By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Smith ready to produce big
More and more fantasy owners are playing in playoff leagues, and for good reason. They are a lot of fun contests and leagues out there these days. We run several on our site. Your fantasy leagues don't have to come to an end because the regular season is over. I highly suggest getting involved in a league if you can. It is a great way to get your fantasy fix a little longer. Plus, there are a lot of interesting formats for leagues, giving you a different fantasy dynamic than during the regular season. So we'll continue with this column throughout the playoffs, getting you ready for your games each week. With that said, here are my random thoughts for the week. . . . .
He gets overlooked at times but you really have to like Matthew Stafford as a fantasy starter. He is just rock solid. Stafford finished fifth in quarterback scoring after finishing seventh last year. The numbers don't lie. He gets it done. Remember that come draft day next year. He doesn't go nearly as high as some of the elite options.
I'm really anxious to see where Deshaun Watson goes in drafts next year. I know the hype train for him is already building, especially with reports he is ahead of schedule in his rehab and could take part in offseason workouts soon enough. I love Watson for next year but have a feeling his price tag might be too high for my blood. We'll see.
Just when I try to write Larry Fitzgerald off, he has another huge season. This guy just doesn't slow down. I really thought this was the year he starts to fade. He sure proved me wrong, finishing fifth overall in fantasy receiver scoring. I think the moral of the story is I should never doubt Larry Fitzgerald - no matter the age. This guy is a machine.
I barely talked about him but probably should have mentioned him more throughout the season. It is hard to believe but Duke Johnson finished 11th overall in fantasy running back scoring. Yes, he was 11th overall the position. That is not a misprint. It just goes to show you that pass-catching backs can really make a difference for your fantasy teams. Johnson topped 50-rushing yards just once all year. He had 74 receptions, though, and scored seven touchdowns. He also topped 1,000 total yards. It was a huge season for Johnson, who should not be overlooked next year come draft day.
Jack Doyle is a fantasy player on the rise. He had a terrible quarterback situation to deal with much of this year but still had a breakout year. He was sixth overall in fantasy tight end scoring. Doyle was a pass-catching machine, finishing with 80 receptions. He had at least five receptions nine times. If Andrew Luck comes back healthy next year, I think Doyle could be even better.
I'm usually really pumped by the games on Wild Card Weekend but this year the games don't intrigue me quite as much, especially in the AFC. I think both the AFC home teams will win pretty easily. I do think the NFC should be very entertaining, though. I'm looking forward to both those games and will be watching closely. I think any of those teams could win, making for some good contests. Hopefully, all the games turn out great this weekend. It is usually a fun set of games. Maybe the AFC will prove me wrong.
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs. Smith was rested last week but had a 300-yard game his last time out. He has multiple touchdowns two of four games and thrown for at least 230 yards all of those games. He has heated back up after some down games about midway through the season. He plays the Titans in his playoff opener. The Titans allow the 13th most fantasy points to quarterbacks and are 25th overall against the pass. Smith should do well in this one.
Robert Woods, WR, Rams. Woods returned from injury Week 15 and has nine receptions his last two games. He is back as the top target in the Rams offense and should get a ton of targets in the Rams playoff game against the Falcons. Atlanta is a solid 12th overall against the pass but allowed 22-passing touchdowns this season. Woods has a good chance to find the end zone in what should be a high-scoring game.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars. Fournette had a huge game last week, finishing with 136 total yards. He has topped 100 total yards two of his last three games and has scores three of four. He is the top player in this offense and should get a heavy workload this week against the Buffalo. The Bills allow the second most fantasy points to running backs and are 29th overall against the rush.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Bills. Taylor has been pretty good since getting inserted back into the starting lineup. His numbers aren't off the charts by any means, though. He has multiple touchdowns just one time in three games and one of his last five games. Things won't get any easier for him this week against the Jaguars. The Jaguars are first overall against the pass and allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans. Henry got a ton of work last week as the lead back for the Titans but didn't do much with all his carries, running 28 times for 51 yards. He has failed to top 55 yards his last four games. He is a hard guy to trust for fantasy teams because of his erratic play. Henry gets the Chiefs this week, a team that allows the seventh fewest fantasy points to running backs.
Keelan Cole, WR, Jaguars. Cole had his first down showing in several games last week, catching four passes for 33 yards. He came back down to earth after several big games. It wouldn't surprise if Cole had another down game this week against Buffalo. The Bills allow the 11th fewest fantasy points to receivers and allowed just 14-passing touchdowns this season.
Mohammed Sanu, WR, Falcons. Sanu had seven receptions for 71 yards last week and has 70-plus yards two of four games. He is having a solid season as the No. 2 receiver for the Falcons. Except another good showing for Sanu this week against the Rams. This game should be high-scoring affair with a lot of fantasy points to be had, so Sanu has good potential in this one.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. Mariota didn't have the season most expected, throwing just 13 touchdown passes. He showed some flashes of good things but was not consistent. Mariota could erase his poor season with a big playoff game. And he has a matchup to produce success this week. The Chiefs are worst team against the pass playing this week. Kansas City allows the eighth most fantasy points to quarterbacks and are 29th overall against the pass.
Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans. Matthews caught just a pas last week, which was a disappointment. The entire Titans passing game struggled, though, against a very good Jaguars defense. Things should get easier for them this week against the Chiefs. Kansas City allows the second most fantasy points to receivers and 247-passing yards per game. Matthews should rebound from last week and emerge as the top target in the Titans passing game this week.
High/Low Scoring Games
Each week we will take a look at some of the high and low scoring games for the coming week. In high scoring affairs, get your marginal players on those teams in your lineup to take advantage of the possible points barrage. And in the low scoring games, keep those marginal players on the bench and make sure to have your defenses involved in those contests.
High Scoring Games: Chiefs/Titans, Saints/Panthers, Rams/Falcons.
Low Scoring Games: Jaguars/Bills.
The Seattle Seahawks hired Brian Schottenheimer as their new offensive coordinator Tuesday. Mike Solari was also named the new offensive line coach. Schottenheimer most recently served as the Colts quarterbacks coach the last two seasons, but he previously was an offensive coordinator with the Jets from 2006-2011, with the St. Louis Rams from 2012-2014 and with the University of Georgia in 2015. Solari spent the last two yearse as the offensive line coach for the Giants. Both Schottenheimer and Solari will have their hands full, mainly fixing the offensive line and getting something out of what was a terrible running game the last two years. Russell Wilson remains one of the best and most athletic quarterbacks in the league, but these new additions don't really figure to benefit him all that much.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs has certainly seen an increase in popularity this week. After making national news by scoring the game-winning 61-yard touchdown last week against the Saints, Diggs will look to keep the good times rolling against the Eagles. The Eagles defense has allowed the 14th most fantasy points to opposing receivers this season, including allowing eight touchdowns to receivers over the Eagles last six games played. Diggs finished the regular season with eight touchdowns and is coming off of an impressive six-catch, 137-yard performance. Diggs should see plenty of targets and will be a top-4 fantasy play at receiver for the final four of the NFL playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen has had a career season with 91 receptions and 1,276 yards, including 74 receiving yards last week in the Vikings wild win against the Saints. But Thielen has only four touchdowns this season and has not caught a touchdown since December 10th. He has been a go-to receiver for quarterback Case Keenum but when the Vikings get in the red zone Thielen serves more as a decoy than a weapon. This week he will take on an Eagles defense that has allowed the 14th most fantasy points to opposing receivers this season. The Eagles have been tough on the run this season but can be beat in the secondary. Thielen is an excellent route runner and should have no issue getting open often this weekend. He may not find the end zone but Thielen is a top-4 play at receiver in fantasy for this weekend.
Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon will look to make it two straight playoff games with a touchdown when the Vikings take on the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. McKinnon punched in a 14-yard score last week against the Saints but will go up against an Eagles defense that has allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing backs this season. McKinnon is the de facto backup to Latavius Murray but McKinnon presents more athletic value in the passing game. While the Eagles will try and shut down the Vikings running game, McKinnon could see some opportunities to make some plays in the screen game. The Eagles have allowed only three rushing touchdowns since Week 4 of the regular season which means the Vikings will have to get creative in the red zone. McKinnon's name is flying under the radar in preparation for championship weekend and could certainly provide some fantasy value at a cheap price.
Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray will have a tough matchup Sunday against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. It will be tough sledding against a defensive unit that has allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Up until the Cowboys Ezekiell Elliott's 103 yards in Week 17, the Eagles had not allowed a single 100-yard runner all season. Murray has become a reliable force in the red zone, scoring eight rushing touchdowns in the regular season and punching in for another score last week in the playoffs against the Saints. But the Eagles have allowed only three rushing touchdowns since Week 4, making this one of the stingiest match ups Murray will see all season. Murray could struggle to post a solid fantasy stat-line and will be a touchdown-dependent option this championship weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (concussion) will not participate in the Pro Bowl due to a concussion he suffered in the playoffs. Tennessee Titans TE Delanie Walker has been named as Kelce's replacement.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum will head into the NFC Championship game against the Eagles with his confidence at an all-time high. Keenum was playing solid football last week against the Saints but it was in the final moments where he really shined in helping create the Minnesota Miracle. He has a career-high 22 touchdown passes during the regular season but will go up against an elite Eagles defense one more stepping stone away from the Super Bowl. The Eagles have allowed the 11th fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season with 19 interceptions during the regular season. The unit has played extremely well of late, holding opponents to less than 227 passing yards in nine of their last 10 games, including the playoffs. Keenum will have to protect the football and could be in line for a less than stellar fantasy stat line. Nonetheless, he will be the second best quarterback option (behind the Patriots' Tom Brady) in fantasy heading towards championship weekend.
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is expected to return in 2018 with full confidence from head coach Dan Quinn and his staff. The Falcons took a notable step back in 2017 with Sarkisian in his first full year as the coordinator after the departure of Kyle Shanahan. Quarterback Matt Ryan's numbers were expected to disappoint after his 2016 MVP season, and Atlanta's offense as a whole never really reached its full potential. With Sarkisian likely sticking around, it may be good news for the continuity of the unit, especially since they should be getting most of their weapons back. It wouldn't hurt to upgrade at the receiver position, though.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles has thrown just one touchdown compared to two interceptions in five games played in Philadelphia this season. Meanwhile, he has thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions in two road contests. The Eagles face the Minnesota Vikings in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship this weekend.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees says he has no plans to test the market, and that he hopes to re-sign with the Saints before the start of the new league year. "I'm not in the mood to make anything secretive," Brees said. "It's the same way I felt two days ago. It's the same way I felt 12 years ago. That is that I'll be here as long as they'll have me, hopefully." Brees, who turned 39 on Monday, cannot be franchise tagged, giving him a little leverage even if he insists he does not want to test the market. Brees' main goal could be some guaranteed money for 2019.
Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner (hamstring) will not participate in the 2018 Pro Bowl due to a hamstring injury. Wagner has been dealing with the ailment since late in the season and will be replaced on the Pro Bowl roster by Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle) will not participate in the 2018 Pro Bowl due to his nagging ankle injury. Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams will take Jones' place in the Pro Bowl.
The Arizona Cardinals are putting in second interview requests for their head coach position today. Among those expected to get a call are Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak and Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. With so much still in flux, it is still uncertain what the fantasy values of the various Cardinals players will be following this process. Keep an eye on who gets the job and how it will affect players such as running back David Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette was involved in a minor car accident Tuesday when his car was rear ended. Fournette was fine and was able to drive home after the accident. Of greater concern for Fournette's availability in the AFC title game against the Patriots is the ankle that he aggravated in the Divisional Round against the Steelers. Fournette's ankle has bothered him at times this season, but he was able to return against the Steelers and carried the Jaguars offense with three touchdowns. Fournette may be somewhat limited in what he can do against the Pats, but rest assured that he'll be the focal point of the offense yet again as they try to pull a second straight huge upset. T.J. Yeldon filled in admirably when Fournette left the game last weekend, and he figures to have a big role as well, even if Fournette is playing.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril (neck) intends to play again in 2018 despite missing most of the 2017 season with a career-threatening neck ailment. "Right now it's all about recovery. I had surgery. I'm in the process of recovering. It's a long process, a long journey. When I get to the end of that, then I'll figure out what's next," Avril said. Avril was injured in Week 4 and missed the rest of the season, and head coach Pete Carroll even said it would be tough for Avril to ever play again. It remains to be seen how effective Avril can be after his neck injury in 2017, but if he can return to anywhere close to his pre-injury form, his return will be a big boost to a Seattle defense that fell off in 2017, mainly due to injuries.
The Cleveland Browns are interviewing former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo for their vacant offensive coordinator position on Tuesday. McAdoo's tenure with the Giants didn't end well as he went 2-10 this past season and caught fire for benching longtime starting quarterback Eli Manning. Despite the rough season, McAdoo has had plenty of success as a play-caller in the NFL, leading the Giants to the sixth-most points in the league in 2015 when he was their offensive coordinator. McAdoo, along with former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey and former Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan have all been linked to the job opening.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked on his radio show on Tuesday whether he wanted offensive coordinator Todd Haley back in 2018. Roethlisberger responded by saying, "The least amount of change the better. We don't want to have big changes because we're right there, we're on the cusp...We feel we have some great things going for us." Rumors of a fracture between Haley and Roethlisberger popped up during the season but it is apparent those issues were overblown. Roethlisberger went on to state, "I think its perceived as a bigger deal than it was." Haley is not under contract for the 2018 season but the Steelers could look to bring him back with the support of Roethlisberger.
New Orleans Saints LB Hau'oli Kikaha (ankle) proclaimed himself 'ready right now' when asked by reporters Tuesday, Jan. 16, whether or not he would be ready for OTAs.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson remains confident that quarterback Marcus Mariota is the right guy for the gig, and Robinson isn't too worried that the team will have yet another head coach guiding the offense in 2018. "Marcus is a pretty resilient guy. He's a very mentally tough guy," Robinson said of Mariota. "He takes a lot from the standpoint of ownership in things. I have zero concern in Marcus being able to adapt and learn, and do what's best to get the offense going." Mariota will be playing for his third NFL coach after being drafted in 2015. It was a disappointing year for the Hawaiin in 2017, as he threw for just 3,232 yards with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions after throwing for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2016. Injuries slowed Mariota down again, but he has plenty of pieces around him in the offense to be successful. The right coaching staff may be able to get more out of him, but fantasy owners probably won't want any part of Mariota, definitely not as a QB1.
New Orleans Saints TE Coby Fleener is set to count $8 million against the cap with a $6.3 million salary in 2018, making it highly unlikely he will stay with the team unless he agrees to a pay cut on the five-year, $36 million contract he signed in 2016. The Saints choose to release him, they would still be charged $4.8 million in dead money.