It’s not easy navigating the murky waters of the fantasy season, but if you’re still reading this column, you’ve likely made it into the playoffs. Congratulations on your efforts, but simply making it in isn’t the end goal. To paraphrase Mike Singletary, we want winners.
In order to get to that ultimate promised land of the fantasy championship, we need to approach each week in the playoffs just as we have all season. That means sound fantasy football strategy where we attack the good matchups and avoid the poor ones.
Of course, fantasy is a game of information. So let’s get you caught up on the goings on from around the league before we take a more detailed look at the matchups for Week 14.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $2.25 Million Fantasy Football league for Week 14's games. It's only $25 to join and first prize is $250,000. Starts Sunday, December 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
The Low Down
The Cowboys used Anthony Hitchens as their lone every-down linebacker against the Eagles on Thanksgiving. Hitchens posted an impressive 12 total tackles (10 solo), giving him 38 tackles over the last four games. Those in a pinch at linebacker may want to take a long look at Hitchens.
It appears like Telvin Smith is going to stick as an every-down linebacker for the Jags. The rookie played all but one of the Jags’ defensive snaps in Week 13, posting double-digit tackles for the second week in a row. If he’s hanging around on your waiver wire, pick him up immediately. He’s a high upside LB2 for the stretch run.
Like we expected, Kenny Vaccaro rebounded against the Steelers, notching eight total tackles (five solo) and an interception. We weren’t quite as sure about Pierre Warren, but the UDFA posted another strong performance with seven total tackles (four solo). Warren appears to be locked into the starting free safety job, so he’s worthy of DB3 consideration in the fantasy playoffs.
Rookie Christian Kirksey put up a solid nine total tackles, but he didn’t play every-down in Week 13. Keep in mind that the Browns were on the road in Buffalo, so the Bills home stat crew likely had a little to do with Kirksey’s numbers. Craig Robertson was Cleveland’s only every-down linebacker and remains the only viable fantasy option.
The Packers used Sam Barrington as the starter at inside linebacker over A.J. Hawk. Barrington wasn’t particularly effective, but he did play 49-of-58 snaps. At this point Hawk is off the fantasy radar, and Clay Matthews is the only trustworthy fantasy linebacker in Green Bay.
Despite a strong matchup against the run-heavy Texans, Avery Williamson managed just one assisted tackle. While you can’t like that sort of production, Williamson did play every Titans’ defensive snap while Wesley Woodyard was in on just 34-of-72 snaps. Williamson played well, so I’m chalking this up as a one-game anomaly. Williamson remains a boom-or-bust LB3.
After getting benched earlier in the season, Stevie Brown is back in an every-down role for the Giants. Brown recorded a sack to go along with six tackles against the Jags. I’m not quite sure I’d trust Brown in my lineup just yet, but he is a player to monitor in Week 14.
Tahir Whitehead’s eight total tackles looks nice in the stats sheet, but don’t be misled. Whitehead is still rotating with Josh Bynes. Without an every-down role, Whitehead will be difficult to trust in the fantasy playoffs.
LaRon Landry remained in a situational role for the Colts in Week 13, playing 52 percent of Indy’s snaps in a rotation with Sergio Brown. It’s wise to continue avoiding Landry unless he regains an every-down role.
There’s still no movement with the San Diego linebackers. Donald Butler and Kavell Conner remain the base defense options with Manti Te’o rotating in on passing downs. All three should be avoided in the fantasy playoffs.
Anthony Levine has 19 total tackles over the last two weeks, but I wouldn’t rush out to pick up the converted safety. While his numbers look encouraging, Levine isn’t playing every-down. He saw 62 percent of the Ravens’ snaps in Week 12 and 58 percent this past Sunday. In a part-time role, Levine’s floor is extremely low.
In the continuing saga of Larry Asante, just one week after posting nine total tackles, Asante played just five snaps against the Rams. Hopefully you didn’t start him. That's twice we’ve seen this pattern from Asante in the last month. Avoid him like the plague in your IDP rosters.
With Lance Briggs on injured reserve, the Bears went with Jon Bostic as their lone every-down linebacker. D.J. Williams and Shea McClellin played along with Bostic in the base defense and Christian Jones rotated in on passing downs. Bostic produced a solid stat line of 11 total tackles (seven solo) on Thanksgiving. He’s the lone Bears linebacker worth owning and should be considered an upside LB2 for the fantasy playoffs.
Brandon Meriweather exited Washington’s loss to the Colts with a toe injury. Washington head coach Jay Gruden hinted that Meriweather could be out for a while. With Meriweather sidelined, Phillip Thomas will see an increased role. Thomas had five tackles in just 24 snaps in Week 13, and could be an intriguing flier for folks in deep leagues.
The Cards will be without Tyrann Mathieu for at least the next three weeks. Mathieu required surgery after dislocating and fracturing his thumb in the Cardinals Week 13 loss to the Falcons. He’s safe to drop in redraft formats. Those in deeper leagues may want to take a look at Tony Jefferson, as he’ll likely be in an every-down role with Mathieu out.
Anthony Barr was forced from the Vikings win over Carolina with a knee injury, and Gerald Hodges came on to replace him. Fortunately, Mike Zimmer said there was no structural damage to Barr’s knee, but he’s still being evaluated. At this point, Barr’s Week 14 status is up in the air. If he isn’t able to play, expect Hodges to start and play every-down.
With Lavonte David still sidelined for the Bucs, Danny Lansanah went nuts for 14 total tackles (13 solo). Mason Foster also played every-down and posted a modest six total tackles (four solo). David got limited work in last week, and was reportedly close to playing. We’ll update his status later in the week, but you’re going to want to get him in your lineup if he does manage to play. We’ll also have to keep an eye on Major Wright, who was a surprise inactive after being listed as probable with a shoulder injury.
Despite talk all week of Ryan Shazier’s return, the rookie linebacker remained sidelined in Week 13. It sounds like there’s a good chance he gets back on the field this week, but I wouldn’t recommend relying on him in the first round of the fantasy playoffs.
Likewise, Vontaze Burfict didn't suit up in Week 13. At this point, it’s almost a lost cause with Burfict. Even if he does return at some point this season, it’s going to be extremely tough to have faith in him.
Chandler Jones managed to get limited work in practice last week and actually traveled with the team to Green Bay. He didn’t play, but signs are pointing to a return for Jones just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Keep a close eye on his status if you own him.
Muhammad Wilkerson sat out the Jets’ Monday night loss to Miami with a toe injury. This type of injury can be tricky, so have a backup plan for this week if you own Wilkerson.
The Giants were again without Jacquian Williams in Week 13, so Jameel McClain remained the lone every-down option at linebacker. There’s a chance Williams gets back on the field this week, but McClain will retain upside LB3 value regardless. New York also placed Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers on injured reserve this week. Cue the Damontre Moore entrance music.
The Rams activated Chris Long from injured reserve/designated to return last week. He managed to play 40 snaps, notching a sack in the process. While this is certainly good news for the Rams, temper your expectations for Long’s fantasy stock. His sack came on his lone pressure of the day and he only managed two tackles. Long has a notoriously low fantasy floor and has left many a fantasy owner with a goose egg to show for placing their fantasy trust in him.
William Moore was also activated from injured reserve/designated to return this past week. The Falcons safety played every snap and recorded four total tackles. Those relying on Kemal Ishmael in recent weeks will want to cut bait. Ishmael saw only situational duties with Moore back in the mix.
We'll have to see if Danny Trevathan can get back on the field this week. The Broncos linebacker practiced last week, so there's a strong possibility for his return. With the way Brandon Marshall has been playing, I doubt he'll be demoted from subpackage duties, but it's never safe to assume rational coaching. If we catch any wind of what the Broncos plan to do, we'll post a news blurb.
Week 13 Pass Rushers
Jared Allen went off for two sacks on seven QB pressures against the Lions. ... Ziggy Ansah was a straight up beast posting a sack on an impressive 12 QB pressures. ... Brandon Graham played 24 snaps on Thanksgiving, recording a sack on four QB pressures to go along with four tackles. Hopefully he’s unleashed in a full-time role in 2015. ... Both Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril posted a sack against the 49ers, though Bennett was the more effective pass rusher with six QB pressures. ... Jerry Hughes struggled against Joe Thomas, but his fumble recovery and return for a touchdown salvaged the day for his fantasy owners. ... J.J. Watt continued to roll with two sacks on nine QB pressures against the Titans. We’re witnessing something special every time this guy takes the field. ... Sen’Derrick Marks had two sacks against the Giants, but they came on his only QB pressures of the day. I wouldn’t recommend picking him up, as that sort of conversion rate is impossible to maintain. ... Charles Johnson has a sack in six of his last eight games. ... Everson Griffen quite possibly single-handedly won a lot of fantasy contests last week. He not only put up two sacks, but also took a blocked punt to the house. ... Cameron Jordan notched a sack to go along with an interception and six total tackles. ... Of course, Justin Tuck posted a sack just one week after I bashed him for his lack of sack production. Despite the sack, he was only moderately disruptive in a good matchup, so I’d still recommend fading Tuck going forward. ... Robert Quinn tallied three sacks on Sunday, giving him nine on the season. ... Von Miller posted 1.5 sacks on seven QB pressures. ... Justin Houston accomplished the rare feat of sacking Peyton Manning. He’s an every-week start regardless of matchup.
Other Week 13 Observations
Both J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church recorded double-digit tackles against the Eagles. Keep exploiting this matchup with your defensive backs. ... Richard Sherman picked off two Colin Kaepernick passes, but don’t get carried away. Quarterbacks tend to avoid Sherman’s side of the field, which isn’t conducive to consistent fantasy production. ... I’m pretty sure Chris Borland isn’t human. He’s racked up 72 tackles as a starter over the last five games. ... Both Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown topped double-digits in the tackle-friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium. ... David Hawthorne posted an impressive 10 solo tackles against the Steelers, but he wasn’t playing every-down. Curtis Lofton remains the top fantasy linebacker in New Orleans. ... Jason Worrilds had his biggest performance of the season with 10 total tackles and a sack. Expect his numbers to regress this week, and don’t prioritize Worrilds on the waiver wire. ... Larry Foote took advantage of the strong matchup against the Falcons, racking up 12 total tackles (nine solo). ... The matchup wasn’t nearly as good on the other side of this contest for Paul Worrilow, so don’t be overly concerned with his stat line of four solos and four assists. ... Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower are trading strong fantasy performances. Consider both LB2s with LB1 upside. ... Brandon Marshall managed just six total tackles against the Chiefs, but keep in mind that the Broncos only had 35 tackle opportunities. That’s just over 17 percent of Denver’s tackles, which is very strong production. ... Jelani Jenkins, Reshad Jones, and Koa Misi all topped double-digits for the Dolphins thanks to the tackle-friendly Jets home crew.
While it’s a little too risky to trust Sam Barrington, you’re going to want to make sure Clay Matthews is in your starting lineup this week. He faces a Falcons offense that is currently the No. 1 for fantasy linebackers. ... Good news for Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis owners. The Saints yield the second most tackles per game to off line of scrimmage linebackers. ... You’re hoping Lavonte David gets back on the field this week against a Lions team that gives up the third most tackles per game to linebackers. If not, get Danny Lansanah in your starting lineups. ... Indianapolis seems to have found a run game with Dan Herron. That means good things for Craig Robertson this week. He’s a sneaky borderline LB2. ... Larry Foote gets another good matchup this week against the Chiefs. Lean toward starting him.
The Bills come at exactly the right time for DeMarcus Ware owners. They’re the top matchup for defensive ends, so Ware is in store for a good week. ... Upgrade Jurrell Casey this week against a Giants team that currently yields the second-most fantasy points per game to the position. ... I’m not huge on Justin Tuck, but this would be the week to roll the dice on him. The 49ers have yielded 20 sacks to defensive ends this season, which leads the league. ... If you’re looking to throw a dart this week, I’d recommend Jason Hatcher up against a somewhat suspect Rams offensive line that yielded a sack to the aforementioned Justin Tuck last week.
You have to love Week 14 if you own either Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas. The Eagles are the top matchup for defensive backs, so expect a big day out of both players this week. ... Only the Eagles yield more tackles per game to defensive backs than the Giants, so upgrade the Tennessee secondary. With Michael Griffin a bit banged up, George Wilson makes for a sneaky roll of the dice this week. ... Eric Weddle gets a primo matchup this week against New England. ... Reggie Nelson and George Iloka also make for strong plays against the Steelers. ... Green Bay has been a plus matchup for defensive backs this season, so go out and scoop up William Moore. ... You may also want to look at Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy up against the Broncos this week.
I’d look to avoid Jameel McClain and Jacquian Williams (if he manages to return this week). The Titans are currently the No. 32 fantasy matchup for linebackers. ... You’re starting Bobby Wagner regardless of matchup, but this isn’t the week to roll with K.J. Wright. The Eagles have been a rough matchup for linebackers all season. ... Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis get a downgrade this week against Washington. ... Likewise, you’re going to look to fade Josh Mauga against an Arizona offense that doesn’t yield a lot of tackles to linebackers and could be without Andre Ellington.
You may want to avoid Chandler Jones this week, even if he does get back on the field. The Chargers are currently the league’s worst fantasy matchup for defensive linemen. ... Charles Johnson has been on a sack streak as of late, but he gets a terrible matchup this week against Drew Brees and the Saints. ... Likewise, the Bucs defensive linemen will have a tough time getting to Peyton Manning. I’d lean away from Michael Johnson and Gerald McCoy this week. ... Surprisingly, the Texans have been a poor matchup for defensive ends, so fade Chris Clemons this week.
You’re going to want to avoid Malcolm Jenkins this week up against the Seahawks who are the worst fantasy matchup for defensive backs. ... The Raiders haven’t been much better, so look to fade Antoine Bethea in the Bay Area showdown between San Francisco and Oakland. ... While the Rams offense seems to be clicking, St. Louis has remained a poor matchup for defensive backs. I wouldn’t want to place my trust in Ryan Clark or Phillip Thomas this week. ... It’s also a good idea to avoid Robert Blanton up against the junior varsity Jets offense.