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DraftKings & FanDuel NFL DFS Lineup Optimizer Picks: Wild Card Playoffs Showdown & Main Slate

Terry McBride

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The extra-long regular season is at an end and the NFL Playoffs are finally here. After a wacky year in which parity and chaos battled for top billing, the clarity that comes from playoff matchups between high-quality teams on all sides is a bit of a stress reliever for NFL DFS lineup construction. Of course, that also brings with it a new set of problems, namely limited selection and extreme popularity. The need to differentiate on a two-game slate such as Saturday’s is clear, but getting to offbeat lineup constructions without sacrificing the quality of a lineup build is challenging with so few directions to turn. The Saturday slate includes a pair of intriguing games. The Raiders are in Cincinnati to play the Bengals in the game with the higher total, the potential shootout is slated for 48.5 points with the Bengals favored by 5.5. In the evening contest, the Patriots are on the road in northwestern New York, in what should be frigid temperatures. The battle of AFC East rivals is totaled at 44 and the hometown Bills are five-point favorites. There are excellent skill options and quality stacks on all sides, but the top skill players are all drawing massive amounts of attention, landing on the correct alternative can be the difference between an also-ran and the top spot in a FanDuel or DraftKings NFL DFS tournament on Saturday.

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Groups below are for the individual Saturday main slate, as well as the pair of Showdown contests, in two separate sections, the same content will be available for the Sunday slate in a separate article, combining the groups for any Saturday-Monday or Saturday-Sunday slates is viable, but recommended boosts and running back inclusion should be reviewed for consistency across formats.

This article focuses on building lineups with a quality foundation by utilizing the powerful Groups and Rules/Limits tools within Fantasy Cruncher. All of the concepts and pairings included below can be applied to hand-building as well, the goal is to create lineups that have high scoring correlation and take advantage of combined outcomes within stacks while limiting the likelihood of building inefficient or negatively correlated entries for a full slate of NFL DFS lineups.

Fantasy Cruncher – New How-To Video

The uptick in questions related to the how-to aspects of Fantasy Cruncher along with several noteworthy new tools demanded a new how-to tutorial video. I put together the above review of all of Fantasy Cruncher’s advanced options with some basic how-to on the constructions, rules, limits, and groups that we use in this article. The tutorial also reviews all of Fantasy Cruncher’s new features and the important distinctions between the various sets of projections that are available.

DraftKings & FanDuel NFL DFS Lineup Optimizer Picks & Projections

Overview

The Week 1 article featured a deep dive into the general settings menu and various utilities within Fantasy Cruncher, it is still available for anyone who would like to refer back. We will maintain the list of rules and limits below throughout the season, with occasional tweaks, if needed. Each week sees yet another fresh crop of value plays as situations change and injuries create opportunities around the league. These changing roles and emergent value plays are accounted for in the process of creating these groups from week to week. After a large pool of lineups is created utilizing these groups, it is still of critical importance to filter them for factors including ceiling projections and leverage potential, as well as our optimal lineup rates and Boom/Bust potential. Getting to a strong mix of the most optimal positively leveraged plays will be a strong foundation for a large pool of tournament lineups.

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DraftKings + FanDuel Stack Rules – Saturday Two-Game Main Slate

This set of rules will force Fantasy Cruncher to build lineups with certain combinations. We are looking to always stack at least one skill player, ideally a pass-catcher, with his quarterback while also playing a skill player from the opposing team in the lineup. The theory behind this build is that a high-scoring stack will require some response from the opposing team to truly deliver a ceiling score in most situations, otherwise the team that is ahead will simply slow down and run out the clock. These rules are applied by completing the sentences with selections from the drop-down menu, they follow a very straightforward logic. Exceptions can be made for teams at the bottom of the rule creation window. After a rule is set, click the blue bar to add it, it will appear at the bottom of the screen as a completed rule.

Wild Card NFL Playoffs NFL DFS Optimizer Picks DraftKings FanDuel Groups stacking optimal lineup strategy advice predictions best bets free expert

QB with at least one WR/TE from Same Team (note: It is fine to make this two or to utilize two of these, one with WR/TE and one with RB/WR/TE, but we can refine that and get it exactly how we want it for each team via Groups)

QB with at least one RB/WR/TE from Opposing Team

QB with at most zero DST from Same Team (this is more of a personal preference; high-scoring teams and quarterbacks tend to leave their defenses on the field exposing them to simple point-scoring negatives)

Limit Rules

Limit rules can be applied to restrict certain combinations from coming together. This is powerful for limiting multiple running backs from the same team or getting overweight to a certain stack within a lineup.

Wild Card NFL Playoffs NFL DFS Optimizer Picks DraftKings FanDuel Groups stacking optimal lineup strategy advice predictions best bets free expert

Limit QB/ RB/WR/TE from Same Team to three

Limit RB/WR/TE from Same Team to one unless paired with QB from Same Team OR Opposing Team

Limit RB from Same Team to one (one can also do this with WR in a separate rule that adds an “unless paired with QB or opposing QB,” but it is a personal preference for NFL DFS)

Note: Allow one (or more if desired) offensive player against team defense in Advanced Settings as well, or Fantasy Cruncher will not have enough elbow room in lineup constructions.

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Construction

These groups are built by utilizing the quarterback as the KEY player (by clicking the key icon next to his name), with the thinking that the quarterback play is the driving factor in which stack is utilized in that lineup. Built to specification, each team will have two groups, a team group, and an opponent group, both of which utilize the same quarterback, so four groups per game. This is the best approach to truly capture the requirement of playing individual “run-back” plays from the opposing team. A more basic approach would be to include all of the skill players from a game in each quarterback’s group and rely on rules and limits to restrict any potential overflow. It is highly recommended to save the Week 1 groups as a foundation that will be updated for the rest of the season. The recommended groups will include skill players who have an active role in their offense and provide significant correlation with their quarterback’s scoring, quite often bell-cow running backs who do not specialize in the passing game will not be included in groups as they are projected highly and appear on their own in basically correct distributions, while also not always providing the strongest positive correlation plays. Stacking quarterbacks with pass-catchers and allowing running backs to fall into the lanes then crated by settings, available salary and randomness should create a well-distributed set of quality lineups. These groups are updated weekly to account for changes in utilization, schemes, injuries, target shares, and more.

Saturday Update

All of the groups and recommendations below are up to date as of very early Saturday morning. Boosts are included to help create a spread of players that will be viable for selecting upside lineups that have a chance of being differentiated from the field.


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NFL DFS Optimizer Picks: Wildcard Week Team Groups for DraftKings & FanDuel – Saturday Main Slate

The goal here is to create a large pool of well-built lineups that can be utilized in any large-field GPP contest. Crunch far more lineups than needed and utilize a sorting table in Excel to filter to the best set of lineups for entries. The lineups created in these crunches should provide a broad distribution that includes some of the lower-owned skill players from each stack. Applying boosts is critical in pushing and pulling ownership on individual players within their team’s stacked lineups.

The groups below are designed so that each quarterback will have two groups to create, one with his skill players and another with the opposing team. A more basic approach would be to add them all to one large group with an “at least three” and let rules and limits set things, but there is a more granular level of control in creating them separately.

Utilizing two groups also allows us to place running backs into the “run-back” position in certain teams while not including them in the primary stack for their team. This is useful when there is a situation with an extremely highly projected running back who does not necessarily fit into his team’s passing game. These players are threaded throughout the following construction recommendations.

Buffalo Bills

Key Player: Josh Allen

Setting: At least one

Group: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Dawson Knox (+25%), Gabriel Davis (+50%), Isaiah McKenzie (+125%)

Opposing Setting: At least one

Group: Jakobi Meyers (Q), Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith (these exposures come out pretty much how we want them with no boosts but if Meyers does not play, things will change)

Cincinnati Bengals

Key Player: Joe Burrow

Setting: At least one

Group: Joe Mixon (-25%), Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample

Opposing Setting: At least one

Group: Hunter Renfrow (+10%), Darren Waller (-15%), Zay Jones (+15%), Bryan Edwards (+25%), DeSean Jackson (+125%)

Las Vegas Raiders

Key Player: Derek Carr

Setting: At least one

Group: Josh Jacobs (-15%), Hunter Renfrow (+10%), Darren Waller (-15%), Zay Jones (+25%), Bryan Edwards (+50%), DeSean Jackson (+150%)

Opposing Setting: At least one

Group: Joe Mixon (-10%), Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, C.J. Uzomah (+10%), Drew Sample

New England Patriots

Key Player: Mac Jones

Setting: At least one

Group: Jakobi Meyers (Q) (+10%), Kendrick Bourne (+15%), Nelson Agholor (+15%), Hunter Henry (+15%), Jonnu Smith (+15%)

Opposing Setting: At least one

Group: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Dawson Knox (+15%), Gabriel Davis (+50%), Isaiah McKenzie (+150%)

NFL DFS Optimizer Picks: Wildcard Week Team Groups for DraftKings & FanDuel – Saturday Showdown Slates

Small Sample Central — Trends and Notes

Several of the primary lineup construction notes from previous versions of the Showdown article will continue to be listed in this space, but each week we will attempt to find parallels based on Vegas data and the general game environment from historical contests in the pool of DraftKings Showdown research from 2019 through this week’s contests. It is important to not get too focused on results-based thinking in such a small sample. Quality lineup construction is always the focus, but historical results can help inform some basic decisions in a pricing and ownership vacuum. A quick summary of that previous content:

  • According to tracking data for DraftKings Showdown contests over 2019 and 2020, only 17 of 95 slates were won with a quarterback Captain.
  • Across the same sample, wide receivers and running backs split the outcomes evenly, with 33 tournament-winning events each.
  • Of the 38 times that a wide receiver or tight end was in the winning Captain position, only three of those builds did not include at least one quarterback in a Flex position.
  • Thirty-five of 95 winning lineups featured at least one defense, but only two of those featured both defenses.
  • Twenty-nine winning lineups featured at least one kicker, but only two of those included both.
  • Only eight winning lineups included at least one defense and one kicker, while one person won a tournament with two defenses and a kicker in 2019.

A prominent theme all season has been the value of the quarterback position in the flex role in DraftKings Showdown slates. The salary at which the position typically lands makes the multiplier a major factor in lineup construction. Within the various samples, including in games with totals and point spreads similar to both of Saturday’s contests, the position is almost always included in a winning lineup, and the vast majority of those builds are optimal with passers in flex spots.

In 43 games totaled between 44 and 48.5 points in our sample, pass-catchers are the most successful captain option. Wide receivers and tight ends combine for 20 of the 43 Captain victories in the broad sample. Running backs make up another 13 of the 43 winning lineups, leaving seven for quarterback Captain wins, three of which included the opposing quarterback as well. Kickers were successful Captain plays twice and defense won the day just one time in the sample.

DraftKings + FanDuel Stack Rules

QB with at least one RB/WR/TE from Opposing Team (this will happen naturally in most Showdown constructions, but including the rule will eliminate lineups that feature only an opposing kicker or quarterback)

QB with at least one WR/TE from Same Team (this will happen naturally in a large portion of lineups, but stacking quarterbacks with pass catchers is the easiest way to rack up NFL DFS points. It makes sense to include this rule to force the build, in most situations)

Limit Rules

Limit rules are slightly less important for Showdown slates as there are only two teams to choose from. They are still useful for preventing suboptimal constructions, however. Including the following will help prevent these less likely builds.

Limit QB/RB/WR/TE/DST/K from Same Team to three unless paired with Captain

Limit RB from Same Team to one (this is a rule that can be toggled on and off over multiple crunches, but the preference for this slate would be to use it)

Limit K from Same Game to one

Limit DEF from Same Game to one

Construction Basics

We will utilize Fantasy Cruncher’s Groups utility to create specific builds. The Groups feature includes the ability to designate players as the key to the group, or the player whose use in a position will trigger the group requirements. For Showdown slates this can be utilized to force specific sets of players or positions along with each type of designated Captain. The example below shows a group that utilizes Joe Mixon in the Captain role as the key player. It will then force all constructions featuring Mixon in the Captain role to include at least three of the players listed in the group including both quarterbacks as well as a mix of positively leveraged or lower-owned flex options from both sides.

Wild Card NFL Playoffs NFL DFS Optimizer Picks DraftKings FanDuel Groups stacking optimal lineup strategy advice predictions best bets free expert

NFL DFS Optimizer Groups & Picks

Unlike multi-game slates, when attacking individual potential game scripts, these groups are better deployed individually for separate crunches that can then be combined into a single pool of lineups. Running them all at once is likely to create conflicting scenarios that will either prevent or limit a full crunch.

Quarterback Inclusion

The first wrinkle in utilizing Groups to create specific constructions is that the tool differentiates between a wide receiver or running back and the same player in the Captain or MVP spot. This requires the creation of a group that adds the Captain version of any likely skill player as the key player, with a rule setting that any lineup featuring any of these players must include one of the quarterbacks in a Flex position. The alternate approach to this problem is to remove all but the skill players from potential inclusion at the Captain spot then create a rule that will simply stack the quarterback with the Captain spot, but that approach is likely more flawed. This group does not currently force quarterbacks when defense or a kicker is used at Captain.

Key Players: All primary skill-players as Captain

Setting: At least one

Group: Joe Burrow & Derek Carr – Standard versions

This group will result in getting one of the quarterbacks whenever any of the listed primary skill-players is utilized at Captain. To force the quarterback from the same team, multiple groups should be created for skill players from each team utilizing just the quarterback from that team. When quarterbacks appear in Flex positions, the rules and limit settings will kick in to force optimal constructions in the other Flex roles.

Note: Repeat this same concept for the quarterback inclusion group in the second game, grouping all relevant skill players in the Captain roles with the standard versions of quarterbacks Josh Allen and Mac Jones as the group with a setting of at least one.

NFL DFS Concept – Passing Game Leverage Plays – Raiders vs Bengals

Wild Card NFL Playoffs NFL DFS Optimizer Picks DraftKings FanDuel Groups stacking optimal lineup strategy advice predictions best bets free expert

Key Player(s): Tee Higgins, Darren Waller, Tyler Boyd, Zay Jones, DeSean Jackson – Captain versions

Setting: At least 3

Group: Joe Burrow, Derek Carr, Tee Higgins, Darren Waller, Tyler Boyd, Zay Jones, DeSean Jackson, Bryan Edwards

This group looks to capture pieces of the positive leverage plays in the passing game in both the Captain spot and the flex roles, while leaving plenty of room for upside plays from the more star-caliber options on both sides of the contest. The group includes all of the primary pass-catchers who are positively leveraged in the Captain role, with the same group coming back in the flex spots with Bryan Edwards added as a lower-owned option. Both quarterbacks are also included.


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NFL DFS Gameflow – The Ground Game – Raiders vs Bengals

Key Player(s): Joe Mixon & Josh Jacobs – Captain versions

Setting: At least four

Group: Joe Burrow, Derek Carr, Joe Mixon, Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, Samje Perine, Darren Waller, Tyler Boyd, DeSean Jackson, Bryan Edwards, Bengals Defense, Raiders Defense, Evan McPherson, Daniel Carlson

This group chases a narrative where the game angles toward the run and grinding clock, with both kickers and both defenses included alongside the two quarterbacks, the primary running back corps, and the positively leveraged flex receivers. The group is triggered by the use of either team’s primary high-end running back in the Captain spot.

NFL DFS Gameflow – The Cheap QB Captain – Patriots vs Bills

Key Player(s): Mac Jones – Captain version

Setting: At least four

Group: Josh Allen, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Dawson Knox, Devin Singletary, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis

This group attempts to weaponize the rare value in the priced-down Mac Jones as a quarterback in the Captain spot. In this case, the reduced salary does not create the impact that a typical quarterback price would have with the multiplier, which means we can take a highly probable play in the points multiplier and get to his clear correlation options in flex spots, while also including some positively leveraged pieces from the opposite side. The group also applies boosts to Jones’ receivers to ensure their presence with him in the majority of lineups, as this group will also trend into Patriots-leaning contrarian stacks that focus on an upset performance.


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We also have single-game projections and NFL single-game ownership projections. View our DraftKings NFL DFS rankings and our FanDuel NFL DFS ownership rankings. If you’re interested in other top NFL DFS plays today for multiple game slates, head over to NFL DFS projected ownership, Awesemo's NFL Data Central, NFL DFS rankings, and NFL stacks. Take a look at our NFL starting lineups, inactives list and NFL depth chart list.

Terry used to do other things, now he writes words on the internet. He hopes his more than 20 years’ experience in season-long and daily fantasy sports and his custom models for MLB, NBA, and NFL don't steer you too wrong when he writes columns and makes picks on Awesemo.com. A lifetime of experience keeping odd hours make Terry ideal to cover KBO baseball overnight until the world returns to normal. Most of those late night hours have been spent on the couch watching sports, T.V., and movies; just try to shut him up about any of the above. You can find his pop-culture ramblings and more on Sideaction.

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