The Wild Card round is in the rearview mirror, and now it’s on to the Divisional round. We have a lot of big name players in action this weekend, so let’s check out how they stack up against each other.
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 the Divisional Round Weekend's games. It's only $25 to join and first prize is $200,000. Starts Saturday, January 10th at 4:35pm ET. Here's the link.
Cornerback matchup data provided by ProFootballFocus.com
1. Aaron Rodgers – GB (vs. DAL)
2. Andrew Luck – IND (at DEN)
Rodgers tops the list at quarterback despite the injured calf. While he hasn’t practiced this week, the Packers have no concern over Rodgers’ status for the divisional round. This season’s top scoring quarterback in standard leagues, Rodgers posted an impressive touchdown to interception ratio of 38:5 in 2014. With Vegas projecting the Packers to score nearly 30 points, expect plenty of Rodgers against this Cowboys defense that yielded 323 yards last week to Matthew Stafford.
Luck is coming off an inspired performance in the Wild Card round where he made one of the prettiest throws I’ve seen all season on a 36-yard touchdown strike to Donte Moncrief in the third quarter. While that was his only passing score of the day, Luck still managed to rack up 376 yards through the air. That’s six yards more than Luck threw for when these teams played back in Week 1. Denver is a much different team in January than they were back in September. Their reliance on the run eats up a lot of clock, and this could somewhat limit Luck’s upside. That said, Luck is still a top tier play this week.
3. Peyton Manning – DEN (vs. IND)
4. Tom Brady – NE (vs. BAL)
What a difference a year makes for Manning. He posted the third-highest regular season touchdown total of his career with 39, but the Broncos have become a decidedly more run-oriented offense down the stretch. Over the first nine games of the season, Manning averaged 3.2 touchdown passes per game. Since then, he’s averaging just 1.4 per game, and he posted two games with zero touchdown passes. Those two games marked the first time Manning failed to find the end zone through the air since November of 2010. Manning’s yardage total has also dipped from 323.5 per game over the first nine games to 259.3 per game in the seven games since. Manning still has a high ceiling, but he shouldn’t be considered a top tier option this weekend.
While the Ravens are banged up in the secondary, they managed to hold Ben Roethlisberger in check last week. More importantly, their pass rush got to Big Ben early and often, racking up five sacks on the day. New England’s offensive line struggled as a pass-blocking unit this season. They’re going to have their hands full with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The tandem combined for 29 regular season sacks. Brady will have limited time to throw, but he should still get his share of opportunities. However, game script could end up limiting Brady’s fantasy upside.
5. Russell Wilson – SEA (vs. CAR)
6. Tony Romo – DAL (at GB)
Don’t expect Wilson to rack up the most passing yards this weekend. He finished the regular season No. 15 in that category, yet managed to post the third highest fantasy points among quarterbacks in standard scoring leagues. Of course, Wilson’s strength is as a rusher where he led all quarterbacks with 849 yards and six scores. Carolina’s defense has gelled down the stretch, but there’s little we can take from last week’s win over the Cards. Ryan Lindley simply isn’t a good measuring stick. Still, a limited passing ceiling and the potential for a Marshawn Lynch-heavy game keeps Wilson below the Top 4 options at the position this week.
Romo is playing some of the best football of his career. He took a huge step toward rewriting his narrative last week with a come-from-behind win against a tough Detroit defense. The matchup is slightly better for Romo this week, though he gets the unenviable task of playing on the road in Lambeau Field. Romo has only topped 300 yards passing once this season, and it’s unlikely he reaches that plateau in the forecasted frigid conditions in Green Bay this Sunday.
7. Joe Flacco – BAL (at NE)
8. Cam Newton – CAR (at SEA)
Say what you will about Flacco, but this guy knows how to win playoff games. Last week, he led the Ravens to a road win posting a respectable 259 yards and two touchdowns. However, he faces a much taller order in this one against a Pats defense that has gotten healthy at the right time. Chandler Jones returned in Week 15 after missing six games, and didn’t skip a beat. His presence could be especially disruptive if LT Eugene Monroe isn’t able to get back on the field for the Ravens. With New England yielding a combined six touchdown passes over their last six games, the fantasy prospects don’t look good for Flacco this week.
Newton struggled throwing the football last week, but still managed to get his first playoff victory as a pro. His reward is getting to face the Seahawks on the road. Joy. After a slow start to the season, Seattle steadied and enters the 2014 playoffs as arguably a better all-around unit than last year’s version that dominated the Super Bowl. The Seahawks yielded the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks in the regular season and only allowed one 300-yard passing performance (to Peyton Manning back in Week 3). It’s not fair to suggest Seattle will mop the floor with Newton, but he’s going to have a tough time posting viable fantasy numbers.
1. DeMarco Murray – DAL (at GB)
2. Eddie Lacy – GB (vs. DAL)
Facing the No. 30 matchup for running backs last week, Murray managed 97 total yards and a score on 22 touches. This week he gets a more fantasy-friendly foe in the Packers. Green Bay finished the regular season in the bottom 10 against the run, yielding an average of 4.3 yards per carry. With game time temperatures expected to be in the teens, expect the Cowboys to lean heavily on Murray. He’s in store for a big game.
The cold weather also bodes positively for Lacy’s fantasy prospects. The big back was a force down the stretch averaging 116.2 total yards and scoring five times in the Packers’ last six games. Dallas managed to contain Joique Bell and Reggie Bush last week, but the Cowboys have been susceptible at times to the run this season. Lacy projects to see 20-plus touches in this one, making him a strong fantasy play.
3. Marshawn Lynch – SEA (vs. CAR)
4. C.J. Anderson – DEN (vs. IND)
Lynch has played in seven playoff games in his five seasons with the Seahawks. He’s scored at least one touchdown in six of them and topped 100 yards rushing five times. He also enters the playoffs on a bit of a scoring streak, with a touchdown in each of his last four games. While his matchup is favorable, this game could get out of hand quickly. Vegas projects a blowout with the Seahawks currently favored by 11. Seattle rolled over their last two opponents in the regular season, and Lynch saw 10 touches in Week 16 and 17 touches in Week 17. Lynch is a strong play this week, but this concern keeps him behind Murray and Lacy this week.
With Ronnie Hillman back in the mix, the Broncos won’t lean on Anderson nearly as heavily as they did down the stretch. From Weeks 11-16, Anderson was on the field for 87.7 percent of Denver’s offensive snaps. That number dipped to just 46.2 in Week 17 with Hillman back in the lineup. To his credit, Anderson was very efficient with his touches in that contest, posting 87 yards and three scores on just 13 carries. However, it’s a safe bet that Anderson won’t see the volume we became accustomed to at the end of the season. For that reason, he sits just outside the top tier this week.
5. Justin Forsett – BAL (at NE)
6. Dan Herron – IND (at DEN)
7. Jonathan Stewart – CAR (at SEA)
Forsett had a rough day for fantasy purposes in the Wild Card round, averaging 2.3 yards per carry. The good news is that he played 50-of-57 snaps, which is his highest snap percentage of the season. Forsett has touched the ball at least 14 times in each of the Ravens’ last 12 games. Expect Baltimore to keep feeding him. That said, Forsett’s ceiling falls below the Top 4 options this week.
Herron looked great at times last week posting 141 total yards and a score on 22 touches. However, questions about ball security surround him after he fumbled twice in the Wild Card round. Chuck Pagano publicly supported Herron this week calling the running back a “playmaker” and saying Indy will “stay the course” with him. The Colts running back snaps from last week: Dan Herron 58, Zurlon Tipton 18, Trent Richardson 1. Expect Herron to again get plenty of run this week, but his leash could be short if he continues to put the ball on the ground.
Despite DeAngelo Williams being healthy, Ron Rivera didn’t revert back to his old faithful running back committee. Last week Stewart played 62 snaps and Williams played 7 snaps. Stewart continued to roll as the Panthers feature back, topping 100 rushing yards for the third time in the last five games and also finding the end zone. Unfortunately, he faces a Seahawks defense that has only given up one rushing touchdown in their last seven games. Only two running backs have topped the century mark against Seattle this season: Jamaal Charles in Week 11 and DeMarco Murray in Week 6. Stewart faces an uphill battle in this one.
8. LeGarrette Blount – NE (vs. BAL)
9. Shane Vereen – NE (vs. BAL)
10. Ronnie Hillman – DEN (vs. IND)
Bill Belichick is one of the toughest head coaches to predict, especially when it comes to the run game. Any one of the Patriots backs could go out and put up a monster day. We could also see the touches evenly distributed and no back post viable fantasy numbers. However, if you want to roll the dice on one New England back this week, Blount would be the top option. Since joining the Patriots five games ago, Blount averages 12.8 touches per game. While that’s not a big number, we could easily see north of 20 if the Patriots get out to a lead and turn to the power run game. Let’s not forget that Blount put up 166 yards and four scores in the Divisional round last year.
Vereen’s upside is much more limited, as are the chances that he emerges as the Pats’ go-to back this weekend. In the five games since Blount joined the team, Vereen averages just 5.4 touches per game. Of course, Vereen is much more likely to be involved in the passing game, which helps his fantasy value, especially in PPR formats. However, the unpredictability of New England’s offense puts a cap on Vereen’s fantasy value this week.
As I mentioned earlier, Hillman returned to play in Week 17 and was on the field in a nearly 50:50 split with Anderson. While Anderson outperformed Hillman, there’s no reason to think Denver will go away from this rotation. Hillman flashed upside earlier in the season, topping 100 total yards in three straight weeks in October. However, with Anderson remaining the lead dog, the volume simply won’t be there for Hillman to be a reliable fantasy option this week.
11. James Starks – GB (vs. DAL)
12. Jonas Gray – NE (vs. BAL)
13. Zurlon Tipton – IND (at DEN)
14. Bernard Pierce – BAL (at NE)
15. Robert Turbin – SEA (vs. CAR)
There’s a lot more uncertainty in this tier. Starks is second fiddle to Lacy in Green Bay and doesn’t project to get more than a half-dozen touches. ... I already discussed the unpredictability of the Patriots running backs. Could Gray emerge as the top back in New England this week? He sure could, but his chances are a lot lower than Blount’s or even Vereen’s. ... Tipton has 23 touches over the last two games, and looked decent last week. However, he’s unlikely to see significant touches unless Herron continues to have issues with ball security. ... Despite getting the vultured touchdown, Bernard Pierce played just four snaps last week. ... Turbin was essentially a handcuff all season, but he saw a combined 22 touches over the last two weeks of the season. He could see some work if this week turns into a blowout.
16. Joseph Randle – DAL (at GB)
17. Mike Tolbert – CAR (at SEA)
18. DeAngelo Williams – CAR (at SEA)
18. Trent Richardson – IND (at DEN)
Besides Week 16, the most snaps Randle played this season was 10. He’s unlikely to see more than a handful of snaps this week. ... Tolbert isn’t a threat for massive touches, but his usage in the red zone gives him slightly more fantasy value than Williams who managed just four touches last week. ... Richardson played just one snap and didn’t touch the ball last week.
20. Lance Dunbar – DAL (at GB)
21. John Kuhn – GB (vs. DAL)
22. Juwan Thompson – DEN (vs. IND)
23. Fitzgerald Toussaint – BAL (at NE)
24. Fozzy Whittaker – CAR (at SEA)
25. Christine Michael – SEA (vs. CAR)
1. Demaryius Thomas – DEN (vs. IND)
While Denver has turned to a decidedly more run-heavy approach on offense, you wouldn’t know it by looking at Thomas’ numbers. Only Antonio Brown posted more catches and receiving yards than the 111 and 1,619 Thomas racked up in the regular season. While the Indy secondary has been playing very well, Thomas is likely to get the lesser of two evils this weekend facing more of Greg Toler than Vontae Davis. Toler played well in the Wild Card round, but got absolutely torched in the Colts' Week 16 loss to Dallas when he yielded four catches on four targets for 100 yards and three touchdowns. In Week 1, Peyton Manning threw 10 targets into Toler’s coverage, which doubled the amount he threw at Davis. Expect Manning to again look more to Toler’s side of the field this weekend. Thomas is the top wide receiver play in the Divisional round.
2. Jordy Nelson – GB (vs. DAL)
3. Dez Bryant – DAL (at GB)
Nelson finished the regular season as the fourth most-targeted wide receiver with Aaron Rodgers looking his was 146 times. Among receivers with at least 100 targets, only T.Y. Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins averaged more than Nelson’s 15.5 yards per reception. This week, he’ll line up against Brandon Carr most frequently. Carr struggled most of the season and was targeted 10 times last week allowing eight catches for 105 yards. Nelson sets up well for a big workload this weekend.
After setting the league on fire over the last three weeks of the regular season, Bryant pulled a disappearing act in the Cowboys’ Wild Card win over Detroit. Bryant saw just three targets despite being on the field for all but four of Dallas’ offensive snaps. The Cowboys will need to get their stud receiver more involved if they want to advance. Bryant lines up most frequently on Tony Romo’s left where he’ll square off against Sam Shields. This is a beatable matchup, so expect Bryant to see significantly more work this week.
4. Randall Cobb – GB (vs. DAL)
5. T.Y. Hilton – IND (at DEN)
6. Emmanuel Sanders – DEN (vs. IND)
7. Julian Edelman – NE (vs. BAL)
Cobb saw fewer targets than Nelson this season, but managed to find the end zone an impressive 12 times. He enters the playoffs with 307 combined yards and two scores over the last three games. Primarily a slot receiver, Cobb will face Orlando Scandrick, who yielded seven catches for 79 yards last week (per PFF). In a potential shootout, Cobb should get plenty of opportunities to put up numbers.
In the Colts Wild Card win Andrew Luck targeted Hilton 13 times and Dan Herron 11 times. No other Colts receiver saw more than three targets. While Hilton only caught six of his targets, he still managed to top the century mark with 103 yards. Hilton moves around a lot, but will most frequently line up against Aqib Talib on Luck’s right. Talib is one of the league’s better corners, but he’s by no means a shutdown corner. This matchup is beatable, especially if Luck peppers Hilton with targets like he did last week.
Sanders was one of only seven wide receivers with more than 100 targets to catch over 70 percent of passes thrown in his direction. That efficiency propelled the former Steeler to 1,409 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. Unfortunately, Sanders lines up most frequently on the left side, which means he’ll see his share of Vontae Davis. The Broncos receivers do move around a lot, so Sanders won’t be stuck on an island. But his fantasy value is capped slightly due to the matchup.
Edelman missed the last two games of the regular season with a concussion, but he should be good to go following the Patriots’ first-round bye. Here are Edelman’s targets over his last six games: 10 – 8 – 14 – 7 – 10 – 9. Over that span, he’s averaged 84.2 receiving yards per game and scored three times. Edelman moves around the formation, but he could be especially efficient in the slot against Ravens CB Anthony Levine, who this season has allows a catch rate of 75 percent.
8. Brandon LaFell – NE (vs. BAL)
9. Torrey Smith – BAL (at NE)
10. Kelvin Benjamin – CAR (at SEA)
11. Steve Smith – BAL (at NE)
12. Doug Baldwin – SEA (vs. CAR)
LaFell emerged as the Patriots best receiving option outside the numbers, catching 74 balls for 954 yards and seven scores. He’ll see plenty of street free agent Rashaan Melvin, a big corner who struggled at times last week against the Steelers. ... Both Smiths saw six targets last week with Steve topping 100 yards and Torrey finding the end zone. Of the two, Darrelle Revis is more likely to shadow Steve, with Brandon Browner covering Torrey. This puts a damper on the elder Smith’s value, while the younger Smith hasn’t been efficient enough this season to warrant strong fantasy consideration. ... Benjamin lines up most frequently on Cam Newton’s left, which is not Richard Sherman’s side. Benjamin’s matchup is better against Byron Maxwell, but concerns over Carolina’s ability to generate offensive yardage against the Seahawks caps Benjamin’s fantasy value. ... Baldwin rounds out this tier as Seattle’s top receiver by default. His matchup against Colin Jones is strong, but Seattle simply doesn’t throw enough for Baldwin to have more than marginal fantasy value this week.
13. Terrance Williams – DAL (at GB)
14. Reggie Wayne – IND (at DEN)
15. Cole Beasley – DAL (at GB)
16. Donte Moncrief – IND (at DEN)
17. Jermaine Kearse – SEA (vs. CAR)
18. Wes Welker – DEN (vs. IND)
Beasley led the Cowboys in targets last week with eight followed by Jason Witten with seven and Williams with six. Of course, Williams had the biggest fantasy day thanks to his two scores. It’s tough to place too much trust in Williams or Beasley this week as their usage this season has been inconsistent. Williams will mostly see Tramon Williams, and Beasley gets a decent matchup against Micah Hyde. ... Wayne gets a brutal draw against Chris Harris, who graded out as the No. 1 corner out of 108 qualifiers this season Pro Football Focus. ... Moncrief could be a sneaky play this week in a plus matchup against rookie Bradley Roby. ... Kearse gets a somewhat tough matchup against Bene Benwikere, who has played surprisingly well down the stretch for the Panthers. ... The targets just aren’t there for Welker, as the veteran has seen just 3.5 per game over the Broncos’ last six.
19. Davante Adams – GB (vs. DAL)
20. Philly Brown – CAR (at SEA)
21. Hakeem Nicks – IND (at DEN)
22. Paul Richardson – SEA (vs. CAR)
23. Jerricho Cotchery – CAR (at SEA)
Adams has been on the field for an average of 77.8 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps over the last six games, but he’s only seen more than four targets once during that span. ... Brown saw six targets in just 29 snaps last week before exiting the game with shoulder injury. He’s considered day-to-day and draws Sherman if he manages to play. ... Nicks is no longer a starter and only figures to be in on roughly 30 percent of the Colts’ offensive snaps. ... Richardson saw six targets in each of the final two games of the season, but his upside is limited in Seattle’s run-heavy offense. ... Cotchery saw five targets last week, catching three for 14 yards. He draws a decent matchup against Jeremy Lane, but it’s tough to trust the veteran receiver.
24. Marlon Brown – BAL (at NE)
25. Danny Amendola – NE (vs. BAL)
26. Jacoby Jones – BAL (at NE)
27. Jarrett Boykin – GB (vs. DAL)
28. Kamar Aiken – BAL (at NE)
29. Dwayne Harris – DAL (at GB)
30. Ricardo Lockette – SEA (vs. CAR)
1. Rob Gronkowski – NE (vs. BAL)
Gronkowski was one of the few bright spots in an extremely dull year at tight end. He was especially effective over the second half of the season averaging 89.4 yards per game and scoring eight times in the Patriots final eight games. This isn’t the best draw for Gronk, as the Ravens defense has been able to hold tight ends in check. That said, Gronkowski is as close to matchup-proof as they come at the position. He’s hands down the top tight end play for the Divisional round.
2. Julius Thomas – DEN (vs. IND)
While Thomas racked up 12 touchdowns this season, nine of them came in the Broncos first five games. In the eight games Thomas has played since then, he’s averaging just 26.5 yards on 3.9 targets per game. Those numbers aren’t encouraging, but his matchup is strong. Indy yielded the third most fantasy points per game to tight ends this season, and it was against the Colts that Thomas went nuts in Week 1 for 104 yards and three scores.
3. Jason Witten – DAL (at GB)
4. Greg Olsen – CAR (at SEA)
5. Dwayne Allen – IND (at DEN)
6. Coby Fleener – IND (at DEN)
After floundering for much of the season, Witten has experienced a resurgence over the Cowboys’ last four games. During that span he’s caught 23-of-26 targets for a combined 271 yards and one score. Those aren’t massive numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but Witten offers a consistent high floor for fantasy purposes.
Olsen had good momentum entering the playoffs, but he managed a disappointing three catches for 37 yards in last week’s win. Seattle struggled against tight ends earlier in the season, but much like the rest of their defense they stiffened over the second half. Since Week 10, the Seahawks have yielded an average of 36.8 yards per game to tight ends allowing just one touchdown to the position.
Combine Allen and Fleener into one player, and he’d rank just below Gronkowski. Alas, we don’t have the technology or steady hands to pull off a procedure like that. As it stands, both players eat into each other’s production. Add to the mix Jack Doyle seeing three targets last week, and we have a mess for fantasy purposes. Allen gets the slight edge over Fleener due to his red zone presence. He’s the better fantasy bet this week against a Broncos team that has given up a touchdown reception to a tight end in three of their last five games.
7. Owen Daniels – BAL (at NE)
8. Luke Willson – SEA (vs. CAR)
9. Tim Wright – NE (vs. BAL)
Daniels saw five targets last week, catching four for a solid 70 yards. He’s unlikely to see much more volume, but can be efficient enough with limited work. ... Likewise, Willson doesn’t figure to see a big workload, as he’s averaged just 3.3 targets per game this season. But he did flash some serious big play upside in Week 16 when he got free for an 80-yard touchdown. ... Wright also doesn’t see enough targets to warrant more than a flier this week. His usage in the red zone is encouraging, but keep in mind that he hasn’t scored since Week 12.
10. Andrew Quarless – GB (vs. DAL)
11. Richard Rodgers – GB (vs. DAL)
12. Tony Moeaki – SEA (vs. CAR)
13. Ed Dickson – BAL (at SEA)
14. Crockett Gillmore – BAL (at NE)
15. Gavin Escobar – DAL (at GB)
1. Seattle – (vs. CAR)
2. New England – (vs. BAL)
3. Denver – (vs. IND)
4. Carolina – (at SEA)
5. Green Bay – (vs. DAL)
6. Baltimore – (at NE)
7. Dallas – (at GB)
8. Indianapolis – (at DEN)
1. Stephen Gostkowski NE – (vs. BAL)
2. Mason Crosby GB – (vs. DAL)
3. Dan Bailey DAL – (at GB)
4. Steven Hauschka SEA – (vs. CAR)
5. Adam Vinatieri IND – (at DEN)
7. Connor Barth DEN – (vs. IND)
8. Graham Gano CAR – (at SEA)