Puppies are cute. Babies (most of them, anyway) are cute. Fantasy owners in the playoffs, however, should not be.
Don’t do it.
If you advanced to the second round of the playoffs, congrats. If you didn’t, in the words of the hockey coach from Happy Gilmore, “Well, better luck next year!” I’m still here to help those who are still fighting for fantasy gold, but a good friend of mine, Denny Carter, reminded me an important aspect we tend to overlook.
It’s only a game.
Thumbs Up; Quarterbacks
Matt Ryan vs Washington Redskins: Ryan hasn’t finished as a top-12 quarterback since back in Week 12, but mark my words, that will change come Sunday. The Falcons are getting healthier, as wideout Roddy White is coming on lately. Over his last two games, he’s hauled in 18 balls for 217 yards. Ryan, meanwhile, is playing better and the offense is beginning to click. The matchup is ideal, too, as the Redskins are an imploding organization. Defensively, they are terrible, surrendering the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing signal callers. They are also coughing up almost two passing touchdowns per game this season, and six signal callers have finished as top-12 fantasy options against the Redskins. Ryan is a safe option this week.
Ryan Tannehill vs New England Patriots: Don’t look now, but Tannehill has finished as a QB1 in each of the last two games, averaging 27.52 fantasy points per game during that span. He’s attempted at least 33 passes in each of his last five games, and I think the success continues this week against a Patriots defense that falls in the middle of the road against the pass, but have been particularly susceptible lately. The Pats have coughed up at least two passing touchdowns in five of their last six contests, and have allowed Geno Smith, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Jason Campbell to post QB1 numbers against them since Week 7. Tannehill has also been using his legs more, running two or more teams in each of the last three contests. The volume will remain, as Miami currently airs the ball out 64.6 percent of the time, which is good for fourth-most in football.
Josh McCown/Jay Cutler @ Cleveland Browns: McCown is killing it, y’all. I mean, I almost don’t want Cutler to return. He’s been so fun to watch, but whoever starts on Sunday should have success against a Cleveland defense that has really tailed off from what they were in the beginning of the season. Since Week 7, the Browns have surrendered a whopping 16 passing touchdowns, surrendering over two per contest. Chicago’s weapons are outstanding, and even with Joe Haden shadowing Brandon Marshall, McCown/Cutler will still have plenty of people to throw the ball to.
Tom Brady @ Miami Dolphins: I don’t know what it is, but Brady just isn’t Brady against the Dolphins lately. During the first meeting between these AFC East rivals, Brady threw for just 116 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He hasn’t eclipsed 300 yards in his last three outings against Miami, and this pass defense is strong. Despite surrendering three touchdowns through the air last week, Miami is still just allowing 15 passing scores on the season, which is among to fewest in football. And, of course, the Rob Gronkowski injury is monumental. New England is averaging 1.8 offensive scores per game without Gronk in the lineup, compared to 3.6 when he is out there. Brady may be serviceable, but he won’t be an elite option this week.
Carson Palmer @ Tennessee Titans: Palmer has been very strong for fantasy streamers lately, posting at least 23 fantasy points in three of his last four outings. His weapons continue to get the job done and the offensive line is improving. However, I can’t trust him this week, or for the rest of the season. Tennessee’s pass defense has been extremely unkind to opposing quarterbacks, allowing just 15.74 fantasy points per game (5th-most) and just 226.8 passing yards per game (11th-fewest). I see a few turnovers in Palmer’s future this week.
Thumbs Up; Running Backs
Shane Vereen @ Miami Dolphins: Suga Shane is really, really good at football. I wish he was healthy all year, but he clearly is now, and fantasy owners have been reaping the benefits. With Gronkowski sidelined, New England will have to find ways to religiously get Vereen the football. I wish they would give him more carries, seeing just 23 over his last three games, but obviously, his presence catching the football is more than enough. Since returning to action, Vereen is incredibly third in the league in targets, only behind Andre Johnson and magical creature that is, Josh Gordon. During that span, he’s hauled in 23 balls, making for an elite PPR option. However, if he gets carries in this game, I like the matchup even more. Miami has struggled against the run all season, allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to backs. and New England is quietly 10th in rushing attempts this year (28.6 per game).
Montee Ball vs San Diego Chargers: Ball is 100 percent a safe flex option after his emergence lately. On Sunday, the rookie played a career-high in snaps (43) and posted a career-high in carries with 15. He totaled 77 yards and scored another touchdown in this game, and over his last two, Ball is averaging 14 carries for 97 yards. During that span, Ball has 32 touches on 67 total snaps. Denver is heading to the playoffs, which means they will try to keep Knowshon Moreno fresh. Ball should be a lock for 12-17 carries on Thursday night, where running backs tend to thrive. The matchup isn’t the best, but running backs alongside Peyton Manning see plenty of touchdown opportunity. Ball has also been a goal-line option for Denver, scoring four touchdowns over the last six weeks.
Ryan Mathews @ Denver Broncos: Mathews is playing like one of the comeback players of the year. He is 115 yards shy of 1,000 yards on the season, and the Chargers trust in him has rewarded him with more snaps. Over the last month, Woodhead has played 142 snaps compared to Danny Woodhead’s 109. The Broncos defense was strong against the run, but have tailed off lately, allowing 255 rushing yards and four touchdowns over the last two weeks. Mathews will get enough touches to make a dent during this Thursday night contest.
Ray Rice @ Detroit Lions: Rice posted just his third 100-yard effort on Sunday, as he continues his disappointing season. I wouldn’t expect a strong performance against a very stout Lions run defense, that despite getting decimated by LeSean McCoy last week, still ranks inside the top-10 in run defense on the season. Baltimore’s poor offensive line will get manhandled by Ndamukong Suh and company.
C.J. Spiller @ Jacksonville Jaguars: Many may look at the Jags and think a favorable matchup, but Jacksonville has been playing some inspired football lately. In fact, since Week 11, this unit has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs. Over the last five games, this unit hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher and has fallen outside the bottom-10 in fantasy points allowed to running backs. If you are expecting a massive bounceback performance from Spiller, I’d temper expectations a bit.
Thumbs Up; Wide Receivers
Jordy Nelson @ Dallas Cowboys: Please, for the love of fantasy god, let Aaron Rodgers play this week. When Rodgers was under center, Nelson was a top-10 fantasy wideout. However, he’s seriously regressed with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzein under center. He’s a must-start guy this week if Rodgers is under center, but even if he isn’t, I still like Jordy. Dallas’ defense is one of the worst I’ve seen in quite some time, allowing the most passing yards per game (298.5). Opponents are averaging 68.9 offensive plays per game this season, which is the sixth-most in football. Nelson is far superior to the struggling Brandon Carr, and I think he bounces back this week.
Cordarrelle Patterson vs Philadelphia Eagles: Patterson is quickly emerging into a viable fantasy starter, and if there was one week to roll with him, it’d be this one. The Eagles offense has been improving, but they are still very susceptible in the passing game. On the season, Philadelphia is surrendering 38.02 fantasy points per game to wideouts, which is the most in football. Patterson is averaging 47 snaps per game over his last four games, and has emerged into the Vikings secondary wide receiver, which bodes well for this week. The Eagles have struggled against number two receivers, allowing six secondary pass-catchers to finish as a top-12 option. Also, Patterson is an elite factor in the return game, sporting a league high 33.3 average and two scores. The Eagles were just torched by Jeremy Ross, and Patterson could do the same.
Stevie Johnson @ Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnson hasn’t posted the most enormous fantasy numbers, but his groin injury appears to be behind him and the target volume is there. Over the last five games, Johnson has seen a healthy 47 targets, so EJ Manuel is clearly looking his way. While Jacksonville has improved against the run, they are still struggling against the pass, surrendering 256 passing yards per game. They have also allowed ten wideouts to finish inside the top-20 in fantasy land, and according to Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars have struggled against wideouts out of the slot, allowing five scores. Meanwhile, Johnson is operating out of the slot over 70 percent of the time. Rich Hribar goes into more detail about Stevie’s Week 15 prospects.
Victor Cruz vs Seattle Seahawks: From my buddy JJ Zacharison, 38.5 percent of Cruz’s fantasy points in half-PPR leagues have come from two games this season. He has been terrible, along with the rest of the Giants offense. Meanwhile, Cruz has failed to find the end zone since Week 4, so the salsa has been few and far between. He gets the worst possible matchup in Seattle this week, a unit that is allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to wideouts. They have surrendered just 14 passing scores, the fewest passing yards per game (175.6) and despite missing some pieces, this unit is still quite elite.
Mike Wallace vs New England Patriots: Wallace didn’t have the “revenge game” many (including me) were expecting, and I don’t expect a breakout performance from him this week. The Patriots and Bill Belicheck are known for attempting to shut down the opposing number one weapon, and that would be Wallace. Corner Aqib Talib has been playing the position as well as anyone in football right now, and I don’t believe Wallace has the route tree to succeed against Talib in this game.
Thumbs Up; Tight Ends
Delanie Walker vs Arizona Cardinals: As long as he passes his concussion testing, Walker will suit up in Week 15 in the best matchup possible. The Cardinals have allowed 14 touchdowns to the tight end position this year, surrendering a league-high 18.12 fantasy points per game. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is more of a check down passer, which will benefit Walker in this great matchup. For those who lost Gronkowski, Walker should be the first replacement option on your radar.
Jordan Cameron vs Chicago Bears: It was awesome to see Cameron return to TE1 territory last week, as he had his best game with Jason Campbell under center. He gets a favorable matchup this week against a depleted and atrocious Bears defense that allows the eighth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends. Meanwhile, Cleveland simply cannot assemble any sort of run game, resulting in a league-leading 43.2 pass attempts per game this season.
Ladarius Green @ Denver Broncos: It pains me to list Green here, as he’s a burgeoning star, but his usage in the offense is too difficult to predict. After seeing an uptick in snaps during the prior four weeks, Green played just 32 snaps on Sunday.
Thumbs Up; D/ST
Saints defense @ St. Louis Rams: After slowing down a bit, the Saints defense is a must-play this week against a struggling Rams offense. Granted, the game isn’t in New Orleans, but they are still a strong play. The Rams are allowing opposing defenses to score almost nine fantasy points per game this season, which puts them inside the bottom-ten. I like New Orleans to get a ton of pressure in this one.
Ravens defense @ Detroit Lions: The Ravens have been a stingy defense in all facets lately, but I expect the Lions high-powered offense to get back on track at home, where they can light up the scoreboard. On Monday night, I think we see a high-scoring affair.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.