As you should know, whether you should play the players on your rosters in any given week should be contingent in part on the match-up. This is not about making the perfect choice because we don’t know how players will really do on a week-to-week basis. Rather, this is about making a sensible and reasonable choice on which player to play. So, to assist in being your “Second Opinion for Your Fantasy Football Instinct,” the goal in “Fantasy Football Weekly Choices” is to provide you, the fantasy football owner, with enough information to make sensible and reasonable choices in setting your line-up this week by reviewing the weekly match-ups and identifying which players are “On the Gridiron,” a “Coach’s Decision,” or “On the Pine.” We also provide you a down-n-dirty Quick Hit list for those players who should be On the Gridiron, a Coach’s Decision or On the Pine. For many of you, the information provided simply provides affirmation to the decisions you have already made. If you like, skip the fluff, and find your player’s match-up for analysis. If you are looking for a waiver wire pick-up, then look for those players still on your waiver wire, and you can read that analysis too.
ON THE GRIDIRON: Identifies players you should play because of their match-up or because of their role on their team’s offense.
COACH’S DECISION: Identifies players who you normally would play but whose match-up this week is not very good; identifies players who you normally would not play but whose match-up this week is good; or identifies players who are injured that you, the fantasy coach, will need to make the call on whether or not to play.
ON THE PINE: Identifies players who you should likely avoid unless there is no one else on your roster or on the waiver wire that can help your team win.
NOTE: Since kickers’ weekly performances are difficult to predict, kickers will not be categorized but defenses (DST) will. As to kickers, just get a good one on a team that will give the kicker an opportunity to score points.
Onto the fantasy match-up and your choices!
Sunday, January 1st
4:15 p.m. EST
NOTE: For fantasy purposes, while several players will be highlighted below that could have good games this week for owners, some of these players may not be able to be used in fantasy due to injury, their game status being questionable. As this is the Sunday afternoon games and Sunday night game, owners may not want to start a player that could become inactive by these games’ kickoffs without that player’s back-up on the roster or without another player who has a 4:15 p.m. game or the Sunday Night game to insert into your active line-up.
STEELERS (11-4) v. BROWNS (4-11)
The Steelers will be scoreboard watching the Ravens-Bengals game. So long as the Bengals make a game of it, the Steelers will be playing for the win. This is a must-win for the Steelers if they are to have a chance at the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and then a week one playoff bye – something a banged up Steelers team could certainly use. The Browns are playing for jobs next season, especially players like Peyton Hillis. Besides, this rivalry is longstanding and one that players get up for. In the end, regardless of who quarterbacks for the Steelers, the Steelers should win this game with their rushing game and with a few key passing plays.
ON THE GRIDIRON: The Browns weakness is their rush defense, which makes RB Rashard Mendenhall a must-start this week as the Browns allow the sixth most fantasy points overall. While the Browns boast the number one fantasy pass defense against wide receivers, both WR Mike Wallace and WR Antonio Brown can be on the fantasy gridirons as a WR2s as the Steelers were able to develop a passing game when these teams played last. The Steelers DST is a must-start against a Browns team allowing the eighth most fantasy points to defenses and special teams.
COACH’S DECISION: QB Ben Roethlisberger is expected to start this game and will likely play so long as the Ravens-Bengals game remains close. Still, fantasy footballers should consider their other options as the Browns kept Roethlisberger in check when last they played. Besides, the Browns allow the third least fantasy points to the position. As the Browns are ranked towards the middle of defending the tight-end positions in fantasy, TE Heath Miller is a option, although not the best one. The Steelers rush defense has been fairly stout this season, allowing the seventh least fantasy points this season. As a consequence, RB Peyton Hillis makes best for a flex-play this week but he can still be on the gridiron as a low-end RB2 for fantasy footballers who need the help.
ON THE PINE: QB Colt McCoy has been ruled out, making QB Seneca Wallace the starting quarterback for the Browns this weekend. With the Steelers allowing the second least fantasy points to QBs, both should be firmly on fantasy pines. Likewise, this is no time to rely on WR Greg Little or TE Evan Moore as the Steelers defend their respective positions well. With the Steelers doing a better job protecting the ball and their quarterback, the Browns DST is not the greatest of starts this week.
RAVENS (11-4) v. BENGALS (9-6)
This will be one of the best games of the weekend, as the Ravens are fighting to keep their No. 2 seed for the playoffs, and a round one bye, and the Bengals need the win to guarantee that they make the playoffs. Both teams will be playing hard from start to finish. Play your Ravens and Bengals in fantasy football this weekend. As to the game itself, it’s a tough one to call. When these teams played in Week 11, it was an offensive battle with the Ravens coming out on top 31-24. But, the Week 11 game was a home game for the Ravens, where they are 8-0. The Bengals didn’t have A.J. Green in that game. The Ravens struggle on the road where they are 3-4. Despite these conflicting stats, The Fantasy Greek feels that turnaround is fair play this week and the Bengals should come out on top. Three teams from the AFC North should be in the playoffs.
ON THE GRIDIRON: The Bengals have one of the better rush defenses in the league. Still, RB Ray Rice should be on fantasy gridirons as he has been match-up proof. Likewise, regardless of the match-up, WR A.J. Green has been able to produce as a solid WR2 in fantasy all season long.
COACH’S DECISION: Even though the Bengals are top-ten defending quarterbacks in fantasy, QB Joe Flacco is a decent option this week as he threw for a couple of hundred yards and two touchdowns in their last game with the Bengals. Likewise, with WR Torrey Smith, the Ravens No. 1 WR, fantasy footballers can have Smith on the gridiron as a WR3. In fact, Smth tore up the Bengals for 165 yards and a touchdown in their last meeting. While fantasy footballers have likely been riding the Ravens DST this season, the Benagls allow the seventh least fantasy points to DSTs so this is a week to consider your other options if you have them. The Ravens are the No. 1 fantasy defense against quarterbacks this season. Still, QB Andy Dalton tore the Ravens up for 350+ yards and a TD in their last meeting. Dalton is an option for desperate fantasy footballers. With the Ravens having the No. 4 fantasy rush defense, RB Cedric Benson is not an ideal option. Yet, the last time he faced the Bengals, Benson scored twice, inflating fantasy numbers that would have been otherwise unimpressive. Treat Benson like an RB3 or flex-pay this week. The last time these two teams played, WR Jerome Simpson posted 150+ yards. Now, A.J. Green missed the game, which could explain this. Yet, with the Bengals passing game very much a part of their offense, and the rushing game the aspect of the Benagls offense that could struggle, consider Green a WR3 this week. Because the Ravens allow the eleventh most fantasy points to their opponents, the Bengals DST is a fantasy option this week.
ON THE PINE: Avoid TE Ed Dickson and TE Dennis Pitta and the guessing game it would cause as to which of them does something this week in the passing game. WR Anquan Boldin has been ruled out. WR Lee Evans has yet to post any meaningful stats since returning to the gridiron.
BUCCANEERS (4-11) v. FALCONS (9-5)
The Buccaneers are probably one of the biggest disappointments in the 2011 season. This week, most Buccaneers are playing for jobs next season. The Falcons, while a winning team, likely didn’t play up their and their fans expectations. What makes this game interesting, is if the Lions win, the Falcons will remain the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs. Should the Lions lose, the Falcons will be motivated to win and avoid a first round game against either the Forty-Niners or the Saints. Playing at home, there should be enough motivation to win this game and make up for the disappointing performance the Falcons had at the hands of the Saints last weekend. The Fantasy Greek is calling this a Falcons win.
ON THE GRIDIRON: The Buccaneers allow third most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the most fantasy points to running backs, the fourteenth most fantasy points to wide receivers, and the ninth most fantasy points to tight-ends. Given this, QB Matt Ryan (low QB1), WR Roddy White (WR1), WR Julio Jones (WR2), TE Tony Gonzalez (low TE1), and RB Michael Turner (RB2) are all decent starts this week. Among all of them, Turner could likely get some rest should the game get out of reach. With the Buccaneers towards the middle of all teams in fantasy points allowed, and with the Buccaneers offense struggling, the Falcons DST can be on fantasy gridirons too.
COACH’S DECISION: With the Buccaneers expected to trail this game, both WR Mike Williams and TE Kellen Winslow are expected to be the Bucs main offensive weapons. The Falcons rank towards the middle of defending their respective positions. Still, in Week 17 fantasy footballers should look at these players in a “what have you done for me lately” sort of way and avoid them if possible.
ON THE PINE: QB Josh Freeman has been struggling and he struggled when these two teams last played in Week 3, tossing for under 200 yrads and zero TDs. After last week’s benching, can you even trust RB LaGarrette Blount this week against the fifth best fantasy rush defense in the league? The Buccaneers DST is just not an option against a good Falcons offense allowing the thirteenth least fantasy points in the league. It’s possible that RB Jason Snelling or RB Jaquizz Rodgers gets more work than usual in this game, but your guess as to which one will get that work is as good as The Fantasy Greek’s.
CHIEFS (6-9) v. BRONCOS (8-7)
Under Romeo Crennel and QB Kyle Orton, the Chiefs have shown signs of life. The Broncos, on the other hand, have looked human even with Tebow under center, having lost two of their last five. It’s a must-win for the Broncos, as a win solidifies their spot as a No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs, and a loss likely means they are out of the playoffs. Playing at home, you would think, should help the Broncos. This is also a tough game to call. In what The Fantasy Greek expects to be a low scoring game, we are calling this a Broncos win. To put it bluntly, the Broncos should be able to barely outscore the Chiefs offense.
ON THE GRIDIRON: This could be a difficult match-up for QB Tim Tebow, but with the Chiefs allowing the eighteenth most fantasy points to quarterbacks and the eighth most fantasy points to running backs, both Tebow (as a low QB1) and RB Willis McGahee (as an RB2) can be on fantasy gridirons this week.
COACH’S DECISION: The Broncos have allowed the sixth most fantasy points to quarterbacks making QB Kyle Orton a favorable, border-line QB1 this week. With Jackie Battle ruled out, RB-WR Dexter McCluster should play a significant role, especially in play action. McCluster makes for a sneaky flex-play this week. WR Dwayne Bowe should see a lot of CB Champ Bailey this weekend, making him at best, a WR3 play, with upside. Likewise, WR Steve Breaston has flex-play appeal for owners searching for an option. With the Broncos struggles at times, protecting their quarterback, and the turnovers, the Chiefs DST is an option this week. The Chiefs’ pass defense remains one of the better ones in fantasy even though banged up. But, because WR Demaryius Thomas remains Tebow’s favorite target, he can be on fantasy gridirons as a WR3 or flex-play. The Broncos DST has to come up big in this game. Even though the Chiefs have been better protecting the ball and their quarterback since Orton took over, the Broncos, much like the Chiefs, is an option, in what should be a close, low scoring game.
ON THE PINE: RB Jackie Battle has been ruled out. RB Thomas Jones should get a bigger work load this week, but he has yet to be a significant fantasy factor this season and there is nothing about this game that suggests he will this week. WR Eric Decker was promising until the emergence of Demaryius Thomas. Since then, he has been a non-factor in the offense.
CHARGERS (7-8) v. RAIIDERS (8-7)
The Chargers have been another team that has disappointed this season — chock full of talent, but playing far below it. The Raiders just keep pressing on, overcoming adversity all along the way. The Raiders will be playing hard with a No. 6 playoff birth on the line. It helps to play at home. When these two teams last played, the Raiders won and they controlled both the passing game and the running game. It’s hard to see anything being much different especially as the Raiders seem to be getting healthy, and the Chargers are banged up. These two teams should go tit-for-tat in terms of their scoring drives. In the end, though, the Raiders should win this game.
ON THE GRIDIRON: With the Raiders allowing the fourth most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the seventh most fantasy points to running backs, and the third most fantasy points to wide receivers, QBPhilip Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, and WR Malcolm Floyd (as a solid WR3 with upside) should all be on fantasy gridirons this week. TE Antonio Gates should be on fantasy gridirons too but note that the Raiders allow the eleventh least fantasy points to tight-ends in the league. As much of the Raiders offense is built around the rushing attack, and with the Chargers still giving up a fair share of fantasy points to the position, RB Michael Bush makes for a must-start this week especially since he tallied 157 yards rushing against the Chargers in Week 10.
COACH’S DECISION: RB Mike Tolbert (if healthy) has a chance to do something this week but is no better than a flex-play. WR Vincent Jackson is expected to play this week, but The Fantasy Greek suggests looking elsewhere as Jackson’s groin issues stymied his fantasy performance last week. Should Jackson be inactive this game, WR Vincent Brown would be a fantasy option as a low-end WR3 or flex-play as he has played well when given the opportunity as the team’s No. 2 wide-receiver. You have to like QB Carson Palmer as a low end QB1 against a Chargers pass defense allowing the eleventh most fantasy points to QBs. Besides, Palmer posted 299 yards passing when these teams played last. Making it confusing as to which Raiders wide-out to start this week is the fact that Jacoby Ford should return to the gridiron. Yet, it was WR Denarius Moore who posted 123 yards against the Chargers in Week 10. The Chargers’ pass defense isn’t the worst, but not the best either. If you are considering the Raiders wide-outs, especially Moore and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, treat them as WR3s, with Moore the favored among the two. With the Chargers allowing the twelfth most fantasy points to opposing DSTs, the Raiders DST is a worth a look for fantasy footballers searching for a viable option this week.
ON THE PINE: With all the issues the Chargers DST had the last time these teams played, avoid them. Even though WR Jacoby Ford could do something this week, it could take another week for him to return to form. RB Darren McFadden is expected to miss Week 17 too as his lis-franc fracture/sprain has yet to fully resolve.
SEAHAWKS (7-8) v. CARDINALS(7-8)
These teams have been playing hard all season long, even after it was fairly apparent they would not be playoff bound. Expect much of the same this weekend. The Cardinals are a good home team (5-2). But, the Cardinals’ defense allows more points to their opponents than the Seahawks, and the Seahawks can outscore the Cardinals. Right now, there is a lot more to like about the Seahawks’ chances of winning this game even on the road. The Fantasy Greek is calling this a Seahawks win.
ON THE GRIDIRON: After last week’s performance against the Forty-Niners’ No. 1 fantasy rush defense, RB Marshawn Lynch is a must-start against the Cardinals’ No. 10 fantasy rush defense. While he may not play the whole game, he should do enough damage to make it worthwhile to fantasy footballers. As the Cardinals give up the third most fantasy points to defenses/special teams, the Seahawks DST should be on fantasy gridirons this week. For the Cardinals, RB Beanie Wells and WR Larry Fitzgerald remain must-starts as a low-end RB2 and WR1, respectively, even in what is a tough match-up.
COACH’S DECISION: WR Doug Baldwin is the most viable Seahawks WR and is a flex-play consideration at best. WR Andre Roberts has been playing well for the Cards in recent weeks, but like Baldwin, is at best a flex-play consideration. Fantasy footballers at this point in the season, should consider their other options. With the Seahawks allowing the tenth most fantasy pints to DST, the Cardinals DST makes for an optional start this week.
ON THE PINE: At this juncture in the season, either due to underperformance, inconsistency, or better options, QB Tavaris Jackson, WR Mike Williams, WR Ben Obmanu, and QB John Skelton should be avoided. QB Kevin Kolb will not play in the season finale.
Sunday, January 1st
8:20 p.m. EST
COWBOYS (8-7) v. GIANTS(8-7)
The NFL schedulers saved the best game for last in terms of making it to the playoffs — “Win and you’re in, lose and you’re out.” Besides, this game is for the NFC East division championship. Without question, fantasy footballers with players on either team are likely playing them all this weekend. It’s a great match-up too with the Cowboys a weaker road team than home team, and the Giants a weaker home team than road team. The biggest concern for the Cowboys is the health of Romo’s throwing hand. But, he practiced this week and you have to think he is going to play this one out and do a decent job in the process, especially with no indications that he has been unable to throw the ball in practice. The Giants’ biggest concern has to be stopping the Cowboys’ offense. Playing at home should help. This should be a high-scoring game and a close one as their Week 14 game showed. It’s a tough game to call. In the end, it’s hard to tell whether the Cowboys’ offense can keep up with Romo banged up and likely to take some shots in this game. The Cowboys’ defense can certainly keep them in the game. If the Cowboys win this game, it will be a storied franchise event. However, for all the marbles, possibly on the last possession of the game, The Fantasy Greek is saying that the Giants will win.
ON THE GRIDIRON: With the Giants allowing the seventh most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the thirteenth most fantasy points to running backs, the fourth most fantasy points to wide receivers, and the fourth most fantasy points to tight-ends, QB Tony Romo, RB Felix Jones, WR Miles Austin, WR Dez Bryant, and TE Jason Witten should all be on fantasy gridirons this week. In Week 10, Romo was able to pass for 321 yards and 4 TDs to his receivers, while Jones tallied 100 yards rushing, Heck, even WR Laurent Robinson makes for a good play this week as a WR3, as he had two of the Cowboys receiving touchdowns in Week 14. Likewise, QB Eli Manning (440 yds., 2 TDs, 1 INT) had an outstanding passing game. Along with Manning, both WR Hakeem Nicks (163 yds.) and WR Victor Cruz are must-starts this week too.
COACH’S DECISION: If you have RB Ahmad Bradshaw, you will likely have to start him as an RB2 even though the Cowboys rush defense is the sixth best in fantasy. Some yardage and a TD would not be out of the question. Likewise, RB Brandon Jacobs makes for a strong flex-play and he too could tally some yards and a TD in this game. Consider WR Mario Manningham an optional WR3 or flex-play as posted some good yardage and a TD in the last meeting between these two teams.
ON THE PINE: Because this is expected to be a high-scoring game, both the Cowboys DST and the Giants DST should be on fantasy pines. By the way, the Giants are allowing less fantasy points (the sixth least) to DSTs than the Cowboys (the twelfth least). TE Jake Ballard has been ruled out.
Good luck this week! And, may the fantasy football gods smile upon you!