Your season may come to down to one of these key matchups.
In All-Time Quarterback, 12-year fantasy football veteran Ramon Ramirez goes inside the week’s key matchups, searching for sleeper picks and advising you on tough lineup decisions.
This is when things get depressing. Colleagues aren’t contenders and that means that the pool of people that care about your fantasy team has dipped to you and those that wish your fantasy team harm. The NFL’s well-documented string of parity has likely created chaos and gridlock; swaths of 7-5 clubs are on respirators heading into the final week of the fantasy regular season in most head-to-head leagues . Inside the storm, however, being on the right side of these 10 distinct matchups will make the difference. Position your chess board accordingly.
1) Donald Jones vs. Jacksonville’s 27th Ranked Passing Defense
Jones is a maddeningly inconsistent player. Ever since Buffalo’s David Nelson was lost for the season back in September, he’s seen an increased level of targets and the job expectation is distinct WR2 production. During last week’s loss to Indianapolis, for example, my man enjoyed a beefy 11 targets but only caught four balls. I wrote about this distinct pattern three weeks ago for Grantland, and it’s worth revisiting: Jones has caught a touchdown every three weeks this entire season. And the Jaguars’ secondary is a flailing camping tent in a thunderstorm.
2) Cam Newton vs. Kansas City’s Senioritis
The Chiefs are the worst team in the NFL, and they’re waiting for school to let out. When you lose the locker room, all that’s left is a handful of uninspired obligations. Newton has captained a sophomore slump but performed on Monday night like a prize fighter looking out for number one. There are endorsements to be snagged and all it takes is a Sportscenter Top 10 highlight. This means you should lose any lingering hope in the Carolina running backs because if it’s first and goal from inside the five, Killa Cam is going keeper on that option read.
3) 2012 Matt Forte vs. Matt Forte
Forte is getting $30.4 million over four years to be elite and hasn’t delivered. He’s a banged-up stud you have to field week-to-week because of the reputation. Moreover, the Chicago Sun-Times explains that his best work has come at the hands of cupcakes:
“Forte’s two 100-yard rushing games have come against the NFL’s 27th- and 29th-ranked run defenses — the Titans and Jaguars, respectively. In the Bears’ three losses, Forte has 44 carries for 133 yards.”
Ouch—two 100-yard performances. And he’s not even a lock to play against Pete Carroll’s once elite Seattle Seahawks defense because of injuries (though he’s been practicing this week). But he’s Matt Forte, and you don’t have better options.
4) Mikel LeShoure vs. his ankle
Joique Bell is the third-down back who routinely takes critical touches away from LeShoure when he gets banged up. His ankle is a question mark, but he practiced Thursday and that’s incredibly promising. If he goes, a buttercup Colts running defense awaits.
5) Andre Roberts vs. the Depleted Jets
Receiver roulette will be a necessary evil for the playoffs. I love Roberts—a quietly hot play that enjoyed nine catches on 13 targets against the solid St. Louis Rams last week. His ankle is a question mark, but if he gets the medical green light I’d bet on him to score against Rex Ryan’s checked out secondary.
6) The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Charlie Batch
Third-stringer Batch—of the three-interception starting debut against Cleveland—will be on the field again for Pittsburgh and that is a death knell to all of the Steelers pieces you invested in: Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, the running game, and Emmanuel Sanders. The only guy I trust is Heath Miller, and even as a safety valve the former red zone maestro may be called in to block for his immobile, 37-year-old QB. Look elsewhere.
7) Brandon Weeden vs. Oakland
We haven’t seen the rookie Weeden on the West Coast and the time zone portal is an underrated pitfall for young, impressionable starters. Then again, the Raiders are terrible: five straight losses and 24th against the pass. You have to play fast and loose at this point—especially in leagues of over 12 owners—so let the kid bring you home.
8) Andy Dalton vs. San Diego
Dalton is in Weeden’s shoes but with higher stakes: Mohammed Sanu joins A.J. Green and BenJarvus Green-Ellis this week as a must-start Bengal, and they need big reads from their QB1. The Chargers in December are a tornado of desperation heaves, and 6-5 Cincinnati is a fringe playoff team in an early playoff game. I’m expecting a fantasy lucrative shootout.
9) Tony Romo vs. Comeback Culture
In fantasy football, Romo is a Hall of Famer—a reliable champion that throws tons down the stretch and is a sultan of empty box scores. 2012 is no exception: He almost broke Troy Aikman’s Thanksgiving passing record for yardage while simultaneously breaking his back in a failed comeback bid. For six straight weeks, he’s compiled big yardage with mixed win-loss results during second-half comebacks.
Here’s how it plays out each week: Dallas tries to establish a running game, does not establish a running game due to their heinous offensive line, and then Jason Garrett takes off the leash and let’s Romo go no huddle. Dude draws them in the dirt better than anyone this side of Brett Favre. But Philly is dead in the water. Will Dallas need a big comeback and more importantly, big stats from Romo? The Cowboys come apart at the seams on primetime (eight straight losses on Sunday night), so I say yes.
10) Bryce Brown vs. The Dude That Snaked Bryce Brown off the Waiver Wire
LeSean McCoy was the lone Philadelphia bright spot, but his season is basically through because why hurt the best offensive component on a miserable team when he’s hurt and there’s no reason to rush back, and moreover this is a great opportunity to assess leftovers? Enter Brown, a bruising rookie that exploded on Monday night to the tune of 179 rushing yards. McCoy isn’t available, and the statistics you planned for with that first round pick are in the hands of an opponent. Brown is a jarring last-minute shift in the balance of power.
Photo via @MattForte22/Twitter
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