Championship week is upon us already. It is important this week to determine what your situation is. If you are an underdog it may be necessary to gamble on some high upside starters. If you are in an even match it may be best to gamble on a few positions but keep your studs and sure contributors in place. If you are a clear favorite however, do not make the mistake of feeling overconfident. This is not the week to slack off. Put your time in just like you would if you were in one of the other positions. The best strategy here may be to simply go with your normal starters, or as I say, dance with the date that brought you to the party. Ultimately you want make sure that you get at least some contribution from each starting spot.
The Cardinals are expecting to have Tyrann Mathieu back in the lineup this week. Some see him as a high upside guy but the Seahawks have been a below average matchup for safeties. Add the general inconsistency among Arizona safeties and the fact that he has not played for a while, and you have more than enough reasons to stay away from Mathieu.
Larry Foote has a limited upside but Seattle has been a solid matchup for inside linebackers down the stretch. He could serve as one of those dependable LB3 guys that we can count on for a contribution. I expect somewhere in the area of 10-12 points from him this week.
Most prognosticators are expecting a shootout between the Saints and Falcons this week. Both teams are hurting defensively and have high powered offenses, so this assumption seems logical. With significant players on both sides of the ball, there will be a lot of championships won or lost on this game. New Orleans has been an above average matchup for defensive backs for much of the season. Desmond Trufant has been productive in recent weeks and should be a solid start in corner required leagues. keep an eye on the injury reports for word on William Moore. If he is not going to play, Kemal Ishmael should also be in line for another quality outing.
The quarterback situation in Houston is questionable at best and could have a big impact on the production of Ravens defenders this week. It is a safe bet that the Texans will try to establish the run, but without much of a passing threat (Andre Johnson may be out as well), Baltimore will be putting an emphasis on stopping the run. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith proved last week against Jacksonville that they can still contribute well even with a bad matchup.
The other player I would look to start here in big play formats in particular, is Terrell Suggs. He has at least 1 sack in each of the Ravens last five games and 7.5 total over that span. The Houston offense may not run a lot of plays this week but chances are they will be behind early, so Suggs should have enough opportunity to get the job done for us.
Injuries at the corner position have the Ravens looking at Anthony Levine and Rashaan Melvin as their second and third corners. Levine put up good numbers in week2 twelve and thirteen but I do not think we can trust either of these guys with this matchup.
On last week's Podcast I mentioned that I was thinking of sitting Mario Williams against Green Bay because the matchup was poor. In the end I decided to take my own advise and stick with the guy that got me to the party. Williams did little before the injury to Brian Bulaga but in the end he made the play that won both me and the Bills a game. Early in the season the Raiders were doing an excellent job of protecting their young quarterback and they were right up there with the worst matchups for our pass rushers. A lot has changed down the stretch. The Raiders have now allowed 9 sacks to outside rushers since week twelve. There is no second guessing Williams this week and Jerry Hughes is also a worthy consideration.
The emergence of Latavius Murray has made Oakland a better matchup for inside/weak side linebackers in recent weeks but other than the 11 solo game by Chris Borland, they have still been average and somewhat inconsistent. We should still get a contribution from Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown but I am not expecting big numbers from either of them.
Panthers defenders get their shot at Johnny Manziel this week. If he plays like he did against the Bengals it could be an ugly day for Luke Kuechly owners. The Browns ran fewer than 40 offensive plays in week fifteen so opportunity was limited. While I do expect a better showing this week, I have been saying all along that Manziel is not an NFL quarterback. Kuechly is a must start against anyone but I would not want to roll the dice on Thomas Davis in this one.
On the other hand, Charles Johnson is a strong play and the team's defensive backs have a good chance at pulling in a couple of picks. I like rookie corner Bene Benwikere in particular in this matchup.
It is hard to say what the Bears will look like defensively in 2015 but for dynasty owners who are keeping an eye on developments, Jon Bostic was the team's every down middle linebacker against the Saints with Christian Jones working as a three down weak side backer and Shea McClelin on the strong side for early down.
As matchups go, the Chicago defense is spending a lot of time on the field these days. With the Lions in the mix for the post season, this could be another lopsided blowout. Jared Allen had a huge game against Detroit in week thirteen but the Lions were without left tackle Riley Reiff in that game. With Reiff back in action and the Bears seemingly having quit, I do not have such grand expectations. Sit Allen this week if you have any other solid options.
Jones had a big game against the Saints on Monday and Bostic has averaged 6-3-0 over the past three games. He went 7-4-0 the first time these teams met. I expect the Lions will crank up the running game just like everyone else has against Chicago in recent weeks, so both of these guys are likely to reach double digit fantasy points.
Denver has been a quality matchup for inside and weak side linebackers, and for defensive backs in general over most of the season. Over the past few weeks however, the emphasis has shifted from a wide open passing game to more of a run oriented approach. This has taken some opportunity away from opposing corners but has made tackle producing defenders even more valuable. In week fifteen for example, Chargers inside backers combined to go 14-5-0 while the safeties were 17-3-0 as a group. Cincinnati corners have had marginal value anyway so I would not look there this week regardless. What scares me about the Bengals safeties and linebackers is that the game is in Cincinnati where the stats crew hands out assists like candy at Halloween while acting like every solo tackle takes money from their paychecks. Emmanuel Lamur left the week fifteen game with a hamstring injury and could miss this week's game. I would not take a chance on him. Vincent Rey should be a busy man on Monday night but his stat line could be a backwards 3-8-0 or something of that sort. If your league gives equal value to tackles and assists, Rey is a quality near-must start. If assists are worth half a tackle as they are in most leagues, Rey should still have decent value but his upside takes a big hit.
Carolina has been a solid matchup for IDPs across the board this season. The problem for fantasy owners is figuring out which Browns defenders are going to have the value this week. With Karlos Dansby out of action, Craig Robertson has averaged 7-0-4 over the past four games, adding a couple of takeaways and a score. He will be in line for another solid outing if Dansby misses week sixteen. There has been some chatter about Dansby playing so keep a close eye on the injury/practice reports late in the week.
Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert were banged up against the Bengals and could miss week sixteen. Haden left the game with a shoulder injury and was not able to return while Gilbert was pulled for a possible concussion. If Haden sits, look for Buster Skrine to draw coverage duty on Panthers number one receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
With a total of 17-10-4 over the last six games, Desmond Bryant has been hot down the stretch. The Panthers pass protection has improved over their streak of dismal mid-season games so this is not really based on a great matchup, but I like Bryant to continue his hot streak this week.
Hopefully no one that is in a championship game is hurting horribly for a starting defensive end but for those folks in deeper leagues, I want to mention Jeremy Mincey this week. Dallas has a tough test versus the Colts in week sixteen but keep in mind that Indianapolis has allowed 11 sacks to defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers since week eleven while Mincey has recorded all 5 of his sacks in the Cowboys last eight games.
Danny Trevathan failed to finish yet another game in week sixteen and has finally landed on IR with his recurring knee issues. I am looking forward to hearing what doctor Bramel has to say about this situation but have to be wondering if there is not a much deeper and possibly more serious issue here.
Denver also lost Brandon Marshall to a mid-foot sprain in week sixteen and they do not expect to have him back for Monday night's contest. While this is great news for those of us starting Jeremy Hill, it is a big hit for those who have been counting on Marshall down the stretch. Considering that this game is in Cincinnati where the stats crew stinks, this may actually be a blessing in disguise for us. For those in deep leagues or dire situations, it was Todd Davis who came off the bench to fill in against San Diego. The team has given us no straight answers as of Wednesday so plugging anyone in here without confirmation would be a risk. Rookie Lamine Barrow and Corey Nelson could also be in the mix or Steven Johnson could possibly see a bigger role.
Green Bay Packers
Sam Barrington has already been on the watch list for the past few weeks and his season best 9-1-0 with have him on the radar of a lot more owners going forward. At a glance it might seem as if his role was expanded against Buffalo. Barrington saw action on a season high 85% of the Packers defensive snaps. A closer look however, tells us that he is still working mostly in the base packages. Barrington saw little or no work in sub packages and was on the field so much simple because the Bills do not use a lot of multiple receiver sets. That said, he is still looking good on the field both as a run defender and in coverage. The more I see of him the better I feel about his long term potential.
With the emergence of Barrington the Clay Matthews at inside linebacker experiment may be over. He was back in his normal outside linebacker role for most of the week fifteen game.
Chris Clemons has been generally inconsistent and has done little in the past two weeks but I expect a big game from him against the Titans. Tennessee have allowed a whopping 15 sacks to defensive ends and outside linebackers in their last four games. There is also the point that Jacksonville is beat up at defensive end. Andre Branch has already been ruled out this week and Ryan Davis seems to be on the doubtful side of questionable as of Wednesday. That could mean a few extra snaps for Clemons in this one as well.
Kansas City Chiefs
Josh Mauga has been a marginal LB3 option for us since taking over the every down role early in the season. With good matchups he has usually given us respectable production. The Steelers running game has been good to IDP owners down the stretch. Over their last three games Curtis Lofton was 7-3-0, David Hawthorne 10-0-0, Vincent Rey 6-9-0 and last week Paul Worrilow 5-6-0 against them. Mauga is not a big play guy but I expect quality tackle numbers from him in this matchup.
I generally like to avoid 3-4 outside linebackers as more than spot starters in balanced or tackle heavy leagues, but I like Justin Houston a lot this week. Not only is he the league's sack leader entering week sixteen, Houston leads all 3-4 outside linebackers in tackles. It will be a surprise if he does not reach 5 solo stops with a sack this week.
With all their injuries at linebacker we were speculating that either Phillip wheeler or Jason Trusnik would be the Dolphins lead man at the position in week fifteen. As it turned out that duty surprisingly fell to Kelvin Sheppard who finished at 7-3-0 with a forced fumble on the day. Both Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi were limited participants in Wednesday's practice. The Vikings have been an above average matchup for linebackers over the second half of the season so there is some value to be had here once we can confirm who is playing.
With Louis Delmas landing on IR the Dolphins shifted Jimmy Wilson into the starting spot next to Reshad Jones. Delmas had become a quality contributor for us in the weeks leading up to the injury, while Wilson was seeing action as the slot corner in nickel packages. Shifting into the free safety role, Wilson picked up right where Delmas had left off with a solid 5-2-0 versus New England. Minnesota has been an above average matchup for safeties in general so Wilson could be a quality sleeper start. At the least we need to be keeping an eye on him as this may well be his audition for the starting job in 2015.
Since losing their starting left tackle the Dolphins have struggled to protect Ryan Tannehill from outside pass rushers and particularly from right defensive ends and right outside backers. This is good news for owners of Everson Griffen who could be in line for a big day.
Andrew Sendejo got the call at strong safety for the injured Robert Blanton in week fifteen. Blanton tested his knee and ankle injuries with a limited practice on Wednesday and may be able to go this week. The Dolphins are a slightly above average matchup for safeties and Blanton has been solid for us pretty much regardless of matchup. If he goes we can consider him a dependable DB3.
New England Patriots
The Patriots quietly got Chandler Jones back on the field in week fifteen. It did not take long for him to knock the rust off as he finished with a mark of 4-3-1.5 and a forced fumble against Miami. It would be no surprise to see Jones and/or Rob Ninkovich with multiple sacks in this week's matchup with the struggling Jets.
New Orleans Saints
On the other side of that Saints/Falcons matchup that was mentioned earlier is Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. Lofton has been an every week start for most of us but Hawthorne is a player than many owners are not going to think about. He has been in and out of the lineup all year with minor injuries and has finally been able to get healthy. There are a couple of things to think about with Hawthorne if you are in need of a high upside LB3 this week. Over the Saints last three games he is 18-2-3 with a pass defended, and in the first meeting of these teams Hawthorne finished at 6-2-0.
We knew that Kenny Vaccaro had been benched heading into last week's action. What we did not know if exactly what the meant. It turned out to mean very little. Marcus Ball got the start and played basically the first quarter before Vaccaro went back to his normal role. This was little more than some saber rattling by Sean Peyton. Vaccaro finished at 2-2-0 on 44 snaps in the game so it is hard to say if Peyton was satisfied, but there has been nothing said that leaves us to believe Vaccaro will not be in the lineup from the start this week.
Regardless of what happens with the Vaccaro situation, Pierre Warren seems to be the guy to have here. New Orleans did a good job of shutting down the Bears offense and the linebackers did not allow much to get past them, but Warren managed to reward those of us who started him with a pair of picks. Atlanta will make the Saints secondary work a lot harder this week. I would not expect another interception but will be surprised if Warren does not give us quality tackle production.
New York Jets
Surprisingly the Jets went with Calvin Pryor and Jaiquawn Jarrett as their starting safeties in week fifteen, sending Dawan Landry to the bench. Landry still saw significant action in the game but was far short of an every down player. If you have been starting him, I would strongly suggest looking at other options.
The Raiders placed Sio Moore on IR this week. It is not so much that the injury is serious, but more a case that it is not going to heal in the next two weeks so the team elected to get another player on the active roster for the next two games. Former Ram Ray-Ray Armstrong got the start for Moore in week fifteen and should get the call again this week versus Buffalo. Miles Burris is the guy to have here but Armstrong could be solid as well with this quality matchup.
The Raiders I really like this week are Charles Woodson and Brandion Ross. Woodson is an every week must play so the solid matchup and injuries at linebacker are just confidence boosters. Ross on the other hand, has quietly posted 5 solo stops and a takeaway in each of the past two games.
Owners in big play based leagues will want to take a hard look at Brandon Graham this week. Trent Cole is going to sit with a hand injury so the Eagles pass rush rotation will be one player short. That means Graham will start and likely see a few more snaps than Cole normally would. We have been waiting a long time for Graham to finally get an opportunity. It is a nice addition that the matchup is a good one.
San Diego Chargers
The moment we have been waiting for in San Diego has finally arrived, sort of. With Donald Butler lost to a dislocated elbow, the Chargers finally put Manti Te'o on the field in a three down role. He was still on the sideline for a few snaps in the game but played 56 of 66 defensive snaps. Unfortunately, His numbers were a modest 5-1-0 despite the great matchup, so I would not get too excited just yet. San Francisco might have been a good measuring stick this week had they not lost both Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to injuries. If either of those guys play, Te'o could be a surprisingly solid LB3 option for us.
San Francisco 49ers
The hits just keep coming at the linebacker positions for fantasy owners and the 49ers. Red hot Chris Borland is going to miss week sixteen with an ankle injury. Nick Moody took over for him last week and is in line to get the start against the Chargers who have been a quality matchup for inside backers on most weeks. Moody is not going to post Borland like numbers but both he and Michael Wilhoite should put up contributors numbers for those in deep leagues or needy situations.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bradly McDougaled finished at 11-4-0 against the Panthers in week fifteen. He may not hit double digit solo stops again in week sixteen but an excellent matchup with the Packers gives him a good chance at posting quality numbers so long as Major Wright continues to be out of action. Wright did not practice on Wednesday.
in case you missed it last week, one of the things I did not get to was the fact that Danny Lansanah has been working at middle linebacker while Mason Foster has been out. Lansanah seems to be everywhere on the field when the ball is snapped and may be playing his way into an every down role in the middle in 2015.
That does it for week sixteen offering. May the funny ball bounce your way in the championship game. All that hard work and effort culminates this week as we try to Just Win (one more) Baby!