Sean Weatherspoon is starting to get on the field. He has now played 29 snaps in the last two games, all coming at the expense of Kevin Minter who saw action on 35 of 50 plays in week thirteen. Minter has been a marginal at best LB3 option for owners in deeper leagues. With this development any value he may have had is gone. This is also a pretty strong sign Minter is not going to be a long term answer for the Cardinals.
William Moore has also seen a reduction in playing time over the past three games. When he played about half the team's snaps in week eleven it was widely assumed to be a result of the week seven injury which cost Moore a couple of starts. He returned to action following the team's bye but has not played more than 63% of the defensive snaps in any game since. Moore was on the field for 38 of 71 snaps against Tampa Bay while sharing time with Kemal Ishmael (18) and Robenson Therzie (19).
With Nigel Bradham sidelined the Bills turned to a 5-2 front as their base defense in week thirteen. In a most surprising twist it was Manny Lawson pairing with Preston Brown as three down linebackers. The result was a team high 7 solo stops and an assist for Lawson. Bradham is expected to sit again this week and the Eagles have been a solid match up for linebacker on most weeks.
We were wondering who would lose playing time when Charles Johnson returned to his usual three down role. The answer is Kony Ealy who saw 12 snaps against the Saints, breaking his streak of games with a sack. Charles had a full work load with 51 plays. He was paired with Jared Allen (44 snaps) on most of them.
Christian Jones and Jonathan Anderson are still splitting time but Anderson was on the field more (31 snaps) than Jones (25) for the first time in week thirteen. This bodes well for those dynasty owners who grabbed Anderson as a long term investment.
Geno Atkins gave us an ugly goose egg in Cleveland but we should not overreact to it. Atkins had pressure up the middle all day, was highly disruptive against both pass and run, and was responsible for flushing the quarterback into the arms of teammates on several occasions. He failed to make a tackle simply because the Browns had no running game and provided little opportunity.
I like Rolando McClain and Barry Church this week against the Packers. Call it a gut feeling but I expect Eddie Lacey to have a big chip on his shoulder after being benched for missing curfew last week. He had been running like the Lacey of old in the previous two games and the Packers offense should get a kick start from last week's huge win.
Danny Trevathan only played 34 snaps in week thirteen but he made one of them count big. The interception for a score saved fantasy owners from a potentially disastrous 2 tackle outing. Trevathan did not practice on Wednesday and is currently in the league's concussion protocol. Corey Nelson would likely get the start against Oakland if Trevathan is not cleared in time. Keep an eye on the late week practice and injury reports.
Following a big week ten stat line by Isa Abdul-Quddus, he split time with James Ihedigbo in weeks eleven and twelve. Against the Packers in week thirteen Abdul-Quddus was on the field for all 67 defensive plays. The result was another big day with 9 tackles, a pair of assists, a forced fumble and a pass defended. There is no way to be sure the Lions will stick with the third year man as an every down player against the Rams, but his strong play and production says they certainly should. That said; keep in mind the Rams have not been a great match up for defenders at any position.
Green Bay Packers
In an unexpected but not really surprising move, the Packers benched Nate Palmer in favor of Jake Ryan in week thirteen. Ryan assumed the same base package role Palmer had held, playing 49 of a possible 65 snaps against Detroit. The results were positive both on the field and in the box score where Ryan finished with 6 tackles, 4 assists and a fumble recovery. This season has been whacky across the league with guys moving in and out of starting lineups like never before, but there has been a lot of buzz about Ryan being the future of the inside linebacker position in Green Bay. From what I saw there should be no reason for the coaching staff to pull the plug on the rookie fourth round pick.
With Jerrell Freeman sidelined by a hamstring injury, Nate Irving got the starting call in week thirteen. Irving landed on IR this week with a wrist injury. Sio Moore replaced Irving on Sunday and would likely be the next man up if Freeman is not able to go against Jacksonville. Freeman was not close to practicing last week so Moore may finally get his chance.
On most weeks Aaron Colvin has been a strong play for owners in corner required leagues. The Titans are a poor match up for corners in general but his complete absence from Sunday's box score was a surprise. There is however, a story behind the lack of numbers. The coaching staff elected to start Dwayne Gratz and Davon House against Tennessee with Colvin playing 33 snaps as the nickel corner. The Colts have been an above average match up for corners even with Matt Hasselbeck under center but beware leaning on Colvin until we see how this plays out.
Start Olivier Vernon and possibly Derrick Shelby this week against the Giants. Vernon has been on fire with 4.5 sacks in the past three games and Shelby has 2.5 sacks, 2 turnovers and a score in the past four games. No one was getting to Eli Manning early in the season but the Giants have allowed 3 sacks in each of their last three games.
On the other side of that coin, sit your Dolphins linebackers this week. Over the first half of the season New York was an excellent match up for linebackers. In the last two weeks no linebacker has more than 4 solo tackles against them. Not to mention the Miami linebacker position is a mess. Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi have been battling injuries for weeks but they were both healthy enough to play just enough in week thirteen to keep Kelvin Sheppard in a 2 down role.
With Anthony Barr, Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith ruled out for Thursday's contest; look for Chad Greenway and Robert Blanton to step up. Arizona has not been a great match up for linebackers but then they have not had David Johnson as the feature running back. They will be a different offense with a 225 pound back toting the ball who has the ability to run inside. Greenway should be a three down player in this one. He has held that role in three games this season. In those games Greenway has 17 solo tackles and 7 assists.
Blanton has started two games this season and is 15-3-0 with a pass defended in those contests. In the past four weeks strong safeties have produced 21 solo stops and 15 assists against the Cardinals. Rookie Antone Exum will start at free safety for Harrison. He has match up potential in this one as well but is not as well proven as Blanton.
New England Patriots
Jamie Collins did not have a grand statistical outing in week thirteen but he was able to get back on the field in his normal every down role. Houston has been an average match up for linebackers since the loss of Arian Foster but a healthy Collins is a must start against anyone.
New Orleans Saints
James Anderson resurfaced in week thirteen when he led the Saints in tackles with 7 solo and 4 assists. This is the same James Anderson who had 199 solo tackles, 75 assists, 11 turnovers, 5 sacks and 13 passes defended in two years as a starter (2010-2011) for the Panthers. He was also 86-17-4 with a forced fumble and 4 passes defended with the Bears in 2013. The point being, this was not a fluke. Anderson is a player who has consistently been productive in the past when given an opportunity and will continue to be if the Saints keep him in the lineup. With Dannell Ellerbe suffering a setback and the rest of the Saints linebackers struggling, there is no reason to believe Anderson will go back to the bench.
New York Giants
After a couple of strong games as a three down middle backer, Jasper Brinkley was relegated to 25 snaps in week thirteen while Jonathan Casillas played 70 and Uani Unga 19. Simply put, there is a ton of potential to be had among this group but we are not able to trust anyone because the Giants will not make up their mind who is going to play.
New York Jets
Demario Davis's playing time has been in decline over the past couple of weeks. He played 35 snaps in week twelve and 25 in week thirteen while Jamari Lattimore (19) and Erin Henderson (24) worked into the rotation. There have been no reports of an injury to Davis so we have to assume at this point it is a coaching decision.
After seeing limited playing time all season Kiko Alonso was on the field nearly every play in week thirteen. It may not be a coincidence the increased action came the week before facing his old team. Alonso came through healthy and is in line to play every down against the Bills this week. We already know LeShon McCoy is fired up for this game. I expect these two players who were traded for one another, will see a lot of each other on Sunday. I like Alonso to have a big game in this one.
Mychal Kendricks played 48 of 70 snaps in week thirteen while DeMeco Ryans played 21.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have finally pulled the plug on Donald Butler. Rookie Denzel Perryman racked up 10 solo stops on 54 plays last week. He was on the field for almost 80% of the defensive snaps against Denver and should play an even bigger percentage this week against the Chiefs who do not use a lot of multiple receiver formations. Perryman has 16 solo tackles in his two weeks with a significant role. He is a strong sleeper this week as is Manti Te'o.
San Francisco 49ers
Michael Wilhoite left Sunday's game with an ankle injury after 7 plays. The injury put Gerald Hodges in the lineup against the Bears. He went on to finish with 5 tackles and an assist on 65 snaps. Wilhoite did not practice Wednesday and seems unlikely to go against the Browns. Cleveland is not a good match up but Hodges is not playing for a great team either. He should be able to muster 5-7 solo stops in this one with a couple of assists.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kwon Alexander will start his four game suspension this week but we are still unsure how the Buccaneers will compensate for his absence. Howard Jones and Danny Lansanah will both see action but it is anyone's guess who gets the three down opportunity.
Keenan Robinson was a late scratch for week thirteen and may get back on the field against the Bears. Washington could sure use him with Perry Riley landing on IR last week. The Redskins starter Will Compton and Mason Foster against Dallas on Monday night. Compton will move over to Riley's position is Robinson is able to go. Chicago is a solid match up for three down inside backers so whoever gets the call here should give us decent numbers.
That does it for week fourteen. Best of luck in those opening round playoff games. Hope to have you back for next week's offering!