Welcome to let's-not-get-cute territory, otherwise known as the fantasy playoffs. Many leagues of at least 10 teams will jumpstart the playoffs this weekend, and perhaps the best advice to be offered to anyone playing a do-or-die matchup is simply to keep things simple. Although the Texans are second against the run and have allowed the fewest rushing scores this year, that doesn't mean you bench Stevan Ridley in favor of Vick Ballard, who happens to draw a weak Tennessee defense that he's already scored on once. That goes double for a player like Bryce Brown who has to travel to the top-ranked Bucs run defense. He's only been the starter in Philly for two weeks, but it's safe to say he's one of the best options at the position this week. Even if LeSean McCoy comes back from his concussion, Brown has to be in lineups. So clearly, the point is to start your best players.
If you have lineup problems, though, due to late-season injury, or you're in such a large league that one or two studs carried you to the playoffs and you're left piecing together the other slots, then here are some of your better options. But it should go without saying that you don't bench Frank Gore versus a tough Miami run D for DeAngelo Williams against a weak one. Of course, there are some close calls, like the surprisingly consistent Danario Alexander against the stingy Steelers or Anquan Boldin facing the sloppy Redskins pass defense. That is why it's important, as always, to note matchups, recent trends and overall production and pedigree of the players you're considering. However, in the case of a receiver question like this, consider the quarterback as strongly as the wideout. Who else wouldn't be surprised if Philip Rivers is awful versus the Steelers? Even without veteran Ike Taylor (leg) at corner, Pittsburgh may beat the tar out of the Chargers offense.
Anyone that's gotten you to the playoffs should be rolled out in the playoffs. That's a nice, simple rule of thumb if the decisions are too close. In cases in which two players have played about equally and have similar values, stick with the hotter option or the one with the obviously more favorable matchup. Then cross your fingers, count your blessings that you have a shot, and hope like hell to make it all the way to that winner-take-all title game.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Matt Schaub at New England - The Texans won't be running their way to victory in Foxboro. In what's almost sure to be a contentious game with major AFC playoff implications, expect Schaub to take advantage of a poor Patriots secondary like the man who led the league in passing yardage in 2009 surely knows how.
2. Josh Freeman vs. Philadelphia - After getting blanked the week prior, Freeman returned to his multi-touchdown ways against a tough Denver defense. He now has at least two touchdowns in seven of the last eight games and gets a Philly defense coming into his building that just let Cam Newton and Tony Romo each throw for more than 300 yards and total seven scores.
3. Colin Kaepernick vs. Miami - Immediately following the 49ers' loss to the Rams, coach Jim Harbaugh announced that Kaepernick would remain his starter for Miami this week. Although he struggled against St. Louis and failed to get in the end zone, he's still a promising option against a Miami defense that remains among the league's worst in passing yards allowed.
4. Russell Wilson vs. Arizona - Wilson is growing up by leaps and bounds almost weekly. Although the Cardinals have one of the best pass defenses in the league, this mature-beyond-his-years rookie has all the tools and the receiving weapons (watch Sidney Rice's head injury, though) to have plenty of success against it. Wilson is working on a five-game streak with multiple passing scores and has just begun rushing it more. His 170 rushing yards in the last four weeks are gravy for this dynamic young talent.
5. Joe Flacco at Washington - The Redskins have been fairly stout against the run all year, and for a team that inexplicably likes to abandon the ground game, it bodes well for Flacco and Baltimore that Washington cannot stop the pass to save its life. If Ray Rice struggles to get going early or Robert Griffin III puts any points on the board in the first half, look for Flacco to sling often against a pass defense that's right there with the worst in the league in yards and scores allowed through the air.
6. Chad Henne vs. New York Jets - Henne was hindered last week by a steady downpour that made it very difficult to throw in Buffalo, and yet he still posted two scores (one on the ground). Assuming the weather remains sunny in Jacksonville, expect Henne to resume his strong numbers through the air, particularly with such a depleted backfield forcing him to throw a ton. Of course, when considering him for play, keep an eye on the status of Cecil Shorts. The breakout receiver was forced out of last week's contest with a concussion after registering his fourth consecutive game with a score.
7. Nick Foles at Tampa Bay - This is merely an “if you're desperate” option, but it's worth noting that Tampa is still the worst pass defense in the league. Moreover, Foles improved noticeably last week in going for 251 yards and a score on Dallas without registering a turnover. If the Bucs' top-ranked run defense can slow down the dynamo that is Bryce Brown and Tampa builds a lead at home, Foles will have to air it out in catch-up mode.
1. DeAngelo Williams vs. Atlanta - With Jonathan Stewart sporting two sprained ankles, expect Williams to remain the primary option out of the backfield for at least one more game. Although Atlanta has improved some versus the run the last couple weeks, it still allows 4.8 yards per carry. D-Will posted one of his best games on them in a narrow Week 4 loss with 49 yards and a score, and coming off a 5.6-yards-per-carry performance, it seems he still has enough left in the tank to be a useful flex until Stewart returns.
2. Mike Williams vs. Philadelphia - Philly has given up nine passing scores in the last three weeks and has forced just 17 incompletions over that stretch. That means Williams, who saw a season-high 12 targets last week, may be in line for his best game of the season.
3. Anquan Boldin at Washington - The Redskins are one of the top teams versus the run, which will likely translate to the Ravens consistently looking to take advantage of Washington's dreadful pass defense. Boldin has seen a boatload of targets recently with 32 in three games, and that trend figures to continue, as Joe Flacco will want to find his burly possession target to keep the chains moving and keep Robert Griffin III off the field.
4. Justin Blackmon vs. New York Jets - Blackmon vanished last week as he struggled to hang on to passes in a heavy rain that fell in Buffalo. He should bounce back, however, against a Jets team that Chad Henne is familiar with from his days in Miami. If Cecil Shorts is held out with a concussion he suffered last week, that could mean a ton of targets for the rookie. If the weather is righteous in Jacksonville, Blackmon may bounce back in a big way.
5. Alex Green vs. Detroit - Only so many running backs receive 20-plus touches in a week, and with the news that James Starks may need to go on IR with a knee injury, the door has reopened for Green to be one of those backs. For a three-week stretch before Starks was healthy enough to make it a timeshare, Green saw at least 20 carries and registered at least 60 total yards in each. With the Packers line suffering so much, expect Green to take plenty of handoffs to help protect Aaron Rodgers from getting hit. His efficiency improving over his last three contests (33 carries for 141 yards), a career day could be just around the corner for Green.
6. Jeremy Maclin at Tampa Bay - Maclin is still the top receiving option for the Eagles, and it's only a matter of time before rookie Nick Foles and he establish a better chemistry. With a matchup on tap versus the league's 32nd-ranked pass defense in a game that figures to see Philly throwing a lot from behind, there may be no better time for the two to get on the same page.
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