And then there were four. It’s Conference Championship weekend, which means just three games remain.
Three out of four quarterbacks in action on Sunday have won a Super Bowl in their careers. Only Andrew Luck has yet to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. He’ll get his chance to get into the big dance as his Colts face the Patriots on the road in New England. The winner of that contest will square off against the victor of the NFC championship between Green Bay and Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. That’s 49 if you don't happen to be a Roman soldier.
Editor's Note: There's a good chance Week 20 will be your first time playing a two-game NFL slate on FanDuel. Don't worry. RotoGrinders' "GiantBallOfOil" is here to help. Check out his advice (and his dig against our season-long friends) in: "FanDuel Week 20: We Need To Talk About Your Season-Long Fantasy League".
Just like last week, I’ll break down positional rankings by tiers for standard fantasy scoring, giving my thoughts along the way. Since there’s so much variety in playoff contests, I’ll try to be as general as possible. How to use them is up to you.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $2 Million Fantasy Football league for Championship Weekend's games. It's only $25 to join and first prize is $200,000. Starts Sunday, January 18th at 3:05pm ET. Here's the link.
1. Andrew Luck – IND (at NE)
What more needs to be said about Luck after his performance so far in the playoffs? Through two games Luck has racked up 641 yards and three scores through the air, adding 39 yards on the ground. Luck rose to the challenge last weekend in Denver, but he faces an arguably tougher task against a New England defense that is firing on all cylinders. According to Pro Football Focus, last week against the Ravens Chandler Jones racked up 10 QB pressures in 43 pass rushing snaps. Jones won’t make things easy, but Luck’s ability to evade and escape pressure makes him a good bet for 300 yards and two scores this weekend.
2. Tom Brady – NE (vs. IND)
The Patriots roll into the Conference Championship on the heels of an impressive come-from-behind victory that was largely due to Brady’s play. The veteran racked up 367 yards and three passing scores and also ran for his first touchdown since last year’s playoff loss to Denver. Of course, he put up these numbers against the Ravens’ hodgepodge secondary. This week he faces a much more polished unit that features Vontae Davis, who was arguably the best player on the field in last week’s win over the Broncos. Per PFF, Davis saw 11 targets throw into his coverage and allowed just five receptions for a meager 4.2 yards per catch while recording three passes defensed. Of course, the last time these two teams met, the Colts made Jonas Grey look like Jim Brown. Even in that contest Brady still managed 257 yards and two scores. He’s not a lock for 300-plus, but Brady offers a high floor this weekend.
3. Aaron Rodgers – GB (at SEA)
Playing with a bum wheel last week, Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three scores. Rodgers’ talent can’t be understated. But to put things into context, those numbers came against the league’s No. 26 pass defense. This week he faces the No. 1 pass defense. During the regular season, Seattle yielded a league-low 185.6 passing yards per game. While the Seahawks only recorded 37 sacks in the regular season, their pass rush has shown the ability to step up in the playoffs. Last week, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were frequently disruptive. Bruce Irvin and O’Brien Schofield also stepped up as pass rushers. This increased pressure bodes poorly for Rodgers, who was significantly less mobile last week. While Rodgers is the best quarterback of his generation, his fantasy ceiling is limited this weekend.
4. Russell Wilson – SEA (vs. GB)
You might be surprised to learn that last week was Wilson’s first three-touchdown performance of the season, and only the sixth time in his career that he threw for three or more scores in a game. Wilson attempted just 22 passes, but he was very efficient completing 15 for 268 yards. He also chipped in 22 yards with his legs. The Packers have been a mid-pack matchup for quarterbacks this season, but did manage to hold Tony Romo to 191 yards and two scores last week. Wilson’s numbers project to be in a similar range, giving him the lowest fantasy ceiling of the quarterbacks in play this weekend.
1. Marshawn Lynch – SEA (vs. GB)
Seattle gave Lynch just 14 carries last week, with the veteran posting a pedestrian 59 yards. While this isn’t an inspiring stat line, Seattle really didn’t need to lean heavily on Lynch in a game where they got big plays out of Jermaine Kearse and Kam Chancellor. It could be a different story against Green Bay’s No. 23 ranked run-defense. Last week, the Packers yielded 123 yards and a score to DeMarco Murray. Lynch posted similar numbers against the Pack in Week 1, with 110 yards and two touchdowns. The pickings are slim with just four teams in action this week, but Lynch is your best option at running back.
2. Dan Herron – IND (at NE)
2. Eddie Lacy – GB (at SEA)
It’s really close between Lacy and Herron, but the Colts running back gets the edge after he’s emerged as the Colts’ workhorse. In last week’s win over Denver, Herron played an eye popping 70-of-77 snaps, compared to just five for Zurlon Tipton (Trent Richardson was a healthy scratch). Herron was heavily involved in the offense, carrying the ball 23 times for 63 yards and a score and grabbing eight catches for an additional 32 yards. While his yardage total dipped from the Wild Card round, Herron's usage ensures a high fantasy floor this weekend against the Pats.
An asthma attack in last weekend’s frigid conditions forced Lacy from the game for much of the second quarter, yet the Packers running back still managed 110 total yards on 20 touches. With Aaron Rodgers banged up the Packers should again look to feed Lacy the rock. Seattle finished the regular season as the league’s No. 3 unit against the run, but Jonathan Stewart managed a few decent runs last week and finished the game with a strong 70 yards on 13 carries. Game script may not be in Lacy’s favor in this one, so volume could be an issue.
4. LeGarrette Blount – NE (vs. IND)
5. Shane Vereen – NE (vs. IND)
The Patriots running backs get their own tier below the top three options this week. As I mentioned in last week’s column, the uncertainty surrounding how Bill Belichick will use his backs creates a fantasy conundrum. Here’s last week’s running back snaps for the Patriots: Vereen 41, Blount 15, Bolden 12. Here’s last week’s running back touches for the Patriots: Vereen 5, Bolden 4, Blount 3. Despite seeing significantly more snaps, Vereen didn’t see an equivalently larger workload. Still, his involvement as a receiver resulted in the best fantasy numbers. This week expect New England to lean more heavily on their run game. In their last two meetings with the Colts, the Patriots have racked up a combined 480 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Blount is the Pats running backs most likely to get a heavy workload, but he’s still tough to trust given Belichick’s track record.
6. Robert Turbin – SEA (vs. GB)
7. James Starks – GB (at SEA)
8. Zurlon Tipton – IND (at NE)
9. Brandon Bolden – NE (vs. IND)
Turbin isn’t likely to see heavy usage this weekend, but he will spell Marshawn Lynch. Last week, Turbin managed 19 yards on seven carries. ... Starks saw 15 snaps last week, with most coming when Eddie Lacy was sidelined in the second quarter. He carried the ball five times of 16 yards and is in line for a similar workload this weekend. ... Tipton played just five snaps in the Divisional round after getting a surprising 12 touches in the Colts’ Wild Card victory. With the Colts leaning heavily on Dan Herron, Tipton isn’t likely to touch the ball more than a handful of times. ... Bolden played 12 snaps last week, which marked just the fourth time he’s topped 10 snaps in 2014. While he’s certainly capable of being “the guy” for Bill Belichick this week, it’s really tough to trust Bolden as anything more than a Hail Mary play.
10. John Kuhn – GB (at SEA)
11. Jonas Gray – NE (vs. IND)
12. Christine Michael – SEA (vs. GB)
1. Jordy Nelson – GB (at SEA)
2. Julian Edelman – NE (vs. IND)
3. Randall Cobb – GB (at SEA)
4. T.Y. Hilton – IND (at NE)
There’s a bit of a log jam at the top of wide receiver this week, but Nelson gets the top spot despite only see five targets in the Divisional round compared to 10 for Randall Cobb and 11 for Davante Adams. Volume wasn’t an issue for Nelson in the Packers’ previous meeting with Seattle this season, as he saw 14 targets, catching nine for 83 yards. In that contest, the Packers sacrificed Jarrett Boykin by putting him on the right side against Richard Sherman. They’re expected to do the same with Davante Adams this week with Nelson lining up mainly on the left against Byron Maxwell (who is questionable) or Tharold Simon. Advantage: Nelson.
While Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell found the end zone last week, Edelman actually led the Patriots with 14 targets, which was his second-highest total of the season. Over his last five games, Edelman has been targeted 62 times. Edelman’s yardage ceiling does rival the other three receivers in this tier, but his floor makes him arguably the safest play of the week, especially considering Vontae Davis is more likely to be on Brandon LaFell.
Cobb came up big for the Packers last week in a game script that set up perfectly for his skill set, recording eight catches for 116 yards. Interestingly, Cobb has only seen double-digit targets five times this season with all of them coming in the last eight games. With Adams drawing Sherman, there will be plenty of targets to go between Nelson and Cobb. Nelson’s big play ability makes him the slightly better fantasy play, but Cobb will see more than enough action to make him a strong fantasy asset, especially in PPR formats.
So far in this year’s playoffs, Hilton has seen 23 targets for a combined 175 yards. While it’s not the 327 yards and two scores he put up in the 2013 playoffs, he’s still proving to be a significant factor in the Indy passing game. Hilton offers some of the most explosive upside of any receiver in the league, but he’ll have his hands full with Darrelle Revis. However, Steve Smith showed last week that Revis is beatable. Still, the matchup is a tough one and it puts Hilton at the bottom of the top tier this weekend.
5. Brandon LaFell – NE (vs. IND)
6. Doug Baldwin – SEA (vs. GB)
LaFell continued his strong season last week with five catches on seven targets for 62 yards and the game winning score. He’s behind Edelman and Gronkowski in the target pecking order, but LaFell is the Patriots best receiving option outside the numbers. Unfortunately, LaFell tends to line up most frequently to Tom Brady’s left, which is Vontae Davis’ side. As I mentioned earlier, Davis is playing out of his mind right now.
Seattle’s conservative run-heavy offense doesn’t generate a lot of opportunities for receivers to put up big numbers. Last week, Baldwin and Luke Willson led the Seahawks in targets with four a piece. That’s just a tad under the 5.4 targets Baldwin averages over the last seven games. Over that span, he’s topped 55 yards twice and scored two touchdowns. Translation: His fantasy upside is extremely limited.
7. Donte Moncrief – IND (at NE)
8. Jermaine Kearse – SEA (vs. GB)
9. Danny Amendola – NE (vs. IND)
10. Davante Adams – GB (at SEA)
Moncrief has clearly established himself as the Colts’ No. 3 receiver ahead of Hakeem Nicks. However, he’s more like the fifth receiving option behind Hilton, Herron, and the two tight ends. Last week, Moncrief did see seven targets, which equaled Hilton’s total. However, he only caught two of them for just 32 yards. Moncrief figures to see plenty of Brandon Browner this weekend.
In one of last weekend’s biggest plays, Kearse snagged a Russell Wilson pass one-handed and took it 63 yards to the house. Kearse finished the game with 129 yards, but he did so on just three targets. That level of efficiency is nearly impossible to maintain, and Kearse’s numbers are almost certain to regress in the Conference Championship.
We also saw a huge performance last weekend out of Amendola, who doubled his regular season touchdown total catching five-of-six targets for 81 yards. Amendola was more involved in the offense with Edelman sidelined the last two weeks of the season, but he’s unlikely to see such heavy usage against the Colts.
Adams is yet another player in this tier coming off a big game but almost certain to regress. A big reason for the Packers' win last week, Adams racked up 117 yards and a score on seven catches. Unfortunately, he’s likely to be sacrificed this weekend in Richard Sherman’s coverage.
11. Reggie Wayne – IND (at NE)
12. Hakeem Nicks – IND (at NE)
13. Ricardo Lockette – SEA (vs. GB)
14. Kevin Norwood – SEA (vs. GB)
Despite playing 57 snaps last week, Wayne saw zero targets. Andrew Luck has target Wayne just six times over the last four games. ... Nicks did see two targets last week, but he played just 22 snaps. ... Lockette and Norwood will get more work with Paul Richardson on injured reserve with a torn ACL, though neither player warrants more than a deep desperation flier this weekend.
15. Jarrett Boykin – GB (at SEA)
16. Bryan Walters – SEA (vs. GB)
1. Rob Gronkowski – NE (vs. IND)
In a depressing year at tight end, at least there’s Gronk. Few players in the league are as dominant at their respective positions. Gronkowski has scored in each of his last four games, and is coming off a rock solid performance in the Divisional round where he posted seven catches for 108 yards in a moderately difficult matchup against the Ravens. Indy yields the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, and gave up 71 yards and a score to Gronkowski in their previous meeting this season. Gronk is by far this week’s top tight end option.
2. Dwayne Allen – IND (at NE)
3. Coby Fleener – IND (at NE)
In the Divisional round, we again saw Andrew Luck spread the ball around to his tight ends. Coby Fleener received six targets, with Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle each seeing four. Of course, Allen found the end zone and wound up posting the strongest fantasy numbers. That’s the most likely outcome again this week, as Allen is the preferred red zone target.
4. Luke Willson – SEA (vs. GB)
5. Andrew Quarless – GB (at SEA)
6. Richard Rodgers – GB (at SEA)
7. Jack Doyle – IND (at NE)
Willson caught all four of his targets last week for 29 yards and a score. That’s about his ceiling in the Seahawks’ limited passing offense. ... Both Quarless and Rodgers caught touchdowns in the Packers’ Divisional round win. It’s unlikely either player finds the end zone again this weekend, as the Seahawks have yielded just one receiving touchdown to opposing tight ends in their last eight games. ... Doyle remains involved in the Colts offense, but he’s far down in the pecking order and offers extremely limited fantasy upside.
8. Tony Moeaki – SEA (vs. GB)
9. Michael Hoomanawanui – NE (vs. IND)
10. Tim Wright – NE (vs. IND)
11. Cooper Helfet – SEA (vs. GB)
1. Seattle Seahawks – (vs. GB)
2. New England Patriots – (vs. IND)
3. Indianapolis Colts – (at NE)
4. Green Bay Packers – (at SEA)
1. Stephen Gostkowski – NE (vs. IND)
2. Steven Hauschka – SEA (vs. GB)
3. Mason Crosby – GB (at SEA)
4. Adam Vinatieri – IND (at NE)