John "The Guru" Norton and Gary "The Godfather of IDP" Davenport are two of the most experienced and knowledgeable IDP analysts in the fantasy football industry. Every week during the 2022 season here at Footballguys, The Guru and the Godfather will come together to answer five of that week's most pressing questions.
Week 15 brings with it the first week of the playoffs in many leagues, and that means for the teams still alive, it's do-or-die time—win or the season's over. As the pressure and stakes ramp up in equal measure, the Guru and the Godfather have come together to discuss unsettled linebacker situations, playoff strategy, and the players who will define Week 15—for better or worse.
1. As the IDP playoffs begin, there are a number of unsettled linebacker situations across the NFL, including Cleveland, Tennessee, and the NY Giants. How should fantasy managers approach these teams, and are there any other dicey situations they should be aware of?
Guru: All three of those teams are short on options. Unless they grab someone out of the stands, Deion Jones, Monty Rice, and Jaylon Smith are all going to be in the lead roles for their teams. Jones and Rice made my sleeper list this week (see question five). Smith might qualify for that status as well, but I am concerned that he did so little (2-3) when the Giants played the Commanders two weeks ago. If Washington can get their running game going, Smith might be the top scorer of the three.
The Falcons have a risky situation at linebacker. When last we saw them in week 13, Troy Andersen limped off the field with an ankle issue. If he is still gimpy, Mykal Walker is a quality start for us. If Andersen plays, Walker’s ceiling drops considerably.
With Chad Muma returning to practice Thursday on a limited basis, the Jaguars starter next to Foye Oluokun. Presents a dicey situation. We might have a clearer picture of that one by game time, though.
Denzel Perryman is in a situation similar to that of Jones, Rice, and Smith, in that he is virtually the last man standing, or at least the only real option for his team. The difference here is that Perryman is a known commodity after playing every snap last week.
The ultimate dicey situation at linebacker is in Pittsburgh, where no inside backer has played 90% of the snaps in back-to-back games since weeks four and five.
Godfather: Anthony Walker. Jacob Phillips. Sione Takitaki. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. All four were three-down linebackers for the Browns at some point this season. All four are now on injured reserve. It has reached a point where Deion Jones and Tony Fields II are essentially the last men standing, but even then, there's a level of apprehension given how wildly the snap counts have bounced around at the position this year. Jones is the only one I'd have any confidence in starting this week, and even that call makes me uneasy.
When the Titans take the field Sunday in Los Angeles, Dylan Cole will probably be the defensive signal-caller. But despite playing over 75 percent of the snaps each of the past three weeks, Cole didn't post more than five total stops in any of those games. Meanwhile, Monty Rice piled up a dozen tackles last week against the Jaguars. This is a situation where less snaps and more tackles is the way to go—especially with the return of Zach Cunningham likely to land Cole back on the bench soon.
It's an easier call in New York. Jaylon Smith isn't a true every-down linebacker, and Micah McFadden has flashed at times as a rookie. But Smith played nearly twice as many snaps as McFadden in Week 14, and that gap is just too wide to ignore.
There are a couple of other situations that bear monitoring this week. In Jacksonville, Chad Muma had bumped fellow rookie Devin Lloyd from the starting lineup before getting hurt. Muma is practicing again though, so the second LB spot for the Jags is nice and opaque. It's also a bit difficult to trust Atlanta's Mykal Walker in Week 15—Troy Andersen was eating into his snaps before the bye, and the off week may have swung the proverbial pendulum that much farther…if Andersen is healthy.
2. Each week of the playoffs is a one-week season all its own, but from a big-picture perspective, is there advice you would offer IDP managers for the playoffs that differs from the regular season? Are there teams with multiple favorable matchups over the next few weeks?
Guru: Swing for the fence! During the season, I tend to stick with the dependable, high-floor type of guys. I always consider matchups, but during the season, I tend to play it on the conservative side, rarely picking up a player for one, matchup-based start, unless I have a bye or injury issue. When it comes playoff time, I approach it more like DFS and will put the best possible lineup on the field, even if it means grabbing guys off the wire if they have a great matchup.
There are no teams with a remaining schedule that knocks my socks off. Nor are there any teams that are a great matchup across all positions. There are, however, a few teams with two good matchups for certain positions.
Chicago has remaining games against the Eagles, Bills, and Lions. Philadelphia and Detroit have been strong matchups for linebackers, and the Bills are a great matchup for defensive backs. None of those opponents are strong for pass rushers. That works out well for the Bears, who have no pass rushers anyway.
Dallas has the Eagles and Titans in weeks 16 and 17. Both of those teams are strong for linebackers but not so much for anyone else. This week, the Cowboys have a Jacksonville team that can be a good matchup for all defenders on any given week but has not been consistent enough to get excited about for any position.
Cincinnati gets the Buccaneers this week and the Bills in week 17. Both of those teams will keep the Bengals defensive backs busy. So go get Cam Taylor-Britt but don’t play him against New England in week 16. The Patriots don’t throw the ball further than five yards these days.
Godfather: There are a couple of pieces of advice I'd offer IDP managers for the playoffs. That they sort of contradict one another is, um, yeah.
The first is simple enough—don't get cute. Yes, Foyesade Oluokun of the Jaguars has a poor fantasy matchup this week with a Dallas Cowboys team allowing the fewest fantasy points to linebackers. But you don't bench the NFL's leading tackler because of a bad matchup. Ever. The players who got you this far have been in the lineup for a reason. Don't succumb to the yips.
With that said, there's a balancing act of sorts involved here—because you need to know when to think outside the box in a single-elimination situation. High-floor IDP options are well and good if you fashion yourself the favorite in your playoff matchup. But if you are trying to save Sweet Polly Purebred from the clutches of Simon Bar Sinister, don't be afraid to shoot the moon with riskier upside plays. Losing by four and losing by 44 lands you in the same spot.
That was an "Underdog" reference. Damn, punk kids. Get off my lawn.
If actionable information appeals to you more than fortune cookie wisdom and old cartoons, then here you go. Kwity Paye and Yannick Ngakoue of the Colts should both benefit from two top-five matchups for defensive ends over the last three weeks of the season. Ditto for two of the linebackers mentioned earlier—Deion Jones of the Browns and Jaylon Smith of the Giants. Jaguars safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Andre Cisco are hardly household names in IDP circles, but they also have received a late gift from the scheduling gods.
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