Injuries are going to leave the Cardinals shorthanded for the final three weeks, but the shuffle to fill the holes gives us something to keep an eye on the rest of the way. Deone Bucannon's high ankle sprain will probably end his season. Sio Moore took over after the injury last week, recording 3 solo tackles on the final 21 plays. Moore is a player I have talked about often. Whenever given an opportunity to start he has looked good on the field and produced in the box scores. Yet for some reason he has not been able to stick with a team. Moore has the skill set to be an excellent fit at inside backer in the Cardinals scheme. These next three games are his opportunity to audition and an opportunity for fantasy owners to snag a sleeper with upside for the next couple of games and possibly beyond.
Adding more intrigue to the inside linebacker situation; the Cardinals signed former Arizona Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright off the Brown's taxi squad early in the week as well. Wright was one of my rookie sleepers over the summer. As a sophomore at Arizona he had 100 solo tackles, 64 assists and 15 sacks in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short by injury after three games. Surprisingly Wright elected to forego his senior year and declared for the draft where the Browns picked him up in round seven. He will be a home town favorite in Arizona where Wright will likely provide depth for the final three games. That said it will not be a surprise if the Cardinals elect to take a look at him for a game or two. If he can get back to pre-injury form this could be a steal for the organization in the long run.
Tyvon Branch landed on IR this week with a hernia. Combined with the shoulder injury that continues to keep Tyrann Mathieu out of action, the Cardinals are rather thin at safety. Adding to the secondary woes, corner Marcus Cooper left Sunday's game with a back injury that could shut him down. This is good news for those of us who are counting on D.J. Swearinger Sr and Tony Jefferson as they are the last two safeties standing at a once deep position. Both of these guys should be quality starts for us in week fifteen as the Saints have been an excellent matchup for safeties. Look for Justin Bethel to start at corner opposite Patrick Peterson with Brandon Williams filling out the secondary as the fifth DB.
The expectation is Rex Ryan will be sent packing at the end of this season. This leaves plenty of questions for dynasty owners when it comes to Buffalo's defenders and especially their linebackers. If the new regime continues to use a 3-4 base scheme Buffalo will have three starting quality inside backers with Reggie Ragland expected back from the knee injury. On the other hand if the new staff brings a 4-3 defense the Bills could be in excellent shape. Ragland would be a prototypical old school bruiser in the middle with Preston Brown and Zach Brown flanking him. In fact this trio would give a 4-3 coaching staff a lot of options. The point here being; those who picked up Zach Brown early this year should not be in a hurry to let him go. He has played well enough to earn an opportunity next year and could continue to have solid value for us.
The injury to James Ihedigbo leaves Buffalo in a pinch at safety. Corey White worked there in nickel situations early in week 14 and took over on base downs when Ihedigbo was out. Look for White to get the call this week though it would make sense for the Bills to play him at free safety and move Corey Graham back to strong.
Luke Kuechly is practicing this week but I would not count on him playing until we get confirmation from the team. Keep in mind he practiced last week as well before being inactive against the Chargers. Shaq Thompson was 3-4-0 with an interception against San Diego while A.J. Klein finished 4-3-1 with a forced fumble. Both out produced Thomas Davis who was the team's three down linebacker in the game, finishing at 3-2-0.
After missing a couple of games Mario Addison was back in action against San Diego. He picked up right where he left off, adding another sack and bringing his total to a career best 7.5 on the year with 6 in his last four games. The problem here is the same as we are seeing in New England and Los Angeles. Carolina is rotating four players nearly equally at end, making it difficult for any of them to excel in the box scores. In week fourteen Kony Ealy led the way with 37 snaps while Addison (32), Wes Horton and Ryan Delair all had at least 28. If you are in a pinch I would roll with Addison this week but keep in mind the Redskins are giving up less than a sack and a half per game since week six.
Nick Kwiatkoski had another solid outing in week fourteen going 4-4-1 against the Lions. The more I see from the rookie, the more I like him. Green Bay has been a strong matchup for linebackers in general with eight of them reaching double digit fantasy points since week six. In the first meeting of these teams Jerrell Freeman went 10-3-0 and Danny Trevathan had 6 solo stops.
Never let anyone tell you there is no extra incentive for a player facing his former team. Karlos Dansby had his normal role in the defense last week against Cleveland. He played 41 of a possible 54 snaps but blew up for a whopping 11-1-1 against this former employers. I expect a decent game from him this week with a strong matchup against Pittsburgh but nothing has changes with Dansby's situation that will make him anything more than a matchup based third starter.
Last week I mentioned how the Browns have been strong against quality interior linemen and had shut out Geno Atkins in their first meeting. Of course that was all Atkins needed to put up his best game of the year at 4-1-2. I need him to have a good game this week so let me see if lightening will strike twice. Atkins was 1-2-0 against the Steelers in their first meeting and Pittsburgh has not allowed a sack to an interior lineman since week four. Based on those numbers we should sit Atkins this week.
Demarcus Lawrence has been battling nagging injuries over the past several weeks and has done little on the field. In week fourteen the Cowboys elected to scale back his playing time in favor of Benson Mayowa. In his most significant role (42 snaps) since week one, Mayowa was 5-1-1 with a forced fumble against the Giants. That should be enough to earn him another start versus Tampa Bay this week. The Buccaneers have allowed only a sack and a half to defensive ends in their last five games but I still like Mayowa's chances of putting up another solid line this week.
The Lions finally got DeAndre Levy back on the field. He totaled 18 snaps against Chicago, recording 3 solo stops and an assist. Most importantly Levy seemed to come though without a setback. His role should continue to increase this week versus the Giants though I am not expecting him to play every down just yet. If this is the case we might have him ready just in time for a week sixteen matchup with the Cowboys.
Ziggy Ansah has been fighting through a bad ankle for most of the season. He left Sunday's game early with a shoulder injury and was not able to return. If Ansah is not able to go this week it will mean bigger roles for Devin Taylor and Kerry Hyder who have both fallen off of late. Regardless who suits up at end for the Lions this week they all need to be on the bench for fantasy owners against a Giants offense that has allowed just a sack per game since week five.
Green Bay Packers
Jake Ryan was active in week fourteen but played only 8 snaps. The Packers came out in a dime base scheme featuring Joe Thomas and a rotation of safeties working at the second level. It was the first time Thomas showed well in the box score (8-2-0). Chicago has been a good matchup for linebackers since the emergence of Jordan Howard but I still consider Thomas no more than a desperation plug in.
The Colts have finally decided to give Antonio Morrison a shot. He worked alongside Edwin Jackson in base packages against Houston and looked pretty good. Neither inside backer set the world on fire with their numbers but they were far from a glaring weakness. I would say they passed the eyeball test so far which is good news for all of us sitting on one of them in dynasty leagues.
Clayton Geathers has been shut down for the year due to his sore neck. There was some confusion as to the nature of his injury which was initially called a concussion. A player going on IR with a concussion sends up major red flags for me. I ran this one by Dr. Jene Bramel who is our resident injury go to. Bramel does not expect this to be a long term problem so those of us sitting on Geathers in dynasty leagues need not be overly concerned. With all their injuries the Indianapolis defense is a mess at all three levels. Corner Darius Butler started at free safety in week fourteen and will likely continue to do so the rest of the way.
Mike Adams is a must start this week. The Colts are thin on competition for tackles and no team has been a better matchup for safeties since week six than the Vikings. In their last eight games, eight safeties have put up at least 6 solo tackles against Minnesota.
Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Johnson is done for the season with an Achilles' injury. There are some who believe he was on the way out before the injury so at age 34 he may consider calling it a career. Ramik Wilson stepped into the three down role versus Oakland. He made a good showing on the field while leading the team in tackles at 6-2-0. Wilson should continue in a three down role as he potentially auditions for the job in 2017. He was productive for us previously while playing about 60% of the snaps so the full time role makes him a strong candidate for the start this week against the Titans who have been a quality matchup for linebackers on most weeks.
Daniel Sorensen filled the other inside linebacker slot against the Raiders and could have a near every down role going forward. If you need help at safety he could be a sneaky plug in.
Los Angeles Rams
The big news out of Los Angeles this week was the firing of Jeff Fisher. This makes for an uncertain future but there should not be much if any change in the short term. The Rams kept both coordinators in place and will continue to run the same defensive scheme to finish out the season.
With Kiko Alonso out in week fourteen it was Mike Hull assuming the three down middle linebacker role. Alonso practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and has expressed confidence in his ability to go against the Jets this week. That would be good news for the Dolphins but fantasy owners should be looking for other options. Even if he does play Alonso would be a one handed linebacker with a sore hamstring against a team with a struggling offense that could be without its best running back. In fact the only Dolphins defenders I would start this week are their defensive linemen. Cameron Wake was 4-0-2 with a pair of forced fumbles against the Jets in week nine. Ndamukong Suh had a big game that week as well going 4-1-1 with a batted pass.
New Orleans Saints
With Craig Robertson inactive due to his sore shoulder, the Saints turned to Stephone Anthony as their three down linebacker against Tampa Bay. The second year pro responded with a strong game on the field and a solid 7-2-0 in the box score. The fact he played well is a big positive for the young man who was simply not ready for the big show as a rookie. It is just one game but Anthony's performance has to give the organization reason for optimism about his future. It was certainly enough to put him back on the fantasy radar for a potential comeback in 2017.
New York Giants
Every year injuries open the door for NFL teams to discover talented (often young) players who would otherwise be buried on their rosters. Rookie end Romeo Okwara could be one of those discoveries. He was undrafted out of Notre Dame with a scouting report that basically pegged Okwara as a player who was good at everything but excelled at nothing. He stepped right into the same every down role previously held by Jason Pierre-Paul, and really turned some heads. Okwara finished his first start with a mark of 3-5-1. One game does not make a trend and we often see players start strong only to fade quickly when the adrenalin wears off. Okwara has three more games to show us he is not a one hit wonder. He certainly has my attention going into his second career start.
Lawrence Timmons vanishing act was purely a result of the Bills offensive game plan and blocking scheme. His near goose egg contributed to a playoff loss for me last week but if you survived his virtual no show, it is safe to play him against the Bengals this week. Timmons had 6 solo stops and an assist against Cincinnati in week two. With Jeremy Hill the focus of their running game the Bengals are a better matchup now than they were earlier in the year.
Owners in big play based leagues will want to take a hard look at Bud Dupree this week. In a surprise move the Steelers had Dupree and James Harrison play every down at outside linebacker in week fourteen. The result was a career best 5-0-2 for Dupree in just his third game of this season. The Bengals have struggled to keep Andy Dalton upright this year. They gave up 4 sacks to Cleveland last week, all credited to outside linebackers.
San Diego Chargers
Jatavis Brown got back on the field in week fourteen though it was only for seventeen plays. He came through healthy and should see his role increase against the Raiders. Expecting him back in an every down role however, might be a mistake. Unless we can get some confirmation from the team later in the week I will be keeping Brown on the bench.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers may be playing out the string this year but they have some young defenders to build on going forward. I have mentioned Jaquiski Tartt several times this year. His 9-2-1 in fourteen made him worth mentioning again as a player not only to start through this year's playoff push but as a guy with strong long term potential.
The other player standing out is rookie DeForest Buckner. Over his last eight games Buckner is 32-15-5 with a pair of turnovers, including a 10-1-2 mark against the hapless Jets last week. He is just getting starter but the early returns suggest Buckner may be the next great 3-4 end in the fantasy game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Keith Tandy got the call at safety opposite Bradley McDougald and led the team's defender in fantasy points (8-1-0 with a pick) against New Orleans. This was a matchup based explosion and a one week flash. Chris Conte returned to practice this week and is expected to return.
Su'a Cravens left Sunday's game early with a biceps injury that will likely end his season. Later in the game Will Compton went out with a knee injury that seems likely to keep him out at least this week and possibly beyond. Martell Spaight replaced Compton but the player we need to focus on here is Mason Foster. With Cravens out, Foster returned to an every down role. The result was a huge 12-0-1 on 76 0f 78 snaps. While we cannot expect a repeat of last week's numbers, Foster will take over play calling duties and continue in an every down role most likely for the rest of the season. This week's matchup with Carolina is not a particularly strong one but Washington gets the Bears in week sixteen.
That does it for playoff week two. Best of luck to you this weekend!