The regular season is over more and more people, including myself, are extending their fantasy football experience by playing in playoff fantasy football games. If you are one of the hardcore few who have IDP players included then this article is going to help you get the right players this week.
Following on from last week’s match-up inspired selections, I’ll avoid highlighting any 49ers and Ravens because they have the toughest match-ups against New Orleans and Houston respectively. Both the Saints and Texans O-Lines only gave up 15 sacks during the regular season, which ranked them =6th on sacks alone, which means sack artists Terrell Suggs and Aldon Smith should be passed over this week. That being said Drew Brees did get sacked twice last week, and hit the dirt two further times, but the situational use of Aldon Smith limits his upside and the 16 game regular season is a larger sample size to work from.
One of the best match-ups, on paper, is the Broncos as they give up a sack every 20.4 pass plays, but last week Tim Tebow was not sacked (or hit) by a usually fearsome Steelers pass-rush. Combined with their propensity to run the ball I’m loathe to recommend a Patriot pass-rusher, although Mark Anderson does have an impressive 12 sacks on just 444 snaps. Anderson also had his best game of the season in week 15 when he had 2 sacks and +5.4 grade against Denver, so as I gave the Saints O-Line a pass for a bad game, we’ll do the same for the Broncos having a good one.
My final selection this week is Will Smith. Although he’s had a mediocre year by his standards, charting only 7 sacks, he’ll be facing a 49ers offense that allows a sack every 20 pass plays and ranks 24th in our Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) rankings. Whereas normally San Francisco can grind out games behind Frank Gore and their running game, the high powered New Orleans will test them and should force them to chase the game and abandon the run. That means Smith and the blitzing Saints will have more opportunities than usually provided.
I should also note, the Giants remain a good match-up for any D-Lineman, but the Packers tend to bring pressure from other areas of the field.
On that note, Clay Matthews continues to be a menace to opposing QBs, despite only recording 6 sacks in the regular season. No player in the NFL has more QB hits (21) and his 40 hurries ranks 5th among 4-3 OLBs, showing that he’s been slightly unlucky not to have been more successful. Looking back to the week 13 thriller between the Giants and Packers, Matthews had his highest graded game of the season (+6.7) as he had 1 sack, 4 hits and 3 pressures but zero tackles which makes him a slightly risky play in this rematch, but potentially very rewarding.
If I had to choose between the 49ers middle linebacker duo I give the nod this week to NaVorro Bowman over Patrick Willis. Willis did return from his hamstring injury in week 17 after missing three games, but looked a little flat and could only muster 2 solo tackles despite playing 100% of snaps. With an extra couple weeks of rest I’m sure he’ll be back to his usual self, but Bowman has been a sensation all year and was deservedly our top rated regular season ILB (+32.2). Bowman has been an efficient tackler all year, making a tackle every 13.24 snaps (7th best for ILBs) compared to Willis’ tackle every 10.87 snaps (25th), further emphasizing why we should select him over his Pro Bowl team-mate.
I could easily list Ray Lewis, Brian Cushing or Jerod Mayo as solid plays this week against teams that are expected to pound the line of scrimmage, but rather than state the obvious I’ll suggest Jonathan Vilma as a lower profile alternative. As mentioned above, San Francisco will want to keep to their running game which will provide opportunities for Vilma to make plays, but if (when) they are forced to go aerial I expect TE Vernon Davies to be a primary target over the middle. Having allowed a 73.5% completion rate and 5 TDs on only 34 targets, Vilma is a liability that a passing 49ers team will look to exploit.
After recommending Von Miller last week I’m passing on him this time against a Patriots O-Line ranked 8th in PBE. Miller did flash some of his outstanding abilities last week (+2.7), but that was only his 11th best performance of the year and came after three consecutive negatively graded games, including a poor week 15 versus New England when he could only muster a single solo tackle (-2.1). In his defense he has been recovering form thumb surgery, but with a plethora of options at LB, he should be avoided.
When making a case for Will Smith as a pass-rusher this week I highlighted the frailties of the San Francisco O-Line and that will play into the hands of the ultra-aggressive, Roman Harper. Harper has 7 sacks on the season and thrives in Gregg Williams’ defense which lets him buzz around in the box making plays (74 solo tackles) and I’d expect him to have a big week.
Bernard Pollard also appeals because of his consistency in tackle numbers each week and the fact he’ll be playing a Texans side riding the coat tails of its running backs. The Raven’s do have previous against Houston this year (week 6) and Pollard wasn’t at his best as he only had 5 total tackles and a -1.2 grade for his run defense, but that proved to be an outlier and I’m confident the former Texan will be looking to end his old franchise’s playoff run.
You don’t need me to tell you that Charles Woodson is a stud, but one IDP star from the regular season who should not be played this week is Lardarius Webb. Over the past five weeks Webb has averaged only 2 solo tackles a game and only been targeted 2.8 times a game. In the 12 weeks prior to that Webb had been targeted 6.8 times per game and recorded 4.5 tackles a game. It’s simply a case of the tape catching up with him as he’s been excellent all year (+14.4) ranking 4th among CBs, so opposing teams have stopped testing him and moved onto throwing at rookie Jimmy Smith instead. If he is to score big, his fantasy points will come from making an interception…
Questions and comments are welcome – @PFF_RossMiles