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It's Fantasy Football Playoffs Time - Are You Ready?

"Calvin Johnson vs Green Bay" by Mike Morbeck - Flickr: Calvin Johnson. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calvin_Johnson_vs_Green_Bay.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Calvin_Johnson_vs_Green_Bay.jpgAndrew. Luck. Is there any other name in all of fantasy that disappointed in the championship round more than quarterback Andrew Luck? With a whopping zero points in most formats, there’s a decent chance Luck singlehandedly cost you your Week 16 matchup, while guys like Odell Beckham could just as easily have won it for you. If you’ve learned anything about fantasy this year, it’s that it is indeed a weekly battle of stars disappointing you while hoping the hot waiver claim picks up the slack. For this week’s recap, we’ll be shifting the focus slightly from fantasy chatter to more general NFL analysis. Is it ever really too early to start looking ahead to next year?

Teammates Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch led their respective positions in fantasy points for Week 16, despite the tough matchup at Arizona. It’s actually kind of surprising that Wilson has had such an impressive fantasy year, given the other big name quarterbacks in the league. With guys like Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford struggling throughout the year, Wilson is one of the clearest examples of how it can pay off to wait on drafting a quarterback. Yes, the NFL is a passing league more than ever before, and yes you can find fantasy value by waiting on QB, but that doesn't necessarily mean it’s not worth drafting a big name guy early on.

Despite rough outings from Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning late in the year, I highly doubt there are many fantasy owners who regret their decision to draft those guys early. And while waiting to snag Wilson might have paid off for you, you could have easily whiffed on that pick and ended up with Andy Dalton. The real blunder, however, would have been not fully committing to waiting on a quarterback and taking a guy like Stafford in round five or six. If you’re going to wait, then WAIT. With Andrew Luck surpassing Brees as the true number three fantasy QB, there is a significant drop-off from the top three fantasy QBs, but after that, there is a lot of sameness. My philosophy for 2014 and beyond has been either get a quarterback early or be the last guy to take one. These are the kinds of tidbits I’ll be throwing out at you as we go game-by-game, reviewing each matchup as it pertains to the season as a whole, and what to make of these players and teams going into next year.

 

Week 16 Game-by-Game Analysis & Fantasy Playoffs Prep

Titans @ Jaguars

Not exactly the most thrilling start of the week, huh? The most fantasy relevant player in this game was Delanie Walker, and he didn’t even perform all that well with his four receptions for 54 yards. Walker has had a solid season at tight end for the Titans, and he should easily be locked into top 10 status for next year. It’s safe to say the Titans haven’t exactly discovered their quarterback of the future, so it’ll be interesting to see whether they draft Jameis Winston early in the 2015 draft. There’s also been some chatter about the Titans being a potential destination for Jay Cutler.

Heavy contract aside, Cutler could work out for the Titans if they decide to go that route. There are a lot of offensive weapons in Tennessee between Walker, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington. With the Titans needing help at both QB and running back, they are certainly a team to keep an eye on once we start analyzing fantasy prospects for next season.

On the Jaguars side of things, there really wasn't much to take away. Toby Gerhart had a decent game before leaving with a rib injury, finding the endzone and putting up 53 yards. Jordan Todman had the long run in this game, but I still think Denard Robinson is the starting running back for the Jags next season, even with his late injury.

 

Eagles @ Redskins

The first of two Saturday night games gave us one of LeSean McCoy’s better performances of the year with 88 yards and a touchdown. McCoy has been frustrating to own with Darren Sproles and Chris Polk (seriously? Chris Polk?) eating into his workload, particularly near the goal line. I actually thinks this helps McCoy’s value for next year. People will be down on him after seeing him lose carries to his teammates, forgetting just how talented he is. McCoy could be a steal at the end of the first round. With the Eagles now eliminated, however, it’s possible the Eagles won't run with McCoy a whole lot in Week 17, and who can blame them?

I wouldn’t want to use him if I were playing in a weekly salary cap game. Riley Cooper finally showed up for the Eagles with his two touchdowns but Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews remain the only two receivers worth caring about in Philly. Matthews is sure to be a trendy sleeper next year, and a guy I fully intend on targeting late. Zach Ertz had an astounding 15 catches for 115 yards here. 15 catches is a boatload, especially for a tight end. Ertz had been one of the more disappointing sleepers in 2014 so he’ll be difficult to rank next year.

As for the Redskins, the enigma that is Robert Griffin III continued to confuse us with an okay outing here. The whole quarterback/coach situation in Washington is a mess, with RGIII likely being the guy who gets sent packing. I do believe RGIII could have his career resurrected if he ends up on an offense that plays to his strengths, but until that happens, I can’t imagine drafting him any time soon. Alfred Morris quietly remains a solid high-end RB2 while DeSean Jackson has rendered Pierre Garcon irrelevant this year.

 

Chargers @ 49ers

Our second Saturday night game was an overtime thriller between the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. Frank Gore had his best game of the season with 158 yards and a touchdown…while on my bench. A guy going off right after you’ve bailed on him is one of the most agonizing experiences in fantasy. I do think Gore’s time is up in San Francisco, leaving the door wide open for Carlos Hyde. The entire 49er roster could look a whole lot different once the team changes head coaches as we all expect them to. A fresh start could be just what this team needs to put their offensive weapons back into fantasy relevance.

When your most fantasy relevant wide receiver is Anquan Boldin, you aren’t exactly churning out offensive superstars. Philip Rivers went from dud to hero in a hurry, countering his three interceptions with four touchdowns. Keenan Allen missed this game, leaving Rivers to sling it to the likes of Eddie Royal and Antonio Gates. The Chargers have managed to revitalize Gates this year, which greatly increased his fantasy value. With Ryan Matthews continuously getting banged up and Keenan Allen cooling off considerably from his rookie campaign, Rivers to Gates was about the only thing you could count on from the San Diego offense this year.

 

Lions @ Bears

Perhaps the most overlooked shift in the depth chart occurred in Detroit this year with Joique Bell outrushing Reggie Bush on a fairly consistent basis. I know Bush had been hurt for a solid portion of the year, but even when both guys were available, Bell was more productive. Sadly, I think the Reggie Bush experiment may be over, as I fully expect Bell to remain the lead back in 2015. He’s had the better year and simply has a better track record at staying healthy. The Lions are an improving team on both sides of the ball so there’s no reason they would ignore the obvious and stick with Bell.

Speaking of failed experiments, Jimmy Clausen’s days as a starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears are already over after suffering a concussion on a brutal hit in this game. Jay Cutler will get the start in Week 17, and he’s actually been a way better fantasy QB than a real-life one. The Bears as a whole have been all over the place in terms of figuring out which players will be fantasy contributors week to week. I don’t expect that to change next year between Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and a healthy Brandon Marshall. Whoever the quarterback is on this team will have plenty of weapons around him, so that guy will automatically be worth a look. Know who won’t be relevant in Chicago after Week 17? Marc Trestman. He’s as good as gone.

 

Browns @ Panthers

The Cleveland Browns threw the ball a grand total of 21 times between two different quarterbacks and only completed just 10 of those passes. You know what that tells me? That the Browns have no idea what to do in the passing game. Between Jordan Cameron (who had a huge play for a touchdown here) and Josh Gordon, you’d think they would figure out a way to get them the ball. Granted, neither quarterback appears particularly good but still, with two guys that talented you need to utilize them more efficiently.

The Cleveland quarterback situation is another mystery we’ll be paying very close attention to in the off-season, and my guess is the Browns will want to see what they can do with Johnny Manziel after having a full off-season atop the depth chart. If Manziel improves with a healthy Jordan Cameron and a not-suspended Josh Gordon, the Browns offense could actually be legit. Throw in a potentially improved Isaiah Crowell, and this team could compete in the AFC North again next year.

As for the Panthers, Cam Newton returned to action after his terrifying car crash a few weeks ago. Cam had two touchdowns in this game, utilizing both his arm and his legs. Ideally Cam bounces back to being a top 10 fantasy QB next season after his struggles this year. I’ve said many times I want to avoid the Carolina running game, but Jonathan Stewart proved me wrong in Week 16 with DeAngelo Williams out. Until there is ONE main RB in Carolina, I still want nothing to do with them.

 

Ravens @ Texans

I don’t know why people were so surprised by this game. The Texans defense is legit with J.J. Watt singlehandedly winning games for Houston, and Arian Foster remains one of the best backs in the league when healthy. It shouldn’t be that big of a shock that the Texans were up 16-0 at one point and they actually won this game. The Texans are now on their fourth quarterback of the season with Case Keenum, so they are almost certainly going to have someone else under center in 2015.

My guess is they’ll try to see what they can get out of a healthy Ryan Mallett rather than draft one. With DeAndre Hopkins being one of the most improved players of the season, the team has legitimate weapons. Justin Forsett put up a dud for the Ravens here with just 19 yards on 10 carries but he's a candidate for waiver wire pickup of the year, an award he would lose to a player we’ll get to later.

 

Packers @ Buccaneers

This game was actually a lot closer than the final score of 20-3 indicates, with the Buccaneers playing the Packers tough all day. Rodgers tweaked his hamstring in this game, but the injury shouldn’t keep him out of action, as he didn’t miss any time here. Despite the rocky start, Eddie Lacy has solidified himself as a top 10 back and should be treated as such both in Week 17 and in 2015. He’s like Marshawn Lynch Lite. What do I need to tell you about Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson?  The top two receivers in this offense are going to put up monster numbers regardless who they are. Cobb is a free agent, however, so don’t be surprised if Davante Adams sneaks into top 20 fantasy wide receiver territory next year should Cobb walk.

Outside of Mike Evans, the Tampa Bay offense is a complete mystery. Vincent Jackson is capable of racking up over 100 yards one week while doing absolutely nothing the following week. Evans didn’t have a great day here either, but he should be viewed as one of the big name rookies that could have a repeat performance next year. He’s a dynasty/keeper goldmine right now. I have nothing nice to say about the Tampa Bay run game, so let’s just leave it at that.

 

Vikings @ Dolphins

The Vikings pretty much blew this game late, giving up two scores in under a minute, including a safety. The presumption has been that Jerick McKinnon would be the running back of the future in Minnesota with Adrian Peterson likely being finished there, but Matt Asiata has actually done a decent job filling in for the injured McKinnon. This could quickly develop into another running back situation to avoid, but I don’t have a problem with drafting either guy as a bench stash in the hopes that one of them takes over the lead role. Asiata is certainly usable in a Week 17 matchup against an atrocious Chicago defense, so if you’re still playing, put in Asiata.

Ryan Tannehill had a big game for the Dolphins here, throwing four touchdowns and 396 yards. Tannehill should actually finish as a top 10 fantasy QB, due in large part to disappointing years from other big name players. There’s no way Tannehill will end up being drafted as such next year, but he’s definitely a solid QB2 and an automatic bye week fill-in. There’s a good chance he won you a week in 2014. Lastly, the post-hype breakout of Lamar Miller has been laughable. 92 yards and a score here for Miller against an underrated Vikings defense is nothing to sneeze at. With the injured Knowshon Moreno only signing a one-year deal, Miller figures to remain the lead back in Miami, but watch him revert right back to being a disappointing sleeper just to spite us.

 

Falcons @ Saints

In a game that featured the Falcons putting up 30 points, you would think guys like Matt Ryan and Roddy White would have had better fantasy days, but it was simply Julio Jones stealing the show with 107 yards. It’s no secret that Julio is a beast when healthy, and while his status for this game was uncertain, you have to start him if he’s active. Speaking of health, Steven Jackson left this game with a quad injury, and at his age it’s unlikely he’s back for Week 17. I don't really trust any other Atlanta running back should Jackson be out for the division-clinching matchup with the Panthers. My instinct was to talk up Devonta Freeman as a potential sleeper next year, but I realized Steven Jackson is under contract for one more year. Bummer.

As for the Saints, pretty much every player disappointed you here. I know Marques Colston had six catches for 80 yards and Mark Ingram got you a touchdown, but were you really trusting Colston in a Week 16 championship game? If so, you’re a much braver soul than I. And as far as Ingram is concerned, the Saints run game scares me with the way they rotate backs. Pierre Thomas ending up leaving this game with an injury, but Ingram only had 13 carries for 38 yards anyway. Jimmy Graham remains the most consistent and reliable player in the Saints offense, even more so than Drew Brees these days. Personally, I have no idea what to make of Brees for next year. He’s shown flashes of being the Brees of old, but has had far too many stinkers this year to depend on him. He’s likely a guy I’ll be avoiding altogether given his projected draft price.

 

Patriots @ Jets

This WOULD be a game the New York Jets almost won. A divisional game featuring their most notorious rival late in the season when the team is already eliminated and could only hurt their draft spot with a victory? I’m almost surprised they lost. In all seriousness, the Jets don’t really possess any fantasy value anymore. Chris Ivory had a decent run and Eric Decker is a “meh” PPR option, but beyond that, who else can you really trust here? Certainly not anyone else related to the passing game.

Julian Edelman missed this game for the Pats, allowing Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola to pick up the slack. The Jets played tough defense throughout however, limiting Lafell and Amendola to a total of 127 yards. Running back LeGarrette Blount was also out here but no other back did much of anything. Much like New Orleans, the Partiots notoriously utilize more than one back, so they are extremely frustrating to depend on. I don’t expect this team to look any different offensively next season, so tight end Rob Gronkowski remains the only guy you can truly trust. (And to some extent, Edelman, more so in PPR formats.)

 

Chiefs @ Steelers

In a game that resulted in the Pittsburgh Steelers clinching a playoff spot, the Kansas City Chiefs were able to tame Le'Veon Bell somewhat, only allowing 63 yards on the ground though they did give up a touchdown. Antonio Brown continued his monstrous season with another seven receptions on 72 yards and a score. Is Antonio Brown the number one receiver in fantasy heading into 2015? It’s at least a question worth asking. At the very least, it’s easy to justify drafting Antonio over the likes of questionable low-end RB1s.

The Andy Reid curse struck again for Jamaal Charles, who only received nine carries for 29 yards. Reid is notorious for not giving his running backs the ball enough, and when you have Alex Smith throwing the ball 45 times, it’s amazing the head coach isn’t ragged on more often. Personally, I’m still comfortable with Charles as a top three or four fantasy running back. Charles has never been a guy that needs to have 20 carries to be effective anyway. He’s always just one big play away from winning you a matchup. For a team that throws so much, you would think they would have a passing touchdown to a wide receiver, but alas they still do not. Charles and tight end Travis Kelce are the only relevant fantasy pieces, and I don’t expect that to change next year. I suppose Alex Smith is relevant as well, since he’s about as safe as it gets in terms of two-quarterback leagues or bye week fill-ins. He’ll never get you 30, but he’ll rarely ever get you less than 15.

 

Giants @ Rams

Remember when I said Justin Forsett would lose the award for waiver wire pickup of the year? The recipient of said reward is obviously Odell Beckham. Beckham is an amazingly interesting player to consider for next season, considering his talent and workload. He is without question the most talented rookie wide receiver of the year and has already surpassed the injured Victor Cruz for the number one pass catcher on the Giants. What’s interesting though is how he stacks up to the likes of Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson, and Demaryius Thomas. Is Beckham already on that level? Above it? Just below? Is he a no-brainer second-round pick? If you ask me, I have no issue taking him in the second round, as he is clearly that talented. If you were fortunate enough to add Beckham in the middle of the year, there’s a pretty good chance you rode that horse all the way to the championship. Good for you. Now get ready to invest a huge pick in him next season.

Kenny Britt went off in this game with 103 yards on nine receptions, to which I say "too little too late." Unless you’re in a super deep league, there’s probably no way you were starting Britt in Week 16. You could have easily started Tre Mason, however. Mason figures to be the top back in St. Louis going forward with Zac Stacy basically evaporating.

 

Bills @ Raiders

I simply do not understand the strategy of the Buffalo Bills in this game in throwing the ball 49 times with Kyle Orton and handing it off a total of 13 times with three different running backs. Fred Jackson only had six carries…but he also had nine receptions for 93 yards. Anyone who has read a piece written by me knows of my affinity for Fred Jackson so I was happy to see him do well here. C.J. Spiller returned to the lineup after suffering a broken collarbone but didn’t do much of anything. With the team having re-signed Jackson already, Spiller’s contract likely won’t be renewed in the off-season, which is actually the best possible thing that could happen to him. I would love to see Spiller end up on a team desperate for a running back, allowing him to be the primary back we know he can be. Until that happens, Spiller remains one of the more disappointing fantasy prospects of the last few years.

Speaking of running backs who can handle the load, Oakland stuck with Latavius Murray again in this game, handing the ball off to him 23 times for 86 yards. I like Murray as a trendy RB2 sleeper next season, as Darren McFadden has shown us he can’t do it and Maurice Jones-Drew is finished. The Raiders have some solid offensive pieces they can build upon, and don’t think they’re just going to roll over for the Broncos in Week 17 next week. It’s “their Super Bowl” as football pundits like to say; they’re going to put up a fight.

 

Colts @ Cowboys

So who saw this one coming? 42-7 Cowboys. Yikes, what a thumping. Andrew Luck was actually pulled in the third quarter of this game once it got out of hand, and with good reason. There’s no point in risking injury to your franchise quarterback right before the playoffs. That’s a real shame for us fantasy owners, and with T.Y. Hilton missing this game, pretty much every player on the Colts roster was a dud this week. Unless you were bold enough to start Hakeem Nicks in Hilton’s absence (you’d have to be certifiably insane), there was no one you would have been happy about using here.

DeMarco Murray played through his broken hand to the tune of 58 yards and a score, but it was Tony Romo’s four-touchdown day that led the Cowboys to victory. Romo is another quarterback having a solid under-the-radar fantasy season. He’s one of those guys you can be happy about snagging if you’ve decided to fully commit to waiting on QB. If you started any Cowboy, you’re happy with the result. The exact opposite of starting a Colt.

 

Seahawks @ Cardinals

Both Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch had big days here, with each guy accounting for two touchdowns each. It’s actually kind of amazing how the Seahawks have turned it on in the second half of the season, as they seem poised to make another run at a championship. With the road to the Super Bowl likely running through Seattle in the NFC, the Seahawks have become a juggernaut once again due to their defense and Wilson/Lynch. Wilson has evolved into a usable fantasy quarterback each week and will likely be the least trendy name to target in a 2015 draft.

As far as the Cardinals are concerned, they look atrocious with Ryan Lindley under center. It is astounding to me how a first-round playoff game is likely going to be an NFC South team who is under .500 and an 11-5 Arizona team that has completely lost its ability to score due to quarterback injuries. That will likely be the most talked about development heading into the post-season, and with good reason. It’s an amazingly entertaining story for football fans.

 

With Week 17 approaching, it’s time to just enjoy football for the sake of the game. Hopefully you brought yourself home a championship trophy but if not, kick back, relax, and enjoy this sport we all love. And like I said, it’s never too early to start dreaming up scenarios for the 2015 fantasy season. After all, it’s all in good fun right?