Last week was one of the most amazing week’s of playoff football. Sure, we saw a stout Patriots team beat up what ended up being an underwhelming Broncos team. But, we also saw a hard-hitting Forty-Niners stick it to one of the best offensive teams, the Saints. Then, there was what was perceived to be an upset of the Packers by the Giants. Quite frankly, though, the Giants have been playing some of their best football over the past month. Lastly, the Ravens ended the Cinderella story (not that there isn’t at least one more left) of the Texans.
Each team in the conference championships is primed to win this week. Two of them, the Forty-Niners and Ravens, boast two of the best defenses in the league. One of them boast what is likely the best offense, the Patriots, left standing. And, not to leave anyone out, the final team, the Giants, are playing their best football when it counts most. So, as to whatever team you want to see win, whatever your reasons, they are good ones. Whatever the case, The Fantasy Greek expects the final score of each game to be close. Each game has a good chance of being decided by a touchdown or a field goal. Whoever wins the turnover battle will win. Even if “your team” didn’t make it this far in the season, you must have a favorite you are rooting for.
As The Fantasy Greek mentioned last week, if you are playing in a playoff fantasy football league, it is much like playing regular season fantasy football. You need to consider your league’s format. So, if you are in a league where you had a fixed roster for a part of or the entire playoffs, and a majority of your players were on one of the eliminated teams, you are likely done. However, for those of you playing in a league where you can change your weekly roster, with bonus points for consecutive team wins, keep considering your player’s chances of being on a team that makes it to the Super Bowl. Whatever the case, continue to consider the match-ups (if you still can) in terms of who you should play, who you can take a chance on, and who you should avoid. More than likely, there won’t be many players you should avoid. So, you likely will have to consider playing players who may not have the greatest of match-ups, but still have a chance of playing well enough to earn points this week.
As you know, the goal in “Fantasy Huddle Game Overview” is to provide you, the fantasy football owner, with enough information to make sensible and reasonable choices in setting your line-up by reviewing the weekly match-ups and identifying which players are “On the Gridiron,” a “Coach’s Decision,” or “On the Pine.” For many of you, the information simply provides affirmation to the decisions you have already made. For others, hopefully this will help you make a good choice on a tough decision.
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. 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-ups and your choices!
Sunday, January 22nd
3:00 p.m. EST
RAVENS (12-4) v. PATRIOTS (13-3)
Given the rivalry between the Ravens and Patriots, this should be a good game. The Ravens, as some may remember, have stuck it to the Patriots in the past. But, that was then, and this is now. The Ravens have a great squad — Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Ed Reed — and have played well this season, given their record. The main concern for the Ravens is Joe Flacco. Flacco has been erratic this season passing in one game for 137 yards and in another for 389 yards. The Ravens are going to need more of the latter to win. Ray Rice is one of the best running backs in the league. The Ravens defense, one of the best in the league too. However, the Ravens haven’t played on offense like the Patriots all season long. Under the leadership of Tom Brady, the Patriots have the No. 3 scoring offense in the league. In every game but three, a Patriots receiving option was the top receiver in each game. If it isn’t Wes Welker leading the team in receiving offense, it’s Rob Gronkowski. If it isn’t Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski leading the team in receiving, it’s Aaron Hernandez can lead the team. And, don’t forget about Deion Branch, the quietest most productive fourth option in the league. The Patriots are 7-1 at home, while all of the Ravens’ losses were road games this season. Not to say it matters, but it is worth noting. In the end, the Ravens biggest challenging will be stopping the Patriots passing game. The Patriots biggest challenging is not making Joe Flacco look good with a defense allowing the second most total yards in the league. While the Ravens have a good chance, there are too many signs pointing to a Patriots win.
ON THE GRIDIRON: The Patriots rush defense has been playing better of late. But, Ray Rice has been a monster on the gridiron and in fantasy football. Anquan Boldin also makes for a good play in playoff fantasy football because for the Ravens to beat the Patriots, they will have to throw the ball. Boldin may not be the greatest option, but he remains a good one. As for the Patriots, Tom Brady is the best QB left among the quarterbacks left. With players named Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez , Brady should have a good, not great game. As alluded to above, with so many receiving options, one or all of them could be difficult to stop. Among them, The Fantasy Greek feels Hernandez could have the best game with coverage rolling to Welker and Gronkowski.
COACH’S DECISION: You have to like Joe Flacco’s chances this week against a defense that can give up the stats to quarterbacks. But, you don’t have to play him if you choose not to. Torrey Smith is the future of the Ravens. Smith’s big play ability has been that good but it has been inconsistent which is why he is listed as a Coach’s Decision. The Ravens DST is one of the best in the league. If you play them, it because you believe they can win this game. Otherwise, the Ravens haven’t played well against an offense this good all season long. BenJarvus Green-Ellis started strong for the Patriots but then would disappear from time to time in the stat column. The Patriots have made it clear, that when it comes to the running game, Green-Ellis will be their man. With the Ravens allowing the second least amount of yardage to the position, this is a good week to avoid Law Firm. The Fantasy Greek has liked Deion Branch for the WR3 fantasy play all season long. Branch has similar value even this week. The Ravens still have protection problems and turnover problems, so the Patriots remain an option, even though, likely not the best given how they have made substandard QBs look like stars this season.
ON THE PINE: Ravens tight-ends Ed Dickson or Dennis Pitta could do something this week, but the question remains, “which one?” RB Ricky Williams or WR Lee Evans could make a big play but clearly, there are no guarantees. Once known for his touchdown dances, Chad Ochocinco has been a disappointment this season, and is now associated with fantasy pines. Danny Woodhead has had his moments in the offense, but they have become few and far in between. Stevan Ridley may have a future with the team, but right now, BJGE is the main running option for the Pats.
Sunday, January 22nd
6:30 p.m. EST
GIANTS (9-7) v. FORTY-NINERS (13-3)
The playoff games between the Giants and the Forty-Niners have been storied, if not legendary. But for a bad stretch, a four game losing streak, the Giants would look like a more dominant team. But, they are. The Giants passing game has been deceptively good, and explosive. The Giants defense is stepping it up at the right time. If you had Eli Manning on your fantasy football team, he has played more like “Good Eli,” as opposed to “Bad Eli.” The Forty-Niners on the other hand, haven’t been flashy, but they are hard-nosed. You knew early on last week, in their game against the Saints, with the first few defensive hits of the game, the Forty-Niners meant business. The Forty-Niners are a determined group. They have beaten some of the best teams in the regular season, including the Giants. Alex Smith may not be the best quarterback, or the flashiest quarterback, but he is getting the job done. The trip from the east coast to west coast doesn’t bode well for the Giants. The Forty-Niners have lost once at home this season. While the Giants can no doubt win this game, the Forty-Niners just look like a team determined to win. The Forty-Niners look like a team that will find a way to win this week.
ON THE GRIDIRON: With the way the Giants have successfully been passing the ball, Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, and Victor Cruz all make for solid plays this week even though, if you play Manning, you should keep your expectations tempered. With the Giants DSTs improved play, they are a solid option this week against the Forty-Niners. Say what you will about Alex Smith, but he is getting the job done and posting good fantasy football stats along the way passing and running the ball, and overall, being creative. The Forty-Niners will do what it takes for Smith to have a good game, maybe not a great game. It should be good enough. Frank Gore will have his work cut out for him, but he is the second best starting option in playoff fantasy football this week. One of the best starts this week should be Vernon Davis against a Giants defense allowing the fifth most fantasy points to the position. And, if Vernon Davis has issues getting the job done, Michael Crabtree is poised to be a significant contributor. If you weren’t sure you were a fan of the 49ers DST, last week’s performance against the Saints should have made you one unless, of course, you are a Saints fan.
COACH’S DECISION: Everyone nows the Forty-Niners have the No. 1 rush defense in the league. As RB Ahmad Bradshaw and RB Brandon Jacobs aren’t Marshawn Lynch, this could be an off week for both. What’s made the Giants a more dangerous passing team, besides the incredible play of Victor Cruz, is the return of Mario Manningham as a third-receiving option. While Manningham poses the risk that he doesn’t contribute to the offense, he also poses upside in that he does should Nicks or Cruz get shut down.
ON THE PINE: TE Jake Ballard (if healthy) makes for a poor play against the fourth best defense against tight-ends in the playoffs.
Good luck this weekend!