Here we are in Week 1 of the fantasy playoffs already. It has been a tumultuous season, to say the least. We have navigated six-team bye weeks, an unusual number of injuries, and a number of significant suspensions to get here. With the exception of some dynasty owners looking toward next year, it is all about getting the best lineup possible on the field for this week. There are a lot of angles to consider when deciding on lineups this week, including the possibility of some team playing younger players for evaluation.
As of early on Wednesday we are still awaiting word on the availability of Deone Bucannon for Week 4teen. Josh Bynes has turned in back to back games with 8 solo stops, adding a forced fumble and pass defended as well. The Titans are a slightly above average matchup for linebackers so Bynes might make a good stream option if Bucannon is out again.
Duke Riley actually had a smaller role in Week 13 (2 snaps) than in Week 12 (4 snaps), which would suggest DeVondre Campbell will continue in the three-down role he has held since Riley went down in Week 6. With their new found run game, the Saints have been a plus matchup for linebackers on most weeks, making Campbell a strong option for Week 4teen.
The Ravens lost Jimmy Smith to an Achilles injury in Week 13. The loss likely makes rookie Marlon Humphrey the starter opposite Brandon Carr with Maurice Canady moving into the slot role in sub packages. Humphrey stepped in against the Lions when Smith went down and finished 5-2-0 with an interception. Pittsburgh has been a strong matchup for corners on most weeks and I have to believe they will try to take advantage of the rookie. That should mean a lot of extra opportunity for Humphrey.
Shaq Lawson went down with an ankle injury against the Patriots and was placed on IR this week. Eddie Yarbrough should get the start in his place with Ryan Davis the third man in the rotation. On most weeks this would have little fantasy significance but the Colts have allowed 4.4 sacks per game since Week 7. Owners in deep leagues looking for a lineman to stream may want to consider Yarbrough or Jerry Hughes is he is available. Hughes has been a major disappointment but this matchup could breathe some life into him.
Tre'Davious White entered concussion protocol on Sunday. He has not been cleared but his limited participation on Wednesday is a good sign he may be available.
Both Shaq Thompson (foot) and Thomas Davis (hamstring) were banged up heading into Week 13. Both played with Thompson seeing 70% of the snaps and Davis less than 40%, while David Mayo was on the field for half the plays. Thompson was playing all three downs before leaving the game in the second half. It appeared the trainers were looking at his hamstring. There has been no update on the status of either starter as of Wednesday early afternoon. A matchup with the Saints makes this an important situation to monitor as the week rolls on.
Danny Trevathan returned to action with a splash, racking up 10 solo stops and an assist while seeing action on 66 of a possible 75 plays. Most importantly he came through healthy. Trevathan's big numbers were upstaged by Christian Jones who finished 10-3-1 on 52 plays. Both of these players are every week starts for most IDP owners at this point but this week’s matchup with the Bengals is not favorable. Joe Schobert is the only linebacker to record more than 5 solo stops against Cincinnati In the last six weeks and that was when they had Joe Mixon running the ball. Mixon is currently in concussion protocol and did not practice on Wednesday. On the other hand, the Bears are struggling so it may not matter who is in the backfield. Have realistic expectations if you have to start one of these guys.
Akiem Hicks is one player I would look to sit in this matchup. Cincinnati has only allowed 8 sacks in their last five games.
Vontaze Burfict and Dre Kirkpatrick joined Mixon in concussion protocol on Sunday were also absent from practice on Wednesday. Both of these players are every week starts if healthy but like Cincinnati, Chicago has not been much of a matchup of late. With Adam Jones (groin) and Darqueze Dennard (knee) also banged up, the Bengals could start and Williams Jackson III and Josh Shaw at corner if Kirkpatrick is out.
The team's linebacker situation is not a lot better. Vincent Rey is still sidelined with a bad hamstring and Nick Vigil is nursing a sore ankle. If Burfict is not cleared in time they would start Kevin Minter in the middle flanked by Jordan Evans on the weak side and either Hardy Nickerson Jr. or Carl Lawson strong. Evans was a three-down player against the Steelers and will likely continue in that role until/unless Vigil returns. If neither Burfict nor Vigil is able to go this week, Evans could be a sneaky strong sleeper.
Danny Shelton (ribs) and Jabrill Peppers (knee) were both absent from practice Wednesday. Peppers is not likely to play while Shelton's status may come down to pain tolerance. If Peppers is your guy, prepare as if he will be out. Not many owners are starting Shelton but if he is out it will mean more opportunity for talented rookie Caleb Brantley. He is not a starting option but is a player I have been keeping an eye on for future potential.
Injuries at linebacker led to the Cowboys using a lot of three safety looks in Week 13. Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Xavier Woods were all on the field for at least 45 snaps against Washington while fellow safety Kavon Frazier saw some action and impressed as a sub package linebacker. Frazier was only on the field for 21 snaps but his strong play and production could earn him a bigger role going forward.
Dallas expects to have Sean Lee back against the Giants which probably moves Anthony Hitchens back to a part-time role in the middle. After his 12-3-0 against Washington, a lot of owners will look to start Hitchens this week. Unless we get some sort of confirmation he will have a three-down role, playing him could be a huge mistake.
In an interesting development, Todd Davis played virtually every down in Week 13. We have seen him put up good numbers in some situations even as a two-down base package guy. The full-time gig may prove to be a fluke, but with Denver out of contention, it could be a case of the coaching staff looking to see if he can handle a bigger role in the future. Davis made some nice plays in coverage against the Dolphins, so hopefully, he will be given another chance this week against the Jets who have been a decent matchup on most weeks.
Denver placed Derek Wolfe on IR this week, opening the door for Shelby Harris to prove his 3-1-1 against Miami was not a mirage. The fourth-year player is 18-9-3.5 on the season while working mostly as the third man in the defensive end rotation.
Ezekiel Ansah is one of those guys that always seems to be playing through an injury of some sort. He managed 2 tackles and a sack in Week 12 and had 5 solo stops against Baltimore on Sunday before aggravating his ankle injury. Ansah sat out practice on Wednesday and seems unlikely to go against Tampa Bay. He will likely be replaced by a committee of players including Christian Ringo, Cornelius Washington, and Dwight Freeney.
If you were among those holding out hope that Miles Killebrew would replace the injured Tavon Wilson at safety, it is time to give up on that dream. The Lions opened Week 13 with corner Quandre Diggs lined up at safety where he remained for most if not all his 59 snaps. Meanwhile, Killebrew saw action on 7 plays. Diggs played well at the position, finishing with 5 tackles and a pass breakup. Owners in corner required leagues may want to take a look here. There is nothing wrong with your corner getting strong safety opportunity.
With Rashaan Melvin still out and Pierre Desir landing on IR this week, the Colts are down to Kenny Moore, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston at corner. Moore is going to start on one side with Wilson likely to play on the other and Hairston in the slot. On most weeks this would be an irrelevant situation but the Colts get Buffalo this week, possibly with Nathan Peterman at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor is dealing with a knee injury and did not practice on Wednesday. When Peterman started a couple weeks ago he threw 5 picks in one half. If you are an underdog this week and need to roll the dice on an upside play at corner, Moore could be your guy.
Clayton Geathers saw his playing time increase from 4 snaps in Week 12 to 16 in Week 13 as he works his way back into game condition. This is great news for dynasty owners though it is going to be too late for him to have any impact on this season.
Paul Posluszny showed every team in the league he can still play when he went 10-4-1.5 against the Colts. There is little doubt he will be playing full time for someone in 2018. Unfortunately, it looks like he will be back in a two-down role for Week 4teen. Telvin Smith has not been fully cleared, but he was able to practice on Wednesday and is making good progress in his return from a concussion.
Los Angeles Chargers
Denzel Perryman had 9 solo tackles in his season debut four weeks ago. He has 9 over the last three games combined including a dismal 2-1-0 against the Browns in Week 13. I expect a strong bounce back from him this week against a Washington squad that just helped Anthony Hitchens to a career-best 12 solo stops. The Redskins were a solid matchup even before the emergence of their big, between the tackles back Samaje Perine. Now they are one of the premier matchups in the IDP game for both linebackers and safeties. Perryman, Jahleel Addae, and Adrian Phillips are all guys worthy of strong consideration this week.
Los Angeles Rams
Alex Ogletree left Sunday’s game with an elbow injury shortly after recording a pick six. He was not able to return against the Cardinals but is looking like a go for Week 4teen against the Eagles who have been a strong matchup. Both he and Mark Barron should be in our lineups this week while safety John Johnson is a solid high floor option as well.
New England Patriots
Kyle Van Noy was banged up entering Week 13. So much so in fact that New England started Elandon Roberts and David Harris as their nickel linebackers to reduce Van Noy's workload. Unfortunately, it was not enough as he left with a leg injury after fifteen plays. Van Noy is going to be questionable for this week's rematch with Miami. He was 4-0-1 against them in Week 12.
Having sworn not to fall into the trap again, I am going to warn against the temptation to play Elandon Roberts even if Van Noy is out. Roberts role increased in Week 13 but he was still in on 77% of the plays while Harris played 39%. The wildcard was Marquise Flowers who saw significant action (55%). I am still avoiding all of these guys in what is a marginal matchup.
Trey Flowers sat out last week with sore ribs. His replacement was Eric Lee who now has 6 tackles, 2 assists, 2.5 sacks, a pick and a batted pass in what amounts to about a game and a half of action over the past two weeks. The Patriots have been looking for someone to step up opposite Flowers and it looks like they may have found their man. New England piled up 7 sacks versus the Dolphins in their first meeting. Keep an eye on the late week practice reports to see where Flowers is. He is a must-start if he plays. If Flowers sits, Lee may be a great plug and play replacement.
New Orleans Saints
Marcus Williams missed Week 13 with a groin injury and is questionable for the Thursday night contest against Atlanta. He was able to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, but with the short week, there is a good chance he will sit. That means both Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell are in line to be full-time safeties with what has been a quality matchup on most weeks.
This is not a good matchup for Cameron Jordan as the Falcons have allowed less than a sack per game since Week 8. Jordan has been too good to sit regardless of the matchup, largely due to quality tackle totals. In fact, he led the team with a mark of 5-1-0 last week.
New York Giants
B.J. Goodson made the start at middle linebacker last week but he aggravated his ankle injury and was not able to finish. Kelvin Sheppard once again led Giants linebackers in snaps going 2-6-0 on 54 opportunities. We could see Ray-Ray Armstrong with a role this week but Sheppard is the hands-down favorite to provide some fantasy value.
New York Jets
Darron Lee was a surprise healthy scratch due to a violation of team rules. He will be back in the lineup against Denver.
Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Mitchell are all players worthy of starting consideration this week. The Rams have been an excellent matchup for safeties in particular with their opponents getting an average of over 14 solo tackles per game from the position since Week 8. I like Bradham as a high floor option with Kendricks a big upside play.
The biggest injury news of the week came on Monday night when Ryan Shazier suffered a serious back injury while making a tackle against Cincinnati. There has been optimistic news on Shazier which is great. On the field, the Steelers are really hurting at inside linebacker. Vince Williams becomes the three down guy despite his limitations in coverage. The coaching staff has been masking his deficiency by having Williams blitz often. With no Shazier in coverage, it is hard to say how they will approach it. Making things even worse their third inside backer Tyler Matakevich, left with a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday. The feeling coming from Steelers camp is pessimistic about his availability for Week 4teen. Special team's guys L.J. Fort and Roosevelt Nix are the only other healthy inside backers on the roster. It is not a good situation for the Steelers but fantasy owners should get strong production from Williams and probably strong safety Sean Davis the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will Clarke is making some noise for the Buccaneers. He was 3-0-2 against the Packers and now has 3 sacks in four games since landing a significant role due to injuries. The Lions have allowed at least 3 sacks in each of their last four games so Clarke has a good chance of adding add to his total.
Zach Brown has been slowed by nagging injuries for the past few games. The sore Achilles caused him to miss a few snaps in Week 13 but he was able to return. Even with the Achilles and a sore shoulder, he managed a solid 6 solo stops against Dallas. Brown was held out of practice on Wednesday so keep an eye on his status for what should be a great matchup with the Chargers.
I am all out of time for Week 4teen. Best of luck in those first-round playoff games and I hope you have a good reason to come back next week.