As we are all gearing up for the semifinals in the playoffs, none of us got there by chance. At this point we are fairly certain who our week-to-week starters are, and are chomping at the bit on those borderline players or players we rely on labeled with the “questionable” designation. If you are like the rest of the fantasy world, every ten minutes or so, you are going online to see if you can find more out about a particular player’s designation, looking at the wire for a replacement, and in the worst case, waiting until Monday Night to find out for certain if a key player on your squad is active or not. On more than one occasion this season, I’ve been burned by the dreaded, surprise inactive or active designation, only to hit a wall or closet door in that moment.
This week, sadly my last piece for the season, I will gear all fantasy owners up for the semifinals by giving you some surprise non-starters and hopefully help you find one last diamond in the rough that is still on the wire in your league. At this point in the playoffs, the pickings are thin from the wire, but if you play your matchups correctly you will reap all the benefits. Throughout the season I have tried not to write about one player too often and provide sound fantasy advice, which I hope I have. This piece is designated for some of the most exploitable or avoidable matchups I could find, and hopefully it finds all readers with good intent and information. While this list comprises ten players, if you would like my opinion or analysis on another player, by all means, drop me an email or comment here and I will answer.
Besides, who wants that ever so elusive Title? (Hint: If the answer is “not me”, get out of the fantasy sports world).
Fletcher Cox- This has bad news written all over for Cox owners. Arizona is a very solid all-around team. They protect their quarterback, Carson Palmer, well and have found ways to establish a run game with rookie David Johnson looking like their feature back. Although fantasy owners have been dependent upon Cox to be their rock at DE this season, bench him this week as the Cardinals will dominate the Eagles defense with their offensive line and play selection. The one glimmer of hope for Cox this week could be versus the right side of the Cardinals offensive line, which is their weak spot. That side has been known to give up pressure-not necessarily sacks-on Palmer, but if that trend turns into sacks this week, it is possible Cox could nab a sack. Expect to see Cox double-teamed a ton this week to keep him at bay. (Photo courtesy of phillyinfluencer.com)
Rob Ninkovich- Owners should have mixed feelings about this matchup. Rookie QBs are generally matchups to exploit, but Mariota is a shifty, crafty one that can burn a defense and make less agile defenders miss. Chandler Jones is by far the most explosive and consistent defensive end on the team, and when Ninkovich is not recording a sack, he just will not produce for owners. Given the dearth of talent on the Titans, could Ninkovich record a sack or other meaningful stat? Yes, but starting him is risky as his value is strictly tied to his ability to get a sack.
Jaye Howard- The Ravens have 99 problems and Howard just made it 100 because he is gonna be munching on the Ravens QB all day, alongside linebacker Justin Houston (if active). The past 2 games, the Ravens have put up a combined 19 points. They have no run game and they have limited talent at receiver. It looks as if Matt Schaub is going to try to give it a go, but even if he does play, do not be surprised if Mallet also sees snaps on Sunday. Fantasy owners should be sure Howard is starting for them in the playoffs as he will produce in Week 15. (Photo courtesy of rantsports.com)
Jadaveon Clowney- Clowney is starting to mold into the pass rusher the Texans thought they were getting when they drafted him, and he is rounding into shape in time for fantasy owners to make a playoff run. He produced nicely versus the Patriots last week (seven tackles, two sacks) and there is no reason to believe he couldn’t post three sacks versus the Colts this week. The less-agile Hasselbeck has one TD, two picks, and 2 fumbles the past two weeks, and with Clowney’s explosiveness and violent hitting nature, the streak of fumbles and picks will continue, partly thanks to Clowney. He has a very high ceiling, and this could be his breakout game. Watch out!
Ryan Shazier- From a wholly defensive perspective, the Steelers pass defense is very generous in terms of letting opposing QBs score on them, but they are tough as nails versus opposing runners. Enter Denver, who has more of a game-manager QB in Osweiler and inconsistent play from their RBs, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, and this is a tasty matchup for Shazier. Honestly, the Broncos will need to get their RBs involved in the pass block game because their offensive line is horrible, and Shazier and Dupree are both rising stars on the Steelers future Iron Curtain. The bold prediction of the week: Shazier goes for one-and-a-half sacks, and a forced fumble versus the Broncos. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)
Stephone Anthony- Avoid Anthony this week because while he is the Saints leading tackler, he contributes little else and the Saints face a very pass-heavy offense in Detroit. The Lions apparently are allergic to the run game, or don’t know how to teach route running because none of their RBs will top 50 yards rushing, any given week. Without being able to rack up the tackles versus runners, Anthony will need to either try tackling a tight end one-on-one or cover a slot receiver, both of which could be a challenge for him this week. Safer options are better this week.
Dre Kirpatrick- Kirpatrick is the one player this week that could go either way. The 49ers struggle to move the ball with a week run game and limited arm QB, but their QB also does not throw a ton of picks. Kirpatrick may not have a pick on the season, but he is averaging one pass defensed per contest and will once more cover the opponent’s WR1s In last week’s loss versus the Steelers, he held Antonio Brown to zero scores, and given this week’s competition, he should have no problem covering whoever the 49ers lineup versus him. Given the matchup, I would avoid Kirpatrick as Gabbert does not make stupid mistakes, but nonetheless Kirpatrick could defend a pass or two, making him not completely obsolete. (Photo courtesy of cincinnati.com)
Ricardo Allen- Allen has quietly put together a solid season for fantasy owners and he will once more have an opportunity to rack up a pass defensed or two versus the improving Jaguars. Make no mistake about it, Bortles is a solid QB, and he has viable receiving options led by Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns; Allen will be key in stopping the pass game this week. A plus to his value is Allen’s ability to rack up the tackles from the corner position, where he has 52 on the season, leading all Atlanta corners. He may not put up spectacular numbers any given week, but playoff teams should at least consider starting him this week as he is a solid, steady producer from a fantasy perspective.
Jairus Byrd- Byrd has played well of late and it will be interesting to see how he helps in covering one Calvin Johnson this week, in what could be an offensive shootout. Opposing defenses are not throwing Byrd’s way, and for good reason; he’s a ballhawk, but Johnson is one of the elite receivers in the game and has the potential to beat any defensive back any given game. Historically, Byrd is one of those safeties that will rip your head off to get the ball, and that will not change this week. He will get his share of tackles. The question is, who will he cover, or will he be the equivalent of the center fielder, waiting to make the big play?
Bacarri Rambo- Since Week 10, Rambo has been ‘Rambo’ for fantasy owners as he has two forced fumbles, a recovered fumble, and six passes defensed, in addition to racking up the sacks. He is all over the field making plays and proved to be fantasy gold down the stretch for those owners who started him. Now, all of us lucky enough to be in the playoffs will be looking for that hot play to plug in and rely upon to carry us at a position if we need help. With a date with the Redskins on tap, it will be interesting to see if Cousins tries to reach 300 yards passing for the second straight week, or if Ronald Darby and Leodis McKelvin scare Cousins into not throwing as often. Either way, with his prowess and knack for making plays the past few weeks, Rambo remains a must start in the playoffs as he is showing no signs of slowing down when he is around the ball. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)
Kansas City Chiefs- This matchup is just too sweet not to take advantage of: an elite pass rusher (Justin Houston) and an emerging pass rusher (Jay Howard) versus a putrid offense that cannot score since losing their starting QB, Flacco. From a fantasy perspective, the Chiefs defense has been a top point getter, and if you own them, they will be the best defense this week, given the matchup and their knack for making big plays.
Minnesota Vikings- Last time the Vikings and Bears met, in Week 8 in Chicago, the Vikings gave up 20 points. This time around, they will give up half that, and the inability of Cutler to hookup with Jeffery has a lot to do with it. Without that element in the game, the Bears are completely reliant on Forte to move the chains and keep the offense going. Even with an emerging linebacker core headed by Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr (groin, questionable), and Everson Griffen a viable sack threat, the Bears will need to rely on Forte to expose the Vikings defense which currently ranks eighth versus the pass and opposing receivers, but 20th versus the run. If Cutler struggles early on, the Vikings will key in on Forte, making Jeffery a complete non-factor.
Been a pleasure this season guys, and enjoy the holidays and College Football Bowl Season. Hopefully these IDP articles have helped you dominate your defensive stats in matchups this week, and I am always open to recommendations for the next season.
Until next year.
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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.