Super Bowl XLVIII is upon us. If you’ve been participating in playoff leagues this season, this is your final chance to separate yourself from the competition and take home a prize or three.
Down below are positional rankings, projections, and analysis on each quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, kicker, and defense expected to make an impact on Sunday. Standard scoring is assumed.
Snaps and cornerback matchup data provided by ProFootballFocus.com
Why are touchdowns not shown as whole numbers? Because only a handful of touchdowns are scored each game, it doesn't make statistical sense to round them to the nearest whole number. Instead, they're shown with one decimal place. The number shown is basically the player's over/under for touchdowns in the game.
1. Peyton Manning – DEN (vs. SEA)
Fantasy Football’s top-scoring quarterback, Manning tossed 55 touchdowns during the regular season. No other team scored more than 54 total offensive touchdowns. In fact, last Sunday’s win over New England marked only the second game this season that the Denver offense failed to eclipse two scores. The other was Week 15 against San Diego. Denver is averaging 4.2 offensive touchdowns per game through 18 games, 78 percent of which have been of the passing variety. That’s third-highest in the league. Denver’s play-calling has been fairly balanced, which suggests that what should be a competitive game against Seattle doesn’t necessarily guarantee more throws than usual for Manning. The Broncos have called pass 65 percent of the time in 10 double-digit wins, 56 percent in three close wins, and 63 percent in three losses. The Denver offense is averaging 4.3 touchdowns per game on the road, which is slightly above their 4.2 home mark.
Opponents of Seattle have averaged an NFL-low 1.3 offensive touchdowns per game this season. The silver lining for Manning is that 75 percent of those scores were of the passing variety. That’s the fourth-highest mark in the league. The Seahawks haven’t allowed more than one passing touchdown in a game since Week 11. They have 11 multi-interception games and at least two sacks in all but two of their games.
Projection: 27-of-40, 305 yards, 2.5 TD, 1.4 INT – 19 fantasy points
2. Russell Wilson – SEA (vs. DEN)
Wilson finished this past regular season as Fantasy’s No. 10-scoring quarterback. Clearly an inferior fantasy option to Manning, Wilson threw for 2,127 fewer yards and 29 fewer touchdowns. He made up for some of that with his legs, racking up 539 rushing yards. The Seattle offense is back-peddling into the playoffs a bit, having failed to eclipse two offensive touchdowns in six consecutive games. The Seahawks are averaging 1.8 offensive scores over those six games, which, extrapolated over the entire season, would’ve been eighth-worst in the league. Having called a run on 48 percent of its offensive snaps this season, Seattle operates the run-heaviest offense in the NFL. The Seahawks only average 60 offensive plays per game, which is third-lowest in the league. The Denver defense has only allowed more than two touchdown passes in a game once (Tom Brady – Week 12) since Week 7.
Projection: 17-of-27, 203 yards, 1.5 TD, 0.4 INT, 5 carries, 28 yards – 16 fantasy points
1. Marshawn Lynch – SEA (vs. DEN)
Lynch finished the regular season as the No. 4 fantasy running back. His 301 carries trailed only LeSean McCoy, while his 12 rushing scores tied Jamaal Charles for the league lead. Lynch’s involvement as a receiver leaves plenty to be desired for an elite back; he caught only 36 passes during the regular season (22nd-most among running backs). Seattle has scored at least one rushing touchdown in 13 of its 18 games this season. The Broncos have gone four consecutive games without allowing a rushing score, however. Per a weekly adjusted yards-per-carry calculation I run, the Denver run defense has come away with a positive rating in 15 of its 18 games this season. It has held opposing backs to a YPC 0.3 below their season average, which is the fourth-best mark in the NFL.
Projection: 21 carries, 87 yards, 0.9 TD, 3 targets, 2 receptions, 19 yards – 16 fantasy points
2. Knowshon Moreno – DEN (vs. SEA)
Arguably the 2013 Fantasy MVP, Moreno went from a late-round flier to a Top-6 fantasy running back. He racked up 1,587 total yards and 13 scores. Only four backs eclipsed Moreno’s 548 receiving yards. The Broncos, once again, failed to record a rushing touchdown in their most recent game. They now have only one score on the ground over their last five games. That comes after they averaged 1.2-per-game over their first 13 games of 2013. Moreno had 14 carries to Ball’s six prior to his late-game injury during the AFC Championship. The Seattle defense has allowed just six rushing touchdowns in 18 games this season, but two of those scores have come during the playoffs.
Projection: 19 carries, 70 yards, 0.3 TD, 4 targets, 3 receptions, 29 yards – 12 fantasy points
3. Montee Ball – DEN (vs. SEA)
Ball had handled 26 snaps prior to Moreno’s game-ending injury during the AFC Championship. Of those 26 plays, eight were runs and 17 were passes. Ball has reached double digits in carries each of his last three games, but it was Moreno’s injury that got him over the hump in the AFC Championship. Although he plays less in competitive games, Ball is averaging a respectable 11.3 touches per game since Denver’s Week 9 bye.
Projection: 8 carries, 34 yards, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 14 yards – 5 fantasy points
4. Robert Turbin – SEA (vs. DEN)
Turbin is Lynch’s clear handcuff, but he doesn’t see many touches. He’s averaging three carries per game over Seattle’s last four affairs. Turbin was targeted once during the NFC Championship. That gives him a total of two since Seattle’s Week 12 bye.
Projection: 3 carries, 11 yards, 1 target – 2 fantasy points
5. Derrick Coleman – SEA (vs. DEN)
6. Michael Robinson – SEA (vs. DEN)
7. Ronnie Hillman/C.J. Anderson – DEN (vs. SEA)
8. Christine Michael – SEA (vs. DEN)
Coleman and Robinson share fullback duties. One of Hillman or Anderson will be active, but likely won’t see a touch. Michael is doubtful to be active.
1. Demaryius Thomas – DEN (vs. SEA)
Fantasy’s No. 2 wide receiver, Thomas racked up 92 catches for 1,430 yards, and a league-high 14 touchdowns during the regular season. Following a 10-target showing in the AFC Championship, Thomas has now reached double digits in the category in exactly half of his 18 games this season. This is probably the point in the article where I remind folks that Richard Sherman is not a shadow corner. He usually lines up at left corner and moves to safety when no wide receiver is on his side of the field. Thomas plays both sides fairly evenly, but leans towards the left. Sherman has lined up at right corner three times this season, which means he won’t be chasing Thomas to the other side of the field on Sunday. Primary coverage will come from Byron Maxwell. Regardless, with a mix of Sherman and Maxwell, finding open space will be a challenge for Thomas.
Projection: 9 targets, 6 receptions, 72 yards, 0.6 TD – 10 fantasy points
2. Eric Decker – DEN (vs. SEA)
The combination of inconsistent production and the acquisition of Wes Welker pushed Decker into WR3 territory on many offseason draft boards. Those who snatched him up were rewarded with his second Top-10 finish among wide receivers in as many seasons. The soon-to-be free agent hauled in 87 passes for 1,288 yards, and 11 scores. There are two concerns related to Decker this weekend. First, he’s currently in a dip on the roller coaster ride that is his target volume. Following 12 or more targets in three of four games leading up to Week 16, he’s seen a total of 18 in three games since. The larger issue is aforementioned Sherman, who figures to see Decker more than anyone on Sunday. Again, Denver wide receivers move around a lot, so this isn’t as damning as it sounds. In fact, 24 percent of Decker’s targets have come while in the slot in games Welker did appear in. Still, figure on Decker vs. Sherman about half the time.
Projection: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 59 yards, 0.6 TD – 9 fantasy points
3. Wes Welker – DEN (vs. SEA)
In two games since returning from concussion, Welker has been plenty involved, handling nine targets against Indianapolis and five against New England. His regular-season average was a bit higher at 8.4 targets per game. He only reached double digit targets four times, which confirms consistent target volume. Interestingly, Welker defied “undersized slot man” logic by performing better in standard-scoring than he did in PPR formats. The 10 touchdowns on 73 receptions was the culprit. On Sunday, Welker will face off with Seattle slot and nickel corner Walter Thurmond III on a majority of his snaps. Sherman and Maxwell have been outstanding in coverage on the outside this season, but Thurmond has done a pretty nice job himself. While it won’t be a walk in the park for Welker, it’s noteworthy that Thurmond is the least of three evils. Targets won’t be hard to find.
Projection: 8 targets, 5 receptions, 55 yards, 0.5 TD – 9 fantasy points
4. Percy Harvin – SEA (vs. DEN)
It’s been a cursed year for Harvin. He’s appeared in only two of a possible 18 games, leaving both early due to injury. The latest was a concussion against New Orleans, which forced him to miss the NFC Championship. Cleared to play on Sunday, Harvin will man the slot and handle some return duties for Seattle. Although he missed most of the aforementioned game against the Saints, Harvin was plenty involved, handling a healthy 25 percent of the team’s targets. Harvin has lined up in the slot on 25 of 33 snaps this season. All five of his targets have come from inside. Champ Bailey was promoted to an every-down role last week, but he still kicked inside to the slot in Nickel packages. Harvin has fresh legs, but Bailey won’t make life easy for him.
Projection: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 49 yards, 0.4 TD – 8 fantasy points
5. Golden Tate – SEA (vs. DEN)
I mentioned this in my NFC Championship piece, but it’s worth another look:
Prior to Harvin’s premature exit against New Orleans, the Seattle wide receiver snap split was as follows: Doug Baldwin – 25 (of 35 team snaps), Tate – 24, Jermaine Kearse – 19, Harvin – 19.
With Harvin intact, Seattle is rotating its wide receivers. With Kearse plenty involved on running downs, there’s no reason to expect anything different on Sunday. This translates to a limited ceiling for Tate. That’s especially the case when you consider that he only averaged 5.7 targets per game as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver during the regular season. Even worse, Tate will move around the formation quite a bit, but his primary position will be wide to Wilson’s left. That’s where Denver’s stud corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie calls home.
Projection: 5 targets, 3 receptions, 44 yards, 0.3 TD – 6 fantasy points
6. Doug Baldwin – SEA (vs. DEN)
Normally Seattle’s primary slot receiver, Baldwin is without a clear role with Harvin back in the picture. He’ll rotate in and line up all over the formation, but targets will be hard to find. The only upside here is that he’ll face a plus matchup against Tony Carter when lined up wide to the right in three-wide sets. Six times this season has Baldwin failed to eclipse the two-target mark.
Projection: 5 targets, 3 receptions, 41 yards, 0.2 TD – 5 fantasy points
7. Jermaine Kearse – SEA (vs. DEN)
It may surprise you to know that only the Cardinals (13.7 percent) and Cowboys (9.0 percent) have had four wide receivers on the field more than the Seahawks (8.2 percent) this season. Kearse is Seattle’s top blocking wideout and is also utilized as a situational deep threat. He’s scored five touchdowns on 44 targets this season. Most of Kearse’s outside targets have come when lined up to Wilson’s right, which means he’s in for a plus matchup against Carter. Kayvon Webster is Denver’s No. 4 cornerback.
Projection: 3 targets, 1 reception, 24 yards, 0.3 TD – 4 fantasy points
8. Andre Caldwell – DEN (vs. SEA)
Caldwell will only see a handful of snaps as Denver’s No. 4 wide receiver. Jeremy Lane is Seattle’s No. 4 corner, but Kam Chancellor sees some slot work, as well.
1. Julius Thomas – DEN (vs. SEA)
Despite missing two games, Thomas finished the regular season as Fantasy’s No. 3 tight end. His coming out party included 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. Thomas has been busy during the playoffs and that doesn’t figure to change on Sunday. With Denver’s wide receivers busy with Seattle’s dominant secondary, Thomas will face off with linebackers and Chancellor. This isn’t anything surprising or new; 26 percent of fantasy points scored by pass catchers against Seattle have gone to tight ends this season. That’s sixth-highest in the league. After averaging a respectable 6.3 targets per game during the regular season, Thomas has seen a total 18 over two playoff games. Although he usually lines up with his hand in the dirt, 32 percent of Thomas’ targets have come while lined up in the slot. In fact, four of his touchdowns have come while in-line, four while in the slot, and four (on just 15 targets) while out wide.
Projection: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 59 yards, 0.5 TD – 9 fantasy points
2. Zach Miller – SEA (vs. DEN)
You’re in serious trouble if you can’t use Thomas at tight end this weekend. Miller has scored five touchdowns this season, but he’s bound for a dip in targets with Harvin back in action. Considering that Miller is only averaging 3.4 targets per game this season, what small fantasy value he had is nearly gone. He has an outside shot at a touchdown, but there’s not much to get excited about here.
Projection: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards, 0.2 TD – 3 fantasy points
3. Jacob Tamme – DEN (vs. SEA)
Tamme saw two targets and found paydirt in the AFC Championship, but he did all that on six pass routes. He plays sparingly and is well off the fantasy radar.
Projection: 1 targets, 1 reception, 11 yards, 0.1 TD – 2 fantasy points
4. Luke Willson – SEA (vs. DEN)
5. Virgil Green – DEN (vs. SEA)
Willson and Green will see a few snaps off the bench, but targets will be hard to find.
1. Seahawks (vs. DEN)
2. Broncos (vs. SEA)
Boasting the No. 2 Fantasy defense this season, the Seahawks racked up a league-high 28 interceptions while easily allowing a league-low 177 passing yards against. Denver quietly put up a Top-12 season on the team defense front. Only seven teams allowed fewer rushing yards per game. I’m picking Denver to win, but Seattle is the better defensive force here.
1. Matt Prater – DEN (vs. SEA)
2. Steve Hauschka – SEA (vs. DEN)
Prater and Hauschka finished the regular season separated by only seven fantasy points. Prater was No. 2 in scoring, while Hauschka was No. 4. Prater missed just one of 26 field goal tries and nailed each of his 75 extra point attempts. Hauschka was 33-of-35 and converted 44 extra points. You can’t go wrong either way here, but I’m rolling with the guy on Manning’s sideline.