By Anthony Stampone
Welcome two either round two of your playoffs or round one for some leagues. If you are still going at this point in the year, you have probably drafted well, are great a waiver wire pick-ups, stayed healthy, or all the above. Regardless the reason, you are still going and many are not so sit back, let me hit you with some knowledge to help move on to the next round!
Carson Palmer: As funny as it sounds with all the attention going to Tom Brady and Cam Newton (deservedly so especially for Cam), Palmer is easily and quietly having a MVP type season as well. Palmer has been carving up the best defenses all season and continues to rack up yards, TDs, and wins for his team even after having his season cut short for the second time last season with a major knee injury. Facing the Eagles this week with their terrible pass defense, Palmer should and will have another big day on Sunday. A lot is made in the media about West Coast teams having issues struggling when they have to come East to play; I don’t give it much credence, and we’ll see it firsthand Sunday as Cardinals will stomp the Eagles on their way to locking up with NFC West and Palmer will be a big reason why.
Matt Stafford: Stafford has been his usual self this year; inconsistent and unreliable. But whenever you are facing the Saints and what I suppose they call a defense gets on the field, that player has a significant opportunity to have a great day. This is exactly what Stafford will do against the Saint in their own home stadium. Before too much is made of it, yes the Saints defense played decent last week, but that was against a very up and down inconsistent Bucs offense lead by a rookie QB that is getting better but still has a lot to learn about defenses in the NFL. As long as Stafford can avoid giving the game away by making too many mistakes the Lions passing offense should have a big day without much issue. This game does have the potential to be a high scoring affair so it bodes well for both offenses to have big games in the passing game.
Sam Bradford: Easy pick to bench this guy this week. He has struggled all year, he hasn’t really had an impressive game all year and with the Cardinals and their 4th overall and 5th ranked pass defense come to town (DVOA rankings not NFL.com. NFL.com’srankings are terrible and antiquated). Things won’t be any easier this week and the Eagles have struggled to protect Bradford all year and the Cardinals LOVE to bring the heat and still have plenty of talent to cover one on one with minimal issues over the course of an entire game. Sit Bradford, there are better options out there that may even be available on the waiver wire than playing Bradford.
Kirk Cousins: Even with the Buffalo Bills coming to town with more guys on their injury report than there are starters from the beginning of the year (OK slight exaggeration, but only slight), Cousins is not a wise choice to play this week. The Bills regardless to their personnel issues still have one of the best minds in the game when it comes to scheming a defense to stop a QB in Rex Ryan. Cousins has shown multiple times this season he struggles when the rush gets to him and that he can be confused by unique or exotic coverages are thrown at him, insert Rex Ryan. Cousins is going to be confused and guessing all day, not a good mix for a QB that really isn’t that good to begin with. Sit’em!
Sleepers: Alex Smith, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers
Eddie Lacey: Over the last four games Lacey has been on an absolute tear! Running for over 100+ yards in three of those four games and this week facing a middle of the pack rush defense in the Raiders, expect the Packers to ride Lacey like they have over the last few games to keep their win streak heading in the right direction. As we saw last week with Coach McCarthy taking over play calling for the Packers, he went run heavy to help protect Rodgers and to open up the passing game. This week will be much of the same, and Lacey will continue his December dominance this week and the Packers will maintain their strangle hold over the NFC North.
LeSean McCoy: The Bills are loaded with injuries on both sides of ball and are still expected to perform every week because as we all know it is a cardinal sin to admit that injuries can derail and ruin a season for a team with high hopes/expectations. With that said the Bills rushing attack especially when McCoy is healthy is still lethal, and with facing a middle of the pack rush defense the McCoy is set up nicely to have another big day. There is no reason to think McCoy won’t get at least 20 touches and top 100+ yards in this game and those touches may even be more when you count his contributions in the passing game. With issues still remaining on the O-Line and Charles Clay out this week, look for the Bills to lean heavily on McCoy to win this game for them.
Tim Hightower: Although he performed admirably while filling in for Mark Ingram last week, this game is going to be all about passing. The Saints do still have CJ Spiller who is a much bigger threat coming out of the backfield as a receiving option Hightower which should take the ball out of Tim’s hands more than last week. The Saints have shown more balance this year than they have in quite some time, but once things start going crazy and scores start piling up they still have a tendency to stop running the ball and engage in an aerial attack on their opponents.
Shaun Draughn: Whether Andy Dalton is under center for the Bengals or not this week or not (he’s not by the way), it won’t change the fact that the 49ers need to be able to run the ball to have even a semblance of being a threating offense over the course of a game. The Bengals front seven are as a good as any in the NFL and with the 49ers not exactly scaring anyone with their offensive line, Draughn’s is in for a long day and isn’t going to have enough time or space to do anything to warrant playing him this week.
Sleepers: Lamar Miller, Denard Robinson, Jonathan Stewart
DeAndre Hopkins: With a back-up QB more than likely to play this week for the Texans starting a dominate WO like Hopkins is actually a good idea most of the time. Hopkins is good and so relied on he is going to get the balls thrown his way no matter what, even if they are 50/50 balls they will be thrown in his direction. With the division potentially on the line this week the Texans will have to anything and everything to get their best play maker on the offensive side of the ball as early and often as possible against a pass defense that just surrendered 51 points to the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. Hopkins is in for a big game.
Doug Baldwin: I really do not like listing him as a Start’em as this is the place I like to list players are must plays no matter what, but with the production he has had over the last three game warrants it without question. Baldwin to me still isn’t anything special as far as WO are concerned but something is going on between him and Wilson lately that cannot be ignored. Baldwin is putting up elite level receiver numbers over the last few weeks, and with facing the Browns this week he will once again have the opportunity to have a huge game, several TDs, and plenty of yards for you to start him without being concerned if he will produce enough for you or not, he will.
Odell Beckham Jr: That’s right, I’m saying it now, unless you have a very weak bench and have no real viable alternate options; you should sit OBJ this week. The Giants have a date with the Carolina Panthers and their outstanding defense this week. If you are a fan of a battle within a battle there is a great one in this game and that is OBJ VS Josh Norman! Norman is arguably the best cover corner in the league this year and Beckham is well Beckham. With that said I like Norman in this battle. Beckham will get a few catches and some yards because well that’s about all the Giants can do on offense. But even with the insane amount of targets Beckham gets I know that Norman will be up for the challenge and make it a long day for Beckham. As we have saw in the past if you can get under Beckham’s skin his is prone to getting out of his game and making mistakes. Norman is just the man for the job.
Jordan Matthews: If you have Matthews you probably haven’t been all that pleased with him most of this season anyway and do yourself a favor and sit him down for two major reasons this week, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Between those two top notch man on man cover guys Matthews is in for a long day of get pushed around and not catching balls and being physically punished if his fingers come close to a ball. Bench him!
Sleepers: Stephen Diggs, TY Hilton, Jeremy Maclin
Vernon Davis: It took a few weeks but we finally saw the Broncos implement Davis in the game plan last week. Having to face the Steelers this week which could have huge playoff implications for both teams the Broncos are going to need to be able to put up points this week. Even with their top ranked defense in tow, the Broncos are going to have to score points because the Steelers are going to. Davis is the ideal match up this week as he is still more than skilled enough to get open against LBs and Safeties and should be able to open up the field for everyone else after he carves them up first.
Jordan Reed: As good as the Bills defense can be at times and how bad Kirk Cousins is against any decent defense, there is one match up this week that really favors the Redskins and the is Reed VS anyone of the Bills inside coverage guys. Extremely athletic, fast, strong, and great hands, Reed is a match up nightmare for most LBs and Safeties in the league and the Bills are banged up at both positions which should bode well for Reed. If the Redskins want a chance to get their passing game off the ground, Reed will need to be the guy that gets it started and maybe even shoulder the whole load.
Zach Miller: With the season ending injury to Martellus Bennett, Miller has a chance to step in and put up some numbers, just not this week. The Vikings may be banged up on defense but they still are dominate when it comes to stopping TEs in the passing game. Miller will see more targets this week, whether he does something with them or not is another story, and judging by the dominance of the Vikings LBs and Safeties Miller isn’t going to get away with much.
Eric Ebron: This choice is more about the player than it’s his match up. Ebron has been an embarrassment since he has joined the Lions via the draft. Ranked amongst the highest rated TEs to come out of the college into the NFL in quite some time, Ebron isn’t living up to his billing. He doesn’t run NFL routes, he can’t block, he drops a lot of passes, and struggles to get open regardless to who is covering him. Sit him because you just can’t trust him, no matter who he is playing against.
Sleepers: Gary Barnidge, Ben Watson, Will Tye
Arizona Cardinals: Their opponent cannot sustain drives, loves to turn the ball over, and seems to be littered with internal issues on the offensive side of the ball. Not to mention the Cardinals have the 4th ranked defense in the NFL. Mix these things together and you have the perfect mix for a big day for your defense. The Cardinals love to blitz in every situation and the Eagles minus Jason Peters, love to give up sacks. The Cardinals are going to have a great day on defense, don’t miss out by benching them.
Cincinnati Bengals: Awesome front seven and a back five that is starting to get healthy against a team that can’t pass the ball or well move the ball really at all makes the Bengals defense is a must play this week. Gabbert is still Gabbert even with his last second heroics to help the 49ers to a last second win, he is still prone to bad reads and inaccurate passes and the Bengals will be ready to pounce on these opportunities, play them!
Cleveland Browns: Even with their impressive showing last week with taking down the Blaine Gabbert seven times and holding the 49ers to 10 points, they face the unfortunate task of having to attempt to stop the recently high flying Seahawks offense in Seattle. The Seahawks offensive line has been getting better over the course of the year and the passing attack has been unstoppable in recent weeks. Two things the Browns don’t do well; stop the run or stop the pass, those are two things the Seahawks do well, bench the Browns.
Oakland Raiders: Facing a rejuvenated Packers offense this week is not going to be fun for the Raiders. Yes, Kahlil Mack is a beast and single handedly keep the Broncos from doing anything last week, but there are two big differences between the Packers offense and the Broncos; 1. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers, 2. The Packers line can actually block most of the time. The Packers are going to ram the ball down the Raiders throats with Eddie Lacey and James Starks to open up the passing game just like they did last week when McCarthy took over the play calling. I am not saying this won’t be an entertaining game, it does have the potential to be a high scoring game as the Packers aren’t particularly world beaters on defense either, but either way the Packers are going to score points and move the ball against the Raiders.
Sleepers: Minnesota Vikings, New England, San Diego