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It is playoff time! This is where all that work and preparation finally/hopefully pay off. A bad decision now could be the end of the trail for us, so we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to help you put the best possible team on the field this week. After that it is up to fate and a little football karma to do the rest.
Matt Shaughnessy is coming off his best game of the season with a 7-4-1 stat line. Those numbers will cause him to draw some attention and likely starting consideration from some owners. I like the guy as a player but making such a move in this situation would be a serious gamble. Since week seven the Rams have faced only two teams that run a 3-4 scheme. In week ten Robert Mathis, Eric Walden and Bjorne Werner combined to go 7-2-2 the Colts. Last week Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Corey Lemonier totaled 3-0-0 for San Francisco. Over his last six games Shaughnessey has reached double digit fantasy points three times. In the other three games he averaged 3.3. If you are in a position to gamble on a strong game, he is certainly worthy of consideration but you are just as likely to get 4 or fewer points as you are to get 12+.
For those of you who listened to our IDP podcast last week, I wanted to point out that Patrick Peterson did indeed pick off Nick Foles in that game. Unfortunately there was a defensive penalty called on the play so it did not count.
When making decisions about Paul Worrilow or Sean Weatherspoon this week, throw out the Packers week thirteen game versus the Lions as a comparison. Unless some Green Bay lineman shoots off his mouth about the "dirt bags" on the defensive line, the Packers will be a strong matchup. In the five games from week eight to week twelve, nine linebackers totaled 6 or more solo stops against the Packers with two guys hitting double digits. Worrilow has established himself as an every week start for us regardless of matchup. Weatherspoon should have a solid game with this matchup as well.
As a fantasy matchup the Vikings go as Adrian Peterson goes. As a result Minnesota has been a highly inconsistent matchup. There are a couple of things to consider here. Last season Peterson caught fire down the stretch. Over the past two games he has 67 carries for 357 yards. In those two games Chris Conte, Craig Steltz, Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings have averaged 7.5 tackles, 2.5 assists and over 16.5 fantasy points. With these trends in play, James Ihedigbo and maybe even Matt Elam are deserving of strong sleeper consideration this week. Daryl Smith is also a strong play in this one.
The Saints have been a much more balanced offense this season which has made them a quality matchup for our tackle producing IDPs on most weeks. That makes Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis a safe play in weeks fourteen and sixteen. On the other hand, Drew Brees remains one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to sack. Even in the debacle on Monday night when the Seahawks defense dominated, Seattle was only able to land 1 sack. It would be a good idea to sit a gimpy Charles Johnson even if he does play, or anyone who might be replacing him. I will be looking hard at options to replace Greg Hardy as well.
A lot of people take for granted that the Saints excellent passing game is a good matchup for opposing corners. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, opponents usually play their nickel package as a base defense against them, with their dime package coming on in many normal passing situations. New Orleans spreads the ball around so much that very few corners are able to have big games against them.
Major Wright suffered a hamstring injury in practice late last week and was replaced by Craig Steltz on Sunday. As of Wednesday afternoon there has been no update on Wright's status so it is likely that Steltz will make another start this week against Dallas. The big tackle numbers put up by both Steltz and Chris Conte in week thirteen will have a lot of fantasy owners looking at them this week. Once again I will remind everyone not to chase fantasy points. The strong production was very much matchup and/or situation based. No safety has exceeded 6 solo stops against the Cowboys all season and only five have put up more than 4 solo stops. Dallas is an average at best matchup and neither Steltz nor Conte are anything special.
Julius Peppers has turned in big games in two of the last three weeks. He is however, still the same Peppers that has posted double digit points in six games and 2 or fewer in the other six games. Consider him a high potential, high risk option this week against a Cowboys team that has held defensive linemen sackless in five games this year and has given up only 1 to linemen in three other games.
Heading into week thirteen we were watching to see what Cincinnati would do at middle linebacker. It was not much of a surprise to see Rey Maualuga start as expected and Vincent Rey replace him in passing down sub packages. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, this situation pretty much shoot any value that either guy may have held down the stretch.
With nickel corner Chris Houston landing on IR this week, the Browns will turn to rookie Leon McFadden to fill the void. This could be significant because many if not most teams use their nickel package as a base defense against the Patriots. That means McFadden should be on the field for a significant number of snaps. Expect Tom Brady to find and exploit the rookie, which in turn could make McFadden a sneaky sleeper play this week in corner required leagues.
J.J. Wilcox returned to action in week thirteen but he did not return to his previous role as the starting free safety. Instead he was used as a passing down sub for middle linebacker Ernie Sims. It is hard to say if this was the coaches way of easing Wilcox back into action or if it means that they have been happy with the play of Jeff Heath? Heath has recorded 5 or more solo stops and double digit fantasy points in four of his five starts at the position. In my opinion Heath has looked pretty good has outperformed Wilcox. Against Oakland Sims started in the middle with Bruce Carter in an every down role on the weak side. With the Cowboys getting Sean Lee back this week, the only thing that is certain is that Lee will be an every down middle backer. Everyone else would be risky at best. I will be watching closely to see what kind of role Heath gets against Chicago as this week will determine his value for the last couple of week this season and possibly beyond.
Duke Ihenacho was a hot fantasy option early in the season but he has only put up more than 6 fantasy points once in his past four games. He had only 1 tackle against the Chiefs in week thirteen and has a far less than stellar matchup with the Titans this week. That is plenty of reason to sit him this week but owners, and especially dynasty owners, should not be in a big hurry to dump the guy. Keep in mind that he has battled an ankle injury much of the season and missed week ten because of it. I like Ihenach's long term potential and believe he could be a top ten safety in 2014 if he can stay healthy. For the short term, he has a couple of good matchups coming in week fifteen versus the Chargers and sixteen against Houston. If he puts up decent numbers against Tennessee this week Ihenacho would be a good start over the final two games of our playoffs.
If the Lions could get someone to call them dirt bags before every game they might win a Super Bowl. Their front seven dominated the Packers offense so completely in week thirteen that Green Bay ran only 43 offensive snaps. The result was low tackle numbers across the board for Detroit defenders. It is a safe bet that they will not hold the Eagles offense under 65 plays, so start DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch with confidence this week.
Green Bay Packers
Last week I pointed out that Brad Jones was a risky play due to the Lions matchup and the fact that he is still not seeing action in all of the sub packages. The reasoning behind that advise was sound. Jones continued to sit out of the nickel package but no one could have predicted the way that game would unfold. In the end Detroit had run the football a season high 45 times. This week's matchup with a reeling Atlanta club is not a great matchup on paper, but they have gotten Steven Jackson going over the past couple of games and it has become clear that Jones is an every week play even if he does sit out 20+ percent of the time.
When the Texans faced off with Jacksonville two weeks ago Jonathan Joseph finished at 7-1 with a pair of passes defended and 14+ fantasy points. Considering that the Jaguars won that game, it is reasonable to expect that the Jaguars will come into this week's game with a similar approach. I like Joseph's chances of putting up double digit fantasy points for the third game in a row.
The Pat Angerer situation just keeps getting more strange. In week thirteen he did not even start, but came off the bench to get about 65% of the snaps in a time share with Kelvin Sheppard. Once again Angerer was more productive on a per snap basis than Sheppard. I have to wonder if the Colts will part ways with Angerer this offseason. That may well be the best thing that could happen for both Angerer and those dynasty owners like me who are too stubborn to let him go. The bottom line here for me is that he is a good player and a starting quality NFL middle linebacker. I am going to sit on him this offseason.
Paul Posluszny is an every week starter for nearly any owner that has him. Just in case someone out there is absolutely loaded at the position or is in a league that starts only one or two linebackers, take into consideration that he was 11-3 with a pass defended against Houston in Week twelve.
Weather could be a factor this week in Pittsburgh. The Steelers like to throw the ball around a lot on most weeks and there is a chance they could be without Le'Veon Bell if he is not cleared from his concussion. If the weather is not a factor and/or Bell is out, look for Brent Grimes to have a good day. If it is miserable in Pittsburgh and Bell is a go, look for the Steelers to lean hard on the running game, boosting the stock of Danelle Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler.
It is official that Audie Cole is now the Vikings starting middle linebacker. It was announced on Wednesday that Erin Henderson will move to the weak side going forward. Considering that Cole has been a three down player in each of his two starts, it is a safe bet that he will continue to play in the sub packages as well. As I said in last week's column and on the podcast, Cole is not the most graceful of players and looks a little awkward at times, but he somehow seems to get the job done. How he performs over the final month of the season will determine his long term status. Consider this his live audition as the Vikings begin to look at some of their younger players. As for this week, the Ravens have been no better than an average matchup for inside linebackers in recent weeks. Over their past five games only Vincent Rey was able to total more than 5 solo stops against them.
New England Patriots
With the Browns all but holding open auditions for a starting quarterback this week, there is little chance that they will mount much of an offensive attack this week. They will try to run the ball until they get way behind, which means about three series or so. After that there will not be much opportunity for New England defenders to make tackles. Unless you are gambling on big plays, keep all your Patriots other than Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones on the bench. As for the defensive ends, play them. Cleveland has faces seven opponents this season that use a 4-3 front. In those games they have allowed 14.5 sacks to defensive ends.
New Orleans Saints
So much for any trust we may have had in Roman Harper. After playing nearly every snap in week twelve, Harper saw action on just 37 plays in the blowout loss on Monday night. Harper still has the potential to have a big game at any given time but with Rob Ryan changing his defensive game plan so drastically from week to week, we will obviously get no consistency from Harper.
New York Giants
Jon Beason is coming off a monster 13 tackle game and has 18+ fantasy point in two of the last three games. That alone is enough for most owners to start him this week. Now add in a matchup with the Chargers. To date four linebackers have racked up 11+ solo tackles against San Diego, four others have totaled 9 and in all sixteen have posted 6 or more solo stops with this matchup. Safeties have not put up such gaudy totals against the Chargers but have been very strong as well. Antrel Rolle is a must start in this matchup and Will Hill is a good sleeper target.
New York Jets
While working at free safety for most of the season, Dawan Landry was a marginal at best fantasy option. With the addition of Ed Reed, Landry has moved back into his natural strong safety position. In week thirteen that shift led to an 8-6 in the tackle columns and Landry's first double digit fantasy score since week one. The Jets are teetering on the edge of the abyss and leaning toward falling over the edge. That and a matchup with the Raiders this week are good signs for Landry owners. Oakland has been a rather strong matchup for safeties in three of their last four games. Grab Landry off waivers if you can and give him the start this week. It is also worth mention that the Jets have a rematch with Miami in week fifteen.
For most of the season the Jets have been a pretty solid matchup for linebackers. Over the past two games however, no linebacker has exceeded 4 solo stops against them. That probably means we should lower our expectations for Kevin Burnett and Nick Roach. On the other hand, New York has been handing out big plays to defenders like candy at Halloween. I do not expect anyone in a Raiders uniform to put up more than 5-6 solo tackles but it would be no surprise to see Burnett, Charles Woodson, Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, Sio Moore and/or Lamarr Houston hit double digit fantasy points based on sacks or takeaways.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have finally made official the benching of Derek Cox in favor of Richard Marshall. Marshall has an excellent track record of production even as a slot corner. He now becomes a solid CB1 as long as he keeps the job. With the Giants, Broncos and suddenly resurrected passing game of the Raiders on the schedule over the next three weeks, the timing could not have been better. Grab Marshall if you can and plug him right in against a Giants club that has helped a large number of corners to post big numbers this year. Donald Butler is a must start in this game as well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To date Buffalo has played five games against teams that run a 4-3 scheme. In those games they have allowed only 3 sacks to defensive ends. Those numbers would strongly suggest that Adrian Clayborn should be on the bench this week.
By now everyone know that a matchup with Denver means we should sit our pass rushers. Derrick Morgan is a marginal play on most weeks anyway so he should get no consideration at all this week. The rest of the Titans defenders on the other hand, should get a lot, corners and safeties in particular. Bernard Pollard would be at the top of my start list and is a player I consider a must start with Alteran Verner and Jason McCourty getting major consideration in corner required leagues.
That does is for week fourteen. Best of luck in your big games this week and hopefully you will be back for round two. Meanwhile, Just Win Baby!