Fantasy Football Playoff Challenge: Looking ahead to divisional round

Wild Card Weekend was great. We had one upset that we didn't expect with the Titans beating the Chiefs, and there was another upset that you could kind of see coming with the Falcons beating the Rams.

The Saints also held on for a close win against the Panthers, and the Jaguars defense dominated the Bills. It wasn't much of a surprise to see New Orleans and Jacksonville advance.

For the players, we had a quarterback throw a touchdown pass to himself with Marcus Mariota, and Blake Bortles have more rushing yards (88) than passing yards (87). Drew Brees showed that he can still be a dominant quarterback when needed, and Julio Jones was actually used in the red zone -- and scored.

So what will the divisional round bring us this weekend?

New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Minnesota are now in action after having a first-round bye, and those players are now at our disposal in any Playoff Challenge if you can update your lineups for this week. With that in mind, here are our updated Playoff Challenge rankings.

As explained in the first version of these rankings, which you can see here, we're listing players based on how many games they could potentially play. You want players with the chance to play three more games: divisional round, championship round and Super Bowl.

In the AFC, I expect the Patriots to beat the Titans and the Steelers to get revenge on the Jaguars, who beat them in Week 5. I also expect New England to beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game, giving the Patriots three more games. The Steelers should play two more games, but they also have the potential to upset the Patriots, so Pittsburgh players are worth buying into for your roster.

In the NFC, I'm not confident in Nick Foles leading the Eagles to a victory, so I expect the Falcons to win and advance to the NFC Championship Game. Atlanta could also return to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row, so it is a team to buy into this week with the chance to play two or three more games. 

The other matchup is tougher because I consider the Saints and Vikings to be the two best teams in the NFC. I picked the Saints to reach the Super Bowl, and I'm going to stand by that, so they could play three more games. But either of these teams could advance, and if you are backing Minnesota making a run then definitely lean toward the Vikings with your lineup.

As a reminder, there are different rules and scoring formats for a variety of Playoff Challenges, so make sure you look into that before setting your lineup. These rankings are just a guide, and we're ranking these players based on a standard league. Good luck.  

Quarterbacks

  1. Tom Brady, NE
  2. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
  3. Matt Ryan, ATL   
  4. Drew Brees, NO 
  5. Case Keenum, MIN 
  6. Nick Foles, PHI 
  7. Blake Bortles, JAC 
  8. Marcus Mariota, TEN

Do you think Brady will be motivated this week based on recent developments in the news? I would expect him to make a statement with his play, and he has a tremendous track record against the Titans in his career. In six games against Tennessee, Brady has passed for 1,461 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception, and he's 5-1 in those games.

Roethlisberger was miserable against Jacksonville in Week 5 with 312 passing yards and five interceptions, but he closed the season with at least 21 Fantasy points in seven games in a row. This game could be rough for him since only three quarterbacks all year scored at least 20 Fantasy points against the Jaguars, but he's ranked here for his potential to play three games. 

Ryan has not been a good Fantasy quarterback this season with only two games of at least 20 Fantasy points, but I like his potential to play two more playoff games -- and maybe three. He's averaged 21.4 Fantasy points in his past five games against the Eagles, and Philadelphia has allowed the past five opposing quarterbacks this year to average 20.2 points.

Brees had 17 Fantasy points at Minnesota in Week 1, and he has 1,760 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in six career meetings with the Vikings, including the playoffs. Brees is 4-2 in those games. Minnesota has allowed just two quarterbacks to score at least 20 Fantasy points this year, but I'm ranking Brees on the hope he plays three more games.

Keenum could play three more games and stay at home for the Super Bowl in Minnesota. And he scored at least 21 Fantasy points in six of his final nine outings in the regular season. New Orleans has also allowed two quarterbacks in a row to score at least 25 Fantasy points.

I don't have a lot of faith in the three remaining quarterbacks in Foles, Bortles, or Mariota. Foles has to face Falcons defense that has limited their past three opposing quarterbacks -- Brees, Cam Newton and Jared Goff -- to 16 Fantasy points or less. Bortles had one Fantasy point at Pittsburgh and just had trouble passing for 100 yards against the Bills at home. And Mariota might have success against the Patriots in garbage time, but only two quarterbacks have scored more than 15 Fantasy points against New England in the past nine games.

Running backs

  1. Dion Lewis, NE 
  2. Le'Veon Bell, PIT 
  3. Devonta Freeman, ATL 
  4. Alvin Kamara, NO 
  5. Mark Ingram, NO 
  6. Latavius Murray, MIN 
  7. Jay Ajayi, PHI 
  8. Leonard Fournette, JAC 
  9. Jerick McKinnon, MIN 
  10. Derrick Henry, TEN 
  11. Tevin Coleman, ATL 
  12. Rex Burkhead, NE 
  13. James White, NE 
  14. Corey Clement, PHI 
  15. LeGarrette Blount, PHI 
  16. Chris Ivory, JAC 
  17. T.J. Yeldon, JAC 
  18. DeMarco Murray, TEN

The injury report for the Patriots will be worth watching at running back because if Burkhead (knee), White (ankle) and Mike Gillislee (knee) are out, Lewis could go off. He has more than 130 total yards and two touchdowns in each of his past two games with the rest of New England's backfield dealing with injuries. A running back has scored or gained 100 total yards against Tennessee in three games in a row.

You know what Bell is capable of, and hopefully he'll play three more games if you're counting on him in any Playoff Challenge format. He was limited to 93 total yards in the first meeting with Jacksonville, but he had 10 catches for 46 yards in that game on 10 targets. The Jaguars just allowed LeSean McCoy to gain 119 total yards in the wild-card game.

Freeman has at least 12 Fantasy points in four of his past five games, including the playoffs, and he could play three more games if the Falcons make a run. The Eagles have allowed a running back to score or gain 90 total yards in four games in a row, and Freeman had 81 total yards against Philadelphia last year. He's a much safer bet than Coleman, who has one game with double digits in Fantasy points in his past five outings.

The Vikings allowed the second-fewest Fantasy points to opposing running backs this year, but I don't expect Kamara and Ingram to both be shut out this week. They are ranked here based on their long-term potential since I expect New Orleans to reach the Super Bowl. And I like Kamara better than Ingram given his role in the passing game. Kamara also had more touches than Ingram in the wild-card game.

Latavius Murray had 90 total yards or a touchdown in six of his final eight games, and the Saints have allowed a running back to score on the ground in four of their final six games, including the playoffs. New Orleans also has allowed four receiving touchdowns to running backs over that span, which would help McKinnon. And the Vikings are definitely a team that could reach the Super Bowl.

If the Eagles are going to advance to the NFC Championship Game, I expect Ajayi will need to have a big performance against the Falcons. Ajayi actually had 26 carries for 130 yards against Atlanta in Week 6 when he was with the Dolphins. But the Falcons have allowed just one rushing touchdown to a running back in their past six games, including the playoffs. 

Fournette was a major letdown with his performance against the Bills since he was limited to 21 carries for 57 yards and three catches for 21 yards. But he had 28 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh in Week 5, and the Steelers have allowed six rushing touchdowns in the four games since linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) got hurt. 

Henry was a star of Wild Card Weekend when he had 23 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 35 yards at Kansas City, and he should run well against the Patriots, who have allowed three running backs to score or gain 145 total yards in their past four games. I just don't expect the Titans to win this game, so Henry doesn't have a lot of long-term appeal.

Wide receivers

  1. Antonio Brown, PIT 
  2. Brandin Cooks, NE 
  3. Julio Jones, ATL 
  4. Michael Thomas, NO
  5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT 
  6. Stefon Diggs, MIN 
  7. Adam Thielen, MIN 
  8. Alshon Jeffery, PHI 
  9. Mohamed Sanu, ATL 
  10. Ted Ginn, NO 
  11. Dede Westbrook, JAC 
  12. Chris Hogan, NE 
  13. Martavis Bryant, PIT 
  14. Nelson Agholor, PHI 
  15. Danny Amendola, NE 
  16. Marqise Lee, JAC 
  17. Rishard Matthews, TEN 
  18. Keelan Cole, JAC 
  19. Corey Davis, TEN 
  20. Eric Decker, TEN 
  21. Brandon Coleman, NO
  22. Allen Hurns, JAC 
  23. Willie Snead, NO
  24. Torrey Smith, PHI

Brown practiced in full on Tuesday, and it appears like the calf injury that sidelined him for the final two games of the regular season won't be an issue. He had 10 catches for 157 yards on 19 targets against the Jaguars in Week 5. And even with Brown back, Smith-Schuster should still play well. He closed the season with 100 receiving yards or a touchdown in three games in a row. 

Like the running backs, you also want to keep an eye on the injury report for New England's receivers as well, especially in regards to Hogan. He missed the final three games of the regular season with a shoulder injury and could be a sleeper in the postseason if healthy. But even if Hogan returns, I still have full confidence in Cooks to play well. He scored a touchdown in four of his final seven games of the regular season.

Jones is no stranger to postseason success, and he could be getting hot again. Over three postseason games in 2016, Jones had 19 catches for 334 yards and three touchdowns, and he just had nine catches for 94 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets against the Rams. In his past three games against the Eagles, Jones has 24 catches for 399 yards and three touchdowns on 32 targets. Sanu is also worth looking into, and he has 11 catches for 146 yards on 15 targets in his past two games.

Thomas will have a tough matchup against Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and Thomas was held to five catches for 45 yards on eight targets against the Vikings in Week 1. I don't love Thomas in a one-week format, but he does have the potential for three more games. And Ginn had four catches for 53 yards against Minnesota on five targets in Week 1. Both Saints' receivers had big games in the wild-card round, as each scored at least 13 Fantasy points in a standard league.

Diggs and Thielen beat up the Saints in Week 1, and both are worth buying into with the chance Minnesota plays three games. Against New Orleans, Diggs had seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns on eight targets, and Thielen had nine catches for 157 yards on 10 targets. Diggs has been better than Thielen of late since Diggs has scored in three games in a row.

Jeffery and Agholor had spotty production with Foles in the two full games he started. Against the Giants in Week 15, Jeffery had four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets, but he had no catches on two targets against the Raiders in Week 16. And Agholor had seven catches for 59 yards and a touchdown on nine targets against the Giants, but he only had four catches for 35 yards on seven targets against Oakland. It will be hard to trust both of them against the Falcons, and Philadelphia could be one-and-done in the playoffs.

The Jaguars receivers were messy against the Bills with Lee healthy after being out the final two games with an ankle injury, and Lee, Hurns and Cole combined for no catches against Buffalo, with all three having one target each. Only Westbrook was relatively involved with five catches for 48 yards on eight targets, and he's the lone Jacksonville receiver to trust at Pittsburgh if you're looking for a one-week option.

For the Titans, I still like Matthews as their best receiver even though he was held to one catch for 15 yards on two targets against the Chiefs last week. Davis had four catches for 35 yards on seven targets, and Decker had two catches for 21 yards and a touchdown on five targets. None of them are trustworthy in any Playoff Challenge because they should be eliminated this week.

Tight ends

  1. Rob Gronkowski, NE 
  2. Kyle Rudolph, MIN 
  3. Zach Ertz, PHI 
  4. Vance McDonald, PIT 
  5. Austin Hooper, ATL 
  6. Josh Hill, NO 
  7. Delanie Walker, TEN 
  8. Marcedes Lewis, JAC

Gronkowski missed last year's Super Bowl run for the Patriots, but he should be primed for a big postseason. He has a touchdown or at least 147 receiving yards in four of his past five games, and the Titans just allowed Travis Kelce to score 12 Fantasy points in the wild-card game.

Rudolph should benefit from the bye week since he was dealing with an ankle injury to close the season, and he scored against the Saints in Week 1 with three catches for 26 yards on three targets. New Orleans was also just abused by Greg Olsen in the wild-card game for eight catches, 107 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets.

Ertz played well with Foles in the two full games they played together, and hopefully that carries over to the playoffs. In those two games against the Giants and Raiders, Ertz had 15 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown on 23 targets. If the Eagles can make a Super Bowl run, Ertz could be a valuable commodity.

McDonald, Hooper and Hill are ranked where they are based on the hope they play three games. McDonald has four catches for 52 yards in two of his past three games, and Hooper just had three catches for 15 yards against the Rams in the wild-card game on five targets, which was third on the team. Hill is coming off a strong game against the Panthers with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown on four targets, but that was just his second touchdown of the season.

Walker had a solid wild-card game against the Chiefs with six catches for 74 yards on eight targets, and he's a fine Fantasy option for a one-week scenario against the Patriots. But like most of the Titans, I expect his playoff run to end this week, so it's hard to justify using Walker in any long-term Playoff Challenge.

Kickers

  1. Stephen Gostkowski, NE 
  2. Matt Bryant, ATL
  3. Chris Boswell, PIT
  4. Wil Lutz, NO 
  5. Kai Forbath, MIN 
  6. Jake Elliott, PHI 
  7. Josh Lambo, JAC 
  8. Ryan Succop, TEN

DSTs

  1. Patriots 
  2. Falcons 
  3. Vikings 
  4. Steelers 
  5. Saints 
  6. Jaguars 
  7. Eagles 
  8. Titans 
Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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