Note: Ranked by John Hansen’s projections as of Thursday morning.
Note: These player previews were published on Thursday afternoon. Based on late news, the write-ups and rankings for the following players could change dramatically. Make sure you look for our Sunday morning updates and practice report updates.
- Lamar Miller
- DeAngelo Williams
1. Le’Veon Bell (Pit, vs. Mia, Sun. 1:05 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 110/569/4 rushing, 18/179/1 receiving (24 targets), 30.7 FPG (1st)
When there’s only eight teams playing this weekend, sometimes doing the projections is a little tougher – you have to differentiate between low-end scrubs who might get some work, and that’s a tough task. But on the high end, ranking Bell #1 this week was among the easier things we’ve done all season. Bell was able to rest in Week 17, after averaging a ridiculous 28 touches per game in his 12 games of action this year. That means he should be entering the postseason fresh, and considering the Steelers’ playoff chase last year was derailed by the fact that both Bell and DeAngelo Williams were injured, we’d expect Bell to be the focal point of the offense against Miami this week. The last time Bell had fewer than 20 touches in a game was actually against this Miami team back in Week 6 – he posted 10/53 rushing and 6/55 receiving. Believe it or not, that 16.8 FP was his worst finish of the year. He fell below 20 FP just three times in 12 games, and fell below 24 FP just once in his final eight games. We’re projecting two games out of Bell, so if you’re in a “one-and-done” pool, you may not want to use him just yet. But the problem is that Miami’s run defense has absolutely collapsed of late – RBs have gained at least 100 yards rushing against Miami in five straight, and at least 130 yards from scrimmage in eight of their last nine games (the only team to fail to reach that mark was Los Angeles and Todd Gurley). Bell is perhaps the easiest #1 ranking we’ve had all year at the RB position.
Matchup: 5 Current Form: 5 History: 4 Role: 5 Injury status: N/A
2. Lamar Miller (Hou, vs. Oak, Sat. 4:35 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 57/192/2 rushing, 4/37/0 receiving (4 targets), 13.0 FPG (t-18th)
Miller is returning this week from a two-game absence, as an ankle injury limited him down the stretch. Fortunately, the Texans didn’t need him to be the AFC South champions, which is still a heck of an accomplishment even in a bad division given how bad Houston’s QB play has been this year. Miller didn’t have a great year, but he had a good one, and he likely would have run for 1200 yards had he not gotten hurt late. And this week, he gets to take on an Oakland defense that has had some struggles with opposing RBs – in 12 of 16 games this year, opposing RBs topped 100 yards from scrimmage against the Raiders. That includes Miller, who posted 24/104/1 rushing against Oakland back in Week 11. With Brock Osweiler at QB (and hell, even if it were Tom Savage), the Texans will be running the ball this week. Maybe we see more of Alfred Blue considering Miller is coming off an ankle injury, but we expect Miller to get fed this week in what should be a close, low-scoring game between Osweiler and Connor Cook.
Matchup: 4 Current Form: 3 History: 4 Role: 4 Injury status: Coming off a two-game absence (ankle)
3. Jay Ajayi (Mia, at Pit, Sun. 1:05 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 99/425/1 rushing, 11/64/0 receiving (14 targets), 13.2 FPG (16th)
Ajayi was one of the NFL’s breakout stars in 2016. And through five weeks of the regular season, when he had just 117 yards rushing total, it looked like his career was about to be completely derailed. The Dolphins tried everything in their power to supersede him, signing C.J. Anderson to an offer sheet, signing Arian Foster, and drafting Kenyan Drake. But the cream rose to the top. Ajayi had a breakout performance of 25/204/2 rushing in Week 5, and – oh, look at this!! – it was against the Steelers, his opponent this weekend. Ajayi parlayed that huge breakout into a season in which he ran for 1272 yards, 4th in the NFL. The bad news is the Steelers’ run defense really started to lock things down, having not given up 100 yards rushing to RBs in six consecutive games before their meaningless Week 17 game against the Browns. RBs have actually done the most damage against the Steelers in the passing game, and that’s not necessarily Ajayi’s strong suit. Moreover, Ajayi’s 206-yard performance against Buffalo in Week 16 was his only game of 100 or more yards from scrimmage in his last eight games. In fact, Ajayi had three 200-yard rushing games, accounting for 49.1% of his yardage output on the year (he played 15 games). With the Dolphins playing Matt Moore at QB, we’d expect they’ll run the ball a lot to try to keep the ball away from the high-powered Steeler offense. Ajayi’s season was up and down, and mostly “down” lately. But the Dolphins have no choice but to feed him… and keep in mind he doubled up on 200-yard games against Buffalo. Will he do the same against Pittsburgh?
Matchup: 3 Current Form: 3 History: 5 Role: 4 Injury status: N/A
4. Latavius Murray (Oak, at Hou, Sat. 4:35 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 75/317/3 rushing, 7/59/0 receiving (10 targets), 12.5 FPG (25th)
Murray started off the season looking like he’d be very TD dependent, as part of a three-man RB rotation. In the middle of the year, the Raiders appeared to decide that he was their best early-down option and he was a rock-solid RB2. But then he finished the year cold – the three-man rotation was back, as Murray played no more than 50% of the snaps over the final three games of the season. Over that span, he gained just 132 yards on 33 carries (4.0 YPC), and hauled in just 4 passes for 36 yards. Small sample, of course, but Murray finished behind both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard in total fantasy points over the final three weeks of the season. We still maintain Murray is “just a guy,” but we also think that with Connor Cook making his first start of his career in the playoffs, the Raiders would be wise to try to run the ball effectively. The Texans haven’t allowed much to RBs, unfortunately – the last time an RB went over 100 yards rushing on them was back in Week 7. Though Murray did damage in the passing game against them back in Week 11, he also posted only 12/33 rushing in that game. We’re in a weird spot with him – we feel like the Raiders need to ride him with Cook at QB, but it’s a brutal matchup and the Raiders seem to have soured on him again.
Matchup: 2 Current Form: 3 History: 3 Role: 3 Injury status: N/A
5. Ty Montgomery (GB, vs. NYG, Sun. 4:40 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 48/310/3 rushing, 14/96/0 receiving (20 targets), 14.5 FPG (12th)
A weird temporary “benching” last week for running the wrong way on a screen pass notwithstanding, Montgomery is the lead back on an offense that is absolutely cooking right now. Montgomery had over 10 touches in each of the last four games of the year, and additionally he gets added value in PPR leagues, given he’s still a very skilled pass catcher. It’s no surprise the Packer offense reached another gear when the stubborn Mike McCarthy realized Montgomery was his best player in the backfield. We would expect that to continue in the playoffs, with some Christine Michael and Aaron Ripkowski mixed in. And though Montgomery was barely used the last time these two teams played back in Week 5, that was well before he was placed in the backfield out of necessity. Make no mistake, the Giants have a very good defense, and it’s arguably the best defense still going in the NFC, given Seattle’s injuries. Opposing RBs not named Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott have had big problems picking up yardage lately, but fortunately for Montgomery, he’s been one of the most elusive backs in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s still an excellent receiver. Montgomery is a top-5 RB play this week.
Matchup: 3 Current Form: 4 History: 1 Role: 4 Injury status: N/A
6. Zach Zenner (Det, at Sea, Sat. 8:15 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 51/224/3 rushing, 12/127/0 receiving (15 targets), 13.0 FPG (t-18th)
The Lions suffered a huge loss in Week 13 when RB Theo Riddick went down with a wrist injury, and since then Zenner has had to step up. Fortunately for the Lions, he has – Zenner is 15th in total FPs among RBs in the four games since Riddick last played, and over the last two weeks of the regular season (though both losses for the Lions), he ranks 6th. In those two games, Zenner has posted 32/136/3 rushing and 6/66 receiving on 8 targets while playing 86% of the Lions’ snaps. So he’s almost certainly going to be their lead back as the Lions head into Seattle for the Wild Card round. Of course, Seattle’s run defense is pretty damn good, though Zenner has shown the receiving chops to get it done in that department, where Seattle is more vulnerable. Zenner played nearly every offensive snap last week against the Packers, as Dwayne Washington didn’t see the field at all. Zenner’s a solid bet to get volume work in a potential one-and-done scenario, even if the matchup isn’t great, and he’s obviously playing for a role next year.
Matchup: 2 Current Form: 4 History: N/A Role: 4 Injury status: N/A
7. Rashad Jennings (NYG, at GB, Sun. 4:40 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 66/198/1 rushing, 13/58/1 receiving (14 targets), 10.1 FPG (44th)
Jennings put a cap on one of the most boring fantasy seasons we can remember was as boring a 12.7-FP game as we can remember. In Week 17 against Washington, he carried 18 times for 52 yards, but managed to fall into the end zone for an overall solid day. Jennings averaged under 4.0 YPC in five of his final six games on the year, and perhaps most interestingly, played just 38.9% of the Giants’ snaps to Paul Perkins’ 51.4% in Week 17 (though keep in mind it was a meaningless game for the Giants). Over the final seven weeks of the season, Perkins out-rushed Jennings 354 to 338, despite 20 fewer carries (82 to 102). Over the final five weeks, Perkins had three more carries than Jennings (69 to 66), but outrushed him by 111 yards. Jennings may get the start here, but he’s a mediocre option against the Packers.
Matchup: 3 Current Form: 2 History: N/A Role: 3 Injury status: N/A
8. Thomas Rawls (Sea, vs. Det, Sat. 8:15 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 64/229/3 rushing, 4/24/0 receiving (6 targets), 9.5 FPG (46th)
The Seahawks have looked very beatable of late, as their offensive line has surrendered pressure to Russell Wilson, the defense has seriously missed S Earl Thomas, and the run game has struggled. Rawls is a big part of that – over the final three games of the regular season, he posted 37/56/1 rushing (1.5 YPC). And on the year, just 26% of his runs (109) went for five or more yards. Rawls gained five-plus yards on 41% of his 147 rush attempts in 2015. So his play has slipped, whether it be injuries, the line, or just damn old regression that’s hurt him. And since Rawls’ last quality game (Week 14), Alex Collins has just looked much better. Now, it’d be a mistake to ignore Rawls’ great performances in Weeks 13 and 14. But for now, he’s struggling, and to make matters more complicated for the postseason, C.J. Prosise could return as early as next week. It’s also worth noting this Lion run defense has slipped of late, allowing over 100 yards rushing to the RB position in each of the last three games of the regular season. And if you include receiving, the Lions haven’t given up fewer than 100 yards total to the position all season. So there should be opportunity here, at home. But will Rawls take advantage? He’s played fewer snaps than Collins in each of the last two games.
Matchup: 4 Current Form: 2 History: N/A Role: 3 Injury status: N/A
9. Paul Perkins (NYG, at GB, Sun. 4:40 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 69/309/0 rushing, 2/9/0 receiving (6 targets), 6.8 FPG (t-61st)
If the Giants want anyone outside of Odell Beckham to make an explosive play on offense for them, it’s almost certainly got to be Perkins. Over the final seven weeks of the regular season, Perkins out-rushed Rashad Jennings 354 to 338, despite 20 fewer carries (82 to 102). Over the final five weeks, Perkins had three more carries than Jennings (69 to 66), but outrushed him by 111 yards. At this stage, Perkins is simply the better player, though who knows how the Giants will view him in a playoff game in Lambeau Field (Jennings is a veteran, damn it!). Perkins has looked exceptionally spry of late, at least compared to Jennings, who is running like a defensive tackle out there. Perkins is a higher-ceiling option against Green Bay than Jennings.
Matchup: 3 Current Form: 4 History: 2 Role: 3 Injury status: N/A
10. Alex Collins (Sea, vs. Det, Sat. 8:15 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 21/106/0 rushing, 8/56/0 receiving (8 targets), 8.1 FPG (t-50th)
Collins has played more snaps than Thomas Rawls in each of the Seahawks’ last two games, and over that span – small sample alert – he’s averaging 5.9 YPC to Rawls’ 1.4. So could Collins actually function as the Seahawks’ lead back this week against Detroit, and/or until C.J. Prosise gets back (which could be next week)? The productive grinder from Arkansas has suddenness and toughness in the hole, and he’s just looked spryer than Rawls of late. He’s still a reach, but Detroit’s defense gives up a ton of production – RBs have accounted for over 100 yards from scrimmage in every game against the Lions this year. Collins is playing better than Rawls, which may make him an appealing fantasy play this week in the event Prosise returns next week to muddy things up.
Matchup: 4 Current Form: 4 History: N/A Role: 3 Injury status: N/A
11. DeAndre Washington (Oak, at Hou, Sat. 4:35 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 24/165/2 rushing, 4/43/0 receiving (6 targets), 9.2 FPG (t-47th)
Washington was the Raiders’ backfield snap leader in Week 17’s loss to the Broncos, and he’s now led the team in rushing in each of their last two games. And over the final three weeks of the regular season, Washington led all Raider RBs in fantasy points. Obviously, that’s not a huge feat, since it’s a three-man rotation and Washington was just 21st among RBs in total FP (36.8) over that span. Nonetheless, he’s made explosive plays of late, averaging 7.4 yards per touch over his last three games. He’s come a long way from being a healthy scratch for a few games, then not even getting a touch in Week 14. And with Connor Cook starting at QB, you may wonder if the Raiders try to generate explosive plays on offense from Washington and Jalen Richard. Washington is still a deeper reach, but he’s been the Raiders’ best fantasy producer in the backfield the last three weeks. It’s a tough matchup, however, against the solid Texan defense.
Matchup: 2 Current Form: 4 History: 1 Role: 3 Injury status: N/A
12. DeAngelo Williams (Pit, vs. Mia, Sun. 1:05 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 23/67/1 rushing, 3/27/1 receiving (4 targets), 24.4 FPG (3rd)
Over the last two seasons in Pittsburgh, both Williams and Le’Veon Bell have dealt with their fair share of injuries, and Williams just returned from a knee injury of his own. But with Bell also healthy heading into the Wild Card round, Williams simply can’t be expected to do much – over the last two seasons, DeAngelo has averaged under 3.0 FPG when Bell is also active… and just under 22.0 FPG when Bell is out. In games with Bell active, DeAngelo has seen just about 3 carries per game. It seems highly unlikely the Steelers will all of a sudden change their approach in the playoffs, even in a good matchup with Miami’s slumping run defense.
Matchup: 5 Current Form: 3 History: 2 Role: 2 Injury status: Just played his first game since early November after missing two months with a knee injury
13. Jalen Richard (Oak, at Hou, Sat. 4:35 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 30/187/0 rushing, 8/21/1 receiving (13 targets), 7.0 FPG (t-59th)
Richard has proven to be an explosive playmaker this year, but the problem is that there’s also the presence of DeAndre Washington, and of course with Latavius Murray still eating up a good chunk of the early-down work. Over the past three weeks, Richard has still posted more total FP than Murray (26.6), but at just 44 snaps over that span, he’s well below Washington and Murray in that regard. You can argue that the Raiders will try to get explosive plays from Richard given Connor Cook is playing QB, but could Washington be a better bet in that regard? It’s hard to know what Oakland’s offense is going to look like, and really, Washington and Richard just siphon work from each other at this point. In a tough matchup with Houston, Richard is our least favorite of Oakland’s three RBs (Richard did score a receiving TD against them back in Week 11, for what it’s worth).
Matchup: 2 Current Form: 3 History: 4 Role: 2 Injury status: N/A
14. Aaron Ripkowski (GB, vs. NYG, Sun. 4:40 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 15/77/1 rushing, 3/19/1 receiving (4 targets), 4.9 FPG (t-68th)
Don’t laugh. The Packers’ fullback – who may be indistinguishable from John Kuhn – actually led this team in rushing in Week 17. He posted 9/61 on the ground, and scored a receiving TD on top of that. He played 48% of the snaps, and though that was unusually high for him, it’s also worth noting as we head into the playoffs. In a total points league, 1 TD could mean the difference between winning and losing. Ripkowski, if the Packers run the table in the NFC, is more than capable of getting into the end zone multiple times. And if the Packers get the ball inside the five this week against the Giants’ tough defense, they might use Ripkowski over Ty Montgomery because he’s bigger, and is also capable of catching passes and being versatile. Ripkowski is a reach play, but a decent one if you just want to pray for a TD.
Matchup: 3 Current Form: 3 History: 4 Role: 5 Injury status: N/A
15. Damien Williams (Mia, at Pit, Sun. 1:05 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 11/13/0 rushing, 9/83/1 receiving (12 targets), 4.9 FPG (t-68th)
Williams has touched the ball 10 times or more this year in exactly zero games. He posted over 10 FP just twice, the last coming in Week 10. He hasn’t reached a 30% snap threshold all season, either. Basically, Williams’ entire hope for fantasy is to make a play in the passing game, where he outproduced starting RB Jay Ajayi this year (23/249/3 on 31 targets to 27/151/0 on 35 targets). You have to try to acknowledge players like this in the playoffs, but given Kenyan Drake can also be involved, Williams is a low-end option at best against a Pittsburgh defense that has locked down RBs of late.
Matchup: 3 Current Form: 3 History: 2 Role: 2 Injury status: N/A
16. Alfred Blue (Hou, vs. Oak, Sat. 4:35 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 54/195/1 rushing, 11/36/0 receiving (12 targets), 8.0 FPG (t-54th)
The discrepancy isn’t a big as it is between DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell (mostly because DeAngelo is a much better player than Blue), but Blue has been useless this year when Lamar Miller has been active, and fantasy relevant when Miller doesn’t play. Blue averaged under 6 rush attempts per game with Miller active this year, and 16 the last two games with him inactive. Blue averaged 13.0 FPG without Miller, but just over 3 with him this year. With Miller coming off an ankle injury, Blue may have 7-10 carries in this one, but he’s almost certainly not going to make a fantasy impact against the Raiders without scoring a TD.
Matchup: 4 Current Form: 3 History: N/A Role: 2 Injury status: N/A
17. Christine Michael (GB, vs. NYG, Sun. 4:40 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 30/110/1 rushing, 2/11/0 receiving (3 targets), 4.0 FPG (76th)
Since scoring a long garbage-time TD against Chicago in Week 15, Michael hasn’t been very involved – he carried 7 times for just 10 yards over the Packers’ final two games of the regular season. For now, we’re assuming Michael is running behind both Ty Montgomery and FB Aaron Ripkowski in the backfield. Until we see him grab a larger role, it’s really hard to trust him as more than a deep, deep reach against the Giants’ rock-solid defense.
Matchup: 3 Current Form: 3 History: N/A Role: 1 Injury status: N/A
18. Dwayne Washington (Det, at Sea, Sat. 8:15 p.m.)
Last five weeks: 44/138/0 rushing, 6/42/0 receiving (10 targets), 4.8 FPG (t-71st)
Washington was active last week against the Packers, but he didn’t play a snap – Zach Zenner played nearly every offensive snap and got all the Lions’ backfield work in that one. Despite Theo Riddick missing each of the last four games for the Lions (and he’s now on IR), Washington was just 65th in total FP over that four-game span (18.0 FP). This goes without saying, but even with just eight teams playing this weekend, Washington hasn’t done much at all to endorse playing him in Seattle. The Lions just trust Zenner more right now.
Matchup: 2 Current Form: 2 History: N/A Role: 1 Injury status: N/A