Crunch time is upon us! For many the playoffs start this week simply because we must win to get in. In a season filled with more week to week surprises and uncertainty than I have ever seen, we must leave no stone unturned and no angle un-studied. Here is what I have to contribute.
As expected Tyrann Mathieu was back in action week twelve. Unlike in the past when he has gone from zero to every down action, Mathieu served as the Cardinals third safety playing 47 of 70 defensive snaps. This left Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger in the every down roles, helping them both to strong fantasy totals. Washington has been a somewhat inconsistent matchup for safeties all year but when they are good they are very good. Jefferson is a must start this week as we know he will be on the field in all situations. Swearinger has big potential in this matchup as well but there is some risk as Mathieu could see increased playing time. Even if Swearinger has a lesser role he will still be on the field 40+ snaps and be a contributor. I will be gambling on him in a couple of leagues.
Adrian Clayborn has been a regular topic of conversation over the past several weeks. One of the things I mentioned was how his inability to stay healthy has derailed a promising career. He has yet another hurdle to overcome after suffering a torn MCL and partially torn meniscus in week twelve. Clayborn will miss at least a month and will likely land on IR. As a result Dwight Freeney saw more action against the Cardinals and will likely continue to do so. Maybe Freeney's low snap totals this year will mean he has some juice left for a playoff push. Owners in leagues with deep rosters may want to take a chance on the wily veteran. He could be a pleasant surprise for a few weeks and there are not a lot of options on the waiver wire at this late stage of the game.
With Marcus Trufant going on IR, Jalen Collins will be the starting corner going forward. In his two starts the second year pro has recorded 10 tackles, a pair of assists, 3 passes defended and a couple of rather solid fantasy totals. He is not a rookie but has no more game experience than those starting corners in this year's draft class at this stage of the season. Kansas City has been an average matchup for corners in general but it is worth mention that at least one opponents corner has posted 5 solo stops in each of their last five games.
With Robert Blanton joining Aaron Williams on IR the Bills are hurting at the safety position. They signed James Ihedigbo a couple of weeks back and he is now starting beside Corey Graham. This is significant because Ihedigbo has a history of decent fantasy production and is more significant this week as Buffalo faces off with the Raiders. Over their past five games, five safeties have recorded 8 or more solo tackles against Oakland with a couple more reaching 5. It is hard to call which of the Buffalo safeties has the best chance of adding his name to the list but I like Ihedigbo. He was not an every down participant in week twelve (44 of 68 snaps) but I expect his workload will increase now that he has been with the team for three weeks. I also like that he is playing strong safety and was up in the box much of the time last week.
Heading into week twelve we expected Shaq Thompson to take on a full time role in place of the Luke Kuechly. Instead it was A.J. Klein on the field with Thomas Davis for all 74 snaps while Thompson played 17. This may be a residual effect of the sore knee that kept Thompson out in weeks nine and ten. What I can say for certain is Klein was overmatched in the role. His stat line was good at 5-0-1 with a forced fumble but Klein failed the eyeball test miserably; especially in coverage situations. The good news for fantasy owners and Panthers fans, Kuechly may be able to return well ahead of original expectations and possibly even for week thirteen. This does however shed a little doubt on what the coaching staff has planned for Thompson in the future.
Danny Trevathan is out for the year with another serious knee injury (his second in three years). He was hurt so late in the game we were not able to get a good look at how the team would replace him. Jonathan Anderson and Christian Jones may be candidates but John Timu took the last couple of snaps on Sunday. Against the Titans we saw Nick Kwiatkowski play 54 of 58 snaps as the replacement for the suspended Jerrell Freeman, making Kwiatkowski the apparent free agent target here. With a week to prepare the Bears coaching staff may have a different plan though. It is a situation best avoided unless you are in dire straits.
Deon Bush made his second consecutive start at safety though his numbers were not much to speak of. With both starting inside linebackers gone for the next three weeks the Bears safeties are going to have a lot of opportunity.
Jamie Collins has been called out for lacking hustle on Sunday. He even admitted on social media that he needs to work harder. Let us see if it happens going forward. The Browns are off this week so we will have to wait and see, but I expect a big game from him next time Collins takes the field.
There is optimism out of Dallas about the possible return of Barry Church in the next week or two. History gives us several examples of players coming back in the same season from a broken forearm. Many if not most of the players to do so have re-broken their arms within a game or two. Just a heads up in case you are thinking of adding Church for a playoff run.
Tahir Whitehead is coming off a season best 11 solo tackles against the Vikings. He is on pace for 107 solo stops and has been one of the fantasy game's breakout players this year. The only thing keeping him from being among the elite is a glaring lack of big plays. By glaring I mean complete absence as in zero. Whitehead has 5 passes defended but no other contributions at all outside the tackle columns. With the possible return of DeAndre Levy in the next week or two, fantasy owners need to prepare just in case Whitehead's numbers take a dive during our playoffs. Levy returned to practice on a limited basis heading into week ten and there is speculation he will be active against the Saints.
Despite solid play and quality production, the Lions are still reluctant to settle on Tavon Wilson as their full time strong safety. It is hard to say how much of this is based on the play of Rafael Bush who has also looked good in the time share. Over their past four games Wilson has averaged better than 6 solo and an assist despite playing about 75% of the snaps. He is a good start this week against the Saints who have been an excellent matchup for safeties on most weeks and a stellar one over the last two games.
Miles Killebrew is getting some attention for his recent production. It is not the 9 solo tackles in the last two games, it is the fact he has 9 tackles and an assist on 21 snaps. The coaches have been using him as a linebacker in some sub packages but they currently have no plans of expanding his role. In fact Killebrew could lose his niche once Levy returns to regular duty. The rookie is clearly someone we need to have on our radar for a possible breakout in 2017.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers pulled off a big win despite being paper thin at inside linebacker. The good news here is both Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan were able to practice on Wednesday albeit on a limited basis. The bad news is Clay Matthews did not practice as he nurses a dislocated shoulder. The Texans are a solid matchup for inside backers so keep an eye on the late week practice reports.
Anyone in need of a quality start in a corner required league might want to look at one of the Texans trio. Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and A.J. Bouye are all playing nearly full time and the Packers have been an outstanding matchup for corners. In fact their opponent’s corner positions have accounted for at least 11 solo tackles in each of the past seven games.
Edwin Jackson was on the field for 48 of a possible 54 snaps in week twelve but I am not sure if it was real. What I mean by this is Jackson may not actually be playing in more sub packages. His increased snap count may have been due to the team simply playing fewer sub packages because they are so short in the secondary.
Kansas City Chiefs
It should have been no surprise when Ramik Wilson came back to earth in week twelve. Nothing has changed with his situation and he is still working almost exclusively in base packages. This week he is a must sit against an Atlanta offense that will use a lot of three and four receiver sets. Wilson may not get half of the snaps in this one.
Justin Houston played a few snaps in week eleven and came out fine, so the coaching staff took off the training wheels in week twelve. He played full time and exploded for 10-4-3 and a turnover. Never let anyone tell you there is nothing to a player having fresh legs late in the season. Houston is a must start every week the rest of the way.
Los Angeles Rams
Robert Quinn has a sack in each of the past two games but is still not making tackles. One big reason may be the Rams rotations up front. At defensive end Quinn, William Hayes, Ethan Westbrooks and Eugene Sims all played at least 35 snaps with Westbrooks 39 being the most among the group. The situation is basically the same on the interior where Aaron Donald led the way with 49 plays while Dominique Easley, Cam Thomas and Michael Brockers all logged at least 32. The moral of this story is; if the playing time is spread too thin so will be the box score production on most weeks. The only guys among these groups I can start with confidence is Donald.
New England Patriots
Jabaal Sheard was out of the doghouse and back in the rotation in week twelve when the Patriots used four defensive ends virtually equally. Sheard's 25 snaps were the fewest of the group with Trey Flowers 36 being the most. This is another situation where there are too many Indians and not enough Chiefs. The rotation makes it all but impossible to trust anyone here.
Kyle Van Noy has gotten on the field for 29 and 28 snaps respectively over the past two games. Thus far there has been no indication he will have a bigger role at any point this season. Donta Hightower remains the only linebacker getting near every down opportunity.
New York Jets
Darron Lee is finally healthy and resumed an every down role in week twelve. He played all 73 snaps against the Patriots going 5-6-0 with a pass defended. This week's matchup with Indianapolis is not a particularly strong one but Lee could be an excellent add for a playoff run. The Jets face a San Francisco squad in week fourteen that has been a much better matchup since Colin Kaepernick took over. Weeks fifteen and sixteen match New York against Miami and a repeat versus New England.
Cory James was back in his full time role at middle linebacker against Carolina. Game flow and a complete first half domination by the Raiders defense led to a mere 2-2-0 in the box score for James, but the Bills will be a different animal. Buffalo has been an excellent matchup for linebackers on most weeks. Telvin Smith, Vontaze Burfict, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright have all posted at least 7 solo tackles against them in the past three weeks.
Both Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks bounced back with quality production in week twelve despite a below average matchup. Both players deserve strong consideration this week against the Bengals. Cincinnati was not a great matchup early in the season but their last four games have seen Will Compton, Zach Brown and Zach Orr post strong totals against them. This is a different offense with Jeremy Hill as a true feature back.
San Diego Chargers
Jatavis Brown has still not practiced on his sprained knee and it looks as if he will miss at least one more game. The Chargers did get some reinforcements in week twelve with the return of strong safety Jahleel Addae. What we have seen of Addae this season amounts to a small three game sampling but it has looked pretty good. His last two starts have each produced 6 solo tackles. The Buccaneers have been an excellent matchup for strong safeties with Antoine Bethea, Karl Joseph, Keanu Neal, Harold Jones-Quartey and Kam Chancellor have all produced double digit fantasy points against Tampa Bay over the past six weeks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Over the first four games of the season Clinton McDonald totaled 14-5-1.5 while averaging 56 snaps per game. In the three games since his return from injury McDonald is 5-0-1 while averaging about 26 snaps per game. The lesser workload may be a sign he is still not 100%. With many of us needing a win this week to get in the playoffs, McDonald is simply not a player we can trust.
Chris Conte was injured late in the Buccaneers week twelve contest and is not expected to go against San Diego. He will likely be replaced by recently signed Major Wright who had been with the team over the past couple of seasons.
That is a wrap for week thirteen. Hopefully everyone will be back with us next week for round one of the playoff. In the meantime; Just Win Baby!