The fantasy playoffs are here, and as always, there were some potentially game-changing scores from some IDPs. Khalil Mack with his five sacks in particular stands out, while J.J Watt had one of his worst games of the year, failing to record a sack and being limited to three total tackles. The fantasy gods can be cruel, that’s for sure, but don’t take it too hard. In the PFF staff league I was knocked out by 0.7 points (182.9 – 182.2) and I had multiple players on my bench who scored higher than those I started, while in another league my highest scoring team in the league failed to make the playoffs, and has proceeded to top scorer the last two weeks as well. It happens to us all, and that’s probably part of why we love it. Best of luck to everyone this week. You’re always welcome to drop me a line and I’ll offer any advice I can, because as much as the annoying losses an elimination sucks, winning your fantasy league feels great, and helping others get that winning feeling is why I do this. Roll on Week 15…
Week 14 Observations
There was a pleasing look of familiarity at the top of the Week 14 top tacklers with the likes of Lavonte David (13), Reshad Jones (11), Tyrann Mathieu (11), Mark Barron (11) and Sean Lee (11) all having stellar weeks... Another name making a return towards the top of the tackle tables was Vontaze Burfict, who made 11 solo tackles last week in a fiery divisional game against the Steelers. Burfict wasn’t an every-down player because he missed time with a niggling injury during the game, but looks like he is ready to resume that role, perhaps as soon as next week… Cowboys duo of Barry Church and Rolando McClain joined Sean Lee with double-digit tackle games of their own, recording 11 and 10 total tackles respectively, although only five of McClain’s were solos. McClain is limited to being a LB3/4 playing alongside Lee as he isn’t making enough solos… Telvin Smith only managed a mediocre week by his high standards, posting just nine total tackles with Paul Posluszny sidelined with a broken hand. It’s thought that Posluszny will return this week, so anyone who used Jordan Tripp as a stand-in should be ready to drop him… Of the big four defensive backs, three had already mentioned double-digit tackle days (Jones, Barron and Mathieu). The fourth, Corey Graham, only narrowly missed out, notching nine. All four rank in the top 20 for all defensive players through the first 14 games, highlighting just how well they have been scoring, setting an interesting quandary for IDP gamers heading into next season – how high should they be drafted relative to stud linebackers? Deone Bucannon (nine total tackles this week) joins the big-four as a top 20 fantasy scorer, all though I’d rank him in a tier behind the big four with the likes of Harrison Smith and Morgan Burnett. Touching on his value for next season I’d be wary of Daryl Washington’s indefinite suspension ending, meaning Bucannon’s usage as the Cardinals middle linebacker would stop as Washington would fill that role. Similar concerns exist for Mark Barron, who plays the WLB spot in the Rams defense as LB Alec Ogletree has been injured for most of the year. Again, take note here as there are rumors that Ogletree might play (god knows why as the Rams are 5-8) in Week 17, which would result in a change of position for Barron, albeit it to likely slot in at safety where TJ McDonald is now on IR. Barron’s dynasty owners will want to closely watch Barron’s production from a traditional safety role, and bear in mind he could finally line up in a totally different position again in 2016 with Ogletree and McDonald healthy, and a coaching staff and front office change hanging over the poor performing franchise too… Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett has been sneaking under gamers’ radars since mid-season, but it’s time to take note. A high-quality young cornerback, an injury in his rookie season cost him the majority of the year, but he’s now 100% and showing what the initial hype was about. Since Week 8 Verrett has been a DB1, posting ten or more points in 5-of-6 games and had an impressive eight total tackles, an interception and a pass defensed last week. He’s a must start for the final two weeks in CB-required leagues, and is worth considering as a DB2/3 too… He’s been towards the top of the pile all season long, but D’Qwell Jackson seems to have found another gear over the last month, having scored 30.3, 18.3, 20.0, 22.5 over that span, pushing him to be the second highest scoring ‘backer so far this season.
Week 14 Pass Rushers
Few players, if any, can claim to be playing as well as Khalil Mack right now. He had a HUGE game last week for anyone who started him, recording an eye-watering five sacks, two hits and two hurries last week, also adding a forced fumble. That’s now nine sacks in the last three games, over which he has scored 84.4 fantasy points, more than Greg Hardy has scored all season… The matchups looked great for Justin Houston during the fantasy playoffs, but he was unable to go last week. His replacement, Dee Ford, had the game of his young career though, notching up three sacks and seven total tackles. Ford will be back into rotation duty behind Houston and Hali once the 2014 league sack leader gets healthy, but owners of the Chiefs edge-threats should be ready to play them for the next two weeks, whoever they are… It was very much the week for pass rushers, as other than Mack and Ford, the top eight scoring defensive players last week were all defensive lineman or 3-4 outside linebackers. Andre Branch surprisingly broke 30 points thanks to a couple of sacks, a forced fumble and recovery for touchdown. Branch is a very low floor, boom-or-bust player so only helped those of you in 16 or 32 team leagues I expect. Muhammad Wilkerson though should have started for everyone who owns him as he continued to have a monster season. His three sacks took his season total to 12, and he added a forced fumble and five total tackles for 29 points. The top eight scorers were rounded out by Kawann Short (26.5pts and two sacks), Aaron Donald (24.8 and three sacks), Jabaal Sheard (24 and two sacks) and Armonty Bryant (22.5 and two sacks). I wouldn’t want to start Branch, Sheard or Bryant in all but the deepest league in Week 15… Three additional players had multi-sack games; Nate Orchard (two), Akiem Hicks (two) and Jadeveon Clowney (two). Only Clowney has any meaningful fantasy value though, and really needs a DE designation to be rosterable in most leagues… There were a few names absent from the sack list last week who were unfortunate to be so. Cliff Avril (four hits, one hurry), Olivier Vernon (three hits, one hurry), Cameron Jordan (three hits, three hurries) are all still top-end pass rushers who will remain in the DL1 conversation each week… Calais Campbell had a bounce-back week with a sack and three tackles for loss. The Cardinals’ end is having a down season, falling well outside his usual spot in the top 10, mostly due to setting what looks like it will be a career-low sack total.
Guys I Like
The Raiders have matchups against the 6th and 5th best matchups for edge threats over the next two weeks, and Edwards has been a low-end DE1 since Week 5. Looking at the fantasy playoff schedule, 4-3 ends with decent matchups are a rarity for these next few weeks, so Edwards, with his high tackle floor, is a desirable pickup. Of course this means Khalil Mack should continue to be a stud as well over the final few weeks of the season. He’s a big-upside LB3, or mid-tier DL1 if available.
The Browns have been the most favorable matchup for pass rushers over the course of the season, while Bennett and Avril have been two of the most disruptive defensive ends. ProFootballFocus ranks Avril and Bennett second and third respectively for their pass rush productivity against fellow 4-3 ends (behind Ziggy Ansah) and I’m expecting big games from both.
Johnson has been in a rich vein of form, averaging 18.9 ppg over the last five weeks and Ford is coming off the back of a three-sack performance as the Chiefs travel to Baltimore to face the No.1 matchup for linebackers. Johnson should be a top-five linebacker this week.
Vontaze Burfict vs 49ers
Burfict has had seven or more total tackles in each of the last five games, and his first double-digit tackle day last week, despite still not playing an every-down role. Injuries prevented that on Sunday against the Steelers, so keep your eyes peeled for a fully revved up Burfict over the final few weeks of the season. He’s a borderline LB1 when playing a full quota of snaps, and has a top-line matchup this week.
Jaquiski Tartt vs Bengals
The hard-hitting 9ers safety has been a S1 since Week 7 and has scored more fantasy points over that span than Jon Cyprien, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins. San Francisco also has the most favorable fantasy schedule for safeties, highlighted by the No.1 matchup in Week 16. Coming off a season-best 18.8 points and a career-first interception, Tartt is a pickup with the intent to play him next week, although he is still just a mid DB2 this week.
Both Byrd and Vaccaro have been flashing some of their scoring abilities in recent games. Byrd has three double-digit scores in his last five games, while Vaccaro has five games with 10 or more fantasy points in the last nine weeks, although neither should be considered more than a boom-or-bust DB3. Even though Tartt’s matchup is significantly worst this week, I’d have him ranked above both Byrd and Vaccaro because he’s a more dependable scorer on a weekly basis, but the Saints duo have a higher upside because of their preferable matchup.
The Colts play the Texans this week who rank as the third most-favorable matchup for opposing safeties. Both players have DB1 upside, but more consistently post DB2 numbers in any given week (although cumulatively over a season their consistency pays dividends). Adams is the preferred option of the duo, averaging 12.7 ppg (higher than Johnathan Cyprien and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), enough to be a DB1 if playing a full quota of games, while Lowery averages 10.1 ppg (low-end DB2 numbers).
Guys I Don’t Like
Sheldon Richardson vs Cowboys
The Cowboys have been a horrible matchup all season, and Richardson needs downgrading. He has been moving up and down the DL2 ranks since his return with varying success, but looks to be a borderline DL2/3 facing such a stiff offensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson is un-benchable right now, and must be considered matchup proof.
Jared Allen vs Giants
Allen has flattered to deceive in last month or so. He’s not played badly per se, he just hasn’t produced the fantasy points that were expected, and last week’s decent real-life display that resulted in two quarterback hits, but no sacks, is worryingly similar to previous six weeks of zero-sack production. He has terrible matchups this week and next, so can’t be started. Charles Johnson I’m on the fence about, but he certainly isn’t a player I’d be plugging in with confidence.
Greg Hardy vs Jets
Hardy did record a sack last week (his first in three weeks), but it was his only play in the backfield all game, as he recorded no hits or hurries. Hardy hasn’t lived up to his top-end DL1 hype since his suspension ended, but equally he hasn’t been a bust either. A matchup against a stout Jets team is far from ideal, and Hardy will slip outside the DL1 tier this week.
Lavonte David vs Rams
No team has been a big a death knell for your fantasy linebacker than the Rams, who are by far the worst matchup in the league. David may have found his playmaking ways posting four games with 20-plus points in the last five weeks, but before that, between Weeks 1 – 9, David was a low-end LB2, showing he is indeed human. This will be one of those games when David doesn’t reach the LB1 heights he is used too, although only those of you in the shallowest leagues will have the luxury of potentially benching him.
William Moore vs Jaguars
Moore is suffering from two negatives this week – not only are the Jas a terrible matchup, but Moore has found himself in a part-time role for the Falcons defense. Playing around half of snaps in the previous four weeks, he was on the field for just six snaps last week. He can be released from your roster, let alone benched.