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King for a Day: Manning Up

Jerry Donabedian

Jerry Donabedian

Jerry Donabedian writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


For the uninitiated, DraftKings runs fantasy salary-based football contests where users can take home cash each week instead of waiting for the end of the season.

The regular season may be over, but fortunately DraftKings is still running strong for those of us who just haven’t had enough after 17 weeks. Wild Card weekend brought us some thrilling games and interesting weather, while the Kansas City-Indianapolis matchup dominated the fantasy scene. Weather conditions should be fairly tame this week, with temperatures expected to be above freezing in each of the four host cities. In place of icy conditions, we’ll get to see some elite defenses, at least in the NFC. The AFC matchups, meanwhile, set up as potential shootouts.

Now, on to some of the best picks for the Divisional round of the playoffs

QUARTERBACK

Peyton Manning, DEN, $9400 vs. SD
– The San Diego defense has played well over the last few weeks, and the Chargers did a pretty good job in two games against Manning this season, even managing to come away with a 27-20 victory in Week 15. Still, with weather conditions in Denver not looking particularly worrisome, it’s hard to bet against Manning when he’s facing a defense with plenty of holes. The Chargers ranked 29th in passing defense this season, as their opponents completed 66.4 percent of their passes for 8.0 yards per attempt. Manning posted a 6:1 TD:INT ratio in the two previous matchups between these teams, demonstrating that San Diego’s defense only succeeded against him relative to the ridiculous expectations. Just in case you forgot, Manning broke two single-season passing records this season, finishing with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns through the air.

RUNNING BACK

Donald Brown, IND, $5800 at NE
– Brown registered 11 carries, four receptions, 102 yards from scrimmage, and two touchdowns in the Wild Card round, while Trent Richardson fumbled his only touch. Brown will head into the Divisional round as the clear favorite to earn carries, and he’ll be facing a decimated New England defense that has somehow managed to hold things together without a number of key pieces. The Patriots still finished 30th in run defense, allowing 134.1 yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry. Among this season’s playoff participants, only the Packers offered a better matchup for running backs. What’s more, Brown rushed for 5.3 yards per carry this season, albeit on just 102 totes.

Knowshon Moreno, DEN, $7700 vs. SD –Moreno finished the regular season on a quiet note, as the Broncos were able to focus on both Peyton Manning’s records and staying healthy for the postseason. Despite the relatively dull finish, Moreno still finished 2013 with 241 carries for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns, adding 60 receptions for 548 yards and another three scores. His versatility means that he should stay active, regardless of what happens during Saturday’s game. Additionally, concerns about Montee Ball ascending to the starter’s role can be put to rest until 2014. I don’t expect to see much of Ball on Sunday, unless the game turns into a complete blowout by the fourth quarter.

WIDE RECEIVER

T.Y. Hilton, IND, $7600 at NE
– You won’t be getting a bargain here, but it’s still hard to move away from the hot hand. Hilton caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns in a Wild-Card win over Kansas City, after tallying 11 receptions for 155 yards in Week 17. The Patriots have a rather mediocre secondary, and Hilton is clearly Andrew Luck’s favorite receiver. If Hilton doesn’t reach double-digit targets Saturday, it will qualify as a surprise. Patriots coach Bill Belichick will surely have a plan to contain Hilton, but he won’t be able to keep the speedy wideout completely quiet.

Michael Crabtree, SF, $5800 at CAR – With Hilton and Crabtree both listed here, it may seem that I’m overreacting to last week’s wild set of postseason games. I promise that isn’t the case, as both receivers were trending in the right direction, prior to exploding in the Wild Card round. Crabtree’s eight receptions for 125 yards were particularly impressive once you account for the frigid conditions at Lambeau Field last week, not to mention the fact that his team completed just 16 passes total. As much as the 49ers love to run the ball, Carolina’s defense is extremely stout up front, and a bit more vulnerable on the back end. With reasonable weather expected, and both Crabtree and Anquan Boldin ($6000) healthy, the 49ers should have some success passing the ball, after making strides in that department late in the season.

Golden Tate or Percy Harvin, SEA, $4800/$4000 vs. NO – The cheap wide receiver options aren’t very appealing this week, though Carolina’s Steve Smith ($4000) is also interesting, if he plays. Harvin is clearly just a dart-throw for upside, as the immensely talented receiver played in just one game this season, before rejoining the ranks of the injured. Harvin appears to be on track for Saturday’s game, but suiting up doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll have a major role in the offense. Conversely, Tate isn’t nearly as talented as Harvin, but he was healthy and starting all season, finishing with 64 receptions for 898 yards and five touchdowns, despite seeing just 98 targets. If both suit up, Tate is still a viable play, though I’d prefer Harvin and the extra $800. There’s a good chance of getting burned here, but I just don’t see much upside for the other sub-$5800 wideouts. Harvin brings that to the table, if nothing else.

TIGHT END

Greg Olsen, CAR, $4700 vs. SF
– The matchup is tough, but with Steve Smith hobbled by a knee injury, Olsen could be Cam Newton’s top target Sunday. The Saints’ Jimmy Graham ($7000) has to deal with an even harsher matchup, making Denver’s Julius Thomas ($6200) and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis ($5500) the preferred alternatives to Olsen, who is the most budget-friendly option of the bunch. Olsen registered a minimum of seven targets in each of the Panthers’ last seven games, and he ultimately finished the season with 75 receptions for 816 yards and two touchdowns, despite slumping from Weeks 6-10. While it looks like Steve Smith will probably play, Carolina’s veteran wide receiver may still be less than 100 percent after missing the final game of the regular season. Even if Smith suits up, Olsen should have a chance to produce.

TEAM D/ST

Broncos, $2600 vs. SD
– Three elite defenses – Carolina, Seattle, and San Francisco – will be in action this week, yet that won’t stop me from using the Broncos, sans Von Miller (knee). Each of the aforementioned elite defenses faces a turnover-averse team, with the Panthers and 49ers actually facing each other. The first matchup between those teams was a 10-9 slugfest in favor of Carolina, but there should be more scoring this time around. The San Francisco offense is far better than what we saw at that point in the season, particularly now that wide receiver Michael Crabtree is playing well. As for the Seahawks, they dominated the Saints earlier this season, yet I still view New Orleans as a tricky matchup. For all the talk about his team’s road struggles, Drew Brees has played just fine away from the Superdome in his career, and the Saints notched a road playoff win against a good Philadelphia team last week. I’ll be saving my budget for other positions, while hoping that Peyton Manning forces the Chargers into catch-up mode.

KICKER

Graham Gano, CAR, $3000 vs. SF
– Gano is the sole $3000 kicker this week, with New Orleans’ Shayne Graham being the second-cheapest option at $3300. Gano hit 24-of-27 field-goal attempts during the regular season, including six times from beyond 50 yards. A tough matchup against San Francisco means that he isn’t a top option this week, but is it really worth paying the difference for Denver’s Matt Prater ($4200) or Seattle’s Steven Hauschka ($3800)? Depending on your lineup constructions, probably not.