Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Let me set the scene for you. It’s the fantasy playoffs. Your team is relatively healthy, you played all the right guys and most of them did what they were supposed to do. But none of it mattered because your opponent had Le’Veon Bell and that was enough.
This happen to anyone else last week? Or maybe you were on the other side of it and had Bell rescue you from what should have been an early playoff exit. Bell is the ultimate game-changer, a high-volume stud peaking at a time when fantasy owners need him most. Having him could be the difference between going home early or celebrating a title.
With that in mind, let’s go around the circle and pick some potential league-winners. It could be someone obvious like Bell, or perhaps a late-season waiver add like Bilal Powell—anyone that can bring us to the promised land. So who do we like?
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): It's shaping up to be a fun (or potentially headache-inducing) week with so many good passing games on the road in potentially poor draws. We have New England going to Denver, Detroit at New York, New Orleans at Arizona, Indianapolis at Minnesota, Pittsburgh at Cincinnati and you can even tack on Tennessee at Kansas City. That provides a plethora of playable fantasy options in sub-optimal spots, at least on paper. We also have the Packers playing in potentially negative-degree temperatures with Aaron Rodgers battling a calf issue.
The running back situations in Buffalo and Atlanta both stick out to me. We mentioned this a few weeks ago, but LeSean McCoy has been every bit as good as anyone not named Le'Veon or David Johnson (when healthy) and should have a field day with the Bills big favorites at home versus Cleveland. It really is a dream spot for a run-heavy offense. I think you can even flex Mike Gillislee with some confidence this week.
Atlanta has scored the most points in the league at home and now they get the 49ers, who have allowed the most points on the road this year. Devonta Freeman disappointed last week as Atlanta took their foot off the gas and gave more carries to Tevin Coleman. But this is too good a spot to fade him and I like Coleman as well. He’s proven to be one of the best players in the league at finding the end zone. I wouldn't be surprised if both Atlanta backs end up as top-15 options this week. Having a guy like Coleman, who has perpetually been in the RB2/flex range, can really boost a lineup this week.
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): I like the McCoy call quite a bit. Even with Gillislee stealing touchdowns, McCoy has been no worse than the RB7 each of the last three weeks and is averaging 21 touches per game during that span. With 14 targets and 142 receiving yards over the last two weeks, he’s been operating as a dual-threat similar to Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson. On a roll and in a pristine matchup, McCoy should put up another big score. He is clearly the No. 3 option at running back this week behind the aforementioned Bell and Johnson.
If we’re talking league winners, look no further than Bilal Powell. If Matt Forte sits—it’s baffling the Jets would even consider playing him—Powell should be in for a big week. An explosive back who has averaged 5.8 yards on 78 carries this season, Powell should be a three-down workhorse with Forte out against a Dolphins run defense that is susceptible if a back can get past the first level. If he gets 20 touches, Powell is going to create some big plays and likely find the end zone Saturday night. He will be a clear top-15 option if Forte sits.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): I also have McCoy as the No. 3 running back this week. And I couldn't agree more about Coleman. He only needs 8-10 touches to have an RB2 day. He could take as few as 6-8 and still produce against the 49ers' No. 1,032 run defense.
Kirk Cousins could also be a matchup winner. He's the only member of this year's Steady Producers Club playing at home in a good matchup without any question marks. Even Matt Ryan will carry some risk if Julio Jones doesn’t play.
Bilal Powell will absolutely be a dividing-line player if Matt Forte sits. Whenever the Jets have given the majority of their touches to one back, it's been a no-brainer top-10 situation. Fire up Dwayne Washington if Zach Zenner (concussion) joins Theo Riddick (wrist) on the sideline.
Taylor Gabriel and Robby Anderson are both free-money WR3s for the fantasy semifinals. Dolphins No. 1 CB Byron Maxwell seems preoccupied with Brandon Marshall and Anderson is clearly Bryce Petty's preferred target.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): Powell sure has the look of a late-season waiver addition that will win leagues. We see this every year as unheralded players emerge in the fantasy playoffs and owners who swiped Powell from the wire will have a solid starting option on Saturday against Miami if Forte does indeed sit. As Ray alluded to, the 4-9 Jets shouldn't be rushing Forte back, leaving Powell as a potential workload hog to close out the season. Including last week, Powell has handled 15 or more touches nine times in his career, averaging 95.3 total yards in those games. With receiving skills and no backfield competition, Powell could help hoist fantasy hardware as the season comes to a close.
Pantuosco: You know who won’t be a league-winner? Thomas Rawls. Started that clown in two leagues and he burned me in both. What is Pete Carroll’s obsession with throwing the ball on the one-yard line? I definitely had a few choice words for my television watching that unfold last night.
Robby Anderson would have been my choice as well for most of the same reasons Pat just mentioned. Bryce Petty won’t throw to anyone else and he should have the easier matchup with Byron Maxwell putting his heart and soul into covering Brandon Marshall. Anderson has drawn a ridiculous 23 targets over the last two weeks. Petty must think he’s Mike Evans or something.
Waiver additions like Powell and Anderson can obviously be an enormous help, but more often than not, the season is won on draft day. Flash back to four months ago when we were weighing the pros and cons of drafting Le’Veon Bell and Tom Brady. I tend to eschew players with any level of risk, which is why I ended up with zero shares of Brady and Bell across all of my season-long leagues. Both players were facing suspensions and I didn’t want to punt the first few weeks, so I went with guys who I perceived as “safer.” Big mistake. Brady and Bell have been the two best players in real life and arguably fantasy as well. Maybe you took some lumps early in the year but if you somehow made it to the playoffs with one of those two on your roster, you’ll probably be laughing all the way to the bank.