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Championship week! Hopefully you had better luck than me in Week 15. I managed to go 2-4 with three losses by a total of fewer than 3 points. That included a 228.58 to 228.20 loss to Gary Davenport of Fantasy Sharks in the prestigious Huddle experts league.
The Seahawks have been a strong matchup for tackle producing linebackers and safeties all season but they have been a particularly good matchup when playing in Seattle. No one that is still alive needs me to tell them to start Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington with this matchup. The guys I want to look at here are Yeremiah Bell and whoever starts at the other safety position. Rashad Johnson left with a high ankle sprain late in Sunday's game, so that will likely be Tony Jefferson. Three of last four games played in Seattle saw Antrel Rolle go 6-1 with a pick, Will Hill 6-0, Malcolm Jenkins 7-3, Kenny Vaccaro 6-3 with a forced fumble and Mark Barron 10-1 with a pick. The only reason Atlanta's safeties failed to put up similar numbers is that Paul Worrilow was 10-9 in that game. I would be comfortable starting Bell in this one with Jefferson as a sleeper plug in.
I am a bit puzzled as to why Osi Umenyiora did not start and played just 28 snaps in week fifteen. He bailed out fantasy owners with a big sack/fumble so it was not a total loss for us. The only thing I can think of is that the team wants to see some of their younger prospect in action so they can begin offseason evaluations. Stansly Maponga got 11 snaps, Jonathan Massaquoi 60 and Malliciah Goodman 28. Massaquoi and Jonathan Babineaux were the starters at end. I am not sure what we can read into this at this point. What I am sure of is that this turn of events makes Umenyiora a serious risk this week. Considering he has a poor matchup to boot, it should be easy to sit him.
Every week I am pointing out pass rushers playing Miami as quality starts. When these teams met in week five Mario Williams went 3-0-2 with a forced fumble while Marcel Darius finished at 4-2-0. Both players and probably Kyle Williams as well in tackle required leagues, are worthy of a starting nod this week.
Aaron Williams had 6 solo tackles and an interception in the first meeting. He left Sunday's game after taking a shot in the ribs and is questionable for week sixteen. If Williams sits it opens the door for De'Norris Searcy to get back on the field. The Bills coaching staff may not see Searcy as their best option at strong safety but fantasy owners know that he has been nothing short of a beast whenever he has held a full time role. Keep an eye on this situation late in the week. It could win you a title.
We have all heard the analyst talk about how vulnerable the Saints are outside of the Super Dome. That may be true to some extent but it is unlikely to be bad weather in Carolina and this is a huge game. I am not expecting a blowout like the one we saw a couple of weeks back, but I have to believe New Orleans will bring their A game. In week fourteen Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy combined to go 3-0-0. Meanwhile Quentin Mikell was 7-0-1 with a forced fumble, Michael Mitchell went 5-1 with a pass defended and Luke Kuechly finished at 10-1. I like the chances of the guys who did well in the first meeting to do so again. If not for the fact that the Saints will have a rookie making his first start at left tackle, the advise would be to avoid both of the pass rushers. That situation however, makes it hard to put Hardy on the bench.
It was against the Saints in week fourteen that Mikell reclaimed an every down role at strong safety. He continued to hold that role last week and seems a safe bet to be on the field full time again in the rematch. New Orleans has been an excellent matchup for safeties on most weeks so consider Mikell a plug and play matchup based starter this week.
The big news here is that the Bears may get Lance Briggs back this week. He was on fire before the injury with 47 solo tackles in seven games. If he is able to go Briggs should step right back into his every down role, bumping Jon Bostic out of the nickel packages. Briggs has fresh legs which can be a much bigger deal than people realize at this late point in the season. Briggs return would give the Bears run defense a big boost and he would be an excellent pickup/play.
Joe Haden left Sunday's game early with what looked like a nasty hip pointer. He was unable to return and his availability for week sixteen is in serious doubt. With Haden out of action Leon McFadden joined Buster Skrine as the every down corners with backup free safety Jordan Poyer taking over the nickel duties. It is hard to say if Geno Smith would be able to take advantage of the rookie corner making his first start, but it is a safe bet that he will try.
The situation at linebacker in Dallas has reached critical mass. Sean Lee may be done for the season, Bruce Carter is questionable at best for week sixteen, Justin Durant was placed on IR this week and Ernie Sims is having an MRI on his hip and groin injuries, which means he too is questionable at best. To try and fill all the holes the team has moved Kyle Wilber to strong side backer and resigned Orie Lemon who was released earlier in the season. In week fifteen Cameron Lawrence and DeVonte Holloman saw action at weak and middle linebacker. Chances are they will be making the start at those positions this week. Holloman in particular is intriguing. The rookie sixth round pick out of South Carolina was considered a project but he has the physical tools to become a quality starter at the NFL level. Holloman was seeing some spot duty early in the year before missing several games with an injury. He was just 2-2-0 on 66 snaps in week fifteen which is less than encouraging. On the other hand, Washington should be able to get their running game going this week so there should be plenty of opportunity. I like Holloman's chances of hitting double digit fantasy points and possibly having a big game.
Despite their record, the Texans have remained a quality matchup for our tackle producing IDPs this season. The problem is that Denver has given us few tackle producing IDPs over the past few weeks. Duke Ihenacho has not been the same since aggravating his ankle injury and has played sparingly over the past month. At middle linebacker the Broncos are using Paris Lenon in base packages with Wesley Woodyard playing in the sub packages. Even Von Miller has been hit or miss since returning from his suspension. The only Denver player we can trust at this point is Danny Trevathan.
For a few weeks the Giants were an excellent matchup for linebackers and safeties. Now that the adrenalin has worn off for Andre Brown, Peyton Hillis is battling a concussion and Brandon Jacobs has landed on IR, the Giants have run out of gas again. It is unlikely that Lions defenders will have much tackle opportunity this week so if you start any of them, do it in hope that Eli will throw them a pass. Considering that DeAndre Levy leads all linebacker in interceptions, he might be worth a gamble but I would look to sit Stephen Tulloch.
Green Bay Packers
The Steelers have been an average matchup for corners in recent weeks but I wanted to point out that Tramon Williams has been a hot commodity of late. He has recorded 5 or more solo tackles in four of the last six games and has 3 interceptions over that span. I expect he will see a lot of Antonio Brown this week which means a lot of opportunity. Call it a gut feeling but I like Williams in this one.
D.J. Swearinger Sr has not exactly lived up to expectations but he has shown signs of life. Over the past three games he has averaged 5-2 in the tackle columns and about 9.75 fantasy points. While those are clearly not the kind of numbers we should get excited about, the fact that he squares off with Denver this week makes Swearinger in interesting prospect. Over the past five weeks every strong safety that has gone up against the Broncos has come away with at least 5 solo stops and they have averaged 11.8 fantasy points. I do not have grand expectations for Swearinger this week but if you are in need of a solid contributor to fill in as your third DB, he is worth a long look.
We finally got some answers about the Pat Angerer situation. After seeing his role reduced until he was finally inactive for week fifteen, the club put him on IR this week. According to reports it was a sore neck that triggered the IR move but he is expected to have surgery on a knee injury that he has apparently been playing through all season. I believe Angerer is in the final year of his contract and he would almost certainly draw some interest on the open market once he is healthy. Now that we know what is going on, even a return to the Colts would probably not be a bad thing. The bottom line here is that dynasty owners looking for a "next season" stash should have this guy on the list.
Another linebacker that dynasty owners should have on the radar is Jelani Jenkins. The rookie fourth round pick out of Florida had been pretty quiet since week seven but showed up again versus the Patriots last week. Jenkins played a little more than a third of the team's defensive snaps at weak side linebacker and at the expense of Phillip Wheeler. There are no earth shattering numbers to talk about here, at least not yet. What we do know is that the Dolphins WLB position has been a fairly productive one for us this season. That makes Jenkins a target for those owners looking to stockpile players for the future. The important impact for week sixteen is simply that we can no longer trust Wheeler as a third starter even though the Bills have been a pretty good matchup for the most part.
As anticipated Harrison Smith made his return to action against the Eagles on Sunday. While he did not get the start in the game, he did log 62 of a possible 70 snaps and wasted no time making an impact at 6-2. Most importantly, he made it through the game with no setback. Smith should be back in the starting role this week against a Bengals team that helped Antoine Bethea to a mark of 10-7 in week fourteen and has been an above average matchup for safeties on most weeks. Adding to his potential value, Smith worked at both strong and free safety against the Eagles. Keeping in mind that the Bengals are at home and that they have been particularly stingy with giving up sacks at Paul Brown Stadium, it might be a good idea to sit Jared Allen this week. Cincinnati has allowed 9 sacks to defensive ends on the year with only 2 of those coming at home.
New York Jets
I rarely have much to say about Jets defenders because they rarely make a significant fantasy impact. With this week's matchup against Cleveland however, David Harris and possibly Demario Davis are worth looking at. In the Browns six games against opponents that use a 3-4 front, Derrick Johnson, A.J. Hawk, Jamari Lattimore, Donte Hightower and Daryl Smith (twice) have all put up double digit fantasy points against Cleveland. Lawrence Timmons fell just short with 9. These players averaged over 15.5 points in those games. Harris has been little more than a third starter or depth for us this season but he could have his best game of the season this week.
Kevin Burnett hit a slump around mid season but he has managed double digit points in three of the last five games. That is encouraging but I bring him up this week mostly due to the matchup. San Diego continues to be an A+ matchup for tackle producing linebackers and safeties. If you have Burnett on your roster or he is available but you need more convincing; look at his numbers from the first meeting between these teams. In week five Burnett was 12-2-1 with a forced fumble and 26 fantasy points.
Nick Roach would also be a quality start in this matchup. His week five numbers against the Chargers were an upside down 3-9 but he still managed 11.25 fantasy points. I expect he will have a few more solo stops this time and should be in the area of 12-15 fantasy points.
Charles Woodson also rode this matchup to his best point total of the season (22.5) in week five. He did it mostly on big plays however, with 4 tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception for a score. He will be a sure start for us if healthy but keep an eye on his rib injury as the week goes along. It is encouraging that he managed to make it through week fifteen missing only one snap. As of Wednesday afternoon there has been no word on his status for week sixteen.
Last week I advocated sitting Jason Worilds despite the red hot streak he was on. That advise worked out pretty well for anyone who followed it. This week I am going the other direction and saying start both Worilds and Jarvis Jones against the Packers. With LaMarr Woodley landing on IR this week, Worilds and Jones are going to be every down players. The matchup however, is the big reason for getting these guys into your lineup. To date the Packers have faced five opponents that run a 3-4 scheme. In those games they have given up 7 sacks to outside linebackers while seven of the ten starters at that position have reached double digit fantasy points.
San Francisco 49ers
It is hard to fathom sitting players like Patrick Willis or Navorro Bowman on championship week but if you have another quality option available it might be a good idea to consider it. Over the past five weeks only one inside or 4-3 weak side linebacker has posted more than 5 solo tackles against the Falcons.
St. Louis Rams
Since returning to action four weeks ago T.J. McDonald has averaged about 10.5 points a game for us and he is coming off a season best 14.25. That is plenty of reason for optimism about his long term potential, but look for another option in week sixteen. Over the Buccaneers last four games no opponents safety has exceeded 3 solo tackles.
On the other side of that coin, the Buccaneers have allowed 11 sacks to outside pass rushers over the past five games. Robert Quinn is an every week no brainer but if you are teetering on Chris Long, be sure to consider how good this matchup is.
Chances are the Titans will have a new coaching staff in 2014 so the evaluation of younger players by the current staff may serve no more than to provide film study for the next regime. It could however, provide us with some insight. With that in mind keep an eye on rookie weak side backer Zaviar Gooden over the next couple of weeks. Zach Brown started but played just six snaps before being replace by Gooden in week fifteen. Gooden went on to finish at 4-3 on 44 snaps in the game. He was the team's third round pick this year so it will be no surprise to see him get a legitimate shot at the job.
The Cowboys have not been a particularly strong matchup for inside linebackers. That said, with London Fletcher announcing that this will likely be the last home game of his career, he will undoubtedly be emotionally charged. It will be no surprise if we see him go out with a big game.
That does it for the Championship week edition. Be sure to check back next week when the column will focus on players who could emerge in 2014. This week more than any other I wish everyone the best of luck and a hardy Just Win Baby!