Welcome to the playoffs! In this piece, I’ll be discussing the top fantasy quarterbacks in the context of our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models.
This piece will be focused on multi-game contests but is actionable for Showdown slates as well. All salaries listed are based on the six-game Saturday-Monday slates.
As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, player ratings in our Player Models will change. For updates, visit the models directly.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
- Wide Receivers on Thursday
- Tight Ends on Friday
- Running Backs on Friday/Saturday
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
Josh Allen ($7,800 DraftKings, $8,800 FanDuel): Buffalo Bills (-4) vs. New England Patriots (43 total)
Allen and the Bills are taking on the Patriots for the third time this season in the NFL playoffs. The past matchups with New England have been a mixed bag for Allen, with a 33.96 (DraftKings) point performance at New England but a disappointing 12.7 points at home.
It’s a tough matchup for Allen as New England has the strongest Opponent Plus/Minus allowed to opposing quarterbacks on the week. They also rank third in DVOA against the pass. We can’t explicitly select for “third meeting between teams” in our Trends Tool. However, we can examine matchups between divisional opponents in January:
All things considered, I’d temper expectations on Allen this week. This game has the lowest Vegas total on the slate, and a January night game in Buffalo likely won’t have the nicest weather conditions. Allen has the second-highest (DraftKings) median projection on the slate but is a poor value at his top salary.
Patrick Mahomes ($7,400 DraftKings, $8,700 FanDuel): Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (46 total)
Mahomes leads our models in median and floor projections for the six-game slate. He’s the leader in our DraftKings Cash Game Model as well.
The Chiefs have the highest implied team total on the slate while throwing the ball nearly 63% of the time – which was the fifth-most in the league this season. While it’s a somewhat tough matchup (Pittsburgh ranks eighth in DVOA against the pass), Mahomes should have the opportunity to rack up fantasy points here.
He certainly has the talent as well – both his own and that of his primary pass catchers. Mahomes finished the season as the QB4 in DraftKings scoring, while Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were both top-six options. That makes Mahomes stacks fairly obvious this week.
Mahomes is likely to have fairly high rostership on every slate for which he’s eligible. That will make him tricky for tournaments (save on Showdown contests). Even so, he’s a very tough fade this week, given the game environment and his talent.
Tom Brady ($7,300 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel): Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (49 total)
Brady is third in median projections on both sites for the Wild Card Round but the leader in ceiling projection on DraftKings. Logically, that makes a lot of sense. Relative to Mahomes, Brady has an inferior team total, lowering his median and floor. With a closer spread, though, the overall game environment is stronger – raising his ceiling.
It’s also the best quarterback matchup of the playoffs. Philadelphia has the worst overall and passing DVOA of any playoff team. With the Bucs throwing the ball at the league’s highest rate, that’s a good opportunity for both efficiency and volume from Brady. Brady lineups are hoping the Eagles manage to score some points as well, so be sure to run them back with someone from the Philadelphia side.
Brady has also performed just fine as a fantasy asset even without some of his top receivers. Chris Godwin and (obviously) Antonio Brown aren’t available for the postseason, but Mike Evans should be closer to full health. Despite various limitations, Brady averaged over 29 points the past two weeks.
Those games were against the Jets and Panthers, which would usually be a concern against stiffer playoff competition. However, the Panthers, in particular, are a better defense than Philadelphia. Especially if Brady projects as less popular than Mahomes, he’s a great tournament option on the Sunday slate. He’s a strong option regardless, though.
Matthew Stafford ($6,300 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel): Los Angeles Rams (-4) vs. Arizona Cardinals (49.5 total)
The Rams-Cardinals game is taking place on Monday, meaning Stafford is only available for Showdown and Saturday-Monday contests. However, he’s one of the strongest plays of the later slate. Stafford is the leader of our Tournament Model on DraftKings and FanDuel for the six-game slate.
There’s a lot to like about Stafford’s situation. Vegas expects this to be one of the closer wild card games, featuring two strong offenses. The matchup with Arizona is also the best of the week for quarterbacks, at least from an Opponent Plus/Minus allowed standpoint. Arizona has a top-five DVOA against the pass, but they just allowed Russell Wilson to go for 26 DraftKings points last week, so they aren’t unbeatable.
On the other hand, this is another meeting between divisional foes in the playoffs. As noted with Josh Allen, that’s generally not a situation to target. Stafford averaged just under 22 DraftKings points in two prior meetings with Arizona this year. That’s acceptable, but hardly a slate winner. Of course, that’s not as relevant if targeting Stafford for the Monday Night Football Showdown slate.
Stafford is a bit pricey on FanDuel, but he stands out as a value on DraftKings. He’s tied for second in Pts/Sal there.
Dak Prescott ($6,400 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel): Dallas Cowboys (-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (50.5 total)
The Cowboys-Niners game stands out as the best environment for passing offenses in the Wild Card Round. It has both the highest total and the closest spread of the week. Further, it’s also the first meeting between the teams. As we know, that’s also a boost to offenses.
Dak is clearly a far better value on DraftKings this week. He leads the slate in both Pts/Sal and Projected Plus/Minus there. Things are a bit trickier for Prescott on FanDuel, though. He’s a middling value there, which should knock him out of cash game consideration. However, that high price will likely lead to a solid reduction in ownership.
Prescott has also been on a tear lately, averaging four touchdowns per game over the last three weeks. Some of that is due to (two of those) games coming against weaker defenses, but there also seems to have been a philosophy shift in Dallas. They’ve become a more pass-first team with both primary backs banged up, which I’d expect to continue as long as this game remains close.
Particularly because of the strengths of the 49ers defense. San Francisco ranks second in DVOA against the run – but 16th against the pass. They’ve faced a middling pass play rate on the season, but I’d expect Dallas to try to win through the air first.
Joe Burrow ($6,800 DraftKings, $7,800 FanDuel): Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5) vs. Las Vegas Raiders (49.5 total)
Burrow had one of the most ridiculous two stretches in recent memory in Weeks 16 and 17, throwing for eight touchdowns and 971 yards against the Ravens and Chiefs. While that’s unlikely to be a sustainable pace, it’s a great sign that this explosive offense peaked at the right time. Burrow sat out last week, so this will be his first chance to follow up that explosive output.
Of course, that week off is one of the bigger concerns for Burrow. While he’ll be fresher than if he played in Week 18, will his rhythm be off? Historic Trends suggest he’ll be fine:
Of course, that trend only considers when teams have had a week off before a January game. That means there’s some major selection bias (the only teams with a week off heading into a January game are teams with a first-round playoff bye. That means they are generally stronger offenses, to begin with, and also playing against lower-seeded teams). So grain of salt when applying this to Burrow.
Still, it’s a solid matchup that sees the Bengals implied for 27.5 points. The Raiders are another defense that’s better at stopping the run, so most of that scoring should come from Burrow. He’s a solid play, particularly on FanDuel, where he holds the best bargain rating of any quarterback.
Jalen Hurts ($6,100 DraftKings, $7,700 FanDuel): Philadelphia Eagles (+8.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (49 total)
It’s an interesting matchup for Hurts against Tampa Bay this week. Targeting quarterbacks against the Bucs is generally a good plan. They’ve faced the highest opponent pass-play rate in the NFL this season. However, it’s not so simple with a quarterback like Hurts, who produces more on the ground.
Hurts and the Eagles did face the Bucs earlier this season, with Hurts running for two scores on 10 carries. While it wouldn’t be shocking to see him reach double-digit attempts, it’s hard to project any quarterback for multiple rushing scores. Hurts struggled to throw the ball that game, completing only 12 passes for 115 yards.
I’m out on Hurts on FanDuel this week, where the savings from (for example) Prescott and Burrow are minimal. He’s an interesting DraftKings play, though. His ownership is likely to be reasonably low in all non-showdown formats, against a team he scored 26 DraftKings points against the last time out. He’s worth a look there this week.
Derek Carr ($5,500 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel): Las Vegas Raiders (+5.5) at Cincinnati Bengals (49.5 total)
We probably don’t need to go below Hurts/Stafford (with the latter only being available on the full six-game slate) at quarterback. However, Carr is my favorite option if you do. He has the best passing game matchup against a beatable Bengals secondary that ranks 24th in DVOA against the pass.
The other sub-$6,000 quarterbacks (Mac Jones, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jimmy Garoppolo) are all facing tougher defenses. While the Chiefs (Roesthlisberger’s opponent) rank only one spot ahead of the Bengals defense in DVOA, they’ve been much improved the second half of the season.
The real appeal is the Bengals propensity to turn games into shootouts, though. Five of the last six games the Bengals have played (not counting Week 18 in which they rested Burrow) went for at least 49 points, with three of those going for at least 60. How offenses match up is generally more important than the defensive matchup. Las Vegas should struggle to contain Burrow and Company, which will get the ball back in Carr’s hands quicker and with a deficit.
On the other hand, Carr’s ceiling is somewhat limited. He hasn’t topped 25 points since Week 3, with the Raiders doing their best work on the ground. He’s a thin play but a reasonable salary saver if you’re trying to jam in high-priced options elsewhere.