What a weird week of football leading into the fantasy playoffs. Hopefully, your team is still playing for something at this stage of the game. If the event that you are out of the running in your dynasty league, I’ll do my best to offer up a couple options for keeper purposes as they pop up. For the rest of you with games to win, please keep in mind two things. One, as carefully as you may have planned your playoff schedule, nothing matters unless you win your week. Maximize your points to ensure that you play another week. Two, weather becomes a huge factor in games at this time of year. The Ravens-49ers game and the Chiefs-Raiders were prime examples of this. Know the weather conditions of the games in which your key players play to maximize your chances of victory. Best of luck to you going forward.
Last week was a hit-or-miss week in an admittedly weak lineup for recommendations. Sean Lee was huge for owners that were able to plug him into their lineups. Remaining in a larger role (85%) due to Leighton Vander Esch’s neck injury, Lee posted 12 total tackles against the Bills on Thanksgiving. Quincy Williams at least posted a high usage number at 96% but owners expected more than the 3 total tackles that he posted. The spotlight landed on another Jaguars’ LB that will be mentioned later. Germaine Pratt wasn’t mentioned as a great option for this past week but rather as a dynasty stash. For what it’s worth, he scored 5 total tackles on 47% usage against the Jets in the Bengals first win this year. HE has the second most utilized Bengal LB behind Nick Vigil. Finally, Nigel Bradham led the Eagles LBs in scoring but unfortunately for fantasy owners, that only amounted to 4 total tackles and a PD. I did warn you that the matchup this week was poor but his usage was high at 96% which should give owners confidence to roll with him as the only real IDP-worthy Eagle LB. Unfortunately, the pickings remain slim deep into the year.
Donald Payne JAC LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB1 – LB2
MLB Myles Jack was out on Sunday due to a knee injury. Third-year UDFA Donald Payne received the start in his stead and posted a monstrous line of 13 total tackles and a sack on 99% usage against the Buccaneers to finish the week as a surprise member of the LB1 club. Full disclosure, Myles Jack had practiced, albeit in a limited fashion, on Friday and was listed as questionable before ultimately being scratched on Sunday. Whatever knee ailment is bothering him, he can’t be far away from the lineup once again. That said, whether you count on Jack for fantasy points or not, Payne offers huge upside in the event that Jack fails to suit up again. The Chargers visit the Jaguars in week 14. Watch the injury report on this one. If Jack is returning to the Jaguars’ lineup, cut Payne loose.
Mack Wilson CLE LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB2 – LB3 (dynasty stash)
Mack Wilson is coming off of the best tackle total of his young career with 8 total tackles and a forced fumble on 97% usage against the Steelers. Wilson has been almost an every-down player for the Browns in the wake of Christian Kirksey’s season-ending chest injury but he hasn’t returned as many big games as fantasy owners would have liked. The Bengals are fresh off of their first win of the season with long-time pivot Andy Dalton back at the controls after a brief benching and visit the Browns in week 14. I’m not saying that this is a great matchup but the Cardinals and Ravens in weeks 15 and 16 are. James Burgess put up 9 total tackles against the Bengals this past week as week so it can be done. The rookie is a LB3/flex option down the stretch with some tackle upside given his usage. On top of that, Joe Schobert is a free agent after this year and may not resign. Christian Kirksey likely remains on the team as he is in the middle of a hefty contract. Fulltime replacement of Schobert’s role would be a big deal for would-be fantasy owners.
Packers Pass rushers LB – 3-4 OLB Value: LB2 – LB3 (big play)
I’ve been stashing the Green Bay defense for a few weeks looking forward to this matchup. Green Bay hosting Washington at Lambeau Field in December. A rookie QB at the controls for the Redskins playing behind a line that has allowed 14 sacks over Washington’s last three games after their bye week. Whichever Smith you decide to roll with here, Preston or Za’darius, both offer above-average sack upside with 10.5 sacks for Preston and 10 sacks for Za’darius, and around an average of 3.5 tackles per game for each. If pressed to make a choice, I’d take Preston over Za’darius simply due to one or two more splash plays in his resume. Either makes a fine choice for a gamble plays and the upside goes even higher, the more your league values big plays.
Defensive Lineman Plays
I was correct in a few choices that I made last week but missed on a few more. Calling a Derek Barnett breakout was a nice feather in the cap with the third-year pro scoring six solo tackles and a sack on 69% usage against Miami, registering his best game of the year. That said, Fletcher Cox‘s 2 total tackles and half sack and Brandon Graham‘s 2 total tackle efforts left fantasy owners wanting more. Part-timer Vinny Curry was the other Eagle to nab a sack in that contest. The Lions I mentioned were also hit-and-miss. The Bears were remarkably better in protection on Thanksgiving than in previous weeks. Damon Harrison missed the contest due to a knee injury but Trey Flowers returned to the lineup to score 3 solo tackles and a sack on 58% usage.
Carlos Dunlap CIN DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL1 – DL2
While Carlos Dunlap is likely to be owned in almost every dynasty format, his year has left a lot to be desired. Over the first ten weeks of the season, Dunlap was struggling with injury and had as many sacks as he had completely statless games (1). But over his last three games, Dunlap has piled up 19 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and 2 PDs including 3 sacks against the Jets last week. The Browns are no Jets team but they are coming off a game where they allowed 5 sacks to Pittsburgh. Dunlap is a high volume end and decent tackler in run defense as well which helps his case of ownership and starting duty. The Patriots in week 15 aren’t a good matchup but the Dolphins in week 16 are among the best. Dunlap should be owned and started in all formats now that he appears to be healthy.
Clelin Ferrell/Maxx Crosby OAK DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL1 – DL2
Ryan Tannehill has done a lot of good things to help the Tennessee Titans but one thing that hasn’t really improved is the pass protection. Tennessee remains among the league lead for sacks allowed with over 4 per game. What those stats don’t tell you is that they are even worse on the road with an average of 5 sacks per game. On the road is exactly where the Titans find themselves against Oakland in week 14. Ferrell and Crosby are high-volume ends that will be able to nab a tackle or two to provide a decent floor while owners are hoping for the big play. Neither are universally owned despite big games within the last three weeks. Give either a shot if you are streaming or otherwise have a hole on the defensive line.
Defensive Back Plays
Both Adrian Phillips and Derwin James returned to action for the Chargers after lengthy periods out with injury. James was used heavily at 98% compared to Phillips’ 40% usage but both registered the exact same statline, 4 total tackles. A Drew Lock-led Broncos squad might not be the best barometer of either’s value going forward but it was nice to see James take a full load of snaps. Jaquiski Tartt logged only 3 solo tackles but missed a large portion of the game due to injury. He logged only 58% of the snaps. Deeper league play Julian Love played every snap but two in relief of injured free safety Jabrill Peppers. The rookie delivered a solid 7 total tackles and a forced fumble against the Packers.
Andrew Wingard JAC S – 4-3 S Value: DB2 – DB3
With starting safety Ronnie Harrison out with a concussion, UDFA Andrew Wingard stepped in for his first ever NFL start against the Buccaneers. The Wyoming product logged 6 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on 75% usage. The Chargers visit Jacksonville in week 14 are a very good matchup for opposing safeties with seven of eight starting safeties finishing with double-digit fantasy points. As long as Harrison remains out, Wingard is a decent play for a DB3/flex stream option.
Chuck Clark BAL S – 3-4 SS Value: DB2 – DB3
2017 sixth-round pick Chuck Clark has been solid but unspectacular in his coverage of the Ravens’ strong safety position since Tony Jefferson went down with a season-ending injury. His worst game since taking over was his first game starting where he scored three solo tackles against the Bengals. His best game was this past week against the 49ers where he scored 7 total tackles, a forced fumble and a sack on full-time usage. With the Bills hosting the Ravens in week 14, I think a similar game to this week could be in store. Top scoring safeties has averaged 13.5 fantasy points against the Bills over their last five games. Give Clark a look as he is very under-owned for his floor production.
Micah Hyde BUF S – 4-3 FS Value: DB2 – DB3
Jordan Poyer is likely the first name to come to mind for IDP production from the Buffalo secondary but while free safeties are generally not the first place to look for safety production, they have thrived against the Ravens this year. Over Baltimore’s last five games, true free safeties have logged a gaudy 16.7 fantasy points per game average. Hyde has a decent tackle floor as he averages over 4 total tackles per game this season with a sprinkling of splash plays here and there. Hyde is a fairly safe play with the Ravens visiting the Bills in week 14. With the Steelers and Patriots in the following weeks, I might consider hanging onto him.