It is NFL playoff time. After 18 regular-season weeks, depth charts should be mostly set. There should be few questions remaining about player usage. We’re supposed to know who the stars are, with the knowledge there will be some occasional comets who light up the postseason.
At one point in time, Tom Brady’s playoff success was a surprise. Likewise Eli Manning’s. There once was a blockbuster Super Bowl performance by someone named Timmy Smith. We’ve seen incredible plays that turned run-of-the-mill players into legends — think David Tyree (Helmet Catch) or Derrick Mason (Music City Miracle).
Sometimes, though, the breakout performances come from those who whose breakout itself isn’t surprising, it is the spike in usage that was unexpected.
Look no further than last season. Leonard Fournette spent the bulk of the Buccaneers’ season playing behind Ronald Jones. In the final few games of the regular season, Fournette got the starting nod. But he wasn’t a focal point until the playoffs.
His three highest workloads came during Tampa Bay’s four-game playoff run. All four of those games ranked in the top five of his season rushing totals. He scored four times in the postseason, after having just three touchdowns over the first 13 games of the season.
So who will be this season’s Fournette? Perhaps Fournette again. He could return from a hamstring injury this week. But considering the Bucs’ backfield depth, a return to form by him wouldn’t be a big surprise.
Instead, we look at Cam Akers. The Rams running back tore his Achilles in the preseason. Surprisingly, he has made his return already, playing in limited fashion in the season finale.
Sony Michel still got the bulk of the work, 22 touches to Akers’ eight, but neither was especially productive against the 49ers. That doesn’t encourage the Rams to force Akers into action (since he did nothing to warrant it), but Michel did nothing to dissuade such action (since he too was pedestrian).
The Madman thinks that was the worst of what we will see of Akers’ workload the rest of the way. We would expect Akers to take a larger role with each round the Rams advance.
But that doesn’t do a lot to inspire confidence this week. What we do like is Akers’ price at daily sites. He is $1,300 cheaper than Michel at FanDuel, and $1,200 cheaper at DraftKings.
For that difference, we’ll take a lighter workload — which still should be a larger percentage of the work than last week, even if not the majority of the work. Plus, that allows us more salary freedom to chase bankable assets such as Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase for our tournament rosters.
By no means is he a slam dunk, but at such an affordable cost, you rarely get someone with as much explosive potential.
Where the Wild things are
Joe Burrow QB, Bengals, vs. Raiders (FanDuel $7,800/DraftKings $6,800)
We like this game to top the Over (49) more than the 49ers-Cowboys (50.5) — Vegas’ two highest point totals on the week. The Burrows-Ja’Marr Chase connection has been largely unstoppable this season.
Josh Allen QB, Bills, vs. Patriots (FD $8,800/DK $7,800)
Allen answered one of his worst games of the season (less than 12 fantasy points in Week 13 vs. the Patriots) with an outstanding game in the Week 16 rematch (more than 30). With frigid temps Saturday that will be closer to the first matchup, we don’t expect peak Allen — the most expensive QB at both sites.
Derrick Gore RB, Chiefs, vs. Steelers (FD $5,400/DK $4,000)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is out with a shoulder problem. Darrel Williams is battling a toe issue. Gore has looked capable when forced into duty, and that could happen again on Sunday.
Miles Sanders RB, Eagles, at Buccaneers (FD $5,900/DK $5,100)
He is returning from hand surgery after missing the final two weeks of the regular season. But our bigger worry is we don’t trust the distribution of carries by Philadelphia. Jordan Howard could vulture goal-line carries, and Boston Scott is unlikely to disappear.
Josh Jacobs RB, Raiders, at Bengals (FD $7,200/DK $6,500)
Not a sexy pick, and he is TD-dependent, but he has somewhat discounted price — particularly at FanDuel. The Bengals were the worst this season vs. opposing fantasy RBs.
Tyreek Hill WR, Chiefs, vs. Steelers (FD $8,000/DK $7,100)
Has a healing heel, which contributed to five subpar games in the final six of the season. Just hasn’t looked like himself recently.
Darren Waller TE, Raiders, at Bengals (FD $6,300/DK $5,700)
Has exactly one double-digit PPR outing since Week 10 — though he did miss five games. Like some cheaper options much better.
Fantasy Insanity Daily Duel
Daily fantasy lineup suggestions by Drew Loftis
Top Prize: $25K
Total pot: $125K
QB: Joe Burrow, $7,800
RB: Cam Akers, $5,400
RB: Derrick Gore, $5,400
WR: Ja’Marr Chase, $8,200
WR: Cooper Kupp, $10,000
WR: Scotty Miller, $5,200
TE: Dallas Goedert, $5,900
Flex: Hunter Renfrow, $7,300
Season risked: $155
Season winnings: Jarad Wilk $100; Drew $15