As most of us enter the first round of the fantasy football playoffs, it is almost always recommended to start your best players. Play at Your Own Risk is a list of fantasy studs that may fail to meet expectations based on the strength of his opponent.
QB Drew Brees (vs. New York Giants)
Brees is coming off one of the worst statistical games of his career, throwing five picks and no touchdowns in Thursday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The New Orleans Saints prepare to square off against the Giants and their 22nd-ranked pass defense. Don’t let their rank fool you, the Giants field one of the most intimidating defensive fronts in the league that include the likes of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul. This relentless pass rush will prove to be a tough task for an uninspiring Saints offensive line.
QB Cam Newton (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
There’s been no fantasy quarterback hotter than Newton over the last four weeks. The light switch has finally come on in what seemed to be a lost season for the second-year pro. This week, however, they face off against a stingy Falcons defense that has allowed 0.91 touchdown passes per contest. On the bright side, that same defense is surrendering 121.3 yards on the ground to go along with 13 rushing touchdowns on the season. With RB Jonathan Stewart shelved for another week, Newton will have every opportunity to run his team to a victory.
QB Tom Brady (vs. Houston Texans)
Brady is currently the No. 2 fantasy quarterback, only behind Robert Griffin III, while the Texans pass defense has experienced a decline since losing top-cornerback Johnathan Joseph for multiple games with a hamstring and groin injury. The bad news for Brady owners is that Joseph is expected suit up for Monday night’s showdown, and the Texans sixth-ranked defense, led by MVP-candidate J.J. Watt, will surely make Brady earn every yard.
RB Ray Rice (vs. Washington Redskins)
At one point this season, the Redskins defense were one to target when it came time to plug in a running back. Now, with 12 games in the bag, the Redskins are sitting pretty as the fourth-ranked rush defense in the league, allowing just 0.58 touchdowns and 91.5 yards on the ground per contest. To add insult to injury, the Ravens are headed to D.C., and if you haven’t noticed by now, they’ve been absolutely terrible on the road.
RB Michael Turner (vs. Carolina Panthers)
Turner has seen his production dwindle the past two weeks, ceding more than half of his touches to backup RB Jacquizz Rodgers. With concerns over Turner’s durability and lack of burst, in what would be a dream matchup for most running backs, just doesn’t sound too appealing this weekend for the aging back. The good news is that Turner still handles all the goal line work. The bad news is that Turner’s fantasy production is solely reliant on him finding the end zone.
RB Stevan Ridley (vs. Houston Texans)
Ridley has failed to top 100 yards in each of his last four games despite playing some of the worst defense in the game. The good news, however, is that he’s scored five touchdowns through five games. This week, he faces off against the Texans second-ranked rush defense that have allowed a meager 87.6 rushing yards per contest and only two touchdowns on the ground all season. Expect QB Tom Brady to move the offense through the air.
WR Roddy White (vs. Carolina Panthers)
White is coming off a one-catch effort at home against the Saints 30th-ranked receiving defense and the road only gets rougher when the Falcons square of against the Panthers top-10 receiving defense that have allowed only 1.25 receiving touchdowns per game. Couple that with White’s average of 6.98 fantasy points per game on the road this season, and you have a recipe for disaster. White was able to tag the Panthers for 169 yards on eight catches and two scores back in Week 4. However, he was able to snag seven catches for 114 yards against the Saints in Week 10, but followed it up by being held without a catch in their meeting in Week 14. Beware of the Falcons late season struggles!
WR Larry Fitzgerald (vs. Seattle Seahawks)
Fitzgerald has seen his fantasy value spiral thanks to a short list of uninspiring quarterbacks in Arizona. QB Kevin Kolb will continue to nurse his injured ribs while QB John Skelton plays just bad enough to keep his job from the inferior QB Ryan Lindley. This week Fitzgerald and the Cards travel to Seattle to face a Browner-less secondary. The Seahawks defense currently ranks fifth against receivers and shutdown CB Richard Sherman figures to shadow Fitzgerald all game. Only Chicago Bears CB Tim Jennings has a lower opposing quarterback rating against him than Sherman. Expect Fitzgerald to continue to struggle mightily this week.
WR Miles Austin (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
Austin has yet to silence concerns about his health this season, but for this week, he appears to be a full-go when the Cowboys face off against the Bengals 11th-ranked receiving defense. Austin has fallen out of favor in recent weeks with WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten dominating Dallas’ targets. The Bengals have allowed only 1.08 touchdowns through the air this year, so temper expectations a bit with the QB Tony Romo’s third option in the passing game.
TE Brandon Pettigrew (vs. Green Bay Packers)
Although Pettigrew could see an uptick in targets with WR Ryan Broyles and Titus Young, Sr. placed on IR, he’s never been one to find success against the division rival Packers. In three of their last four meetings, the Packers have held Pettigrew to 27 yards or fewer, and have kept him out of the end zone throughout his pro career. I’d look elsewhere for a plug-and-play TE this week.
TE Vernon Davis (vs. Miami Dolphins)
Davis was in my Owners Beware column last week. He simply cannot be trusted. When you see the guy, he looks like an absolute freak and would seem nearly impossible to matchup against, but opposing defenses have adjusted and found ways to make it happen. Ever since scoring four touchdowns through the first three games, Davis has cooled down greatly, only finding pay dirt once in the last nine contests. No matter the opponent, Davis remains a risky play for the remainder of the season.
TE Antonio Gates (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
Gates is averaging 2.63 fantasy points in his last three games, and has been a major fantasy disappointment to say the least. I wouldn’t expect things to pick up for him this week against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked receiving defense that’s allowing the fewest yards per game to receivers and the fourth fewest fantasy points to tight ends this season.