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Inside The Matchup: Wild Card Weekend

One of the best tools that FF Today provides is the fantasy football points vs. feature and, more specifically, the remaining Strength of Schedule. Using this feature, it is my hope to augment these features and refine them even further. Over time, it should be proven in this column that different styles of players score differently against different opponents. For example, perhaps a possession receiver makes for a better play against a certain defense as opposed to a burner despite the fact that the defensive back guarding him is considered slow. Given the high number of committee running backs and teams without a clear-cut #1 receiver in the NFL, I feel this analysis will help owners with roster decisions throughout this season.

QBs: (1 pt per 25 yds passing; 6 pts for all TDs, -2 pts/INT or fumble)
RBs/WRs/TEs: (1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 6 points per TD)

Note: Teams that have a fantasy relevant TE will be included.


Redskins @ Seahawks
Todd Collins/Santana Moss/Antwaan Randle El/Chris Cooley
Clinton Portis (vs. SEA)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Seahawks this season: N/A
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Seahawks this season: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 19/19/10.1
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 16.9

Chris CooleyPassing Game Thoughts: It has to be a bit disconcerting to a pass defense like Seattle's to be beaten for three or more TDs in a game twice in the final four weeks of the regular season. That knowledge is even worse considering that the seven scores they allowed vs. Arizona in Week 14 (three) and Atlanta in Week 17 (four) is just one less than half of the TD passes they surrendered to the QB position all season long (15). Fortunately for the Seahawks, the Redskins don't figure to attack them in that fashion, especially with Collins under center. Sure, he has been solid since taking over for Jason Campbell, but let's not confuse any of the teams Washington faced in December with an elite pass defense. Through the air, the only advantage the Redskins enjoy is Cooley, who is likely a pretty good play in what may be a one-and-done situation for him and his team. The Seahawks are one of the better teams vs. the TE statistically, but have had problems guarding any of the more elite TEs they have faced, with Heath Miller, Kellen Winslow and Alge Crumpler each posting more than 10 fantasy points. Cooley, as he has been for most of the season, is the only smart play from this passing game this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Washington has seemingly heeded the notion that when an important front-line player goes down (Jason Campbell), the rest of the team must pick it up. Since Campbell was lost for the remainder of the regular season in Week 14, Portis and the running game has carried this offense. He has totaled well over 100 yards and scored in each of the three games since - all wins - and the offense will once again lean on him to make 25-30 touches turn into 120-130 yards, especially if they hope to keep Seattle's offense off the field. And if the Seahawks have done anything consistently against the run this season, it is giving up plenty of fantasy points to power-running teams like Washington. However, if they have one saving grace, it might be the fact that they held five (of eight) lead RBs under 10 points whereas they permitted every lead RB to score at least that many points on the road.

Todd Collins: 210 pass/1 TD/1 INT
Santana Moss: 45 rec
Antwaan Randle El: 40 rec
Chris Cooley: 70 rec/1 TD
Clinton Portis: 80 rush/1 TD/35 rec

Matt Hasselbeck/Deion Branch/Bobby Engram/Nate Burleson/DJ Hackett
Shaun Alexander/Maurice Morris (vs. WAS)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Redskins this season: Packers
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Redskins this season: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: 10.2
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: 7.6
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 17.7/10.9
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 10.4

Passing Game Thoughts: For a defense that has been riddled with unexpected losses in what had to be considered a strength entering the season (CB Carlos Rogers, S Sean Taylor), this unit has really come together over the last month of the season. That trend will need to continue against an offense that has really found its stride in Seattle, once HC Mike Holmgren decided to lean even more heavily on Hasselbeck midway through the season. So, this game will likely come down to which unit has improved more over the last month - the smart money says the healthy offense that will be playing at home. Assuming Branch is good to go, the Seahawks have four WRs capable of exploiting a Redskins' secondary that has been playing over their heads for the most part in December. Burleson has really come on in recent weeks and could very well be one of the X-factors in this game too - as with a healthy Branch and Engram - he and Hackett could draw Leigh Torrence and David Macklin, mismatches for sure in favor of Seattle. In all honesty, the Seahawks was very likely one of the few teams that Washington would have preferred to avoid as Seattle's depth at WR far surpasses the Redskins' rotation at CB and the home field advantage the Seahawks enjoy figures to make it very hard for Washington to maintain enough continuity on offense to gain substantial momentum and thus, make the Seattle offense work for every point.

Running Game Thoughts: The Redskins have stayed healthy upfront for most of the season and, as a result, have been able to stop the run pretty effectively, giving up just the fifth-fewest points/game to the RB position. Only Brian Westbrook and Brandon Jacobs have even eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark individually, so don't look for a surprisingly high output for Seattle in this game, as the carries seem to be split fairly evenly between Alexander and Morris. Neither player with a split workload figures to be that great of a play against an average run defense, so one can imagine they are poor plays against one of the better run-stopping units. Outside of Westbrook's 16.2- and 36-point explosions in his two meetings against the Redskins, no RB has surpassed 16 points and three of the last four teams to face Washington have failed to put a runner over 5.6 points.

Matt Hasselbeck: 250 pass/2 TD/1 INT
Deion Branch: 50rec
Bobby Engram: 65 rec
Nate Burleson: 60 rec/1 TD
DJ Hackett: 40 rec/1 TD
Shaun Alexander: 40 rush
Maurice Morris: 45 rush/1 TD/25 rec

Jaguars @ Steelers
David Garrard/Dennis Northcutt/Reggie Williams/Ernest Wilford
Fred Taylor/Maurice Jones-Drew (vs. PIT)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Steelers this season: Jaguars
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Steelers this season: Jaguars
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: 22.7
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: 31.1
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: 30.4
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 20.4/26.7
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 21.5

David GarrardPassing Game Thoughts: Garrard did a fine job spreading the wealth amongst his WRs last week and has done so for most of the season. In fact, he has pretty much produced regardless of the competition and without a standout WR in his midst, meaning he should warrant a mid-round selection in fantasy drafts next summer as he produced 16.6 points or more in every game he started and finished. For the here and now, Garrard makes for as good of a play as any QB on this weekend simply because he has done something most of them have not - stayed consistent. And despite the recent slippage of the Steelers run defense, the easiest way to score on Pittsburgh is still by throwing the ball. Williams has seemingly emerged as the big-play threat waiting to happen on every play but is still too much of an all-or-nothing fantasy WR. Northcutt is the Derrick Mason-type of wideout who will get looks and catches, but rarely ever score. Wilford helps bridge the gaps the other two leave but no WR on this team should really be counted on for substantial numbers in playoff fantasy leagues because of the "spread-it-out" philosophy and for the likely field conditions that will favor the running game for both teams.

Running Game Thoughts: Even though this running game is smoking, I can't imagine a repeat of the 140 yards rushing the Steelers allowed to Taylor or the 200-plus yards rushing allowed to the Jacksonville running game as a whole in the first meeting. But then again, Pittsburgh has really struggled to stop the run since its meeting with the Jags in Week 15, surrendering 15.1 or more points to a rusher in each of its last three games. So while it is too early to predict the demise of the Steelers' rush defense, I can't seem to remember a recent stretch in which three successive backs have compiled #1 RB numbers against this defense. It's a pretty fair bet Heinz Field will either been slippery or cold this weekend, so while it will help to have S Troy Polamalu back from his one-game absence, he will not necessarily provide the band-aid this rush defense needs as he was present when Jacksonville gashed Pittsburgh three weeks ago.

David Garrard: 225 pass/2 TD/0 INT/10 rush
Dennis Northcutt: 45 rec
Reggie Williams: 50 rec/1 TD
Ernest Wilford: 50 rec
Fred Taylor: 75 rush/20 rec
Maurice Jones-Drew: 30 rush/1 TD/25 rec

Ben Roethlisberger/Hines Ward/Santonio Holmes/Heath Miller
Najeh Davenport (vs. JAX)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Jaguars this season: Steelers
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Jaguars this season: Steelers
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: 20.8
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: 22.7
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: 8.4
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: 11.1
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 13.8/13.4/7.8
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 20.5

Ben RoethlisbergerPassing Game Thoughts: I firmly believe playoff league fantasy owners will want to look to this game to find their QB for the opening week of the postseason. If not Garrard, Big Ben makes a lot of sense. Roethlisberger scored less than 10 points in a game just once this season - the awful 3-0 MNF game vs. Miami. It goes without saying that he finally showed he can be a QB that fantasy owners can build their team around going forward. For this game (and with Willie Parker out), Big Ben should at least match his 20.8-point performance from the Week 15 meeting. Jacksonville has given up more points more consistently through the air this season than it has in some time, with the biggest beneficiaries being the QB and the split end, which is usually Holmes in this offense. If you are looking for a strong #3 WR option this week could do much worse than the former Buckeye, who will likely be matched up against CB Brian Williams most of the contest. Miller, if recent history is any indication, should be a solid, low-risk play and the Jags have permitted the fourth-most points to the TE position. Ward, as always, will put some yards against the toughest competition, but should not be counted on to have a stellar performance against CB Rashean Mathis.

Running Game Thoughts: There are a whole host of teams that the Steelers face that Davenport would serve as an adequate fill-in against, but Jacksonville - with its powerful front four (especially their defensive tackles) - is not one of them. Davenport carried just once against the Jags in Week 15. Just two years ago, I stated that Davenport was likely the best backup RB in the league. In the time since, I have yet to see him show the same explosion I remember him having in Green Bay. Jacksonville has surrendered over 100 yards rushing in three straight games, including an embarrassing 174 yards rushing in Week 17 to Houston. Granted, that game mattered little to the Jags, but it is still a high number to be allowing to a team that is an average running unit at best. That said, Pittsburgh has seemingly spent the second half of the season (instead of the first, like one would expect) transitioning itself from a team that wants to score with the running game to an offense that wants to put up points via the air. For as much as I stated that Parker seemed to lack explosion this season, Davenport isn't any quicker through the hole. All this is to say that Davenport isn't very likely to repeat Parker's 100-yard rushing effort when these teams first met a few weeks back.

Ben Roethlisberger: 230 rush/2 TD/1 INT
Hines Ward: 60 rec
Santonio Holmes: 90 rec/1 TD
Heath Miller: 45 rec/1 TD
Najeh Davenport: 70 rush/1 TD/20 rec

Giants @ Bucs
Eli Manning/Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer/Kevin Boss
Brandon Jacobs (vs. TB)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Bucs this season: N/A
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Bucs this season: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 12.2/5.7/9.2
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 20.6

Eli ManningPassing Game Thoughts: How many Giants fans would like the option of bottling up the offense that stuck it to the Patriots in the first half of Week 17? Manning and Burress appeared to go into a time warp back to Week 1 and New England had few answers in stopping the running and passing games of the G-men. On the other hand, the Bucs would just as soon erase their play on defense over the last four games, contests in which they have surrendered 16 or more points to Shaun Hill, Sage Rosenfels and Matt Moore - all losses. All three QBs have thrown for at least two scores in that time, something Manning should be able to do as well. (Since their bye week, the Bucs have allowed double-digit points to the QB position in six of seven games, something they only did four times in the first nine contests.) If I knew for sure that I was getting the Week 17 version of Burress, I would be tempted to call him one of the best plays of the week at his position. However, even with the Bucs struggling (relatively speaking) against the pass, this game's outcome should be determined on the ground. As such, I don't foresee an overwhelming amount of production coming out of this passing game. One area where Tampa Bay could be susceptible though is against the TE, something four of the last six Bucs' opponents have exposed. Boss may be a great low-budget or late-round pick at the TE position this week. Three of the TDs Tampa Bay has yielded to opposing TEs have come in the last three weeks and four of the six scores it has allowed all season have come in the last five games.

Running Game Thoughts: When healthy, there aren't too many better options at the RB position than Jacobs. Behind a powerful run-blocking offensive line, Jacobs should have a great deal of success against Tampa Bay's middle-of-the-road run defense (fantasy-wise). Look for a solid, all-around good total yardage game from Jacobs as he should hoard most of the touches in the running game and should pick up a fair amount of receiving yards against the Bucs, who allowed the eighth-most receiving yards to the RB position. If New York is to defeat Tampa Bay this weekend, it will be due in large part the Giants' ability to control the clock and run the ball effectively.

Eli Manning: 200 pass/2 TD/2 INT
Plaxico Burress: 65 rec/1 TD
Amani Toomer: 50 rec
Kevin Boss: 35 rec/1 TD
Brandon Jacobs: 100 rush/1 TD/35 rec

Jeff Garcia/Joey Galloway/Ike Hilliard
Earnest Graham (vs. NYG)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Giants this season: N/A
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Giants this season: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 16.8/20.2/6.2
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 24.9

Passing Game Thoughts: As long as Galloway is able to go this weekend, he faces a pass defense that has had issues in stopping the opponent's deep threat all season long. While the Bucs will run the ball plenty, they will need the game-breaking ability of Galloway in this contest if they want to take advantage of the matchup presented before them and move onto the next round. Without him, it is unlikely Michael Clayton and Hilliard have enough speed to threaten the Giants' secondary, making the chances the running game will power them to victory even smaller. Garcia has definitely proven that he will take care of the ball - just four INTs this season - so owners looking for a cheap or low-budget QB play this weekend should be able to avoid negative points with him (and once again, with Galloway) that has potential to have a two-TD day with a decent amount of yards.

Running Game Thoughts: The Giants have been very kind lately to opposing feature backs, surrendering 14.9 points/game to a RB in each of the last six contests. The Bucs will be all too content doing what they can to extend that misery after their running game was stuffed in each of the last three games to close the regular season, although Graham saw significant action in just one of those contests. While New York has struggled to slow down opposing running games lately, it has kept the other team's RB from putting up ridiculous numbers as well, as Brian Westbrook is the only back to top 20 points against this defense this season. However, if one figures that this matchup will be a low-scoring contest, it is safe to say that Graham should have all the opportunities he needs to find the end zone once in this game - the Giants have allowed 12 RB scores this season.

Jeff Garcia: 190 pass/2 TD/0 INT/10 rush
Joey Galloway: 90 rec/1 TD
Ike Hilliard: 45 rec
Earnest Graham: 85 rush/1 TD/20 rec

Titans @ Chargers
Vince Young/Justin Gage/Eric Moulds
LenDale White/Chris Brown (vs. SD)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Chargers this season: Titans
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Chargers this season: Titans
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: 6.2
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: 5.7
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: N/A
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: 29.1
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 16.8/19.7
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 11.9

Vince YoungPassing Game Thoughts: Roydell Williams broke his ankle in practice earlier this week, further depleting a WR corps that did not need to be thinned any further. What little choice Young already had in going to Gage has likely now made the former Missouri standout a sneaky low-budget play this week as he figures to collect well over half the targets of the passes Young will throw, which may not be all that many. Once again, this brings us back to Young as the only likely play from this group, but considering his passing game has been essentially limited to Gage and a few possession-type TEs, his biggest contribution may be running the ball. However, seeing how VY gained only two yards on two carries in the first game between these two teams, it may not be the best idea to rely on him for fantasy greatness this weekend either.

Running Game Thoughts: The Titans' ability to reverse the fortunes of their Week 14 loss to the Bolts will have a lot to do with White. He collected 30 carries in that meeting and with Tennessee's defense just about as healthy as it is going to be all season, he's a fairly good bet for roughly that many touches in this contest as well. One big change for San Diego is that DE Luis Castillo will be in the lineup again - he missed the first contest between these teams - and his presence should certainly help the Chargers avoid giving up another 100-yard rushing performance. In the end, White - assuming he sees a similar workload - should be a solid lower-budget bet as a #2 RB in fantasy lineups this week.

Vince Young: 150 pass/1 TD/1 INT/15 rush
Justin Gage: 80 rec/1 TD
Eric Moulds: 35 rec
LenDale White: 90 rush/1 TD/10 rec
Chris Brown: 30 rush/20 rec

Philip Rivers/Vincent Jackson/Chris Chambers/Antonio Gates
LaDainian Tomlinson (vs. TEN)

Similar passing attacks that have faced the Titans this season: Chargers
Similar rushing attacks that have faced the Titans this season: Chargers
FF Points Allowed vs. similar QBs: 19.5
FF Points Allowed vs. similar WRs: 13.9
FF Points Allowed vs. similar TEs: 11.7
FF Points Allowed vs. similar RBs: 29.9
FF Points Allowed vs. QBs/WRs/TEs over the last 3 weeks: 16.4/21.6/5.2
FF Points Allowed vs. RBs over the last 3 weeks: 8.9

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite some terribly rough games this season, Rivers narrowly missed matching last season's fantasy point total. Granted, he looked awful at times much more often than he did in 2006, but it is interesting to note he registered fairly similar stat lines even though he tossed six more INTs than he did a season ago. That aside, he let the running game and the defense carry him down the tail end of the regular season while he recorded meager yardage totals but passed for at least one score in each of his last seven contests. And with his sprained knee likely to be a concern for the rest of the postseason, expect the Chargers to go only as far as LT and the defense will take them. DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle VandenBosch absolutely toyed with the left side of the offensive line in the first meeting, making pass protection the most likely concern for San Diego this week. Jackson does not figure to be of much use this week, leaving owners with Chambers and Gates to consider. Gates' back issue may be in the rear view mirror if his numbers against the Raiders in Week 17 are any indication. Prior to the Oakland game, Gates' last solid fantasy day came against the Titans, who have allowed only Gates and Dallas Clark to do much numbers-wise vs. them this season. Continue to monitor Gates' health into the weekend though, as a less-than-100% Charger TE will struggle to break away from LB Keith Bulluck in coverage. Chambers continues to be the best play at WR for San Diego and fared well against Tennessee the first time around. Considering Rivers has found him for scores in consecutive weeks and the Titans' likely strategy to focus on Gates first in the passing game, Chambers could make for a sneaky play against a defense that has uncharacteristically surrendered at least 8.7 points to a WR in each of the past seven games.

Running Game Thoughts: If playoff owners had any hopes that LT would repeat his standout performance from Week 14, they need to find some other #1 RB to attach their hopes to, at least for this week. That is not to say that he won't still register top-notch numbers, but two TDs and 100-plus rushing yards against a defense led by what looks like a healthy Haynesworth figures to be a lot more stout than the same unit he (LT) faced just a few games ago. What is interesting is that since HC Norv Turner opted to call more running plays with a pulling guard a few games back, Tomlinson has went from ho-hum LT to the kind of back that topped the charts to end 2006. I don't necessarily like him as a lock for 100 rushing yards this week, but he is also a pretty good bet for 100-125 total yards and has been a solid bet over the last half of the season to visit the end zone. The peace of mind he brings to a fantasy squad - regular season or playoffs - is invaluable and he will produce regardless of the competition.

Philip Rivers: 200 pass/2 TD/1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 40 rec
Chris Chambers: 65 rec/1 TD
Antonio Gates: 50 rec/1 TD
LaDainian Tomlinson: 90 rush/1 TD/35 rec