Sunday, 07 December 2014 00:00

Week 14 playoff matchups: Every team dissected

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You're starting Antonio Brown this week, but the Bengals' Leon Hall has been an underrated cornerback in 2014. You're starting Antonio Brown this week, but the Bengals' Leon Hall has been an underrated cornerback in 2014. Brook Ward/Flickr

The time is here everybody! The time of year for future league champions to start their journey through their league playoffs with only one goal in min, just win baby. Whether you drafted the ultimate juggernaut or you are in the running for manager of the year due to your sneaky waiver wire moves it is irrelevant. The slates are all wiped clean, and all that stands between you and a years worth a bragging rights over your friends and family is just three or four more wins.

One of the biggest faults that I see or hear about from fantasy owners when they get into the playoffs is the tendency to overthink things and get a too cute with their lineup. I always recommend going with the horses that got you in the position you are but with all of the so-called “pressure” of picking the correct lineup some owners tend to pull a “Ruxin” and think themselves out of a fantasy title.

Throughout this article I am going to go game-by-game and break down every wide receiver or tight end that could possibly help you in your first round matchup.

Pittsburgh Steelers v. Cincinnati Bengals

Pittsburgh Steelers

Antonio Brown: A

Brown has put himself in the running for one of the best value picks in all of fantasy football. With an ADP at the end of the third round/early fourth round, Brown has given owners who decided not to jump on one of the “elite” receivers the same kind of production without having to give up a premium draft pick on a position of lesser value.

Brown has been a monster in PPR formats this season, notching at least five receptions in every game this season, and has seen double-digit targets in all but two games this season. Brown is currently tied with Broncos receiver Demariyus Thomas for the lead in targets (132), proving to be one of the most consistent receiving options in the league. Brown is currently leading the NFL in receptions (96), receiving yards (1258), and touchdowns (11), showing that despite his smaller stature, he has the ability to put up super-sized fantasy numbers.

Despite matching up against Leon Hall on Sunday I still would have no concerns penciling in Brown as a high-end WR 1 this weekend.

Markus Wheaton: Bench

Despite being the team’s other “starting” receiver opposite Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton has been unable to establish himself as a consistent fantasy option, and I do not expect that trend to change any time soon.

Wheaton draws a tough matchup this weekend with a Bengals secondary that, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated units in the league. While Brown battles with with the likes of Terrance Newman and Leon Hall all afternoon, Wheaton will most likely spend time lining up opposite of Bengals nickel cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones. Remembered mostly for his run-ins at adult social clubs, Jones has done his best to shake his previous reputation and has established himself as an above-average cornerback in the NFL. Per Pro Football Focus, Jones has been targeted 65 times this season, but has only allowed a reception on 61% of the targets thrown his way. Do not expect Wheaton to find the end-zone either, as Jones has only allowed two touchdown receptions this season, and only one since week one of the season.

Do not expect his to be the week for Wheaton to turn the corner and become a reliable fantasy option. The matchup is not great, and with Martavis Bryant waiting in the wings there are definitely better options available than Wheaton

Martavis Bryant: Bench/C-

After catching 6 touchdowns in his first four games of his professional career, rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has predictably slowed down his torrid pace failing to find the end zone in his last two games.

It was thought that Bryant had the opportunity to establish himself as the Steelers no. 2 receiving option, and after seeing Bryant’s snap count increase steadily from 35.8% in week 7 to 59.1% in week 10, it appeared that time was close. However, in the last two weeks Bryant has once again been relegated to a part-time role, failing to play in 50% of the team’s snaps in the last two weeks.

I expect the Steelers to feature Le'Veon Bell early an often against the Bengals 25th ranked defense against the run, meaning a lot of 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends) rather than 11 personnel (Three Wide Receviers) could be in the gameplan. I would classify Bryant as a touchdown dependent, boom-or-bust WR3 this weekend so if you have a more consistent option available, I would recommend going that way.

Heath Miller: C

After seeing a season high 13 targets in week 13 against the Saints, Steelers tight end Heath Miller has a chance to back up his strong performance (8/82/0), Miller now has a matchup against a defense that has improved mightly against opposing tight ends as the season goes on.

In the Bengals first 6 games of the season, the Bengals defense allowed 47 receptions to opposing tight ends, and had allowed double-digit fantasy points to the position in four of the first six weeks of the season. However, in the second-half of the season the Bengals defense has played like a completely different unit. Since week 7 in which the Bengals allowed 8 receptions for 136 yards to the Colts tight ends, the Bengals defense has locked up opposing tight ends, allowing no more than 4 fantasy points to the position in any game since then.

I view Miller as a touchdown-dependent TE2 this weekend against the Bengals. With the Bengals recent success against the position, and the Steelers offense trying to establish a run-first mentality I would look elsewhere for my starting tight end this week.

Cincinnati Bengals

A.J. Green: A

Since returning to the lineup in week 9, Bengals receiver A.J. Green has once again proved himself as one of the premier wide receivers in both fantasy and reality football.

Despite the recent struggles of quarterback Andy Dalton, Green has still been able to produce, topping 120 receiving yards in two of his last three games. Since returning to the lineup in week 9, Green has once again claimed his spot as the Bengals no. 1 receiving option, leading the team in targets (45), receptions (28), receiving yards (372), and touchdowns (3).

This weekend Green will have the fortune of being matched up against either veteran cornerback Ike Taylor or William Gay, both of which allowed 100 receiving yards and gave at least one touchdown reception each. Fire up Green as a high-end WR1 this weekend folks.

Mohamed Sanu: C+

With A.J. Green battling a toe injury during the first half of the season, Mohamad Sanu ran with the increased workload and was starting to prove himself as a legit WR2 in the world of fantasy football. However with Green now healthy, and Andy Dalton battling inconsistencies, Sanu has once against been relegated to WR4 status.

Over the last four weeks Sanu has failed to top 50 yards receving in any game and has scored just once in that time span.

Even though Sanu does have a favorable matchup with a Steelers secondary allowing the 13th most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, I do not trust that he will see the requisite workload to be counted on as a WR2/3 this weekend.

St. Louis Rams v. Washington Redskins

St. Louis Rams

Kenny Britt: C-

Once thought of as one of the up-and-coming playmakers at the wide receiver position, Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt has once again struggled to regain the form he had with the Titans. Britt was given a chance to prove himself when signed with the Rams in the offseason, but has yet to prove to be anything more than a complimentary piece on the Rams offense.

While fantasy owners still may have the images of Britt’s 4 catch, 128 yard performance in week 11 against the Broncos, Britt has been invisible in the Rams passing attack totaling just three receptions for 50 yards over the last two weeks.

Even though Britt does have a favorable matchup against a Redskins defense that has allowed 6 touchdown receptions to opposing wide receivers I cannot get myself to trust Britt as a reliable option this weekend, and would recommend not depending on Britt in your fantasy lineups.

Steadman Bailey: B-

If there is a member of the Rams wide receiving corps that I am going to take a chance on in my fantasy lineup, it's going to be Steadman Bailey. After hauling in a team-high 12 catches for 189 yards over the last two weeks, Bailey has proven to be a favorite target for Rams quarterback Shaun Hill.

Bailey does have the fortune of an extremely owner-friendly matchup against the putrid Redskins secondary that has allowed multiple touchdown catches to opposing wide receivers in four of the team last 7 games.

While I do have a hard time trusting any member of the Rams receiving corps in my fantasy lineup, I would think about making an exception for Bailey. With a great matchup and mini hot streak in term of production, you can trust Bailey as a WR3 or a low-end flex play this weekend.

Jared Cook: Bench

I am going to keep it short and simple with Cook. Depsite having the measurable to take advantage of the linebackers or safeties in coverage, Cook has been nothing more than a low-end TE 2 this entire season.

Outside of his two catch, 100 yard performance in week 10 against the Cardinals Cook has been invisible in the Rams offense, failing to top 30 yards in the last two games, including being shut out just last week.

Do not bother wasting your time trying to get cute trying to start Cook. Despite the quality matchup Cook’s inconsistent workload makes him impossible to trust as a quality fantasy option, even with a thin position like tight end.

Washington Redskins

DeSean Jackson: (not expected to play today due to injury)

Whenever you invest in a player like DeSean Jackson, you have to be prepared to go with the highs and lows that come with a boom/bust-type player like Jackson is. Early on in the season it was looking like Jackson was in for a career year, topping 100 receiving yards in five of the Redskins first 9 games of the season.

Since Jackson’s 4/120/1 in week 9 it has been a little more rough sledding for the dynamic receiver, failing to top the century mark in the last three weeks. Jackson was able to find the end zone last week, ending his two game scoreless skid. Jackson has a good chance to find pay dirt again when healthy.

Pierre Garçon: Bench

After being one of the premier wide receivers in fantasy football last season, Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garçon has been relegated to a low end WR3/WR4 this year.

While some of the troubles can be attributed to the Redskins quarterback carousel, the blatant underuse of Garçon in Jay Gruden’s offense is starggering. Last year under Mike Shanahann Garçon was the clear no. 1 option in the Redskins passing offense, seeing double-digit targets in all but four games last season. This season has been a different story as Garçon has only seen double-digit targets twice so far, and has failed to top greater than 5 receptions in a game since week three.

I realize that you probably spent a top-8 round draft pick on Garçon and it may be tough to sit someone you invested a quality draft pick into, but in my opinon DeSean Jackson is the only one worth starting out of the Redskins pass catches due to his big-play threat (20.0 YPC).

Jordan Reed: C

Another year, more injuries for Redskins tight end Jordan Reed. Reed has missed five games this season due to various lower-body and concussion issues. Despite Reed’s elite athleticism he has been unable to prove himself as a legitimate TE1 in fantasy football.

Other than the injuries causing Reed to miss time, Reed’s time on the field has not exactly been impressive. Despite Reed’s 9 catch performance in week 13 against the Colts I am not convinced that he is ready to turn the corner. In the previous three weeks before Reed’s 9/123/0 performance against the Colts Reed has been inconsistent at best, hauling in a total of 10 passes for 77 yards in that time span.

Pair Reed’s inconsistencies with a Redskins offense that has no idea who their quarterback is, and now a matchup against a Rams defense allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and Jordan Reed is no more than a low-end TE1. If you have another option I would suggest making use of it.

New York Giants v. Tennessee Titans

Odell Beckham Jr.: A

Unless you have been living under a rock over the last few weeks you have probably seen Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed circus catch against the Cowboys. Even though the catch was without a doubt one of the best catches I have ever seen, Beckham Jr. has been establishing himself as not only the best rookie receiver, but one of the best receivers in all of football.

Over the last five weeks Beckham Jr. has been on an absolute tear, piling up 38 catches and averaging 118.3 receiving yards over that time span. The ultra-talented receiver took a while to get on the field after battling hamstring issues for most of the offseason, but since his debut in week 5 he has firmly placed himself as Eli Manning’s preferred target in the passing game.

This week I expect Beckham Jr. to continue his hot streak against a Titans team that is in total disarray. Last week Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to rip apart the Titans secondary for 6 touchdown passes. While I do no expect Manning to reach the same kind of production Fitzpatrick did last week, there is no reason to think that Beckham and Manning cannot carve out a major role within the game plan this week.

Rueben Randle: Bench

Despite seeing an absurd amount of targets on a weekly basis Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle continues to struggle making the most out of his opportunites. Randle is currently leading the Giants in targets (97), but even with the opportunities Randle is only catching 57% of the passes thrown his way.  

Take Randles’ 7 reception 112 performance from week 11 with a major grain of salt. Randle has failed to top the century mark in any game since then, and has only topped 50 receiving yards twice in the last month.

Larry Donnell: C+

How long ago does it feel since Eli Manning and Larry Donnell connected for three first-half touchdown passes? For fantasy owners patience is probably wearing thin with the tight end who has seen his production take a major dip in the second half of the season.

Since the return of Odell Beckham Jr. to the lineup Donnell has seen his opportunities within the Giants offense diminish. Donnell has faield to top 30 yards in three of his last five games, and now going up against a Titans defense that has allowed fewer than 7 fantasy points in four of their last give games I have a feeling Donnell could be in for another quiet afternoon.

Tennessee Titans

Delanie Walker: A

I am sorry to any Titans fans out there, but with Kendall Wright battling a wrist injury, and Justin Hunter now out for the season with a ruptured spleen, the Titans are going to be fighting with the Oakland Raiders for the no. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

One of the sole bright spots on the Titans offense this season has been the play of tight end Delanie Walker. Walker ranks 10th out of eligible tight ends with 44 receptions on the season, and ranks just outside of the top-10 in terms of touchdown receptions. Walker missed some time this year with a concussion, and since his return Walker has struggled to reclaim his spot as the top target in the Titans passing game.

With injuries to the Titans top-two receivers I expect Walker to be used early and often in the Titans passing game this weekend. The Giants defense is allowing the 10th most points to opposing tight ends on a weekly basis. Look for Mettenberger to try and get the ball to Walker in a variety of ways on Sunday.

Carolina Panthers v. New Orleans Saints

Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin: B

After finishing the 2013 season as one of the hottest teams in pro football, the Carolina Panthers have taken a major step backwards in the 2014 campaign.  Quarterback Cam Newton has continued to take minimal steps forward in his development as an NFL passer, completing a meager 57.8% of his passes this season.

One of the bright spots for the Panthers has been the development of first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin currently leads rookie receivers in targets (107), receptions (57),  and touchdown receptions (8), proving to be the only  threat of the Panther receivers.

Last time the Panthers matched up with the Saints Benjamin was held in check by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, finishing with just two receptions for 18 yards. Benjamin was thrown the ball ten times in that game, and I would expect him to be a major part of the Panthers game plan yet again this weekend. If Benjamin sees 10 or so targets again this weekend I have a feeling he could be in for a monster afternoon.

Greg Olsen: C+

After failing to score a touchdown in his last 6 games, owners of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen have to be wondering whether or not they can depend on him going forward. Olsen has been held under double-digit fantasy points four out of the last five weeks, a trend that I do not see stopping this weekend.

I was shocked when I went back and looked at the stats at just how good the Saints defense has been against opposing tight ends this season. According to ESPN’s points against metrics the Saints defense is only allowing 4.3 points to opposing tight ends this season, and when you look at the statistics game-by-game they are even more impressive. The Saints have only given up double-digit points to opposing tight ends once this season, and have given up three or fewer in six games this season.

Due to the lack of quality depth at the tight end position it is likely you do not have a quality replacement behind Olsen. With how good the Saints defense has been against the position this season, along with Olsen’s recent struggles do not expect a massive fantasy day from the former Hurricane this week.

New Orleans Saints

Marques Colston: C+

When Brandin Cooks was placed on injured reseve with a broke thumb the Saints offense lost the thing that makes the offense go. Serving as Brees’ binkie on the short/intermediate area of the field Cooks was leading the Saints in receptions, and was starting to become a threat down the field in the recent weeks.

It was thought that veteran receiver Marques Colston would once again step in and be the no .1 option in the saints passing game, but Colston has still yet to find his niche in the Saints offense.

This is no longer the Marques Colston of old folks. No longer can we expect the massive number that he was able to put up as Brees’ primary target, but at least some production would be nice. Colston has failed to catch more than five passes in all but three games this season. If I am going to take a chance on a Saints receiver its going to be the next guy on our list.

Kenny Stills: B

During his rookie season Kenny Stills showed off elite big-play ability averaging over 19 yards per reception, but has been unable to carve out a consistent role within the Saints offense this season.

Now with Cooks sidelined for the rest of the season Stills has seen his playing time increase, along with his production on the field racking up 260 receiving yards over the last two weeks.

The only negative side of Stills fantasy outlook is his snap count. Stills’ is still only on the field around 55% of the team’s plays making him a boom-or-bust option at the wide receiver position. However the Panthers secondary is in complete disarray and are currently down to their second and third options after the team decided to part ways with Antoine Cason.

Jimmy Graham: A

After getting shut out in week 13 against the Steelers I have a feeling that Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is sitting on one of his 10 catch, 150 yard performances this weekend against the Panthers.

Even though the Panthers defense is allowing the twelfth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends, Graham’s recent success against the Panthers makes me feel Graham is in for a monster day. Graham torched the Panthers for 7/83/1 during their week 9 contest, and it has sparked a string of 6 touchdowns in his last 6 games.

With the Saints technically in the playoff hunt I believe that they are going to come out firing against a Panthers team that looks like they are ready to start planning their offseason vacationing plans. Look for Graham to bounce back this weekend folks.

New York Jets v. Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings

Charles Johnson: B

Well if you have been reading any of my recent waiver wire articles you may have seen me make note of Vikings wide receiver Charles Johnson over the past couple of weeks. Johnson has replaced second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as the teams “X” receiver and has become one of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s preferred targets in the passing game in the recent weeks.

I expect the Vikings to throw the ball all over the yard this weekend against a Jets secondary that is counting on undrafted free agents to play meaningful snaps on a weekly basis. Over the last five weeks Bridgewater has started to come into his own, throwing 8 touchdown passes compared to just two interceptions in that time frame.

Kyle Rudolph: B

Had it not been for two blocked punts last week I have a feeling that Kyle Rudolph and the rest of the Vikings receivers would have put up much bigger number than they did against the Panthers.

It seemed as if tight end Kyle Rudolph was going to be a major part of the offense, catching his only two passes on the first two drives of the game, including a touchdown to cap off the Vikings first drive of the game.

With Jerrick McKinnon now out for the season with a back injury and a match up against the Jets stout rush defense I would expect Bridgewater to be attacking the Jets through the air from the get go. Oh and just one more little tid-bit for you to think about; the Jets defense has allowed 12 touchdown passes to opposing tight ends this season, including five in their last five games.

New York Jets

Percy Harvin and Eric Decker: C

This is a tricky situation to try and evaluate from a fantasy perspective due to the weekly chages the Jets see to their offensive game plan. Last week the wide receviers may have well have just sat on the sidelines as the Jets offense ran the ball nearly every play. Can you really blame Rex for running the ball so much? He does have to watch Geno Smith attempt to throw a football every day, something that could reach cruel and unusual punishment in the justice system.

It is expected that Geno will once again start for the Jets this weekend against the Vikings. If that is the case I would stay as far away as possible from both Decker and Harvin this weekend. I know that the thought of Harvin going against his former team is an attractive matchup, but outside of special teams I do not see a way Harvin or any Jets receiver is able to make an impact on this football game.

View Brook Ward's Flickr page here.

Last modified on Sunday, 07 December 2014 05:10

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