Fantasy playoff time is finally upon us, and the National Football Post is here to help.
Before we get into this week’s starts and sits, let’s take a look at the Thursday night AFC North divisional showdown taking place in Cleveland.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6, 2-4 road) at Cleveland Browns (1-11, 0-5 home)
WEATHER ALERT: The temperature at kickoff for tonight’s game will be around 19 degrees with a 50-percent chance of precipitation. In addition, there is a lot of wind in Cleveland today that could reach up to 24 mph. Wind makes it very difficult to establish an effective passing game.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 17th vs. the pass (219.6 yds/gm), first vs. the run (77.8 yds/gm), ninth in scoring (19.2 pts/gm)
Cleveland Browns: 26th vs. the pass (246.1 yds/gm), 29th vs. the run (154.2 yds/gm), 27th in scoring (25.8 pts/gm)
1. Expect a solid fantasy performance from Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. Because of expected strong winds (see above), it will be difficult to throw the ball accurately down the field. Mendenhall is listed as probable for the game because of an ankle injury, but he should have his way against a defense that’s allowing an average of 27.4 points per week to opposing fantasy running backs (31st in NFL).
2. Don’t sweat the Steelers defense. Yes, they’ve struggled of late, but the Browns are averaging just 242.4 total yards (32nd in NFL) and 12.1 points per game (30th in NFL). Cleveland had some success moving the ball in Week 13 against a cold Chargers defense, but don’t expect that to happen tonight against a Pittsburgh unit that’s used to playing in cold temperatures.
3. Don’t sour on Browns running back Jerome Harrison if he has a bad game (which is very likely since he’s playing the NFL’s top-rated run defense). After this game, Cleveland heads to Kansas City, hosts Oakland, and closes out the 2009 season by welcoming the Jacksonville Jaguars. Those are three solid matchups heading down the stretch.
4. Injury Report: Pittsburgh —Troy Polamalu (out, knee), Hines Ward (questionable, hamstring), Rashard Mendenhall (probable, ankle). Cleveland —Jerome Harrison (probable, illness), Chris Jennings (probable, shoulder), Robert Royal (probable, finger).
5. Leave both kickers and all of the Cleveland Browns on your bench this week. From the Steelers roster, start Rashard Mendenhall, Santonio Holmes, and the Pittsburgh defense. For owners in deeper leagues, get Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller in the starting lineup.
Look out for rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace, who could be a nice WR3 option for owners in need of wideout help in deeper leagues. Wallace will be stepping in for the injured Hines Ward if Ward is unable to go (in addition, WR Limas Sweed will see some action).
GET ‘EM IN YOUR LINEUP
Jamaal Charles RB Kansas City Chiefs
Any time you have a fantasy running back on your roster who’s playing the Buffalo Bills, you want him in your lineup. Buffalo ranks dead last against the run (172.1 yards/game) and is giving up an average of 27.8 fantasy points per week (standard scoring) to opposing running backs (32nd in NFL). Charles is averaging 13.2 fantasy points per game over his past four outings, with four touchdowns.
Be careful starting...
Wide receiver Chris Chambers. As bad as Buffalo has been against the run this season, it has actually been somewhat stingy against the pass, allowing just 188.2 yards per game through the air (fourth in NFL). Only the New York Jets are giving up fewer fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers.
Chambers was held to only two catches for 11 yards and no scores in Week 13 when he went against Champ Bailey and the Denver Broncos.
Terrell Owens WR Buffalo Bills
Forget about last Thursday’s dud in which T.O. caught just three passes for 31 yards. He was matched up with all-world Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who has locked down just about every receiver he has faced this season.
Remember, Owens was red-hot entering last week, averaging 14.7 fantasy points in the four games he played prior to running into Revis. In addition, the Chiefs rank 26th in fantasy points allowed to opposing wideouts and are giving up an average of 22.8 per week.
Joe Flacco QB Baltimore Ravens
Flacco has been brutal lately, throwing just two touchdown passes with six interceptions in his last five games. But the good news is that he and the Ravens welcome the Detroit Lions this weekend. No team in the NFL has given up more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than the Lions (23.1 points/game). In addition, Detroit ranks last in the NFL in points allowed (29.8) and passing yards (274.8) per game.
That being said...
Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason is a solid WR2 option in Week 14. The Lions are giving up an average of 26.1 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers, which ranks 31st in the NFL.
Kevin Boss TE New York Giants
The last time Boss faced the Eagles (Week Eight), the tight end caught three passes for 70 yards and one touchdown. Opposing tight ends are averaging 10.4 fantasy points per week against the Birds, which ranks Philly 31st in the NFL.
If you thought the Eagles were bad defending tight ends...
You should take a look at the New York Giants, who rank 32nd in the NFL in fantasy points allowed (10.5), making Eagles TE Brent Celek a solid play in Week 14.
Robert Meachem WR New Orleans Saints
The time has come for Meachem to be an every-week starter in your fantasy lineup. The third-year wide receiver out of Tennessee has scored eight touchdowns in his past seven games and faces an Atlanta secondary this weekend that ranks 29th against the pass (254.7 yards/game).
In addition, the Falcons are giving up an average of 20.4 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers. The last time these two teams met (Week Eight), quarterback Drew Brees threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns.
Yes, this also means that wide receiver Marques Colston is a strong play in Week 14.
Tennessee Titans D/ST
With defensive tackle Jason Jones lost for the season (shoulder), this becomes a somewhat riskier play than normal, but the Titans are still a solid start for owners lacking a better option. The Rams rank 25th in total offense (303.8 yards/game) and are scoring an average of only 11.6 points per game (32nd in NFL).
In addition, opposing fantasy defenses are posting an average of 11.5 points per game against St. Louis, which ranks 29th in the NFL.
KEEP ‘EM ON YOUR BENCH
Carson Palmer QB Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati signal caller has been ice-cold lately, throwing only two touchdown passes with three interceptions in his last four games.
Palmer and the Bengals head to Minnesota this weekend to take on a Vikings defense that gets even better when it has home-field advantage in the noisy Metrodome. The crowd noise gives defensive ends Jared Allen (12.5 sacks) and Ray Edwards (6.5 sacks) a split-second advantage in coming off the ball and getting after the cornerback. Expect Palmer to face heavy pressure Sunday.
Antonio Bryant WR Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Congratulations, Antonio Bryant! You’ve won this week’s “I get to face Darrelle Revis” award.
NFP analyst Matt Bowen wrote a great piece this morning on how deadly Revis has been against opposing wide receivers. All you need to know is this: Randy Moss (twice), Terrell Owens (twice), Marques Colston, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith (Carolina), and Mike Sims-Walker have combined to score two touchdowns against Revis this season.
Brandon Jacobs RB New York Giants
Jacobs gave fantasy owners one hell of a performance last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, totaling 22 fantasy points in New York’s 31-24 divisional win. That being said, send him back to the bench Sunday as he takes on a Philadelphia defense that ranks seventh against the run (98.8 yards/game) and is only allowing an average of 16.8 fantasy points per week to opposing running backs (ninth).
Yes, Jacobs totaled 100-plus total yards in his earlier meeting with the Birds (Week Eight), but that was mostly due to the Eagles sitting back in nickel and dime coverages as they jumped out to an early lead and won the game 40-17. In addition, expect backup running back Ahmad Bradshaw to steal some carries, further limiting Jacobs’ Week 14 potential.
Denver Broncos D/ST
Two words: Peyton Manning. No team in the NFL has shredded fantasy defenses more than the Indianapolis Colts. Opposing D/STs are averaging a paltry 4.2 fantasy points per week against the Colts, which ranks dead last in the NFL.
LaDainian Tomlinson RB San Diego Chargers
LT has been a fantasy stud of late, mostly because he has found the end zone eight times in his last six games. But keep in mind that the aging running back is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and has rushed for more than 75 yards in a game just once in 2009 (no 100-plus-yard rushing games this season).
Tomlinson runs into a Dallas defense this weekend that has given up only five touchdowns via the ground, good for fifth in the NFL. In addition, the Cowboys are giving up just 17.3 fantasy points per week to opposing running backs, which ranks 10th in the league.
Kellen Winslow TE Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winslow has scored only one touchdown in his last seven games. While that stat isn’t promising, here’s one that’s even worse: The New York Jets have limited opposing tight ends to an average of just 4.8 fantasy points per week, which ranks fourth in the NFL. Keep him on your bench.
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