In Week 11 Reggie Ragland was 8-1-0 against the Giants. In Week 12 a gimpy Zach Brown went 6-3-0 with a pass defended. Week 13 it was Navorro Bowman at 8-1-0 with a fumble recovery while Bruce Irvin was 7-1-1 with a forced fumble. When New York faced Dallas two weeks ago Sean Lee went 10-8-0 with a pick and Anthony Hitchens racked up 10-4-0 with a forced fumble and a pass defended. If you still think all that was a fluke, Nigel Bradham had his best game of the season going 8-3-0 with a couple batted passes and Mychal Kendricks was 8-1-0 versus the Giants in Week 15. The moral of this story; start Deone Bucannon and/or Karlos Dansby (if healthy) this week. Bucannon's ankle seemed fine against Washington so he should be good. Dansby left the game with a calf injury so keep an eye on his status late in the week. If Dansby sits, look at streaming Josh Bynes.
Deion Jones was 7-6-0 with a pick against the Saints in Week 14 and is an obvious must start this week. DeVondre Campbell was only 4-2-0 in that game but I still consider him a solid LB3 option this week. Campbell was the team's number two tackler in that contest. He is still playing virtually every snap and New Orleans has been a solid matchup for linebackers in general.
Keanu Neal had a season-low two solo tackles in the first meeting of these teams. I have to think that is a fluke but the Saints have been an inconsistent matchup for safeties over the past several weeks.
C.J. Mosley is the only matchup proof Baltimore defender and the one Ravens IDP that remains must-start this week against the Colts. The only other consideration being Matt Judon for those in big play based leagues. Other than Cincinnati, Indianapolis may be the worst matchup in the league for tackle producing defenders.
It was nice of the schedule makers to have a few divisional opponents play twice late in the season. This week the Bills get a chance to avenge their Week 13 loss to the Patriots. Mycah Hyde was 10-2-0 with a pass defended in that game while Jordan Poyer finished 5-5-0. New England continues to be an outstanding matchup for safeties with Sean Davis recording 7 tackles and 3 assists.
One thing I have learned in all my years covering fantasy football; when a coach tells us a player has been benched or promoted, do not make assumptions about playing time or try to read between the lines too much. Case in point the promotion of Matt Milano who started in Week 15. He was playing about 25-30% of the snaps in a timeshare with Ramon Humber before landing the starting role, but Milano did not simply claim the rest of the playing time and send Humber to the bench. Instead, the two just switched roles. Milano was on the field for 51 of 75 plays against Miami while Humber logged 24.
E.J. Gaines left Sunday's game with a knee injury and was not able to return. If he is unable to go look for Leonard Johnson to start and Shareece Wright to handle the nickel duties. TreDavious White was 4-1-0 with a pick in the first meeting. I expect Tom Brady will target the rookie often again.
Thomas Davis has not been much of a fantasy factor this year so the suspension handed down by the league for his crackback block is not a big deal for most owners. It could be a bigger factor, however, if Shaq Thompson is able to return since he would step into a three-down role. As of Wednesday afternoon, it looks like David Mayo will make the start against Tampa Bay with the Panthers using backup safety Colin Jones at the position on some passing downs.
One Panthers worthy of strong consideration this week is Mario Addison. He has quietly put together a mark of 25-14-10 through fourteen games and the Buccaneers have allowed a dozen sacks over their last three games. Addison is not likely to make more than 2-3 tackles but he will have a grand opportunity to add another sack or 2.
Over the course of his career, Danny Trevathan has overcome a lot of poor matchups to post quality numbers. Unfortunately for many owners, he was not able to do so against the Lions in Week 15. Next on the schedule is a Cleveland offense that has been a below average matchup on most weeks as well. Since Week 11 Telvin Smith, Vontaze Burfict, Denzel Perryman and Blake Martinez have each recorded 4 or fewer solo tackles against the Browns. C.J. Mosley managed 5 while adding a forced fumble and 3 passes defended. He is the only inside or 4-3 weakside linebacker to reach double-digit points against Cleveland since October. If you have other quality options with better matchups, consider them over Trevathan.
Akiem Hicks is having a great season. He is on pace for over 43 solo stops and needs just 2 sacks to reach double digits for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, Cleveland has allowed nearly 3 sacks per game in November and December. The moral of this story; get Hicks in your lineup this week.
Cincinnati may have lost yet another linebacker when Jordan Evans left Sunday's game with a forearm injury. As I write there has been no update on the severity of the injury and Evans was not mentioned on the Wednesday practice report. The way he looked when leaving the game leaves some doubt about his availability so check the late week reports is you are looking at any of the Bengals linebackers this week. If Evans is out, it would leave Vincent Rey and youngster Hardy Nickerson as the only two healthy bodies at linebacker other than Carl Lawson who is more of an outside pass rush specialist. In most situations the Lions are a poor matchup for linebackers but bad as the Bengals are hurting, even Detroit will probably be able to run on them. I like Rey as a decent LB3 this week.
The situation at linebacker has helped George Iloka be unusually productive over the past few weeks. The shoulder injury that knocked him out of Week 15 and a Detroit offense that has been a marginal matchup for safeties in general, add up to a bad week for Iloka even if he tries to play.
The Bears have been a hit or miss matchup this year with most of their good weeks coming against opponents that are also struggling. No one is struggling more than Cleveland so the Chicago running game will have every opportunity to get on track. For that reason, I like all three of the Browns linebackers this week including James Burgess. Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey are candidates for big games with Burgess a solid LB3 option.
Cleveland placed Derrick Kindred on IR early in the week so Kai Nacua will get the start at safety. He is a long shot to provide much in the box scores but I wanted to mention him for those in sixteen team leagues or leagues with very deep rosters.
Anthony Hitchens had stellar games in back to back weeks before crashing back to earth in Week 14. Some will look at a below average matchup with the Raiders as the cause for his 1-5-0. While that was a contributing factor, the bigger reason is probably a lack of playing time. Hitchens played just over half the snaps (34 total) against the Raiders and chances are he will see roughly the same amount of action this week against Seattle.
Shane Ray landed on IR this week so Shaquil Barrett will get the start against Washington. The Redskins have only allowed 3 sacks in their last two games but gave up 10 in the two prior contests. Owners in need of a roll the dice upside guy in big play leagues may want to take a look at Barrett who played well as the starter early in the year.
The Lions face a Cincinnati club that seems to have completely thrown in the towel on this season. They have no running game and the defense is injury riddled to the point they are not stopping anything. This should be an easy win for Detroit and a game where their defense is not on the field a lot. The only Lions defenders worthy of starting consideration in this one are the pass rushers as the Bengals have allowed 3 sacks to outside rushers in each of their last two games.
The general expectation is the Steelers will lean more on the running game with Antonio Brown out. For that reason, I bumped Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham up a little in my projections this week. That said I am not expecting either of them to have a huge game. Even with Brown out Pittsburgh still has more talent at receiver than many teams. We may see a little more run action and a few extra targets for Jesse James at tight end but I am expecting business as usual against the Texans.
The Ravens are fighting for a playoff spot and should be able to handle the Colts this week. Baltimore has been a plus matchup for linebackers most of the season and I expect we will see a lot of Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Danny Woodhead in this game. With Jon Bostic landing on IR, Antonio Morrison and Matthias Farley are likely to be busy. Clayton Geathers had an increased role in Week 15 and rookie Anthony Walker will take the place of Bostic on base downs, but neither of those guys seems destined for a full-time role.
Kansas City Chiefs
Looking for a big upside corner to play this week? Marcus Peters is your guy. If he is not available, turn to Steven Nelson. Since Week 11 Dolphins opponents have gotten an average of 11 tackles, 2 assists, 3 passes defended and an interception from their corner positions. Nelson is the high floor option of the two having averaged nearly 5 solo stops over the last five games. Peters is a playmaker with the ability to land multiple picks or a pick-six on any given week. Jay Cutler tends to be color blind at times and has thrown 10 picks in the last four games.
Miami has also been a solid matchup for safeties over the second half of the season, so Daniel Sorensen looks to be a good option as a DB3 this week.
Los Angeles Chargers
Denzel Perryman has already been ruled out for Week 16 with a hamstring injury. He left Saturday's game after 23 plays and was replaced by Jatavis Brown who went on to finish 7-1-0 on 33 snaps. All signs suggest Brown will get the start versus the Jets but there is no guarantee. What we do know is Brown makes a ton of plays when he is in the game. The Jets are an average matchup but I still consider Brown a somewhat risky high upside play.
Los Angeles Rams
Mark Barron lasted 3 snaps last week before exiting with a knee injury. As of early on Wednesday there has been no update on his status so those who survived despite his zero in our scores, need to prepare as if we will be without him. Cory Littleton took over when Barron left and would likely get the start against Tennessee. Littleton's 3-3-0 against Seattle is not exactly inspiring but it is really not all that bad when we consider how dominating the Rams were in that game. Tennessee has been a solid matchup for linebackers in general so Littleton is worthy of consideration as a replacement.
T.J. McDonald has been inconsistent at best since returning from suspension. If you are considering him for the big matchup this week I suggest you look into other options. Even with the re-emergence of Kareem Hunt over the past two games, Kansas City has been a weak matchup for safeties. On top of that McDonald will be playing with a sore shoulder if he plays at all.
Anyone that has made it to Week 16 does not need me to tell them Everson Griffen is a matchup-proof must play. Those sitting on Danielle Hunter might need to hear it though. Hunter has been a big disappointment for much of the season, especially in terms of tackles. He has come on of late, however, with a 4 solo game in Week 14 and a sack in three of the last four games. That alone is not enough but consider the Packers have allowed 16 sacks in their last four games including 3 last week.
New England Patriots
For fantasy owners there is a silver lining to the Patriots struggles at linebacker this year. That being the quality production we are getting from Patrick Chung. The nine-year veteran had a great fantasy season in 2010 but has been virtually useless to us since. He has averaged better than 6 tackles per game since Week 11 and is currently on pace to handily eclipse the 2010 fantasy total. Unfortunately, his lowest point total in recent weeks came against the Bills when Chung totaled 4 solo stops in Week 13.
Kyle Van Noy practiced on a limited basis late last week and may be able to go against Buffalo. He was 1-2-.5 with a pass breakup in that game which is horrible at a glance, but keep in mind that was the game he left early due to the calf injury. Van Noy played just 15 snaps in that contest so his numbers were actually rather impressive.
New Orleans Saints
With A.J. Klein on the shelf, Manti Te'o has been a full-time middle linebacker for the past two games. That includes Week 14 when he was 8-2-0 against the Falcons. Klein did not practice at all last week due to the groin injury and may be out for the rematch as well. We can never count on a rematch giving us the same kind of production but considering Kwon Alexander just racked up 13 solo stops versus the Falcons on Monday night, there is a strong chance Te'o has another good game.
Kenny Vaccaro had 3 tackles against Atlanta first time around but do not let that make you gun shy. He left that game in the first half when his groin tightened up. Vaccaro was back last week with strong numbers and came through healthy.
One New Orleans defender I am concerned about this week is Cameron Jordan. He had 2 tackles in the first meeting with Atlanta and has a total of 3 over the past two games combined. The Falcons have allowed just 3 sacks in their last five games including 1 to the Saints. Normally I would preach start your studs but this week is all about matchups. If you have another quality option with a good matchup, I would strongly consider him over Jordan.
New York Giants
Landon Collins was doubtful on Friday of last week and was a surprise active for the game on Sunday. He should not have suited up at all. It put fantasy owners in a bad spot for sure. Do we start the number one DB in the game knowing he is less than 100%, or do we plug in a lesser player in a playoff situation? I for one rolled the dice on Collins; fortunately, it did not cost me an opportunity to play this week. Collins was not able to make it out of the first quarter before aggravating the injury. As of Wednesday early afternoon, there has been no update on his availability but I can tell you he will not be in my lineup this week unless he is a full participant by Friday; which is not likely to happen.
Oakland made a strong showing against the Cowboy last week but that was a home game on national television. I am not so sure they will be the same team in Philadelphia this week. That said the Raiders defense has been playing much better in recent weeks, especially in terms of getting to the passer and creating turnovers. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have been on fire since Week 11 with 31 tackles, 4 assists, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and a recovery between them in the last four games. Mack is an every-week must start if you have him while Irvin is still available in a lot of leagues. The matchup is not a great one but I like Irvin as a high upside big-play option for those who are underdogs in the big game.
Do not fall into the trap and start Nigel Bradham or Mychal Kendricks this week. Yes, they are coming off productive games but the Raiders have not been a good matchup over the second half of the season. In fact, they are right there in the conversation with Cleveland and Indianapolis as the worst matchup in the game after Cincinnati.
Bobby Wagner tried to play through his sore hamstring in Week 15 but clearly was not himself. So clearly it sparked a social media spat between he and Eric Thomas who said the team would have been better off with a healthy backup on the field. Wagner was eventually pulled from the blowout loss but not until the game was decided. The big question for us is how much healthier will he be with one more week of rest? It would be huge to have Wagner in our lineups for the championship game; especially considering the juicy matchup against a Cowboys squad that will have a fresh Zeke Elliot. This is one we will need to keep a close eye on late in the week.
Terence Garvin replaced K.J. Wright (concussion) as the three-down linebacker and made a strong showing at 6-3-0 with a pass defended. Wright never set foot on the practice field last week so there is a good chance he will sit against Dallas as well. Whoever gets the call between these two is going to put up solid numbers.
Bradley McDougald has given us quality production in every game he has started. This matchup has the potential to provide his best numbers of the season, especially if the starting linebackers are out or gimpy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers will be without Justin Evans for the last two games after he was placed on IR with his ankle injury. Carolina is a particularly good matchup for safeties now that Greg Olsen is back at full speed. The problem is picking the right Tampa safety to play. Evans was the only one playing full time in previous weeks. He was replaced by Keith Tandy who also played full time once he got in the game last week, but that does not ensure he will do so with a week of practice to prepare and adjust. We will probably be best served to avoid this situation altogether.
This is a good week to have Jonathan Cyprien or Kevin Byard in your lineup. The Rams are among the best matchups in the game for safeties. At least one safety has produced 6 or more solo tackles against them in four of their last five games.
That is going to do it for Week 16 and for the 2017 season. Thank you for being part of Footballguys and best of luck to you in those title games!