For those still playing Fantasy Football, this is a huge week. Most leagues are in the playoffs so lineup decisions become that much more critical. If you’re in a pick’em league we’re coming to the wire and each week you’ve got to select your winners wisely. We at FantasyCPR are here to help. In part 1 of our mega-preview, we’ll focus on tonight’s game (Cleveland @ Pittsburgh) and the early Sunday games. For each game I’ll give you my pick against the spread (taken from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’Em) and my player notes on guys that get a significant upgrade or downgrade due to matchups, opportunities, or recent play… Last week my picks split it right down the middle going 8-8. That brings me record for the year to 106-83…Home teams are in all caps and for some reason this week I’m taking a slew of them this week…
Cleveland (-13.5)over PITTSBURGH
Breakdown: The Browns have been bad this year. I get it, but their struggles have been on offense primarily. Their defense has been great against the pass, but have struggled mightily against the run. Their offense has been woeful, but part of that is losing Madden-cursed Peyton Hillis, who is supposed to be back tonight (come back later for confirmation before starting him). Having him back, I see this turning into a rush-fest and a pretty low-scoring one at that. It’ll be an old-school AFC North rivalry game and those usually are close. I don’t see the Steelers covering, but I also don’t see them losing. The Steelers have been winning ugly all year and I think they get another one here as they triumph 20-14.
Upgrades/Downgrades: Big Ben Roethlisberger is an ok play, but not a great one against the #1 ranked passing D in the NFL. Rashard Mendenhall has an awesome matchup and should go for over 100 (the Browns avg allowed is 151 per game) and a TD or 2. Antonio Brown is an ok WR 3 and Mike Wallace is fine as a WR 2, but most of the damage against the Browns I see being done on the ground…The only Brown you might want to think about playing is Hillis. If he gets the start and a full workload even against a tough Pittsburgh defense he’s a decent flex option. If Cleveland wants to stay in this, they’ll ride Peyton and let Colt McCoy throw his short west-coast passes and control the clock…
Here’s the early games from Sunday:
Falcons (-2.5) over Panthers
Breakdown: The Falcons look to bounce back from a tough game offensively against the Texans in Houston by making the trip up to Carolina and facing Cam Newton and the Panthers. Newton led his Cats to their first back-t0-back wins last week as they trounced the Bucs in Tampa. The Falcons run defense is the key to this one and even after last week’s game against the rush-heavy Texans their ranked #3 and only allowing 90 yards a game. That’ll force Newton to the air and like in the week 3 meeting of these 2 teams in Atlanta I think the Falcons will pull away at the end. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers run defense ranks 27th in the league so look for Mike Smith to get the ball to Michael Turner and ride his workhorse as long as Turner’s health allows.
upgrades/downgrades: Michael Turner is a great play here against the Cats as long as he’s at full strength (check back over the next couple days and we’ll keep you up to date). Matt Ryan and the receivers you can deploy as usual, but look for a little less than usual output from them since the Falcons will be riding Turner. In week 6 against the Panthers, the dirty-birds gave it to Turner a whopping 27 times and he took it for 139 and 2 TDs. Look for similar numbers since the Panthers D has only struggled more against the run since then… On the Panthers offense, you can play roulette with the running backs and hope you pick right. Jonathan Stewart looked much better last week, but it was DeAngelo Williams the week before. You’re definitely playing Cam, since he’ll be his usual dual-threat self and will account for most of the Panthers offense. The real trick is trying to figure out who to go with in the receiving game. If at all possible avoid the whole corps, but Steve Smith is a WR3 if you need him. Greg Olsen has been limited in practice, so stay away since you neven know if it’s going to be him or Jeremy Shockey who get’s the targets.
Texans (+3.5) over CINCINATTI
Breakdown: I’m not a full CJ Yates believer yet, and this will definitely be a good gauge of if Houston can go on the road and win like they’ll probably need to do in the playoffs. Like last week the gameplan will be to run, run, run the ball, and play a little defense too. The Bengals meanwhile come in after getting hammered by the Steelers last week and losers of 3 of their last 4. The Bengals D allows under 100 yards on the ground per game so Arian Foster and Ben Tate will need some help from the passing game. (hear that Andre Johnson?), but the Texans defense I think keeps them in this one and they at least cover. I’ll take them to actually win the game 23-20 in OT, but since I get points I really like the Texans pick this week.
Upgrades/Downgrades: Foster is a must play, and they’ll work enough sub-packages in that Tate’s a decent flex option. If Andre Johnson is out, then you can roll the dice with Kevin Walter or Jacoby Jones if you’re absolutely desperate. The one to watch though in Johnson’s absence is Owen Daniels. Daniels has had a solid connection with Yates and would become the primary receiving target if Andre’s hammy keeps him down… For the Bengals, it’s hard to be too high on Cedric Benson after watching this Texans run defense. He’s a low-end RB2, but could be in for a tough, tough day. Andy Dalton, AJ Green, and Jermaine Gresham make a little bit better starts than Benson, but still get downgraded slightly since they’ll be matchup up against a top 5 pass defense (#3 in yards allowed). Cincy’s Defense might be a sneaky play as they try and pressure Yates into turnovers and they do know how to rush the QB even with all their injury losses.
LIONS (-7.5) over the Vikings
Analysis: Jim Schwartz has to be more frustrated at last week’s game then with a Harbaugh-handshake. His Lions made a glut of dumb penalties and the Saints blanketed Calvin Johnson into obscurity. Look for the Lions to take out their frustration on the visiting Vikings. Just as Minnesota gets Adrian Peterson back (maybe), now there are injury concerns about promising rookie QB Christian Ponder. The Vikings D was lit up last week by the Tebow attack, so look for Matthew Stafford to get the job done and lead the Lions to a convincing 35-14 victory.
Upgrades/Downgrades: If Peterson is good to go, he makes a RB1 start (as usual) against a Lions D giving up 125 yards per game on the ground. Check back for updates on Ponder over the next couple of days but he is expected to be able to play. Percy Harvin is a WR2 with some serious upside (see last week) as long as the Vikes continue to make a concerted effort to give him the opportunity to make plays. Even Devin Aromashodu may make a sneaky flex play after the injury to Michael Jenkins gave him the opportunity to step up next week opposite Harvin. Don’t overreach here, but if he’s available and you’ve got a hole, you could do much worse… For the Lions, against the 26th ranked pass-defense of the Vikings you definitely want to start Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford. If you can figure out who the #2 receiver is, you’ll be ahead of everybody else since it seems to be a revolving door each week. Check Kevin Smith‘s status before gameday as he makes an RB2 or flex play option if he’s healthy. If he’s not though, I’d stay away from Maurice Morris.
New Orleans Saints (-3.5) over TENNESSEE
Breakdown: This is the Drew-Brees machine’s last outdoor game of the regular season as next week they’re in Minnesota and then home for the final 2. The Saints offense has looked awesome the last few weeks putting up 26 or more every week since the St. Louis debacle. Tennessee’s defense is ranked in the lower half of the league in both rushing and passing D so look for the Saints to be able to score. The Titans, though, have been doing some scoring on their own riding a “welcome back Chris Johnson” campaign to wins in their last 2 and 3 of their last 4. I’m feeling a rough day for Matt Hasselbeck in this one since the Saints will commit to stopping the run and make him beat them through the air. Because of that strategy, Nate Washington‘s status will be key. I don’t see the Saints slowing down on their march to the playoffs so I’ll take the Saints 31-20.
Upgrades/Downgrades: Damian Williams will be a good start even if Washington plays, but if he doesn’t Williams will see all the receiving action. If you’ve got CJ you’re starting him, and if you’ve got Hasselbeck you’re not. No surprises with those 2… The Saints are all valuable if they get the touches. The problem is you neve know if Mark Ingram (who has turf toe so probably not him), Darren Sproles, or Pierre Thomas will get the workload out of the backfield. It feels like a Sproles week to me, but it’s a shot in the dark. The same could be said of the receiving corps where Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and even Robert Meachem have all had their piece of the action. The 2 players you can count on in the Saints offense right now are Drew Brees, whose numbers have been phenomenal and if it wasn’t for Aaron Rodgers we’d all be talking about Brees even more, and Jimmy Graham who has rapidly become one of the top 3 TE each week.
RAVENS (-16.5) over Colts
Breakdown: The Colts have been so awful the question is do the Ravens cover. I think they will since they’re at home and they’ve still got plenty to play for in the division as they sit tied with the Steelers (they own the tiebreaker) and are still hoping for a first round bye in the playoffs. The Colts put up some points in junk ball time last week against the Pats but still don’t look ready to win. If they cover it’ll be the same way with a late back-door cover.
Upgrades/Downgrades: The Ravens will be able to attack the Colts pretty much in whatever way they choose. I expect it’ll be another Ray Rice showcase with Ricky Williams mixed in against a feeble 30th ranked rushing defense. Joe Flacco, Ed Dickson, and Anquan Boldin are startable, but like the Pats last week, it might be over so early they don’t get lots of points for you this week. Temper expectations and go with other options if you’ve got ‘em… The Colts numbers from last week are impossible to evaluate since they scored in a flurry at the end of the game and actually finished with decent numbers. The Ravens D will be much more solid this week so Pierre Garcon is a low WR3 with a little bit of upside but other than that there’s nothing to see here. Dallas Clark is expected to return as well barring setback, but don’t start him until we get a chance to see what, if anything, he’ll be able to do in this offense.
JETS (-8.5) over Chiefs
Breakdown: The Jets offense has started to click the last 2 weeks, although last week’s numbers got padded by a bunch of points at the very end of the game. All you really need to know in this one is that it’s Tyler Palko against Rex Ryan and the Jets D. That’s all I need to hear before I’m taking the Jets, giving the points, and saying 28-6 Jets win.
Upgrades/Downgrades: The Jets passing D is still top 10 in the league and Palko won’t be able to get much done so don’t start any receivers or rushers on KC except Dwayne Bowe if you’ve got no other options. If they go to Kyle Orton, Bowe should pile up numbers quickly since Orton usually feeds his #1 option. That hasn’t happened yet though, so stay away if possible…Shonne Greene looked real good last week and the Chiefs D ranks 25th against the run. Also upgrade Dustin Keller since they give up the 2nd most fantasy points to the TE position in standard scoring leagues. Mark Sanchez and the receivers play as you normally would, but don’t expect huge games.
Eagles (+3.5) over DOLPHINS
Breakdown: Noone would have imagined this line at the beginning of the year. The Dolphins have been hot lately and in Miami they’ve looked even better winning their last 3 in blowout style. The Eagles meanwhile have been miserable of late. Here’s why I’m picking them though. I’m not ready to give up on Andy Reid. I know that Philly is out of the playoffs and there won’t be anything for them the rest of this year, but I think Andy’s a solid coach, and I think getting Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin back will turn the offense around and they’ll be able to attack the ‘Phins 24th ranked pass defense. That being said, I’m very thankful for the 3 points extra cuz I have a feeling this one’s going to be close. I’ll take the Dolphins to win 27-24 but the Eagles to cover.
Upgrades/Downgrades: Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin have green lights next to their names and status for the first time in weeks so get them in the game. Desean Jackson is a lost cause so move on with your life; he sure seems to already have. LeSean McCoy needs to be slightly downgraded since the Dolphins are the 5th ranked rushing defense and shut down Michael Bush last week without any trouble. McCoy drops to a low RB1 for this week based on the matchup… For the Dolphins, Matt Moore has been as hot as any QB in the league but the Eagles secondary hasn’t been as bad as the rest of the team. The Dolphin you want is Reggie Bush and even Daniel Thomas is worth a look as a flex option after last week the Eagles got sliced up by Marshawn Lynch’s Skittles attack. Give a slight downgrade to Brandon Marshall since he’ll likely be shadowed by Nnamdi Asomugha.
That’s the first half of the games on Sunday. We’ll look at Pats-Skins, Bucs-Jags, the late games, and the night games in part II of our preview tomorrow. Check back tonight for the final word on the injured players and good luck to all who aren’t in my league during this intrigue-filled week 14 in the NFL.
record this year: 106-83
last week: 8-8