As ESPN.com noted this week, the Patriots, who famously use a committee in the backfield, had three players with at least five rushing touchdowns. But Lewis began getting more carries in October and finished as the team leader in rushing TDs (six) and yards (896) with an impressive 5.0 yards per carry. Tom Brady's running backs had a league-best nine TD catches this year. Watch out for them against the Eagles: Philly's D allowed opposing RBs to score five TDs on receptions, tied for second most in the NFL. So I could easily endorse last year's Super Bowl hero, James White ($8100 on DraftKings; $10000 on FanDuel) or Rex Burkhead ($6900 on DraftKings; $8500 on FanDuel), both of whom are better values. But Lewis ($8900 on DraftKings; $13000 on FanDuel) has been the busier, more versatile weapon. As NFL.com pointed out, despite his small stature, Lewis isn't merely a scat back, relegated to outside runs and third-down tosses. He brings power between the tackles, a keen ability to sneak through creases and speed on the second level. In addition, Lewis can make people miss. Profootballfocus.com gave him their No. 1 Elusive Rating for 2017. Lewis ranked behind only Kareem Hunt in rate of missed tackles caused per touch (18.8 percent). His unique combination of speed and power make him my choice here. Indeed, as ESPN.com's Anthony Olivieri noted, with wideout Brandin Cooks and tight end Rob Gronkowski (who was officially cleared through the concussion protocol on Thursday) drawing attention, Lewis is dangerous when he gets into space. He had five TDs (three rushing, two receiving) in the last three games of the regular season and his 18 targets in the team’s two playoff games this year are second on the team to Danny Amendola's 22. Whatever the case, as NFL.com summed up, "Counting out Lewis and the Pats' stable of Swiss Army Knife backs would be a mistake for Philly."
As Philly.com's Ed Barkowitz reminded readers this week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a knack for trying to take away a team’s strength, which receiving-wise for the Eagles would be Alshon Jeffery or Zach Ertz. And while Agholor has been quiet in the postseason, the former first-round pick has New England's attention. According to USA Today's Martin Frank, the Pats have seen how Agholor has used his speed and quickness to get behind the defense in the middle of the field. They have also seen Agholor in gadget plays, such as the inside handoff against Atlanta that went for 21 yards in an NFC Divisional Round playoff game. Agholor also lines up on the outside at receiver. Stopping Agholor could become Patriot cornerback Eric Rowe's responsibility, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the ex-Eagles playing against their former team. PhillyVoice.com's Jimmy Kempski noted this week that Rowe has great size at 6-1, 205, and a fast 40 time. On a straight line, Rowe can be very fast, and his best moments with the Eagles often came when opposing offenses tested him deep. When asked to change direction in shorter areas, however, Rowe is not quick, or light on his feet. For that reason, he is not an ideal slot corner. But because the Patriots have Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler manning the outside, Rowe was forced into the slot. While this is outside of his comfort zone, Rowe confirmed that when opposing offenses are in three wide receiver sets with a receiver in the slot, his responsibility is pretty much always the slot. The matchup of Agholor on Rowe is one that the Eagles can pretty easily generate, and subsequently exploit. When the Eagles are able to identify man coverage looks by the Patriots' defense, head coach Doug Pederson would be wise to have Nick Foles identify Rowe, and attack him. He is quite clearly the most vulnerable corner in the Patriots' secondary. Couple that with a pretty reasonable price ($7400 on DraftKings; $11000 on FanDuel), and I'm definitely in.
With Gronkowski is available and a full go, the Sports Xchange believes the Patriots will likely look to find personnel advantages and be aggressive early on in the passing game. Tom Brady has opened the postseason with two impressive performances in which he's completed 67 percent of his throws, has five touchdowns and no interceptions and a 105 passer rating. His ability to take care of the ball negates one of Philly's greatest strengths, notching 19 interceptions during the regular season and two more in last weekend's NFC title win. With Gronkowski on the field, it gives Brady a dominant force down the middle, a key slot option in the surging Amendola (18 catches for 196 yards and two scores this January), a dangerous deep threat in Cooks and a pair of pass-catching back options in Lewis and White. That gives Brady the ability stretch the Eagles' pass defense both vertically and horizontally. Also, in case you missed it, Brady has thrown for at least 280 yards in eight consecutive postseason games. The downside? Brady is expensive. As hell. And the Eagles finished the regular season with the No. 7 offense and No. 4 defense in terms of yards, making this the second straight game New England will face a postseason foe ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the ball. Still, history says betting against Brady, who has been surprisingly effective when pressured this season (according to PFF, Brady has the best passer rating --96.6 -- in the league while under pressure in 2017), on the biggest stages isn't the wise choice and it has me breaking out my DFS checkbook. And you’ll definitely have to be willing to do so as well given his price ($15500 on DraftKings; $17000 on FanDuel).
As I pointed out in this week's Team Notes, the Eagles are the first team since the 1990 Giants to reach a Super Bowl without a player totaling 1,000 scrimmage yards though Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount and wide receivers Jeffery and Smith have done so in the past. That group plus Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, Agholor and others have bought into a team-first, unselfish concept. And that's one of the problem rolling out their skill players in fantasy -- especially the pricier components in DFS. For example, Blount didn't even get a carry in a loss at Kansas City in Week 2. Then he ran for a season-high 136 yards two weeks later at the Chargers. It was the only 100-yard rushing performance by Philadelphia this season. Ajayi came to Philadelphia with a reputation for selfishness, but it hasn't been an issue. He's fine rotating and he damn well better be, because that ain't changing. Given that -- and the fact he's the most expensive Eagles running back in either of the major contests ($8300 on DraftKings; $12000 on FanDuel), I'm having a hard time buying in. Granted, Ajayi leads the NFL's No. 3 rush attack and can be explosive, but the Patriots' run defense has been impressive in recent weeks, particularly in the last three games against bigger, power backs. Given all that, the relatively affordable Blount ($5500 on DraftKings; $9000 on FanDuel) and downright cheap Corey Clement ($4300 on DraftKings; $7000 on FanDuel) are the Eagle running backs I'm more eager to get in my lineup.