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Reading the Defense: Week 15

A weekly look at IDP trends with a mix of metrics, film study, and matchup strategy

Playoff Strategy Reminder

Last week, I wrote the following:

Remember, players with middling upside are not worth lineup spots in the playoffs unless they have a very safe floor and you're a significant favorite and want to maximize points. If you're likely to be chasing your opponent, a lineup bust doesn't hurt you. But a surprise stud performance can close the gap for you. Take chances if you can.

***Week 14 playoffs | Pass-rushing matchups to target: Cleveland (Michael Johnson), Indianapolis (Jadeveon Clowney), Arizona (Cameron Wake), Cincinnati (longshot Emmanuel Ogbah), San Francisco (Muhammad Wilkerson if healthy). Michael Johnson and Cameron Wake are the two high variance sleepers to target. Wake -- at home vs Carson Palmer -- is particularly attractive as a high variance waiver target.

***Week 14 playoffs | Tackle matchups to target: Dallas (Keenan Robinson), New Orleans (Lavonte David), Tampa Bay (Dannell Ellerbe, Vonn Bell), New England (Eric Weddle)

***Week 14 playoffs | Stat crews to target for added assists: New York Giants (upside for Sean Lee and Barry Church), Carolina (upside for Korey Toomer), New England (upside for Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley), Buffalo (slight upside for PIT secondary).

These were meant to be longer shots -- I didn't call out players like Kwon Alexander and Zachary Orr, for example -- but many of them hit. I used Cameron Wake in a matchup I felt I was a significant underdog and he combined with Sean Lee to help me to a comfortable victory. Eric Weddle had a much better game than he's had in most weeks. Emmanuel Ogbah and Sean Davis also had better than expected games. Keenan Robinson, Lavonte David, C.J. Mosley, and Korey Toomer didn't hit big but they didn't hurt either.

In the same spirit, I'm going to note the situations I'm looking to take advantage of this week. I'll have matchup targets sprinkled throughout. Hope your playoff teams move onto Week 16. It's not been a great year for me overall -- many of my dynasty teams have really suffered over the past two years -- but I'm into the semifinals in four of ten leagues and narrowly missed the four team playoff bracket on a tiebreaker in another.

Arizona

Deone Bucannon (high ankle sprain) and Tyvon Branch (groin) were moved to injured reserve this week. It'll leave a messy situation with Sio Moore likely to assume Bucannon's every-down role at linebacker and D.J. Swearinger and Tony Jefferson seeing every snap at safety. The monkey wrench to watch here is Tyrann Mathieu; he could affect the role, snap count, and production of all three. I'd tentatively rank the back seven Jefferson>Moore=Swearinger>Minter=Mathieu. Add Moore as a high variance LB3 in deeper leagues.

Buffalo

Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes have dropped off lately but they get Robert Griffin III and the Cleveland Browns at home this week. If you're looking for a high upside play in balanced or tackle heavy leagues, Alexander and Hughes are your two priority targets. Zach Brown and Preston Brown have some pass rush upside w/ Rex Ryan, too. Get Alexander in your lineup and strongly consider Hughes as a high variance underdog play.

Carolina

Luke Kuechly seemed closer to playing last week but the Panthers chose not to send him for clearance. Kuechly is being moved through the return to play protocol very deliberately. Don't expect to see him return until he's cleared for a full practice. Hopefully that happens this week.

Cincinnati

The tackle split between Vontaze Burfict (1-0) and Karlos Dansby (11-1-1) looks horrible for Burfict. However, don't overreact in either direction. The Browns provided just 37 tackle opportunities and 14 rushing attempts from their running backs. Burfict played 54 of 54 snaps and Dansby played 41 of 54. Five of Dansby's tackles, including his sack, came on Griffin III. With Pittsburgh coming to Cincinnati, Burfict's tackle opportunity -- volume and quality -- should increase.

Detroit

DeAndre Levy is back -- but not as a fantasy option yet. Levy played 18 snaps in the base and nickel defense against Chicago and finished with three solos and one assist. When he returns to a full time role, he'll be an every-week fantasy starter. The Lions never provide much information during the week so we're stuck waiting to see what they do on game day. I'm hoping we can use Levy in Week 16. The Giants' home stat crew is one of the most favorable in the league. If Levy gets in consecutive full practices and you're an underdog in a tackle-heavy league, he may be worth the risk. Otherwise, I'm holding and hoping. This is likely to be a three man rotation, with Josh Bynes (limited but trusted veteran) and Tahir Whitehead (still recovering from knee injury) remaining in the mix.

Houston

Benardrick McKinney was back to an every-down role last week. While he's again a trustworthy option, the home Jacksonville matchup is more attractive for Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Both should be in lineups this week.

Indianapolis

Hopefully, you moved on Edwin Jackson last week. His home stat crew is very assist heavy, so the raw points behind the 3-7 line weren't overly impressive -- especially on 57 tackle opportunities and 39 non-kneel rushing attempts. But it was Jackson -- not Antonio Morrison -- who played every down. Jackson's road matchup against Minnesota looks solid and his road matchup against Oakland in Week 16 even better. Add Morrison only if you're desperate. Neither the Vikings nor the Raiders are a great matchup for a part-time player.

Kansas City

If you're a long time reader, you've likely enjoyed Derrick Johnson's play as long as I have. His second torn Achilles tendon has ended his year, but hopefully not his career. The Chiefs looked at a handful of veteran retreads this week but have elected to stick with their current depth chart. That means Ramik Wilson is likely to see a big increase in snaps, with Daniel Sorenson continuing to play a Deone Bucannon, Mark Barron like subpackage role. Watch for the Chiefs to consider adding a veteran or designate Justin March-Lillard to return from injured reserve if Wilson falters. The Titans and DeMarco Murray are a solid matchup for Wilson. The Kansas City stat crew doesn't give many assists and Wilson's talent will limit his upside.

Miami

Kiko Alonso was unable to play after thumb surgery last week. Mike Hull replaced him and played every down with Spencer Paysinger playing for the injured Jelani Jenkins in limited packages. Alonso is again optimistic early in the week. It's a situation to avoid despite the favorable stat crew in New York -- especially with Bryce Petty under center and Matt Forte questionable.

New Orleans

With an injury to Craig Robertson, Stephone Anthony returned from fantasy purgatory to play every-down and put up nine total tackles last week. Anthony didn't look great on the field but is a good start this week if Robertson's shoulder keeps him out again. And with Carson Palmer's current struggles, Cam Jordan is also a must start.

New York Giants

The Giants had multiple options to replace Jason Pierre-Paul but gave 90% of his snaps to Romeo Okwara, who responded with eight total tackles, a sack, and three recorded quarterback hits. Another home game brings the potential for multiple assists to pad Okwara's line. The Lions are likely to focus their attention on Olivier Vernon, making Okwara a very strong high variance underdog play.

San Diego

The Chargers split their linebacker snaps in an unexpected way last week -- Denzel Perryman 87%, Korey Toomer 75%, Jatavis Brown 25% -- essentially keeping Perryman in the same role and dividing the other snaps between Toomer and Brown. I expect Brown to get an expanded role in a great matchup against Oakland this week, with Toomer seeing many fewer snaps. I'd consider Brown in an underdog situation and avoid Toomer altogether.


***Week 15 playoffs | Pass-rushing matchups to target: Cleveland (Lorenzo Alexander, Jerry Hughes), Indianapolis (Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison), Arizona (Cameron Jordan), San Francisco (Vic Beasley). Those most likely to be available in deeper leagues include Jerry Hughes and Brian Robison. If Danielle Hunter is available in a smaller league, he's a priority play.

***Week 15 playoffs | Tackle matchups to target: Dallas (Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David), Buffalo (Chris Kirksey), Tennessee (Ramik Wilson, Daniel Sorenson), New England (Brandon Marshall - if healthy), New Orleans (Tony Jefferson, consider Sio Moore), 

***Week 15 playoffs | Stat crews to target for added assists: New York Giants (Tahir Whitehead, possible DeAndre Levy), Seattle (Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron), Washington (A.J. Klein), Houston (Telvin Smith, Johnathan Cyprien), Buffalo (Chris Kirksey)


EVERY-DOWN LINEBACKER PROJECTIONS 

Additions to the every-down column in BOLD. Injury situations to monitor this week in italics.

TEAM
EVERY-DOWN LB
75-100% SNAPS
INJ | SUSP
NOTES
ARIZONA
Chandler Jones : Sio Moore Deone Bucannon (IR)   
ATLANTA
  Sean Weatherspoon (IR)  
BALTIMORE
Zachary Orr : C.J. Mosley
 
 
 
BUFFALO
   
CAROLINA
  Luke Kuechly  
CHICAGO
Nick Kwiatkowski
Leonard Floyd : John Timu
Jerrell Freeman (susp thru W15),  Danny Trevathan (IR)   
CINCINNATI
 
 
 
CLEVELAND
Chris Kirksey : Jamie Collins
   
DALLAS
  Justin Durant
 
DENVER
none
Brandon Marshall  
DETROIT
 
Tahir Whitehead    
GREEN BAY
Joe Thomas
Blake Martinez
 
HOUSTON
Brian Cushing
 
INDIANAPOLIS
Edwin Jackson D'Qwell Jackson (susp thru W17)  
JACKSONVILLE
     
KANSAS CITY
Derrick Johnson (IR), Justin March-Lillard (IR), Josh Mauga (IR)
 
LOS ANGELES
     
MIAMI
Mike Hull
 
 
MINNESOTA
     
NEW ENGLAND
Dont'a Hightower
     
NEW ORLEANS
 
Craig Roberston
 
NEW YORK GIANTS
none    
NEW YORK JETS
  Erin Henderson (NFI)
 
OAKLAND
Ben Heeney (IR)  
PHILADELPHIA
   
 
PITTSBURGH
     
SAN DIEGO
Manti Te'o (IR), Jeremiah Attaochu (IR)  
SAN FRANCISCO
Ahmad Brooks : Gerald Hodges NaVorro Bowman (IR)   
SEATTLE
     
TAMPA BAY
     
TENNESSEE
none
   
WASHINGTON
Will Compton   

Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our weekly IDP podcast here every Thursday for injury updates, player analysis, and matchup discussion. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.