NFL DFS Main Slate – Above/Below – Key Plays for Week 18

The main NFL DFS slate features too many viable combinations to count in a lifetime, even when we eliminate several of the lower-end stacks we are left with possibilities galore at several positions. With NFL DFS picks, tips, tricks, touts, shoutouts, tweets, spreadsheets, slams, and sims coming from every direction all week, the purpose of this article is to feature a few plays for which our projections land above or below what appears to be the industry standard for the week, which will identify plays that are potentially over or undervalued by the public.

*note – despite the title of this article and what would probably be a more logical configuration, the “below” category comes first in the following content.

NFL DFS Sunday Main Slate Above/Below – Week 18


Jake Browning – Quarterback – Cincinnati Bengals – $5,700/$7,400 – QB16 points/QB22 value DraftKings; QB17/QB24 FanDuel

Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning has done admirably well filling in over the last six games. The quarterback has posted three games of 20 or more fantasy points and several other good outings along the way. Browning and the Bengals crash into a Cleveland team with nothing to play for in Week 18 but that does not necessarily equate to elite fantasy production in a game with a mere 37-point total on the board in Vegas. Cincinnati is favored in this game because Cleveland is resting most of their starters, including the bulk of their offense. The top-ranked Cleveland defense will not be fully intact either, several stars are resting for the Browns on that side of the ball with their playoff destiny secure, but Cleveland has knocked opposing offenses down all season and Browning has gotten away with a lot based on the talent of his wide receiver group. The quarterback has thrown two touchdown passes only twice during his run, but he has racked up yardage at a productive clip, with three games of 300 or more passing yards. Cleveland’s defense has been second against the pass at just 5.2 yards allowed per attempt, though they have given up 1.3 passing touchdowns per game on the season. The team ranks seventh with 46 sacks on the season on the back of a 23.8% quarterback pressure rate, but again they will not have all of their typical pieces in place. Amidst the good and OK results in his game log, Browning also has a game, in Week 16, in which he threw three interceptions to just one touchdown pass, though his 335 yards covered up the fantasy scoring blight. Browning has thrown 6 interceptions and nine touchdowns in his seven games, that is not elite production and if the Browns can clip his wings on passing yardage he may disappoint the small percentage of gamers drafting Bengals stacks. Ja’Marr Chase is also projected slightly below the industry average in our model this week, for which is driven largely by the quarterback option. Chase is a better standalone play, Browning projects as a playable component of the slate but we are roughly 2.25 points below the industry average projection on the upstart quarterback.

Nick Mullens – Quarterback – Minnesota Vikings  – $5,100/$7,100 – QB12 points/QB9 value DraftKings; QB14/QB18 FanDuel

While the previous entry is drawing just middling popularity, Nick Mullens is one of the premium value options on DraftKings according to some sources, and he projects to reach obscene popularity for such a large slate. Mullens costs a mere $5,100 on the site but he rates just as the ninth-most valuable quarterback on a points-per-dollar basis. That is, of course, this is playable value on the site, but it is not as strong as he projects around the industry and it does not justify nearly one-in-six popularity on a 13-game slate (14 on FanDuel where he is about 1/3 as popular). Mullens stands to benefit greatly from throwing the ball to Justin Jefferson, in Week 16 the duo connected six times on 10 tries for 141 yards and a touchdown. Of course, in Week 15 they went 7-10 for just 84 yards and no score and last week they posted just 5-10 for 59 yards and no touchdown, so the production is not a given by any stretch of the imagination, though the target volume alone justifies playing Jefferson shares as a standalone wide receiver if nothing else. Mullens played 19 snaps in Week 14 against Las Vegas, throwing 13 passes and completing nine of them for 83 yards in a throwaway data point. The following week, in a full start, Mullens completed 26 of 33 passes for a surprising 303 yards with two touchdown passes, but he also threw two interceptions. His big week came in Week 16 when Mullens threw two touchdowns, including the connection with Jefferson, and had 411 passing yards but his performance was badly marred by a whopping four interceptions, giving him four touchdowns and six interceptions in the two starts. He did not start the following game. It is important to remember that this team handed this job to rookie Jaren Hall last week, with Mullens taking back over at the half after Hall was less than impressive. Mullens got very little going for Minnesota in the second half, going 13-22 passing for 113 yards and one touchdown in his 28 snaps. While Mullens is starting the game, there is no promise that he will finish it. The Vikings are alive for a playoff spot, they need a lot of help but a victory must come before that even matters, and the decision is that Mullens gives them the best shot. Will that faith still be the case if he has three interceptions and zero touchdown passes in a still-close contest at halftime is the key question. Mullens has a clear upside for passing yards and he can find his way to two touchdown passes, but the turnovers are a major concern for the overall ceiling of a Vikings stack, particularly in a Mullens + 2 configuration. Also working against Mullens stacks in this spot is the Detroit defense in a game that they will be trying hard to win. Detroit stands to jump to the second seed if they win and get some help, their defense ranks third overall against the run at 3.7 yards allowed per rush attempt but their passing defense has been lousy at a 27th-ranked 7.1 yards per pass attempt, they should do well at shutting down the ground game and forcing the Vikings to take to the air which could work against the quarterback. While the yardage allowed plays into what Mullens has done well and Detroit’s sack total is a somewhat disappointing 37, they have an impressive 27.4% pressure rate and a league-leading 11.4% hurry rate (a full point higher than second-ranked Kansas City). Detroit blitzes at a 28.1% clip, one of the higher rates in the league, they also rank third in quarterback knockdowns per pass attempt at 11.2%, this team gets to the quarterback and applies steady pressure, which could put Mullens on his heels and force mistakes, the Lions rank in the middle of the league with 14 interceptions this season. The connection with Jefferson and the wide receiver’s pursuit of an additional 120 yards to reach 1,000 for the injury-shortened season are compelling reasons to get to the receiver, but not necessarily the quarterback when he is this popular. This is a very playable option for points-per-dollar value on DraftKings, it could easily succeed, but we are about 1.75 points behind the industry average projection for the Vikings quarterback this week and would expect to land below the field’s projected ownership on DraftKings (and FanDuel where it matters less).

Zamir White – Running Back – Las Vegas Raiders – $6,000/$6,500 – RB16 points/RB12 value DraftKings; RB14/RB9 FanDuel

Josh Jacobs will end the season on the sidelines and Zamir White is picking up ownership and enthusiasm around the DFS industry once again this week. White projects “fine” in our model, he is easily playable at his price but he ranks outside of the top 10 at the running back position for both projected fantasy points and points-per-dollar value on both sites this week. White has started the last three games, playing 44, 42, and 43 snaps and picking up 20, 22, and 25 touches. The running back has responded with effective fantasy scoring, in his first outing he had 69 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, adding three catches for another 16 yards on his four targets. White was more popular the following week at another low price, he drew just one target that he failed to catch in that game but he carried the ball an impressive 22 times and he posted 145 yards, 6.59 yards per rush attempt, but did not reach the end zone. White ripped off a couple of big plays in that game, he is a fairly big-play-dependent back, in the other two contests he posted 4.06 yards per rush attempt and 3.55 yards per rush attempt, and his career mark stands at 4.3 yards per attempt with one touchdown on 96 carries. His most recent outing came with a solid 20 carries and a season-high five catches on six targets, but White failed to reach the end zone despite his 106 combined scrimmage yards. White has a clear upside against a Denver defense that has legitimately been all over the map for fantasy performances this season. Denver has allowed the biggest fantasy scores of this, or any recent, season, but they have also shut down highly capable offenses and they have shown steady improvement since their low point while ranking around the middle of the league in categories like stuff rate. Overall, however, the team still ranks at the bottom of the league against the run with 5.0 yards allowed per rush attempt but they have held opponents to under a touchdown per game on the ground, landing in a multi-way tie at 0.9 rushing touchdowns allowed per game (14 overall) which could somewhat limit White’s ceiling to yardage but no score once again. On a huge slate with several running backs showing similar or better points-per-dollar value in our model we will likely land below public ownership on Zamir White again this week, his projection falls around 1.9 fantasy points below the industry average in our model.

Lingering Lows

  • Chris Olave & Derek Carr
  • James Conner
  • Geno Smith
  • Joe Mixon
  • Joshua Palmer, Alex Erickson
  • Jordan Mason (still looks like a good value)
  • Ja’Marr Chase
  • Jacksonville Defense
  • Bengals Defense
  • Eagles Defense
  • Davante Adams
  • Garrett Wilson

Don’t miss our full breakdown in the Groups/Stacks article, complete with full game notes & stack rankings for every team


Jalen Hurts – Quarterback – Philadelphia Eagles – $8,100/$9,000 – QB2 points/QB8 value DraftKings; QB2/QB3 FanDuel

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has posted dominant fantasy scores at the position throughout the season and nothing should change this week against the pathetic Giants with the Eagles jockeying for playoff positioning against the hated Cowboys who we will get to shortly. Hurts and Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott are the top two options at the position this week, which makes the Giants’ total lack of an option at the position for the foreseeable future far more painful for those of us dumb enough to root for the blue team from New York. Hurts and his Eagles should have no problem picking apart the limited Giants through the air, the talented passer will be without DeVonta Smith this week but he still has first read option AJ Brown and an array of downfield darts. Of course, Hurts has done more damage with his legs, or at least his body flying into the end zone, than with the pass this season, the quarterback set the NFL season record for rushing touchdowns for the position two weeks ago. Hurts has competed 66.1% of his passes for 3,803 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, though he has thrown an ugly 14 interceptions. He has added a ridiculous 15 rushing touchdowns to that total and he has 601 yards on the ground, 3.9 yards per attempt. The yardage is down hard year over year, Hurts is not getting out and making mad dashes for paydirt these days as much as he is landing in the end zone when the team gets up close. He now has 28 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons. Hurts failed to score on the ground last week, he also did not have a rushing touchdown in Week 14, but he otherwise put at least one touchdown on the board in the rushing game in every week from Week 9 forward and he has only failed to score a rushing touchdown in five of the team’s 16 games. Hurts completed 18 of 23 passes for only 167 yards against Arizona last week but he still managed to throw three touchdown passes and an interception. In Week 16 he had the opposite performance, throwing for 301 yards on 24 of 38 passing but posting just one passing touchdown against this same Giants team. The 301-yard performance represents a second-half high, he had a 298-yard game in Week 13 and was at exactly 200 yards in Week 12 but below that mark in every other game after the team’s Week 10 bye. Part of the scoring has impacted the production of AJ Brown, who has not been in the end zone since Week 12 and has just the lone touchdown since Week 9 after a run of very strong performances from Week 3-8. Brown has just one game of more than 100 receiving yards in the second half of the season, a Week 13 performance against San Francisco, he posted 80 yards on 6-11 receiving against this Giants squad in Week 16. In last week’s game, Brown drew just five targets, catching four of them for 53 yards in a limited performance, but Hurts still had the three touchdown passes and Brown’s 53 yards amounts to roughly 1/3 of the team’s passing volume in that game. In the four games leading up to the five-target outing last week, Brown had drawn 13, 13, 10, and 11 targets, he remains a very high-end pairing with Hurts stacks. Dallas Goedert is both cheap and under-appreciated at the tight end spot in this passing attack and the team has both Olamide Zaccheaus and Quez Watkins in downfield roles with Julio Jones likely to operate as the nominal number two wide receiver. Jalen Hurts projects very highly around the industry and he should be popular in a stack that ranks 2nd for points and 1st for value on FanDuel while landing 2nd for points and 9th for value on DraftKings. We are enthusiastically more than three points ahead of the industry average projection on the Eagles’ quarterback this week.

Dak Prescott – Quarterback – Dallas Cowboys  – $8,000/$8,700 – QB1 points/QB2 value DraftKings; QB1/QB1 FanDuel

Of course, Dak Prescott is outpacing Jalen Hurts in our model across the board. The Cowboys quarterback will be leading his team in a fight for the NFC East crown, if Dallas wins the division title belongs to them and they will be the two seed in the NFC, while a Cowboys loss and an Eagles victory will thrust Philadelphia to the top spot in the East and the second seed in the NFC. Both teams are playing in the fantastic 4 pm window of games so there will be no letting up with so much at stake for both teams, this should help drive fantasy scoring. Dallas should not need the added motivation against a truly terrible Washington pass defense in this matchup. The Commanders are 31st in the NFL with 7.4 yards allowed per pass attempt and they have given up a league-worst 2.2 touchdowns per game. Washington has also done a poor job generating sacks and pressuring the quarterback this season, particularly after the trade deadline exodus of their potent pass rushers. The Commanders have 39 sacks on the season but just a 17.8% pressure rate and a 5.5% hurry rate, third and fifth worst in the league. Dak Prescott should have all day to pick apart the paper pass defense, he and CeeDee Lamb stand a strong chance to pick up the entire slate and move it down the road for those who include the dynamite pairing in lineups. Lamb and Prescott have combined for 10 touchdowns and 1,651 yards on 122 receptions with 13.5 yards per reception and 9.8 yards per target, they have been very good this season. Prescott has been underappreciated throughout most of the year, he has a league-leading 32 passing touchdowns and just eight interceptions in the team’s 16 games while completing 68.4% of his passes for 7.6 yards per attempt and 4,237 yards overall. Prescott also shines by most advanced metrics including highly accurate throws, there is very little to support the case against this option in Week 18, it is simply a matter of degrees of liking the Cowboys stack that ranks 1/2 on FanDuel and 1/4 on DraftKings. Prescott lands as our most highly projected individual player on the entire slate, and we are about 2.75 points ahead of the industry average projection this week. CeeDee Lamb is not far behind his quarterback, his projection rivals that of other passers on this slate and he rates about two fantasy points ahead of the industry average. The Cowboys have strong options in the passing game not named Lamb, including tight end Jake Ferguson, Brandin Cooks who has strong touchdown upside as a Lamb pivot or complementary play, and more dart-throw-type options like Michael Gallup and KeVontae Turpin. Dallas is an excellent stack this week, they have slate-winning potential despite obvious popularity.

Noah Gray – Tight End – Kansas City Chiefs – $2,500/$4,800 – TE9 points/TE1 value DraftKings; TE6/TE1 FanDuel

The Chiefs are locked into the playoffs in the AFC after securing the West crown at 10-6 in a mediocre season. Kansas City announced early on that they will be resting the bulk of their starters, including Patrick Mahomes and, crucially for this play, Travis Kelce, as well as Rashee Rice and others. The absence of Kelce should create a vacuum in an offense that relies heavily on the tight end position in all situations. Enter highly capable backup tight end Noah Gray, who is at extreme value pricing at the position in Week 18. Barring a shocking start from Kelce, who has not technically been announced out early on Sunday morning, Gray looks like an excellent selection for value, even with a bit of popularity beginning to trickle in his direction, particularly at the absurdly low price on DraftKings. Gray has been a regular target in the passing game alongside Kelce in recent weeks, drawing 2, 3, and 4 targets in the team’s three most recent outings. He caught six of those nine passes for 59 yards across the three games and he scored a touchdown on his lone catch back in Week 13. Filling in for Kelce back in Week 1, Gray was targeted five times while playing 54 snaps with the offense as the featured option, he caught three of those passes for 31 yards but the touchdown in that game went to counterpart Blake Bell, who was targeted three times and caught two of them for 12 yards and the score. Bell has seen limited snaps and no more than one target in any given week since that outing, he has four total catches for 23 yards and the lone touchdown on his seven targets but he will pick up some opportunity as well. Still, Gray is the go-to option, while Bell is the dart throw pivot. Even with Blaine Gabbert expected to run the show for Kansas City this week, we land about 2.5 fantasy points ahead of the industry average on Noah Gray and expect to be ahead of the field’s ownership. Note: the Chiefs will reportedly let Travis Kelce play long enough to gain the 16 yards that he needs for another 1,000-yard season, this has a minimal impact on Gray’s potential.

Ronnie Bell – Wide Receiver – San Francisco 49ers – $3,200/$4,800 – WR28 points/WR3 value DraftKings; WR21/WR4 FanDuel

A similar value-based play presents itself in the 49ers lineup this week. San Francisco has locked up the top spot and home-field advantage throughout in the NFC playoffs, they are not playing for anything in Week 18 and will be resting most of their key players. The exact status of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk remains unclear, they are each projected for very limited fantasy scoring deliberately this week as we do not expect any of them to play a full game. The expectation should be that options including Ronnie Bell will see most of the work alongside backup quarterback Sam Darnold this week, with Ray-Ray McCloud, Chris Conley, and the team’s backup tight ends also showing a bit of salary-based value. The top choice in our book is Bell, who is not drawing the popularity one might expect for such a cheap play in such a premium offensive scheme. The 49ers are facing a mid-grade Rams defense that has allowed 6.5 yards per pass attempt and 1.4 passing touchdowns per game on the season, the 17th and 22nd-ranked marks in football. Los Angeles is targetable and they are also sitting their stars and most of their key players in what could be an ugly game. Ronnie Bell has barely produced any fantasy scoring this season, he has been targeted a total of eight times in 16 games. Bell caught five of those eight opportunities, putting up 7.9 yards per target and a pair of touchdowns in the limited action. The receiver has simply not been a focal point in the offense in his rookie season, which makes sense given the extreme talents that the team has at every skill position. Bell has not run 10 routes in any game this season, peaking at nine in Week 3 then not cracking even five routes run until the six he put on the board last week when he failed to catch his lone target. Bell ran three routes in Week 16, catching one of one for 12 yards and a touchdown. With most of his teammates taking a break this week, there should be a path to additional routes, which should lead to additional targets and at least a fleeting hope of some catches and a shot or two at a touchdown. Bell will only go as far as Darnold is able to take him, but there is reason enough for optimism against a pushover pass defense that will not be in peak form. While the 49ers do not have much draft capital invested in the seventh-round rookie, Bell has been with the team and has run routes, limited as they may have been, in every game this season. The 23-year-old has the potential to succeed on this slate and he could surprise as a lower-owned value option on either site if things break well. We are about a point ahead of the industry average after scaling down slightly with the news of Ray-Ray McCloud’s availability, Bell is still a potentially very good value option today.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Justin Watson (assuming regular action)
  • Christian Watson (assuming he plays at all)
  • CeeDee Lamb & AJ Brown each of whom goes with their appropriate quarterback from the list above and stand on their own in lineups
  • Baker Mayfield
  • Jordan Love
  • Derrick Henry
  • D’Andre Swift
  • Tutu Atwell
  • Luke Musgrave
  • Kyler Murray
  • Calvin Ridley (Christian Kirk is a terrific but very popular value if he plays)
  • KaVontae Turpin (large field)
  • Rashid Shaheed
  • Austin Ekeler
  • Sam LaPorta
  • Gabe Davis

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