FanDuel Daily Fantasy Football Helper: Wild Card Round (Sunday)

The 2021-22 NFL playoffs are upon us after the first 18-game regular season. Thankfully, our weekly FanDuel NFL primer doesn't end with the regular season, extending into the playoffs to aid your roster building.

However, this shouldn't be your only stop for informing your FanDuel lineup decisions. We suggest you check out the numberFire daily fantasy tools. One of my personal favorite tools is our weekly projections, which help highlight players I might be overlooking or confirm my lofty expectations. Additionally, the heat map offers a quick glance at the slate's highest implied totals and game spreads. Finally, the team power rankings are a great source for determining matchup advantages.

Now, let's look at Sunday's three-game wild card slate on FanDuel.


Patrick Mahomes ($8,700 on FanDuel): Are the Pittsburgh Steelers an excellent matchup for passing attacks? No. In fact, we rank them as the fifth-best pass defense in our power rankings. However, they had no answer for Mahomes in Week 16, getting carved up for 258 passing yards and three touchdowns on only 30 pass attempts, despite his top receiver not being 100% after a Reserve/COVID-19 stint and without his stud tight end.

According to our heat map, the Kansas City Chiefs have the highest implied total (29.25) on FanDuel's main three-game Sunday slate. So, the betting market isn't expecting the Steelers to stiffen up in this rematch.

Finally, while much has been made of Mahomes having a down year, that's relative to the extremely high bar he's set for himself to clear. According to Pro Football Reference, Mahomes was ninth in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (7.07 ANY/A), fifth in passing yards per game (284.6), and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (37). Understandably, the numberFire projection model tabs Mahomes as the top-scoring player on this slate, with the second-highest value score -- a measure of points per one-thousand dollars of salary -- among all players.

Tom Brady ($8,400): I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel with my quarterback selections on this slate. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the second-highest implied total, making the G.O.A.T. a desirable option, leading a pass-heavy attack. According to Sharp Football Stats, when the offensive scoring margin was between trailing by six points and leading by six points (which I'll refer to as a neutral game script from now on), the Bucs passed at the highest rate (66% versus a league average of 56%). Likewise, they barely take their foot off the gas when leading, passing at the highest rate (61%) when leading by three points or more.

Brady rewarded head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich for unleashing a pass-heavy attack with eye-popping numbers. The 44-year-old quarterback led the NFL in passing yards per game (312.7) and passing touchdowns (43). Further, even without Chris Godwin and with only a half of Antonio Brown in Week 17 and Week 18, he chucked it for 736 passing yards, six touchdowns, and only one interception. As a result, despite his utter lack of rushing contributions, Brady's ceiling is sky-high.

Running Backs

Elijah Mitchell ($7,400): Mitchell is the latest example of an athletic, unheralded running back excelling in Kyle Shanahan's rushing attack. The sixth-round pick averaged 87.5 rushing yards per game, adding 1.7 receptions and 12.5 receiving yards per game, reaching pay dirt six times. Moreover, despite tending to a knee injury and missing games this year, he's been force-fed the ball, toting the rock more than 20 times in his last five games.

The context is excellent for Mitchell, too. In neutral game scripts, the San Francisco 49ers ran at the fifth-highest rate (48%). In addition, the run blocking in front of him is above-average to elite, depending on your preferred resource. According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers are 11th in adjusted line yards. However, according to Pro Football Focus, San Francisco is the best run-blocking team.

The matchup is good, too. The Dallas Cowboys are the 12th-worst rush defense in our power rankings. Additionally, they have surrendered more than 100 rushing yards in 10 of 11 games since their Week 7 bye, notably getting steamrolled for 190 by the Denver Broncos, 143 by the Las Vegas Raiders, 153 by the New Orleans Saints, and 149 by the reserves for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Finally, Mitchell's usage in the passing game has been inconsistent. Still, according to Pro Football Focus, he essentially split receiving use with JaMycal Hasty in the previous two games, running 20 routes versus 21 for Hasty. So, yes, there is a game-script risk to using Mitchell, but an early deficit doesn't necessarily render him a bust. As a result, we project him as the RB3 with the matching value score at the position for Sunday.

Leonard Fournette ($7,300): Lombardi Lenny was activated from the Injured Reserve this week, returning to practice. As a result, he's positioned to usurp his bell-cow role for an 8.5-point favorite, possibly with fresh legs after a few weeks off from punishment running the pigskin.

Fournette averaged 90.4 scrimmage yards per game, scoring 10 touchdowns in 14 games. Most impressively, he emerged as a legitimate pass-catching option, hauling in 4.9 receptions for 32.4 receiving yards per game. As a result, the workhorse back is projected as the RB1 on the three-game slate, with the RB1 value score. He's my favorite running back in all game types.

Miles Sanders ($5,900): Honestly, I nearly didn't include a third running back. Moreover, suppose Sanders doesn't progress to a full participant in Friday's practice. In that case, I'll likely fade him entirely even if he suits up -- possibly considering Kenneth Gainwell as a punt if Sanders is inactive this weekend.

Nevertheless, if Sanders is back, he might succeed against the Bucs. Tampa Bay isn't the elite run defense they were in 2020, ranking as only the 10th-best rush defense in our power rankings. Also, Sanders efficiently rumbled for 56 scoreless yards on nine rush attempts against Tampa Bay in Week 6. Finally, Sanders touched the ball 20 or more times in two of his last three games, Week 16, when he fractured his hand, serving as the outlier in the three-game sample. He exceeded 140 scrimmage yards in the two games with at least 20 touches to close out his regular-season campaign.

The projection model projects him as the RB5 with the fourth-best value score at running back. Thus, he's a decent value option for gamers looking to save some cap space in one of the running back slots.

Wide Receivers

Deebo Samuel ($8,700): Samuel has been a do-it-all weapon for the 49ers, making it understandable he shines in our projections. He's the highest projected scorer at receiver with easily the highest value score to boot. The electrifying Swiss Army Knife has rushed the ball five or more times in eight straight games, awarding him the same excellent context I noted with Mitchell above.

Further, he caught three or more passes in the previous four games, snapping a three-game streak of precisely one reception. Samuel has parlayed his mouthwatering usage into 110.6 scrimmage yards per game, averaging 4.8 receptions per game, splashing pay dirt 14 times.

Finally, the matchup creates a high ceiling in his receiver role. According to Pro Football Reference, the Cowboys allowed the seventh-most receiving yards (2,870) to wideouts in the regular season, struggling to contain explosive plays. To the latter point, according to Sharp Football Stats, Dallas allowed the eighth-highest average explosive pass rate (10%) this year.

Tyreek Hill ($8,000): Unfortunately, Hill's status warrants monitoring after looking good as a full participant in Wednesday's practice before being downgraded to a limited participant in Thursday's practice.

Friday's practice report should shed light on Hill's injury status, as it's possible Thursday was treated as a maintenance day rather than representing a legitimate setback with his heel injury.

Assuming Hill maintains his practice participation level or upgrades to full Friday, he's a high-ceiling stacking partner with Mahomes or standalone play. According to Sports Info Solutions, Hill was eighth in target share (24.8%) and third in intended air yards (1,749). Thankfully, Hill's usage wasn't empty, resulting in per-game averages of 78.5 scrimmage yards and 6.5 receptions, adding nine touchdowns. Hill is the WR2 in our projections, earning the second-highest value score among wideouts.

Brandon Aiyuk ($6,100): I think Aiyuk may slip through the wickets, making him an attractive GPP option. According to Pro Football Focus, since Week 14, Aiyuk has been tied for second on the 49ers in receptions (21), second in targets (30), receiving yards (329), touchdowns (two), and first in routes (163). Nonetheless, it's easy to envision gamers flocking to Samuel, San Francisco's stud tight end, or Jauan Jennings, following his breakout Week 18 showing.

Cedrick Wilson ($6,000): Dak Prescott spreads the wealth to his pass-catchers, locking in on Wilson last week. The slot wideout reeli in five of six targets for 119 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, he's been rock-solid in six games as the third receiver without Michael Gallup.

In those six games, Wilson was fourth in targets (22), receptions (16), receiving yards (263), third in routes (139), and second in receiving touchdowns (four). Unfortunately, it's possible he'll get lost in the shuffle in Dallas's crowded passing attack. Nevertheless, he popped up last week, and he's a viable bargain pick.

Breshad Perriman ($5,200): Tampa Bay's receivers have dropped like flies lately, leaving Perriman as a probable starter opposite Mike Evans on the outside. Even in a limited role down the stretch, he's exceeded 40 receiving yards in three straight games. Last week, Perriman ran the second-most routes (28) he's run this year, ranking fourth on the team. Further, he set new highs for the year in targets (six) and receptions (five), producing his second-highest receiving yardage total (44).

Unfortunately, the matchup is tricky. The Eagles allowed the second-fewest FanDuel points per game to receivers in the regular season. However, the matchup will likely help suppress the percentage of rosters he's on, making him a contrarian play in GPPs as a one-off pick or stacking option with Brady. Finally, our projection provides tepid optimism, projecting Perriman for the 10th-highest value score at receiver. He's one of only two receivers with a sub-$6,000 salary in the top-10 t the position at value score.

Quez Watkins ($5,100): Watkins didn't have a breakout sophomore campaign in even the loosest sense. Still, he was third on the Eagles in routes (388), targets (54), receptions (38), and receiving yards (563). Thus, if the 8.5-point underdog Eagles are pushed to air it out to keep up with the high-flying Bucs, Watkins has the juice to pan out as a punt.

Speaking of his juice, according to Player Profiler, Watkins had a 75th-percentile speed score and 97th-percentile 40-yard dash time for his workouts at the NFL Draft Combine in 2020. Watkins' elite speed also translated to the field this year, resulting in a 91-yard reception that was the longest in the 2021 campaign. On a three-game slate, sometimes it takes creativity to craft a narrative for using a punt. I can tell myself a tale for Watkins paying off at only $5,100.

Tight Ends

Travis Kelce ($7,500): The tight end position is loaded on Sunday's slate. The starting tight ends who didn't make the cut for this space are excellent as well. Still, allow me to point out that I'm all about doubling up on the position, using one in the flex. Kelce has the highest salary at the position, and he's an excellent option. Like Mahomes, Kelce has set the bar exceedingly high for annual expectations, making 2021 feel like a disappointment for Kelce.

Regardless, he was one of the best tight ends. According to Pro Football Focus, out of 25 tight ends targeted at least 50 times, Kelce was sixth in yards per route run (1.84), second in routes (613), targets (131), receptions (92), receiving yards (1,125), and tied for first in touchdown receptions (nine), adding another score on the ground. As a result, Kelce is projected to top tight ends in scoring with the highest value score. However, he's my second-favorite tight end on Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski ($7,400): Gronk is my favorite tight end. He's projected to be the second-highest scorer with the third-highest value score among his peers. Nonetheless, he flashed vintage Gronk ability this year, hogging targets down the stretch. Gronk hauled in six touchdowns in only 12 games. In addition, he was fourth in yards per route run (2.09 Y/RR) among tight ends with at least 50 targets.

For the year, he had per-game averages of 4.6 receptions and 66.8 receiving yards. Also, as I teased above, he ascended up the pecking order to close out the regular season. Gronk was targeted double-digit times in three of his last four games, posting 115 receiving yards and 137 receiving yards on precisely seven receptions in Week 17 and Week 18, respectively.

The matchup is ideal for him extending his heater. The Eagles coughed up the second-most FanDuel points per game to tight ends. As a result, I expect Gronk to eat this weekend. He sits atop my tight end rankings, making him my favorite option at the position for all game types.

George Kittle ($6,500): Kittle stands out as a bargain, even at only a glance at the salaries among his peers. Yes, he admittedly was underwhelming in the last three games of the regular season, with yardage totals of 21, 29, and 10. However, the first of those games was when Jimmy Garoppolo injured his thumb, the second was a Trey Lance start, and the final was Jimmy G's first game back from the thumb injury. Admittedly the risk of Garoppolo's thumb hindering his performance, hurting Kittle in the process, still exists.

Still, Kittle's ceiling is tantalizing, evidenced by hauling in nine catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns in Week 13, and backing that with 13 receptions, 151 receiving yards, and one touchdown in Week 14. Additionally, he led all tight ends targeted at least 50 times in yards per route run (2.35 Y/RR).


Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($4,200): FIrst, the Bucs are at home. Second, they're more than a touchdown favorite. So, that's a great foundation for meriting usage as the defense on Sunday's FanDuel squad. They also generate turnovers, pressure, and sacks at high rates. According to Pro Football Reference, the Bucs were sixth in sacks (47), tied for fifth in turnovers forced (29), and second in quarterback pressure rate (28.6%). Thus, if they are staked to a big lead, they can pin their ears back and pile up FanDuel points.

As a result, they're projected as D/ST #2 with the highest value score.

San Francisco 49ers ($3,700): I think the 49ers will win their road tilt against the Cowboys. So, their defense could be in a good spot, if the game goes according to my expectations. Regardless, even if they're unable to spring the upset, they're playing at a high fantasy level.

San Francisco's recorded three or more sacks in six straight games, ranking tied for fifth in sacks (48) for the season. In addition, they forced a turnover in eight of the last nine games, recording multiple turnovers in six of those contests. As a result, they're the slam-dunk top defense under $4,000.

Joshua Shepardson is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Joshua Shepardson also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username bchad50. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he/she may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his/her personal account. The views expressed in his/her articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.