Here we are in week one of the playoffs already. This is the time of year that we start losing readers by the bunches as owners are knocked out. If you are not fortunate enough to move on after this week, keep in mind that it is never too early to start building next year's team. With that in mind the week seventeen column is always dedicated to looking at player who could become significant in 2015. Be sure to check back and get the jump on the competition.
Tyrann Mathieu has already been ruled out for week fourteen with his broken thumb. This will get Tony Jefferson back on the field in some capacity but more significantly, it should mean a bigger role for Deone Bucannon. Over the past five games Kansas City has been an excellent matchup for safeties. Rashad Johnson is a must this week and Bucannon becomes a strong sleeper candidate.
I would not get too excited about the 9-3-0 posted by Larry Foote in week thirteen. The Falcons have been one of the best matchups in the game for linebackers of late. The Chiefs have not been a poor matchup, but their offense does not run a lot of plays between the tackles.
William Moore returned to action in week thirteen and went right back into the full time role at strong safety. Dwight Lowery continued in the free safety role with Kemal Ishmael seeing action only in some sub packages. Redraft owners are out of time for patience here but dynasty owners should consider sitting on the youngster. He has looked good from the start and has shown improvement over the course of the season. I would be somewhat surprised if he is not a factor in 2015.
Anthony Levine has 14 tackles, 5 assists and a pass defended over the past two games. This is not because he is a great player but rather because the Saints exposed him as a weak link in week twelve and the Chargers watched that game film. Levine has only been on the field for 88 of 148 defensive snaps in the last two games but every time those two offenses saw him, they looked to take advantage. With Jimmy Smith still sidelined, we could see more of the same this week in Miami where the Dolphins have been a solid matchup for corners of late. There is however, some risk that we could start seeing a lot more of Danny Gorrer who has been sharing time with Levine at the position. If you are looking for a risk/reward starter at corner Levine could be your guy. The fact that he has not been as good on the field as he has been in the box scores means there is at least some possibility for change.
On a lesser note; Jeromy Miles got the start ahead of Darian Stewart at strong safety in week thirteen. Miles was not particularly impressive either on the field or in the box scores and the Dolphins are only an average matchup for safeties so this will only be of interest to those in deep rostered leagues.
Both Nigel Bradham (9-3-1 pass defended) and Preston Brown (7-4-0 pass defended) put up strong numbers against a Cleveland offense that has been a quality matchup for linebackers of late. These two guys should have big games this week versus Denver who has been an outstanding matchup with the emergence of C.J. Anderson. Since Week eleven James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree, Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi and Justin Houston have averaged 8 tackles and 2 assists with 3 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and 3 passes defended against the Broncos.
The Bills left corner position has been a fantasy gold mine in a lot of weeks. With Leodis McKelvin done for the year, Corey Graham is the man. He has been productive when given an opportunity including 18 tackles and 4 passes defended over the past three games. Denver has been a strong matchup for corners pretty much all season so Graham is worthy of strong consideration this week.
One place the Denver matchup hurts us is up front. Peyton Manning is a quick trigger quarterback who simply does not take many sacks. In fact the Broncos have allowed a league low 13 on the season. On the other hand Buffalo leads the league with 48. The immovable object meets the unstoppable force. Sitting Mario Williams is borderline blasphemy as is benching Kyle Williams or Marcel Dareus in tackle required leagues. That said, we need to temper our expectations of these guys this week, particularly in the big play department. Keep an eye on the injury report for word on Dareus who was dinged in week thirteen.
In a surprise move the Panthers cut starting corner Antoine Cason and promoted Bene Benwikere after their loss in week thirteen. The rookie will be thrown to the wolves right away as Carolina goes to New Orleans this week. The Saints are one of the top matchups in the game for corners in general. Add in the rookie corner rule and Benwikere is a sneaky strong start this week.
The Bears threw us another curve ball when Jon Bostic was used as a three down linebacker versus Detroit. in the base packages he lined up on the weak side with D.J. Williams in the middle and Shea McClellin on the strong side. In nickel packages Williams and McClellin headed off with Christian Jones coming on. For those looking to week fourteen, Bostic could be a solid LB3 start against Dallas on Thursday. For those looking to next year, we could be seeing a lot more of this combination down the road.
Has anyone caused more grey hairs for fantasy owners this year than Ryan Mundy? Six times he has posted 6 or more solo stops. In the other six games he has recorded 3 or fewer. Mundy is coming off the highest solo tackle total of his career going 11-1 against Detroit but I am not sure we can trust him against a Cowboys offense that has been a slightly below average matchup for safeties in the month of November.
I am not much for patting myself on the back but how about that Jared Allen call last week? His 4-0-2 with a forced fumble and a recovery won me a couple of big games. That said, it is back to the bench this week against Dallas who has been a tough matchup for outside pass rushers. Since week nine Calias Campbell, Chris Clemons, Jason Pierre-Paul, Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Alex Okafor have all been shut out of the sack column by the Cowboys.
The Bengals have a big matchup with the Steelers this week. Pittsburgh has been a strong matchup across the board for our defensive players but we cannot overlook the fact that this game is in Cincinnati where the stats crew lives in their own world. Vincent Rey will probably have 10 total tackles this week but unless your league gives full tackle points for assists, his 2-8-0 is not what you need in a playoff game. The only home town defenders that will be in my lineups this week are Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Even the Cincinnati stats crew cannot hose us on sacks.
Just to confirm, there was no change in playing time breakdown for the Browns linebackers in week thirteen. Craig Robertson continues to be the three down options with Christian Kirksey still limited to base package snaps.
After feeding us a line of bull about a time share at free safety, the Browns used Jim Leonhard as their every down guy at the position. He responded with a solid five solo stops and an interception. For those who were starting Tashaun Gipson Sr as a starter, Leonhard should fill that void nicely. That said, he is probably not a good start this week against the Colts who have been a below average matchup for safeties of late.
Anthony Hitchens continues to impress. His 10-2-0 against Philadelphia was a big mark for fantasy owners but it is his play on the field that has garnered my attention. The Cowboys are going to have some decisions to make come next year when they get Sean Lee back. It will be a surprise to me if we do not see Lee in the middle with Hitchens on the weak side and Rolando McClain strong. One thing that seems rather clear at this point is that McClain is not a three down guy.
Despite the strong matchup Ezekial Ansah finished with only a respectable 2-0-1 against the Bears in week thirteen. What the box scores do not tell us is that he was credited with a whopping 10 hurries by Pro Football Focus. Tampa Bay is a quality matchup for defensive ends so keep him in your lineup this week. Sooner or later he is going to hit the jackpot for us. The first round of the playoff would be a great time to do it.
Green Bay Packers
Mark this one as a shocker; Sam Barrington started ahead of A.J. Hawk against the Patriots. Barrington played 49 of 58 snaps while Hawk was limited to 27. The Green Bay defense played well so there is no reason to think the coaching staff will go back this week. I am not sure how much value Barrington is going to have going forward but this is certainly something we will be watching the rest of the way.
Kansas City Chiefs
Our watch list entering week thirteen included how the Chiefs were going to use Ron Parker. The answer is that he moved back to free safety with Phillip Gaines moving into the starting role at corner. Arizona has been a horrible matchup for most defenders with the only exceptions being safety and inside linebacker where the Cardinals are a little above average. Parker is a worthy start as a DB3 for most owners and a strong play for those who can use him as a corner.
Jasper Brinkley continues to work as a two down run stuffer so nothing has changed with his situation. He has however, posted decent numbers as a matchup based LB3 option. The Jets threw all of thirteen passes against Miami while rushing for 270+ yards. If you are in a deep league or are otherwise hurting at linebacker, Brinkley could prove to be a solid option this week and next. The Jets matchup seems to be a perfect fit and Minnesota gets Detroit next week. Brinkley went 6-1-1 in the first game with the Lions.
New Orleans Saints
Despite his struggles on the field in week twelve the Saints stuck with rookie Pierre Warren at free safety against the Steelers. He is not going to need a ticket to Hawaii anytime soon but the youngster looked much better in his second start. He played every down and finished with a respectable 4-3-0. Considering their record the Panthers are a surprisingly strong matchup across the board for our defenders and over the past five games they have arguable been the best matchup in the game for safeties. Kenny Vaccaro is a must play in this one as are Curtis Lofton and Cameron Jordan. Warren is worthy of some consideration as well. In fact, even David Hawthorne, who had 10 solo stops last week, and Junior Galette who has 7 sacks on the season, are worth consideration in many situations. field for a lot of snaps (92).
New York Giants
Stevie Brown finally returned to the starting lineup ahead of Quintin Demps in week thirteen. Brown played all 71 snaps at the position, finishing at 5-1-1 on the day. It is hard to trust that the Giants will stick with Brown and the matchup with Tennessee is not a good one, but he could be a good stash for week fifteen against Washington who has been a great matchup.
Devon Kennard impressed with his 3-0-2 stat line but he is still a 2 down player on most weeks. That could change this week however, as the Giants are getting thin at linebacker.
Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka are both done for the season and landed on IR this week. That means Demontre Moore gets his shot at the starting job the rest of the way. He could be a solid pickup and start this week against the Titans who have given up a lot of plays to defensive ends all season. In fact I like Moore over Jason Pierre-Paul this week as Pierre-Paul is likely to see most of the double teams.
Lawrence Timmons has a history of average production against he Bengals regardless of where the game is played. In two games versus Cincinnati last year he combined to go 8-5 with 4 solo stops in each game. With this game being in Cincinnati I am staying away from him this week. The Bengals have even been a poor matchup for outside pass rushers all season so owners in big play based leagues will want to look elsewhere as well.
Bobby Wagner looks healthy and his 9-1-0 versus San Francisco has his fantasy owners smiling. With the exception of defensive tackle, the Eagles and their fast paced offense have been a highly productive matchup for all our defenders. Wagner is a must start LB1 this week with K.J. Wright a solid LB3 option. while both of those guys have good value, no opponent has been a better matchup for the safety position. Starting in week nine, Houston safeties combined to go 9-10-0, Carolina safeties were 12-0-0, Green Bay 14-5-0, Tennessee 16-1 with a pick and in week thirteen Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox combined to go 15-6-0. Get Kam Chancellor and/or Earl Thomas into your lineup this week if you have them.
San Francisco 49ers
Everyone has been writing off Justin Smith as old and washed up this year. Let me just point out that Aldon Smith has now played two games. In those games Justin Smith is 5-1-2 with a forced fumble. I think this is not a coincidence.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Remember that matchup I pointed out for Jared Allen last week? That matchup goes to Michael Johnson this week. Obviously we cannot expect a 25 point game like the one we got from Allen, but if Johnson is ever going to have a big game for us, this is the week it is most likely to happen.
Michael Griffin was able to play with his sore shoulder in week thirteen but he was not the same player. It is not uncommon for guys to protect a bad shoulder or at the very least be less willing to put a hit on a runner if someone else is there to make the play. Thus it should have come as no surprise that George Wilson led the Titans in tackles a 7-2 in week thirteen while Daimion Stafford kicked in 5-1 as well. Griffin could be back to normal this week but shoulder injuries tend to linger and be aggravated easily. With all things considered, I really like Wilson as a strong sleeper start this week, especially if Rashad Jennings plays.
Last week I mentioned Phillip Thomas and right on queue Brandon Meriweather injures his toe giving Thomas an opportunity to get on the field. I would love to tell you that Thomas played well but the reality is that both he and Meriweather gave up big plays in the game. Meriweather has not practiced so far this week, Keenan Robinson has been limited with a sore knee and Ryan Clark suffered a stinger and has been limited. The moral to this story is that Thomas seems likely to make the start and he may have less competition for tackles if these guys are not 100%.
That is going to do it for the round one edition. May you all "Just Win Baby!" and be back for another helping next week.