Figuring out who will put up the best fantasy numbers in the conference championships is a little easier than doing so for the regular season, especially when you have just two games to look at. It is by no means simple, however, especially when you consider the particular matchups involved.
That's why those of us in the fantasy industry put together these lists—to give the reader a gauge of what to expect from their players during the NFL conference championship weekend.
With that, here are the rankings for the big four offensive positions in the third round of the playoffs along with some detailed analysis on the top five guys at each:
4. Matt Ryan (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
I still believe that Matt Ryan is one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the game and will likely be ranking him in the top 10 going into the 2013 season.
With Roddy White and Julio Jones as your wide receivers, how can you not?
Be that as it may, this will NOT be one of Ryan’s better outings going up against this dominant 49ers defense.
I didn’t think Ryan would do much against the Seahawks last week, and even though he threw for three touchdowns, his 250 passing yards were the fewest of any QB in the divisional round.
I guess what I’m saying here is that even though Ryan may very well have a decent game this week (though his fantasy numbers were far more inferior at home this season), he still won’t outperform Brady, Flacco and Kaepernick.
It’s as simple as that.
3. Tom Brady (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Tom Brady is one of the best there ever was and always will be. However, his track record against the Baltimore Ravens hasn’t been all that great.
In fact, his average of just one passing touchdown per game against them (seven games, playoffs included) is tied for the worst against any team in his career.
His completion percentage and yards per attempt are both awful against them as well.
Basically, if you’re looking for a smudge of Kryptonite in Brady’s armor…Baltimore is it.
Still, he’s 4-1 against them in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs, so it looks like coach Bill Belichick and the Pats coaching staff find a way to win regardless.
That being said, I can’t see Brady having one of his better fantasy games this Sunday, especially with Rob Gronkowski being out.
2. Joe Flacco (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
I can already hear the pundits out there…Joe Flacco ahead of Tom Brady, are you nuts?!?!
Yeah, maybe I am. But I’m also logical. Check this out:
In three regular-season games against the Patriots, Joe Flacco averaged 310.3 passing yards per game and has thrown for seven touchdowns compared to two interceptions. In those same three games, Brady averaged 295 passing yards, yet only threw for three touchdowns and two interceptions.
If you’d like to check out the playoff head-to-head, we can do that too.
Flacco: 26-of-46 for 340 yards, two TDs and two INTs (in the first game he was barely used as he went just 4-of-10 for 34 yards and one interception, yet the Ravens won).
Brady: 45-of-78 for 393 yards, two TDs and five INTs.
Hey, I’m not trying to say that Joe Flacco is a better quarterback than Tom Brady, but when it comes to this particular matchup, Joe Flacco just happens to be the better fantasy call. Period.
1. Colin Kaepernick (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
It’s a reality now, folks.
The best fantasy quarterbacks aren’t just passing machines anymore—like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees—but they’re also the most athletic, like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, RGIII, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
With the way fantasy scoring rules are today, if you want the best fantasy score, you simply have to take a chance on Kaepernick this weekend.
13. Brandon Bolden (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
12. Jason Snelling (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
11. Vonta Leach (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
10. Anthony Dixon (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
9. LaMichael James (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
8. Danny Woodhead (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
7. Bernard Pierce (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
6. Jacquizz Rodgers (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
The Top Five RBs for the Conference Championships
5. Michael Turner (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
I’m impressed. Give me whatever reason you want as to how Turner ripped apart the Seattle Seahawks defense last week and I’ll still be impressed.
Has he been underestimated? Absolutely. Is he 30 years old? Yes. Not what he used to be? Yes.
However, Turner was rested enough throughout the season to make a difference right now, and that is what is important.
The Falcons knew they would get here; it was just a matter of how much they actually needed Michael Turner in order to do it.
Well, it’s time to unleash the Centaur, and though he won’t go for more than 60 to 70 yards in this game, it won’t be for lack of trying because I expect at least 15-20 carries in this one with a couple inside the red zone.
You have to do that against the 49ers…or they’ll kill you for lack of respect.
4. Shane Vereen (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Vereen certainly came into his own last weekend with three touchdowns and 124 total yards against the Texans.
However, this isn’t the reason he’s ranked here.
The reason is because of the New England Patriots running game and how little it’s paid attention to throughout a game.
The Pats have one of the best running games—if not the best in the entire NFL— and all anyone ever talks about with the Patriots is Tom Brady.
The fact is, the Patriots had the most rushing touchdowns, the second most rushing attempts and the seventh most yards per game in the league this year.
Somebody other than Stevan Ridley is going to make an impact in this game, and I’m thinking it's Vereen.
3. Stevan Ridley (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
The Ravens can be beaten on the ground, which is exactly why the Patriots will run the hell out of the ball this Sunday.
Stevan Ridley is one of the better young runners in the game today and because Bill Belichick knows it, he’s allowed Ridley’s fumbling woes to go by the wayside.
Right now is the time to turn him loose because Baltimore can’t and hasn’t been able to stand up to a dominant running game all season.
New England has the top rushing attack in the league, believe it or not, and I have no doubt it will be used to its fullest this Sunday.
With Tom Brady drawing the most eyes, Ridley could very well be the focus of their offensive attack and should be able to go over 100 total yards with a score.
2. Frank Gore (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
Of the four teams left in the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons are the easiest to score big fantasy points against—no doubt about it.
Gore has been rested all year for this exact reason, and I expect the 49ers to use him accordingly in this game.
Yes, Colin Kaepernick will take his fair share of keepers for a good amount of rushing yards, but Gore should find some wide open holes because of it and turn them into at least 100 yards and a touchdown himself.
To be honest, Gore’s fantasy value just went up exponentially next season with the recent play of Kaepernick.
1. Ray Rice (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Is Ray Rice a fantasy player worth taking on your team with the Ravens on the road?
During the regular season I wouldn’t say so, but Baltimore has done well to make him a focal point on the road this postseason, that’s for sure.
Bernard Pierce may have taken himself at least partially out of the equation with an injury last weekend, but Rice did all he could against a dominant Denver run defense anyway, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
The Patriots have been awful against running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield this season, so Rice will have every chance to dominate come Sunday.
14. A.J. Jenkins (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
13. Ted Ginn (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
12. Deion Branch (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
11. Tandon Doss (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
10. Harry Douglas (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
9. Randy Moss (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
8. Jacoby Jones (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
7. Brandon Lloyd (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
6. Torrey Smith (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
The Top Five WRs for the Conference Championships
5. Roddy White (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
Roddy White is the goods.
I’ve been drafting this kid out of Alabama-Birmingham for years now, and let me tell you, the guy rarely disappoints.
When it comes to the playoffs, he’s managed to catch a touchdown in three of his four appearances, including last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
He’s also never had less than five catches for 52 yards in a playoff game.
Basically, he’s as steady as you could hope for as a fantasy owner and would be the one to snag when you’re debating between him and another receiver.
Regardless of his price, Roddy will be the guy you want.
4. Anquan Boldin (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
He might not have made it into the end zone, but Anquan Boldin had another nice performance against the Broncos this past weekend going for 71 yards on six catches (11 targets).
He’s become Joe Flacco’s go-to guy over the past couple of months and will likely fill the role once again this Sunday.
In the three games he’s faced the Patriots while donning a Ravens uniform, Boldin totaled 14 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown.
In last year’s conference championship between these two teams, ‘Quan grabbed six balls for 101 yards, numbers I can easily see him coming up with again.
3. Julio Jones (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
Julio Jones is probably the most talented of the remaining receivers, but his skills don’t always translate into production.
Julio’s track record at home has been less than impressive over the past two years, and though he may be due to have a big statistical home game, I can’t very well believe it will happen against the 49ers pass defense.
I'm a huge fan of yours, Julio, but you’re going to have to prove yourself before I give you my top ranking.
2. Michael Crabtree (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
Who doubted Michael Crabtree when the season started? I’ll admit, I am one of those raising their hands.
Plain and simple, the kid is the hottest wide receiver left in the 2012 NFL playoffs and should probably be the top wide receiver this week. However, with Asante Samuel likely covering him this Sunday, I can’t endorse him as the No. 1 guy.
Colin Kaepernick obviously loves him, so Crabby will get his targets no matter what…as he should.
That being said, the Falcons don’t normally allow many fantasy points to opposing wide receivers (eighth fewest during the regular season) and let up the least amount of touchdowns to them in 2012.
So even though I have Crabtree ranked high this week, believe me, the kid will have his work cut out for him.
1. Wes Welker (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
So Rob Gronkowski is out of the playoffs, which means that Tom Brady will have to depend on somebody else to get those short-yardage gains he needs to be successful.
Plain and simple, that man is Wes Welker.
The little guy continues to be one of the most underestimated wide receivers in the game today, both in fantasy and real life.
Last week, however, Welker grabbed eight balls for 131 yards and was the best player on the field… again. Just once all season did he see less than eight targets in a game and only twice did he catch less than five passes.
He had 13 targets last week against the Texans, and I fully expect him to see that many and more against the Ravens. Throw a touchdown in there and he’s definitely the top receiver of the week.
If not, then he’ll merely catch a bunch of passes for enough yards to be a top-three wide receiver by the end of the championship weekend.
8. Michael Hoomanawanui (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
He blocks... and that's it. He's a darn good one, too!
7. Daniel Fells (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Fells has a shot to be active this week due to Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending injury, but I wouldn’t expect much playing time for him with the Patriots season on the line.
6. Ed Dickson (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Dickson was in the game for 41 percent of the snaps last week and ended up catching three of the four balls thrown his way for 29 yards.
He might see the same this weekend with the Ravens likely to be throwing the ball, but that’s not really enough to make him a fantasy starter now, is it?
5. Vernon Davis (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET)
Vernon Davis has been nearly invisible in the stat column for over a month now, but things can change pretty quickly in this crazy game of fantasy football.
Last week versus the Packers, Vernon saw the second most targets on the team behind Michael Crabtree with five balls thrown his way. Actually, he was tied for the second spot with the ‘Niners OTHER tight end, Delanie Walker.
Davis, however, was able to put up more fantasy points going for 44 yards compared to Walker’s 17. The ugly part of that last equation is that both players caught just one ball in the game.
Who wins the duel this week is up for grabs, but it’s at least promising for both seeing how the Falcons allowed the 10th most fantasy points to tight ends this season.
4. Delanie Walker (at Atl; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
Walker was on the field for 73 percent of the offensive snaps last week compared to 95 percent for Vernon Davis. However, those numbers don’t mean much of anything when your quarterback likes you more than the other guy.
Over the last five weeks of the season, Walker caught 10 passes on 16 targets for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
In the same time, Davis caught just six passes on 11 targets for 61 yards and zero touchdowns.
I doubt either one has much of an impact on this game, but I’d probably have to go with the one Kaepernick likes more if I had to choose.
3. Tony Gonzalez (vs. SF; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
Gonzo is going to get his targets, especially in the red zone, but you can bet your ass the 49ers will be watching him like a hawk all over the field this Sunday.
The ‘Niners gave up the fewest yards to tight ends in 2012, so Tony G might have a bit of a problem keeping up with Pitta and Hernandez in that department.
However, they also allowed eight touchdowns to tight ends in 16 games this season, so Gonzo could make up for his lack of yards with a six-spot at some point in the game.
Considering this could actually be the final game of his career, I expect Matt Ryan to show him a little extra love this weekend.
2. Aaron Hernandez (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
The possibility of Hernandez coming up with the best tight end numbers for the week are as good as anybody’s, especially with Gronkowski out for the remainder of the playoffs.
However, the Ravens had the top defense against opposing tight ends this season, allowing the fewest touchdowns and fantasy points to the position.
Something has to give, right?
My guess is that Brady targets Aaron enough to get him six or so catches for around 80 yards, but a touchdown being added to the mix is questionable at best.
1. Dennis Pitta (at NE; Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
With guys like Aaron Hernandez and Tony Gonzalez headlining this list, how does Dennis Pitta end up with my top ranking?
Matchups, baby. It’s all in the matchups.
Baltimore and San Francisco are two of the best in the league at covering the tight end, while New England is one of the worst. So even though Gonzo and Hernandez are ranked ahead of Pitta 95 percent of the time, this happens to be that five percent where Pitta comes up as the lead dog.
Last week, the Patriots allowed TE Owen Daniels to catch nine passes for 81 yards against them, as well as both James Casey and Garrett Graham to combine for 42 yards on five receptions. That’s a total of 123 yards and 14 receptions out of the tight end position and while a touchdown wasn’t in the mix against the Texans, it could very well be with the Ravens.
Pitta caught a touchdown versus the Pats both in Week 3 of this season and in the conference championship last year.
For write-ups on every player, check out the: Pyro® Conference Championship Rankings.
For all the ins and outs to each playoff game, check out the: Pyro® Playoff Matchups.
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