We’re heading into week 13, and again, if you’re still reading, congratulations on being playoff relevant. Whether you’re fighting for a final playoff spot or sitting pretty at #1, you’ve probably begun to think about how you want to handle playoff matchups. The trading deadline has passed in almost all leagues, so we’re left with waiver wire acquisitions and making the most of what we’ve already got. In our last playoff column, we evaluated individual players that had potentially strong matchups during the playoffs. Today we’re going to evaluate teams based on the totality of their week 14-16 matchups. We’re looking for outliers to target, and others to avoid, if possible. The playoff home stretch for fantasy football begins…now.
The only thing you don’t love about these three matchups is that all three opposing teams are good against TEs. So, if you were considering starting a Baltimore TE, forget it (that would be sarcasm). Outside of that, you love Flacco here, and these are very favorable matchups for Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, and Jacoby Jones. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce can’t be trusted in the playoffs, but if you’re forced to start Rice, be sure to skip his week 15 date with Detroit. I’m not sure anyone still thinks that Baltimore is an elite D/ST, but they do have an above average start at home in week 14 against Minnesota.
This team is a total dumpster fire…but who cares? They’re like the nouveau Jaguars, always playing from behind, and they still have some offensive weapons of note. All three matchups are advantageous for Case Keenum, and the Ben Tate/Dennis Johnson duo shouldn’t have much trouble gaining traction either. Neither JAX nor IND can cover Andre Johnson or DeAndre Hopkins, and it’s unlikely for Denver to care enough to do so in week 16. The return of Owen Daniels is impending, so we’ll go ahead and make a note here that DEN and JAX are both in the top 10 point allowed to TE’s. You can use Houston D/ST week 14 against JAX if you wish, but I’d avoid them otherwise.
It is clear that the Bengals offense goes as Andy Dalton goes. And in bad matchups, he generally stinks, because he’s an average NFL QB. However, he also showed his potential earlier this year in a 3 game explosion against NYJ, DET, and BUF. His playoff matchups are all favorable, and even if you’re not going to start him, it bodes well for the rest of the offensive pieces. The RB matchups here are slightly above average, but the scent of a passing game will surely open things up for Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, as both PIT and MIN are top 10 for most fantasy points allowed to RBs. IND is a dream matchup for WRs AJ Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu. Both IND and MIN are also top 10 for most fantasy points allowed to enemy WRs. If you’re feeling ballsy enough to start a Bengals TE, good luck to you, my friend. The ever-viable Cincy D/ST also has excellent bookend matchups against both IND and MIN, with an average game against PIT in the middle.
Green Bay Packers
Obviously a ton of this projection hinges on Aaron Rodgers making an eventual comeback from his broken left collarbone. There is some doubt about his ability to return for Thanksgiving, so I’m going to assume we see him on the field in week 14, at home against ATL. Rodgers should shred all three of these opponents through the air, rewarding owners who patiently held onto him. His return bodes very well for WR’s Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jarrett Boykin, who have all clung to fantasy relevance despite the inept play of the dreaded Tolzein/Flynn combo. All three matchups are excellent for WRs even if Rodgers wasn’t returning. Eddie Lacy and James Starks have to be licking their chops, eagerly awaiting the porous run defenses in ATL and DAL. Specifically, DAL gives up over 75% more fantasy points to RBs per game than NFL league average. You’re not starting a Packers TE in the playoffs; Don’t get cute and think about Brandon Bostick. You’re also probably not starting the Green Bay D/ST since they’re bad already, and these matchups aren’t favorable either. One more note: Mason Crosby is money. He’s still out there in a ton of leagues. Make sure yours isn’t one of them.
All three of the remaining games on the ‘Boys schedule sure do look like shootouts to me. Given the state of the Dallas defense, this means Romo will be throwing early and often, which bodes well for his fantasy numbers. Washington is an especially good spot for Romo, as they give up the third most fantasy points to opposing QB’s. Side note: You know who gives up the most? Dallas! CHI and WAS are obvious must-start games for DeMarco Murray, as neither defense could tackle an intoxicated grandmother. Of course, shootouts for Romo mean fantasy gold for his WRs and TE’s, and you’ll clearly want to be plugging Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and to a lesser extent Terrance Williams into your lineups. I don’t trust Miles Austin, ever, and neither should you. If you want to start Dallas D/ST in any of these potential offensive cornucopias, be it on your own head. I’m avoiding at all costs.
The Panthers, and Cam Newton specifically, have been rolling lately. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the roll is about to be slowed significantly. NO is in the bottom 10 in points allowed to enemy QBs, WRs, and TEs, and the Panthers play the Saints twice here. This is clearly bad news for Cam, but also for Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and whoever else the Panthers are trotting out there these days at WR (Ted Ginn?). The NYJ in the middle is a potential start for all the Carolina pass catching skill players, but not overwhelmingly so, and the talent available isn’t elite. I’m not certain you can trust any Carolina RB in the fantasy playoffs, but if you are forced to do so, go for the DeAngelo Williams / Jonathan Stewart / Mike Tolbert quagmire against the Saints, and not against the 2nd ranked run defense of NYJ.
New Orleans Saints
We discussed the Drew Brees conundrum a few weeks back. He probably has the worst fantasy schedule of any QB you could viably play in the playoffs. I was attempting to advise owners to sell super high a few weeks back, but easier said than done. If you have Brees, you’re clearly not benching him, but you will definitely have to keep expectations in check. Outside of their insane pass defense, CAR also sports a top 5 run defense. This should definitely give owners pause when considering whether or not they want to start riskier options like Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, or Mark Ingram. Personally, I’d hope you had better options, but would start Thomas over Sproles. Jimmy Graham is a stud and you’re starting him regardless, so it should please owners to know that CAR actually isn’t a terrible matchup against TEs. However, STL is. You could theoretically start the New Orleans D/ST against STL, but I’d certainly avoid them against CAR.
St. Louis Rams
There isn’t really a plethora of fantasy analysis to be had here, but I wanted to mention the Rams because of one guy: Zac Stacy. He’s been a total beast for the last 5 weeks, but sustained a concussion in week 12 and his status is unknown. Assuming he plays out the schedule, I don’t like his chances to carry owners to championships. He has a brutal matchup against ARI week 14, and below average matchups against NO and TB in weeks 15 and 16. These teams can also all cover the generally terrible STL WRs, so he’s going to see a lot of stacked boxes here as well. You’re not playing Kellen Clemens, and I can’t imagine risking Tavon Austin or Brian Quick either. And do I really need to mention Jared Cook?
These Cardinals have finally gotten their offensive stuff together over the last couple of weeks, but it’s too little, too late. These are all negative matchups for turnover-prone Carson Palmer, with Tennessee and Seattle at home being particularly poor. Bad Palmer means bad WRs, which is a clear downgrade for the prospects of Larry Fitzgerald and a late-emerging Michael Floyd. You can run on both STL and TEN, but can you really trust Rashard Mendenhall or Andre Ellington to deliver the goods in the fantasy playoffs? I certainly can’t. The most viable play coming out of the desert is the Cardinals D/ST, which make for an excellent start against both STL and TEN, and perhaps even against SEA if the Seahawks are benching their starters in week 16.
If you watched the Monday night tilt against the 49ers, you saw what I did: a team in total disarray. There were free rushers in the backfield on every snap, the timing of the offense looked hopelessly offbeat, and the coaching and play calling were absurdly poor. I don’t see how one can view that performance after the past few and not downgrade the offense, and relevant fantasy players Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, as well. You don’t need me to tell you that Redskins are hands-off against KC, but I would even be skeptical of ‘good’ matchups against ATL and DAL in weeks 15 and 16. To make matters worse, RG and the boys play NYG in weeks 13 and 17, which five weeks ago looked favorable but now looks negative due to the recent Giants’ surge. Alfred Morris remains the only Washington player I would freely start, because I just can’t trust this haphazard passing offense. Trust Kai Forbath if you must, but there are no situations where I would deploy the Washington D/ST in the fantasy playoffs. Maybe next year…