In a perfect world, IDP managers wouldn't need this column as the playoffs get underway. Sure, maybe some would read it for kicks, but no one would need to seriously consider going to the matchup well in a must-win game.
Alas, fantasy football is most assuredly not a perfect world. Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes—and it doesn't care what week of the schedule it is.
Injuries are a constant issue, with players like Cincinnati Bengals edge-rusher Trey Hendrickson, Tennessee Titans linebacker David Long and Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James either missing Week 14 or getting hurt this past weekend.
Slumping players are a problem any time of the year. But now? All it takes is one bad stat line to end a season.
That's the rub, of course. Now that the playoffs are here in most leagues, the margin for error is out the window. The next loss is the last loss. The end of the line. Curtains on the season.
Given that, there isn't a player in this column that isn't a risky play. If they weren't, they wouldn't be in this column to begin with. I'd love to pepper readers with sure bets. But there aren't any—and the players who are closest to it are already every-week starts.
However, whether it's due to situation or matchup, the IDPs listed here of a real chance of keeping you in the fight in Week 15.
And just like a bad stat line can end a season this time of year, a fat stat line can make one.
DE Brandon Graham, Philadelphia (at Chicago)
After exploding for three sacks last week against the Giants (his second outing with 2.5 or more sacks in 2022), Graham is just one sack shy of tying a career-high in that category and 1.5 sacks shy of the first 10-sack season of his career—quite the accomplishment for a 34-year-old coming off an Achilles tear. Per Josh Tolentino of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Graham said he's glad to do whatever he can to help the Eagles reach their ultimate goal.
“I’m just happy at this age, I’m still trying to stay relevant, stay helping the team,” Graham said. “I feel like we’re hungry. I’ve got to make my rushes count. Once we stop the run, everybody knows our strength as pass rushers and how hungry we are to get out there and make them count. Our best ball is starting to happen now, late in the season, before we make our run. We’ve got so much more that we’ve got to accomplish. The ultimate thing is to get a ring. It’s a great season so far, but we’ve got to stay focused on the task at hand, and that’s getting a ring.”
With last week's outburst, Graham has worked his way into the top 25 at the position for the season. His relatively low snap share (less than 50 percent) admittedly adds some risk to trusting the veteran edge rusher. But Sunday, Graham and the Eagles face a Bears team that has allowed 42 sacks and the seventh-most fantasy points to defensive ends.
DE George Karlaftis, Kansas City (at Houston)
Karlaftis was a highly-regarded prospect in the 2022 draft—so much so that the Chiefs made the Purdue standout the 30th overall pick. As is often the case with even first-round edge-rushers, Karlaftis has had his ups and downs as a rookie. He told reporters that in his opinion, the key is to attempt to make each performance better than the one before it.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better every game,” Karlaftis said. “That’s what it’s been like for me: just try to improve every single thing. For me, it’s like making my layups. At certain times, I get opportunities to maybe make a sack or big play and help the team out. Sometimes I make them; sometimes I don’t. But at the end of the day, it’s just about getting better. It’s a marathon — not a sprint. So, it’s just about getting better — every day, every practice, and every game.”
After a mostly quiet season statistically, Karlaftis' numbers are starting to match his effort level—he has notched a sack in each of his last three games ahead of this week's trip to Houston. The Texans have allowed 33 sacks this season and sit inside the top 15 in fantasy points allowed to defensive ends, so four straight with a sack is well within reach.
EDGE Preston Smith, Green Bay (vs. LA Rams)
Not a lot has gone right for the Green Bay Packers in 2022, and a pass rush that is tied for the fifth-fewest sacks (24) in the league. That Rashan Gary leads the team in sacks despite not having played in weeks speaks to those struggles, but as Wes Hodkiewicz reported for the team's website, defensive coordinator Joe Barry said that veteran Preston Smith is more than capable of anchoring the Green Bay pass rush.
"He's what an outside rusher, a defensive end is supposed to look like," Barry said. "He's got all the attributes as far as the length, the size. But then he has the athleticism, he has the change of direction. Obviously, he's improved in all those things, being the veteran that he is now."
Smith's production this season has been pretty pedestrian—the 30-year-old has just 5.5 sacks, although he is on pace to set a new career-high in total tackles. With that said, Smith does have 16 tackles and two sacks over his last three outings, and Monday night he faces a Rams team that is tied for the league lead in sacks allowed this season with 46.
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