For anyone that began his or her playoffs last week or needed a win to sneak into the first round, I sincerely hope you weren't on the wrong end of an MJD beatdown. And if you took a shot with any of my recommendations, I hope you own one or more of the 12 guys I was right about.
In a wild week that saw Aaron Rodgers somehow have his worst fantasy game of the year in a Green Bay blowout, Ryan Grant travel back in time to 2009 and Eli Manning notch his third 400-yard game of the season it was Maurice Jones-Drew and Rob Gronkowski that stole the show and further established themselves as absolute beasts among boys. Oh and of course what would be a week in the NFL without another miracle win from the great and mighty Tim Tebow?
With a lot to digest in this playoff madness, let's first take a look at a couple names that are being kicked out of the Players To Watch: Matt Ryan and Antonio Brown. With two huge performances from each, they've entered the realm of must-start status. I would only bench Ryan if I had him backing up a true elite quarterback (and I'm not talking Matt Stafford or Cam Newton). On the flip side, guys I wouldn't take a chance on the rest of the way include two QB's I missed badly on last week in Carson Palmer and Christian Ponder.
As for this week's playoff lineup, I'm not concerning myself with the safe plays. We've passed the pointing of playing it safe. If you're stressing and fretting over starting decisions this week it means you're in the playoffs. You've made it. The hard part is over and now the fun can begin. If you're going to lose it's likely because your studs get outplayed by your opponents' studs. Or in more rare cases, the studs all play fairly evenly and a smart/lucky flex or injury fill-in steps up. So that's why I'm going for broke this week.
I've targeted players for Week 15 with upside based on their matchups and recent play. If you've got to pin your playoff hopes to a flex play or injury replacement then go with the hot hand or the dynamic player. As always a favorable matchup is preferred, so if you've got more than one, go with the matchup. For my liking, the best of the rest this week are Julio Jones, Felix Jones, Cedric Benson and last but not least Demaryius Thomas whom I will personally roll the dice with because the Patriots pass defense is so pathetic my mom could throw for 300 yards on them. So God knows Tebow can.
As a bonus, if you're in a two-QB league and looking for a No. 2, I like T.J. Yates to have another strong showing against a friendly Carolina defense. So get him or any of the rest active if you need 'em and get yourself to that Super Bowl.
Jacksonville @ Atlanta
Julio Jones (WR) for Falcons - There are few receivers in the league that can match Jones athletically. And even fewer (if any) defensive backs. In the last five games that Jones played from start to finish he has four 100-yard efforts, 578 total yards (33 rushing) and four scores. Though his hammy has been balky, his huge upside is well worth the risk for a playoff win.
Marcedes Lewis (TE) for Jaguars - While Lewis has turned in a highly disappointing year after reaching his first Pro Bowl in 2011, he's finally getting the looks his huge 6-6, 275 lbs. frame deserves. With 34 targets in the past four weeks and 215 yards, he's worth a shot if you're hurting at tight end.
Dallas @ Tampa Bay
Felix Jones (RB) for Cowboys - Jones has perfect timing for anyone who clung to him in the hopes of some playoff luck falling their way. The Buccaneers have allowed 14 rushing scores during their 7-game losing skid and a boatload of yards. Count on Jones, who ran very well last week, for a big day.
Mike Williams (WR) for Buccaneers - Did anyone else watch the Giants' receivers run free all over the field last Sunday night? Yeah I thought so. Sure Josh Freeman is a far cry from Eli Manning, but you know the Bucs will be forced to pass a ton since their defense couldn't stop a high school squad. Garbage points here I come!
Carolina @ Houston
Ben Tate (RB) for Texans - Tate hits the hole and runs through arm tackles like a legit thoroughbred. With a league-best 5.6 yards per carry, he averages over a yard and half an attempt more than his star teammate Arian Foster. Don't trust the recent tough Carolina run D to slow Tate or the Texans down.
Owen Daniels (TE) for Texans - If Andre Johnson is out, Daniels is the man for T.J. Yates. As he proved last week, the best friend of a young quarterback (other than a star like Johnson) is a reliable tight end to hit for checkdowns. And against a soft Carolina defense Daniels will continue to be Yates' best bud.
Washington @ New York Giants
Santana Moss (WR) for Redskins - Granted the competition they've faced has been of the elite nature, the Giants pass defense has allowed nine touchdown passes to wide receivers in it's last three games. This bodes well for Moss, the No. 1 target for Rex Grossman.
Brandon Jacobs (RB) for Giants - Until last week, the Skins had allowed a score or 100 total yards to a back in every game. Jacobs, who has four scores in the last three weeks, will re-start that streak for them.
Miami @ Buffalo
Anthony Fasano (TE) for Dolphins - Fasano scored twice on Buffalo just four weeks ago. And the following week Dustin Keller did the same. Last week it was Antonio Gates who went end zone dancing. Conclusion: the Bills can't cover the tight end. Start Fasano.
Steve Johnson (WR) for Bills - With a score or 100 yards in his last three games, Johnson has finally back to producing like the surprise star he was last year. When the Dolphins come north don't be shocked when their cold corners can't stay with Johnson.
Seattle @ Chicago
Golden Tate (WR) for Seahawks - Tate has a score or at least 50 total yards in three straight weeks, and though he took a backseat to Doug Baldwin last week, his dynamic ability with the ball in his hands will be much needed against a stiffer Chicago defense. Expect Seattle to get him more involved.
Marion Barber (RB) for Bears - Let's not overreact too much to the egregious errors from Barber at the end of the Denver loss. He realistically carried the Bears offense throughout that game to even put them in position to win, and they'll continue to need him this week. Keep him active because Chicago will too.
New Orleans @ Minnesota
Darren Sproles (RB) for Saints - This one requires little explanation. Sproles is averaging a whopping 6.8 yards per carry, and while his production has tapered off some recently, he is still a great source of total yards. Keep him active and hope for a score.
Lance Moore (WR) for Saints - Really any Saints receiver would be worth a roll of the dice this week since the Vikings defensive backs couldn't cover a rock. Moore is second on the team in TD grabs to only Jimmy Graham and that number could go up against a Minnesota D that leads the league in pass scores allowed with 26.
Cincinnati @ St. Louis
Andy Dalton (QB) for Bengals - Dandy Andy has thrown for at least one score in 10 straight games and the past five have come against defenses all ranked in the top-5 in pass defense. The Rams defense should be a welcome sight for Dalton and anyone in need of a QB replacement with some upside.
Cedric Benson (RB) for Bengals - The Rams are still dead last in rush yards allowed and give them up at 5.0 yards a clip. Benson should be in for a nice day since he's almost a sure bet for 20 carries.
Tennessee @ Indianapolis
Damian Williams (WR) for Titans - In eight out of the last 10 games Williams has posted a minimum of six points and versus a soft Indy defense he has a good chance to exceed that floor, especially with Nate Washington hampered by an ankle injury.
Donald Brown (RB) for Colts - Brown scored in his last meeting with the Titans to begin a streak of five straight with at least 65 total yards or a score that ended last week against the bruising Baltimore D. Now he'll kick-start another streak versus the same average run defense the previous one started against.
Green Bay @ Kansas City
Ryan Grant (RB) for Packers - In their last six games the Chiefs' defense has allowed a whopping 868 rushing yards for nearly 145 a week. With James Starks likely to nurse his ankle injury on the bench, Grant could again bust loose, particularly when the Pack get a big early lead.
Jermichael Finley (TE) for Packers - Finley has played his way into being a much-less-than-obvious start with his brutally up and down play that hit a low point last week with a one-target, zero-catch game. But against a Chiefs defense that's given up five scores to TE's in six weeks AND with no Greg Jennings, he's easily my don't-get-cute pick of the week.
Detroit @ Oakland
Maurice Morris (RB) for Lions - If the Packers, one of the league's worst rushing teams can rip through the Raiders sorry run defense, then why can't another of the terrible running teams pull the same feat? Morris should fare well with or without Kevin Smith's presence against an Oakland D giving up the most yards per carry (5.2) in the league.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (WR) for Raiders - The Raiders will run to set up the pass. They'll lean on Michael Bush to slow down the game and then hit the suspect Lions corners with quick strikes and deep balls. That should pan out nicely for Heyward-Bey who is practically the last receiver standing for Oakland.
New England @ Denver
Aaron Hernandez (TE) for Patriots - Since his hot start Hernandez has been fairly quiet while fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski has exploded into a fantasy beast. That could even out a bit this week with the Broncos likely to do everything possible to slow Gronk. Look for Hernandez to have his best outing in weeks.
Demaryius Thomas (WR) for Broncos - Thomas has seen 20 targets in his last two games and has turned those opportunities into 222 yards and three touchdowns. Facing the Patriots miserable pass defense, he could be just the type of calculated risk that puts your team in the Super Bowl.
New York Jets @ Philadelphia
Santonio Holmes (WR) for Jets - The Eagles have allowed a touchdown pass to a wide receiver in seven straight games, with 10 total in that span. Holmes has grabbed a score in the last three weeks. Something has to give this week, and my bet is it will be the Philly defense.
Brent Celek (TE) for Eagles - With the Jets corners glued to the top receivers for Philly the man with the best chance of getting open will be Celek, who coincidentally leads the team in receptions while being second in targets. So although the Eagles will struggle to move the ball through the air, Celek will get his.
Cleveland @ Arizona
Peyton Hillis (RB) for Browns - With a tough road matchup against a suddenly strong Cardinals defense, the Browns could feed Hillis early and often to try and set a tone for the game and grind out an early lead.
Seneca Wallace (QB) for Browns - If you're quarterback matchup is tough or you've been hit by QB injuries (i.e., you own Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler or Michael Vick), don't be scared to gamble on Wallace. Colt McCoy is still woozy from his concussion and likely won't play. That opens the door for Wallace who's thrown a score in 20-of-22 career games with at least 10 pass attempts.
Baltimore @ San Diego
Philip Rivers (QB) for Chargers - With his full assortment of receivers healthy and the run game picking up steam, Rivers is nearly back to his old form. And that version of Rivers can sling it on any defense, any time. The Ravens are about to find that out.
Mike Tolbert (RB) for Chargers - Two words: Touchdown. Vulture. With the Chargers offense finally clicking, Tolbert should have his chance to score despite the tough defensive matchup.
Pittsburgh @ San Francisco
Ben Roethlisberger (QB) for Steelers - Bum ankle and bad matchup be damned. Big Ben will start and will excel. It's just what he does. The game is crucial to both sides and with the Steelers unable to run on San Fran, Roethlisberger will take to the air and use his speedy wideouts to pick up big yards.
Michael Crabtree (WR) for 49ers - Crabtree has racked up 333 yards on 24 catches in his last four games and will be looked at early and often in this smash-mouth matchup that will see very little rushing room for either team.