The IDP Breakdown is a weekly feature column that goes game by game and looks at all of the key matchups to help you identify big value plays, some not-so-obvious starts, and players to avoid. Analysis is based in part on Jeff Ratcliffe’s weekly projections for the defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs.
Indianapolis @ New England
Antoine Bethea has quietly put together season of rock solid production for fantasy owners. He now averages 6.2 solos per game, and this week gets to face a Patriots team that has been extremely friendly to opposing safeties this season. Over the last month, New England has yielded 11 solos to Kurt Coleman, eight to Donald Washington and Kenny Phillips, and seven to Eric Smith. The moral of the story is play Bethea. He’s my number one DB this week and is in store for a very big day. I’m not very high on Pat Angerer this week, however. While he did bounce back last week after several weeks of sub-par production, the Patriots yield the fifth least fantasy points to opposing LBs. I would not want to rely on Angerer as anything more than a low-end LB2.
It took 12 weeks, but the Curtis Painter era is officially over in Indianapolis. Dan Orlovsky will get the start at QB for the Colts this weekend and has the unique chance to have started for two teams that finish at 0-16. What will this do for a Colts offense that has yielded the least fantasy points to opposing IDPs? Well, I don’t suspect much. I would be very cautious if you plan to rely on Jerod Mayo this weekend. While he looked very good against the Chiefs in Week 11, Mayo struggled at times last week against the Eagles. We may not see him truly return to form until 2012. This week, you’d be best to keep him on the bench. I do think we see a nice game from Andre Carter, however. Orlovsky was sacked twice in his 14 snaps of relief against the Jaguars back in Week 10, so look for Carter to get his opportunities. Another deep play to take a look at is Mark Anderson. He’s a pass rush specialist, who has played 78.4% of his snaps this season in passing situations and currently sits with nine sacks on the season. If you’re struggling at DL, Anderson makes a sneaky play in deeper leagues.
Oakland @ Miami
Kamerion Wimbley is proving to be a solid asset to owners in big play leagues. He had another monster fantasy day last weekend against the Bears with four solos, a sack, a pass defensed, and a pick. Wimbley currently sits fifth in the league in QB interruptions behind Chris Long, Cameron Wake, Von Miller, and Clay Matthews. He was limited in practice this week with a hamstring issue, but it doesn’t look to keep him out on Sunday. He’s a solid LB2 play in big play formats this weekend, but because of his limited tackle production, he can’t be trusted as anything more than a flex in tackle heavy leagues. Aaron Curry is another Raider LB who you may want to consider playing if you’re in a pinch. Curry has been solid since coming over to Oakland, but has not been getting the nickel snaps. That could change this weekend with Rolando McClain’s arrest on Wednesday in connection with a shooting in Decatur, Alabama. Though the details of this event are still coming out, they sound quite bad. If you own McClain, I would certainly plan for the worst here. With McClain almost certainly not playing this weekend, Curry could see some action in the nickel. Daryl Blackstock will likely replace McClain in the middle, and may also see some nickel snaps. Of the two, I would prefer Curry, and it’s not close. This is most definitely a situation to keep a close eye on.
Yeremiah Bell is another one of the many players battling a late-season injury. Despite being limited in practice with a foot issue, it looks like he should have no problem getting out on the field. Though I don’t recommend you set it and forget it, Oakland has been a solid matchup for DBs this season, making Bell is a must start if he does play. Kevin Burnett topped double-digit solos last week for the first time this season and now has 63 on the season. That’s nine more than teammate Karlos Dansby. Despite Dansby’s subpar solo tackling performance last week, I wouldn’t be overly concerned because he was getting used in the pass rush and did notch three QB interruptions. Moving into the playoffs, both have shown that their early season woes are now in the rearview mirror. Both are legitimate LB2 options this week and moving forward.
Tennessee @ Buffalo
It’s looking like we’re seeing a changing of the guard at LB in Tennessee. The Titans brought in free agent Barrett Ruud to fill the shoes of Stephen Tulloch, but also drafted Colin McCarthy out of Miami. The job was Ruud’s until he got hurt and missed the Titans Week 10 contest against the Panthers. Since then McCarthy has played 181 snaps to just 27 for Ruud. He has also outpaced Ruud’s production, recording a solo tackle on 12.2% of his snaps, compared to 8.9% for Ruud. While both players missed practice this week, you can expect McCarthy to again get the start, as he is just managing a chronic injury. While he’s not the best start against the Bills sans Fred Jackson, McCarthy should still give you LB2 production.
George Wilson again missed practice for the Bills, as he’s still dealing with a neck issue. With Wilson out, Buffalo has turned to Da’Norris Searcy at strong safety. The rookie out of North Carolina looked very good in his first start in Week 11 against the Dolphins, recording nine solos in the effort. I can’t say the same, however, about his performance last week where he managed just three solos and graded out at a -2.1 in pass coverage. It’s looking very likely that Searcy will again start this weekend, but we certainly need to temper our expectations from him. The up and down performances over the last two weeks make me reluctant to rely on him as anything more than a DB3 this weekend. I’m also downgrading my expectations from Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard, as the Titans yield the third least fantasy points to opposing LBs.
Kansas City @ Chicago
The Bears will look to come out and pound the ball on the ground with Matt Forte and Marion Barber in this one. That’s certainly a good thing if you’re a Derrick Johnson owner. The stud LB is having another elite IDP season and should never be benched. Jon McGraw should also benefit from the matchup. While he’s been in and out of the lineup this season, McGraw has produced when he plays. He was not on the injury report this week, and looks to be healthy entering Sunday’s game. McGraw at full strength makes a solid DB2 play. Brandon Flowers owners may be concerned at the CB’s lack of production over the past few weeks. In the last three games, Flowers averages just two solos per game and has no picks. This has been more of a product of matchup than it is an indicator of a trend. In Week 10, Flowers faced the run-heavy Broncos, and actually did not see a single target against the Patriots, who worked the ball to their TEs. Flowers is still a low-end CB1 option in CB-required leagues.
The Bears may be one of the most boring teams to write about from a fantasy standpoint. There are four guys who you want to start every week – Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, and Lance Briggs. This week they face a Chiefs team who has looks just plain awful on offense since losing Matt Cassel. Believe it or not, this has not affected opposing IDPs. Over the last four weeks, the Chiefs have yielded an average of 21.5 solo tackles and two sacks per game to opposing LBs. They currently give up the sixth most points to the position, so expect very nice days from Urlacher and Briggs. The Chiefs also yield the fifth most fantasy points per game to opposing DBs. Tillman is dealing with a knee issue, but was a full participant in practice this week and makes a solid DB1 play. While the Chiefs haven’t been the best fantasy matchup for opposing DLs, I like the chances of Peppers getting to either Tyler Palko or Kyle Orton, and he should be played as you usually would.
Denver @ Minnesota
All-world rookie OLB Von Miller underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair torn ligaments in his thumb. While Miller claims that he will play on Sunday, we need to exercise caution as fantasy owners. With Denver making a serious playoff push, the Broncos likely will not want to rush Miller back. If he does play, we may see him used only on passing downs as an edge rusher. With a limited role, he doesn’t offer much fantasy value, so it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on this one and have a backup plan in place. If Miller doesn’t play, we will likely see Mario Haggan on the strong side. Haggan doesn’t figure to be in on the nickel packages, so he’s better left in your free agent pool. There is also some concern that Miller not playing would hurt the value of the recently surging Elvis Dumervil. While Miller’s presence doesn’t hurt, Dumervil will still be fine without him. Over the last four games, Dumervil has recorded all of his eight sacks on the season, and truly looks to be fully healthy. He’s a DL2 start with or without Miller.
Aside from Jared Allen and Chad Greenway, the Vikings have really lacked a consistent IDP producer. Over the last two weeks, E.J. Henderson has shown up big, recording 19 solos. He also showed up on the injury report this week, missing practice with a shoulder injury. While it’s tempting to grab Henderson, his injury issues have moved him in and out of the nickel packages all season. It’s best to avoid him for more stable options. Brian Robison got off to a fast start this season with five sacks in the first five games. In the six games since, he has just one. Despite this significant dip in production, I do like Robison this weekend. Look for Jon Fox to take the reigns off of Tim Tebow and challenge the Vikings 29th ranked pass defense. That will leave him vulnerable to the Minnesota pass rush, and makes Robison a good DL3 play.
New York Jets @ Washington
Though it’s difficult to predict which Redskins running back Mike Shanahan will turn to on a given weekend, we do know that he will run the ball regardless. As a result, Washington currently yields the ninth most fantasy points to opposing LBs. While I’m not crazy about David Harris, the matchup does give him low-end LB2 value, especially in tackle heavy leagues. I would stay away from Bart Scott, however. Since showing flashes of IDP potential earlier in the season, Scott has averaged just 2.3 solos per game over the last seven, and hasn’t been getting nickel snaps. Darrelle Revis posted a career high eight solo tackles last week against the Bills. While we can’t expect this every week from Revis, it does make him fantasy relevant. Rex Grossman likes to sling the rock, so Revis will get his opportunity to make plays this weekend. If you’re looking for a play, you can sneak Revis into your lineup as a low-end DB2, especially in big play scoring formats.
LaRon Landry showed up on the injury report this week. It was not his Achilles, but rather an injured groin that held him out of practice. Reports out of Washington suggest his status for Sunday is up in the air, so keep a close eye on this one and have a backup plan in place if he doesn’t play. In the three games since taking over the starting job, Perry Riley has recorded 25 solos and has played all but three snaps. This guy is playing like an absolute stud, and we have to expect that this will continue through the end of the season. I hope you were able to scoop him in dynasty leagues, but he also has LB2+ value for the fantasy playoffs in redrafts. The Jets give up the fifth most fantasy points to opposing LBs, so both Riley and London Fletcher are excellent plays this weekend.
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
Both Rey Maualuga and Thomas Howard had solid IDP days last weekend against the Browns with seven solos apiece. This week, they face a Steelers team that they just played in Week 10. In that contest, Maualuga returned to the lineup after missing five weeks due to injury and recorded seven solos. The Steelers have been a decent matchup for opposing LBs this season, so look for another good outing from Maualuga. While he hasn’t given us the high ceiling value we had expected, Maualuga is still a high-end LB3 play. Howard could also be considered an LB3/Flex start. The Bengals sacked Ben Roethlisberger six times in Week 10, with each of the starters on the defensive line notching at least one sack. Robert Geathers and Frostee Rucker should again get plenty of chances at Roethlisberger. Of the two, I prefer Geathers, who nabbed two sacks in their last meeting. In DT-required leagues, both Geno Atkins and Domata Peko make solid plays. Carlos Dunlap didn’t practice again this week, and should be avoided in all formats.
Lawrence Timmons responded well to being back at his normal LILB position and recorded seven solo tackles. That was the first time since Week 1 that he had topped five solos in a game. Moving forward, look for Timmons to continue to have IDP value. His partner in the middle, James Farrior, will also give you solid value in tackle heavy leagues moving forward. Farrior missed some time this season, but looked fully healthy last week, recording eight solos against the Chiefs. Another injured Steelers LB who will likely return to the lineup this weekend is LaMarr Woodley, who had ten sacks after the first eight games, but has been sidelined ever since with a hamstring injury. Troy Polamalu also enters this weekend with injury concerns after sustaining a concussion last weekend. He practiced fully this week, though, and is showing no lingering symptoms. Expect him to play, and use him as you usually would.
Carolina @ Tampa Bay
Surprisingly, the Buccaneers have been a fairly strong fantasy matchup for opposing DBs, yielding the twelfth most points per game to the position. This makes for a very favorable matchup for Charles Godfrey, who can be considered a low-end DB1 start in all formats. Another interesting play from the Panthers is Jordan Senn, who got the start on the weak side last week after Omar Gaither didn’t make the trip to Indianapolis. Gaither was again limited in practice this week, and is looking iffy to play. Senn makes a very sneaky play in deeper leagues if he gets the start. He wasn’t in on a lot of the subpackages last week, but did play 18 more snaps than Dan Connor and managed to rack up seven solos. If you’re in a pinch, Senn could be someone you could sneak into your lineup as an LB3/Flex, but make sure you monitor Gaither’s injury status before you pull the trigger.
Despite a slow start to the season, Aqib Talib has reestablished himself as a top cover corner over the last several weeks. This weekend, Steve Smith will draw Talib’s coverage, and will likely have a very long day. Talib’s emergence has had a reciprocal effect on Ronde Barber’s fantasy value. Over the last six games, Tiki’s brother is averaging 5.7 solos per game and has recorded a sack and a pick in that span. While this is not a return to his fantasy value of earlier in his career, it does make him a viable DB3 option. Look for Barber to see a lot of action this weekend as Cam Newton moves the Panther offense up and down the field.
Atlanta @ Houston
Brent Grimes left last week’s game with a knee injury and will undergo minor surgery as a result. Reports suggest he will be out a few weeks, making him droppable in all formats. Dominique Franks will get the start in place of Grimes, but there is no fantasy value there. A Falcon who might have fantasy value moving forward is Lawrence Sidbury. The former Richmond Spider has played a limited role this season, getting in on mostly passing downs, but managed to record two sacks last weekend. That equals Ray Edwards’s total for the season, and Sidbury’s three sacks this year is just one behind John Abraham’s four. While Sidbury certainly cannot be guaranteed any significant playing time, he makes for a very interesting bench stash, especially in dynasty leagues. In very deep leagues, he could make an ultra-sneaky start against T.J. Yates in his first start at QB.
The Texans young trio of Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, and J.J. Watt had a monster showing last week with a combined seven sacks. Barwin, by far, had the biggest day, notching four sacks and six solo tackles. With seven sacks over the last three games, he’s now a must-own in all big play scoring leagues. Don’t expect a repeat performance this week, however, as the Falcons have given up just three sacks to LBs and DLs combined over the last four weeks. Another Texan who played well against the Jaguars last week is Glover Quin. I really like this kid’s ability, but he isn’t always the most consistent fantasy producer. This week, he faces a Falcons team that has given up the seventh most fantasy points to opposing DBs. With the matchup boost, Quin is an interesting DB2 start who is likely sitting in your free agent pool.
Baltimore @ Cleveland
Ray Lewis was again held out of practice this week, and it’s looking increasingly likely that he will miss his third game in a row for the Ravens. With Lewis out, Jameel McClain has gotten the every down role, and has looked good in the process. The Browns aren’t the best matchup, but any every down LB has fantasy value. McClain is at least an every format LB3 this weekend. Bernard Pollard makes a strong play this weekend. He has played every snap since taking over the starting job back in Week 4. While he is not producing at the level we had seen from him in the past, he will still get you a solid five solos and has the potential to record a sack here and there. That’s good enough for a decent DB2.
Ahtyba Rubin is one of the more unheralded players on the Browns defense. In 2010, Rubin lead all DTs with an impressive 63 solo tackles. This season, he’s close to that pace again and currently sits with 41 solos. He’s one of the rare DTs who you can consider starting at DL in non-DT required leagues, especially those that are tackle heavy. This week, he faces a Ravens team that has given up the sixth most tackles to opposing DLs, so get Rubin in your lineup. The matchup will also help Jabaal Sheard’s value. The rookie DE continues to motor and has now played 666 snaps this season. Only 24 DEs played more snaps last season, and Sheard still has five more games to play. In essentially an every down role, Sheard will continue to have DL2 value moving forward.
Dallas @ Arizona
Sean Lee has looked solid playing with the cast over the last three games, but has not given us the production we saw from him before his wrist injury. This is decent matchup for Lee against a Cardinals team who will look to continue to run the football with Beanie Wells, but Lee cannot be counted on as anything more than an LB2. DeMarcus Ware also has a good matchup in this one against the worst offensive line in pass blocking efficiency. Last week, Ware was held sackless for just the third game this season, but he will likely rebound for a big game in this one. He makes a solid LB2 play in tackle heavy leagues, and offers LB1 upside in balanced and big play scoring systems.
Paris Lenon has had a very fitting phoenix-like rise from the ashes over the last month for Arizona. In that span, he has 24 solo tackles, a sack, and a pass defensed. This is a great time for him to be trending upward, as he faces a Dallas team that has given up the third most fantasy points to opposing LBs this season. He makes a nice LB3 play in all formats this week. Another Arizona LB on the rise is Sam Acho, who notched two sacks against the Rams last week. I would be cautious playing Acho in this one however, as the Rams have given up twice as many sacks as the Cowboys have this season. Consider him an LB3 play in big play formats, but look elsewhere if your scoring system is balanced or tackle heavy.
St. Louis @ San Francisco
While Quintin Mikell has gotten most of the attention from fantasy owners, it’s been Darian Stewart who has been the most productive of the Rams safeties this season. Over the last three games, Mikell has just 11 solos, whereas Stewart has 19 to go along with two sacks. He also showed big play ability back in Week 8 with a pick six. Of the two, I’m ranking Stewart higher moving forward, and consider him a DB2 with DB1 upside based on matchup. This unfortunately is not one of those matchups, as the 49ers give up the second least fantasy points to opposing DBs. San Francisco does, however, give up points to opposing DLs. Last week, DLs got to Alex Smith for an eye-popping eight sacks. Chris Long is a solid DL1, and James Hall a decent DL2 option in this one.
Like the 49ers, the Rams are also prone to give up sacks in bunches. Justin Smith hasn’t recorded a sack since back in Week 6, but he will get his chances this weekend. Look for another solid day from Smith, who gets a nice matchup boost. The same cannot be said for Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, however. After being a fairly decent matchup for LBs this season, the Rams have been one of the worst over the last three weeks. I wouldn’t expect anything more than LB2 production from either of the standout LBs this weekend.
Green Bay @ New York Giants
Despite an existing calf injury, Desmond Bishop tried to give it a go last week. He made it through just 21 snaps before aggravating the injury. While Bishop had suggested that he planned to play, he did not practice this week and will almost certainly not play on Sunday. In his place, we’ll likely see rookie D.J. Smith get the start and the nickel snaps. Smith looked good in relief of Bishop last week, playing 50 snaps and recording four solos. While we can’t expect Smith to match Bishop’s production, he does figure to give fantasy owners at least low-end LB2 numbers. If he’s still available, go out and snatch him up immediately. A.J. Hawk will also likely miss this one, and Rob Francois will get the start in his place. Francois isn’t worth a pickup, however, as he shouldn’t factor into the nickel packages.
The Giants also have their issues at LB, but I’m being told that Michael Boley will return to the lineup this weekend after missing the last two games. If he does in fact play, expect Boley to play an every down role, making him a solid LB2 option. Osi Umenyiora is dealing with an ankle injury that will keep him sidelined for at least the next two games, and very likely longer than that. With Justin Tuck also still banged up, Jason Pierre-Paul is the only Giants linemen with DL1 value this weekend. Those looking for a sneaky play at DL may want to consider Dave Tollefson. With Tuck and Umenyiora injured earlier in the season, Tollefson logged some quality time on the field and had three sacks through the first five games. Another sneaky Giant play this weekend is Prince Amukamara, who figures to see a lot of time on the field covering the slot receiver.
Detroit @ New Orleans
Louis Delmas left the game on Thanksgiving with a knee injury and now looks likely to miss the next few weeks. This is a shame because he had a very nice matchup this week against the Saints, who give up the second most fantasy points to opposing DBs. With Delmas out, the Lions with turn to Chris Harris to fill in. Though I’m not sold on Harris having any fantasy value, I do think we see a nice game from Amari Spievey, who has been up and down this season, but did manage seven solos last week against the Packers. If Spievey was dropped in your league, pick him up and use him this week as a DB2, especially in tackle heavy leagues. We also will not be seeing Ndamukong Suh this weekend, as he will serve the first of a two-game suspension. Without Suh, you have to downgrade Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden-Bosch, and I don’t expect much out of either player this weekend.
Tracy Porter had a heck of a fantasy day against the Giants last week, where he notched ten solos on the day. That now gives him 16 in his last two, so I recommend you ride this trend. The Lions will obviously be throwing a lot, so Porter will get his chances. He makes a nice upside DB2 play. Jonathan Vilma is still recovering from knee surgery, and you can expect the Saints will not rush him back. That means that we will see at least one more week of Jo-Lonn Dunbar in the middle. Dunbar hasn’t been spectacular, but has produced solid LB3 numbers in his time as a starter. We can expect more of that this weekend against the Lions.
San Diego @ Jacksonville
Shaun Phillips returned to the lineup last week for the Chargers after having missed the previous four games. He got almost every snap, but wasn’t particularly impressive in the outing. Despite this, I do like Phillips this week against a Jacksonville team who just gave up five sacks to LBs last week. We should see Phillips get back into the swing of things, and he makes a nice upside LB3 play in big play formats. Donald Butler continues to put up nice tackle numbers despite playing limited snaps. We have to expect that to continue this week against Maurice Jones-Drew, making Butler a decent LB3 option in all formats.
If there’s a week to start your Jaguars IDPs, it’s this one. The Chargers are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing defenders this season. Paul Posluszny is a high-end LB option in all formats, and Daryl Smith should get you LB2 production because of the matchup. We should also see a nice day from Dawan Landry, who makes a nice DB2 start. Another Jacksonville DB to consider starting is Ashton Youboty, who got the start last week in place of Derek Cox. Youboty seized the opportunity and recorded eight solos to go along with a fumble return for a touchdown. While he certainly could be a flash in the pan, the potential for return on this investment makes Youboty well worth the risk.
It’s the last week of the regular season in most leagues. Hopefully you’ve already clinched a playoff spot, but best of luck if you need a win this weekend. Thanks for reading, and as always, if you have any questions, comments, or just want to talk football, feel free to hit me up on Twitter – @JeffRatcliffe.