The single best day of football of the entire year, in my humble opinion. And thanks to DFS, you can still play fantasy football. What luck. There are only four teams left, but there are actually a bunch of interesting choices to be made. I guess that makes sense – these teams are good. With 56 wins for these four teams so far on the year, against only 12 losses, the potential is there for a couple of pretty epic semifinal games. Good luck.
Tom Brady @ DEN ($7,400) – Everyone has a bad matchup this weekend, so throw that right out the window. The question is, which one of these quarterbacks IS a bad matchup. And with respect to everyone else, that’s Brady. Brady has shown up in big games against tough defenses in pressure playoff situations time and time again, something you just can’t say about anyone else still playing (to be fair, you can’t say it about anyone). He has the most playoff appearances, wins, completions, yards, and touchdown passes in history. So there’s that. And combine that with the fact that the Broncos have a decent run defense, and that the Pats braintrust has no problem just throwing constantly, and he has both the highest floor and the highest upside.
Cam Newton vs. ARI ($7,200) – The Panthers have this thing where, all of a sudden, they’re up three touchdowns and you don’t know how. Which is my way of saying, their offense is hard to predict from a fantasy standpoint. But if you think the Panthers are going to win or even just come close, it’s very likely going to be because Cam did something worth having on your fantasy roster. Last weekend was an exception, but no matter how many points Carolina put up in the first half, they were going up against a very tough defense, and a bunch of those points came about because of the failings of the Seattle offense. You can’t expect that next weekend.
Carson Palmer @ CAR ($6,800) – Palmer has three stud wide receivers, a rookie running back who can take short passes for long gains at any moment, and a coach running a wide-open, innovative offense. In a lot of seasons, leading his team to a 13-3 record in a tough division, with the stats he put up, and he would be a runaway MVP. Instead his vote is split – the people who favor wins go with Cam and the people who favor stats are split with Carson and Brady. But to answer the question I asked above about Brady, Palmer is at the helm of an offense right now that is a walking bad matchup. It doesn’t matter what defense they are going up against, they have the weapons to succeed. When they face a tough defense, it typically has just meant they run a little less, and that has been good for Palmer’s value, not bad (300+ yards against STL twice, PIT, SEA, CIN, and MIN this season – all his toughest opponents).
Peyton Manning vs. NE ($5,500) – Peyton Manning has one touchdown and seven interceptions at home this season. He only broke 300 yards twice this season. But with Hightower and the rest of the Pats defense coming in relatively healthy, it’s not hard to imagine them limiting the Broncos’ running game and daring Peyton to throw 40 times to beat them. And whether or not that strategy works, it could force Peyton into a better fantasy game than he might draw up coming in. Might. But then again – 1 TD vs. 7 picks. If you’re drafting Peyton, I hope you really love the rest of your skill position picks.
David Johnson @ CAR ($6,500) – This upcoming Sunday is actually an interesting perspective into the value of running backs in the NFL right now. The Cardinals are on their third running back of the year, and he might be the best one they’ve had yet. Able to catch the ball, and break for a big gain on every carry or catch, he is nothing but upside. Yup, he’s got a tough matchup – just like every other running back on the board this weekend. Who knows which one stumbles into the end zone, but if you want the one with the best shot at something like 150 yards and 3 TDs, look no further.
Jonathan Stewart vs. ARI ($5,900) – I said a second ago “who knows which one stumbles into the end zone,” but the fact is, the answer is probably Stewart. He had two scores yesterday, because this is a team where, as often as not, the running game is still their best option. If he caught the ball more (only 17 catches this season), he would be a force to be reckoned with right now. Of course, with all those extra touches, he’d also probably be hurt right now. I’ll take consistently getting 20 carries at this point in the season all day long.
James White @ DEN ($4,600) – The Pats have made it pretty obvious that they are comfortable winning or losing these games on Tom Brady’s arm. And James White is a part of that process, which makes him a potential value. Brady spreads the ball around enough, and each game plan is specific enough, that you can never be sure how much usage one guy is going to get. But White also has had a habit of breaking some pass plays a bit longer than you think he’s about to lately – if he features at all in the game plan, and rips off one screen for 50 yards, he is a running back with the potential to give you 100 yards receiving if everything breaks right, more upside than you should expect for this price.
C.J. Anderson vs. NE ($4,400) – If you’re asking if it’s Anderson or Hillman, I think the answer is easy. Anderson got 15 carries to Hillman’s 16, so both were clearly given a shot, but Anderson has been more productive with his chances lately. He also fits the mold of the kind of running back who occasionally has gashed this Patriots’ defense, with the speed to get to the outside but a tendency to punch it up at his first chance. I think the Pats will load up to stop the run, and that makes both of these guys tough plays while they’re splitting carries, but if either of them has a chance to return real value, it’s Anderson.
Julian Edelman @ DEN ($7,500) – When Edelman and Gronk are both healthy, it seems at times like they are the only two guys who matter. You’ve got Gronk for the touchdowns and Edelman for everything else. There were some drops early in the game this past weekend, but he cleaned that up by the second half, and you wouldn’t expect to see it continue into next weekend. He should get you ten catches, if everything goes according to plan for the Pats – and he is the only guy you can say that about. In a PPR format, that’s as good as a touchdown.
Larry Fitzgerald @ CAR ($6,900) – He has 53 catches for 912 yards and 10 TDs in eight career playoff games. If that were a regular season, he’d be on pace for 100 catches, 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns. Is that right? Personally, I was most surprised that he’d played eight playoff games, but then I remembered, he has played with both Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer now. Imagine what his career would look like if it was more than just four years of those two. He’s the go-to guy, and Palmer will look for him at multiple levels – that’s how a guy racks up 8 catches for 176 yards in the Divisional Round (well, that and overtime, to be fair).
Emmanuel Sanders vs. NE ($6,300) – I am not the defensive coordinator for the Patriots, but I can see a pretty predictable scenario where Butler is man up on Sanders all day, which Thomas draws constant safety help. Butler is not the best of matchups, but I’ve heard Manning is a pretty smart QB, and when all else fails, you know he is going after the single coverage. In five out of his first eight games, all pre-Osweiler, he had at least six catches, with four total touchdowns. He was a big part of any success Manning had prior to sitting down with his injuries – four touchdowns is important, when the QB only had 9, total.
John Brown @ CAR ($5,200) – Conspicuously absent here, of course, is anyone from the Panthers. With Ginn’s health up in the air, who would you turn to? Their WRs yesterday combined for 6 catches and 56 yards. The Cardinals weren’t too far off of having three wideouts all best those figures. If the Panthers’ game plan works out, you could see Palmer having trouble getting the time to let the deep stuff develop, and Brown could see more than his fair share of targets as a sort of safety valve. With his speed, he can turn every time he touches the ball into a big chunk of yardage, so with enough targets, you don’t even need a score to have a useful fantasy performance.
Rob Gronkowski @ DEN ($7,600) – There are really only two tight end options to realistically consider for this weekend, so the question is whether you think Gronk is worth $500 more than Olsen. Both the Cardinals and Broncos have good defenses that have struggled against TEs at times. Gronk has 79 catches for 1,259 yards and 13 TDs. Olsen has 83 catches for 1,181 yards and 8 TDs. So how do you choose? Well, the five extra TDs are no fluke. Scoring TDs for the Pats is what Gronk does. He had two on Saturday, and they will be looking for him in the same situations again next week, as they have all year long. If you can expect 5 catches for 75 yards out of both, you can almost expect a TD for Gronk too.
Greg Olsen vs. ARI ($7,100) – For Olsen, if Cam is going to throw a TD, chances are pretty good it’s him – the difference is that Cam and the running game are the real touchdown-makers. But everyone has known Olsen was the primary target on this team since early in the year, and he keeps doing it. You can’t tell me Seattle didn’t prepare to try to stop him, and he had 6 for 77 and a score. Ho hum. If you just can’t fit Gronk in your budget or if you are just convinced Denver’s D is going to show up in a big way, Olsen has as much upside as you can hope for.
Owen Daniels vs. NE ($2,300) – This is the choice you make if you truly believe Gronk and Olsen are getting shut out anyway. He had 48 catches for 527 yards and three touchdowns this season, but at least Vernon Davis isn’t cutting into his production (he had one catch in Week 15 and none since).
Darren Fells @ CAR ($2,000) – The Cardinals just don’t feature the TE, simple as that. But again, if you think spending up for one of the expensive guys is going to be a waste of money, he is as much of a possibility as anyone. He had 2 catches for 14 yards this past weekend, and is up to 23 for 325 yards and three scores on the year. Best of luck.
Carolina Panthers vs. ARI ($3,500) – It’s not an easy job to pick which of the defenses in this game will have the better fantasy performance. On the one hand, the Cardinals do have the slightly more productive offense, which makes it hard to trust the Panthers. But then you have the Panthers, who also put up points, and also control the clock and the ball exceptionally well, and it makes you think you want to turn to the AFC game to make your selection. This is a pick almost banking on a defensive or special teams touchdown, which could leave you wondering why you spent the few extra hundred bucks.
New England Patriots @ DEN ($3,100) – The issue here is that they might be 90% owned or more. With the propensity of the Broncos offensive to turn the ball over, and the Patriots’ linebacking corps coming into the game relatively healthy, it seems like a no-brainer, especially for the cheapest price on the board. They had a 4-point performance last weekend, but they were playing a team that won 11 games in a row on the back of a ball-control offense that never gave up sacks or turned the ball over, and that is not the Broncos.