Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Playoffs Week 2


Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Playoffs Week 2

Knocked out of the playoffs already? 

It happens. Especially when big time injuries bite you like Andy Dalton and Thomas Rawls. 

But have no fear, football fans.

For there is a savior on the horizon. And he goes by the name of Chaz Whitehurst. 





He's so majestic (even though he's unlikely to start this week with Matt Hasselback listed as probable. But, hey, at least he's somewhat relevant again).

With the playoffs still going and likely a decent chunk of money at stake, it's not time to hold back. So we didn't with our picks this week. And neither did Enes Kanter with this shot...


So let's jump right into all the action this week with our starts and sits. As always, good luck this week. 


Javorius Allen, RB, BAL (vs. KC) - The matchup isn't great (Chiefs are a Top 5 defense vs. fantasy RBs), but more about volume and situation for Allen. Matt Schaub will hopefully be under center this week and the Jimmy Clausen experiment could come to a close and now Allen doesn't have to face the stout Seahawks defense this week. Plus, his volume has been out of this world since he took over full-time for Justin Forsett in Week 11. In the last four games, Allen has received 59 carries and 32 targets in the passing game (catching 26 of those). The Ravens figure to keep feeding Allen again this week and he is especially valuable in PPR leagues. (Tony Andracki)

John Brown, WR, ARI (@ PHI) - Brown has been an enigma all season, entering the year as a serious sleeper candidate and then promptly scoring in Week 1. But then he turned in pedestrian totals before a big 10-catch, 196-yard performance in Week 6. Then he battled a hamstring injury, put up a couple goose eggs and now has posted four straight good - but not great - games in a row. Expect this week to be a "great" outing, as the Eagles give up the most fantasy points to WRs this season. Brown is a must-play. (Andracki)

Jay Cutler, QB, CHI (@ MIN) - Cutler is coming off one of his best games of the season and finally has a relatively healthy group of weapons available. Tight end Zach Miller has been a revelation this season (even better than Martellus Bennett) and Eddie Royal has also returned and is another week along from a knee injury that cost him more than a month and a half. The Vikings have been torched pretty good by the pass the last couple weeks, so I'm expecting a 20+ point day from Cutler this week. (Andracki)

Tim Hightower, RB, NO (vs. DET) – It’s Tim Hightower’s backfield now in New Orleans, with his 28-carry performance last week as a good indicator that you’ve got a workhorse on your fantasy roster. Now he gets a Lions defense that been had against the run he’s a smart play. I also like Willie Snead (see below) as I think the Saints will be airing it out, but 28 carries last week says a lot. You want a high floor this week, and it’s Hightower’s backfield. Feel comfortable starting him. (Mark Strotman)

David Johnson, RB, ARI (@ PHI) - What's not to like about Johnson? The Cardinals offense is incredible and Johnson has been the biggest beneficiary since CJ2K going down. Andre Ellington isn't reliable at this point and Kerwynn Williams won't pass D. Johnson on the depth chart. Johnson also has major value in the passing game and against the Eagles, Johnson should feast. In a week filled with RBBC and other tough matchups, Johnson is a guy you must start. (John "The Professor" Paschall)

Matt Jones, RB, WAS (vs. BUF) – We’re on to the semifinals in standard leagues, meaning I need to find guys with high floors. I’m not trying to go boom-or-bust with my picks, as the potential rewards don’t outweigh the risk. You’ve gotten this far because you made level-headed decisions, and with Matt Jones receiving 18 and 19 rushes the past two weeks he’s a good bet to at least tough high single-digit points. The Bills are anything but an easy defense to run the ball against, but as long as Jones gets carries (and a few catches out of the backfield) you’ll enjoy his FLEX points this week. (Strotman)

Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA (vs. CLE) - I know Doug Baldwin has stolen the spotlight right now but how about Lockett lately? 13 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games is pretty good. He's also always a threat to take a punt return back for a touchdown. While you should never count on return TDs when you start guys, it's clear Lockett has a big time role in the offense now and against a horrible Browns defense that doesn't even have its best corner, Lockett should be in for another huge game. (Paschall)

Willie Snead, WR, NO (vs. DET) – In line with keeping guys with high floors, the targets Snead has seen (eight or more in four of his last five games) make me feel good about Snead at the very least having a chance. He made good on that chance last week, catching seven passes for 122 yards against Tampa Bay. He hasn’t scored since Week 9 in that wild shootout with the Giants, but that could change in what should be a high-scoring Monday night affair against the Lions. (Strotman)

Matt Stafford, QB, DET (@ NO) - It's the classic "Start the QB against the Saints" move. But it's valid with Stafford who has the weapons to put up big numbers. Monday Night also brings out the best in most players and I'm thinking this one will be a shootout. Megatron will rebound off an awful week last week and Stafford will be in a TD war with Drew Brees. If your QB was Dalton heading into the playoffs, Stafford is the perfect replacement this week. (Paschall)


Travis Benjamin, WR, CLE (@ SEA) - Top receivers don't do well against the Seahawks. It's not like the Browns have a lot of options to help distract the Seahawks away from Benjamin. It should be a long day for Johnny Football on the road and Benjamin won't provide much help. The speedster has had a nice year but this is a nightmare playoff matchup for fantasy owners. Stay away. (Paschall)

Dez Bryant, WR, DAL (vs. NYJ) - Revis Island. Matt Cassel. Bad foot. It's a recipe for disaster. Bryant has been awful since returning and it's really hurt fantasy owners. Don't let him hurt you again this week in what should be an awful matchup for Bryant. (Paschall)

Martavis Bryant, WR, PIT (vs. DEN) – I don’t feel great about this sit, but I can justify it because he’s going up against a Broncos defense ranked first against the pass. He didn’t show that big-play capability last week against Cincinnati, catching seven passes for just 49 yards. This game will have a grind-it-out feel, which could limit the Steelers’ vertical passing game. If you need to start Bryant, go on and do it. The dude is capable of going for 6 on any play. Just know the Broncos are for real and won’t make anything easy for him. Tough call here, but I may try and find someone with a higher floor. (Strotman)

Amari Cooper, WR, OAK (vs. GB) - Pick a number, any number. Your guess is as good as anyone else’s about how many fantasy points Cooper will put up this week. In his last five weeks he’s gone: 10.4, 0.9, 17, 8.2 and 0. Now he gets a Packers defense that, even with the Matt Cassell factor, limited Dez Bryant to one catch for nine yards. With Michael Crabtree emerging and Cooper dealing with a minor foot injury, it’s probably best to leave the rookie on your bench as you look to advance in the fantasy playoffs. (Strotman)

Frank Gore, RB, IND (vs. HOU) – Father Time is undefeated, and Gore hasn’t topped top carries since Week 9. He also hasn’t scored since Week 9 and has tallied double-digit points once in that span of four games. That doesn’t do enough for me to feel good enough on an offense led by Matt Hasselbeck facing that terrifying Texans defense. Gore had success against Houston in Week 5, but that was with Andrew Luck under center. Things have changed since then, and I’m not feeling good about Gore doing much with his 13+ carries. (Strotman)

Jeremy Hill, RB, CIN (@ SF) - The Niners have allowed the most fantasy points to running backs this season. But...almost all of that has come on the road. As The Professor pointed out to me this week, the Niners are actually pretty solid against the run at home (surrendering only 21.67 pts/gm compared to 35.3 pts/gm on the road). Hill is just so untrustworthy that you have no idea what to expect from him and there's a strong chance you wind up with a one- or zero-point fantasy day from him. Do you want that in the playoffs? I didn't think so. (Andracki)

Ronnie Hillman, RB, DEN (@ PIT) - The Steelers are almost as good as the Jets at limiting fantasy production from running backs (see below). The Broncos are STILL struggling to get their running game going and Hillman can't find any success lately (averaging just 3.0 yards per carry the last three games). With C.J. Anderson returning to health and the poor matchup, it's not worth gambling on Hillman this week. (Andracki)

Ryan Mathews, RB, PHI (vs. ARI) - Saying he's the best running back in Philly is nice and all, but when will he start playing like it? The Eagles backfield is such a mystery between Mathews, DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles that I don't know if there's one running back I can trust this week. Add on the tough matchup against the Cardinals and Mathews is heading to my bench. (Paschall)

Darren McFadden, RB, DAL (vs. NYJ) - Just don't start running backs against the Jets. Don't do it. Seriously. In three separate games this season, running backs have failed to combine for even 10 rushing yards against New York (Patriots RBs in Week 7, Dolphins RBs in Week 12, Titans RBs in Week 14). Oh yeah, and the Jets have allowed one rushing TD to RBs this season and none since Week 3. If you had Adrian Peterson going up against the Jets, sure, play him. But an inconsistent Darren McFadden playing amidst a pathetic Cowboys offense? Nooooo thanks. (Andracki)

First and Final Thoughts: Halfway through the AFC East

USA Today

First and Final Thoughts: Halfway through the AFC East

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on Week 7

J.J. Stankevitz: There’s no shame in losing to the New England Patriots, a franchise that’s lost on average about three games per season over the last nine years. The Bears, meanwhile, have nearly as many losses (26) in the last three years as the Patriots do in that span (28). But the more narrow view of Sunday’s game is more frustrating for this team that feels – and was – only a few plays short of not having to rely on a Hail Mary to Kevin White to even tie things up with time expiring. If Ben Braunecker doesn’t lose his footing on a blocked punt…or Mitch Trubisky leads Anthony Miller instead of underthrowing him in the fourth quarter…or if Prince Amukamara and/or Eddie Jackson tackle Josh Gordon for a 25-yard gain instead of 55…or Khalil Mack doesn’t get handled by Dwayne Allen on the last drive, etc. If the Bears miss the playoffs by a game, they’ll kick themselves more for the losses to Green Bay and Miami, but this one won’t be forgotten, either. 

Paul Aspan: Mitchell Trubisky missed too many throws, the Patriots quick passing game neutralized a hobbled Khalil Mack and the Bears pass rush, and the best team in the NFL for the better part of the last two decades beat a potential up and coming team that showed early signs they might be a playoff contender while still figuring out how to win. If any of this surprised you, you were probably also shocked by the sub 30-degree October temperatures in Chicago. The only real surprise Sunday was that the Bears allowed 14 points off Special Teams plays – the first time a team had allowed that to happen since…you guessed it!  The Bears allowed the Ravens to do it last October (the Rams also scored two special teams TD that same day against the Jags).

The Bears haven’t shown that they’re better than moral victories yet, so accept Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots for what it was. They held their own against a Super Bowl contender in a game they were never going to win whether you looked at it when the schedule first came out or tried to talk yourself into a W after a few too many Old Styles & Malort shots anywhere from the 3-1 Bye week to the 3-3 reality that was Sunday at 4pm. 

Cam Ellis: In more optimistic news, how about Bilal Nichols! He's shown a knack for finding the ball and for making big plays in big moments, which is wild considering he shares a defensive front with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Roquan Smith. He's been an absolute menace in the run game and been one of the few on the Bears' defensive side that have continue to play well as the unit struggles as a whole. He was the best player on the field for long stretches of time against the Patriots, and has seen his snap count go over 30 twice in the last three games, after starting off the year with 11 and six, respectively. Once the Bears' defense gets their act together, the addition of Nichols as a real threat is going to be a game-planning nightmare for other coaches. 

First Thoughts on Week 8

Stankevitz: The Bears *have* to win these next two games against the Jets and Bills – anything less than 5-3 will lead to an awfully uphill climb to legitimate playoff contention. The Jets had won two in a row before the Minnesota Vikings steamrolled them last weekend, but also haven’t played a road game in a month. A purportedly salty defense has allowed 30 or more points in three of its last four games, a stretch that began by allowing over 500 yards of offense to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sam Darnold has had some good moments, but perhaps what this Bears defense needs is to face a mistake-prone rookie quarterback. This week should provide the Bears an ideal opportunity for a bounce-back at home before going on the road to face an atrocious Bills team in Week 9. 

Aspan: Now that I’ve made more than enough excuses for the Bears loss to the Patriots, make no mistake: they have to win the next two games against the Jets and at the Bills if we’re going to take them seriously. The best thing the Jets do is run the ball, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Bears won’t allow Isaiah Crowell and a banged up Bilal Powell to pull a Frank Gore (101 rush yds in week 5) on them (PS: How bout Bilal Nichols!). That leaves the D to feast on a rookie QB, Sam Darnold, who is coming off a 3 interception game and has thrown a pick in all but one of his games this season. 

Speaking of a young QB throwing the ball to the other team….I’m not gonna do the Mitchell Trubisky - Patrick Mahomes comparison, who by the way, also missed enough throws against the Patriots to cost his own team a game, because what’s the point? How’s this for a fair bar to judge Trubisky: there are 10 games left in the 2018 season for the Bears. How many games in a row can he go without throwing a red zone pass that should be intercepted? I’ll set the over / under at 3.5 consecutive games (we’re currently at zero). If Trubisky is in fact learning from the last two weeks as we’re being told he is, then staying away from an awful decision in the red zone for four straight games is the least he can do.

But how many of you are actually taking the over on that bet? Yea, I’m not so sure either. 

Ellis: And now, a Take:

Since the Bears technically lost by one score and got really close to maybe tying the game (and go ask Justin Tucker how automatic PATs are), there was a lot of talk about moral victories in the immediate aftermath. If you want to say it's a moral victory, fine; it's your life and it's just sports and none of it really matters. But moral victories are just actual losses. There may be a good loss in the preseason, when you care more the process than the actual results -- but when your regular season is 16 games long, there is no good loss. The Patriots are good, but they went into Detroit and got smacked around by a Lions team that the Bears will be expected to beat. Chicago didn't play well enough to beat a Pats team that looked extremely beatable on Sunday -- there's no moral victory there. There's also this: 

The Bears are 3-3 and have lead by at least two scores in FIVE OF THEIR SIX GAMES. It's not a moral victory -- or a "new standard" -- when you're blowing three games in which you were up two scores. You're still just losing games. The Bears have the talent to win a division and have played well enough to at times. But there's no victory to be squeezed out of blowing a two-score lead, and there certainly isn't a silver lining to doing it three times in six games. Learn how to finish games. 

Film review: Why wasn't Khalil Mack an effective pass rusher against the Patriots?


Film review: Why wasn't Khalil Mack an effective pass rusher against the Patriots?

Khalil Mack was not 100 percent against the New England Patriots, a development that became abundantly clear over the course of the Bears’ 38-31 loss.
Mack rushed Tom Brady on only 16 of his 54 snaps, dropping into coverage more frequently (18 times) than he tried to get after the quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus. He didn’t record a sack or a quarterback hit, and while PFF credited him with two pressures, his impact was far more limited than it was in the first four weeks of the season.
So what went wrong? Was his ineffectiveness due to a bum ankle, or something Brady and the Patriots did?
The answer is somewhere in between, after reviewing the 15 clear pass rushing snaps Mack had (the 16th came on a pop pass touchdown to James White, and while it technically counts in PFF’s totals, there was no opportunity for anyone to rush Brady given he got rid of the ball in about a third of a second).
The blow-by-blow:
No. 1: Mack is lined up, as he was for almost all of these snaps, over the left side of New England’s offensive line. Tight end Dwayne Allen blocks him on play-action, which delays Mack’s rush a bit. While Brady takes about 2.8 seconds to get the ball out on a short pass to running back Sony Michel, the throw goes away from Mack, and he doesn’t have much of a chance on this play. Still, he isn’t able to beat Allen, which becomes a theme here.
No. 2: Left tackle Trent Brown has Mack singled, and immediately retreats as soon as the ball is snapped. But that’s by design — running back James White leaks out in the flat, and as soon as Mack engages Brown (instead of being responsible for covering White), Brady dumps the ball off to his running back for a gain of 14 yards. There wasn’t much Mack could’ve done differently here, though New England’s first drive of the game ends with Mack missing a tackle on a Julian Edelman touchdown.
No. 3: From the left, White chips Mack, and instead of engaging with Brown, Mack flows back toward the middle of the field as Brady throws a short pass over the middle. Brady needed just a shade under three seconds to get the ball out on this pass.
No. 4: This began as one of Mack’s better pass rushes of the game. With his hand in the ground on third-and-seven, Mack has a strong rush toward Brown and executes a good spin move on the left tackle. But Brown was able to re-set and re-gain leverage on Mack after the spin move, taking Mack out of the play. Leonard Floyd, rushing from the right, pressures Brady and forces him to scramble. But from the time Brady got the snap to when he decided to scramble, about 4.3 seconds go by.
No. 5: This was the fourth-and-one conversion from Brady to Josh Gordon. While Brady essentially stares down Gordon and leaves his blind side exposed to Mack, he throws the pass about 1.5 seconds after receiving the snap.
No. 6. Another quick throw that gets out in a second and a half. By the time Mack engages with Brown, Brady already has got rid of the ball.
No. 7: Allen motions from right to left near the goal line, with his responsibility to block Mack — though Mack doesn’t immediately rush at Allen. By the time Mack beats Allen, Brady — who was rolling to his left, toward Mack — is throwing the ball, though the pass falls incomplete.
No. 8: Mack is able to pressure Brady by knocking Brown back, and Floyd forces Brady to step up in the pocket. Mack dis-engages and goes back toward the line of scrimmage to chase Brady, forcing him to get the ball out quickly for an incompletion.
No. 9: Mack gets doubled on the left and is a non-factor. The sideline mic picks up someone yelling “get him, Leonard” but Floyd slips to the ground while one-on-one with backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Akiem Hicks, though, provides pressure up the middle and forces Brady to throw deep and out of bounds, though he had a little over three seconds to make that decision.
No. 10: Near the goal line, the Patriots go hurry-up from under center, and Mack is barely set when the ball is snapped. Roquan Smith and Bilal Nichols, though, quickly generate pressure up the middle, leading to the Bears’ only sack of the game.
No. 11: On another quick throw — Brady gets it out in about a second and a half — Brown throws his right shoulder into Mack, making sure he has no chance of affecting the play.
No. 12: Mack goes to the inside shoulder of Brown and picks up left guard Joe Thuney on a stunt with Eddie Goldman, which generates some pressure, but Brady makes a short throw a little under three seconds after receiving the snap that’s dropped by White.
No. 13: This was one of Mack’s most disappointing pass rushing snaps. Facing a third and two after Mitch Trubisky’s second interception, Mack is one-on-one with Brown and isn’t able to mount any pressure, allowing Brady to easily pick out White in about 2.2 seconds for a first down.
No. 14: Mack is lined up to the right this time but gets successfully chipped by Allen. By the time Brady throws the ball, Mack is about five yards from the quarterback, and this pass went for 55 yards to Josh Gordon, setting up a touchdown.
No. 15: Mack is one-on-one with Brown and doesn’t mount pressure, though Roy Robertson-Harris does, forcing Brady to make an ill-advised throw that’s picked off by Kyle Fuller.
Some visual evidence:

The verdict: New England did occasionally commit multiple players to Mack, but frequently it was only the left tackle (Brown) or the tight end (Allen) who were on him. And while Brady is a master of getting the ball out quick and protecting his body, he didn’t seem bothered by Mack at all.
The quick throws would’ve been part of New England’s gameplan if Mack were healthy, but chances are the Patriots wouldn’t have singled Mack as much as they did — and almost certainly not with a tight end. That Brown and Allen had the success they did blocking Mack (Allen, in particular, was excellent in blocking Mack while the Patriots were running the ball late in the fourth quarter) speaks to Mack not being 100 percent.
The Bears may not get Mack back to 100 percent in the near future, though Nagy said the highest paid defensive player in the NFL is “kind of a freak in regards to his health and how he goes and pain tolerance.” Chances are, Mack will continue to play — he’s never missed a game in his career — but if he does, the Bears need to get more production out of him, especially when there’s only one player keeping him from the opposing quarterback.