at 35.3 points per game, and Mahomes is foundational to their success. No quarterback in NFL history has dominated in his first season as a starter the way Mahomes has.
There’s nothing particularly special about Mahomes’ matchup with the Colts, but it’s not imposing. The Colts have a funnel defense: This season, they rank fourth against the run in Football Outsiders’ DVOA but 20th against the pass. Their secondary is much better than it was last season, and cornerback Pierre Desir in particular has really turned his career around with his 73.9 Pro Football Focus coverage grade (up from 59.1 in 2017 and 42.2 in 2015), but the linebackers are the strength of the Colts defense. And if the Chiefs lean on their passing game, the impact of the Colts linebackers will be minimized.
This season, the Colts held quarterbacks to a bottom-12 mark of 16.9 FanDuel points per game with their zone-heavy defense, but Mahomes hasn’t struggled against the zone.
#Colts run zone coverage at highest rate in the league.#Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes played 5 games vs teams that run zone at top-8 frequencies this season, completing 64.1% of his passes at 7.99 yards per attempt with a perfect 14:0 TD-to-INT ratio against them.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) January 8, 2019
As much as they’ve improved defensively since last season, the Colts rank 20th in pressure rate and 29th in adjusted sack rate. The Chiefs should be able to move the ball against them.
And the Chiefs and Colts are both top-10 in situation-neutral pace: They will likely combine to have the week’s fastest-paced matchup.
One area where the Colts are weak is pass defense against tight ends: They rank 29th in pass DVOA against the position, which bodes well for Mahomes’ connection with All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. For guaranteed prize pools, you might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack Mahomes and Kelce. Since 2014, quarterbacks on average have had a 0.47 correlation with their No. 1 tight ends, but Kelce’s quarterbacks have had a 0.78 correlation with him.
One drawback to rostering Mahomes is that he’s in Kansas City. While playing at home is normally advantageous, that’s not necessarily the case with Mahomes and the Chiefs. With head coach Andy Reid (since 2013), no home team has made under bettors more money than the Chiefs have with their 17-32-1 over/under record (including playoffs), good for a 27.2% return on investment (per Bet Labs).
The outdoor and raucous Arrowhead Stadium is a hard place to play, especially once the weather is cold, and it’s not just road teams that have played worse in Kansas City this season (per the RotoViz Game Splits App).
- Chiefs on road: 38.3 points per game, 3.25 points per drive, 332.4 yards and 3.88 touchdowns passing
- Chiefs at home: 32.4 points per game, 3.11 points per drive, 308.4 yards and 2.38 touchdowns passing
Throughout the Reid era, the Chiefs have scored 3.1 fewer points at home than on the road. Although the market is expecting a shootout, we could see fewer points than expected. Over the past 15 seasons, outdoor postseason games have a 53-72-4 over/under record. For comparison, domed postseason games are 29-10.
Even so, Mahomes is extremely unlikely to have a poor game, given that he has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections in our Models. His upside is significant. With his unrivaled ball velocity (60 mph), Mahomes has made a habit of attacking defenses deep. He’s No. 1 in the league with 92 deep attempts (20-plus yards), 44 deep completions, 1,514 deep-passing yards and 15 deep touchdowns. Mahomes likes to air it out.
For a player with only 17 career starts, he’s been incredibly poised in the pocket. This season, Mahomes has been pressured on 35.4% of his dropbacks, but his 11.5% sack rate on such plays is the league’s second-lowest mark. And with a clean pocket, he’s No. 1 with a 134.2 QB Rating (PFF).
Reid has done a magnificent job of scheming to Mahomes’ strengths, streamlining his reads and enabling him to get the ball out quickly. When Mahomes can simply take the snap, focus immediately on his receivers and throw the ball, he’s the best quarterback in the league. On passes with no play action, he’s No. 1 with a 117.4 QB Rating. When holding the ball for fewer than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, he’s again No. 1 with a 129.7 QB Rating (PFF).
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) has been out since Week 12, and running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) has missed the past three games, but Watkins and Ware are tentatively expected back this week after practicing on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday. The Chiefs are almost at full health on offense, and should be rested after the bye week.
The Chiefs’ postseason struggles are legendary — they are 0-9 against the spread at home since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger — but Mahomes is unlike any quarterback they’ve ever had. And in the playoffs, home favorite quarterbacks tend to outperform expectations.
On Saturday I will probably bet the over on Mahomes’ touchdown prop. He’s gone over 1.5 in 14 games this season and over 2.5 in 10. To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 227-113-12, good for a 64% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
With a position-high +4.58 Projected Plus/Minus, Mahomes is the No. 1 FanDuel quarterback in all our Pro Models.
Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts (+4.5) at Kansas City Chiefs, 54.5 O/U
UPDATE (1/5): The game total has dropped significantly due to snowy and windy conditions in Kansas City. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (ankle) is fully expected to play. Wide receiver Ryan Grant (toe) is out. Wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (shoulder, finger) will play.
Despite missing wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle for significant stretches of the season and working with a mostly no-name assemblage of skill-position players, Luck has been a top-five fantasy quarterback with 22.6 DraftKings points per game, including last week’s road win over the Texans.
Even though Luck missed the entire 2017 season, the Colts have not been shy with their quarterback. While there was speculation before the season that the Colts would attempt to limit Luck’s usage, Luck trailed only Roethlisberger with his 639 pass attempts this season.
When Luck was replaced by Jacoby Brissett in Week 3 so the backup could throw an end-of-game Hail Mary, the internet branded Luck a weak-armed has-been. In the 14 games since then, Luck has passed for multiple touchdowns 12 times and been one of the most productive per-game passers in the league.
- 23.8 DraftKings points
- 39.1 pass attempts
- 67.0% completion rate
- 296.6 yards passing
- 2.6 touchdowns passing
Luck is in elite form right now.
Although Luck is returning from a significant shoulder injury, as the season has progressed, he’s shown more of a willingness to test his arm strength. In Weeks 1-3, he had a league-low 5.6-yard average depth of target (aDOT), but in the three months since then, he’s had an 8.8 aDOT, just behind Mahomes (9.0).
Perhaps Luck hasn’t regained his old form — his arm probably still is not as strong as it once was — but his recent downfield aggressiveness is in line with what we’ve seen out of him in the past.
- Luck’s 2016 aDOT: 8.9
- Luck’s 2015 aDOT: 10.2
- Luck’s 2014 aDOT: 9.2
- Luck’s 2013 aDOT: 8.4
While Luck wasn’t efficient with his passes this season — he dwelt one floor above the league’s basement with the likes of Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill with his 7.2 yards per attempt — Luck produced in the red zone, ranking first with 105 attempts, 70 completions and 35 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line. Additionally, was third in the league with 47 targets to the end zone and first with 25 touchdowns on such targets. Aside from his 15 interceptions, Luck has made the most of his pass attempts.
Luck has something of a mixed matchup. This season, the Chiefs allowed a top-five mark of 22.4 DraftKings points per game to opposing quarterbacks, and they rank just 20th with their 74.9 PFF coverage grade. But at home the Chiefs have been much tougher defensively.
- Chiefs on road: 34.6 points allowed per game
- Chiefs at home: 18.0 points allowed per game
In the Reid era, opponents have scored 6.3 fewer points in Kansas City than at their home stadiums against the Chiefs. On top of that, Luck and No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton have historically struggled outdoors.
Chiefs defense at home in the Andy Reid era (2013-2018): 17.1 PPG allowed
On the road: 23.4 PPG allowed
Andrew Luck career indoors: 7.4 Y/A, 5.5% TD Rate
Outdoors: 6.9 Y/A, 4.8% TD Rate
T.Y. Hilton career per-game indoors: 5-83.9-0.45
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 6, 2019
And the Chiefs are also first this season with their 90.0 PFF pass-rush grade and 52 sacks. With defensive end Chris Jones and outside linebackers Dee Ford and Justin Houston, the Chiefs have perhaps the best trio of pass rushers in the league. Jones, Houston and Ford are all top-five at their positions with respective PFF pass-rush grades of 91.2, 91.0 and 89.2.
But the Colts might have the best offensive line in the league.
The Colts have had all five of their offensive line starters available in six games this season (Weeks 6-11 and the Wild Card game)
Sacks allowed: 0
Pressure rate allowed: 24%
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 7, 2019
Whereas Luck was perpetually punished earlier in his career by a shoddy offensive line, this season he had a league-low 2.7% sack rate and career-low 29.5% pressure rate thanks to HC Frank Reich’s scheme and the addition of rookie left guard Quenton Nelson and right tackle Braden Smith to the offensive line.
And when pressured, Luck has an NFL-best 8.6% sack rate (PFF). As good as the Chiefs are at rushing the passer, it might not matter.
With his position-high 10 Pro Trends, Luck is the No. 1 DraftKings quarterback in the CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, Raybon, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Divisional Round Positional Breakdowns
Be sure to read the other divisional round positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15)
Photo credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports