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Here's a closely guarded secret to IDP success. Something I'm sure has never ever occurred to you.
The deeper into the season you get, the more important each weekly matchup becomes.
I know, it's a stunner—if you need a minute to collect yourself before we continue, feel free to take it.
Sure, it's great if you're 8-2 or 9-1 and barreling toward the postseason with plenty of margin for error. But for every team sitting pretty like that, there are three teams that are 6-4, 5-5 or 4-6. For those teams, this next month is critical. Peel off some wins, and it's on to the postseason tournament. Hit a skid, and that's that—no more fantasy football.
Of course, it's just when the pressure is at its highest that things inevitably go wrong. A key IDP contributor like Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks gets hurt. Or another slips into a statistical coma at the worst possible time.
At that point, a matchup or waiver play can make all the difference in the world.
And that's why this column exists—to help when help is needed the most.
EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Buffalo (vs. New York Jets)
The Buffalo Bills fell to the Denver Broncos on Monday, but the fault for the loss most assuredly can't be laid at the feet of edge-rusher A.J. Epenesa, who amassed three tackles and 1.5 sacks in the loss. The fourth-year veteran is amid the best season of his professional career. Per Alaina Getzenberg of ESPN, Bills defensive coordinator Eric Washington believes that Epenesa is simply coming into his own as a player.
"I think AJ's confidence is at an all-time high," Washington said. "I think his preparation has been outstanding. He's just doing a really great job; just he's playing with a lot of confidence. He's playing fast, he's playing ahead of the play, and we need that to continue, and if I'm a betting person, I say that that will continue with AJ."
Epenesa's 6.5 sacks have already tied his season high, and while he's not a big tackle producer, he has shown the ability to take advantage of a favorable IDP matchup. He gets one of those this week with the rival Jets, who lead the AFC in fantasy points per game allowed to defensive ends this season.
EDGE George Karlaftis, Kansas City (vs. Philadelphia)
As odd as it sounds, a compelling argument can be made that the Chiefs defense has been more responsible for the team's success in 2023 than the offense. A major reason for that success has been a pass rush keyed by second-year edge-rusher George Karlaftis, and as Jordan Foote wrote for Arrowhead Report, the numbers that Karlaftis has posted this season are truly impressive.
"Not only has he already matched his sack total from last season (six) in nine games, but he's recorded just one less quarterback hit and is four tackles away from his 2022 total," he wrote. "He has 44 pressures in 435 pass rush snaps — he logged 48 in 729 opportunities last year. That's a pressure rate jump from 6.6 to 10.1, which is quite an improvement. Karlaftis won't turn 23 until April, so the Chiefs banking on him being able to cash in on his potential apparently worked in their favor. This new-and-improved 'Furious George' might be here to stay with a better plan and a bit more flexibility as a defensive end."
However, as effective as Karlaftis has been, he still ranks outside the top 25 defensive linemen for the season in many scoring systems. Taking on the 8-1 Eagles might not appear the sort of fantasy matchup that IDP managers want to target—but believe it or not, the Eagles rank among the top 10 teams in the league in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to defensive ends.
LB Elandon Roberts, Pittsburgh (at Cleveland)
The Pittsburgh Steelers somehow manage to keep winning despite an offense struggling to move the ball and a defense wracked by injuries. One week after losing Cole Holcomb to a knee injury, the Steelers lost Kwon Alexander to a season-ending Achilles' tear. That thrust veteran Elandon Roberts into a role as Pittsburgh's defensive signal-caller, but edge-rusher T.J. Watt said on the team's YouTube channel that he's confident Roberts is up to the task.
"Roberts is an incredible player," Watt said. "I think he's done it for a long time. Just a guy that's a steady voice. He's a guy that feels like he's a starter from Day 1. So even when he came in (Sunday), it's not like we had to minimize the play sheet for him. He's been in the league a long time. He knows exactly what he needs to do. He's a thumper."
That Roberts is a thumper could be an issue for the Steelers in the long-term—he's more run-stuffer than a three-down sideline-to-sideline player. But right now, the reality is that the Steelers don't have much choice but to roll Roberts out there with a green dot on his helmet—and this week, he and Pittsburgh face a Cleveland Browns team giving up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to linebackers.
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