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Inside the Matchup
Divisional Playoffs

By: Sal Marcoccio | Jason Katz | Nick Caron | Jake Gordon

SEA @ ATL | HOU @ NE | PIT @ KC | GB @ DAL

- Green highllight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)

Seahawks at Falcons - (Gordon)

Passing Game Thoughts: Russell Wilson may not have lived up to being a consensus top five fantasy quarterback prior to 2016 but he’s kept things together and is playing better now than he was earlier in the year. Last week’s win against the Lions gives him an impressive 8-3 record in the post season and he takes on a defense that has been more bad than good throughout the 2016 regular season. The Seahawks’ signal caller falls in the rankings due to his lower ceiling than most playoff quarterbacks. Over the past eight games, Wilson has only notched one game with over 25 fantasy points but will be facing the league’s most friendly fantasy defense to opposing QBs. That makes him a solid value play for anyone looking to set a weekly lineup. That same line of thought trickles down to Doug Baldwin’s fantasy prospects. Baldwin finished the regular season ranked 19th in targets amongst all NFL receivers on an offense that ranked only 18th in passing attempts. He’s coming off a ridiculous second half performance a week ago and should be brimming with confidence as he prepares to go up against Atlanta’s secondary. The toughest match up for the Falcons will be TE Jimmy Graham. He’s been rather quiet over the past month but he has a familiarity with Atlanta from his days playing in New Orleans and the team will need more from the passing game to keep up with one of the league’s best offenses. Jermaine Kearse should get two or three chances to make huge plays but Paul Richardson might offer fantasy owners a better bargain basement option in salary cap formats. The former second round pick out of the University of Colorado has caught eleven passes in his last three outings with touchdowns in two of them. Atlanta allowed 109 receptions and six receiving touchdowns to running backs this year. That doesn’t translate too much in Thomas Rawls’ game but it would help Richardson or C.J. Prosise (shoulder) in the short passing game. Head Coach Pete Carroll isn’t tipping his hand as to whether Prosise will play so fantasy owners will need to check in on Saturday for an update on his status prior to kickoff.

ATL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.1
ATL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.10
ATL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.14
ATL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.7

Running Game Thoughts: The running style of Rawls was made for play off football. He may not have finished the year on a high note but he sure did make an impact last weekend. He rekindled Marshawn Lynch’s spirit to rush 27 times for 161 yards and a score. Atlanta has been below average against the run and may struggle to keep a violent running back like Rawls at bay for four quarters on Saturday. Seattle would love nothing more than to give their tank another 20-plus carries in a “move the chains” type of game plan that keeps the Atlanta offense on the sidelines. As I noted above, there is a chance that Prosise will be available for this game. The rookie has flashed serious game breaking potential (akin to Tevin Coleman below) when given more opportunity and would be in the RB2 mix if cleared to play. If Prosise misses this game then Alex Collins will be the backup to Rawls. He doesn’t get many touches when the rest of the backfield is healthy and can’t be trusted as a fantasy option.

Value Meter:
QB1: Russell Wilson (low end)
RB1: Thomas Rawls
RB2: C.J. Prosise (if cleared to play)
WR1: Doug Baldwin
TE1: Jimmy Graham
Flex: Paul Richardson
Bench: Jermaine Kearse, Alex Collins

Passing Game Thoughts: This is a classic offense versus defense match up. Matt Ryan’s strong Week 17 propelled him into the top spot for QB-rating among regular starting quarterbacks during the regular season but he hasn’t had much success in the playoffs. His only win did come against Seattle back in 2012. In that win, he didn’t exactly light things up numbers wise throwing for only 250 yards and three interceptions. Seattle ranks in the top ten against the pass and will make it their mission to contain Julio Jones. Jones has been nursing a foot/toe injury for most of the year but he heads into this contest with a full week of rest and treatment. That’s good because he will be playing in his first career playoff game and Matt Ryan needs him to live up to superstar expectations. Taylor Gabriel (foot) returned to practice during the team’s playoff bye and will give Matt Ryan another big play threat to combat the Seattle-D. He offers more upside than Mohamed Sanu but is best deployed in potential shootouts. Seattle has been feverish at getting to the quarterbacks this year; tied with Denver for third most during the regular season with 42 sacks. If the offensive line plays at a high level and the backfield chips in with pass protection and check downs Matt Ryan should only need to play a smart football game to survive and advance.

SEA FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.29
SEA FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.24
SEA FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
SEA FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.29

Running Game Thoughts: The core of the entire offense has been the robust play from the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. These two runners have given opposing defensive coordinator’s headaches when trying to figure out how to stop multiple attacks from the Falcons’ skilled players. Freeman defending his rushing title aptly by finishing the regular season 9th in rushing yards while splitting carries all year. He’s received no fewer than 17 touches over the Falcons’ last three games and is running behind a quality offensive line for the highest scoring team in the league. Freeman should be considered the least likely to bust during the playoffs and should be a low end RB1 with fewer fantasy options to choose from this weekend. Coleman does NOT have a touchdown in only five of his 13 games played this year. He may not look like Jerome Bettis but he seems to only need about five touches a game to find pay dirt. He’s been excellent in his current role and that means he’s a RB2/Flex consideration for the Divisional Round.

Value Meter:
QB1: Matt Ryan
RB2: Devonta Freeman
WR1: Julio Jones
Flex: Tevin Coleman
Bench: Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper

Prediction: Atlanta 20, Seattle 19 ^ Top

Texans @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Savage has now cleared through the concussion protocol, but is expected to serve as the backup against the Patriots this week. Savage had replaced the struggling Brock Osweiler towards the end of the regular season, but Osweiler did enough to beat the Raiders in Houston last week and will thus hold onto the starting job. Osweiler was not asked to do too much, throwing for 168 yards and a touchdown in a game where Oakland was never really a threat. The Texans’ offense has struggled on the road, where they will be this week, averaging just 14.8 points per game, which is the second worst total in the league. The Patriots allowed the least amount of points in the NFL this season (250) and haven’t allowed more than two touchdowns in a game since Week 10. Osweiler threw for just 196 yards in a 27-0 loss when these teams met early in the regular season. Osweiler has negated star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins this season with his struggles throwing outside the numbers, and has only shown well when throwing to tight ends Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz. Hopkins was on the receiving end of Osweiler’s lone touchdown pass last week however, but his late season uptick came with Tom Savage under center so don’t expect Hopkins to shine in Foxboro, unless Osweiler receives a quick hook. That just could happen if he shows any signs at all of struggling early.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.24
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.30
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.27
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.27

Running Game Thoughts: Lamar Miller saw heavy volume last week but gained only 73 yards on his 31 carries. He added a touchdown from four yards out, but Miller did not catch a pass in the game. Predictably, the Texans tried to run the ball down the throats of an opponent starting a rookie quarterback who served no legitimate threat of posting big numbers. This week no one should expect Miller to come close to 31 carries, but he should see more usage in the passing game as the Texans assumedly play catch up and with New England allowing 6.4 receptions per game to opposing running backs. The Patriots wer the fourth ranked run defense during the regular season, allowing only 88.6 yards per game and an NFL low six rushing touchdowns on the season. Some of that had to do with teams turning to the passing game to keep up with the Patriots high scoring offense, but make no mistake about it, New England has a solid front seven and will make the effort to take Miller out of the Texans’ game plan. It’s hard to imagine Bill Belichick being worried about Brock Osweiler picking his defense apart.

Value Meter:
RB: Lamar Miller
WR3: DeAndre Hopkins
TE2: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffen
Bench: Brock Osweiler, Alfred Blue, Will Fuller

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady has thrown at least three touchdown passes in three of his past four games, but even in those games he has looked a little more mortal since Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season. He will now face the league’s second ranked pass defense. Houston allowed only 201.6 passing yards per game to opposing passers with no 300-yard passing games on the season. With that said, this is Tom Brady, and a multiple touchdown game against any defense should be expected. Julian Edelman struggled earlier in the season, but led the league in targets (88) and receptions (50) while posting the third most receiving yards (649) over the final seven weeks after Gronk was no longer in the line-up. Houston has two of the best corners in the league in A.J. Bouye and Johnathan Joseph, but with Edelman spending most of his time in the slot he should avoid the duo, leaving Malcom Mitchell and Michael Floyd drawing the heat.

HOU FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.30
HOU FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.19
HOU FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.28
HOU FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.30

Running Game Thoughts: LeGarrette Blount ran through Houston for 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns earlier in the season. The Houston run defense has played much better since that game however. The Texans have allowed a league-best 71.1 rushing yards per game over their past 10 games played with three rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs in those games. Blount who turned 30 in December is coming off his best season rushing for 1,161 yards and an incredible 18 rushing touchdowns. He has failed to score in just three games all season and should be a big part of the game plan this weekend, especially as the second half “lead protector” a role he has excelled in all season.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady
RB1: LeGarrette Blount
WR1: Julian Edelman
TE2: Martellus Bennett
FLEX: James White
Bench: Dion Lewis, Malcom Mitchell and Michael Floyd

Prediction: Patriots 31, Texans 19 ^ Top

Steelers @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: There may not be a more explosive, fantasy point-producing offense right now than the one in Pittsburgh, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. While Roethlisberger himself didn’t put up excellent fantasy numbers on Wild Card weekend, he made fantasy owners happy by getting the ball to his best target, Antonio Brown, who caught five passes for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns seemingly before the Dolphins even knew what hit them. Brown is, of course, once again one of the top options on the board this week as he will be matched up against a Kansas City defense that he scored twice against back in Week 4. On that day, Roethlisberger had his best fantasy game of the season and one of his most efficient days in his entire career when he threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. While that should give fantasy owners some confidence, there are some other factors to consider in this matchup, including that Roethlisberger is nursing a foot injury which has caused him to miss practice early in the week. He’s expected to play, but he may be limited in his mobility. In addition, the Kansas City pass defense has played substantially better at home this season than they have on the road, having allowed a total of just seven passing touchdowns against them at Arrowhead Stadium. Keep an eye out on Ladarius Green heading into Sunday’s contest as there’s an outside chance that he will be out of the concussion protocol and ready to play.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.18
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.14
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.15
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.26

Running Game Thoughts: The dominant regular season that Bell had carried into the playoffs this past week as the NFL MVP candidate rushed for a whopping 167 yards in the Steelers’ blowout win over the Dolphins. Bell wasn’t as active in the passing game as he typically is, but some of that was due to the game flow. The dynamic tailback has to be right at the top of the rankings going into this weekend’s contests as he has been on a hot streak and, perhaps more importantly, has already shown that he can produce against this Kansas City defense. Bell abused the Chiefs back in Week 4 – his first game back from suspension – to the tune of 144 yards on just 18 carries, adding 34 more yards as a pass catcher. The Chiefs were only a middle-of-the-pack run defense in the regular season and they actually had struggles down the stretch, giving up 100-plus rushing yards in five of their final six contests. The Chiefs have had an extra week to get healthy and prepare for what they had to assume would be the Steelers, but this is still the kind of matchup that Bell is certainly capable of exploiting for big numbers.

Value Meter:
QB2: Ben Roethlisberger
RB1: Le’Veon Bell
WR1: Antonio Brown
Flex: Eli Rogers
Bench: DeAngelo Williams, Sammie Coates, Ladarius Green, Jesse James

Passing Game Thoughts: Alex Smith Alex Smith threw two or more touchdown passes in only four games this season. Those numbers are definitely terrible and worthy of major scrutiny from fantasy owners, but there is some hope. For example, one of those two-touchdown performances came back in Week 4 when the Chiefs got blown out by the Steelers and Smith ended up attempting 50 passes. That day, he threw for 287 yards – his second best total of the season. The Steelers also quietly struggled to contain Matt Moore a week ago, allowing him to complete 29 of his 36 pass attempts for 289 yards. In addition, Smith does have at least one premiere option in the passing game, that being tight end Travis Kelce who ended up finishing the regular season as the No. 1 fantasy tight end in standard scoring formats. Kelce scored a touchdown in that game against the Steelers and, other than a down game against the Broncos in Week 17, finished the season extremely strong with 100-plus receiving yards in five of his final seven contests. The other fantasy option to pay attention to in this passing game is wide receiver Tyreek Hill who has shown himself to be one of the league’s most explosive players, scoring five rushing/receiving touchdowns and three kick/punt return touchdowns in his final six games. While those numbers are certainly worthy of respect, it’s also worth noting that Hill is producing those scores on extremely limited touches, which can certainly lead to extremely disappointing fantasy results should the defense contain him on those touches. Still, Hill is worthy of WR2 status this week, particularly if your league’s scoring system gives fantasy points to individual players for return touchdowns and/or yardage.

PIT FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.27
PIT FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.7
PIT FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.30
PIT FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.12

Running Game Thoughts: If the Steelers are able to contain Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in the passing game, the weight of carrying the Kansas City may fall onto running back Spencer Ware. Ware’s struggle to produce fantasy numbers are well noted this season, including just one game of 90-plus rushing yards on the season, but he has now had nearly three weeks to rest his injured ribs and he should be back in full capacity to start against the Steelers. Ware rushed for an impressive 82 yards on just 13 carries when these teams met back in Week 4 and it could have been more if the game flow hadn’t forced the Chiefs to pass an abnormally high amount. Look for Andy Reid and the Kansas City coaching staff to deploy a significantly more run-centered offense in this Sunday’s contest as they will do their best to limit the offensive opportunities for the Steelers’ high-octane offense. This should mean around 20 touches for Ware, which should be enough to make him a low-end RB2. The Steelers defense did do an excellent job of shutting down Jay Ajayi a week ago, however, so it’s tough to think of Ware as more than an RB2 given that he could be limited in production even with a decent number of touches.

Value Meter:
RB2: Spencer Ware
WR2: Tyreek Hill
TE1: Travis Kelce
Flex: Jeremy Maclin
Bench: Alex Smith, Charcandrick West, Albert Wilson, Chris Conley

Prediction: Steelers 24, Chiefs 20 ^ Top

Packers @ Cowboys - (Katz)

Passing Game Thoughts: First, I want to thank Aaron Rodgers for sparing me the emotional rollercoaster that would’ve been Giants vs. Cowboys. But now, it’s time for his own miracle run to end. I use the term “miracle” generously as it hasn’t been luck, but Rodgers putting the entire offense on his back. It took him about two full quarters last week to figure out there was a football game going on, but once he did, the Giants had no answer. Rodgers ended up with 362 yards and four touchdowns. It was quite fitting that a couple things from the Giants fluky 2012 run came full circle. First, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb on a Hail Mary to end the first half (justice for Hakeem Nicks in 2012). In the second half, Ty Montgomery clearly fumbled but once again, Ed Hochulu changed the rules of football to where losing control of a ball is not a fumble (justice for Ahmad Bradshaw against the 49ers in 2012). When the Packers last met the Cowboys in October, we saw the rise of the offense they use now. It was the first game where Ty Montgomery was deliberately used out of the backfield. And it was the last game before Rodgers took over the offense. Although the Packers’ four game losing streak was still to come, the offense never scored fewer than 21 points after only scoring 16 against Dallas and Rodgers threw for multiple touchdowns in all but one of his remaining games. This Sunday, he will look to do it again, but will be without Jordy Nelson, who took what looked like a pretty harmless shot to the midsection that turned out to have broken multiple ribs. Mo Claibourne is set to return from an eight week injury for Dallas, but will be tasked with shutting down Davante Adams instead. Randall Cobb will try and build upon last week’s impressive return where he caught five passes for 116 yard and three touchdowns. Jared Cook also caught five balls last week (on nine targets) and is a decent option at TE given that there are few strong options. This is a very different Packers team that the Cowboys saw in October so I would expect 300-plus yards and multiple scores from Rodgers. Even in a game I expect (read: hope) them to lose, Packers are solid investments this week.

DAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.16
DAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.29
DAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.23
DAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.3

Running Game Thoughts: The October game against Dallas was also the last time we saw Eddie Lacy play football. Since then, it has been the Ty Montgomery show…most of the time. Montgomery’s usage is sporadic and inconsistent. As an example, last week, Montgomery left the game in the second half with a minor injury. McCarthy saw it fit to bring Montgomery back in the waning moments of the game despite the Packers possessing a three score lead. Meanwhile, in crucial moments, we saw far too much of Christine Michael. The Cowboys have been an elite run stopping unit all season and Rodgers no longer cares about offensive balance. The Packers will throw so unless Montgomery catches a bunch of passes, no one in this backfield can be trusted.

Value Meter:
QB1: Aaron Rodgers (top option this week)
WR1: Davante Adams (he’s been that good)
WR3: Randall Cobb
TE1: Jared Cook
Bench: Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael, Geronimo Allison

Passing Game Thoughts: It was two short years ago that these two teams met in the postseason. That play is imprinted onto my brain. You know the one I’m talking about. I’ve watched it countless times. It was true then and it is true now: Dez caught it. Don’t think the Cowboys have forgotten how they had a potential (Rodgers would’ve still had a chance to answer) victory stolen from them. Dez Bryant is going to be fired up for this one, especially after missing the previous matchup against Green Bay with his knee injury. In 2015, Tony Romo only threw the ball 19 times for 191 yards and two touchdowns. I would expect Dak Prescott to do a little more. In October, Prescott threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns. I really think we’re in for an old fashioned shootout. The Packers may have shut down Eli Manning last week, but it’s hard to say how much of that is due to the Packers pass defense and how much is due to Manning being a quarterback very much in decline with an immensely talented diva WR who apparently forgot how to catch. Maybe this is the fan in me speaking, but I think we are getting a very strong game from Bryant this week. Since it’s the playoffs, we can also look to Jason Witten as he is as reliable as they come. Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams have faded into the background as of late.

GB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.2
GB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.25
GB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.1
GB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.13

Running Game Thoughts: The reason Romo only threw 19 times in 2015 was because the Cowboys pounded DeMarco Murray 25 times. Murray’s line in that game looks about right for Ezekiel Elliott - 25 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown. Elliott hasn’t played football in three weeks, but don’t expect that to hurt him at all. At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. Zeke is probably feeling the best out of all the running backs given his lengthy rest period. That is only going to help him. He rushed for 157 yards in the October game. I do not anticipate seeing much of Darren McFadden or Lance Dunbar. It’s the playoffs. This is the best Cowboys team since Romo’s first year starting. The path to victory is led by a team’s best players. Elliott will touch the ball as much as reasonably possible.

Value Meter:
QB2: Dak Prescott (a strong option, but only 7 QBs and one Brock Osweiler are playing this week)
RB1: Ezekiel Elliott (only Le’Veon Bell is a better choice)
WR1: Dez Bryant
TE1: Jason Witten
Bench: Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams

Prediction: Cowboys 30, Packers 27 ^ Top