Wild Card Playoff Rankings
Mike Clay serves up his rankings and analysis for the Wild Card round of the 2015 playoffs.
Wild Card Playoff Rankings
The NFL playoffs are here, but that doesn’t mean your fantasy football season is over. There are a variety of playoff contests available across the web, which is why we’re going to continue providing player rankings and analysis all the way through Super Bowl Sunday.
During the week leading up to each round of this year’s playoffs, I’ll be supplying you with positional rankings and analysis at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, kicker and defense. 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. Feel free to use them as needed.
Be sure to also check out our projections for the entire playoffs.
Want projected points/rankings custom to your unique league settings? Check out our Custom Rankings Tool.
1. Andrew Luck (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 20
Prior to their Week 10 bye, the Colts averaged 3.6 offensive scores per game. After it, they averaged 2.7. That’s a sharp dip, but 2.7 is still above the 2.4 league average. The Colts scored three times in a 27-0 win when these teams met in Indianapolis back in Week 7. If we adjust for game flow, the Colts call the pass-heaviest game in the league. Luck will be busy this weekend, especially with Dan Herron and Trent Richardson in the backfield. He’s your top fantasy play.
2. Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 19
If we eliminate the back-to-back six-touchdown games from the Steelers offensive output, they averaged 2.2 scores per game on the year. That matches up well with their totals from the last three seasons (2.1, 2.2, 2.3). We obviously can’t completely disregard those two games, but we also shouldn’t ignore the trend. Without Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh offense takes a big hit, but it also means more pass attempts for Roethlisberger. The Ravens secondary is weak and Antonio Brown is a superstar talent at the wide receiver position. “Big Ben” is a fine starting option this weekend.
3. Cam Newton (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 18
Newton enters the postseason having failed to finish among the top-four fantasy quarterbacks for the first time in his career. He finished strong, however, scoring two or more times in each of his final three games. He doesn’t stack up with Luck or Rodgers through the air, but Newton is averaging six fantasy points per game via the ground game. Arizona’s defense is very good, but it hasn’t been quite as tough as of late, surrendering two or more scores in four of its last five outings. Russell Wilson ran for 161 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in two meetings with Arizona during the regular season. Colin Kaepernick totaled 117 yards on 20 attempts in his two meetings.
4. Tony Romo (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 18
Having scored four or more touchdowns in five of its last six games, the Cowboys offense is the hottest among the 12 playoff teams. Detroit’s defense carried them to the playoffs, but it hasn’t been quite as good as of late, surrendering two or more scores in seven consecutive games. Detroit is much better against the run than it is the pass, which means Dallas figures to throw it a bit more than usual. Of course, the Cowboys are the NFL’s run-heaviest team, which does limit Romo’s ceiling slightly. Still, he’s right there with our top-three as a strong play this week.
5. Joe Flacco (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 17
6. Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 16
7. Andy Dalton (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 14
8. Ryan Lindley (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 10
1. DeMarco Murray (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 18
With Le’Veon Bell out of action, Murray is the clear top fantasy tailback. Even against Detroit’s strong run defense, he’s a good bet for 25 or so touches, over 100 yards and a score.
2. Jeremy Hill (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 14
Hill has taken control as Cincinnati’s lead rusher, but Gio Bernard has stolen a good chunk of the targets. That keeps red-hot Hill out of the mix as this week’s top fantasy running back, but he’s still a decent play. The Bengals offense was the fourth run-heaviest in the league during the regular season and the Colts run defense is exploitable. Nine running backs scored more fantasy points than Hill this season.
3. Justin Forsett (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 11
Forsett enters the postseason in a bit of a slump and the Steelers have allowed a total of three rushing scores over their last 10 games. There’s enough volume here for Forsett to reach double-digit fantasy points, but he’s not a bad name to fade this week.
4. Joique Bell (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 11
Bell is Detroit’s lead ball-carrier, especially near the goal line, but Reggie Bush is back in the mix. Bush and, to a lesser extent, Theo Riddick are soaking up the targets out of the backfield and Bush is handling roughly one quarter of the carries. Dallas has allowed 18 rushing scores this season, but its done a nice job keeping opposing backs yardage in check as of late. It’s not a terrible matchup, but Bell’s snaps will take a hit if Detroit falls behind. He’s a risky play.
5. Jonathan Stewart (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 10
Stewart is the lead back in Carolina, but Mike Tolbert remains involved and DeAngelo Williams figures to handle a handful of carries in his return from injury. Arizona’s run defense has not been very good as of late, which adds some intrigue, but this is very likely to be a low scoring game. Stewart’s fantasy ceiling is underwhelming in this committee attack.
6. Dan Herron (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 10
Herron will lead the Indianapolis rushing attack, but the Colts are extremely pass heavy and scored 82 percent of their regular season touchdowns through the air, which is highest among all playoff teams. Herron will add some value as a receiver, but the Bengals defense is pretty good. Like Stewart, there’s not a ton of upside here.
7. Josh Harris (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 9
With Le’Veon Bell looking doubtful, Harris the best bet to handle early-down and goal line work. There isn’t a high ceiling here, however, as the Steelers figure to lean on their passing game and have scored more than three quarters of their touchdowns through the air in three consecutive seasons.
8. Giovani Bernard (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 7
No longer the lead man for carries in Cincinnati, but will be the primary back on passing downs. Give him a boost in PPR, especially since A.J. Green is doubtful it’s very possible the Bengals will be playing from behind in the second half.
9. Reggie Bush (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 6
Bush won’t carry it a ton, but will get his five or six targets. He may play a ton in the second half if Detroit falls behind, which makes him a sneaky PPR option.
10. Trent Richardson (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 6
Richardson figures to see roughly 10 touches, but isn’t an effective back. Anyone starting him will need to desperately hope he converts a goal line carry into a touchdown.
11. Dri Archer (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 5
At 5-8/176, Archer is a liability as a pass protector, but he will operate in a change-of-pace and passing down capacity against Baltimore. With 4.26 wheels, he’s a sleeper for a big play.
12. Kerwynn Williams (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 5
13. Stepfan Taylor (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 5
There’s no telling which of Williams or Taylor will lead Arizona in touches this week, but I give the tiniest of edges to Williams. The heavier Taylor is the favorite for goal line work, but he’s averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on the year. That’s well behind Williams’ impressive 4.6 mark. Either way, this is a committee attack that will also include Marion Grice on a few passing downs.
14. DeAngelo Williams (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 3
Williams is expected back this week, but shouldn’t be much of a threat to Stewart’s workload. Expect no more than a handful of carries.
15. Mike Tolbert (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 3
16. Bernard Pierce (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 3
17. Fitzgerald Toussaint (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 3
18. Marion Grice (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 2
19. Joseph Randle (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 2
20. Lance Dunbar (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 2
21. Ben Tate (PIT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 2
22. Theo Riddick (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 1
23. Kyle Juszczyk (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 1
24. Robert Hughes (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 1
25. Will Johnson (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 1
26. Jed Collins (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: <1
27. Zurlon Tipton (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: <1
I’m obviously not optimistic that Tate will play this week, but its very possible he’s a quick study and steals snaps from Harris and Archer. The best advice I can give is to ignore Steelers running backs this week.
Be sure to also check out this week’s Wide Receiver vs. Cornerback chart.
1. Antonio Brown (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 16
Primary coverage: Rashaan Melvin and Lardarius Webb – Melvin is inexperienced and Webb, who doesn’t figure to shadow, hasn’t covered very well this season. The top fantasy wide receiver of 2014 is the clear top play this week.
2. Dez Bryant (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 14
Primary coverage: Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay – Mathis and Slay have both been decent this year, but neither are a major roadblock between heavily-targeted Bryant and a big day. Bryant’s 16 receiving touchdowns during the regular season were three more than any other player.
3. Calvin Johnson (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 13
Primary coverage: Sterling Moore and Brandon Carr – Johnson lines up to the left and right of Stafford relatively evenly. Moore primary plays right corner and Carr left corner. Carr shadowed only twice this season (Alshon Jeffery Week 14) and (Pierre Garcon Week 17). Those using Johnson should hope Carr does shadow, as he’s been terrible in coverage this season. Moore has been okay. Detroit’s offense has underwhelmed, but Johnson has a nice matchup and Detroit will likely need to throw a lot.
4. T.Y. Hilton (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 11
Primary coverage: Terence Newman and Leon Hall – Hilton moves around a lot, but he leans more to Luck’s right and is in the slot quite a bit. He’ll see Newman when outside in the nickel and Hall when in the slot or outside in base. Hall has been okay in coverage this season. Newman hasn’t been, but has kept opposing wide receivers in check from a fantasy perspective. It’s not a walk in the park, but Hilton doesn’t have a particularly tough matchup.
5. Mohamed Sanu (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 11
Primary Coverage: Darius Butler – The assumption here is that A.J. Green (doubtful) will not play. Green was limited or missed six regular season games. During those weeks, Sanu was ninth among wide receivers in fantasy points. He caught 26 of 45 targets for 494 yards and three touchdowns. The NFL leader in drops has seen his target numbers drop significantly over the past two months, but Andy Dalton will have no choice to lean heavily on him this week. Sanu has a plus matchup against Butler, the Colts slot corner, which provides him with an additional upgrade. Sanu will see some of Vontae Davis and Greg Toler when lined up on the outside in base.
6. Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 10
Primary Coverage: Patrick Peterson (shadow) – Peterson lines up at left corner on 75 percent of his snaps, but he does shadow occasionally. He shadowed Emmanuel Sanders in Week 5, Dez Bryant in Week 9, Calvin Johnson in Week 11 and Julio Jones in Week 13. Peterson has not been very good in coverage this year, especially when shadowing, which means that you shouldn’t feel the need to downgrade Benjamin. The rookie tied with Demaryius Thomas for the NFL lead in end zone targets during the regular season.
7. Torrey Smith (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 10
8. Steve L. Smith (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 9
Torrey and Steve Smith play both sides of the formation, but Torrey leans to Flacco’s left and Steve to his right. That leaves Torrey to primarily face off with William Gay, who has been serviceable this season. Steve has a slightly easier matchup against Brice McCain in nickel situations and Antwon Blake when Pittsburgh is in base.
9. Golden Tate (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 8
Primary Coverage: Orlando Scandrick – Tate caught 99 balls during the regular season, but his stats are very inflated by the five games in which Johnson was out or limited. He performed at a WR3 level when Johnson was a full go. Scandrick is Dallas’ primary slot corner and he’s been pretty good this season. Downgrade Tate slightly.
10. Martavis Bryant (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 7
Primary Coverage: Lardarius Webb and Rashaan Melvin – Stuck in a committee with Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore, but he’s Roethlisberger’s favorite target near the goal line. High risk/high reward play.
11. Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 6
Primary Coverage: Colin Jones – Fitzgerald will see some of Bene Benwikere and Josh Norman when on the outside, but he’s Arizona’s primary slot man. Jones is very much a plus matchup for Fitzgerald, who has been a target hog as of late. The issue here, of course, is Arizona’s horrid offense. The Cardinals have 11 offensive touchdowns in 10 games when Carson Palmer not does not start.
12. Michael Floyd (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 6
Primary Coverage: Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere – Floyd moves around, but he leans toward the right side of the formation, which is Norman’s primary spot. Norman did shadow Josh Gordon two weeks ago, but did not against New Orleans, Tampa Bay or Atlanta over the past month. Both Norman and Benwikere are playing well, which provides Floyd with a downgrade.
13. Reggie Wayne (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 6
Primary Coverage: Leon Hall – Wayne will run some routes on the outside, but he’s Indy’s top slot man. He’ll see plenty of Hall this weekend. Wayne’s targets are down as of late, but it’s possible he’ll be a full go in what might be his last couple games in the NFL. He’s a sneaky PPR play.
14. Terrance Williams (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 6
Primary Coverage: Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis – Targets have been down and it’s a tougher matchup than usual.
15. Markus Wheaton (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 5
Rotating with Bryant and Moore and bounces around the formation quite a bit. He’ll see plenty of Anthony Levine, who has struggled, when in the slot, but will also face off with Melvin and Webb a few times.
16. John Brown (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 5
Primary Coverage: Bene Benwikere and Colin Jones – Brown will also see some of Norman (barring a shadow scenario), but he primarily lines up to the left side of the quarterback and spends more time in the slot than Floyd. The matchup isn’t too bad, but Brown is third in line for targets in a terrible offense.
17. Cole Beasley (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 5
Primary Coverage: Don Carey – Carey has only played 89 snaps this season, all of which have been in the slot. It’s a slight upgrade for Beasley.
18. Brandon Tate (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 5
Primary Coverage: Vontae Davis and Greg Toler – Tate will work outside opposite Sanu in base sets and will be the top outside wide receiver in ’11’. He’ll face off with Davis (very hard matchup) roughly 60 percent of the time and see Toler (very easy matchup) the other 40 percent.
19. Philly Brown (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 5
20. Jerricho Cotchery (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 4
With Peterson likely locked on Benjamin, Brown will see Antonio Cromartie, who has been below average in coverage, and Cotchery will take on Jerraud Powers, who has done well covering the slot.
21. Donte Moncrief (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 4
22. Hakeem Nicks (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 4
23. Greg Little (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 4
24. Marlon Brown (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 3
25. Michael Campanaro (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 2
26. Kamar Aiken (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 2
27. Lance Moore (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 2
28. Jeremy Ross (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 2
29. Corey Fuller (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 1
30. Dwayne Harris (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 1
31. Cobi Hamilton (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 1
32. Brenton Bersin (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 1
33. Ted Ginn (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 1
34. Jaron Brown (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 1
35. Devin Street (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: <1
36. Jacoby Jones (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: <1
1. Jason Witten (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 8
Ranking Witten over Greg Olsen won’t be a popular call, but I’m projecting 29 points for Dallas and 20 for Carolina this week. That’s a hefty gap. Witten finished 10th in fantasy points among tight ends during the regular season, but was heavily-targeted over Dallas’ final three games and nearly doubled Olsen in fantasy points during the span.
2. Greg Olsen (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 7
Picking up where I left off under Witten, Olsen was fantasy’s No. 4 tight end during the regular season, but caught only 13 balls and didn’t score over the team’s final three games. Of course, I’m not one to put a ton of stock in small sample sizes. Olsen didn’t join Rob Gronkowski as the only two tight ends to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards by accident. Olsen will be one of Cam Newton’s top-two targets this weekend and is a strong play tight end. I just like Witten a tiny bit more.
3. Coby Fleener (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 7
Fleener is definitely a better receiver than he is a real-life tight end, but receiving is what we care about when it comes to calculating fantasy value. Fleener scored the sixth-most fantasy points among tight ends during the regular season, but he did a lot of that damage when Dwayne Allen was out or limited. Fleener was 13th in fantasy points at the position during Allen’s 11 “full” games. That’s still respectable, but certainly knocks him down a few pegs.
4. Heath Miller (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 7
Miller disappointed those who took a flier on him with three touchdowns on the year, but he still managed an 11th place finish in fantasy points among tight ends. Of course, that’s not saying a ton, as he actually averaged fewer than six fantasy points per game. The Steelers will throw it a lot this week and Miller’s targets should see a slight boost with Bell out of action.
5. Dwayne Allen (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: 6
Allen matched Fleener’s eight touchdown despite missing three regular season games and a large chunk of two others. He was fantasy’s No. 7 scoring tight end during the 11 games he was healthy. That said, I ranked Fleener slightly ahead of Allen because Allen is touchdown-dependent. The Colts score a lot, but eight scores in 11 games is extremely unsustainable. That’s basically Rob Gronkowski’s rate this past season and “Gronk” is a better receiver and sees more than double Allen’s target volume. As always, Allen is a very touchdown-dependent play.
6. Eric Ebron (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: 5
7. Owen Daniels (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 5
8. Ryan Hewitt (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 4
9. Darren Fells (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 2
10. Kevin Brock (CIN) vs. IND: Proj. Pts: 2
11. Crockett Gillmore (BLT) vs. PIT: Proj. Pts: 1
12. Ed Dickson (CAR) vs. ARZ: Proj. Pts: 1
13. John Carlson (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 1
14. Gavin Escobar (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: 1
15. Matt Spaeth (PIT) vs. BLT: Proj. Pts: 1
16. Rob Housler (ARZ) vs. CAR: Proj. Pts: 1
17. Jack Doyle (IND) vs. CIN: Proj. Pts: <1
18. James Hanna (DAL) vs. DET: Proj. Pts: <1
19. Brandon Pettigrew (DET) vs. DAL: Proj. Pts: <1
1. Panthers vs. ARZ
2. Cardinals vs. CAR
3. Cowboys vs. DET
4. Colts vs. CIN
5. Ravens vs. PIT
6. Bengals vs. IND
7. Steelers vs. BLT
8. Lions vs. DAL
1. Shaun Suisham (PIT) vs. BAL
2. Adam Vinatieri (IND) vs. CIN
3. Justin Tucker (BLT) vs. PIT
4. Dan Bailey (DAL) vs. DET
5. Graham Gano (CAR) vs. ARZ
6. Chandler Catanzaro (ARZ) vs. CAR
7. Matt Prater (DET) vs. DAL
8. Mike Nugent (CIN) vs. IND
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL