With the majority of fantasy leagues starting their playoffs this week, I’m going to start paring down the ratings just a little. Up to this point, I wanted to rate enough players to ensure that even the marginal teams with injury-depleted rosters had enough information to make good decisions. By now I’m hoping that almost all playoff teams have their rosters fairly well sorted out, so I don’t think it’s necessary to cover as many backup QB’s and WR’s in depth.
Don’t forget, the pass defense ratings now reflect the last 6 weeks, not the entire season. On to the matchups!
Thursday 8 PM game
Pittsburgh (19th) @ Cleveland (23th)
Santonio Holmes didn’t have any trouble against Asomugha and the Raiders secondary, and I expect continued success here against a troubled Cleveland defense. Hines Ward will likely be a gametime decision here — if he sits, upgrade Heath Miller and Mike Wallace. Not a fan of Ward here even if he plays.
PIT: Roethlisberger +2, Holmes +2, Ward 0, Miller 0, Wallace +1
Brady Quinn had a really nice game against a SD pass defense that isn’t half bad, and the Steelers defense is average at best without Polamalu (who may have played his last snap this year). Unfortunately, the looks and TD’s got spread around enough that no single receiver is particularly valuable (apart from possibly Jerome Harrison — wrong position). This isn’t a terrible matchup if you are stuck with Quinn. In return yardage leagues Cribbs can be very valuable, racking up return, receiving, and rushing yardage.
CLE: Quinn +1, Massaquoi +1, Cribbs +1
Sunday 1 PM games
Buffalo (6th) @ Kansas City (22nd)
I have to imagine that the Bills offense will rebound after getting shut down by the Jets secondary last week. The Chiefs’ defense is pretty bad, so while I still don’t recommend relying on Fitzpatrick, I think you can confidently play Owens as a WR2 or Lee Evans as a WR3 here.
BUF: Fitzpatrick +1, Owens +1, Evans +1
On the other hand, while I don’t think the Chiefs will be quite as bad as they were last week (they should at least be able to run on the Bills), I wouldn’t throw Cassel or Chambers our there this week.
KC: Cassel -2, Chambers -2
Green Bay (10th) @ Chicago (7th)
Aaron Rodgers continues to get it done against all defenses. Jennings had more receptions and yards, but Driver snagged a TD to go with his 31 yards. Driver did look a little out of sync last week, but it’s not worth worrying about yet. Jermichael Finley had his “coming out party” (seriously — coming out parties are more popular as an idiom than as an actual event — when’s the last time you were invited to a coming out party?) with 79 yards and 2 TD’s. Don’t expect that every week, but he’s definitely recovered from his injury and is playing well. The Bears are ranked fairly high but I just don’t see it mattering against Rodgers.
GB: Rodgers 0, Driver 0, Jennings +1, Finley +1
As I cautioned last week, Cutler isn’t a safe play even against bad defenses right now, and the Packers are well above average in pass defense. Hester is expected to practice on Thursday, but if he’s gimpy that further weakens the Bears offense. At this point, I have a hard time recommending any Bears — Cutler is scuttling everyone’s value. Actually, that’d be a good name for him: Jay Scutler.
CHI: Cutler -2, Hester -2, Bennett -2, Knox -2, Olsen -2
Carolina (18th) @ New England (29th)
Matt Moore is likely to start again this week in place of Delhomme, and that’s a….good thing? Bad thing? Hell, I don’t know. He’s probably less error-prone than Delhomme, but the Panthers will likely not let him take many risks in the first place. The Patriots secondary has been torched the last few weeks (most recently by the vaunted Miami pass offense), so I think Steve Smith is actually a pretty good play here. You’re relying on him breaking a long play or two, but he’s about as good a bet as anyone to do that.
CAR: Moore 0, Smith +1
The Patriots are “struggling” but the offense is just fine. They posted 448 yards against the Dolphins and should’ve scored more than 21 points if not for some untimely turnovers. Carolina still ranks highly in pass defense on the year but the more recent history tells the tale — you can throw on them. I’m expecting status quo here — 8+ receptions for Welker, and 5+ for Moss with a TD. I’ve seen team notes about the Patriots making an effort to get the TE’s involved more, but for now let’s assume it’s meaningless coachspeak and Belichick isn’t divulging valuable offensive gameplan information to the media.
NE: Brady +1, Welker +1, Moss +1, Aiken 0
Miami (24th) @ Jacksonville (12th)
I’ve gotten into the habit of writing off Chad Henne as merely competent but not productive enough for fantasy purposes. With the loss of Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins have started to give Henne the opportunity to drive the offense. Still, I’d be careful — it took 52 attempts to get those 335 yards, and that many throws by a rookie often results in 2 or 3 critical mistakes. The biggest beneficiary seems to be Davone Bess, whose skills are ideal for moving the chains with short 8-15 yard throws. He may be a legit PPR league starter now. Fasano also sneaks back into the mix as a decent waiver-level TE. The Jags secondary has improved but I wouldn’t grade them as a top unit just yet.
MIA: Henne 0, Bess +1, Hartline 0, Fasano 0
Garrard had a nice game last week with 238 yards and 2 TD’s. The problem is that he spread his 15 completions among 9 different receivers (with no receiver catching more than 3), and that makes it hard to trust the previously reliable Mike Sims-Walker. On the other hand, MSW followed up his previously worst game (2 catches for 9 yards, on the road at TEN) with a monster 147 yard game at home. I think you have to play him here and trust that he’ll be able to get open against a poor Miami secondary. The other Zach Miller is physically gifted, but he’s not involved enough to be a fantasy option yet.
JAC: Garrard +1, Sims-Walker +1, Holt 0
Seattle (30th) @ Houston (8th)
The Texans rank highly in pass yardage against, but they still allow a fairly high completion rate against, I don’t believe they are the kind of secondary worthy of a significant downgrade for your starters. That said, Seattle’s pass offense is about as inconsistent as they come, so I wouldn’t feel great about banking my season on Matt Hasselbeck. Burleson should be relatively safe here. If you’re still assuming that Carlson is your TE starter, it may be time to check your waiver wire.
SEA: Hasselbeck -1, Burleson, Houshmandzadeh -1, Carlson -2
Yikes. If you’re a Matt Schaub owner, your assignment is to make sure you have a serviceable backup ready and monitor the status reports up until Houston’s gametime. Even if Schaub is expected to start, you may consider playing a good backup over him, since the Texans may pull him if the score gets lopsided in either direction (and, of course, he may be reinjured during the game). Still, it’s very apparent that the Texans are not comfortable with Grossman in the game, so if it’s a close game, expect Schaub to play if at all possible. The upgrade/downgrade math here works out as a +2 for the matchup and a -2 for the significant risk that Schaub may miss some or all of the game. Call it a risky 0 — it’ll either be feast or famine.
HOU: Schaub 0, Johnson 0, Walter 0
Denver (4th) @ Indianapolis (27th)
The Broncos didn’t rack up that many passing yards against KC, but that was the result of a run-heavy attack after taking a big lead on the Chiefs. This game is likely to be exactly the opposite — Orton will have to throw early and often to keep pace with the Indy offense. That might result in a turnover or two, but there should also be plenty of opportunity for yards and TD’s. Marshall is the only fantasy-relevant receiver (though Royal is still an option for return yardage leagues). Scheffler and Graham split the TE production, don’t bother with either.
DEN: Orton +1, Marshall +1, Royal 0, Scheffler 0
As we’ve noted before in this space, you can’t sit Manning against even the best defenses. No backup QB, no matter his matchup, is worth risking your first round playoff matchup. At this point it’s hard not to consider Garcon a legit WR2, and if Champ Bailey is tasked with stopping Reggie Wayne, Garcon could be in for another big day.
IND: Manning -1, Wayne -1, Garcon 0, Clark 0, Collie 0
New York Jets (2nd) @ Tampa Bay (9th)
Hello, Kellen Clemens! Goodbye, Jerricho Cotchery’s playoff value! Seriously. I expect the Jets to run the ball all day long in this game. Cotchery….WR3? Blech. Not a fan. I’d rather be playing Kenny Britt or the like.
NYJ: Clemens 0 (in other words, not good is the baseline standard), Cotchery -2, Edwards -2, Keller -2
If you’re looking for the silver lining to Josh Freeman’s 5 interception game, it’s that Tampa apparently feels comfortable leaving Freeman in the starting role and letting him take chances (though I imagine that Josh Johnson has to be wondering when they started giving the QB such a long leash). Needless to say, the Jets secondary is probably better than Carolina’s, so this isn’t a matchup you want. Antonio Bryant is likely to draw coverage from Revis, so I can’t recommend him, but Kellen Winslow should get enough looks to make him a safe play here.
TB: Freeman -2, Bryant -2, Winslow -1
New Orleans (21st) @ Atlanta (26th)
Great matchup here. After weeks and weeks of Meachem getting only 1 or 2 receptions per week but somehow finding the end zone, Brees found him 8 times for 142 yards last week. I don’t think it’s premature to consider him as a co-WR2 with Henderson. Reggie Bush has been dinged up and may not play, so there could be a few more looks for everyone else.
NO: Brees +2, Colston +2, Meachem +2, Henderson +1, Shockey +1
Matt Ryan is supposed to “test” his toe in practice on Thursday and Friday, but even if he’s cleared to play, I don’t recommend relying on him. The Falcons are struggling right now, and the Saints may take an early lead. If the game gets out of hand, the Falcons may decide to let Redman finish the game. Fortunately, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez seem to be productive no matter who is at QB, so they remain safe plays here.
ATL: Ryan/Redman -1, White 0, Gonzalez 0
Cincinnati (1st) @ Minnesota (15th)
Carson Palmer owners are probably getting a little nervous by now, and with good reason. The Detroit matchup was a must-play, but Palmer had a barely adequate game against the worst pass defense in the league. The Vikings don’t have a fantastic secondary, but they do get after the QB, so I think a downgrade is in order for Palmer until we see him rebound. If Palmer is your starter, I’d definitely see who is available on your waiver wire this week. Fortunately, his poor play includes locking onto Ochocinco.
CIN: Palmer -1, Ochocinco 0, Coles -1
The Bengals have been dominant against the pass — the problem is that the Vikings have enough weapons that there should be a decent mismatch on the field somewhere. Favre gets a very, very mild -1 downgrade here. Sidney Rice is likely to garner most of the defensive attention, so he also gets a mild -1 downgrade.
MIN: Favre -1, Rice -1, Harvin 0, Berrian 0, Shiancoe 0
Detroit (32nd) @ Baltimore (5th)
Culpepper’s playing in place of Stafford, Pettigrew is done for the year, and Baltimore has been shutting down the pass since midseason. Yeah, not a great situation. Calvin Johnson gets less of a downgrade than the rest of the offense, and he’s still worth playing over any WR2 and a lot of WR1’s.
DET: Culpepper -2, Calvin Johnson -1
Remember how last week I comforted all the Carson Palmer owners by saying that he had the perfect matchup for a rebound? Yeah, that’s exactly the advice I’m going to give you Flacco owners this week. Just ignore what happened to Palmer against Detroit. No really. Even if Flacco does nothing but dump off to Ray Rice all game, he could still have a nice day.
BAL: Flacco +2, Mason +2, Heap +1
Sunday 4 PM games
Washington (16th) @ Oakland (20th)
What do you do with Jason Campbell now? Did anyone expect him to outplay Drew Brees (at least statistically) last week? If you’ve got a legit QB1 I think you play him, but if you’ve lost Matt Ryan or maybe Schaub doesn’t go on Sunday, I think Campbell is a nice high-risk high-reward option (and don’t kid yourself, the risk is always there with Campbell). Devin Thomas hit 100 yards exactly with 2 TD’s last week, but I wouldn’t rely on him yet — unless you’re in a return yardage league, in which case his combination of WR2/WR3 production plus kickoff return duty is very valuable.
WAS: Campbell +1, Moss +1, Thomas 0 (+1 in return yardage leagues), Davis 0
If you follow Twitter while watching the Sunday games, then you probably saw all the same “GRADKOWSKI!!!!” tweets I did last week. So what? If you’re playing this week, I’m assuming you’ve made the playoffs. If you’ve made the playoffs, I’m assuming your QB and WR situation is decent enough that you aren’t relying on longshots. And if you aren’t relying on longshots, then you have no business starting any Raiders in the fantasy playoffs. Well, except for Zach Miller. You can play Zach Miller. For the sake of consistency, I’m rating the rest of the Oakland pass offense anyway, but just ignore it — you don’t want the risk.
OAK: Gradkowski +1, Murphy +1, Schilens 0, Miller +1
St. Louis (3rd) @ Tennessee (17th)
See what I just wrote about the Raiders? Apply that same lesson here. Except for the part about Zach Miller. The Titans’ pass defense rating over the last 6 games took a hit because of the Indy offense, but they are still playing pretty well.
STL: Boller -1, Avery -1, Gibson -1
And conversely, the Rams pass defense over the last 6 games looks quite a bit better than they really are. Facing Cutler helps. I like this matchup for Vince Young — I’m not ready to say I’m a believer, exactly, but he’s certainly no more risky that someone like Jason Campbell. Kenny Britt is a great play here, but don’t overplay his return yardage boost — he returns kickoffs, and the Rams are not likely to score frequently. The biggest detriment to the value of the Titans pass offense is the ease with which they will gain yards on the ground.
TEN: Young +1, Britt +2, Washington +1, Scaife 0
San Diego (14th) @ Dallas (11th)
The Chargers have a legitimately tough matchup in Dallas, but Rivers has earned must-start status against any defense, as has Antonio Gates. Conspicuously absent from that introductory sentence was Vincent Jackson, who has underwhelmed over the last few weeks. It’s time to consider him just a borderline WR1 right now (or a strong WR2).
SD: Rivers 0, Gates 0, Jackson -1
Where have you been all my life, Jason Witten? The Cowboys finally got Witten involved and did it without cutting into the production of Miles Austin and Roy Williams (albeit on a day that Romo attempted 55 passes). The Chargers’ pass defense is pretty good, but I think Dallas will again have to throw early and often to keep pace.
DAL: Romo 0, Austin 0, Williams 0, Witten +1
Sunday 8 PM game
Philadelphia (13th) @ New York Giants (25th)
McNabb’s habit of throwing to RB Leonard Weaver is getting a little frustrating. Weaver isn’t quite good enough to start in most leagues, but he seems to always steal some critical yards and touchdowns from other receivers. The Giants are giving up big yardage, so there ought to be plenty to go around. Assuming DeSean Jackson returns as expected, downgrade Maclin and Avant to their previous value.
PHI: McNabb +2, Jackson +1, Maclin +1, Avant 0, Celek +2
Manning had an odd line against the Chargers — just 11 completions, and an under 50% completion rate, but he still managed 241 yards and 2 TD’s (much of that due to Brandon Jacobs 74 yard TD gallop). I’d be a little worried as the Eagles secondary is above average, but with the blitz-heavy attack, it seems likely the Giants will be able to break at least 1 or 2 long plays. Manningham disappeared last week, but for now assume he and Nicks are close in value.
NYG: Manning -1, Smith 0, Nicks -1, Manningham -1, Boss 0
Monday 8 PM game
Arizona (28th) @ San Francisco (31st)
Ahh, yeah. Expect big numbers here. Warner, Boldin, and Fitzgerald are all must starts. Steve Breaston has gotten pushed to the background a bit (and even got outproduced by Early Doucet last week), so I wouldn’t rely on him as a WR2 (but he did break a nice long punt return).
ARI: Warner +2, Boldin +2, Fitzgerald +2, Breaston -1 (0 in return yardage leagues)
The Cardinals may be a little better than their pass defense rating, but not by much. And with a legitimately stout run defense, the 49ers may be forced to go pass-heavy for the second week in a row. Crabtree can’t seem to improve on his weekly 5-6 catches for 50-60 yards. Morgan got involved again last week, but it’s too late in the season to take a chance on him.
SF: Smith +1, Crabtree +1, Morgan 0, Davis +1