Fantasy Football Intelligence: Do or Die

Chris Rock once said, “A man is as faithful as his options.”

That is how you should be entering the fantasy playoffs. There is no time for favorites or sentimentality. Past performance is the best indicator of future performance, but not all past performance is weighted equally. In most leagues, the playoffs start this week and we are all in a win or go home, week-to-week mentality. Now is when we make the decisions that we gloriously recount over and over again when we win or the ones we will rue until we start scouting again in August.

FFI Game Capsules are below. Keep the following in mind:

-Recommendations are based on standard scoring rules unless specifically cited otherwise.

-Opinions are relative – we are talking about expectations vs. projected performance. If, for example, I am high on Tom Brady against KC and think Buffalo will slow down Lamar Jackson, I am not necessarily saying to bench Jackson for Brady, but that the gap will be considerably less than the 10 point difference in their season averages. (It will.)

-“Trust” means high confidence to meet or exceed performance projections, “Start” means reasonable enough expectation that the player should be in your lineup and “Options” means consider him, but don’t be afraid to sit the player for someone with a better situation. If I’m not listing someone in any of those categories, I consider them a dart throw, someone you are hoping gets a score or a couple of big plays, but also has a low floor.

-At this time of year, you need to check the weather before the games. Rain and wind, particularly gusts 15+ can change game plans, passing games and kicking. Snow in and of itself isn’t a huge deal, but cold, particularly paired with significant wind, makes a difference. Also, crosswinds are worse to deal with than wind that blows the long way over the field. Don’t overreact to a 50/50 forecast, but if you know 100% that the weather will be a factor, don’t ignore it.

-As we’ve said from the beginning of the blog, the stats flow from the macro game trends. If you read the game properly, the player stats often follow.

Ready? Here’s some G’n’R to get pumped for the playoffs.

Thursday

Dallas @ Chicago – Both teams desperately need to win. Dallas has the better roster, but a cold night in Chicago would equalize things. Chicago’s defense was uninspired on Thanksgiving and squeaked past an undermanned Lions team. Barring brutal weather, Dallas should score enough to win.

Trust: Prescott has been game script proof all year. He’s been a top three performer for the year as well as over the last month. This isn’t a great matchup, but there is no rationale to sit him if he is your starter.

Start: Elliott has to start, but he has only been RB9 the last month. Cowboys play calling and the Bears defense are working against him. Amari Cooper has been nicked up and hasn’t scored since 11/10, but saw 11 targets last week.

Options: Montgomery (especially if weather is bad), Robinson, Gallup. Bears defense are reasonable starts. Anthony Miller has averaged 11 targets over the last three games but has not scored all year. Cowboys defense may get some sacks and turnovers.

Sunday

Carolina @ Atlanta – Two teams heading in the wrong way. Don’t really know or care who wins, but there should be plenty of offense.

Trust: McCaffrey

Start: Ryan, Ridley, Jones (if healthy), Moore, Hooper (if healthy – he is returning to practice)

Options: Freeman has been brutal this year, but Carolina is terrible against the run, allowing over 200 yards to the Skins in week 13. If you are desperate for a flex or RB2, he’s slightly better than a dart throw. Curtis Samuel has 6 TDs and gets red zone looks. Greg Olsen may be out with a concussion.

Baltimore @ Buffalo – Buffalo has been a great story, but they will need to run and chew a lot of clock to stay with the Ravens and that is a tall order. The defense is good, but will tire if the Bills offense can’t stay on the field. Expect the Ravens to pull away in the second half.

Trust: Jackson, Andrews

Start: Ingram, Ravens defense. John Brown has been WR5 for the last month and the Bills will need to score points in this game.

Options: Josh Allen is QB5 for the season, but if the Ravens get out ahead and make him throw, I’d be concerned. Hollywood Brown is a WR3 with upside. Singletary has been RB14 for the last month, but does not get much red zone work.

Cincinnati @ Cleveland – Cincy got their win and while I don’t have a lot of faith in Cleveland, they should win this one. I am more confortable with Cleveland’s running than their passing, but Jarvis Landry has averaged over 11 targets for the last month and has been productive.

Trust: Chubb

Start: Landry, Boyd, Browns Defense, Mixon

Options: Beckham Yes, Beckham. He’s WR27 on the season and behind Tyreek Hill in fantasy points even though Hill has missed most of seven games. He has a high ceiling this week, but also a low floor. Hunt, if 10-12 touches doesn’t scare you off. Njoku will see targets if activated. Mayfield is a high risk option.

Washington @ Green Bay – Coming off a win, I don’t expect Washington to be particularly hungry at Lambeau and Dwayne Haskins is not yet able to take advantage of the holes in Green Bay’s pass defense. There should be enough scoring for both Aarons, Rodgers and Jones, to have good fantasy days.

Trust: Rodgers, Jones

Start: Adams, Green Bay defense

Options: Guice, J. Williams

Denver @ Houston – Denver deserves credit for playing tough while going through multiple quarterbacks and injuries. They beat the Chargers with a rookie QB making his first start and without Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Nevertheless, Houston should win at home.

Trust: Watson

Start: Hopkins, Sutton, Lindsay

Options, Hyde, Fuller, Fells, Houston defense

Detroit @ Minnesota – Minnesota needs it more and should roll at home.

Trust: Cook (if he is not injured), Golladay

Start: Diggs, Minnesota defense, Thielen (if healthy)

Options: M. Jones (9 TDs, but 4 in one game), Rudolph, Scarborough, Cousins. If Cook is injured, Alexander Mattison is a RB2 with upside.

San Francisco @ New Orleans – This is a scary one for owners of Brees, Kamara, Thomas and Cook. Being at home will help, but the 49ers have held 10/12 QBs they have faced under 200 yards. This is a close one that could be an NFC Championship preview.

Trust: Kittle

Start: Kamara, Thomas

Options: Brees (He is outside my top 12 this week.), Cook, L. Murray, Coleman (He’s had 8 games this year with <75 yards and no score), Mostert (risky – we don’t know his volume), Garoppolo, Sanders, D. Samuel, 49ers defense, Saints defense

Miami @ NY Jets – Competitive game, edge to Jets at home. I like Bell and Darnold this week.

Trust: No One

Start: Parker (WR18 on the season and hot), Bell

Options: Darnold, Griffin, Fitzpatrick, Crowder (start in PPR)

Indianapolis @ Tampa Bay – Don’t look now, but Tampa Bay has won 3 of their last 4. Indianapolis has lost two in a row. Marlon Mack may return, but the Bucs are surprisingly good against the run. This isn’t a great matchup for Indy. I like the Bucs at home if Jameis only turns it over twice or less. The Bucs are D7 the last month, but are not a recommended play.

Trust: Godwin

Start: Winston, Evans, Hilton (if healthy), Doyle

Options: Brissett, Mack, R. Jones, Pascal

L.A. Chargers @ Jacksonville – Both teams are playing out the string of a disappointing season and staring down the barrel of QB problems. The Chargers got some key defenders back and still lost to Denver. I expect some fantasy worthy performances in this game if the QB play holds up. Minshew will start for Jax.

Trust: Fournette, Henry

Start: Gordon, Ekeler, Chark, Allen

Options: Rivers, Westbrook, Chargers defense, Jaguars defense

Pittsburgh @ Arizona – Since getting to 3-3-1, the Cardinals have lost five in a row. Mike Tomlin is a coach of the year candidate and is getting it done without his #1 QB, RB and WR. This game may depend on whether Conner and/or Smith-Schuster make it back for this game. Kyler Murray is QB6 on the year but has been hot and cold. If his hamstring injury isn’t an issue, this may be a good week for him, but if he remains limited, stay away.

Trust: No One

Start: Steelers defense, Murray (if off injury report), Conner (if he practices in full by end of week)

Options: Snell (if Conner is out), V. McDonald (AZ doesn’t cover TEs well), Kirk (risky), Smith-Schuster (if healthy)

Kansas City @ New England – This was a barn-burner last year, but neither team is firing on as many cylinders. It could cut either way, but if weather permits, expect an offensive battle where the QBs take what the defense gives them, making many of their weapons boom or bust, which is a little scary in a playoff week. Strong as they have been, Patriots defense is not a recommended play.

Trust: Mahomes, Brady

Start: Kelce, Hill, Edelman

Options: Michel, White, McCoy, Dam. Williams (if healthy). Sanu is marginally more than a dart throw. I would take a chance with Hardman before Watkins, but it would have to be a deep league for me to play either one.

Tennessee @ Oakland – Both are fighting for a playoff spot and while the Raiders are at home, the Titans are hot and may be better coached. The Titans have running game and defense along with Ryan Tannehill playing better football than Derek Carr, he’s QB6 for the last month. It could be an interesting game determined by Tennessee’s greater balance.

Trust: Henry

Start: Jacobs, Waller

Options: Tannehill, A.J. Brown, Titans Defense

Seattle @ L.A. Rams – This has shootout potential if the Rams that dismantled the Cardinals show up. With their season on the line, they should. Jared Goff is QB16 on the year, but I’d start him above Brees and probably Murray this week. This game may have more fantasy starters than any other. Beware of Lockett if the Rams decide to shadow him with Ramsey. I’d hate to play Russell Wilson this week.

Trust: Wilson

Start: Gurley, Carson, Kupp, Woods, Lockett, Metcalf

Options: Goff, Penny, Cooks, Hollister, Everett (if healthy)

Monday

N.Y. Giants @ Philadelphia – Take heart Eagles fans, the cure for the Miami blues is on the way. The Giants are losers of five in a row and in the process of tuning out their coach. Eagles should roll big here after the embarrassment of week 13.

Trust: Wentz, Ertz

Start: Sanders, Jeffrey, Eagles defense, Barkley, Shepard

Options: Slayton, Engram (if healthy), Goedert, Agholor, Howard (if healthy)

Good luck to all in your playoff games!