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Warning Signals Playoff Primer - Running Back


Looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, typically between Week 14-16, there are a number of top backs who have difficult matchups to contend with. The following are three RBs you should temper your expectations for.

All of these players are starters on all fantasy rosters. But with difficult games on the horizon, their numbers may leave you a little down in the dumps as you try to win that championship. I am well aware you will need to start these running backs and trade deadlines have passed. But whereas they may normally have top-10 potential on a regular week, you will need to consider finding some higher upside players to buoy your other positions to make up for what could be a lack of points here.

This is why you need to use the waiver wire wisely during the season. If you picked up a back like Miles Sanders after he was dropped, you might be relieved right now. With games in the coming weeks against the Dolphins, Giants and Redskins, you could have a league winner in him. These backs on the other hand? Well, you are being warned ahead of time...

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Tevin Coleman (RB, SF)

The 49ers are one of the best run offenses in the NFL. Along with the Ravens, no one runs the ball more per game. But the distribution of those rush attempts leaves a lot to worry about. With Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert lining up with Coleman, this is a difficult backfield to figure out. Coleman has only carried the ball 20 times once this year and has 12 or fewer rush attempts each of the last five games.

Not only is Coleman's usage hard to predict, but the playoff weeks are going to be against some tough opponents also. Week 14 begins with a road game against the New Orleans Saints - a game that could determine the number one seed in the NFC. The Saints Defense has been strong of late. With Marcus Lattimore hopefully back and healthy, the pass defense will be just as formidable as their run defense. With Cam Jordan leading the front seven, the Saints will get to the quarterback and make things very difficult for Coleman or Breida to run the ball.

Week 15 is easier with the Falcons coming to town but that defensive unit has quickly turned from a must-start against to a trap play. Then, if you make it to your championship game, this brings Aaron Donald and the Rams to town. While the Rams offense has been massively disappointing for fantasy owners this season, their defense is a different matter. Yes, Coleman gained over 100 yards against them in their last meeting. And yes, the Rams just got torched by Lamar Jackson. But they will have a lot to play for, least of all pride, and will want to avenge their loss from earlier in the season. It's not a given that Coleman will put up big numbers.

 

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, DAL)

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best backs in the league. In two of his first three seasons, he led the league in rushing yards. This said, 2019 has been different. Not only does he look like a different runner, but the Cowboys are willing to use Tony Pollard at times to spell him. This was something unthinkable in past seasons when Elliott had over 90% of the team's rush attempts.

To go along with his reduction in usage as well as his slip in production, the fantasy playoff schedule is also tough. In a Week 14 Thursday night game, Dallas will take on Chicago. They've disappointed as a whole but their defense is still formidable and just held Saquon Barkley to under 60 rush yards in Week 12. The Bears Defense may not be the juggernaut it was in 2018, but it is still a top-five unit.

Week 15 brings the Rams and Aaron Donald as the opponent. As with Coleman, the Rams Defense has been very good against the run this season, allowing the 10th-fewest fantasy points to RBs.

Championship week could be the hardest game of all. Not only because it is a road divisional game, but because the Eagles run defense is the third-best unit in the league. The defense as a whole is getting better. This game will also likely be for a playoff spot. The normally tenuous matchup is going to be tenser. Yes, Rashaad Penny was able to run for 129 yards this week on the Eagles. But 51 of those yards were on one play after a long afternoon of carrying the offense. They also got to Russell Wilson and caused two fumbles from Chris Carson who himself, only ran for 26 yards.

Of course, Elliott is going to start for you and rightly so. But in a down season production-wise, with a gauntlet of tough games don’t count on a 30-point performance when you need it most.

 

Aaron Jones (RB, GB)

Aaron Jones has finally been freed. He is still sharing time with Jamaal Williams, but it is clear he is the lead back and the best back in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers finally trusts him in the pass-blocking game, and this means he is getting the run he deserves.

The only problem is he is in a division with two of the best run defenses and the fantasy playoffs bring games against both of them. The only saving grace is that he gets the Redskins in Week 14 to start the playoffs on a good foot.

After the juicy Redskins game, the Packers will need to test their mettle against a Bears team who would love nothing more than to ruin a chance for Green Bay to win the division. They will get their chance in Week 15 as the Bears go to Lambeau Field. We know Rodgers loves to beat up on the Bears, especially at home. Iif this remains the case again, expect a huge game from Davante Adams and the passing game. Sure, Jones has a role here. But it may not be a big enough one to make up for what could be a lack of a run game in this one.

The championship game brings a Monday night game against the Minnesota Vikings in a revenge game for Minnesota who lost a hard-fought game earlier this season. This one could determine the division winner. The Vikings have allowed an average of 94 rush yards per game, a figure which ranks sixth in the league. Meanwhile, their pass defense which ranks 20th has been subpar in comparison. Green Bay will look to exploit this weakness as they target Xavier Rhodes and company in the secondary.

As with Ezekiel Elliott, Jones is too good to sit. At this point, he is a must-start for his touchdown potential alone. But in these games, he is not a top-10 lock as in most weeks. As the playoffs go on, his games will get harder as will yours. Keep him in your lineup but make sure to bolster the rest of your lineup and hope for the best.

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