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Where Have You Gone, My Fantasy Playoffs Superstars?

Is “oof” an appropriate word to describe the feeling of owning certain fantasy superstars during the semi-finals of the playoffs? There were bound to be some other non-PG alternatives floating around your brain after witnessing some of the mind-boggling performances during Week 15, some more infuriating than others. I’m referring to the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Jordy Nelson.

While that’s probably just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, those are the studs that hurt us fantasy owners the most. The worst part is that there’s absolutely nothing any of us would have done differently. You couldn't bench Peyton and Jordy for Eli Manning and Devin Hester.  And so you probably got burned at the worst time-- we all did. With any luck, your team was still able to recover by putting up points elsewhere, but if not, be aware that you're not alone in your suffering. Take solace in the fact that these duds affected a large portion of playoff teams out there.

As frustrating and heartbreaking as these high-round picks were on Sunday, there were plenty of late-round steals and waiver wire pickups who put up big numbers when it mattered most. Odell Beckham and Jeremy Hill could have easily won you your week, making up for duds elsewhere. With just one week remaining in most fantasy leagues, my goal for this week’s recap is to react to Week 15’s performances in the framework of the fantasy championships. In other words, we'll figure out which performances from the semi-finals are likely to repeat and which aren’t under a one-week premise. Championship or bust!

 

NFL Injury Updates for the Fantasy Championships

Before we dive into the games, there are a few injuries worth addressing. Keenan Allen, Frank Gore and Rashad Jennings all exited their respective contests with a variety of ailments to which I offer the following reply: does it really matter at this point? It’s never fun when a player suffers an injury, and no one should root for someone to get hurt, but speaking purely from a fantasy perspective, those three guys didn’t exactly carry your team into the playoffs anyway, did they? If they did, then bless your heart for having the patience to gut it out with three insanely frustrating players. Oh, and that guy DeMarco Murray also got injured, although it was only reported after the game ended.

The only guys that get a pass on that list are Murray, for obvious reasons, is Jennings, who had shown flashes of fantasy prowess but was hampered by injuries all season. Frank Gore and Keenan Allen were droppable at one point or another, so if you’ve been rolling with them in your lineup, you’ve made it this far despite them, not because of them. Don’t worry about it, and plug in your best bench players without panic. There were a few other injuries throughout Sunday’s games, but we'll get to those in the rundown.

 

NFL Recap Analysis, Playoff Sleepers & Championships Prep

Cardinals @ Rams

How’s this for a stat to start out the week: Thursday night’s contest between the Cardinals and Rams was the first time a game featured zero touchdowns in two years. That’s some pretty bad football, wouldn’t you say? Despite being painfully boring offensively, there was still some fantasy goodness to be had. Over the last two weeks, Kerwynn Williams has had 34 rushing attempts for 175 yards while filling in for the injured Andre Ellington. Coach-speak told us that the new starter was going to be Stepfan Taylor, and that has proved to be completely irrelevant.

Sure, let Head Coach Bruce Arians yammer about Stepfan Taylor starting again in Week 16, but if you have to start an Arizona running back, it’s Williams. No one should expect Williams to run for another 100 yards against Seattle this week, especially when you consider the fact that the Cardinals are down to Ryan Lindley at quarterback, but the guy is putting up numbers for the playoff push. My assumption, however, is that most fantasy teams playing in the championship round will have someone better to use than Williams versus a potent Seattle defense.  As far as the Arizona passing game is concerned, don’t even think about it. I know Larry Fitzgerald had himself a decent PPR day with seven receptions, but the counterargument to that is simple: Ryan Lindley. Lindley has zero touchdowns in his career. Now is not the time to be rolling with an Arizona wide receiver.

Speaking of receivers, how about Stedman Bailey? I’ve actually seen Bailey in a few three-WR or deep PPR playoff lineups and he’s been a decent enough play. Five receptions for 74 yards puts him in the WR3 discussion in a PPR format. Again, a championship-caliber team probably has better options, but you could certainly do worse. Lastly, both of these defenses have put up numbers of late, despite St. Louis throwing up a dud in Week 15. I don’t necessarily love either team in Week 16, with Arizona facing Seattle and St. Louis playing the Giants, so that’s definitely a matter of seeing what else is available. If I had to choose between the two, I'd much prefer the Rams defense against Eli, even with Odell Beckham surging. The Rams have proven they can shut down a good offense and create turnovers. Just take a gander at their games against Denver and San Diego.

 

Dolphins @ Patriots

The New England Patriots absolutely thumped the Miami Dolphins here 41 - 13, due in large part to the defense, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. The New England defense is legit given the right matchup, and what do you know they face the New York Jets in championship week. Start ‘em if you got ‘em. I don’t need to tell you how good Rob Gronkowski is, but I could easily see someone wavering over whether or not to start the Patriots D over, say, the Texans against Baltimore. Personally, I'd prefer to face the softer offensive unit, and there is no question the Jets are way worse on offense than the Ravens. That’s just one example but you get the idea. I like the Patriots offense a lot this week, especially after seeing them pick Tannehill apart. The last thing I want to touch on with regard to the Pats is the running back situation. Let me sum that up in two words: abandon ship. Bill Belichick is back to his old ways of swapping out running backs like crazy, so if it were me, I wouldn’t touch this RB situation.

On the Miami side of things, Mike Wallace had a big day here with 104 yards and an absolutely ridiculous one-handed touchdown. It’s actually kind of funny considering Wallace has been the subject of many “stone hands” jokes over his career, yet he managed to reel in a spectacular one-handed TD. You’re likely starting Wallace if you have him, but the bigger question here is Jarvis Landry. Darrelle Revis appeared to be on Landry more so than Wallace, which afforded Wallace the opportunity to have the bigger day of the two. Either way, Landry is a WR3/FLEX option in any league, and with the Dolphins facing the Vikings next week, it’s likely they'll decide to throw the ball. After all, the Vikings are better against the run than they are the pass.

 

Packers @ Bills

In what turned out to be the stunner of the week, the Buffalo Bills upset the Green Bay Packers in a game that saw Aaron Rodgers struggle mightily. The Bills defense has proven they are legit with the most sacks in the league and tied for second in interceptions. They’re even ranked in the top 10 in forced fumbles, so turnovers are kind of a thing for the Buffalo defense. It’s a shame their offense relies so heavily on two guys in Fred Jackson and Sammy Watkins, with Jackson being the bigger contributor this week. Anyone who has ever read a fantasy article by my knows about my affinity for Fred Ex, so I have absolutely no worries about the possibility of C.J. Spiller returning in Week 16. Fred Jackson has proven he is clearly the better back for fantasy purposes, so I don’t want to hear about a “healthy” Spiller. Pine for potential all you want-- I’ll stick to the numbers. (Side note: C.J. Spiller is a free agent this year, so my hope is he ends up on a team where he can be the clear number one back. Tennessee perhaps? THEN we can talk about him as a viable fantasy starter.)

For the Packers, Eddie Lacy entered this game with a hip injury, inciting panic over whether or not he would split carries with James Starks, but you kind of had to roll with Lacy regardless. James Starks had been eating into Lacy’s workload anyway, so the problem was really the injury more than volume. Lacy finished the day with 97 yards and a touchdown, so the injury was made to sound more serious than it really was. The point is, don’t worry about Lacy this late in the season. His workload is what it is, it’s the scoring opportunities and lack of defensive pressure he receives that makes him a solid RB1 for fantasy purposes. When the defense has to worry about Aaron Rodgers dropping back to launch it to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, it’s a tad difficult to load up the box against the run. I’m going to sum up Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson’s bad outing in one compound sentence: pretend it never happened, and if you were lucky enough to survive, exhale and regain your confidence for the championship round.

 

Bengals @ Browns

I refuse to bore you with the Johnny Football jokes that you’ve probably already heard a dozen times by now. Instead, let’s focus on the actual impact Johnny Manziel had on the offense which was, well, minimal at best. Many expected, and with good reason, that Manziel would give the Browns offense a much-needed boost as the team continued to battle for a playoff spot. Not one single person in the Cleveland offense proved to be a usable option this week, with the biggest performance coming from Josh Gordon’s whopping three receptions for 48 yards.

It’s safe to say that holding onto Gordon for the entirety of his suspension was a huge mistake. Hopefully Gordon manages to stay out of trouble in the off-season, in which case he’d easily become a high-end WR2, potentially even a steal of a WR1. The Browns head to Carolina next week, so I'd imagine Gordon will be a low-end WR2 in a middle-of-the-road matchup against the Panthers secondary. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West continue to be a mystery in the Cleveland backfield, with the two pretty much splitting carries. The Browns were shut out in this game, and I can’t imagine myself starting any of them unless I was absolutely desperate. If I had to choose one Browns running back, it’d be Crowell, but I wouldn’t feel great about it.

The biggest takeaway from the Bengals side of things Jeremy Hill being listed as the starter over Giovani Bernard and outplaying him accordingly. Hill had 25 rushing attempts compared to Bernard’s 15, and  Hill outgained Bernard by 148 yards to 79. And oh by the way, Hill had two touchdowns compared to Bernard’s zero. It’s kind of amazing how much this Cincinnati backfield has changed over the course of the year, but now it’s clear that Hill is the preferred option. If you’ve been rolling with Hill since Bernard’s initial injury, why stop now? The Bengals clearly prefer him over Bernard, and he just might be the better back in general. Hill could also be one of the bigger steals in a keeper or dynasty league, with Bernard being one of the bigger busts in those formats. It’s a real shame considering how scarce running backs are these days. We all expected Bernard to be the back of the future in Cincinnati, and those days appear to be over already.

 

Jaguars @ Ravens

It would take some serious desperation to rely on any Jacksonville Jaguar heading into the finals, so I’m going to make this quick. I know Toby Gerhart is once again the starter in Jacksonville, and I know Cecil Shorts is healthy, as evidenced by his six receptions for 76 yards, but unless your team is decimated by injury and you’re just barely limping into Week 16, ignore all Jaguars.

Now for the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens offense has never exactly produced potent results, but it was still surprising to see not one player put up decent enough numbers to consider any of them worth starting. I suppose you can count tight end Owen Daniels since he had the sole offensive touchdown with 62 yards to boot, but when you’re analyzing tight ends, TEs 8-15 are kind of all the same anyway. All you’re really hoping for is that the guy you start gets into the endzone, and I suppose Daniels got you that much. The Baltimore defense was the true star of this game, which should come as a surprise to no one. The Ravens have been somewhat of a sneaky matchup play given their weak secondary, and with a game against Houston and their, count it, FOURTH-string quarterback looming in Week 16, I’d feel confident if Baltimore were my best defensive option.

 

Buccaneers @ Panthers

Oh, NFC South, how you continue to entertain us. It is astounding how collectively bad this division has been in terms of the NFL standings, but that doesn’t always translate to a lack of fantasy points. The three studs to focus on here were Carolina’s Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans. Greg Olsen has solidified himself as the fourth-best fantasy tight end (third if you consider Julius Thomas’s recent injury problems), so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he reeled in 10 receptions for 110 yards, even with Derek Anderson throwing him the ball. Kelvin Benjamin echoed the faith in Anderson with 104 yards of his own. Unfortunately, neither guy found the endzone, but you’ll take that yardage any day. It sounds like Cam Newton will be back to face the Browns, and with Joe Haden done for the year in Cleveland, expect similar numbers for Benjamin as well as Olsen.

As for Tampa Bay, Vincent Jackson continues to rack up the yards while Mike Evans snags all the touchdowns. You’ll take the six receptions and 70 yards from Vincent Jackson in a PPR/three-WR format, but beyond that, he’s been really frustrating to own this season. Evans didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard with his 13 yards but hey, a touchdown still gets you six. With all of these rookie wide receivers exploding this year, it’ll be interesting to see which guys avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. It’s rare that rookie receiver possess this much fantasy value, so it’s even a bigger shock that there are this many of them in 2014. Personally, I think Benjamin and Evans are special talents who can build upon their rookie campaigns. I’m fortunate enough to have snagged Kelvin Benjamin in a keeper league myself.

 

Texans @ Colts

The Houston Texans lost quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a fractured leg in this game, leaving them with Tom Savage… who has also been ruled out with an injury. That leaves us with the return of Case Keenum as the Texans new starting quarterback. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this hurts both Arian Foster and DeAndre Hopkins, as the Houston offense should take a hit overall. With Andre Johnson missing this game due to a concussion, the Texans managed to hang in there with the Colts before losing after a late interception.

Look, you’re not going to bench Foster or Hopkins just because Houston can’t keep a QB healthy, but I’d be scared heading into the finals. Not scared enough to make a panicked roster decision, but scared enough to find the nearest rabbit’s foot, horseshoe, four leaf clover or any other form of luck-bringing device. Should Andre Johnson return, however, it would depend on what your other options are as far as starting him is concerned. If you’re looking at, say, Andre Johnson or Marques Colston, you’re probably better off with Johnson given the amount of targets. On the flip side, if it’s Johnson or Martavis Bryant, give me the more reliable fantasy commodity in the second half of the year in Bryant.

T.Y. Hilton hurt his hamstring in this game but didn’t appear to miss any playing time. It is expected that Hilton will suit up against the Cowboys next week, so I wouldn’t sweat this one too much. Andrew Luck was a disappointment here, though to a lesser degree than either Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. The turnovers continue to be an issue with Luck, so the only real hope is that he fixes those issues as he develops into becoming one of the league’s best quarterbacks.

 

Raiders @ Chiefs

Jamaal Charles had his touchdowns yanked away by designed plays for fellow running back Knile Davis. Remember when Jamaal Charles absolutely torched the Raiders in Week 15 of 2013? 195 yards and FOUR touchdowns? I guess sometimes lightning doesn’t strike twice. That said, the Chiefs face the Steelers next week in a matchup with enormous playoff implications, so don’t be surprised to see Kansas City lean heavily on their best player in Charles.

Again, there’s no scenario where you would bench Charles, so just use this as a confidence booster heading into the championship round. Travis Kelce falls firmly into that “I just hope my tight end catches a touchdown” category, and that he did this week against the Raiders. The Chiefs continue to be the only team in the NFL that has yet to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver, resulting in Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce being the only two players worth starting in Kansas City.

As for the Raiders, the only guy you can realistically consider starting is running back Latavius Murray, despite only getting 14 touches for 76 yards. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Murray has a tough matchup against the Bills next week, but my assumption is that if you’ve been privy to Murray’s status in Oakland, you’ve likely started him the last two weeks of the playoffs, so you just might have to again.

 

Steelers @ Falcons

In what was probably the most entertaining game of the day outside of Packers/Bills, the Steelers edged out the Falcons 27 - 20 on the heels of Big Ben’s 360 yards… but he didn’t throw a touchdown. That’s a buzzkill for anyone rolling with Roethlisberger in a playoff matchup (myself included), but hey, that’s better numbers than those studs we mentioned earlier put up (Manning, Rodgers, Luck). The Pittsburgh offense has turned it around significantly since the days of calling for Todd Haley’s head as offensive coordinator. Between Antonio Brown having 100+ yard days at will and Le'Veon Bell somehow always finding a way to get over 100 yards himself, the team has provided us with several usable fantasy players. I mention that tidbit about Bell since this was one of his worst rushing days, yet he still managed to rack up 72 yards via receptions.

The Falcons clearly set out to stop Bell but ended up being torched by the pass. That said, the Falcons managed to pass the ball fairly well, with Harry Douglas filling in for the injured Julio Jones to the tune of 10 receptions and 131 yards. Douglas will remain a top-20 play against the Saints next week should Julio miss another game. Douglas is one of those guys that could easily win you your week if you’re paying attention to the injury report. The touchdowns went to Roddy White (shocker) and Devin Hester, but hey, 131 yards is 131 yards.

 

Redskins @ Giants

We’ve already mentioned how I feel about Rashad Jennings, so let me revisit my thoughts on Andre Williams. I don’t think Williams is particularly talented, but at least it’s clear that he is the obvious number two back on the team. He’s nothing more than a handcuff, and a weak one at that. Projecting forward to 2015, unless the Giants sign or trade a new running back, Jennings is definitely a guy I would handcuff with Williams. It’s certainly a less powerful one-two combo than, say, Eddie Lacy and James Starks or Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, but it is indeed an important handcuff nonetheless. What do you want me to say about Odell Beckham? You’d be crazy not to start him if you picked him up late in the year, and I fully expect him to be a top-12 receiver heading into 2015.

Despite the Washington Redskins being an absolute mess off the field, the unfortunate re-injury to Colt McCoy forces Robert Griffin III back into the starting lineup, giving us a more usable Alfred Morris. Morris has been a borderline RB1 throughout the year, but I like him better with RGIII in the lineup, given the assumed versatility of the offense. If there is one team where I will have no idea what to make of them for the 2015 season, it may very well be the Redskins, as there are a lot of questions to be answered the second the Super Bowl is over. Lastly, should DeSean Jackson return against the Eagles next week, I am absolutely plugging him right back into my lineup.

 

Broncos @ Chargers

The Denver Broncos leaned heavily on running back C.J. Anderson, due in large part to Peyton Manning’s apparent thigh injury and flu-like symptoms. This Denver running back situation is another one that will be filled with question marks heading into 2015. The most obvious path to clarity would be for the Broncos to part ways with Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, or both, leaving Anderson to carry the load. Who knows what they end up doing, though? We could be left with all three guys, leaving us to wonder how early is too early to draft Anderson.

Hillman is expected to return in Week 16 and compete with Juwan Thompson for backup duty behind C.J. Anderson, to which I reply, "sorry Hillman, too little, too late." Anderson has exploded since receiving the starting gig by way of circumstance, and I don’t expect that to change the rest of the way. Despite Peyton Manning’s struggles, he still managed to get the ball to Demaryius Thomas six times to the tune of 123 yards and a score. The dude is a stud and should be ranked as the number one receiver in fantasy next year.  Julius Thomas returned with limited snaps, and with his contract expiring, I would expect the Broncos to part ways with him in favor of re-signing Demaryius. For keeper league purposes, it might be time to cash out with Julius if at all possible by sending him to an owner in your league who expects the same numbers from him with a quarterback not named Peyton Manning.

The Chargers offense has all but evaporated for anyone not named Antonio Gates. He’s the only guy I'd feel comfortable starting in a championship matchup, as every other player has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. 54 yards and a touchdown for Gates here, and again, all you're hoping for out of those low TE1s is a touchdown.

 

Jets @ Titans

This game would best be described as grotesque so the less time we spend on it the better. Eric Decker: 100 yards on seven receptions, and clearly the only Jet you’d feel comfortable starting in a WR3/FLEX sort of way.

Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory: One touchdown between them (Ivory), with Johnson outgaining his teammate against his former employer in the Titans. I'm not touching either of these guys against New England next week if I can help it.

Delanie Walker: He has easily developed into the best receiving option for Tennessee and a solid tight end for fantasy purposes.
Nate Washington: Six receptions and 102 yards. Whatever. Charlie Whitehurst will be throwing him the ball next week. How good do you feel about that?
Next.

 

49ers @ Seahawks

If you were stubborn enough to stick with Frank Gore for Week 16, you were treated to a touchdown before he exited the game with a concussion. The more curious incident, however, was Carlos Hyde filling in for Gore with six rushes for 55 yards before falling to an injury of his own. It’s unclear if Hyde’s back injury will keep him out of action against the San Diego Chargers in a rare Saturday Night Football contest. If Hyde is a go, I'd actually prefer him over Gore, as Hyde appears to be the 49er back of the future and has shown he can handle the load in the limited work he’s been given. If both Hyde and Gore are out, then this goes right back to a San Francisco team with absolutely zero fantasy contributors.

The Seattle Seahawks are a team of two fantasy relevant players: Marshawn Lynch and (depending on who else you have) Russell Wilson. That’s all you need to know. Oh, and obviously, the Seattle defense.

 

Vikings @ Lions

Matt Asiata is the last man standing in the Minnesota backfield, and boy did it show with his 11 rushing attempts for 36 yards. (It’s a shame there is no font specifically designed to express sarcasm.) Asiata did manage to find the endzone, and Ben Tate is no real threat to his workload, so he falls squarely into that desperation category. The Vikings face the Miami Dolphins next week in a matchup that will surely see them rely on their defense more than their offense. The Dolphins do have a better pass defense than they do a run defense, so I suppose as far as desperation goes, it could be worse.

Golden Tate remains a low-end WR2/high-end WR3 in Detroit with Joique Bell firmly planted as a high-end RB2. Bell has far surpassed Reggie Bush in workload and performance and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. With the Lions drawing the Chicago Bears next week, you absolutely have to start all relevant Lions in the finals. That Chicago defense is as leaky as it gets.

 

Cowboys @ Eagles

It finally happened, folks. I had been saying for weeks that DeMarco Murray was bound to get hurt given his workload and injury history. Sure enough, Murray broke his hand and is set to undergo surgery, leaving his Week 16 status uncertain. Granted, Murray will almost certainly be back in time for the Dallas Cowboys playoff run, but fantasy doesn’t extend into January, does it?

Look, I totally understand that Murray being healthy for a full 15 weeks only to potentially miss Week 16 is a cheap way for me to claim being right. And you know what? It is cheap. But hey, an injury is an injury. If he misses Week 16, costing you your championship, you’d be disappointed wouldn’t you? Would it be worth it?

Here’s what you have to do: grab both Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle in the event that Murray is out. I doubt you need all your roster spots this late in the year, so it’s time to load up on anyone that could help you win. It’s unclear who the starter would be, so take a shot at both, assuming both are available. Once we get closer to game day, we’ll know if Murray can go and who the starter will be.

As far as the Eagles are concerned, this has been the nightmare season for LeSean McCoy in terms of touchdowns, with Chris Polk rushing for two and Darren Sproles running for the third. I would bet anything that this corrects itself next year. I know Jordan Mathews disappointed here with zero receptions, but he gets a decent matchup against the Redskins next week. He could easily be your number three wide receiver in a championship round.

 

Good luck in the finals everyone. And stick with RotoBaller through the off-season for other fun fantasy football tidbits, including fantasy basketball, baseball & hockey analysis too.