Conference Championship Rankings and Analysis
Mike Clay supplies rankings and analysis for the conference championship round of the 2015 playoffs.
Conference Championship Rankings and Analysis
This Sunday, the Colts head to New England to take on the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The victor will take on the winner of the NFC title game between the Seahawks and Packers in Superbowl XLIX.
Playoff contests tend to vary greatly in terms of format, so I won’t be getting too into specifics. Instead, I’ll just be providing one-week, standard-scoring player rankings and analysis. Be sure to check out the wide receiver section, which provides projected primary coverage for each fantasy-relevant wideout.
Be sure to also check out our projections for the rest of the playoffs.
Want projected points/rankings custom to your unique league settings? Check out our Custom Rankings Tool.
1. Andrew Luck (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 19
After averaging 2.9 passing touchdowns per game during the Colts first nine games, Luck sits at 2.1 since their Week 10 bye. He’s eclipsed two passing scores in a game twice since the bye (Washington, Tennessee). Still, he wasn’t fantasy’s top quarterback by accident. The Colts have called pass 66 percent of the time this season, which, once game flow is accounted for, is an NFL-high nine percentage points above their expected rate. That’s a ton of volume. The Patriots defense, meanwhile, surrendered four touchdowns to Joe Flacco last week, but had allowed a total of four passing scores over its previous four games. In fact, Flacco’s big day marked the first time all season New England allowed more than three passing scores in a game and only the third time it allowed more than two. The Patriots are allowing an impressive 18 points per game at Gillette Stadium this season. The Colts offense has been amongst the league’s best and Luck is guaranteed a massive volume of throws. That’s enough to separate him slightly from Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. Luck was 23 of 39 for 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the Week 11 meeting between the teams.
2. Tom Brady (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 19
Excluding Week 17 (many starters rested), the Patriots are 8-0 and averaging 36.25 points per game at home this season. Brady averaged 2.9 passing touchdowns per game in those home affairs. New England’s starting offense has been terrific since Week 5, averaging 3.75 touchdowns per game. For perspective, the Broncos led the league with a 3.3 mark during the regular season. The Colts defense allowed five scores to Tony Romo in Week 16, but has been very good otherwise, allowing only two additional scores through the air over its last six games. That includes a total of two total touchdowns in this year’s playoffs. The New England offense is playing well and gets the added boost of playing at home. Brady is a strong play this week. Brady completed 19 of 30 passes for 257 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the first meeting.
3. Russell Wilson (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 19
Wilson tossed three touchdowns on Saturday – the first time he’s eclipsed two in a game this entire season. Seattle has been below average in the offensive play department since 2010, operates a very run-heavy offense and scores touchdowns at a rate very close to league average. This leaves Wilson’s fantasy stock heavily reliant on his legs. He’s produced consistently in that area this season, but it still adds some risk to his prospects. Seattle has a grand total of nine passing touchdowns in nine home games this season. The Packers are 4-4 on the road this season, but they’ve limited opposing offenses to 17 touchdowns in those eight games. Green Bay has allowed three rushing touchdowns since its Week 9 bye. Wilson is good bet to finish last among this week’s four quarterbacks in passing attempts and yards, but he figures to rush for more yardage than the other three passers combined. This makes him a strong fantasy asset. Wilson completed 19 of 28 passes for 191 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Week 1 meeting between the teams. He added 29 yards on seven carries.
4. Aaron Rodgers (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 17
Despite dealing with a calf injury that significantly impact his mobility, Rodgers tossed three touchdowns in a comeback win over Dallas on Sunday. Rodgers has now thrown 41 touchdowns in 17 games this season, but keep in mind that he’s managed only 13 in eight road games. The Packers are averaging 38 points per game at home and 21 per game on the road. The Seahawks defense, meanwhile, has been as elite as advertised. It has held six of its last eight opponents without a single passing touchdown, allowing a grand total of five scores during the span. Only Philip Rivers has thrown for more than two scores in a game against Seattle this season and that was back in Week 2. That all being said, it’s worth taking a look at Seattle’s competition during their dominance. Rivers, Romo, Rodgers and the Manning brothers averaged 262 passing yards per game and put up a strong 9:3 TD:INT mark in five games against Seattle. On the other hand, Austin Davis, Cam Newton, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas, Ryan Lindley, Colin Kaepernick and Shaun Hill combined for 212 YPG and a 10:12 TD:INT mark in 12 games. Assuming his calf holds up, Rodgers is good enough and will throw enough to allow a decent fantasy performance. He’s also both the riskiest and has the lowest ceiling of this week’s four starters. Rodgers completed 23 of 33 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the first meeting.
1. Marshawn Lynch (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 16
Lynch is averaging just under 13 carries per game over Seattle’s last three outings, but he’s bailed out those who started him with a trio of scores during the span. Lynch paced running backs with 17 regular season touchdowns, including four through the air. Terrific as a receiver this season, Lynch is averaging 9.3 yards per reception and has caught 23 consecutive targets. Robert Turbin’s expanded role is a tiny concern, but Lynch is a scoring machine in Seattle’s run-heavy offense and Green Bay’s run defense won’t provide much of a roadblock to a big game. He’s easily your top play this week. Lynch totaled 124 yards and two scores on 21 touches in the Week 1 meeting.
2. Eddie Lacy (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 13
Despite missing some snaps due to asthma, Lacy racked up 111 yards on 20 touches against Dallas on Sunday. Life we be a lot tougher this week, however, as the big man faces off with Seattle’s intimidating run defense. The Seahawks have allowed one rushing touchdown during their past seven games. Opponents are averaging 3.6 yards per carry against Seattle, which is the league’s second-best mark. Lacy managed only 45 yards on 15 touches against Seattle in Week 1. Lacy will get enough work to provide him with an opportunity to find the end zone, but this is unlikely to be a very efficient day. Move him behind Dan Herron in PPR formats.
3. Dan Herron (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 12
With Trent Richardson on the inactive list, Herron is officially locked in as the Colts’ workhorse back. Through two playoff games, Herron has racked up a position-leading 53 touches, 18 of which are receptions. His 3.4 yards per carry is ugly, but he was much better during the regular season (4.5). Herron has a pair of rushing touchdowns in the playoffs, but keep in mind that Indianapolis is extremely pass heavy and has scored 80 percent of its offensive touchdowns through the air. Additionally, New England has allowed one rushing score during its last eight games and limited the Colts to 19 yards on 16 carries in the first meeting. Herron figures to again be a PPR monster, but he’s unlikely to be overly productive on the ground.
4. LeGarrette Blount (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 9
5. Shane Vereen (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 6
6. Jonas Gray (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 5
The Patriots sometimes gameplan to completely abandon their running game. That’s exactly what they did against the Ravens, calling 54 passes and 12 runs. Oddly enough, Tom Brady handled 42 percent of the runs, which didn’t allow much for Blount (three carries), Vereen (one), Brandon Bolden (three) or Gray (inactive). The Colts are not nearly as dominant against the run and the Patriots actually scored on the ground four times (all Gray) in the Week 11 meeting. Blount will surely get more work this week, but keep in mind that Gray will probably be active and involved. Vereen gets a boost in PPR, but keep in mind that he hasn’t eclipsed 50 scrimmage yards since Week 12 and has one touchdown over his last eight outings. Gray is a very sneaky, albeit risky, play this week. He totaled 201 yards and the aforementioned four touchdowns on 37 carries in the Week 11 meeting. Vereen totaled 77 yards on five touches.
7. Robert Turbin (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 4
Over Seattle’s last three games, Lynch has 38 carries. Turbin has 28 and is thus not as far behind as you probably expected. Lynch, of course, remains the clear feature back here, but Turbin is going to get a handful of carries and the occasional target or two. Despite the surge, he’s obviously not a recommended play.
8. Zurlon Tipton (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 3
9. James Starks (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 3
10. John Kuhn (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 1
11. Brandon Bolden (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 1
12. Christine Michael (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 1
13. Trent Richardson (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 0
Be sure to also check out this week’s Wide Receiver vs. Cornerback chart.
1. Jordy Nelson (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 11
Primary Coverage: Byron Maxwell (or Tharold Simon) – Nelson usually moves around quite a bit, but runs 45 percent of his routes to Rodgers’ right. Normally that would mean a busy day against Richard Sherman. Of course, if we rewind back to Week 1, we see that Packers smartly had their wideouts play sides. Nelson lined up to the left and Cobb in the slot, leaving Jarret Boykin to face off with Sherman all night long. Boykin wasn’t targeted, while Nelson and Cobb handled 72 percent of the targets. Nelson caught nine of 14 targets for 83 yards in the game. There’s no good reason not to expect that strategy again this week. Nelson is your top play in non-PPR formats and gets a significant boost is Maxwell sits out.
2. Randall Cobb (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 11
Primary Coverage: Jeremy Lane – The Seahawks do not play the shadow game, which means Cobb will not have to worry about Richard Sherman at all this week. Cobb runs 90 percent of his routes from the slot, which means he’ll see Lane in coverage. Lane has been very good this season, but Cobb is going to see plenty of targets with Sherman and Byron Maxwell (questionable) limiting Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Cobb is your best PPR wide receiver play this week. He scored and racked up 58 yards on six receptions in the first meeting.
3. T.Y. Hilton (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 10
Primary Coverage: Darrelle Revis – When these teams met in Week 11, Revis shadowed Reggie Wayne and Kyle Arrington was on Hilton. Since that point, Wayne’s offensive role has dwindled significantly. Hilton is Indianapolis’ top receiver and he figures to see plenty of “Revis Island”. It’s obviously a tough matchup, but Hilton moves around a lot and has the speed to produce a handful of big receptions. The ceiling here is low, but Hilton remains a decent play. He caught three of seven targets for 24 yards in Week 11.
4. Julian Edelman (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 10
Primary Coverage: Greg Toler – Edelman moves all over the formation, but on the outside to Brady’s right is his primary spot (40 percent of routes). He’ll see Greg Toler in these situations, which provides him with a plus matchup. Edelman, who has been heavily targeted as of late, will also see some of Vontae Davis, who has been elite in coverage, and Darius Butler (slot). Edelman caught five of eight targets for 50 yards in the first meeting.
5. Brandon LaFell (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 8
Primary Coverage: Vontae Davis – Just over half of LaFell’s routes have been run wide to Brady’s left. This means he’ll be facing off with Davis, who is a stay-at-home corner. Those gambling on LaFell will need to hope Brady looks his way a few times when he’s on the right side against Toler. Otherwise, it’s going to be a disappointing performance. LaFell went for 62 yards on three receptions (four targets) in Week 11.
6. Doug Baldwin (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 7
Primary Coverage: Micah Hyde – Baldwin has operated as Seattle’s slot receiver since the trade of Percy Harvin to New York. Hyde and Casey Hayward handle the slot for Green Bay and will oppose Baldwin inside. Hyde is a mediocre cover corner. Operating as the No. 2 receiver, Baldwin caught three of five targets for 14 yards in Week 1.
7. Jermaine Kearse (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 6
Primary Coverage: Tramon Williams, Micah Hyde, Sam Shields – Kearse primarily lines up wide to Wilson’s right, but he moves all over the formation. He’ll see a relatively equal dose of each Green Bay corner.
8. Donte Moncrief (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 5
Primary Coverage: Brandon Browner and/or Logan Ryan – When New England and Indianapolis met earlier this season, Browner shadowed Coby Fleener, leaving Logan Ryan on Hakeem Nicks and Moncrief. It’s possible they use the same strategy on Sunday, but note that Dwayne Allen missed most of the first game and Browner didn’t play a full complement of snaps. Either way, it’s a decent matchup for Moncrief.
9. Reggie Wayne (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 4
Primary Coverage: Kyle Arrington – Arrington shadowed T.Y. Hilton in Week 11, but it appears more likely that Revis will handle Indy’s top receiver this week. That would leave Arrington to handle is normal slot duties, which is where Wayne usually lines up. Wayne’s targets have progressively dwindled over the past eight weeks (29 percent in Week 12 -> 21% -> 17% -> 16% -> 12% -> 9% -> 5% -> 2 percent last week). Arrington shouldn’t struggle to keep the veteran in check. Wayne went for five receptions and 91 yards on nine targets in Week 11.
10. Davante Adams (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 3
Primary Coverage: Richard Sherman – As noted earlier, the Packers Week 1 gameplan against Seattle was to put then-No. 3 wideout Boykin up against Sherman and ignore that part of the field. This week, Adams is a strong bet to play that role. He’s way too risky to start.
11. Danny Amendola (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 3
Primary Coverage: Darius Butler – After totaling 15 targets from Weeks 2 to 15, Amendola has racked up 24 over New England’s last three games. He scored twice against Baltimore, but they account for two thirds of his touchdown total this season. Amendola averaged 7.4 yards per reception during the regular season and, if you remove the trick play touchdown, his 4-30-1 line from last week looks a lot less intriguing. Butler can be beat, but Amendola can’t be counted on for more than a handful of short receptions.
12. Hakeem Nicks (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 3
13. Ricardo Lockette (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 2
14. Bryan Walters (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 1
15. Kevin Norwood (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 1
16. Jarrett Boykin (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: <1
1. Rob Gronkowski (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 11
Gronkowski has the highest fantasy ceiling at the position, but his floor has been just as impressive this season. Fantasy’s top tight end has at least one touchdown or 68 yards in 14 consecutive games. He’s scored at least once in 10 of 16 games and has four 100-yard performances. That includes seven receptions, 108 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 12 targets against Baltimore. Gronkowski has an excellent shot a touchdown and will be heavily-targeted by Brady on Sunday. He’ll be expensive in Daily, but he’s worth the investment. Gronkowski scored and racked up 71 yards on four receptions in the first meeting.
2. Coby Fleener (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 7
3. Dwayne Allen (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 5
Fleener was shadowed by Brandon Browner in Week 11, but had no trouble disposing of him. Fleener caught all seven of his targets for 144 yards. Of course, Allen missed all but 14 snaps of that game. Fleener’s snaps dip when Allen is active, but he’s on the field on enough passing downs to allow a half dozen targets. Allen hasn’t exceeded four targets in a game since Week 9, but he bailed out those who started him in daily on Sunday with his first touchdown since Week 15. Fleener is a safer bet to rack up targets and yardage and Allen remains a touchdown-dependent boom/bust play.
4. Luke Willson (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 4
Willson is a hot name after scoring three times over Seattle’s last three games. Willson – a 2013 fifth-round pick – has a ton of speed and profiles as a situational receiving tight end, but it’s important to temper expectations here. During his three game run, Willson has managed a total of 11 targets. Additionally, fellow committee mates Tony Moeaki and Cooper Helfet have missed action due to injury. Willson is a very risky start, but his ceiling will rise a bit if Moeaki sits out again.
5. Andrew Quarless (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 3
6. Tony Moeaki (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 3
7. Richard Rodgers (GB) vs. SEA: Proj. Pts: 2
Quarless, Rodgers and Moeaki each figure to see a few targets, but their fantasy value will be heavily dependent on finding the end zone. Ignore them in daily formats.
8. Jack Doyle (IND) vs. NE: Proj. Pts: 2
9. Timothy Wright (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 1
10. Cooper Helfet (SEA) vs. GB: Proj. Pts: 1
11. Michael Hoomanawanui (NE) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: <1
1. Seahawks (vs. GB)
2. Patriots (vs. IND)
3. Packers (vs. SEA)
4. Colts (vs. NE)
1. Stephen Gostkowski (NE) vs. IND
2. Stephen Hauschka (SEA) vs. GB
3. Mason Crosby (GB) vs. SEA
4. Adam Vinatieri (IND) vs. NE
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL