Playoff Extra: Divisional Round starts and sits
Who might step up in the Divisional Round for those playing in Playoff Challenge games? Jamey Eisenberg shares his outlook for the four big games and the players he'll be relying on.
On one hand, it's too bad Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy got eliminated from the playoffs this past weekend. You'd love to watch the two best running backs for as long as possible because of their dynamic skills.
On the other hand, every Fantasy owner -- with the exception of maybe Playoff Challenge players -- should be glad Charles and McCoy are done. They can now rest for the offseason and avoid any more wear and tear on their bodies heading into 2014.
Charles suffered a concussion in Kansas City's loss to Indianapolis, but he should be fine for next season and projects to be the No. 1 overall pick in the majority of leagues. McCoy's Eagles lost to the Saints, and he will likely be No. 2 overall behind Charles.
The Wild Card round gave us some great performances, and hopefully plenty of points for Fantasy owners in the Playoff Challenge. Alex Smith (42 Fantasy points) and Andrew Luck (39 points) were stellar in their showdown, and T.Y. Hilton (34 points) and Dwayne Bowe (21 points) were the biggest beneficiaries.
Donald Brown (21 points), Knile Davis (21 points), who filled in for the injured Charles, and Mark Ingram (16 point) also had standout showings. And hopefully Playoff Challenge owners were able to overcome some duds from Aaron Rodgers (14 points), Drew Brees (13 points), Jimmy Graham (4 points), A.J. Green (3 points) and Anquan Boldin (3 points).
We now move on to the Divisional Round, which should feature some great Fantasy matchups. The Broncos are at full strength on offense with Wes Welker (concussion) expected back, and they will be looking for revenge against the Chargers, who beat them in Denver in Week 15. A big key will be a healthy Ryan Mathews (ankle), who is expected to play despite not finishing the Wild Card win against the Bengals.
Luck and Hilton travel to New England, where the Patriots and Tom Brady will again try to make a run featuring LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman. After watching the Chiefs dismantle the Colts defense, Brady should be excited for this game.
In the NFC, the Saints will try for a better showing at Seattle after the Seahawks destroyed them at home in Week 13. The win over the Eagles was the first outdoor playoff victory in New Orleans' history, which dates back to 1967. We'll see if they can make it two in a row -- with hopefully a better showing from Brees.
And the Panthers host the 49ers in Cam Newton's first playoff game. Steve Smith (knee) hopes to play in this game, but this should be a slugfest with two of the top defenses in the NFL. We'll find out if Carolina can slow down Colin Kaepernick for the second time this season after he was shut down at home in Week 10.
Here are some Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em suggestions for the Divisional round. Hopefully your Playoff Challenge teams are doing well, and let's also hope the excitement from the Wild Card round continues for another week.
Tom Brady (vs. IND): Brady didn't do much in the final two regular season games against Baltimore and Buffalo with 22 Fantasy points combined, but the Colts just got embarrassed by Smith at home with 378 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady was great against the Colts last year with 331 passing yards and three touchdowns, but he had a healthy Rob Gronkowski (knee) then. Still, his playoff history is impressive with at least 21 Fantasy points in four of his past six games going back to 2010, with the only times he failed to reach that mark coming in two meetings with Baltimore. He has at least 320 passing yards in three consecutive playoff games and at least three touchdowns in two of those outings. Also, he has scored at least 26 Fantasy points in three of his past four home games. Let's just hope the weather cooperates for a good game.
Russell Wilson (vs. NO): Wilson was a bad Fantasy quarterback to close the regular season with 17 points or less in his final four outings. He had just one game with more than 200 passing yards and no games with multiple touchdowns, including three interceptions. His last productive game was Week 13 -- against New Orleans at home. He passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints with eight carries for 47 yards. New Orleans has allowed multiple touchdowns to four of the past six opposing quarterbacks, including Mike Glennon and Nick Foles in the consecutive outings. Wilson also scored at least 22 Fantasy points in three of his past five home games, and he should be able to dominate this defense, especially with a healthy Percy Harvin (hip).
Philip Rivers (at DEN): Rivers was a game-manager against the Bengals in the Wild Card round with 12 of 16 passing for 128 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. It's unlikely he'll be in the same scenario at the Broncos, especially if Mathews is out. He had 18 Fantasy points at Denver in Week 15 when the Chargers dominated time of possession, but we've seen Rivers play well when pressed into heavy action. He had nine games with 33-plus pass attempts, and he scored at least 22 Fantasy points six times. The Broncos have allowed four of the past seven opposing quarterbacks to score at least 22 Fantasy points, with five quarterbacks over that span throwing multiple touchdowns. This game could be a shootout, and we hope Rivers does his part to keep up.
Donald Brown (at NE): Brown was overshadowed by Luck and Hilton against the Chiefs, but he played a vital role in the game with two key third-quarter touchdowns. He finished with 11 carries for 55 yards and four catches for 47 yards on six targets while Trent Richardson had one carry and lost a fumble. Brown now has four touchdowns in his past three games, and the Patriots run defense has been suspect all season because of injuries to Vince Wilfork (Achilles), Tommy Kelly (knee) and Jerod Mayo (chest) -- with Brandon Spikes (knee) now joining that list. New England has allowed six running backs to score or run for 100 yards in the past six games, with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both accomplishing that feat in Week 17. With the way Brown is playing now, the Colts should lean on him in this matchup.
LeGarrette Blount (vs. IND): Blount took over for the Patriots down the stretch with two monster games to close the regular season. He had 16 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore in Week 16 and then 24 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo in the season finale. The Colts struggled with Davis last week with 18 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown (he also added seven catches for 33 yards and a touchdown, but that's not Blount's game). Indianapolis has allowed a running back to reach double digits in Fantasy points in seven of the past nine games with eight hitting that mark over that span and eight rushing touchdowns. Shane Vereen is also a good starting option this week since the Colts have allowed five running backs to catch at least four passes since Week 10 with three receiving scores.
Keenan Allen (at DEN): Allen has been quiet of late with single digits in Fantasy points in three straight, and that includes scoring a touchdown in Week 16 against Oakland since he lost a fumble. He only had two catches for 21 yards against the Bengals, but his last big game came against the Broncos in Week 15 when he had two catches for 29 yards and two touchdowns. Allen did some of his best work on the road this season with double digits in Fantasy points in four of his final seven games away from San Diego -- including the playoffs -- and the Chargers could be pass happy in a potential comeback effort. The Broncos have allowed a receiver to score or reach 100 yards in seven games in a row, with the No. 1 receiver doing it four times. We're expecting Allen to finish this season strong and break out of his recent three-game funk.
Julian Edelman (vs. IND): Edelman stepped up to close the season with double digits in Fantasy points in four of the final six games with none fewer than seven points. He had at least seven catches in five games, and Brady is relying on him more than ever with Gronkowski out. He had five games over that closing stretch with at least 11 targets, and the Colts have allowed eight receivers to reach double digits in Fantasy points since Week 10 with nine touchdowns over that span. Again, if the weather holds up in this matchup, Brady and Edelman should connect on a consistent basis much like they have for the past six games.
Wes Welker (vs. SD): Welker is expected to return after being out the final three games with a concussion. He hasn't played since Week 14, and it's too bad because that game against the Titans ended his four-game slump, which included a Week 10 matchup at San Diego. Welker was held to three catches for 21 yards on six targets, but we're expecting a better performance in Welker's rematch with the Chargers. He had double digits in Fantasy points in six of seven home games with his worst game in Week 11 against the Chiefs with eight catches for 72 yards. Welker missed the second matchup with San Diego in the regular season, and his replacement, Andre Caldwell, had six catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns. We expect Welker to be 100 percent this week, and he should pick up where he left off before getting hurt.
Sleeper: Zach Miller (vs. NO): Miller scored the last time he faced the Saints in Week 13 with five catches for 86 yards, which started a trend of tight ends abusing New Orleans. Over the next five games, four tight ends (Cory Harkey, Lance Kendricks, Timothy Wright and Zach Ertz) have scored against the Saints. Miller had four touchdowns in his final six home games, and he might be worth the gamble this week, especially based on his price at 14 units. We just hope Wilson can find him again in the end zone like he did in the first meeting at home.
Cam Newton (vs. SF): Newton struggled down the stretch and struggled in his last matchup with the 49ers on the road in Week 10. He was limited to five Fantasy points in that matchup -- his lowest of the season -- with 169 passing yards and an interception and just eight carries for 15 yards. He also closed the season with just one game over 17 Fantasy points, which was the season finale at Atlanta. The 49ers have done well against quarterbacks all season with only four quarterbacks scoring more than 20 Fantasy points, and they limited Rodgers to 177 passing yards and a touchdown and two carries for 11 yards last week. We'll also find out how Newton does in his first playoff game, but his stats might be minimal even if the Panthers find a way to advance.
Drew Brees (at SEA): It was nice to see the Saints finally win a road playoff game, but Brees wasn't the reason why. He was 20 of 30 passing for 250 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and he should have another down performance. We've already seen Brees in Seattle once this year, and he was 23 of 38 passing for 147 yards, one touchdown with a lost fumble for nine Fantasy points. We also know how much Brees has struggled outdoors this season, and he averaged 16.4 Fantasy points in seven games on grass. In his past three outdoor road games against Seattle, Carolina (13 Fantasy points) and the Eagles (13 points) he's combined for 678 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. We hope Brees proves us wrong, but the Seahawks have allowed just two quarterbacks to score more than 20 Fantasy points all season and should be able to limit Brees' production.
Mark Ingram (at SEA): Ingram was one of the biggest surprises in the Wild Card round as he stepped up with Pierre Thomas (chest) out. Ingram had 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 17 yards. The carries and catches were both season highs, and he scored for just the second time this season. Ingram showed once again that when he gets the right amount of carries he can succeed because this was the third time this season he got 13-plus carries, and he finished with at least 83 rushing yards in all three games. But he should have a tougher time in Seattle. Thomas could return, which would limit Ingram's role, and the Seahawks have only allowed five running backs to reach double digits in Fantasy points, including just one in the past seven games.
Mike Tolbert (vs. SF): Tolbert has been a non-factor down the stretch, and it's doubtful his production is going to dramatically improve in the playoffs, especially with a matchup against the 49ers. The last time he reached double digits in Fantasy points was Week 8, and that includes scoring two touchdowns since then. He has one game since Week 7 with double digits in carries, and he failed to top 50 rushing yards in any game this season. DeAngelo Williams is the only running back to consider for the Panthers this week, and Tolbert should add to his 11-game slide with single digits in Fantasy points in this matchup at home.
T.Y. Hilton (at SEA): It's nearly impossible to consider benching Hilton after his performance the past two games, especially the Wild Card outing against the Chiefs, but his outdoor history speaks for itself. Hilton just had 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City on 18 targets, and that gives him 24 catches for 379 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games on 33 targets. But outdoors, Hilton has been terrible. He's appeared in 11 games outdoors the past two seasons and has just one game with more than five Fantasy points, which ironically was at New England in 2012 when he had six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns. This season, Hilton has combined for 23 catches for 204 yards and no touchdowns in six outdoor games, and the Patriots will likely focus on limiting his production. Again, it's difficult to consider benching Hilton -- and I'm sticking with him for another week in our Playoff Challenge since I already used him -- but lower your expectations for him, especially coming off last week's explosion.
Marques Colston (at SEA): Colston did little to help the Saints in their victory against the Eagles last week with just two catches for 16 yards on two targets. He had fewer Fantasy points than Lance Moore (nine), Robert Meachem (four) and Kenny Stills (three). Colston has now gone three games in a row with six Fantasy points or less, and his struggles on the road outdoors are similar to Brees. Colston has combined for 18 catches for 195 yards and no touchdowns in six games outdoors, including Week 13 at Seattle when he had four catches for 27 yards on seven targets. He's just not good on grass, and the Seahawks should be able to slow him down.
Steve Smith (vs. SF): Smith is expected to play against the 49ers despite hurting his knee in Week 17 at Atlanta. That should help Newton, but Fantasy owners should stay away. He had just three games this season with double digits in Fantasy points and failed to reach 70 receiving yards in any outing. And since he'll be playing at less than 100 percent -- he expects his knee to be about 60 percent -- his production could be further limited. The past four No. 1 receivers against the 49ers -- Vincent Jackson, Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald and Jordy Nelson -- have all scored double digits in Fantasy points, but Smith isn't at that level right now. And he was held to six catches for 63 yards against San Francisco in Week 10 on 11 targets, which is about what you can expect this week.
Antonio Gates (at DEN): Since Week 11, when Ladarius Green announced his presence with a solid game at Miami, Gates has been the No. 2 Fantasy tight end on his own team in terms of overall production. He has 37 Fantasy points over the eight games from Week 11 on while Green has 49 points over that span, despite three games without scoring any points. Against the Bengals last week, Green had three catches for 34 yards and a touchdown on three targets, and Gates was held to one catch for 5 yards on one target. Gates also has a bad track record in Denver with 11 catches for 142 yards in his past four trips there going back to 2008. He combined for six catches for 85 yards against the Broncos in two games this season, and we just can't trust him this week based on Green's involvement and his history in Denver.
My Playoff Challenge Team
Here's how I built my Playoff Challenge team for the Wild Card round:
QB: Andy Dalton, Bengals (49
units) 15 points
RB: Donald Brown, Colts (48 units) 21 points
RB: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (64 units) 14 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers (36 units) 3 points
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts (30 units) 34 points
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers (38 units) 9 points
K: Alex Henery, Eagles (15 units) 6 points
DST: Eagles (20 units) 8 points
And here's my team for the Divisional round:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos 76 units
RB: Donald Brown, Colts 48 units
RB: Montee Ball, Broncos 21 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers 36 units
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts 30 units
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers 38 units
K: Phil Dawson, 49ers 24 units
DST: Broncos 27 units
Potential transactions for the Championship round: Four
I have to make four transactions after losing Dalton, McCoy, Henery and the Eagles DST. Since I'm a believer in the Broncos advancing to the Super Bowl, I went with Manning, Ball and the Broncos DST with the hope I don't have to use any more transactions at those spots. I don't expect much from the Broncos DST, but they could help me score total points if they play three games as expected. Manning is obvious as the No. 1 quarterback, and I'll gamble on Ball at his price with the hope he scores a touchdown. I'll also be rooting for the 49ers to advance with the hope I can stick with Boldin and Davis, and that's why I chose Dawson at kicker.
Brown and Hilton were awesome in the Wild Card round, so if the Colts pull off the upset at New England then I'll be in good shape, although I'm not optimistic. We'll see how it turns out, but if the Broncos and 49ers lose this week then I'm done. We had 1,293 entries into the CBSSports.com Fantasy Staff buddy group, and I'm currently No. 51 with 110 points, which is 29 points behind the leader.
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