2014 In-Season Accuracy: 57.0% (2nd out of 21 Experts, 59.8% Highest, 46.0% Lowest).
Week 14 marks either last the week of the regular season or the first week of the playoffs, depending on your style. Either way, we’ve reached the can’t-lose portion of the season. Apologies for abandoning you all during the playoff push, but I’m back from Argentina, full of steak and wine and empanadas, and ready to do nothing but watch football (not futbol, which I had to put up with for the last 2 weeks).
Because the upcoming games will likely dictate how much you enjoy the next 9 months, it’s time to re-wire your brain for the playoffs. Preseason assumptions stopped being meaningful long ago, but even players we thought we knew 2 weeks ago might not be the same. You obviously know that Chris Borland is an IDP god sent here to wreak havoc on all that he touches. But there are some other players who aren’t as much of a sure thing, and that can be dangerous in the playoffs. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Danny Lansanah – It’s been a weird year for Lansansah, who has oddly remained among the top 50 LBs since Week 3. Early on, that was due to one big game (10 tackles), combined with 2 pick sixes, which artificially inflated his stats. But the last two weeks, with Lavonte David out, he’s stepped in and put up 21 total tackles. Just because an IDP stud gets hurt doesn’t mean that his backup will immediately contribute, but if a guy like Lansanah does put up numbers when he starts, there is no reason to doubt him. It sounds like David could be back on the field this week, but situations like this (as well as those in Cincinnati, Cleveland, etc.) are worth monitoring and can make a huge difference in the playoffs.
Clay Matthews – I’ve avoided talking about Matthews’ highly publicized move to MLB, because honestly I don’t think it makes much of a difference. His game is all about rushing the passer and containing outside runs, and his few games in the middle have done nothing to make me think otherwise. I’ve given him a rankings bump recently, but by no means do I consider him to be a must-start. This is an important reminder that even an elite talent in a great situation might not equal IDP points.
Muhammad Wilkerson – It’s been a bit of a down year based on Wilkerson’s lofty standards from 2012 and 2013, but he remains a must start when he’s healthy. That last part is key however, as he’s missed most of the last two games with a nagging toe injury. He’s out of his walking boot, but even if he does suit up against Minnesota, it will likely not be at full strength. These are not games that we can afford to see a goose-egg out of any lineup positions, so if there is any doubt about Wilkerson’s health on Sunday, it may be better to look for an alternative, even if their ceiling is lower.
Calais Campbell – On the flip side of that, once a stud shows that he’s back, he’s usually back for good. Campbell had a rough go in his first week back from injury, but since then he’s put up 24 tackles and 5 sacks in five games. You should be quicker to move on from injured players in the playoffs, but you also need to trust the guys that got you here if they show that they’re 100%. The biggest decision point on this front will be Chris Long, as he looked pretty good against Oakland on Sunday, but then again I could have probably put up a sack or two in that game. Proceed with caution there until we see him against an actual NFL team.
Defensive Backs – Now more than ever, there is no reason for loyalty. And really no reason to start CBs over Safeties. In the playoffs you want guaranteed points, which means that outside of the top 10 or so, you’re all about streaming based on matchups and health. Avoid starting DBs against the Bengals, Raven and Texans, start even mediocre DBs against the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys, and even though guys like Jason McCourty, Joe Haden and Johnathan Joseph have had great years, go with safer options like Reggie Nelson and Antrel Rolle.
My rankings below reflect these ideas, however each team (and league) is different, so make sure to use common sense as it applies to your situation. As always I welcome specific questions in the comments. Good luck!