Previewing the Conference Championships for fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe looks at everything fantasy owners need to know from this weekend's two games.

| 2 months ago
(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Previewing the Conference Championships for fantasy


There are four teams left this season — three games — but there is still DFS to be played, still one-and-done-style playoff fantasy games to consider. Preparation is as important as ever, so let’s take a look at this weekend’s Conference Championship games. At the start of each game you’ll see a quick look at each primary fantasy position, including position rank, points per game and a quick plus/minus look at the quality of the matchup. That’s followed by an in-depth look at everything fantasy owners need to know for the first weekend of the playoffs.

Green Bay @ Atlanta

Week 20 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
ATL GB 4 17.1 + 25 16.9 2 38.5 + 12 12.8 +
GB ATL 1 17.7 + 2 23.0 ++ 8 35.3 7 14.1 ++

This game features two of 2016’s best signal-callers and a whopping 61 over/under from the folks out in Vegas. The potential for offensive fireworks abound in this one, which means plenty of fantasy points are to be had.

Atlanta enters the Conference Championship Round on the heels of an impressive victory over a surging Seahawks offense. Matt Ryan didn’t have his best performance of the year from a football standpoint, but his statistical output mirrored what he did in the regular season with 338 yards and three scores through the air. He gets a much better matchup this week against a Packers defense that consistently surrendered big performances to opposing quarterbacks this season. When these teams last squared off back in Week 8, Ryan put up 288 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a strong play this week, but those in one-and-done contests will want to proceed with caution at quarterback. You don’t want to have zero options in the Super Bowl.

Julio Jones struggled the last time he faced the Packers, catching just three balls on five targets for 29 yards. However, that shouldn’t be a reason to fade the standout wide receiver. He’s still dealing with a toe injury, but is fully expected to play. Jones is a top-tier play this week. Those looking for some differentiation in DFS tournaments will also want to consider Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu. Both players found the end zone back in Week 8, and Sanu led the Falcons with nine catches on 10 targets.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Falcons continue to use their lightning-and-lightning running back committee of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Last week, Freeman got the slight edge in touches at 18-14, but both players proved to be strong fantasy options. Green Bay has been fairly tough on opposing backs, and held Freeman in check in Week 8. That said, both players offer appeal this week in a potentially high-scoring affair. Freeman is arguably the No. 2 running back play this week behind Le’Veon Bell, and Coleman isn’t that far behind.

Aaron Rodgers is playing special football right now. What he did last week was the stuff of legend. And this week, the No. 1 quarterback in the league has the best matchup for quarterbacks. Get your popcorn ready. Rodgers has at least 300 passing yards in each of his last four games, tossing 14 scores over that span. He torched the Falcons for four touchdowns and 246 yards with an additional 60 rushing yards back in Week 8. Rodgers is this week’s top quarterback play.

Will Jordy Nelson play? That’s one of the biggest questions this week. Nelson practiced Wednesday, but said that he slowly worked back in. At this point his status is very much up in the air, but he’ll be a top option if he does manage to suit up. The Packers may need him to do so, as Davante Adams sat out Wednesday’s practice with an ankle sprain. Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said he doesn’t think Adams will practice until Saturday. With the injury alleged to be a high ankle sprain, it’s going to be tough for Adams to play. If both receivers sit, Randall Cobb becomes the chalk play of the week. Geronimo Allison and Jeff Janis would also get significant bumps, as would last week’s hero, Jared Cook.

Following the Wild Card Round, the Packers appeared to have a committee in place at running back with Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael splitting touches. Well, Michael fumbled a kickoff in the Divisional Round and only ended up playing four offensive snaps. Montgomery served as the feature back, posting a solid 81 scrimmage yards and two scores on 17 touches. Expect Montgomery to again get a bulk of the work out of the Green Bay backfield this week. He’s a viable salary relief play in DFS.

Pittsburgh @ New England

Week 20 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
NE PIT 28 13.5 5 21.5 + 28 29.7 15 11.9
PIT NE 26 14.2 18 18.1 27 30.0 22 10.7

Not to be outdone, our second matchup of the weekend features two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and another healthy over/under of 51. The matchups aren’t quite as good in this contest, but there is fantasy value to be had.

Ben Roethlisberger really hasn’t done much so far in the playoffs. Through two games, he has just 421 yards and two scores through the air. Both of those touchdown passes came in the first quarter of the Wild Card Round. To be fair, he didn’t need to do much in that contest, as the Steelers got out to a big lead and leaned on their run back. But in poor weather conditions last week, he managed just 224 yards. With this being one of the league’s worst matchups for quarterbacks, Roethlisberger is the least likely to lead the position in scoring. He should be considered for tournament lineups, but isn’t a cash game option.

Despite Roethlisberger’s lackluster playoff numbers, Antonio Brown has managed to top 100 yards in both games and is second among receivers with 19 playoff targets. In recent matchups, the Patriots have shadowed Brown with Malcolm Butler. The standout finished the regular season as our No. 6 cornerback, but Brown managed five catches for 94 yards in Butler’s coverage when these teams faced back in Week 7. The matchup isn’t ideal, but Brown is still a strong play in all fantasy formats.

We’re still waiting to see if Ladarius Green can return from the concussion that has sidelined him for the last month. Green was limited in Wednesday’s practice, but remains in the league protocol. If he’s able to get back on the field, Green is arguably this week’s top tight end play.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Though the first two playoff games, Le’Veon Bell has touched the ball 63 times and put up 340 scrimmage yards and two scores. That’s good, right? New England did a good job of holding Bell in check in their first meeting this season. He had just 81 yards on 21 carries. However, Bell also racked up 10 catches for 68 yards on 13 targets. The moral here is simple: Bell is a strong play no matter what. He’s expensive in DFS, but is a mandatory cash game option.

Tom Brady showed signs that he’s mortal last week, completing just 52.9 percent of his passes against the Texans. A big part of the problem was the consistent pressure he faced. Brady was pressured on 43.9 percent of his dropbacks, which was tops for the week and was significantly higher than the 30.9 percent pressure rate he saw in the regular season. Pittsburgh’s defense was able to get after Alex Smith last week, and could give Brady a bit of a challenge. Like Roethlisberger, he’s more of a DFS tournament option and should be saved in one-and-done formats.

Julian Edelman continues to rack up targets. He saw 13 last week, catching eight of them for his second 100-yard game in a row. He caught 9-of-10 targets against the Steelers in Week 7, with Brady taking advantage of mismatched coverage from ILB Lawrence Timmons on six of Edelman’s receptions. Look for Brady to again pepper Edelman with targets. He’s a strong play this week. Michael Floyd’s mistake-heavy Divisional Round could end up limiting his reps this week, but Chris Hogan is in play as a fantasy option. We saw Brady throw three deep-ball passes to Hogan last week with all three completed for 88 yards. Hogan is worth some tournament exposure.

The oft-injured Martellus Bennett a major letdown in the Divisional Round with just one catch for four yards. He’s dealing with a knee injury that limited him in Wednesday’s practice. Bennett certainly has upside, but his low floor makes him a volatile option this week.

One of last week’s biggest stars, Dion Lewis is coming off a massive performance where he scored as a runner, receiver and returner. He also out-touched LeGarrette Blount 15-8. Expect this touch distribution to continue, making Lewis the preferred option in the New England backfield. James White has some tournament appeal, but keep in mind that while he did score last week it came on his only target of the day.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

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