Ravens @ Browns
Story To Watch: Only death can pay for life. The Lord of Light’s mantra never rang truer than in Southern California this past weekend, where fittingly against the backdrop of fiery hillsides, Carson Wentz tore his ACL on a diving attempt into the end zone. With Wentz added to the now historic death toll that includes Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham, and Dalvin Cook, it’s safe to wonder whose rebirth could possibly make up for the losses we’ve accumulated this season…
Ohhh yeah, that guy. Look, I’m not saying that the return of a healthy and sober Josh Gordon makes up for the catastrophic losses that countless fantasy teams have suffered this season, but… maybe I am saying that? At the very least, he has a lot to answer for in these fantasy playoffs. Here’s hoping you’re on the right side of the matchup this weekend (chances are you probably aren’t).
Safe Bets: So yes, go ahead and start Josh Motherfucking Gordon if you’re fortunate enough to have him on your roster. It looked like he was on his way to a 200 yard day after a 56 yard opening drive last week, but nobody is complaining about a score to open the fantasy playoff slate. Against a Ravens defense without Jimmy Smith, Gordon should continue to eat provided that Kizer can put the ball remotely close to him. Alex Collins similarly looks like a man possessed lately, and he shouldn’t have any issues with the way he’s been dominating touches lately. I’m not telling you to definitely start Joe Flacco in the fantasy playoffs, but if you were tempted to, he’s facing a Cleveland secondary that just made Brett Hundley look like John Elway.
Hope For The Best: The return of Josh Gordon has considerably opened up the Browns offense, which has bode well for the oft-injured but currently healthy Corey Coleman. Both he and Duke Johnson Jr. warrant flex consideration if you’re stretched a bit thin this weekend. When the Ravens are scoring points, it usually means that Mike Wallace accumulated chunk gains at some point during the afternoon. Flacco is a popular streamer this week, and Wallace will be the primary recipient of those deep bombs (in 2017 Flacco terms, “deep bomb” means a ball that travels more than 7 yards in the air). Isaiah Crowell is coming off an impressive performance against the Packers, but he’s in for a tough assignment versus a Ravens unit that will be angry after a last second loss to the Steelers last week. Temper expectations.
Hell No: It shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me given the player in question, but DeShone Kizer committed one of the worst turnovers I have ever seen last week. There’s likely a 98% chance you’re not still playing in Week 15 if Kizer is your quarterback, but just in case you were thinking about it… don’t. Buck Allen is purely a touchdown-dependent option with Collins’ emergence, and Danny Woodhead simply isn’t a big enough factor in the offense to warrant flex consideration.
Postgame Headline: “Flacco, Ravens get back on track with 31-17 win over hapless Browns”
Buccaneers @ Falcons
Story to Watch: I’m a straight white male in America, so I’m no stranger to adversity. That said, I’ve never quite felt so persecuted than when I announced to friends and family that I’m planning on cooking a goose for Christmas this year. “What are you, a moron?” said my uncle. “What you have to do is roast it on a seasoned 2×4, throw the goose in the garbage can, then you eat the 2×4” said my other uncle. Even my own father, who is somewhat of a gourmand, preached caution by eloquently warning me, “It’s gamey – tastes like shit. You’re making a mistake.” And yet, despite all of the admonitions and my own concerns that I’m heading face first towards disaster, my resolve has never been so strong to roast that goddamn goose.
For the fantasy playoffs, Jameis Winston is my Christmas Goose. All the warning signs are there – terrible decision making, so-so matchups, horrendous accuracy – and yet, I don’t know… I just feel committed at this point. He’s certainly not a crowd pleaser, much like the ornery bird I plan to serve up in about two weeks, but he’ll be in my lineup Sunday night against the falcons.
Safe Bets: If anyone can make 5 catches for 98 yards feel like a letdown, it’s Julio Jones. Still, the targets are there and this is a huge game for the Falcons, so I expect him to have a clutch performance in prime time. If you were able to weather the mid-season usage lull and survive a few missed games, Devonta Freeman is here to reward you for your patience. With Tevin Coleman looking doubtful, Devonta should be in line for 20+ touches with a very high chance of a goal line plunge mixed in. Nobody shoots themselves in the foot quite like Matt Ryan does, but the Bucs defense plays patty cake compared the Saints, so expect the former MVP winner to bounce back in a big way. As I mentioned above, I am riding and dying with Jameis Winston this week. You might need to rinse your eyes out with bleach if you actually watch him play, but when it’s all said and done, I think Jameis’ box score can give you the 18-21 points you need this week.
Hope For The Best: Doug Martin might just be the least inspiring running back in the NFL, but he’s still the guy on the goal line for the Bucs. Don’t expect 70+ total yards, but he’s a solid if not unspectacular RB2 option (that is if he even starts after a costly fumble last week.) Peyton Barber is a much more exciting option, and unlike the muscle hamster, he’s capable of gaining more than 3 yards each time he touches the rock. Jameis didn’t make Cameron Brate again last week, but I’m expecting this one to be a shootout. Look for about 45 yards and a score. What can you really say about Mike Evans? The talent is obviously there, but something is just… off? I’d feel almost better starting Mohammed Sanu over him if given the option, which tells you all that you need to know.
Hell No: Austin Hooper hasn’t crossed the 50 yard mark since week 4 and doesn’t see enough targets to be viable. He’s a hard pass in this one, as is Desean Jackson, who is likely echoing Gob Bluthe’s “I’ve made a huge mistake” sentiment now that his first year with Jameis throwing him the ball is mercifully coming to an end.
Postgame Headline: “Falcons dominate listless Bucs in 33-21 win”
Titants @ 49ers
Safe Bets: If you’ve made it this far while depending heavily on the Titans offense, then my hat goes off to you. They’re a bit like your Grandma’s candy dish in that you have to dig really deep to find something good, and even when you find something worthwhile (like, say, a Werther’s original), you’re not exactly jumping out of your pants in excitement. Delanie Walker is that uninteresting yet solid caramel, and against the 49ers pass defense, he almost warrants must-start consideration. On the other side of the field, Jimmy Garoppolo offers bountiful fantasy upside against a Titans pass defense that plays patty cake against opposing wideouts, which in turn makes red hot wideout Marquise Goodwin very interesting for the fantasy semifinals. I think you’ll see quite a few championship teams that utilized the Jimmy G-Marquise stack against the Titans.
Hope For The Best: Keeping with the candy analogy, Marcus Mariota is like that chalky thing that you’re assuming is filled with a sweet raspberry filling, except you get a mouth full of black licorice that tastes like shit when you bite into it. If there’s a more disappointing player in 2017, I haven’t seen him. The matchup is great, of course, but don’t be surprised if he delivers another 186 yard, 2 turnover performance. It’s hard to get excited about Demarco Murray, too, but he has a pretty good floor of 45 yards and a touchdown. I can see the argument for putting Carlos Hyde in the “Safe Bets” category, but his targets have dwindled since Jimmy G took over and Matt Brieda stole 10+ carries again last week. I’m a huge fan of Carlito, but he’s more of an RB2 in this one.
Hell No: The only people more excited for the 2017 season to be over than Eric Decker are Eric Decker fantasy owners. We’ve been waiting for Corey Davis to happen, but in this dumpster fire of an offense… Corey Davis isn’t going to happen. Derrick Henry has crossed the pylons in two straight games, although I wouldn’t set your watch to it just yet. He’s still a highly volatile option and this is the fantasy playoffs we’re talking about here.
Postgame Headline: “Jimmy G guides new look Niners to 26-16 win over fraud Titans”
Eagles @ Giants
Story To Watch: We should’ve known, huh? Throughout my entire adult life, I’ve built up my hopes with delusions of grandeur each and every autumn only to get a harsh dosage of reality once the leaves start falling off the trees. I can remember asking my dad why he wasn’t excited about the Eagles during their great stretches between 2000-2004, and him responding, “I’ve been watching them for 40 years… they’re going to let you down.” This year almost was feeling a bit too easy, but the joke’s on me for forgetting that this was the Eagles.
So, if you’ve been coasting to the playoffs on the back of Carson Wentz, it’s time to pour one out for the ginger hammer of Bismarck, North Dakota. And while you’re at it, pour a little extra out for the people of Philadelphia.
Safe Bets: From a fantasy perspective, going from the elusive Wentz to the statuesque Nick Foles fundamentally changes everything about the Philadelphia offense. One thing they can do to help ease Big Dick Nick’s transition is to lean on Jay Ajayi against the Giants. The Jay Train was in vintage form against the Rams, and his usage should only increase going forward. Zach Ertz is also back in action this week, and while he won’t be quite as deadly as he was with Wentz, he should still be the #1 target in the Eagles passing attack. Even in Alshon Jeffery’s best games this season, his production seemed to always stall at 5 catches, 60 yards and a touchdown. I don’t see Foles negatively impacting that admittedly low ceiling too much, so feel free to deploy ‘Shon as usual.
Hope For The Best: I probably shouldn’t be complaining about a lost postseason from Wentz when teams like the Giants have much, much bleaker outlooks for the future. It was hilarious to watch Eli Manning get a standing ovation from the New York (New Jersey) faithful and then proceed to deliver one of the most lifeless, dreadful quarterback performances of the season. Watching that game for the first three quarters was like contracting eye cancer, so I can’t really recommend any Giants against a much tougher Philly defense. That said, Evan Engram will see a healthy dose of targets as the Giants try to get the ball out of Eli’s hands quickly. Nelson Agholor has made huge strides lately, but again, it’s kind of a dice roll given the sea change at QB for Philly. He’s a low end WR3 with upside.
Hell No: File last week’s 100 yard performance from Torrey Smith under “shit that came out of nowhere”. I forgot that Torrey Smith was even on the team, and I’m a diehard Eagles fan. Treat it as an anomaly. The Birds have carved out some nice roles for their running backs, but unfortunately, LeGarrette Blount’s new specialty is the run-into-the-guard-for-no-gain dive play. He can be safely left on the bench, as can Corey Clement. Sterling Shepard is the Giants’ top option on the outside, but this figures to be an ugly game and think the Eagles D will be playing with some fire. That means Wayne Gallman and Orleans Darkwa are out too.
Postgame Headline: “Eagles survive ugly NFC East battle with Giants in 21-17 victory.”
Texans @ Jaguars
Safe Bets: There’s never a good time to draw Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye and the stingy Jaguars Defense, but the fantasy semifinals certainly qualifies as a bad time. DeAndre Hopkins was able to have his way in the first meeting by posting a tidy 7-55-1 line, but things could be more difficult this time around against a Jags defense that smells blood in the water in the form of a divisional title. Still, sometimes you gotta dance with the girl who brought you, and DeAndre definitely brought you this far with his monster 2017 season. You might need to slap me in the face for typing this, but I think Blake Bortles can get you through this round of the playoffs. He’s developing a good chemistry with Dede Westbrook and is taking care of the football, and the opportunistic defense is giving him plenty of scoring chances with great field position. I get if you’re scared, but he’s not this guy anymore…
Part of the reason for the metamorphosis is the evolution of the Jaguars running game, which generally sets up Leonard Fournette with at least one goal line chance per game. He should be in line for a heavy workload in a positive game script in this one.
Hope For The Best: Marqise Lee has been great lately, but I just don’t see the Jaguars needing to throw a ton to safely win this game. As far as WR3’s go, though, you could do much worse. Lamar Miller has been remarkably consistent in that he’s rushed for between 51 and 61 yards for seven consecutive weeks. The stakes are high, but could deliver a useful 6-8 points depending on the firepower of the rest of your lineup.
Hell No: I’m sure that T.J. Yates has been diligently preparing with the Houston coaching staff, but against “Sacksonville”, the longtime backup QB’s first start of the season will probably go something like this . That means you should probably avoid Will Fuller as well, as Yates simply won’t have enough time to uncork the deep balls that makes the Texans deep threat a viable fantasy asset.
Postgame Headline: “Jacksonville continues to dominate in 27-13 shellacking of Texans”
Packers @ Panthers
Safe Bets: If you had the prescient insight to pick up Aaron Rodgers while he was on IR, then congratulations – you have the fantasy equivalent of getting in on bitcoin early. There’s been some scuttlebutt that he might be rusty, but there’s no need to fuck around if he’s on your roster. This is Aaron Rodgers and it’s the fantasy playoffs, so unless you have Tom Brady or Russell Wilson, don’t get cute. By association, Jordy Nelson can finally come out of his cocoon of depression and have fun playing football again with a real quarterback throwing him the football. Both Jordy and Davante Adams get an uptick in a huge game with playoff implications. With Rodgers back in the saddle, the Packers may not need to lean on Jamaal Williams as they have over the last month, but he should still see plenty of work.
There were some throws last week that made it seem like Cam Newton was recovering from cornea surgery, but he should fare much better against a Packers Defense that managed to make DeShone Kizer look like an NFL starter. In what I anticipate will be a shootout, Christian McCaffrey should see plenty of work as both a checkdown option and red zone threat. Devin Funchess is likely on plenty of playoff rosters, and the only thing holding him back from bigger outings is his quarterback’s wild inconsistency. Expect him to at least cross the plyons again.
Hope For The Best: In the ‘performance that helped absolutely nobody’ category for week one of the playoffs, Jonathan Stewart took home the gold with his 100+ yard, 3 touchdown performance against the Vikings. You obviously can’t expect that again, but the workload should be there and he’s still the preferred goal line option for the Panthers. Greg Olsen can only go up from here, but he’s tough to hitch your wagon to with the season on the line. Still, this should be a high scoring affair, and it wasn’t long ago that he was the focal point of the Panthers offense.
Hell No: There isn’t a whole lot to dislike in this matchup, but Aaron Jones is clearly on the outside looking in in the Green Bay backfield. Not that you were starting him anyway…
Postgame Headline: “Rodgers, Nelson keep Packers’ season alive in 33-28 win over Panthers”