NFL

FanDuel Daily Fantasy Football Helper: Super Bowl LVI

Alas, the final NFL slate of the season is nearly upon us. Let's hope Super Bowl LVI is a good one.

According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Los Angeles Rams are 4.0-point favorites over the Cincinnati Bengals, and the over/under is a solid one for fantasy at 48.5 points.

For those unfamiliar, single-game slates feature five flex spots with identical scoring to the main slate. However, kickers are included in these contests, and there is an "MVP" roster slot. The MVP receives 1.5-times his total fantasy points, making this spot crucial.

Our Brandon Gdula did a deep dive on single-game strategy in 2019, which is updated with 2020 and 2021 numbers. It's worth checking out before you make your lineups.

MVP Candidates

Five players are projected for between 15 and 20 FanDuel points in numberFire's model, and they're the clear frontrunners for our MVP slot.

It's rare to see a wide receiver projected for more FanDuel points than either quarterback, but that's what we have in Cooper Kupp ($16,000). Of course, Kupp was no ordinary wideout this season, and his usage has remained elite in the playoffs, boasting a 33.3% target share and 34.2% air yards share. The result has been 14.6, 26.8, and 31.5 points over this span. There are no concerns surrounding his upside against Cincinnati's non-elite pass defense, which ranks 14th in numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics.

Matthew Stafford ($15,500) and Joe Burrow ($15,000) trail closely behind Kupp in the projections. No surprises here, as all three players averaged over 20 FanDuel points per game this season, a sizable gap over the rest of the field. Kupp, Stafford, and Burrow will almost certainly be the chalk options at MVP.

But between Stafford and Burrow, Stafford is on the favored side, is technically playing at home, and could have an easier path towards leading in fantasy scoring.

Although neither field general has a lick of rushing upside, they've made up for it through passing efficiency. Among quarterbacks who logged at least 100 drop backs during the regular season, both Stafford (0.27) and Burrow (0.23) posted top-eight marks in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back.

However, the gap has widened in the postseason, with Stafford producing an elite 0.44 Passing NEP per drop back compared to Burrow's 0.14 hovering around league average.

A major roadblock in Burrow's path is his shaky offensive line; he was sacked a league-high 51 times this season. According to Football Outsiders, Cincinnati's offense ranked 31st in adjusted sack rate allowed, whereas Los Angeles ranked 7th.

This issue played out when the Bengals faced the Titans in the Divisional Round, the only postseason defense they faced that was top-10 in adjusted sack rate. Burrow endured nine sacks and failed to throw any touchdowns, resulting in just 13.42 FanDuel points.

The Rams' defense was 8th in adjusted sack rate this season (the Bengals were 20th), so Burrow could be up against it again on Sunday. At least on paper, the matchup goes to Stafford (and Kupp) in the MVP race. And if we assume Burrow will be similarly popular, we won't get much of a game theory edge in selecting him, either.

But we know that games don't always go according to script, and given that Cincinnati's offensive line is a common talking point this week, the Bengals should be the less popular team overall.

So, if you're gearing up for a Cincy upset and want to pivot away from Burrow at MVP, Joe Mixon ($12,500) and Ja'Marr Chase ($12,000) are ideal ways to go slightly against the grain.

Mixon is easily the top running back on the board, logging 27, 28, and 27 adjusted opportunities (carries plus 2x targets) in the postseason. Over these three games, he's fourth on the team in target share (14.6%) and has dominated red-zone carries (90.9%). The across-the-board volume opens the door for a big performance.

Meanwhile, Chase cracked 200 receiving yards not once but twice in his outstanding rookie campaign, so his MVP candidacy needs little explanation. He leads the team with a 26.2% target share in the playoffs while also soaking up over a third of the air yards at 35.5%.

Following our five MVP frontrunners, the last guy I'll point out is Tee Higgins ($10,500), who makes for an ideal contrarian pick.

Higgins is someone I noted for the AFC Championship single-game slate, too, and while he didn't post an MVP-worthy score, he led Cincinnati in targets (10) and led both teams in receiving yards (103). Had he added a touchdown to his ledger, he would've been right there among the slate's top scorers, and his MVP roster percentage didn't even crack 2% in some contests.

In fact, Higgins has now bested Chase for targets in back-to-back games, and if we expand out to the 17 games they've shared this season, Chase barely edges out Higgins in both target share (24.3% to 23.6%) and air yards share (37.4% to 35.5%).

Chase may be Burrow's top overall option -- he's projected higher for a reason -- but it feels more like he's the 1A to Higgins' 1B. It's also possible that Chase draws more attention from Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, which could further enhance Higgins' outlook.

All in all, if Higgins is an afterthought at MVP again, we could be getting a leg up on the field by putting our faith in him.

Flex Breakdown

In addition to the prior six players, Cam Akers ($10,000) and Odell Beckham ($10,500) are the other two players projected for double-digit FanDuel points.

I'm guessing Akers could get some love as a possible MVP due to name value, but this is looking like a split Rams backfield entering the Super Bowl.

Akers' snap rate plummeted to 39.5% in the NFC Championship, and while a mid-game shoulder injury was partially to blame, he only missed part of the second quarter. Ultimately, Sony Michel ($7,500) would finish with more snaps (53.2%), and the two would split work down the middle, with Akers logging 15 adjusted opportunities and Michel notching 14.

To make matters worse, it sounds like Darrell Henderson ($8,000) will be back in the mix, and head coach Sean McVay uttered dreaded phrases like "three-back rotation" and "hot hand."

Not only does this make Akers a dicey MVP choice, but he could be over-salaried in general. I would still keep him in the mix when multi-entering, but Michel looks like the far better value. Henderson only achieves dart-throw status after last playing in late December.

On the other hand, Beckham has the more secure Rams role. While he's comfortably behind Kupp in the pecking order, he's the clear number two guy this postseason, sporting a 24.0% target share and 26.5% air yards share.

Seeing as the NFC Championship was Beckham's first 100-yard game all season, and he hasn't cracked 20 FanDuel points yet, it's hard to envision a scenario where he's the slate's top scorer. Kupp's role is just too great. But Beckham is a solid mid-range flex option.

As for value pass-catchers on the Rams, wideout Van Jefferson ($7,000) and tight end Kendall Blanton ($8,000) are the guys who stand out. Tyler Higbee ($8,000) left the NFC Championship early with a strained MCL and is looking unlikely to play after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

With Higbee out of the equation, Jefferson logged 5 targets (11.9%) -- the most he's seen this postseason -- while also recording the team's second-highest air yards share (28.6%). Although his string of underwhelming performances continued, the usage was a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Blanton took over Higbee's role at tight end, finishing with a 78.9% snap rate and 5 targets himself. Though his targets were of the shorter variety, he finished with a season-high 57 yards.

I won't claim that rostering either player should make you feel super comfortable, but Higbee was effectively the third option behind Kupp and Beckham, so those targets have to go somewhere.

Considering Jefferson has been playing through injuries and has been unproductive all postseason, Blanton may very well be the safer choice as Higbee's direct one-for-one replacement at tight end.

Cincinnati's tight end, C.J. Uzomah ($7,500), is dealing with the same injury as Higbee, though there's slightly more optimism surrounding his status, and he returned to a limited practice on Thursday.

Unfortunately, it's hard to envision him returning to a full-time role, and splitting time with Drew Sample ($6,500) would render him an undesirable option. That being said, at Uzomah's low salary, he may still be worth taking a chance on if things are trending up before the game. He saw a 20.9% target share in Cincinnati's first two playoff games.

If Uzomah were to sit out, Sample would be a poor bet to produce. He only logged 2 targets filling in for the injured Uzomah two weeks ago, and he totaled 15 targets across the entire regular season despite playing in all 17 games with a 42.1% snap rate.

With all that in mind, it's Tyler Boyd ($8,500) who's the most interesting remaining pass-catcher, and he has the highest projection of all sub-$10,000 players (excluding kickers). Boyd's been quiet this postseason, but with Uzomah going down, he saw the team's third-highest target share (16.7%) in the AFC Championship.

It's also worth remembering that Boyd finished third in targets behind Chase and Higgins during the regular season. His low average depth of target limits his big-play ability and yardage potential, but his role is clearer than most around this salary.

With so many question marks in the value range, perhaps there's added appeal in rostering kickers Matt Gay ($9,500) and Evan McPherson ($9,000). This is especially the case if you expect the under to hit, as lower-scoring games tend to benefit kickers, per Gdula's study.

Also, if we assume that Cincinnati's sketchy offensive line play continues, that could lead to drives stalling and McPherson cashing in on field goals. He's been perfect in the playoffs, rattling off 15, 18, and 15 FanDuel points.