Dec 16, 2011
It is playoff time in the world of fantasy football, so if you are still making meaningful lineup decisions, I salute you for getting this far. As we have been saying, this is no time to be a hero, so a running theme in this week’s blog will be my comfort level with players. Let’s get into this week’s games.
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are looking more and more like too risky of a team to trust when it comes to fantasy, especially when they get blown out by the hapless Jaguars. It’s tough to play LeGarrette Blount or Mike Williams with any confidence this week. I could easily see Blount disappearing if the Buccaneers fall behind and Williams’ success hinges on Josh Freeman. We can only hope he’s a little healthier this week. Felix Jones certainly became relevant in a hurry and would appear to be a good start, although I’m not expecting him to get a ton of carries all of a sudden. Remember, he’s had some issues carrying the load in the past and has 18 carries just once in his entire career. He should catch a few passes in this game though, so I’d feel good if he was in my lineup. I know Laurent Robinson saw his snaps cut last week with the return of Miles Austin, but he’s been the most consistent Cowboy WR all season, so I’m not that worried about him, especially after he had a good game despite the drop in snaps last week.
Cincinnati Bengals at St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford doesn’t belong on the field if he’s going to look like he did Monday against the Seahawks. Unfortunately, with A.J. Feeley still dealing with his thumb injury, the Rams would have to turn to Kellen Clemens. No matter what it doesn’t look like good news for Brandon Lloyd. Steven Jackson was better than expected against the Seahawks, but a good chunk of his yardage came on one reception. I’m not as worried about this week’s matchup, but I wouldn’t let expectations get too high. You can’t bank on him to get many chances to score. A.J. Green certainly looks like a nice play this week against a totally decimated Ram secondary. I’d also feel very good with Cedric Benson in the lineup, and I haven’t said that much this season. Taking a chance on a QB is usually something I’m against at this point in the year, but if you’re stuck Andy Dalton should be a solid option.
Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs
It’s probably too early to worry about playing time for the Packers this week, but the bigger issue is who steps up with Greg Jennings out. It’s looking like James Jones will move into the starting lineup, which obviously makes him viable, but I think Jermichael Finley finally starts coming through with more reliability for owners who have stuck it out with him through a frustrating season. This week’s matchup does lend itself to that theory since the Chiefs are vulnerable over the middle and down the seams. Kyle Orton looks like he’ll be able to play through his finger injury and with a good matchup, at least according to the numbers, I’d feel better using Dwayne Bowe this week, even if he had been producing with Tyler Palko.
Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans
Andre Johnson will be held out yet again, and the way he was talking this week, I’d be surprised if he saw him for any significant time in the rest of the regular season now that the Texans have clinched at least a 1st-round home game. There’s no need to bring him back for a game against one of the worst run defenses in the league when Arian Foster (and possibly Ben Tate) should be able to carry the offense. Tate’s a nice flex play this weekend if you need some help with one of the big name RBs going down recently. Joel Dreessen continues to be a giant thorn in the side of Owen Daniels owners with 6 TDs on just 19 receptions all season. Daniels is still a low-end fantasy starter, but I’ve almost come to expect that he’ll lose out on opportunities in the red zone to Dreessen. Cam Newton has a brutal matchup this week and Steve Smith may not be able to help him out since Smith will almost definitely see Johnathan Joseph for most of this game. Smith’s had some quiet games this season, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see this one turn out the same.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Having players like Drew Brees is always fun, but when he gets a great matchup like this one in the fantasy playoffs, it makes you believe he can single-handedly carry your team to a victory. Consider the Viking secondary issues, it’s tough not to feel great about the Saint passing game this week, specifically Brees, Marques Colston, and Jimmy Graham, who appears to have put his back issues behind him. With such an attractive matchup, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lance Moore and/or Robert Meachem be a factor in this game. Adrian Peterson owners have had to deal with his absence for a few weeks, but he’s on track to return to action, so let’s hope the Vikings keep it close enough to keep Peterson in the mix. If they don’t, the Saint defense might be an interesting play since they’ll get after Christian Ponder with a comfortable lead.
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
Marion Barber was the goat of last week’s game against the Broncos, but he still managed to go over 100 yards and did score. I’m not expecting that again. The Seahawks have done a good job keeping RBs in check on the ground this season and I’m not expecting Barber to do much in this game, so don’t get your hopes up. Barber doesn’t play much of a role in the passing game nor does he need to with Kahlil Bell involved. Marshawn Lynch is the only player I feel somewhat good about in this game, but obviously he has a tough matchup so you might have to lower expectations just a bit. You can’t trust anyone else for Seattle at this point in the season.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
I will go as far as to say Eli Manning can’t be benched right now unless you have Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady. The Redskins have a solid front seven, but their secondary is definitely beatable, especially without S LaRon Landry. Mario Manningham would be the only member of the Giant passing game I wouldn’t be playing with a lot of confidence. His big score last week came on a broken play, and he’s still third in the pecking order behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. I wouldn’t be excited about the Giant RBs, but if I’m sticking with one, there’s no doubt it’s Ahmad Bradshaw. The Redskin WRs came through last week in a beatable matchup against the Patriots and they have another one this week against the Giants. I’d also be happy to have Roy Helu. It only took two-thirds of the season, but the Redskins finally found their guy and he’s riding a three-game streak of 100-yard games on the ground.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Chris Johnson was terrible against Colts when they faced off earlier in the season even though their run defense was struggling even back then. We know how shaky he’s been this season, but you have to think he’ll get plenty of carries, especially considering the QB situation. It sounds like the Titans would rather start Matt Hasselbeck since they are still in the playoff hunt, but if he’s too banged up to play, they’ll roll with rookie Jake Locker. I’m not quite sure Locker is ready to take over, but for one game, especially against the Colts, he’s not a bad option this week. Nate Washington looks like he’s going to continue to tough it out through his ankle and back issues, so he should be solid. I also like Damian Williams, who caught 4/60 when these teams played the last time. He’d be a reach if you decided to roll with him. I’m not acknowledging the Colts as a team that has fantasy players on it.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
The Dolphin D has been one to avoid in the second half of the season, and even though LeSean McCoy scored a couple of times last week, he couldn’t get anything going in terms of yardage. That means I’m not going anywhere near C.J. Spiller. The only other fantasy-worthy option on this team is Stevie Johnson and he could have a tough go of it going against Vontae Davis. Hopefully, Matt Moore will be able to play because he should be able to find Brandon Marshall with relative ease against a shaky Buffalo defense. Reggie Bush won’t be challenged by this defense either, so he looks like a great play this week. With how well the Dolphin D is playing, they look like they could be a strong option this week and should be able to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into at least a couple of interceptions.
Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders
Calvin Johnson is not a decoy. At least that’s what HC Jim Schwartz says. I believe him and think it’s up to Matthew Stafford to get Calvin the ball, even if he has to force it. Oakland’s secondary is vulnerable and they like to play man coverage, which Johnson will destroy. He should bounce back this week. Kevin Smith might return this week and while the matchup isn’t bad, he’s no guarantee to make it through the game so proceed with caution. The Lion defense looks like they’ll be in better shape this week, which is bad news for Carson Palmer, but he does get Denarius Moore back, who I have to like a reach this week since no other Raider receiver has stepped up in his absence.
New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles
Jeremy Maclin looks like he’ll be in better shape with his hamstring this week after he was severely limited against the Dolphins last week. The question is who will he draw? He’s more talented than DeSean Jackson, so it would make sense for Darrelle Revis to cover him, but with the injury issue, the Jets may move Revis around if Jackson is causing them more trouble. LeSean McCoy salvaged a brutal down on the ground with a pair of TDs, but it won’t get much easier this week against a Jet defense that has looked much better over the last month. I’m not worried about him, but am always concerned with how he’s used although with Michael Vick at less than 100 percent, I have to believe they’ll lean on McCoy a little more. The Jet offense has been quite good in recent weeks, especially in the red zone. Shonn Greene has been a huge part of that and he appears to be peaking at just the right now. We’re seeing him carry the offense right now and that’s taken some of the pressure off Mark Sanchez.
Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals
Much like the Colts, I’m avoiding all Browns, and this improved Cardinal defense, which may be an interesting play this week, makes that decision much easier. Arizona might be rolling with John Skelton, and while that doesn’t worry me when it comes to Larry Fitzgerald, the matchup with Joe Haden does. Fitzgerald can obviously overcome a tough matchup and he does have a significant height advantage, so I refuse to worry too much about him. Other than Fitz, the only Cardinal I’m using with confidence is Beanie Wells, who should do quite well against this terrible Brown run defense.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
We saw Tim Tebow throw it 40 times out of necessity last week. Will the Broncos let him throw it a lot by design this week? The matchup certainly leaves that option open, but that doesn’t mean the Broncos are going to start relying on Tebow’s arm all of a sudden. The once great Patriot run defense isn’t so scary anymore, so I’d still expect Willis McGahee to play a prominent role, as long as the Broncos are able to hang in this game. Denver’s defense has been quite good, but unless they get constant pressure on Tom Brady, why should we believe that anyone is going to slow down the Patriot offense. If Tebow is forced to throw a lot for more than a quarter, he will be exploited as the shaky passer that he is and this probably won’t be much of a game. If the Broncos can keep this close, I’ve learned to be prepared for anything. Demaryius Thomas does have a good matchup and has been active in the last two weeks, but I’m being very careful not to get excited about him because that means I’m relying on the arm of Tebow. If you haven’t figured out the Patriot offense by now, all you need to know is that Rob Gronkowski is the top receiver in all of fantasy football and Wes Welker never disappoints. Oh and just forget using the Patriot RBs because they are meaningless in their offense. Gronkowski could draw Champ Bailey at times in this game, but that really doesn’t bother me. You can’t stop that guy. By the way, even with Gronk’s historic season, Aaron Hernandez remains a viable fantasy starter, so don’t be afraid to use him.
Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers
Based on what we’ve seen out of Vincent Jackson this season, you’d think this would be a game to lower expectations for him. However, Raven CB Lardarius Webb is dealing with a toe injury and may not play, meaning rookie Jimmy Smith would be forced into action. I know the Raven D has been great this season, but they really haven’t been tested that often. The Charger offense has been up and down all year, but now that they are healthy, I’d say their probably at their best coming into this game. My only issue is their patchwork OL protecting Rivers against a Raven pass rush that leads the league is sacks. Downgrading Jackson and Rivers is fair to do, but you better have other options you feel very good about if you’re benching them at such an important part of the fantasy season. For instance, I wouldn’t be playing Demaryius Thomas over Jackson or someone like Joe Flacco over Rivers. Ryan Mathews might have one of his toughest matchups of the year on Sunday night, but I still think he can be a productive #2 fantasy back if he’s able to get the ball in space and if he can get to the perimeter. Speaking of Flacco, he’s played well by NFL standards over the last month, but his numbers for fantasy continue to be weak. The Ravens may decide to throw it a little more against the beatable Charger secondary, which is why I do like Torrey Smith as a sleeper, but I continue to believe that Ray Rice will carry their offense when the matchup dictates he should be able to do so, and that is the case this week.
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers
Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with an ankle sprain that would probably keep most players off the field this week, but I don’t expect him to miss this game. The Steelers are right in the hunt for a top seed in the AFC and you know they would love to have a week off to rest up in the opening round of the playoffs. Ben knows this and knows the team has a tough matchup on the road, which is why I think he plays. Pittsburgh probably won’t get much out of Rashard Mendenhall against the great 49er run defense, but if they can attack the secondary, especially with guys like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, as they can take short plays and turn them into long ones with their run-after-the-catch ability. You cannot use any San Francisco player with confidence going against the Steeler defense. Alex Smith struggles if he’s got a tough matchup, so I’d be worried about Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. The Niners admitted Frank Gore isn’t healthy, so besides this not looking like a good week for him going against the Steelers, it wouldn’t shock me to see the Niners limit him to make sure he’s ready to go for the playoffs.
Feel free to leave your lineup questions in the comments section below, as I do come back to check them over the weekend or you can always get me on Twitter (@TheMattCamp) since I’m rarely ever away from it. Best of luck to everyone in the fantasy playoffs!