🃏 2 Conference Championship X-Factors

Will Deebo play?

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The least stable job in America? A coordinator of offenses or defenses in the NFL…

In today's Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Buffalo Wild Wings:

  • Updates on Mark Andrews and Deebo Samuel

  • Divisional Weekend Rankings & Tiers: Introducing the week’s WR1

  • A key Chiefs player misses practice

  • Freedman’s Favorites: Big names to bet on

  • It’s 1/25. Take it away, Peter Overzet…

As we get closer to Sunday, there are two big dominoes to fall on the injury front for both the Ravens and the Niners.

Here’s what we know as of now about Ravens TE Mark Andrews and 49ers WR Deebo Samuel.

📈 Mark Andrews set to return vs. the Chiefs

It appeared that Andrews was close to playing last week after getting in two full practices at the end of the week, but the team ultimately held him out vs. the Texans.

Per Ian Rapoport, though, Andrews *is* expected to play in the AFC Championship game on Sunday “barring a setback.”

Andrews was spotted at practice yesterday doing drills.

I’ve heard some galaxy brain theories that Andrews could disrupt what the Ravens have going right now, but I think that’s overthinking an obvious plus for the squad.

Just ask Lamar Jackson

🤷 Deebo Samuel’s status still in doubt

On the other side of the bracket, things are less clear for Niners star Deebo Samuel.

Samuel, who suffered a shoulder injury on Saturday night vs. the Packers, did not practice yesterday, and his outlook for Sunday remains very much in doubt.

The X-rays didn’t reveal any fractures or broken bones, but initial reports were that he was in immense pain.

We’ll keep you posted as we learn more, but for now, it’s worth analyzing this offense without Samuel on the field:

Read on for more on how Samuel’s absence could impact Brandon Aiyuk (Rankings & Tiers) and Brock Purdy (Freedman’s Favorites)…

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CC R&T

It is time to make those DFS and drafting decisions for Conference Championships. Below you’ll find Dwain’s thoughts on two players set up for a big week. Find all of our positional rankings here.

💥 Wide Receiver

🥇 Tier 1 – Brandon Aiyuk

Aiyuk had a quiet week against the Packers in the Divisional Round, with a 17% target share resulting in only 5.5 fantasy points. That shouldn’t be the case against the Lions this weekend, where everything points to a monster outing for the fourth-year WR.

The 49ers have far and above the best team total on the slate at 29 points, and the matchup indicates much of the damage should come through the air. The Lions are the No. 2 run defense in the NFL, allowing only 88 yards per contest, but they rank dead-last in yards allowed per game passing (278) and 28th in TDs (1.7). 

CC R&T

Last weekend, Mike Evans destroyed the Lions' secondary with eight receptions for 147 yards and one TD. Evans has been an alpha against man coverage all year, a designation that Aiyuk also holds for the 49ers – leading the team with a 28% TPRR. Detroit has deployed man coverage the third-most in the NFL over the last six contests. Look for Aiyuk to be very busy against a defense that has allowed the third-most points per game to opposing WRs.

DvP

Evans wasn’t the only WR to obliterate the Lions. We saw multiple high-end WRs cut through Detroit like a hot knife through butter this season.

  • CeeDee Lamb: 13 receptions, 227 yards, 1 TD

  • Justin Jefferson: 12 receptions, 192 yards, 1 TD

  • Puka Nacua: 9 receptions, 181 yards, 1 TD

  • Keenan Allen: 11 receptions, 175 yards, 2 TDs

  • Justin Jefferson: 6 receptions, 141 yards, 1 TD

While some might not consider Aiyuk on the same plane as those names, they would be wrong.

He plays in an offense with the highest target competition in the NFL – which has made him a mid-range WR2 – but his talent profile screams WR1. The 25-year-old ranks No. 4 in YPRR at 2.81, behind only Tyreek Hill, Nico Collins and Jefferson.

The 49ers could be without Deebo Samuel due to a shoulder injury that knocked him out of last week’s contest and kept him out of practice Wednesday. If Samuel plays, it could be in a reduced capacity, adding fuel to a rocket ship already destined for the moon. On passing plays without Samuel this year, Aiyuk leads the 49ers with a 25% target share, followed by George Kittle at 22% and Christian McCaffrey at 18%.

Aiyuk is a SMASH play as my No. 2 player and my WR1 for the conference championships.

Watercooler

🚑️ Uh oh, Pacheco missed practice yesterday. Here’s why.

💰 Sides, totals, and all the betting analysis you need. Freedman’s best bets.

🐬 Wow, the Dolphins shake things up. Another coordinator on the outs…and the Eagles said, “Gimme dat.”

🤯 Austin Ekeler was drafted WHERE? Risers and fallers in a way-too-early 2024 mock draft.

⚡️ The Chargers get their guy. Not a bad gig—Justin Herbert and LA.

🍻 Travis Kelce grills his brother about his behavior. And by grill, I mean suggest he run for President.

🤣 Jared Goff sounds off on Skip Bayless. You love to see it.

😱 Is the Ravens defense scared of Patrick Mahomes? Doesn’t sound like it.

😡 The last time Dan Campbell was in SD for a playoff game. Revenge game incoming??

🤔 The latest on Zach Ertz. Could he suit up this weekend for the Lions?

💸 The most popular bet for this weekend… Wow, didn’t expect that.

FF Divisional Round

Every week, Matthew Freedman publishes a piece highlighting some of his favorite fantasy plays. Naturally, this piece is called “Freedman’s Favorites”. We told him to get more creative, to which he answered with a resounding “No”. Anyway, here are his favorites for the Conference Championships…

🌟 Brock Purdy (49ers) vs. Packers

  • 49ers: -6.5 

  • O/U: 51

  • TT: 28.75 (No. 1)

Purdy is not an elite QB. Even with his fourth-quarter comeback drive, he had a subpar performance last week (7.0 AY/A), and this week I tentatively expect him to be without WR Deebo Samuel (shoulder).

Much has been made of how Purdy has played in the four games Samuel has missed or exited early with injury this year.

  • At Browns (Week 6): 125 yards, one TD | one INT | 3.7 AY/A | 19-17 loss

  • At Vikings (Week 7): 272 yards, one TD | two INTs | 6.7 AY/A | 22-17 loss

  • Bengals (Week 8): 365 yards, one TD | two INT | 9.5 AY/A | 31-17 loss

  • Packers (Divisional Round): 252 yards, one TD | zero INTs | 7.0 AY/A | 24-21 win

Numbers aren’t everything -- Purdy looked worse than his final stats last week -- but each of these performances can be meaningfully contextualized.

Against the Browns, Purdy was on the road and dealing with significant rain, 15-mph wind, and the league’s best defense (-0.138 EPA, No. 1 per RBs Don’t Matter).

Against the Vikings, Purdy was on the road for a second straight game and facing a blitz-happy defense without first-team All-Pro LT Trent Williams.

Against the Bengals, Purdy was once again without Williams -- but he was still prolific (365 yards) and efficient (9.5 AY/A). The 49ers lost and Purdy threw two INTs, but that wasn’t a terrible performance.

Against the Packers, Purdy again battled the elements, primarily a steadfast rain and also a little wind (eight mph).

CC FF

I think Purdy’s poor numbers without Samuel have little to do with Samuel and more to do with other circumstances that won’t apply this weekend: He’s at home for the second week in a row. The 49ers have had just one road game since Christmas. Purdy has an extra day of rest. Williams is healthy. And Levi’s Stadium has a windless and sunny forecast that projects a Jan. 28 all-time record high of 70 degrees.

Even without Samuel, Purdy seems unlikely to repeat last week’s performance.

For all his limitations, Purdy this year was still No. 1 in AY/A (9.9), composite EPA + CPOE (0.204), and QBR (72.7, per ESPN).

He’s good enough to exploit a favorable matchup, and that’s what he has against the Lions, who in the regular season were No. 3 in most fantasy points allowed to QBs (19.4 FPPG) and have allowed Matthew Stafford (367 yards, two TDs) and Baker Mayfield (349 yards, three TDs, two INTs) to go off in the playoffs.

🌟 Rashee Rice (Chiefs) at Ravens

  • Chiefs: +3.5

  • O/U: 44

  • TT: 20.25 (No. 4)

In the aftermath of the team’s aerially deficient 21-17 loss to the Eagles in Week 11, Rice has been the No. 1 WR for the Chiefs with an 80% route rate, 27% target rate, and 27% target share.

With that usage, he has racked up 55-695-4 receiving on 72 targets over the past eight games.

While the Ravens this year have frequently used do-it-all first-team All-Pro SS Kyle Hamilton as their primary slot defender, I think there’s a good chance this week they’ll use him extensively on TE Travis Kelce, which would leave Rice to run most of his slot routes against probably journeyman CB Arthur Maulet, who has allowed 8.6 yards per target for his career (per PFF).

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