With fantasy football playoffs beckoning in roughly three weeks (most leagues start their playoffs in Week 14, with championships culminating in Week 16), it’s time to start planning ahead for the most important part of the season.
It’s never too early to start preparing for the stretch run and looking at certain players and the good matchups that lie ahead for them. Whether you are 10-0 or on the fringe of making the playoffs, no roster is ever foolproof.
With mounting injuries wreaking havoc and most trade deadlines having passed (and if your league has not had its deadline, let this list be a guide as to what players you should stock up on or trade for), it’s time to take a deeper look at the matchups as you get ready for the playoffs.
Below will be three players at each skill position who could be beneficial for your team in the playoffs, as each player has some enticing playoff matchups ahead.
Disclaimer: Stud players like Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham etc., will not be included in this list, as they are no-brainer starts regardless of matchups. Below are players who may be on the bubble as to whether you should start them or not. Or in some cases, if you should pick them up.
Also, all stats are prior to Monday night’s game between Miami and Tampa Bay.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
For certain, Manning has struggled this year, and you likely have been burned by his horrible start. However, he might play well in the playoffs with matchups at San Diego (Week 13), vs. Seattle (14) and at Detroit.
Granted, you wouldn’t start Manning against Seattle, but the games against San Diego and Detroit are appealing. San Diego and Detroit are 28th and 29th in the league in pass defense, respectively, while allowing a combined 35 touchdowns through the air.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
After throwing for 634 yards and 10 touchdowns in his last two games, you might have to start thinking of Foles as a borderline must-start. Well, that might be a bit of hyperbole, but when you consider the weapons he has and the schedule ahead, Foles will make for a great start in the playoffs.
In Weeks 14-16, Foles and the Eagles will take on Detroit at home, play at Minnesota and then back home for the Bears. All three opponents rank in the bottom 12 in the NFL in pass defense. Foles should end out the season on a high note. Granted, this is contingent on Michael Vick not taking his job back. If so, Vick could be the beneficiary here.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Griffin III is yet another NFC East signal-caller who could close out the season in style. Now that he is getting caught up to speed after some early-season struggles, Griffin III is starting to look like the quarterback he was last year.
He is coming off a game against the Vikings in which he threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Griffin III’s Week 14 matchup vs. Kansas City will be dicey, but after that he should flourish with matchups at Atlanta and home against Dallas. The Falcons allow 252 passing yards per game (24th in the NFL) while the Cowboys allow a league-worst 313 passing yards per game. Also, both Atlanta (19) and Dallas (20) are in the bottom five in touchdowns allowed.
Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
Both backs on Buffalo could be a boon to fantasy squads as we inch closer to the playoffs. While they split carries, they are both used a lot in the Bills’ offense. Their schedule in the playoffs only makes their appeal that much stronger.
The Bills play at Tampa Bay and Jacksonville in Weeks 14 and 15 and are back home for Miami in Week 16. While the game at Tampa is not ideal, the matchups to close out the playoffs against Jacksonville and Miami are favorable. Jacksonville is dreadful against the run, allowing a league-worst 153 rushing yards per game and 14 touchdowns on the ground (also a league high). The Dolphins, meanwhile, rank in the bottom 12 in rushing yards allowed, giving up 116.5 per game (22nd in the NFL) while allowing nine touchdowns (tied for eighth most in the NFL) on the ground.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard’s athleticism and versatility should allow him to be the bell-cow back in Cincinnati to end the season. With the Bengals’ real-life playoff hopes on the line, expect them to get Bernard more involved, as he clearly is a better playmaker than BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
With games vs. Indianapolis, at Pittsburgh and vs. Minnesota in the fantasy playoffs, Bernard should be able to do some damage. Pittsburgh (29th) and Indianapolis (26th) are in the bottom seven in rushing yards allowed per game, with Pittsburgh allowing 127.2 yards per game and Indianapolis yielding 126.6 yards per game.
All told, all three teams the Bengals will face in the playoffs have given up 23 touchdowns on the ground.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
If Dallas wants to achieve balance on offense, they are going to have to feed Murray the ball more often. They did as much in New Orleans on Sunday night, when Murray carried the ball 16 times for 89 yards and one touchdown.
If Dallas leans more on Murray, he can be a great play in the playoffs, as he goes up against two subpar rush defenses in the Bears (Week 14) and Washington (Week 16) on the road (Green Bay at home in Week 15 could be difficult). The Bears, though, allow 129.4 rushing yards per game (31st in the NFL) and have given up 10 touchdowns on the ground (seventh most in the NFL). Washington, meanwhile, has allowed 12 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for second worst in the league.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Smith has been steady and consistent all season, and he ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in receiving yards with 753. It would be nice if Smith had more than two touchdowns, though.
Well, he might get a chance to pad his touchdown numbers, as he and the Ravens take on some vulnerable pass defenses in the playoffs. While the Week 16 matchup vs. New England will be semi-tough, the games against Minnesota (Week 14) and at Detroit (Week 15) could be bountiful for point production.
All told, New England, Minnesota and Detroit have combined to give up 49 scores through the air.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Just as his quarterback Eli Manning has disappointed, so has Nicks this year. While he hasn’t reached the end zone this year, Nicks is constantly getting targeted (he has 26 targets in his last three games).
Starting him in his game against Seattle in Week 15 is not advised, but the matchups at San Diego (Week 14) and at Detroit (Week16) could be enticing enough for him to be penciled into your lineup.
Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles
Piggybacking on the love for Foles, it’s safe to say Cooper is someone you should rely on for the playoffs, too.
In the four full games with Foles as his quarterback, Cooper has 18 receptions for 449 yards and six touchdowns. Considering the matchups ahead in the fantasy playoffs (vs. Detroit, at Minnesota and vs. Chicago), Cooper could carry many squads across the finish line.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
Miller’s season has been up and down, but as he fully recovers from his ACL injury, Miller could save his best for last. Miller and the Steelers do finish with a decent schedule for fantasy purposes.
In Weeks 14 and 15, Pittsburgh will host Miami and Cincinnati, respectively, and travel to Green Bay in Week 16. All three teams allow a decent amount of touchdowns through the air, especially Green Bay (17) and Cincinnati (13). So, expect Ben Roethlisberger to target Miller in the red zone in these affairs.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
After a torrid stretch of late (27 receptions for 323 yards and two touchdowns in his last four games), it’s hard to justify not starting Reed these days. And it could, perhaps, only get better as we approach the fantasy playoffs.
The game against Kansas City in Week 14 is not recommendable, but the matchups at Atlanta (Week 15) and home against Dallas (Week 16) could allow Reed to put up a points bonanza. Dallas and Atlanta’s defenses are in shambles, and as one of Robert Griffin III’s most trusted targets, Reed could be solid gold in the playoffs.
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Looking for a deep sleeper at tight end? Well, look no further than Walker.
Walker is coming off a game in which he just recorded four receptions (on eight targets) for 62 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars. Those numbers were with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his quarterback, and with Jake Locker likely out for the year, Fitzpatrick will remain the starter. There is every reason to expect Fitzpatrick to rely on Walker going forward.
Tennessee’s remaining schedule could be conducive for Walker to succeed in the fantasy playoffs. The Titans will be at Denver (who could be beat in the air) in Week 14, at home against Arizona (who have been gashed by tight ends all year—allowing nine scores to opposing tight ends) in Week 15 and a matchup in Week 16 at Jacksonville, who are still downright terrible on defense.
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