Congratulations to those who made it to the playoffs in your leagues! It’s a proud feeling to know that you were able to manage your teams with enough expertise to get a playoff berth. For those of you smart or lucky enough to have a first round BYE, enjoy, but make sure you continue to pay attention. For the rest of us who may have only made it in by the smallest of margins, let’s take a look at some matchups that deserve attention.
• (BAL) QB Joe Flacco vs. Minnesota Vikings – With Ray Rice looking like a shell of himself and no formidable running game to speak of in Baltimore, the Ravens have been forced into playing a different style of football than they had anticipated when the season began. Flacco has been the only weapon the Ravens have had and he hasn’t lived up to his contract signed in the offseason. 15TDs and 14 INTs are the numbers of a mediocre QB not one deserving of the highest contract to date. With all these less than flattering statistics, why would I be recommending him? Have you seen the Vikings’ defense? Ranked 30th overall they allow the most points per game in the NFL with 30.5. Flacco has thrown 5 picks and 5 TDs in the last 4 weeks. Look for him to improve upon those numbers.
• (PIT) QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Miami Dolphins – In Roethlisberger’s last 4 games he has thrown for an unbelievable 9 to 1 TD to INT ratio as well as throwing for over 1,000 yards. A healthy Le’Veon Bell gives Big Ben a chance to keep the defense honest and not on his back all day long like it was in the beginning of the season. That being said Bell suffered a concussion last week, but he seems to be a full go for Sunday. Look for The Steelers to use this game to erase the Mike Tomlin talk and put this focus back on their chance to claim the final playoff spot in the AFC.
• (NYG) RB Andre Brown vs. San Diego Chargers – The Chargers’ D has actually gotten better against the run as the season has progressed. However, they are still ranked 21st overall. Brown has been exactly what Eli Manning and the Giants’ passing game has been looking for over the last 4 weeks, a legitimate running game: totaling 343 rushing yards with 3 TDs while also catching 11 receptions for 65 yards. Numbers like that may not jump off the page at you but they are exactly what the Giants need, and fantasy teams as well. Brown makes for a great FLEX play as he will look to continue his recent play. Look for another respectable performance in week 14.
• (ATL) WR Roddy White vs. Green Bay Packers – White exploded last week for the first time this season with 10 receptions for 143 yards. He finally seems to be over the ankle issues that have plagued him all season. The Packers rank 22nd against the pass and when White is healthy he is a matchup nightmare for any defense. Look for White to give another big impact performance for both the Falcons and his fantasy owners. Start him with confidence for probably the first time all season.
• Oakland Raiders DST vs. New York Jets – Geno Smith is putting up some of the most atrocious numbers we could have expected. In his last 4 weeks he has 8 INTs to his 6 TDs. On the season he has 19 INTs. No, that is not a typo. As I wrote about in the NFL draft preview last February, the Jets needed to improve their offensive line which they did not do. Can you blame 5 of those 19 INTs on the offensive line? Yeah… probably. Regardless, if it wasn’t for Smith’s shortcomings you would never see me giving the Raiders’ D the nod. However this is a matchup to take advantage of especially if you hate your D’s matchups this week – ex: Car v NO, SF v SEA.
Less Appealing Options
• (WAS) Robert Griffin III vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Griffins play has constantly improved throughout the season but he is still a shell of what we saw last year. In 2012 Griffin threw for 20 TDs while only throwing 5 INTs. He had 4 in the first 3 games this year. Kansas City has been human losing their last 3 after starting the season 9-0. But, let’s be honest, playing Peyton Manning twice in that span is just unfair. This could be a sit Robert Griffin suggestion as much as it could be a start Kansas City’s DST. The biggest difference for KC has been no pass rush. In the last 3 games they have only created 1 sack. With Griffin’s escape-ability still in question look for KC to make the pass rush a priority.
• (DAL) DeMarco Murray vs. Chicago Bears – If you look at Murray’s numbers you notice that he is much more valuable in a PPR format than he is otherwise. Murray has only broken 100+ yards once this season when he went off for 175 yards against St. Louis. He has totaled 7 TDs this season but 3 of them came just last week against Oakland. Then you have to take into consideration that the Chicago Bears host the NFL’s worst defense against the run allowing 153.6 yards per game. I anticipate Murray having RB2 value but this is going to be a shootout and there is a chance I am dead wrong about this prediction. Start him at your own risk.
• (SF) RB Frank Gore vs. Seattle Seahawks – Since the week 9 BYE, Gore has been an afterthought in fantasy averaging 50.75 yards per game with 1 TD in that span. The Seattle Seahawks have the 13th ranked defense against the run which may surprise some of you. I for one thought they would have been ranked much higher in that category. The Seahawks do have the best passing defense in the NFL as well as the best overall defense statistically. All that spells trouble for a player who has been struggling at best in the last month. Consider Gore a sit candidate this week. If you have to play him then I hope you enjoy your short trip to the playoffs.
• (TB) RB Ray Rice vs. Minnesota Vikings – Don’t think that just because it’s the fantasy playoffs suddenly Ray Rice is going to come back to life. For those of you thinking that, he just went off for 131 yards against the Bears. Remember, the Bears are the worst D against the run, AND you would have to add all of his rushing totals from week 7-10 then 12-13 to compile more yards than his week 11 explosion. The Vikings rank 23rd against the run which means Rice has a chance, but I wouldn’t count on it. He has less than 500 yards on the ground this season and there is talk that he has been playing thru injury all season. That is something I think is true. Most backs decline over the course of a few years. They don’t go from top pick to fantasy irrelevance in 1 yr. Sit Rice if you haven’t dropped him already.
• Carolina Panthers DST vs. New Orleans Saints – This one kills me. I personally have been riding both the Panthers D and Luke Kuechly in my league that includes an IDP. So what do you do when one of the best defenses in the NFL plays one of the best offenses in the league? Three words… Play AND Pray with an emphasis on the praying! How could you sit the Carolina defense regardless of the matchup right? I mean, it’s only Drew Brees. It’s not like he’s thrown for 1,100 yards and 8TDs in the last 4 weeks while only throwing 1 INT. It’s not like he doesn’t have a chance to throw for 4,000 yards if he throws for more than 206 yards. By the way the only team to hold him under that number was Seattle last week with 147 yards. Jimmy Graham has looked stellar again with 12 TDs coming into this game, and he is only 12 yards short of a 1,000 yard season himself. Darren Sproles has been pretty banged up but Pierre Thomas has filled the role nicely as the passing back and helped Brees and the offense control the tempo on the field. So if you own the Carolina Panthers’ D, like me, and you have NO other options, like me, you ride or die. This game will have a lot of fantasy playoff implications because it would be impossible to sit most of the players in this matchup ala Steve Smith, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas. So before the games start tomorrow, whatever your religion or choice. If you own The Carolina D, pray.
As we spend a day with friends and family in the warmth of our homes or local hangouts watching the games we should all reflect on the loss of Nelson Mandela. Mandela was once quoted as saying “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” These words are a message to us all from a man who cared nothing of himself and everything for mankind. Mandela served 27 years of his life in prison. He was a leader in the efforts to abolish the apartheid government and establish the first multiracial election in South Africa’s history, afterward becoming the first black South African President in 1994. Few people have had such an impact on the world around them as Mandela. He deserves to be remembered in history as a man of great strength, passion and commitment for unity, equality, and independence for us all.