The first round of the NFL playoffs is in the books, which brings us the always-entertaining Divisional round. Today, I’ll be ranking and analyzing each player expected to make an impact in this weekend’s games.
1. Aaron Rodgers - GB (@ SF)
You can’t really call the team ranking 12th in Pass:Run ratio a “pass heavy” team, but you could put the Packers in that category when they enter a situation like the one they’ll be in this weekend. When the Packers took on the 49ers (at home) in Week 1, they called 52 passes and only nine runs. That was with a healthy Cedric Benson on the roster, too. On the year, the Packers have called pass on 62 percent of their offensive plays, but that mark is 72 percent in losses. The 49ers have a tough defense, but Rodgers will have a strong fantasy day thanks to a high volume of throws. Expect him to approach the 45 dropback mark. The Packers are averaging 3.0 offensive touchdowns-per-game this season, but sit at 3.8 over their last five. That matches their season-long mark from an impressive 2011.
2. Tom Brady - NE (vs. HOU)
3. Colin Kaepernick - SF (vs. GB)
4. Peyton Manning - DEN (vs. BAL)
5. Matt Ryan - ATL (vs. SEA)
6. Russell Wilson - SEA (@ ATL)
I feel Rodgers stands above the field this week, but the next tier of quarterbacks is fairly even. Brady and Manning are known elite fantasy quarterbacks, but both figure to be in situations where their team can lean on the run game to protect a lead. It may surprise you to know that both the Broncos (ninth) and Patriots (10th) are among the league’s run-heaviest teams.
The Texans have been extremely generous to opposing pass games recently, and New England is averaging 3.8 offensive touchdowns and 75 offensive plays-per-game, both of which are tops in the league…The Ravens have one of the league’s top pass defenses, but they’ll struggle to slow a Broncos offense ranking third in the league with 3.1 offensive touchdowns-per-game…Since making his first start for the 49ers in Week 11, Kaepernick ranks eighth among quarterbacks in fantasy points. His 42 carries during that span ranks second at the position to only Cam Newton (64). The Packers have been tough against opposing passing attacks recently, but Kaepernick can use his legs to make up for an underwhelming passing performance…Ryan’s Falcons rank sixth in the league, averaging 2.8 offensive scores-per-game. They sit at 3.3 over their last five games. Atlanta ranks as the league’s seventh pass-heaviest team and averaged a 51:14 Pass:Run ratio during their three regular season losses. The Seattle pass defense is one of the league’s best, allowing only 12 fantasy points-per-game to opposing quarterbacks over its last eight games, despite missing No. 2 cornerback Brandon Browner in half of those affairs…Wilson has exactly one pass touchdown in four of his last five games, but had four in the other. The Seahawks have 11 rushing scores over that span, four of which were scored by Wilson. Seattle calls a pass only 50 percent of the time, which makes them the league’s run-heaviest team. Averaging 2.6 offensive scores-per-game, the Seahawks rank eighth in the league. That comes after a late-season surge that’s seen them averaging 3.8 offensive touchdowns over their last five games. The Falcons sport one of the league’s top pass defenses, which limits Wilson’s ceiling a bit.
7. Joe Flacco - BAL (@ DEN)
8. Matt Schaub - HOU (@ NE)
The Ravens are only middle-of-the-pack in offensive touchdowns-per-game and lean towards a run-first offensive attack. That certainly limits Flacco’s upside, especially against a tough Broncos pass defense. The only good news for Flacco is that he can be expected to throw the ball quite often as the Ravens figure to play from behind in Denver…The Texans last passing touchdown came in Week 15. They have only one over their last five games and three total offensive scores over their last four contests. Houston figures to be throwing the ball quite often in New England, but the recent dreadful production makes Schaub a fantasy liability.
1. Arian Foster - HOU (@ NE)
2. Knowshon Moreno - DEN (vs. BAL)
3. Marshawn Lynch - SEA (@ ATL)
The Texans have handed the ball to a running back 99 times over their last four games. Foster has handled 85 (or 86 percent) of those carries. Ben Tate is clearly no threat to his workload right now. New England has been tough against the run recently, but allowed 100 yards and two scores on the ground when these teams met in Week 14. Houston will throw more than usual this week, but 20 carries is a safe over/under for Foster…During Weeks 1-13, the Broncos had a 29:6 Pass:Rush TD ratio. Over their last four games, they have an 8:6 mark. In six games since taking over as the Broncos lead back, Moreno ranks sixth among backs in fantasy points and third in carries. With Denver expected to lead or at least remain competitive in this one, Moreno should end up right around 20 carries, which is a mark he’s reached in five of his last six games. Baltimore has been near league average against the run over the last eight weeks…Benefiting from the league’s run-heaviest offense, Lynch has reached the 20-carry mark nine times this season. Seattle figures to throw a bit more than usual in Atlanta this week, but Lynch will remain involved enough to end up with 18-20 carries. Relative to their season-long production, the Falcons run defense has been better recently, but they remain one of the league’s easiest defenses to run the ball against.
4. Ray Rice - BAL (@ DEN)
5. Stevan Ridley - NE (vs. HOU)
6. Frank Gore - SF (vs. GB)
With Bernard Pierce’s playing time seemingly up over the last month, Rice’s fantasy stock is down. Don’t be fooled by the chatter. Take the Ravens’ Wild Card game against the Colts, for example. The Ravens were very run heavy in this one. Rice was in on 36 plays, 20 of which were pass plays. Pierce was in on a healthy 20 snaps, but ran it 13 times. He only ran five pass routes and doesn't have a target in his last three games as a backup. The majority of his production comes on the ground when Baltimore is trying to control the clock. This week, when the Ravens are struggling to keep up with Denver, expect to see a whole lot of Rice. He may struggle a bit against a tough Denver run defense, but he’ll still get the carries, and certainly the targets…The Texans sport a strong run defense, but Ridley is the lead and goal line back on a run-first team that leads the league in offensive plays. New England figures to control this game, which will leave Ridley with 16-18 carries and a good shot at a touchdown…Although the 49ers tend to score most of their touchdowns through the air, Gore benefits from the league’s third run-heaviest offense. The Packers may force the Niners to throw a few extra passes this week, but Gore should still be able to take advantage of a good 15 or so carries against an unintimidating run defense.
7. Michael Turner - ATL (vs. SEA)
8. DuJuan Harris - GB (@ SF)
As mentioned earlier, the Falcons are averaging just 14 rushes-per-game in their three losses this season. That doesn't bode well for Turner in what should be a tight one against Seattle. He generally takes advantage of games where Atlanta is looking to milk the clock with a lead. On the plus side, he’s the favorite for goal line duties and Seattle’s run defense hasn’t been very strong over the last two months…Harris has taken clear control of the Packers’ lead back job, but still surrenders passing down work to John Kuhn and a few carries to Ryan Grant. Still, 15 or so touches will keep him on the fantasy radar, even against a tough 49ers run defense that is allowing a league-low 3.3 adjusted YPC over their last seven games. Although Harris saw six targets on Saturday vs. Minnesota, keep in mind that he ran only 12 routes.
9. Danny Woodhead - NE (vs. HOU)
10. Jacquizz Rodgers - ATL (vs. SEA)
11. LaMichael James - SF (vs. GB)
12. Robert Turbin - SEA (@ ATL)
13. Brandon Bolden - NE (vs. HOU)
14. Bernard Pierce - BAL (@ DEN)
15. John Kuhn - GB (@ SF)
16. Ronnie Hillman - DEN (vs. BAL)
17. Ben Tate - HOU (@ NE)
18. Ryan Grant - GB (@ SF)
19. Jacob Hester - DEN (vs. BAL)
20. Jason Snelling - ATL (vs. SEA)
Woodhead will benefit most if New England falls behind early in the game. If they jump to a big lead, he’ll have trouble finding snaps…Rodgers is in a similar boat. If Atlanta is forced into a pass-heavy mode, he’ll see additional action…James and Turbin are around to keep Gore and Lynch, respectively, fresh…Bolden will approach 10 carries if New England can handle Houston with ease. He won’t play, if not…I touched on Pierce earlier – he needs the Ravens to build a lead in order to approach 10 carries…Kuhn scored twice in the Wild Card round, but he won’t do that this week despite handling some goal line and third down work…Hillman and Hester are competing for reps behind Moreno…Tate is barely being used with Foster handling most of Houston’s backfield snaps…Grant will keep Harris fresh.