Friday Update, 4:25 PM EST: A.J. Green moved up a Tier; Section of Eddie Lacy analysis updated; Fitzgerald Toussaint moved up into Tier Two; Updated news item for Matt Jones; Updated news items for Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts.
Saturday Update, 11:15 AM EST: Marshawn Lynch removed; Christine Michael (in Tier Two), Bryce Brown (Tier Three), Fred Jackson (Tier Four) added.
As the playoffs have started, so too have playoff fantasy leagues and some daily action. So, throughout these playoffs I will do weekly tiers breaking down each position and every fantasy relevant player. As a disclaimer – since these are “tiers” – they are not meant to be linear ranks. Each “tier” separates the strength of play and the player order inside of the relative tier is not necessarily a direct rank.
With that note aside, let’s have some fun in this playoff short slate.
Russell Wilson: What really needs to be said here? I’ll just list Wilson’s weekly quarterback fantasy finishes since Week 10 to close the season: QB12, QB5, QB1, QB6, QB1, QB8, QB8, and QB10. Outside of Cam Newton, no fantasy quarterback has played better than Russell Wilson over the last two months. When Seattle and Minnesota met back in Week 13, Wilson completed 21-of-27 passes, threw for 274 yards (3:0 TD-to-INT), and added 9-51-1 on the ground.
Ben Roethlisberger: If Pittsburgh is without DeAngelo Williams (ankle), the Steelers' hopes of beating Cincinnati and moving on in the playoffs rests squarely on the shoulders of Big Ben. That is fine. Not including the game he left early (knee) in Week 3, Roethlisberger has thrown for 300-plus yards in eight of his 11 starts this season. However, two of the three times he did not clear the 300-yard milestone were in his two matchups against the Bengals (282 and 262 passing yards thrown). Regardless, Big Ben will be leaned on heavily in a likely 40-plus-attempt game in the opening playoff round.
Kirk Cousins: I’ll admit, it’s weird having Cousins and Aaron Rodgers in the same tier in fantasy football. “You like that?” That aside, just in terms of raw fantasy stats, Kirk Cousins has been phenomenal over the last month and was a legitimate league-winning fantasy quarterback in the waning stages of the season. He finished as the QB4, QB2, and QB1 in Week 14-16 throwing for 300-plus yards in each affair and racked up a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio during that span. Packers CB Sam Shields (concussion) is listed as doubtful, which only helps Cousins' outlook.
Aaron Rodgers: 2015 has been a season to forget for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense, but here they are. In terms of fantasy production over the past six weeks, Rodgers could legitimately be relegated to Tier Three below. He has just two top-12 fantasy finishes during the final six weeks of the season and has thrown for 225 or fewer yards passing in five of his last eight games. The only thing buoying Rodgers’ floor is the fact that Washington has allowed the second most passing yards (1,587) and an 8:2 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing signal callers over the final five weeks of the regular season.
Alex Smith: You know what you’re getting here. Smith hasn’t cleared 25 passing attempts since Week 12 but has still managed a QB12, QB14, and a QB15 fantasy finish since then. At least he managed 40-plus yards rushing in three of his last four regular season starts.
Brian Hoyer: Kansas City’s secondary has been piping hot over the last five weeks, holding Derek Carr (twice), Philip Rivers, Jimmy Clausen, and Johnny Manziel to just 1,157 passing yards (24th most) and a sub-par 5:8 TD-to-INT ratio during that span. The only way you play Hoyer in daily games this weekend is stacked with DeAndre Hopkins.
A.J. McCarron: In a way, I could see McCarron stuffing the stat sheet against Pittsburgh in the Wildcard round. He’s been fairly up-and-down in his three starts, but did put up 280 passing yards and 2 touchdowns in relief of Andy Dalton (thumb) in Week 14.
Teddy Bridgewater: Play Teddy at your own risk against Seattle. Bridgewater’s floor is low (just 99 passing yards in Week 17) and the ceiling is just off of the ground (just three games above 290 yards passing and only two multi-passing touchdown games).
Adrian Peterson: Against Seattle, Peterson really has no business here in Tier One. As you will read below, the only problem in this running back slate for the Wildcard round is that it's devoid of solid plays. Peterson converted his eight carries into just 18 yards when Minnesota and Seattle met in Week 13. That is his floor here, but I’m not wild about his ceiling against the Seahawks’ run stopping, No. 3 ranked DVOA Run Defense.
Eddie Lacy: I laughed out loud a little bit putting Lacy in Tier Two. He also has no business being here – we all know about his struggles this season – but one thing he does have in his favor is a positive matchup against Washington’s 22nd ranked DVOA Run Defense. The major question is usage. Lacy looked semi-back on track running for 100-plus yards on 17-plus carries in three of four games in Week 11-14, but has since seen 11, 12, and 13 carries to close the season.
Friday Update: It's been a difficult season for him (so take this with a major grain of salt), but here are Eddie Lacy’s snap percentages in three career playoff games: 57.8, 54.9, and 71.2. Here are his touches: 23, 20, and 21. Without Sam Shields (concussion) for now a fourth straight game, the Packers should lean on a run-heavy approach on the road in Washington. In Shields' three prior missed games, Green Bay ceded 276-2 to Derek Carr, 265-2 to Carson Palmer, and 99-0 to Teddy Bridgewater. Green Bay should try and control the pace with their run game to keep their semi-exposed secondary off of the field.
Charcandrick West/Spencer Ware: If one Chiefs running back were named the full-time starter, they would likely be the top running back play on this week’s slate. Instead, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware split snaps (37:31) and touches (14:16) versus Oakland in Week 17. I’d imagine both will see 12-18 touches again in some sort of split against Houston.
Fitzgerald Toussaint/Jordan Todman: I’ll update this item and adjust accordingly on Friday when we have more information about who will possibly start, but it seems as if DeAngelo Williams (ankle) has a low likelihood of playing in the Wildcard round. For now, I will note that Toussaint handled all of the running back snaps (34) after Williams went down. Todman was not active in Week 17.
Friday Update: DeAngelo Williams (ankle) has indeed been ruled out. Per this report by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Fitzgerald Toussaint has "earned the trust" of the Steelers in practice this week. Jordan Todman has operated as the No. 2 back in practice.
Jeremy Hill: The only thing going for Hill in the Wildcard round is volume. He’s seen 16 or more carries and 50-plus percent of snaps in four of his last five games. If you play him, you’re praying for two goal-line touchdowns. Hill had 15-60 and 7-16 in the two prior Bengals-Steelers meetings earlier this year.
Christine Michael: Now that Marshawn Lynch (abdomen) has been ruled out, Michael is firmly on the DFS radar this weekend. Once Fantasy Football's Loch Ness Monster, Michael will likely lead the Seahawks in running back touches in the Wild-card round. Never short on athleticism, Michael was a bit up-and-down since returning to Seattle in Week 15, but easily had his best stint of his pro career during that span. He's seen 34.2, 30.3, and 39.7 percent of snaps and leads Seattle in touches (41, 13.7 per-game) since his return, but he has just 3-of-15 possible red zone rush attempts and 3 passing targets total in that final three game period. Putting up stat lines of: 16-84 (5.25 YPC), 6-6 (1 YPC), and 17-102 (6 YPC) in Week 15-17, Michael's overall projection is just another huge question mark on an awful running back short slate.
Giovani Bernard: This has been a reoccurring theme through this running back section, but no data point indicates that Bernard is a very strong play in the Wildcard round. His targets in his last six games are as follows (3, 1, 5, 4, 5, 3) and he hasn’t eclipsed 10-plus PPR points since late-November. The hope here is Bernard’s targets spike out of the backfield in a pass-happy Bengals’ attack against the Steelers No. 5 ranked DVOA run defense.
Matt Jones/Alfred Morris: I’ll update this item later in the week, but Matt Jones (hip) ended the season with two straight missed games. I’m still expecting him to be ready to roll for Washington’s playoff run. When both Jones and Alfred Morris were healthy during Week 12-15, carries were split right down the middle (13.5 per-game).
Friday Update: Matt Jones (hip) is currently listed as questionable and was able to put in a limited practice on Wednesday. Head coach Jay Gruden said he's "not very encouraged" by Jones' availability for Sunday's home game. Alfred Morris will be Washington's No. 1 back with Pierre Thomas mixing in on passing downs. Pass game specialist Chris Thompson is also nursing a toe injury.
Bryce Brown: After rushing for 25-72 (2.88 YPC) and one lone score in three games since being brought back to Seattle in Week 15, the only positive note I can muster for Brown this weekend is the fact he's been the most heavily involved back in the red zone over the past three weeks. He's seen 7-of-15 possible red zone rush attempts, while the aforementioned Christine Michael has 3. Brown has played on 31.5, 14.5, and 31.5 percent of possible snaps since Week 15 and has just three total passing targets. Since Michael has led in touches since Week 15 (41:26), you need Brown to either significantly out play Michael early on in Minnesota -- something we haven't seen -- or Brown to get a short score to pay off in DFS this weekend.
James Starks: If you’re playing Starks this weekend, you’re taking your 8-15 touches and hoping he rips off a long gain or scores a touchdown. He has just four targets in his last three games.
Alfred Blue/Jonathan Grimes/Chris Polk: What are you going to get? 71.4% of Alfred Blue’s carries during Week 15-17 came when Houston was leading in the score box – meaning if the Texans play from behind against the Chiefs, Blue is factored out of the game plan. Kansas City is currently installed as a three-point favorite.
Fred Jackson: The sole reason playoff fantasy owners should be remotely interested in Jackson is for his pass-game ability. Here are his targets over the past month: 4, 3, 8, and 1. He played 43.7, 17.8, 50, and 23.3 percent of Seahawks snaps during that span and had two games with zero rush attempts.
Jerick McKinnon: Quietly had 125 total receiving yards (10th most among running backs) over the final four games of the season and finished the year with 1, 4, 2, and 4 targets in those contests.
Antonio Brown: Here are his weekly PPR finishes from Week 8 on: WR24, 1, 1, 44, 2, 25, 1, 26, and 1. Granted, he finished as the WR24 and WR25 in his two previous meetings against Cincinnati this season – but with Big Ben healthy – there isn’t a better wide receiver in fantasy. He will be the highest owned wide receiver in the Wildcard slate on DFS sites.
DeAndre Hopkins: After a slowdown in target share in Week 12-14 (24.5%), Hopkins’ workload sky-rocketed to 36.2% of team targets in the final three weeks of the season. He’s back to being the featured player on offense, but the Chiefs have been fairly limiting to opposing passing offenses – as noted in the statistical blurb above on Brian Hoyer. However, Per Football Outsiders, Kansas City ranks 21st against No. 1 wideouts and are allowing the most yards per-game to opposing offenses’ top receiving option (93.3 yards per-game).
A.J. Green: Here are Green’s receiving lines against the Steelers during the regular season from 2014-2015 in reverse chronological order: 11-224-1, 8-82, 11-118-1, and 6-132-1. That final game against the Steelers (6-132-1) was with A.J. McCarron at the helm after Andy Dalton (thumb) went down with an injury early in the game.
Doug Baldwin: Who saw this coming? Over the final six weeks of the season, Baldwin is seventh among all receivers in yards (530) and first in touchdowns (11). During that span, Baldwin finished as a top-8 wide receiver four times including a WR17 finish. Touchdown regression was always coming for him just based on his targets and Seattle's offensive structure, but he has five or more receptions in every single game since Week 10 except for one contest.
Jeremy Maclin: Since Week 12, Jeremy Maclin has 35.9% of the Chiefs’ team targets and six of Alex Smith’s 13 (46.1%) red zone pass attempts during that span. As mentioned above, the Chiefs are not a pass-heavy team, but Maclin’s targets have been so concentrated he is firmly placed here in Tier Two wide receiver plays.
James Jones: I’ll note a few things -- Jones’ targets have been trending upward over the last month (7, 9, 11, 13) and he owns a healthy 28% share of Packers’ targets during that span. Jones is also tied with Davante Adams for red zone targets over the last month (6), all of which came in Packers final two games. Just based on public perception and this offenses' inefficiency, Jones should be lightly owned in DFS tournaments this weekend. Washington has allowed three “ceiling” games to boundary wide receivers in their last four; they coughed up 6-107-1 to Alshon Jeffery in Week 14, 5-111-2 to Sammy Watkins in Week 15, and just recently 8-173 to Terrance Williams in Week 17.
DeSean Jackson: Probably one of the top DFS tournament options this weekend, Jackson finished the regular season ranked eighth (16.9 yards) among all receivers in PFF’s “average depth of target” that tracks how far down field a receiver is in his route before he is targeted. Since returning in Week 9, Jackson finished the season second in receiving yards on targets 20-plus yards down field (392) and tied for third in catchable such targets (10).
Martavis Bryant: I’d love to insert Bryant firmly in Tier Two, but the fact is Bryant’s role in the Steelers’ offense is murky at best. Prior to Week 16, Bryant had 23.3% of Pittsburgh’s total targets. In the final two games of the season, he fell behind Markus Wheaton (14.3%) and Heath Miller (14.3%) in target share with just 8.6% of targets. He’s coming off a Week 17 game where he played just 14 snaps due to illness and a neck strain resulting in Ben Roethlisberger telling him to “toughen up.” We’ll see.
Tyler Lockett: He very quietly finished the season’s final six weeks second in Seahawks' target share (18.3%) including three top-24 PPR performances. Lockett posted a 7-90 (on seven targets) line against Minnesota when these teams met in Week 13.
Randall Cobb: I’ve been searching for positive signs, but Cobb has routinely failed to exploit plus matchups all season. He has another great matchup against a soft Washington secondary that just ceded 6-104-1 to slot-man Jordan Matthews in Week 16, but the fact is Cobb has cleared 50-yards receiving just once in his last five games.
Markus Wheaton: The fantasy community’s favorite whipping boy, Wheaton has actually played quite well down the stretch. Wheaton finished the final six weeks with 50 yards and/or a receiving touchdown in all but one game.
Pierre Garcon: He was previously left for dead, but ended the season with 3-34-1, 7-80-1, and 4-49-1 stat lines. If Cousins and this passing attack remain hot, Garcon could once again benefit.
Marvin Jones: He’d be in Tier Three if Andy Dalton (thumb) were playing, but the Steelers simply can’t cover boundary receivers at all at this point. Pittsburgh yielded a 100-yard and a 60-yard receiving performance to opposing wide receivers four times in their final eight games.
Stefon Diggs: Low volume passing offense, has six or more targets in a single game just twice in his last six, and Seattle is the best in the league at erasing boundary receivers. Diggs had 2-22 at home against the ‘Hawks in Week 13.
Jermaine Kearse: The only reason we’re semi-interested here is due to the fact Russell Wilson is on fire over the past two months. Kearse did finish the season with five or more targets in three of his last four games.
Davante Adams: Good luck.
Friday Update: Both Washington and Shorts are listed as probable. They will cut into each other's fantasy prospects.
Jordan Reed: He’s simply the undisputed No. 1 tight end play in the Wildcard round and it is not remotely close. Excluding Week 17 where he only played 19.7 percent of snaps against Dallas, Reed had 7 or more receptions and 80-plus yards receiving in four of his last five regular season games. During that five game span, his weekly tight end finishes were: TE5, TE19, TE1, TE1, and TE1.
Tyler Eifert: In his return from a concussion, Eifert played 58.5 percent of snaps and converted his four targets into 4-51-1. Despite not playing full-time, the season finale actually marked the first time Eifert cleared 50 yards receiving since Week 9. Again, if Dalton were starting Eifert’s projection would be boosted, but his scoring prowess can never be doubted.
Travis Kelce: At first, I strongly considered having Kelce below in Tier Three. He ended the season with less than 50 receiving yards in 4-of-5 contests and three or fewer receptions in 3 games during that 5-game span. The only thing propping Kelce up here is the fact he ripped the Texans for 6-102-2 in Week 1. Granted, that was in mid-September but Houston was recently flamed by Rob Gronkowski and Delanie Walker in Week 14 and 16 for TE4 and TE5 weekly finishes, respectively.
Heath Miller: He was literally almost unusable against every team this season besides the Bengals. Miller’s lone top-10 scoring weeks (PPR) this year came against Cincinnati, where he finished as the TE4 in Week 8 and TE5 in Week 14. Former-Rotoworlder Adam Levitan noted that in two games vs. the Bengals this year Heath has averaged 10.0 catches for 85.5 yards on 11.5 targets. In all of Miller’s other games he averaged: 3.0-28.0, on 4.4 targets per-game.
Richard Rodgers: Has output of 146, 3, 7, 2 and 59 receiving yards in his last five games. Who knows what you’re getting here.
Kyle Rudolph: Similarly to Rodgers above, you’re sort of hoping for a touchdown if you use Rudolph in DFS this weekend. He has 2, 3, and 1 target(s) in his last three games.
Luke Willson/Cooper Helfet: Well, Helfet has back-to-back games with six targets while Willson has just 1.4 targets per-game in his last five. Willson needs to be cleared of concussion this week to play on Sunday. You need a touchdown for either of these dart throws to pan out.
Ryan Griffin: Houston just doesn’t throw to their tight end. Griffin has just six targets in his last three.