This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
This guide focuses strictly on the main slate of Sunday afternoon games, with recommendations meant to be used for large-field, GPP tournaments. Player prices will only be mentioned for the two largest DFS sites, though much of what's discussed can be applied throughout the industry.
Variance and low ownership are desirable in large DFS tournaments, but we still need a few building-block players that are strong bets to outperform their price tags even if they don't have the highest ceilings and/or are likely to be popular plays. We'll also want to keep a close eye on injury situations with potential to create value for teammates (this is covered at the bottom of the page).
RB Jaylen Samuels, PIT (vs. NE), ($5,200 DK; $5,500 FD)
The value here is much better on FanDuel, though Samuels does at least benefit from full-PPR scoring on DraftKings, where he put up 16.7 points last week with only 28 rushing yards and no touchdown. A Stevan Ridley touchdown vulture was the only thing standing between the rookie and a big fantasy performance, with Samuels handling 18 touches and an 80 percent snap share in his first game replacing James Conner (ankle) as the lead back. While a matchup with the Patriots doesn't instinctively feel optimal, I'm guessing Bill Belichick will be happy to let Samuels pile up carries and catches if it diverts targets away from Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The hooded guru has a well-documented track record of forcing opponents to rely on their secondary or tertiary skill players, and his defense already has an established tendency of funneling passes toward running backs. Only three teams have surrendered more targets (107) to the position, and it's not like the Patriots have been particularly effective stopping the run (4.9 YPC, 27th).
RB Joe Mixon, CIN (vs. OAK), ($6,100 DK; $7,800 FD)
Mixon is the opposite of Samuels, providing elite value on DK and merely good value on FD. The price on DK is actually baffling, given Mixon's average of 18.3 fantasy points and six-game streak with double digits. After putting up a 26-111-1 rushing line while playing as a two-TD underdog in a road game against the Chargers last week, Mixon returns home with his Bengals favored by three points and carrying an implied total of 24.5. The Raiders have been surprisingly competitive in recent weeks, but they've still yielded 4.8 YPC (26th) and 144.5 rushing yards per game (31st) for the season. As the clear centerpiece of Cincinnati's injury-decimated offense, Mixon is a good bet to surpass his 2018 average of 19.8 touches per game. The Raiders undoubtedly will focus on stopping him, but do we really think they're competent enough to do so?
Patriots at Steelers
I usually try to avoid the chalk game stack in favor of another contest with slightly lesser shootout potential, but it's hard to go against Patriots-Steelers (O/U 52.5) on a slate where all the other games have over/unders below 48 points. This matchup was always going to be an obvious DFS target with so many superstars involved, and it now looks better than ever with ample potential for pass-heavy game plans on both sides.
The Steelers lead the NFL in both pass-play percentage (67.2) and pass attempts (43.1 per game) on offense, with little reason to scale things back in the absence of Conner. Their defense also has the effect of encouraging back-and-forth aerial battles, ranking seventh in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA compared to No. 21 against the pass. Only six defenses have faced passes on a higher percentage of snaps (62.0), and one of those belongs to New England (63.6 percent).
The Patriots, of course, are well known for their matchup-specific game plans on offense, sometimes jumping from run-heavy one week to pass-heavy the next. Sunday's matchup quite clearly favors the latter, especially with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and James White all healthy.
Coming off three straight games with at least 283 passing yards and 8.3 yards per attempt, Tom Brady ($5,900 DK; $7,900 FD) is my preferred quarterback play on both major sites, reasonably priced in the 6-8 range at his position. The pricing on DK favors Gronkowski ($5,800) as the stacking partner, with Gordon ($6,400) and White ($5,700) also solid choices if we're truly committed to relying on this game. At $7,200 on both major sites, Edelman is at least a tolerable option on FD, but he doesn't make sense as a tournament play on DK, where his highest point total in nine games this season (23.7) works out to just 3.3x on his current salary.
And while I'm hesitant to cite statistics that span so many years and different versions of teams, we can at least agree it's interesting that Gronk has averaged 110.7 yards and 1.3 touchdowns in six regular-season games against the Steelers. On the flip side, Antonio Brown ($8,500 DK; $8,600 FD) has averaged 80.2 yards and 0.6 touchdowns — modest by his standards — in five games against New England, supporting Belichick's reputation for limiting the best player on the other team.
Brown likely will spend most of his afternoon dealing with top cover corner Stephon Gilmore, while Samuels and JuJu Smith-Schuster ($8,000 DK; $7,800 FD) should have some room to operate underneath. Ben Roethlisberger ($6,600 DK; $8,600 FD) seems likely to live up to his lofty price in this matchup, and Vance McDonald ($3,900 DK; $5,500) is also a solid option if you insist on fading Gronk (don't do it).
Brady-Samuels-Gronk is my core stack on both sites, but I'm also a big fan of Brady-Samuels-White-JuJu-Gronk or Ben-Samuels-JuJu-Gronk. And if you're really trying to avoid the high ownership, Ben-White-JuJu-McDonald is a great alternative.
While not nearly as important as quarterback-receiver combos, RB-Defense mini-stacks present another opportunity to take advantage of positive correlations in tournament lineups. We're generally looking for teams that are comfortably favored to win, preferably with a starting running back who dominates goal-line and clock-killing work.
RB Jordan Howard, CHI (vs. GB), ($3,900 DK; $5,500 FD) + Bears D/ST ($2,900 DK; $3,700 FD)
Howard finally broke out of his prolonged slump in last week's 15-6 win over the Rams, posting his first 100-yard rushing game of the season on his largest carry count (19) since Week 8. He also had 16 totes for 76 yards (4.8 average) the previous week in New York, only missing out on triple digits because the Bears were forced to rely on Tarik Cohen while playing from behind in the second half. It hasn't really shown up in the stat lines this season, but Howard still profiles as the classic boom-or-bust running back, fully capable of falling victim to game script or rumbling for 100 yards and multiple scores. Meanwhile, the Chicago defense just displayed its ability to thrive in any matchup, especially when playing at home. The Bears had four sacks and two takeaways when they faced the Packers in Week 1, though Rodgers eventually won out with a second-half explosion. Given the current state of both teams, it's no surprise to see the Bears favored by six points for the rematch.
RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (at IND), ($9,000 DK; $8,800 FD)
I'll admit I had a hard time identifying a top-tier stalwart for the upcoming slate, with my lineup construction leading to a balanced approach rather than the usual assortment of stars-and-scrubs. A steady diet of mid-priced players — Brady, Samuels, Mixon, White, Gronk — doesn't always leave room for a superstar (at least on DK), and we lost a lot of the usual suspects to the handful of primetime/Saturday games. All that being said, Elliott is an excellent choice if he fits with the rest of your lineup, as his price has been surprisingly stable for a player working on five straight games with at least 22.5 FD points and 25.5 DK points. Given his newfound pass-catching prowess, he'll be a strong play in any matchup until his price reaches the Todd Gurley range ($9,500+). The Colts have yielded just 3.8 YPC this season, but they have allowed 93 catches to running backs, more than any team besides Atlanta (97).
Fading The Field
Every week we see at least one or two players carrying high ownership without the backing of a top point-per-dollar projection. Recency bias is often the motivating factor, as many DFSers subconsciously overestimate the predictive value of recent results.
RB Saquon Barkley, NYG (vs. TEN), ($9,400 DK; $9,400 FD)
As much as I hate to fade a player this fun, it's hard to make an argument for Barkley over Elliott when we can save $400-600 of budget with the latter. The issue here isn't Barkley himself, but rather his matchup with a Tennessee defense ranked 13th for run DVOA and third for DVOA on passes to running backs. The Titans have given up a league-low six touchdowns to the position, in part because their slow-paced offense sucks volume out of games on both sides. They've also completely shut down RB production in the passing game, allowing just 54 catches for 334 yards on 77 targets (4.3 YPT). Barkley still has a decent chance to explode, but I'd rather be on the other side of the bet when it doesn't feel like a sure thing and I know ownership will be high.
The Bargain Bin
QB Derek Carr, OAK (at CIN), ($5,400 DK; $6,800 FD)
QB Marcus Mariota, TEN (at NYG), ($5,100 DK; $7,100 FD)
RB Marlon Mack, IND (vs. DAL), ($4,500 DK; $6,300 FD)
RB Tevin Coleman, ATL (vs. ARI), ($4,200 DK; $6,100 FD)
RB Jalen Richard, OAK (at CIN), ($3,900 DK; $4,800 FD)
RB Ito Smith, ATL (vs. ARI), ($3,700 DK; $5,300 FD)
WR Dede Westbrook, JAX (vs. WAS), ($4,500 DK; $5,700 FD)
WR Dante Pettis, SF (vs. SEA), ($4,400 DK; $5,100 FD)
WR Kenny Stills, MIA (at MIN), ($4,300 DK; $5,700 FD)
WR Taylor Gabriel, CHI (vs. GB), ($4,200 DK; $5,100 FD)
WR Jordy Nelson, OAK (at CIN), ($4,200 DK; $5,000 FD)
WR Michael Gallup, DAL (at IND), ($3,600 DK; $5,300 FD)
TE Vernon Davis, WAS (at JAC), ($3,200 DK; $5,300 FD)
D/ST Packers, (at CHI), ($2,300 DK; $3,500 FD)
Pricing Discrepancies Between FD and DK
Mixon stands out as an obvious play on DraftKings, while the FanDuel pricing offers up Chris Carson ($6,300) and Dalvin Cook ($6,200) at relative discounts, facing bad defenses in games where their teams are comfortably favored to win. Granted, I could still make an argument for both players on DK, especially in the case of Carson ($5,600) if teammate Rashaad Penny ends up sitting out with a knee injury.
Amari Cooper is the other big name with a glaring discrepancy, priced at WR8 on DK ($7,500) and WR15 on FD ($6,600). The combination of elevated price and ownership makes him a clear fade for me on DK, whereas the value is too good to ignore on FD.
Injury Situation(s) to Monitor
Most of the relevant RB injuries this week impact the Thursday and Saturday games, but we do have one situation to monitor for the main slate after McCoy injured his hamstring during last week's loss to the Jets. Chris Ivory ($3,600 DK; $4,500 FD) actually left the game with an injury (shoulder) of his own, but he's bounced back without any limitations in practice this week. The 30-year-old could handle most of the carries against a shaky Lions defense (4.6 YPC), but he'd probably lose some snaps to Marcus Murphy ($3,400 DK; $4,500 FD), especially on passing downs. It's still a situation worth monitoring, but I was far more interested at the beginning of the week when there was some hope for Murphy to handle a three-down role. A McCoy absence would put Ivory in the 'bargain bin' section, not the space for 'point-per-dollar values'.
While he failed to properly take advantage of Beckham's absence due to a quad injury last week, Sterling Shepard ($4,400 DK; $5,200 FD) did account for six of Eli Manning's 22 pass attempts (27.3 percent) in a 40-16 win over Washington, including a three-yard touchdown. The third-year pro could push for double-digit targets if Beckham misses what should be a more competitive contest, as the Giants simply don't have much else at wide receiver. A slot matchup with Titans cornerback Logan Ryan isn't exactly optimal, but the combination of price, talent and expected volume outweighs any concerns about facing a past-his-prime corner who gave up a touchdown to Dede Westbrook last week. Shepard averaged 6.3 catches for 73 yards on 9.0 targets in the seven games he played with Beckham out of the lineup last season, though most of the production came in two huge games. There's also a strong argument to be made for Evan Engram at $5,200 on FD (TE12), and to a lesser extent at $4,100 on DK (TE6).
Playing hurt for much of the season, Breida finally got a reprieve last week after aggravating his ankle injury during a Week 13 loss to the Seahawks. You may remember that Jeff Wilson ($4,600 DK; $6,100 FD) had 15 carries for 61 yards and eight catches for 73 more in that contest, making him an elite DFS value ahead of last week's 20-14 win over the Broncos. While his workload against Denver didn't disappoint, Wilson fell shy of expectations from a fantasy standpoint, taking 23 carries for 90 yards and one reception for six yards without a touchdown. It's the kind of workload worth taking another chance on if Breida is unavailable, especially after Wilson landed fifth among all RBs in Week 14 snap share (86 percent). It doesn't hurt that he gets a rematch with the same Seattle team that allowed him to gobble up target volume two weeks ago.
I suspect Hilton (ankle) is fine and will end up playing, but we at least need to mention the situation after he was held out of practice both Wednesday and Thursday. Zach Pascal ($3,200 DK; $4,900 FD) would be my preferred choice in the event of a Hilton absence, coming off a 5-68-1 receiving line last week when Dontrelle Inman ($3,800 DK; $4,600 FD) was sidelined by a shoulder injury. Inman and Ryan Grant ($3,200 DK; $4,500 FD) are familiar names and arguably safer bets to pile up snaps, but they're both averaging less than 10 yards per catch and seven per target, with two TDs on 50 combined receptions. While the rookie hasn't been any better in terms of YPC (9.8) or YPT (6.0), Pascal at least offers red-zone potential as a big-bodied target (6-foot-1, 219) in a pass-first offense. We can also count on massive volume for Eric Ebron ($5,900 DK; $6,500 FD), though I still prefer Gronk by a mile.
It's mid-December and the main slate includes games in Chicago, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New York and Baltimore. You might think that would guarantee bad weather somewhere, but the Sunday forecast actually looks pretty tame in each of the aforementioned cities...even Buffalo and Chicago. While my current plan doesn't account for any weather-based lineup changes, it's the time of year when we need to be extra careful about triple-checking the forecasts Saturday and Sunday.