Before we look at the games, I want to say thanks to Doc for stepping in for 3 weeks while I closed and moved into my first house. Like Pedro Cerrano, you’re in good hands with Doc. Regular season fantasy leagues are over, but there’s a lot of fantasy playoff leagues as well, and if you haven’t joined one yet, be sure to check out our Sporting News playoff league and/or our playoff challenge at NFL.com.
For these playoff games, I’m adding a short “What To Watch” section. I often pick a particular position matchup or aspect of the game that I intend to focus on, to break the habit of just watching the ball on every play. Sometimes the camerawork dictates how successful this endeavor is, but I’ve found it’s a good way to start noticing other parts of the game.
Saturday 4:30 EST
New York Jets @ Cincinnati
Great start to the passing matchups…the Jets and Bengals combined for 63 yards passing last week. Even if you don’t count the sack yardage against the total, it doesn’t crack 100 yards between the two teams. While I expect improved totals from both teams, it’s hard to feel good about this matchup. The Jets won’t be able to run 57 times like last week, so while I can’t recommend Sanchez, there’s at least an opportunity for Cotchery to get some looks. Dustin Keller is affected more by Sanchez’s inconsistent play than the opposing defense.
NYJ: Sanchez -2, Cotchery -1, Edwards -2, Keller -1
I’m saying it right now — I think Palmer is hiding an injury. Even Revis doesn’t explain 1-11 with a pick last week, and he’s been well below-average for most of the second half of the season. Of course, I stubbornly stuck by Palmer 2 and even 3 weeks into his slide, so maybe he’s just waiting for me to say that out loud before he turns it around with a 300 yard 3 TD game. I’m betting against it, though. The Bengals had some success running the ball against the Jets even though they weren’t playing for anything and the Jets were playing for their life, so I expect Cincy to attempt to establish the run, and limit the risk of passing against the Revis-filled secondary. Coles is even and may even surpass Ochocinco in value this week.
CIN: Palmer -2, Ochocinco -2, Coles -1
What To Watch: It won’t have much fantasy relevance, but I’m hoping to see Leon Hall cover Braylon Edwards in some hot Wolverine-on-Wolverine action. My money’s on Leon, but Braylon has a knack for throwing together enough impressive plays to trick poor unsuspecting people into drafting him next year. Hall is a physical corner so I expect him to test Braylon’s hands.
Saturday 8:00 EST
Philadelphia @ Dallas
Apparently McNabb was intent on coming through on his promise to get Celek to the Pro Bowl even if it meant ignoring his wide receivers…or maybe the Dallas pass rush had something to do with it. Celek is a Top 5 TE against almost any defense (don’t believe me? Clark, Davis, Gates, Gonzalez…who else? Witten? Shiancoe? A rehabbed Owen Daniels?). You’d have to think that Philly would spend this week figuring out how to get the ball downfield to DeSean Jackson and Maclin, and both were just a single big catch away from a nice total. This remains a pass-first (and pass-second, and pass-third) offense.
PHI: McNabb 0, Jackson 0, Maclin -1, Avant -1, Celek +1
Romo is rolling. Miles Austin is a stud. Patrick Crayton is steady. Witten is back in the flow of the offense. Does that about cover it? Hmm. Seems like we’re forgetting someone. Oh right — Roy Williams failed to catch a pass last week. Williams is the worst sort of fantasy player — he’s good enough to warrant consideration, but so inconsistent that you can’t rely on him. And when he does produce, he’s usually snaking a touchdown or two from better fantasy players like Austin and Witten. Just pretend Dallas has already given him his unconditional release…it’s easier that way.
DAL: Romo +1, Austin +1, Crayton 0, Witten +2, Williams -2
What To Watch: I’m interested in seeing which defense will have more success in pressuring the quarterback — the Eagles blitz-heavy attack, or the edge-rushing Cowboy D-line? Both quarterbacks can create on the run, so the defenses will have to really get in their faces if they expect to stop them.
Sunday 1:00 EST
Baltimore @ New England
Flacco didn’t exactly light it up against Oakland last week, but then, why throw when you’re cracking off nearly 7 yards per carry? Look for a more balanced attack this week, but as usual, fantasy relevance is limited to Derrick Mason as a solid WR2 and Todd Heap as a steady lower-level TE. The Ravens have to be thinking about acquiring some more weapons for Flacco next season — Mason and Heap are reliable, but Ray Rice is just about the only receiving option on the roster that consistently gets significant yardage after the catch.
BAL: Flacco 0, Mason 0, Heap +1
Goodbye, We-We. Edelman immediately becomes a respectable fantasy option. Despite the loss of Welker, I think Brady throws for big, big yardage here. Randy Moss is an excellent WR1 here, and I think Kevin Faulk has value as a deep (or cheap) RB fill-in in PPR leagues. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ben Watson snag a touchdown either.
NE: Brady +2, Moss +2, Edelman +1, Watson +1
What To Watch: We know Edelman can rack up numbers in place of Welker, but can he get the 3rd down conversions when it matters? Will the Patriots be able to string long drives together with Edelman? If the Ravens don’t respect Edelman underneath, will they roll coverage over the top to keep Randy Moss from burning them?
Sunday 4:40 EST
Green Bay @ Arizona
Aaron Rodgers managed to put together 235 yards and a TD in a basically meaningless game. This is a great matchup for everyone — Rodgers, Jennings, Driver, and Jermichael Finley. The Packers threw 29 times when the Cardinals weren’t trying, and they aren’t about to stop throwing in the playoffs. Full marks across the board here.
GB: Rodgers +2, Jennings +2, Driver +2, Finley +2
This is a little tougher to call. Certainly, we know that Arizona is not afraid of throwing the ball. But with Boldin questionable, Warner will have one less weapon, and that’s a serious consideration against a tough Packer secondary. Obviously Warner is still a much better option than Sanchez or Palmer, but a mild downgrade is in order here. Fitzgerald will get his looks regardless. Breaston is a reasonable WR2, especially if Boldin can’t go at all.
ARI: Warner -1, Fitzgerald 0, Boldin -2, Breaston -1
What To Watch: If Charles Woodson spends any time covering Larry Fitzgerald, I’m curious to see if either has a physical advantage. Fitzgerald is known for his ability to come down with balls in coverage, but Woodson is as strong as any corner in the league. Both are used to outmuscling their opponents, so it should be interesting if Woodson can stick with Fitzgerald.