Though none of you care, there are two big things happening for me this week. One is the fantasy football playoffs. The other is Finals Week here at the University of Maryland. For one of these two things, I have spent hours toiling away, reading, researching and learning all that I can in preparation. It’s what I’ve worked all semester for, and it’s something that is very important to my future. I am talking, of course, about my fantasy football semifinal matchup.

So whether you’ve got midterms, finals, jobs or holiday travel plans coming up, all those things take a backseat to Sunday’s NFL action. So take some time off from the things are supposedly important and put all of your heart and will into setting the perfect lineup.

Same deal as usual here: these aren’t player you necessarily wanted to start this week, but due to injury, byes or general suckery, you have to. It’s your backup plan. Here’s a rundown of some of the top widely available fill-ins by position and which guys they’ll be better than this week.


Rex Grossman vs. New York Giants

Yahoo: 14 percent owned, ESPN: 10 percent owned

There are certain things that no person in the world wants to do: paying bills and going to the DMV, for example. But even worse than those two things would be starting Rex Grossman, something some of you might actually have to do. But this week, it might not be so bad. The Giants rank 29th in the league against opposing quarterbacks this season, and the Gross Man might have to throw to keep up with Elizabeth Manning on the other side.

Guys he’s better than this week: Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco

T.J. Yates vs. Carolina

Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 2 percent owned

I’m writing the quarterback section of the column this week under the assumption that if your team has made it to the playoffs and is still active, you already have a semi-serviceable quarterback to deploy on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. But if you really don’t, Yates wouldn’t be that awful. He had 26 fantasy points last week, and the Panthers did just allow Matt Ryan to drop nearly 40 fantasy points on them last week. It could be worse.

Guys he’s better than this week: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Freeman

Running Backs

Marion Barber vs. Seattle

Yahoo: 60 percent owned, ESPN: 57 percent owned

Man, who did this guy piss off last week? God, ahem, Tim Tebow truly punished him at the end of last week’s Bears’ loss, as his two boneheaded plays gift-wrapped another Broncos victory. But while he was a real-life mess, he was a stud in fantasy. He finished with more than 100 yards and added a score, valuable numbers in fantasy postseason play. Despite his actual troubles, there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to produce on the pretend playing field.

Guys he’s better than this week: Steven Jackson, LeGarrette Blount

Kevin Smith vs. Oakland

Yahoo: 65 percent owned, ESPN: 64 percent owned

He’s torn my heart open and ripped it to pieces before and he’ll do it again, but all I want to do is own him in every league everywhere. When he’s been healthy this season he just seems to play well, always having solid rushing and receiving stats to go along with a touchdown. It looks like he’ll be back from injury this week, making him a solid play against a sieve of a Raiders’ defense until he inevitably gets hurt again.

Guys he’s better than this week: Jonathan Stewart, Ahmad Bradshaw

Donald Brown vs. Tennessee

Yahoo: 21 percent owned, ESPN: 22 percent owned

Basically, this guy’s only hope is the Colts’ somehow managing to stay in a game long enough to give him some carries. Brown has been decent in games where he’s been afforded enough touches to do some damage, but those touches don’t come with the Colts always (always) playing from behind. Tennessee’s offense hasn’t been great this season, so there’s a possibility Brown gets some chances if Indy can keep it close for longer than the game’s first three minutes.

Guys he’s better than this week: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ryan Grant

Wide Receivers

Demaryius Thomas vs. New England

Yahoo: 26 percent owned, ESPN: 17 percent owned

He’s Tim Tebow’s new disciple, and during the holiday season, that’s something you almost have to believe in. Thomas has 222 yards and three scores in the past two weeks, and those numbers figure to only improve against a Patriots defense hell-bent on not stopping any offense ever this season. The Broncos will likely have to throw it around to keep up with Tom Brady, so Thomas will get plenty of looks again on Sunday.

Guys he’s better than this week: Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes

Doug Baldwin vs. Chicago

Yahoo: 31 percent owned, ESPN: 22 percent owned

I’m not one to toot my own horn, but, um… toot! For no logical reason, I picked Doug Baldwin to own over Golden Tate among Seahawks receivers, and at least for one night, I was right. Baldwin had a nice game on Monday, finishing with 96 yards and a score on seven catches. Chicago’s defense allows more than 40 throws per game against it, so Baldwin will have a chance to get some more looks from Tarvaris Jackson this week.

Guys he’s better than this week: Golden Tate, Pierre Garcon

Donald Driver vs. Kansas City

Yahoo: 22 percent owned, ESPN: 21 percent owned

This is more of a hunch than anything, bit with Greg Jennings out for the foreseeable future, maybe Aaron Rodgers looks toward old faithful to help replace the presence of Jennings over the middle of the field. Jordy Nelson and James Jones will likely get the big play looks, but Driver could definitely have value, especially in PPR formats.

Guys he’s better than this week: James Jones, Plaxico Burress

Tight Ends

Jake Ballard vs. Washington

Yahoo: 47 percent owned, ESPN: 31 percent owned

Last week, the Redskins gave up 244 yards and two touchdowns to the Patriots’ two tight ends. Sure, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are men among prepubescent boys, but it doesn’t change the fact that Washington is among the worst in the league against opposing tight ends. If Ballard does just 25 percent of what the Patriots did, he’ll get 61 yards and half a touchdown. Know what that is? Good enough.

Guys he’s better than this week: Jermaine Gresham, Kellen Winslow

Defense/Special Teams

Arizona vs. Cleveland

Yahoo: 20 percent owned, ESPN: 5 percent owned

For some reason, I had been under the impression that this has been one of the worst defenses in the NFL this season. Oh, how wrong I’ve been. The Arizona defense has amassed double-digit fantasy points nine times this season and in each of the past three weeks, and on Sunday it’ll get a Browns offense led by either a recently concussed Cold McCoy or Seneca Wallace. That’s a dream matchup. Sacks and turnovers galore!

Defenses they’re better than this week: Houston, New York Jets

Buffalo vs. Miami

Yahoo: 28 percent owned, ESPN: 16 percent owned

The Bills defense will either be matched up against a recently concussed Matt Moore or former Buffalo star J.P. Losman. Advantage: Bills. The Dolphins might play flat given the loss of the head coach they were for some reason we can’t comprehend fighting to save, giving the Bills an even stronger advantage. The scored double-digit points against Philip Rivers last week, so they should, in theory, be able to do even more this week.

Defenses they’re better than this week: New England, New York Giants

Distract me from studying on Twitter! @JoshVitale.

  1. Plainview says:

    Two related questions regarding the Steelers. I have the following:

    Big Ben
    Antonio Brown
    Dwayne Bowe
    Santana Moss
    Brandon Lloyd

    I would like to start Big Ben, Brown and Bowe but it seems this may fall through due to BB’s injury. This is what is available on the wire for QBs: Yates, Freeman, Ponder, Hanie, Skelton, Tavaris, Orton, Alex Smith and . . . Charlie Batch (he would allow me to make a last second decision).

    So which QB and 2 WRs do I go with?

  2. Jason says:

    Need a flex from these (PPR): J Stewart, Garcon, D-Jax, and Laurent Robinson

  3. Sawx10 says:

    Bradshaw, M. Williams (TB), or mendy for flex in ppr?

  4. Josh Vitale says:

    @Plainview: All the QB options are no good, so I would add Alex Smith and hope Ben plays. And if they decide last minute that he’s out, put Smith in. He’s bad, but not worse than Batch would be. As for the WRs, I like Lloyd and Moss. The other two’s QB issues scare me.

    @Jason: Laurent Robinson. Been good all season, and Bucs defense is horrid.

    @Sawx10: Bradshaw. Hopefully he finally shows up this week.

  5. The Vaporizers says:

    I’ve been mulling this one over for a bit now. Who do you start at flex this week in a PPR league, Felix Jones or Laurent Robinson or even Nate Washington. I had drafted Felix on most of my teams this year in the 3rd round and he has really screwed me over all season which makes me extra hesitant to start him in the playoffs and potentially have him cost me my season. Laurent has been playing great and is a major target in the redzone. And it looks like Locker loves to throw to Washington. I could have also started Julio Jones who put up a 19 spot…

  6. Charles says:

    WR issues: Bowe (bad QB), Brown (uncertain QB and @SF), VJax (v BAL), Williams (TB). Please pick 1!

  7. Wiley says:

    At the flex position, would you roll with Antonio Brown, Santana Moss, or Peyton Hillis? PPR league.

  8. strugz says:

    In a PPR league, I need to pick 4 between:
    Dez, Laurent, Kevin Smith, Mo Barber, Demaryius, Maclin, Stevie J.

    What do you say?

  9. Roger says:

    Non-PPR league, I have: Jordy Nelson, Mike Wallace, Dez Bryant, Kevin Smith, Antonio Brown, & Daniel Thomas.

    I need to fill my 2 WR slots, and Flex WR/RB position.

    Am leaning toward Jordy and Wallace at WR, and Kevin Smith at Flex? (Fear Dez won’t get the touches…)

  10. nonspin says:

    Problems here.

    2QB league, I’ve got Romo and Ben. Being a 2QB league, the waiver’s have hasselbeck/locker, yates and orton as my options.

    Waivers lock Sunday 1pm – do I pick up Batch and hold him in case ben is out? Do I start Yates against awful Carolina? Help!

    Also, a recently banged up Gore(vs PIT only 10 carries last week) or J. Stewart

  11. Red Solocup says:

    PPR league, 6pt Td league…already started Julio. I’m startn Megatron.
    Need help at #3 Wr – Wallace/LRob/DeMaryius/DeSean…my opponent had Roddy – I’m chasin him down. Any help would be appreciated!
    I guess my question is – stick with Wallace or take a shot with the other options?!

  12. topps says:

    Me: Tebow, Wallace, Marshall, Rice, AD, Graham, FLEX, Sea
    Opp: Ben, Dez, Boldin, CJ, Sproles, Hernandez, Driver, Pitt

    My Bench: Lloyd, KSmith, Crabtree, DThomas

    I feel like KSmith is the best Flex but also think I shouldn’t risk a 0 since I feel like a slight favorite (or at least not a huge dog). Am I crazy to lean DThomas as the safe play here? Crabtree over Wallace if Ben is out?

  13. Dev says:

    Is Gaffney a better start than Moss? Some are saying he’ll be Grossman’s go-to guy this week and I have the option of starting either of them

  14. Joel says:

    Which three wide receivers should I roll with?

    Laurent Robinson, Steve Johnson, Santana Moss, Jeremy Maclin
    OUT: Greg Jennings

  15. tourinct says:

    In trouble in my money league after Atlanta dropped 24 on me last might and my opponent also has Rodgers. 12 team, .5ppr
    Worth starting Grossman over Flacco or Palmer for upside?
    Mathews or Helu?
    Austin or Lloyd?
    And last, Bengals or Bears?


  16. teddy ballgame says:

    In a little bind.. Seems like a positive bind because I have a bunch of decent options and shouldn’t be complaining, BUT A BIND NONETHELESS.

    Which 3 guys do you take to fill these 3 slots?:

    RB/WR, WR, WR.

    K Smith
    R Mendenhall
    B Tate
    M Austin
    A Brown
    V Jackson


    I feel like each one has a drawback, whether it’s injuries/match-ups/depth charts.. But such is fantasy I guess. Thanks

  17. Timmy riggins says:

    Hi, who would you start @ flex, .5PPR: D-Jax, Driver, Donald brown, Ben Tate, cj spiller? Thanks

  18. Jimmy says:

    hey josh, great column. would you start the cardinals defense over cowboys defense this week? thanks!

  19. Gavin says:

    FLEX decision. Which one:

    Damian Williams
    Khalil Bell
    Chris Ivory (assuming Ingram doesn’t go)
    Daniel Thomas

  20. Haley Joe Osmond says:

    Please help me pick my WRs this week… our league starts 3, non ppr.
    Santana Moss


  21. Josh Vitale says:

    @The Vaporizers: I’m expecting a huge week from Felix. The Bucs are awful on D. Gotta go with him. No competition at all for touches.

    @Charles: Gotta go V-Jax there. Tough matchup, but he’s still the best bet for production.

    @Wiley: Brown is the best bet, but monitor Ben’s status. If he’s out, then I would go Moss.

    @strugz: Dez Laurent, Stevie J and Kevin Smith. If you don’t like the idea of starting two Cowboys, then Demaryius is the next option.

    @Roger: Jordy and Kevin Smith I agree with, but I would say Dez over Wallace, if Roethlisberger can’t go. If Ben is out, Wallace’s value plummets.

    @nonspin: I might go the Batch route. It’s a scare one, but Gore and Stewart both have really tough matchups, so you’ll need Ben’s points if he plays. And I still like Gore over J-Stew.

    @Red Solocup: Take the shot with Laurent. Bucs painfully bad on D.

    @topps: I would start Lloyd in place of Wallace and Kevin Smith at the flex. Big week coming for Lloyd against a weakened Bengals secondary.

    @Dev: Still like Moss. More explosive player.

    @Joel: Laurent, Stevie and Santana.

    @tourinct: Grossman, Helu, Austin and Bears D there. Rex should score higher than Flacco and Carson this week.

    @teddy ballgame: Mendenhall, Austin and V-Jax. I wanted to say Smith, but I feel like Mendenhall gets a lot of touches with Roethlisberger either out or hurting.

    @Timmy riggins: None of the options are great, so I would take the Revis risk and go D-Jax.

    @Jimmy: Thanks Jimmy. And I would go Arizona. Dallas D hasn’t been great recently, as the Cards have been very good.

    @Gavin: Damian Williams. Best of a lackluster bunch.

  22. Josh Vitale says:

    @Haley Joe Osmond: Marshall and Laurent, for sure. Wallace if Ben plays and Santana if he doesn’t.

  23. Abie T says:

    hey kevin smith or felix jones, and with my WR’s stevie j or demaryius thomas? this is a .5 ppr league

  24. Robert says:

    Hey Josh, looking for some help with these spots…

    — RB, pick TWO: R. Bush, McGahee, K. Smith, SJax

    — Flex, pick ONE: VJax, Gates, S. Moss, or [any RB from above]

    — Defense: CHI or ARI (return yards league…1pt/10yds, 6pts/TD)

    — K: I hate asking kicker questions, but should I stick with Janikowski (4pts over the last two weeks), or dump him for Tynes or Bironas? Not sure that OAK offense is ever going to get going again.


  25. Joey says:

    Hey im in a 2 qb league i have brady and carson startin as of now but i really dont trust palmer anymore u think i should start yates over him or is carson worth starting with moore coming back?

  26. Fernando says:

    My starting line up for wk 15 in a standard league scoring.

    QB: Romo, Wr: Welker, Rb: Peterson or Gerhart, TE: Gates, W/R: ? , W/R: ? , W/R: ? , K: Hanson, Def: ?

    Normally, my choices of who to start would be simple, but the match ups, injuries, and recent performances has left me confused.
    Consequently, I need help filling three W/R slots. Please help and can you explain your choices. Thank you.

    Here are my options for the three W/R slots: S. Moss, C.J. Spiller, S. Jackson, F. Gore, A. Bradshaw, R. Grant.

    As for the DEF I can play one SEA, CINN, or TENN?

  27. Josh Vitale says:

    @Abie T: Felix and Demaryius, for sure.

    @Robert: Reggie and Kevin, V-Jax and Arizona. And there’s no reason to dump Sea Cow, so might as well just roll with him.

  28. Robert says:

    Thanks, Josh! So, I’m now wavering a little on starting Antonio Brown at WR (currently starting him + Roddy at WR, hence VJax at Flex). With return Brown (+ return yds) has been a monster for me the past few weeks, but since we won’t know Ben’s real status until game time on Monday, I’m really sweating that start now.

    So, would you start VJax at WR instead of Brown regardless of Ben’s situation? If so, would you then start Gates, McGahee, Moss or SJax at flex then? I have Gronk in my other flex spot.

  29. Zandercage says:

    In a bind at QB as BIg Ben may be out (with a poor matchup anyway) – Locker, Ponder or Grossman this week?


  30. Munni says:

    Hey Josh,

    I currently am in a PPR league and have the following WRs to possibly start in the remaining two WR slots for Week 15- Santana Moss, Steve Smith, and Dez Bryant. As of now, Roddy White already played (glad I started him this week!), so who should I put in the remaining two WR slots?

    I also have Ben Tate (since DeMarco Murray got injured on me) and he’s playing against Carolina. Do you consider this a solid play or is Arian Foster just going to get all the carries?

  31. Munni says:

    Hey Josh,

    I also have couple other questions:

    1) Defenses- So far, I have both Tennessee and Houston for Week 15. Who would you prefer to start and why?

    2) IDP- I have both Jason Pierre-Paul and Terrell Suggs. Who would you start and why?

    Thank you again for your help!

  32. Josh Vitale says:

    @Robert: I would wait until Sunday morning to decide, but V-Jax at WR and McGahee at Flex isn’t a bad option. But if it looks like Ben is playing, then I’d still roll with Brown.

    @Zandercage: All about the Gross Man this week.

  33. HotRod says:

    Thanks in Advance, appreciate the help!!


    Pick 2 – Colston @ Min, Steve Smith @ Hou or Laurent @TB

    Defense – NYG vs. Wash or Det vs. Oak

    RB – DeAngelo, Khalil Bell, Chris Ivory or Toby(Definitely starting if AP out, but assuming he plays)….unfortunately I am a McFadden owner…

    Also, Do you like Locker @ Indy better than Grossman @ NYG?

  34. Pierre says:

    For QB2 spot – Orton or Yates?

    Locker is also available, but it’s looking more and more likely Hasslebeck (blech) will get the start.

    Also, for WR – pick 3:
    M. Williams (TB)
    B. Marshall (Losman at QB)
    V-Jax (vs. BAL)


  35. Pierre says:

    P.S. Good luck on your finals!

  36. principal blackman says:

    Kevin Smith or Willis McGahee in PPR leagues this week?

  37. Josh Vitale says:

    @HotRod: Colston and Steve Smith. DET defense. And Grossman at QB. As for the RBs, I guess Ivory and DeAngelo.

    @Pierre: Orton over Yates, I say. And Crabsies, Marshall and V-Jax at WR.

    @Pierre: Thank you sir.

    @principal blackman: Kevin Smith. Just pray that he stays healthy for longer than four carries.

  38. What’s your take on Kyle Orton this week? Better or worse than Rex Grossman?

  39. Oh, and GL on your Finals.

  40. Steve Stevenson says:

    DMC was dropped. Think there’s any chance he plays week 16? I wouldn’t start him, but some of the other playoff teams have weak RBs and I may want to block someone else from using him against me. Would have to drop Dem. Thomas (who I also picked up as a block rather than a possible start).

  41. Nick says:

    Hey Josh, looking for advice from all the Razzball staff for my 1st round of playoffs (only 4 teams so 2 games & I’m the Champion!

    I have my Jet defense this week as I always play them (with the exception of bye week). Since I’m in playoffs in my 10team league, and I noticed Chet ranked Arizona #6 and Jets #13….and the Cards are on waivers, do I drop an expendable player like Golden Tate for the Cards D to start in week 15 vs. the Cleveland Browns with Seneca Wallace as the starter (Colt out)…this could be a huge move and difference maker considering my opponent had Matt Ryan go for 21pts on Thursday already…heres a look at my matchup/bench in a screenshot for your reference:

    …only 4 teams in playoffs so this is a HUGE decision…in my opinion I have the better roster and matchups this week and the Jets SHOULD put up a reliable amount of points, I’m just thinking Arizona & Beanie Wells might go off on the Browns early, and force Wallace to throw, will have lots of ints, resulting in potential PICK 6! = made fantasy points

    Let me know (1) if you agree with my FLEX option and (2) If you guys are thinking what I’m thinking regarding the defense (swap out my favorite team/solid fantasy Defense all season… For a sweet matchup for Arizona (I could kick myself in the ass at the same time since I drafted Jet D high to use all season…)

    Thanks man!

  42. Josh Vitale says:

    @CmhBuck: I like them both as decent this weekend, but Rex is better. Orton will be a bit rusty. Go Rex.

    @CmhBuck: And thank you.

    @Steve Stevenson: I don’t think he plays again this season, and if he does, it won’t be until week 17. Not worth the add.

    @Nick: I would start Arizona D over NYJ this week. Have a much better chance at having a big game than the Jets do, and they won’t hurt you much if they don’t. And looking at the rest of your team, I would consider playing Demaryius Thomas over Antonio Brown because of the Big Ben injury.

  43. Zandercage says:

    Hey Josh –

    Grossman or Big Ben (I guess he’s playing, but tough matchup).


  44. Zandercage says:

    I realized you mentioned Grossman over Ben in your article, but not sure if that was before he’s been ruled Probable. Thanks again!

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