The fantasy football playoffs are upon us and every start or sit decision has become increasingly more crucial. Check out our picks for this week's top performers and biggest disappointments in the NFL landscape. As always, be sure to check back for our Sunday morning breaking news update.
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Start – Last year the Atlanta Falcons management claimed they would do whatever it takes to not be eliminated from the first round of the playoffs again. Apparently this meant missing the postseason entirely. They have the 29th-best pass defense in the league, which means Drew Brees, Devery Henderson, Jeremy Shockey, Marques Colston, and touchdown sensation Robert Meachem should all have big days. Pierre Thomas is only a flex start this week, due to his decreased carries, while Tony Gonzalez (25 catches in his past three games) and Roddy White (104 yards last week and listed as probable) are still good starts in Atlanta.
Sit – Reggie Bush may lead the team in endorsement deals and reality show cameos, but on the field he’s lagging behind. With injury problems and limited touches, he’s becoming fantasy irrelevant, as the kids say. In Atlanta, Matt Ryan is still ailing and Chris Redman is the last thing you want near your fantasy roster, especially with Michael Turner still banged up and questionable. Mike Bell is also not seeing enough carries to be worth a start.
Start – Nothing says “what the hell happened to our season?” quite like getting eliminated from realistic playoff contention by your red-hot rivals from Wisconsin. The Bears have been the biggest disappointment of the year, in stark contrast to the Packers who have won four straight games. Aaron Rodgers is on fire with three touchdowns in each of his last three games thanks to his healthy group of receivers which include Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley.
Sit – Jay Cutler better hope the players that get selected with the first round draft picks the Bears used to secure him with don’t turn out to be studs (like the Giants trading away a pick that ended up being Shawn Merriman), because he hasn’t broken 200 yards or two touchdowns in any of his last three games – a.k.a. The playoff stretch. He isn’t getting much help from running back Matt Forte, who has one good week this month (against the Rams) and his group of irrelevant receivers aren’t making plays. Bad news against the NFL’s number one defense. Greg Olsen has had a nice season, but against this secondary – with Cutler struggling – he’s a bad option this week. Ryan Grant, not quite able to break 60 yards in each of his last two games, is a must-sit in week 14.
Start – This is a surprisingly huge game for the fantasy world. If Peyton Manning and the Colts fall to 12-1 this week, what are the odds that the first string offense plays most of their week 16 game (the fantasy finals) against the Jets if they’ve already clinched the number one overall seed and aren’t playing for an undefeated season? Manning, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, and Dallas Clark remain some of the most explosive players at their positions and have helped the Colts put up 62 combined points in their last two games. Joseph Adai has also been playing consistent football (nearly 250 total yards in his last three games with three touchdowns over that time) and will continue to be used in the red zone. Knoshown Moreno will continue to carry the load for Denver (80-plus yards in his last four games) while Brandon Marshall will look for his third straight big fantasy day against an average Colts pass defense.
Sit – Donald Brown may be an excellent fantasy start when these two teams play each other in 2011, but for now he just isn’t producing enough to warrant a start. Much like Kyle Orton, whose brand of “don’t screw up” football isn’t winning any leagues. Austin Collie has also become the Colts’ fourth option and has been less effective of late.
Start – Last week the Buffalo Bills proved they have the ability to play mediocre football in a completely different country when they lost to the New York Jets. Terrell Owens, who is long overdue for a franchise-crippling meltdown, won’t have to deal with Darrelle Revis this week and should be worth the start against the Chiefs’ 28th-ranked pass defense. Along with Jamaal Charles (who is probable and facing the league’s worst rush defense), Owens should make a nice fantasy statement at the expense of his team. Chris Chambers is a decent option for a third WR slot as he will be the Chiefs' number one option at receiver.
Sit – Fred Jackson is still the featured back in Buffalo (kind of), but Marshawn Lynch is starting to show some of his pre-thuggery promise (sort of). Together they’re forming an adequate backfield, but unless your league allows combos, neither is a viable option for a start. Same with Lee “no thank, two receptions is enough for me” Evans or Ryan Fitzpatrick and his refusal to break 13 fantasy points. Dwayne Bowe is serving the last game of his suspension, so keep Matt Cassel on the shelf again (three touchdowns in his last four starts), as well as Bobby Wade.
Start – One of the more interesting games of the weekend should give Adrian Peterson a chance to bounce back from a rough week in what should be a slower-paced contest. Percy Harvin has become one of the hottest receivers in the league (touchdowns in his last three games) thanks to the continued impressive play of Brett Favre – who also relies on consummate scoring threat Visanthe Shiancoe and double-digit fantasy producer Sidney Rice. The team’s defense will have to stop Cedric Benson (36 carries for 110 yards last week) and Chad Ochocinco, who have become one hell of running back-receiver combo headed into the playoff race.
Sit – Carson Palmer is becoming a winning quarterback, but a fantasy black hole, which is sort of like dating an average-looking, smart girl. Very practical and probably a better option to have at Thanksgiving, but deep down you miss the flash of the slutty blonde with daddy issues who can put up huge fantasy numbers. And speaking of black holes, how 'bout Laveranues Coles, who has two receptions per game in his last three starts?
Start – If the Patriots don’t win this game, they’d be looking down the barrel of two straight years without making the playoffs. Tom Brady (who claims a sore finger won’t affect his status) is coming off of a 300-yard, two-touchdown game and should be a serious threat to put up similar numbers with the help of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Laurence Maroney is still a goal line threat and may have a big day against the NFL’s seventh-worst run defense. In Carolina, even with DeAngelo Williams likely back in the line-up, Jonathan Stewart (120 yards and a touchdown last week) should be called upon to carry the load for a Panthers team that has an almost non-existent passing attack. Steve Smith is worth a flex position based on how many times he's targeted.
Sit – Whether it’s Jake Delhomme or Matt Moore, nobody in the Panthers’ quarterback rotation is going to warrant a start for quite some time. The same can be said for the Patriots’ tight end corpse and anybody not named Steve Smith that lines up as a Carolina receiver.
Start – The New York Jets are looking to build off of their one-game Canadian winning streak when they head to Tampa Bay to take on a team that played the Oakland Raiders in a Super Bowl less than a decade ago (shocking, right?). Thomas Jones will have a shot to run wild over one of the league’s worst rush defenses and become one of the week’s top performers. Cadillac Williams may be worth a flex start as his carries continue to rise, and given the run-heavy game plan the Bucs will have on Sunday.
Sit – Mark Sanchez (out injured) is pretty much done for the fantasy year, and Kellen Clemens, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller, and Braylon Edwards are worth keeping around in the coming weeks, but given how awful Tampa Bay is against the run, expect a very sparse aerial attack for the Jets - meaning sit the passing game. The same can be said for Josh Freeman and the Bucs who will face the league’s number two secondary, which allows a mere 167 yards per game through the air.
Start – If you like one-dimensional offenses and games between two teams clinging to their playoffs lives – this one's for you! Maurice Jones-Drew and Ricky Williams have become the focus of their respective offenses and should once again be called upon in the battle of Florida. David Garrard is worth a start based on the lack of talent in the Miami secondary (352 yards surrendered last week) and Brian Hartline has touchdowns in two straight weeks, making him a definite possibility to fill in for injuries or flex positions. Mike Sims-Walker is coming off of a bad week, but is still getting tons of balls thrown his way. Give him the start against a team that is prone to giving up deep passes.
Sit – Chad Henne threw the ball 52 times last week in order to walk away with a career day of two touchdown passes, so don’t expect him to toss for multiple scores when his attempts come back down to earth this week. Marcedes Lewis remains an inconsistent tight end option who doesn’t receive any red zone consideration.
Start – When facing a “must-win” situation it has to be nice to see the Detroit Lions on your schedule. For Joe Flacco, a match-up with the Lions means he’ll be able to play the NFL’s worst pass defense and have the opportunity to silence every single critic who fled off his bandwagon Monday night like it was the Titanic. Derrick Mason and a finally resurgent Todd Heap are also great options to start. Ray Rice should also excel against a team that is dreadful in the red zone. Calvin Johnson has touchdowns in each of his last three games and should be the beneficiary of the Lions' usual “playing from behind” aerial attack.
Sit – The Ravens defense (despite what you saw last week) is still one of the better defensive units in the league. With Matthew Stafford potentially out and Kevin Smith facing the NFL’s sixth-ranked rush defense, things could get ugly for the Lions.
Start – You know it’s a pretty weak game when each team’s top receivers are the best fantasy options. Nate Burleson should have a lot of time to get open deep against the Texans non-existent pass rush, while Andre Johnson shows his dominance against the Seahawks' awful secondary. Matt Schaub is apparently healthy and will be the one feeding Johnson the touchdowns, though look for Kevin Walter (who has had three straight solid performances) to bank a five-reception game – not bad for a flex position start.
Sit – The worst signing of the offseason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, has broken 40 yards just once in his last six games and is becoming a third option on a second-rate team. John Carlson has become more of a blocking tight end lately and the Julius Jones/Justin Forsett combo isn’t helping anybody in the fantasy world with the split-carry system. With Steve Slaton out for the season, it should mean that Ryan Moats and Chris Brown will be splitting the 88 yards per game the Texans are averaging.
Start – Not very often do you expect a running back to put up 200 yards in a single game, but this week might be the exception. Chris Johnson has been so dominant over the past two months that against the 28th-ranked run defense in the league, we're expecting him to break some records. Along with Kenny Britt (who is receiving up to seven passes his direction every game), Johnson should help the Titans win a crucial game in their unlikely playoff run. The Rams may stay competitive thanks to Steven Jackson (double digit fantasy points in every game since week 7), but shouldn't even come close to a win.
Sit – For as bad as the Rams are (and they’re awful) they don’t give up a lot of passing yards. Bad news for Vince Young, who is becoming better and better each passing week. For the Rams, Donnie Avery has been bothered by shoulder injuries all week and it’s unclear what kind of impact the slumping receiver will have.
Start – This is the type of game that has 9-7 written all over it. Zach Miller (the Raiders' top target with four receptions last weeks) is the only player worth starting.
Sit – Both teams have talented secondaries that should keep the passing games in check. Oakland has one of the best shutdown corners in the league, so Santana Moss is due for a bad day, while his quarterback Jason Campbell should suffer from a gameplan that will be geared towards the run. Rock Cartwright, the team’s default running back, isn’t quite worth a start due to his inconsistent production, and Clinton Portis is out for the year. Bruce Gradkowski won’t fair much better against the Redskins' top 10 pass defense, which means their running back by committee team lead by Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden will struggle.
Start – The Cowboys are still in the NFC East drivers’ seat and will have the opportunity to get the all-important ninth win of the season against a Chargers team that hasn’t faired so well on defense against this division. Tony Romo has two straight 300-yard games thanks to his top target Miles Austin (nearly 250 yards over that time). Austin will have a tough one-on-one match-up, but should be good for at least a touchdown. Jason Witten (100 yards in each of his last two games) and Roy Williams (touchdowns in four of his last six games) will contribute as well. Marion Barber struggled last week, but should bounce back against a defense that gives up the tenth most fantasy running back points in the NFL. Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates (whose numbers resemble Romo’s and Austin’s over the past two weeks) will answer for the Chargers as Vincent Jackson should see a lot of passes in this high scoring game to help break out of his slump. LaDanian Tomlinson has touchdowns in each of his last four games and is a constant goal line threat right now.
Sit – Darren Sproles hasn’t had much of a role since Tomlinson got his second wind and Patrick Crayton has become an after-thought in Dallas.
Start – Donovan McNabb (who’s playing a team that is giving up nearly 20 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks over the past seven weeks) will lead the Eagles into New York and try to effectively eliminate the rival Giants from playoff contention with a win. He’ll have the help of Brent Celek (double digit fantasy points last time these teams played) and LeSean McCoy (81 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against the Giants) to help. Jeremy Maclin is a nice option to start, as DeSean Jackson will still be playing with the lingering effects of a concussion. If the Giants want to have a shot here they’re going to need to rely on Brandon Jacobs. The big fella should be the focal point of the offense and the only Giant worth starting against an otherwise staunch Philly defense.
Sit – Eli Manning has two straight awful games against the Eagles' top ten pass defense and has looked relatively mediocre of late. He hasn’t been throwing to Mario Manningham much and Hakeem Nicks will face a difficult match-up against Sheldon Brown (assuming he keeps his probable status). If Kevin Boss has his fourth bad game in the last five weeks (which seems inevitable with the way the Eagles defense is playing) this could be bad for the G-Men. Ahmad Bradshaw is banged up and won’t be able to bounce back from his recent poor play.
Start - The Cardinals should be able to wrap up their second straight division title thanks to Kurt Warner (285 yards and three touchdowns last week) and Larry Fitzgerald (143 yards and a touchdown last week), who will play the 49ers 27th-ranked secondary. Anquan Boldin should also contribute given his number of recent receptions and match-up. Tim Hightower is a great fantasy option because of his catching ability and status as number one back. Vernon Davis has touchdowns in his last three games and is a great weapon for his quarterback Alex Smith, who will go against a pass defense that has surrendered double-digit fantasy points to nearly every quarterback they’ve played in the past six weeks.
Sit – Frank Gore had just 30 yards on 22 carries the last time these two teams played and has struggled to do much better in any of his last two starts, as Michael Crabtree still hasn't become a consistent threat. Beanie Wells is getting zero red zone love and even less carries. A talented player, but poor fantasy choice at this point.