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Moving the Chains: Week 17

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

I'll echo the take-home point from my colleague Mark Stopa's Working the Wire article this week. Play your stars in the fantasy playoffs. You will feel better going down with the horses that carried your team all season than you will be over-thinking your matchups and benching key players.

I find it interesting that preseason articles will cite good matchups in the fantasy playoffs as a reason to target particular players on draft day. Think about all of the things that we know now compared to four months ago. The Packers' 3-4 defense is clicking sooner than expected, the Saints have a defense, etc. There are even things that have changed in the last month alone the Titans are the league's most fantasy-friendly defense to opposing quarterbacks if you look at the entire season, but they're 12th (lowest) in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks over the last three weeks (a stretch that includes matchups with Houston, Arizona sans Kurt Warner and Indianapolis).

Don't let your preconceived notions about a team trick you into believing something that simply isn't true. The margins for error are slim, so you're better off looking back at something closer to a four-week window when you're analyzing the opponents for the players in your lineup.

Here's a look at some teams with particularly good and bad matchups over the final four weeks of the season.

UPGRADESM

Arizona (passing game) SF, @DET v. STL

The matchups are particularly favorable for Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. San Francisco has been right around the league average against the pass in recent weeks, but the Lions are horrible and Ford Field removes weather from the equation. Even though the Rams don't give up a ton of passing yards (opposing teams run against them when they have a lead), they're surrendering a hefty 7.6 YPA this season. It was unlikely that any of the three keys to the Cards' passing attack were going to be benched anyway, but the production should continue over the next three games. Plus, you may want to consider taking a chance on someone like Steve Breaston if you're hurting for a wideout in the coming weeks. For those with a championship game in Week 17, the Packers potentially still battling for a wild card head to the desert when the Cards may have already locked in their seed as the NFC West champions.

Kansas City (running game) BUF, CLE, @CIN

Since Week 9, Jamaal Charles has averaged more fantasy points than Rashard Mendenhall, Thomas Jones, Kevin Smith and Ryan Grant. He gets two very juicy matchups against the Bills and Browns before a tougher opponent against the Bengals in Week 16. Buffalo has been the most generous defense to the run all season along, while the Browns enter Week 14 ranked fourth in the league. Combined, their two defenses have allowed 30 rushing scores in 26 games.

In all three of the Chiefs' upcoming matchups, inclement weather could lead to a more ground-heavy attack, so definitely upgrade Charles if you were thinking about sitting him in either of the next two games. It's also worth noting that each of the Chiefs' next three opponents have been very tough against the pass over the last few weeks, so the opponent-based gameplan coincides with the weather report (keep the ball on the ground).

DOWNGRADES

Atlanta (passing game) NO, @NYJ, BUF

Whether it's Matt Ryan or Chris Redman under center, the Falcons have a trio of difficult matchups over their next three games. The ball-hawking Saints defense comes to town in Week 14 after holding Ryan to just one TD pass while intercepting him three times in a Week 8 win, even though Ryan nearly reached 300 yards. The Saints are the easy matchup of this group, as a road trip to the Meadowlands to face the Jets in Week 15 doesn't bode well for Roddy White (matching up with Darrelle Revis) or any of the Falcons' pass-catchers. While the Jets have been the worst matchup for opposing fantasy quarterbacks this season, the Bills have surprisingly been the third-toughest despite a 4-8 record. It's not a case like the Rams, where teams just pound Buffalo on the ground, as the Bills have held opposing passers to 6.3 YPA this season.

Carolina (running game) @NE, MIN, @NYG

This situation is somewhat complicated. First, DeAngelo Williams (ankle) returned to practice on Wednesday, so the early indications are a return to the timeshare with Jonathan Stewart for Week 14 against the Pats. New England doesn't suffocate opposing runners, but the Pats are coming off back-to-back losses, and Carolina's offense under Matt Moore may not be able to keep pace with the likes of Brady, Moss and Welker. Beyond Week 14, Carolina has a pair of tough matchups against teams vying for playoff spots and both have been very good against the run of late. The Vikings have allowed just three rushing scores all season, while the Giants have tightened up the ship in recent weeks by allowing just 13.8 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs since Week 9.

BE AWARE

Ultimately, there are two other significant variables during this time of the year that can completely wreak havoc on your season, keeping your league's championship trophy away from your mantle and leaving you in a battle for break-even prize money. They are as follows ...

Playing on a Team with Nothing to Play For

This can really become an issue in Week 15 or Week 16, when an injury that might otherwise land a player on the injury report with a questionable tag morphs to a season-ending one. I'm not advocating unnecessary use of key players by teams that aren't going to sniff the playoffs, but Clinton Portis (concussion) going to IR may not have happened if the Redskins weren't 3-9. Owners of Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Antonio Bryant, Cadillac Williams, DeAngelo Williams (if his ankle sprain is aggravated in Week 14 or 15), Steven Jackson, Michael Turner and Roddy White (with a couple of Atlanta losses), should carefully monitor the injury report in case a two-week injury surfaces.

On a side note, I've had a gut feeling that Portis' career was over since he first suffered the injury. Would anyone among us go back to work if we were still experiencing blurred vision a month after being concussed and considering that Portis has already made $35 million-plus? One more season even as a part-time player would likely put him over 10,000 rushing yards, but he's already amassed 2,172 carries. He's not a Canton-bound back, but Portis is a first-ballot fantasy HOF guy in my opinion.

Weather

Part of December is dealing with below-freezing game-day conditions in many NFL cities. New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Green Bay, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Denver are all capable of delivering some nasty weather. A word of caution. If you're an owner who likes to set your lineup on Friday afternoon or anytime other than gameday, you're setting yourself up for a potentially disastrous outcome if the expected storm changes course in the 12 hours before kickoff. Weather reports on Saturday called for 24-degree temperatures, 15 mph wind (very mild) and an 80 percent chance of snow at Lambeau Field for Monday's game against the Ravens. The result? 24-degree temperatures, but no wind and no snow. It made a difference, as Aaron Rodgers was able to move around in the pocket and throw for 250-plus and three scores.

It's the time of year when it's crucial to have access to your lineup at least in the 30-60 minutes before the first set of games kickoff each Sunday. Go to church on Saturday afternoon if you have to college football is over anyway just do whatever it takes to be near the weather reports around Noon ET on Sunday morning for the next three weeks.

If the advanced forecasts are any indication as to where you may want to direct your attention for Week 14, you'll want to circle back and check the weather for:

Pittsburgh at Cleveland (Thursday night), 20-27 F, 70-percent chance of snow (wind from Lake Erie may also be a factor)

Cleveland's passing attack is borderline useless for fantasy owners regardless of the weather conditions, but owners of Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward (health permitting) should be concerned. The NFL Network seems to have a pretty unfortunate track record with their Thursday slate since its inception, doesn't a 9-7 or 10-6 game just feel like that inevitable result of this one? If the conditions turn out to be poor, Roethlisberger owners should consider the alternatives. I'd rather take my chances on Jason Campbell (at OAK) or David Garrard (vs. MIA) than risk using Big Ben under heavy lake-effect snow.

Buffalo at Kansas City (1 p.m. ET), 20-35 F, 10-percent chance of snow/rain (seems harmless, but a lot can change between now and kickoff)

Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has a couple of nice matchups in the next three weeks, starting with Sunday's against the Chiefs. The early outlook here is cold, but not terrible weather. If that holds up through the weekend, you could do worse than the Harvard signal caller, who has averaged a serviceable 18.3 fantasy points per game over his last three contests. Kansas City has given up 24.9 fantasy points per game over the last three weeks fifth-most in the NFL. If the track isn't covered in snow, we like Terrell Owens' chances of getting back on track after Darrelle Revis shut him down in Week 13.

Carolina at New England (1 p.m. ET), 21-36 F, 30-percent chance of precipitation (heavy snow hasn't slowed done Brady & co. at home against Titans this season and Arizona last season)

No matter what you think Matt Moore brings to the table for the Panthers long term, he's an inexperienced QB going on the road to Foxboro and facing an angry New England defense. The Pats are -13.5, and I'm pretty convinced they're going to cover that. In fact, if New England doesn't win this game handily, the Hoodie Domination Era is officially over. Until Brady and the Pats prove otherwise, they're the exception to the rule as far as blizzards go, and they need this game a lot more than the Panthers do. Steve Smith goes from a potential top-10 fantasy wideout this week if the game were in Charlotte, to a still must-start, but temper-your-expectations

Detroit at Baltimore (1 p.m. ET), 34-40 F, 40-percent chance of rain (sounds pleasant, but it's an upgrade for Baltimore after temps 15-20 degrees lower in Green Bay on Monday night)

If a matchup against Detroit wasn't enough to get owners of the Ravens' defense excited, there's a pretty good chance that Daunte Culpepper gets the start in place of the injured Matthew Stafford on Sunday. Beyond that, the Ravens are in the midst of a playoff battle and coming off of a disappointing loss to the Packers on Monday night. If the conditions aren't terrible, look for Joe Flacco to bounce back against a Detroit defense that allows more than 8.0 YPA to opposing quarterbacks. Also look for Cam Cameron to pop the cork and get Ray Rice out of the bottle again after the Green Bay defense ended his streak of games with 100 yards from scrimmage at eight.

Green Bay at Chicago (1 p.m. ET), 22-30 F, 20-percent chance of snow (again, watch out for severe winds)

Aaron Rodgers has carried plenty of fantasy teams this season by outscoring Drew Brees in many formats, but can a windy day in Chicago lead to a more run-heavy gameplan featuring Ryan Grant? In similar temperatures against the Ravens on Monday night, Rodgers looked a lot more comfortable than Brett Favre did in the 2007 NFC Championship game. Plenty of nervous Greg Jennings owners can take some comfort in knowing that he's pretty effective in the short passing game and doing damage after the catch, so he's still playable during the playoffs. As for the Bears, their inability to run the ball is going to be particularly problematic as the weather continues to get worse. The Packers have been bottling up opposing runners throughout the season, making Matt Forte a frustrating roll for owners that have been disappointed all season after drafting him in the early part of Round 1 back in August. At least he's still healthier than Steve Slaton, who landed on IR this week.