Here we are in week fifteen with most leagues whittled down to the final four. It is all about matchups for those of us still in the hunt so much of this week's column will be looking at those situations.
I have gotten several emails and tweets this week about Rashad Johnson's vanishing act in week fourteen. He was on the field full time (all 68 snaps) in the same role he normally plays. Nothing seemed to be any different with the defensive scheme so all signs suggest that this was nothing more than a fluke result of the Chiefs offensive game plan. As I mentioned in last week's column, the Chiefs like to attack on the perimeter with their speed out of the backfield and their short passing game. I called out the Cardinals corners as strong matchup based options and Patrick Peterson answered with 8 solo stops and a sack, but I never dreamed that Johnson would be a complete no show. This week's matchup with the Rams is not a particularly strong one, but if you managed to overcome Johnson's goose egg, he should be back in your lineup for round two.
With Tyrann Mathieu out last weekend, Tony Jefferson was back as an every down strong safety. The matchup did nothing to help him in the box scores either, but if Mathieu is out again this week, Jefferson becomes a solid risk/reward play. The
Those who are still sitting on Kemal Ishmael may get a little more use out of him this week. William Moore left Monday's game early with a foot injury and was not able to return. He has not yet been ruled out for week fifteen but is not practicing as of Wednesday. Ishmael was also dinged and got a look from trainers but it did not look like a big deal. The Steelers running game is hitting on all cylinders and the Falcons run defense has proven to be vulnerable. Whoever starts at strong safety is going to have a lot of opportunity.
A lot of owners are looking at the matchup this week and thinking about sitting C.J. Mosley. Granted the Jaguars have been a hit or miss matchup over the course of the season. They were a miss in week fourteen but we cannot hold it against them that the Texans have no standout inside linebackers at this point. In their three games prior to last, Anthony Hitchens went 9-0-0, D'Qwell Jackson 5-8-1 with a fumble recovery and Jameel McClain 6-3-1 against them. If you are in the final four, Mosley is probably a big part of the reason. Unless you have a lot of excellent options I suggest you dance with the date that brought you to the party in this one.
Last week we had the league leading pass rush of the Bills against a Broncos squad that had allowed only 13 sacks on the season. Denver was the clear winner and have still allowed only 13 sacks. This week’s matchup with the Packers is not as tough but Green Bay has really been taking care of Aaron Rodgers of late. The Packers have allowed only 3 sacks to outside pass rushers since week 9 and are an even tougher matchup for interior linemen. Like last week, it is a tough call to sit Mario Williams in any situation and Jerry Hughes has been good to us, but we may want to look at our options.
Despite the blowout win that had the Saints in pass mode early, Charles Johnson was shut out in week fourteen. New Orleans has been a tough matchup all year. This week Carolina gets the Buccaneers who have been more box score friendly to opposing pass rushers. More importantly, Johnson has been hot with 6 sacks in the last nine games. I like his chances of adding to that total this week.
Strangely the Saints have been a better team on the road of late. Couple that with a Chicago defense that has been the cure all for struggling offenses, and you have a lot of opportunity for Jon Bostic and Ryan Mundy this week.
The Bears we do not want in our lineups this week are the defensive ends. Despite their struggles this year the Saints have continued to be stingy when it comes to surrendering sacks.
I am cautiously optimistic that the Bengals will play well against the rookie quarterback this week but as a 20+ year season ticket holder, I can tell you this team has a long history of jump starting careers. The game is in Cleveland so we do not have to contend with the stingy stats crew and I expect the Brown will try to run over Cincinnati as they did earlier in the season and the Steelers did in week fourteen. I am very comfortable trusting Vincent Rey as a high upside LB3 this week. It is also worth mention that George Iloka was 7-1-0 and Reggie Nelson 3-5 in the first meeting. Those guys could have a lot of opportunity again in this one.
Jim Leonhard has been nothing short of impressive since taking over for the injured Teshaun Gipson at safety. Leonhard was 4-2-1 with an interception against the Colts and is playing well on the field. Beware starting him against the Bengals though. Only one safety has recorded more than 4 solo stops against the Bengals all year.
It was somewhat of a surprise to see Rolando McClain back in an every down role in week fourteen. Both he and Anthony Hitchens were virtually every down linebackers with McClain actually seeing a few more snaps than the rookie. I still like Hitchens a little better in this matchup but it is noteworthy that both of these guys had good numbers when these teams met in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
A couple of weeks back there was some chatter about Danny Trevathan coming back before the end of the regular season. He was expected to start practicing on November 24th with hope of playing in week fourteen. That never happened and he remains on the short term IR. Even if he is activated there is no way we can trust him this week. That means Brandon Marshall is in line for another good game against the Chargers who have been a good matchup for inside/weakside linebackers.
Green Bay Packers
Sam Barrington made another start at inside linebacker and is doing nothing to make the coaching staff reconsider that decision. In fact, he may be making a case for a bigger role in the near future. Barrington was on the field for 46 snaps in week fourteen. He blitzed three times, played the run 23 times and dropped in coverage on 20 snaps. Versus the run he was strong but the interesting point is that he played well in coverage. Opponents are using a lot of their base schemes against Buffalo so Barrington could see upwards of 60 snaps this week. If that is the case, he should be a quality LB3 for those in deeper leagues. Dynasty owners should be looking to stash this guy.
Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are players that many of us have come to rely on, but we will want to dig for other options this week. The Patriots have allowed only 2.5 sacks to defensive linemen since week six and just 5 to all outside pass rushers (including 3-4 OLB) over that span.
Keep an eye out for info on the injury status of Jelani Jenkins later this week. He left Sunday's game with a foot injury and has not yet practiced this week. Jason Trusnik would be next up and could have some value as Koa Misi is also banged up and not practicing.
Everson Griffen has become an every week must start for us. This week we may also want to consider Brain Robison. Defensive linemen in general have been successful versus the Lions this season but left defensive ends have been particularly strong. Robison was 1-3-.5 in the first meeting. Since that time the Lions have faced four teams that run a 4-3. In those games they have allowed six sacks to left ends.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints gave us some news this week that is not matchup related. Sean Payton sent the team a clear message by cutting a receiver who was the star of the game in week thirteen and benching last year's first round pick Kenny Vaccaro who has struggled at time in recent weeks. Dynasty owners need not fear, Vaccaro will be back in the lineup soon and he will probably be a better player when he gets there. The question is, what will the Saints do this week against a Chicago offense that has been a quality matchup for IDPs across the board. Jamarca Sanford and Marcus Ball both saw a handful of snaps in week fourteen but it is hard to say which of them will get the call. The players who gets a little boost here is Pierre Warren. He has played solid football on the field since getting into the lineup and has been a good late season add for fantasy owners. I expect a strong outing from him this week.
I expect a big game from Curtis Lofton this week as well. With Brandon Marshall out, the Bears are going to look at Martellus Bennett a lot more. Lofton, Warren and David Hawthorne are the guys who are going to draw him in coverage most of the time. The guy who does not get Bennett will have Matt Forte which also means a lot of opportunity.
New York Giants
Stevie Brown made his second consecutive start in week fourteen. His numbers were nothing to get excited about but then not many defenders have posted good numbers against the Titans this year. That could change this week when New York faces a Washington squad that has been one of the better matchups for safeties.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jacquies Smith continues to impress with another big game (3-1-2) in week fourteen. If his 6 sacks over the past six games are not enough to convince you, consider that the Panthers have allowed 19.5 sacks to outside pass rushers since week seven and they will be without Cam Newton this week.
I am out of time so that is going to do it for this week. Best of luck in those semi-final matchups and may you all be back for one more week that matters.