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Inside the Matchup

Wildcard Weekend

By: Andy Swanson | Ken Ilchuk | Nick Caron | HC Green




PHI @ TB | SF @ DAL | PIT @ KC



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

Raiders @ Bengals - (Green)
Line: CIN -5.5
Total: 48.0

Passing Game Thoughts: In terms of raw talent, the Chargers outclassed their division rivals in the regular season’s final game. Las Vegas avoided the big mistakes, however, and now find themselves similarly outmatched in the Wild Card round. Can they pull off another upset? We’ll see, but odds are they’ll need more out of Derek Carr than he gave them in Week 18 when he passed for 186 yards and a pair of TDs -- even those modest numbers were better than what Carr managed in Week 11 against the Bengals when he had 215 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in a 19-point loss.

Although he was quiet against LA, Darren Waller had a big game versus the Bengals, logging seven catches for a season-high 116 yards. He was injured four days later and did not return until Week 18. The Raiders will need the impactful version of Waller if they’re to advance. Hunter Renfrow is the other primary target. Cincy held him in check in the earlier meeting, and the Bolts largely did the same, though the Clemson product had two TD receptions; that gives him four in Vegas’ last three games. Beyond those two, you’re looking at long-shot contributors like Bryan Edwards and Zay Jones.

Of the NFL’s 14 playoff teams, only the Chiefs allowed more passing yards this season than the Bengals, which ranked 26th at 248.4 per game. They sacked Carr twice and forced a pair of turnovers in their Week 11 win, but this is where the Raiders need to attack as Cincinnati has been among the tougher teams to run on. If Las Vegas is to spring the upset they’ll need the trio of Carr, Waller and Renfrow to show up.

CIN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.14
CIN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.11
CIN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
CIN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.6

Running Game Thoughts: Although Josh Jacobs endured a rough 2021 campaign, he did finish strong with his only two performances of 100-plus yards coming over the season’s final three weeks (all wins to propel Las Vegas into the postseason). He tallied just 37 yards on nine carries against the Bengals in the earlier meeting, and they’ll need more from him on Saturday in an effort to control the clock and keep Cincy’s offense off the field. The Bengals and their fifth-ranked run defense (102.5 yards per game allowed) won’t make it easy, but the Raiders need to possess the ball.

Value Meter:
QB1: Derek Carr
RB1: Josh Jacobs
WR2: Hunter Renfrow
TE1: Darren Waller
Bench: Zay Jones, Bryan Edwards

Passing Game Thoughts: Rather than chase improved seeding, the Bengals essentially sat everyone of importance last Sunday, using Week 18 as a de facto bye. In their earlier meeting with the Raiders, Joe Burrow passed for a season-low 148 yards and 1 TD in a 30-13 win that wasn’t nearly as one-sided as the score suggests -- it was 16-13 midway through the fourth. Burrow threw for 300 yards or more in four of his five games after that performance, however, including back-to-back monster games to close out the season. Expect more passing from the Bengals this Saturday.

With Burrow throwing for just 148 yards in that earlier meeting, the trio of Ja’Marr Chase (3-32-1), Tee Higgins (2-15-0) and Tyler Boyd (6-49-0) were all quiet. Don’t expect a repeat as all three of them could lay claim to closing out the season on a high note. Chase eviscerated Kansas City for 266 yards and 3 TDs in Week 17, Higgins topped 100 yards in four of his final six games, and Boyd carries an active three-game scoring streak into the playoffs.

Las Vegas ranks 13th in pass defense for the season, yielding 222.9 yards per game, though they finished dead last in interceptions with just six. They faced a similarly talented Chargers offense last weekend and gave up 383 yards and 3 TDs via the air despite emerging with the overtime win. Don’t read too much into the earlier meeting when it comes to what kind of production Burrow and company can deliver.

LV FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.23
LV FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.3
LV FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.28
LV FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.5

Running Game Thoughts: Arguably the only Bengals offensive player to excel back in Week 11 was Joe Mixon, who carried the ball 30 times for 123 yards and a pair of scores in what was one of just three games of 100-plus yards he had in 2021. The Raiders ended the year 19th in run defense, allowing 114.3 yards per game and 4.2 per carry. Mixon hasn’t logged more than 20 carries since Nov. 28, but he had 13 receptions in his final two games, so he’s still heavily involved offensively.

Value Meter:
QB1: Joe Burrow
RB1: Joe Mixon
WR1: Tee Higgins
WR1: Ja’Marr Chase
WR2: Tyler Boyd
Bench: Samaje Perine, C.J. Uzomah

Prediction: Bengals 28, Raiders 20 ^ Top

Patriots at Bills - (Ken Ilchuk)
Line: BUF -3.5
Total: 43.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Bill Belichick is not afraid to let Mac Jones drop back and throw the ball. The last time these teams met, Jones attempted 32 passes, and has had at least 30 attempts in five of the last six games. But Jones has also thrown five INT’s in the last four games. Given Buffalo’s struggles against the run late in the season, it follows that Jones will be a game manager as New England continues to grind the ball.

The Pats really only have two viable receiving threats in WR Jakobi Meyers, who leads the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards, and TE Hunter Henry who is second on the team with 75 targets and leads New England with nine receiving TD’s on the season. A TD-dependent TE1, Henry is coming off an 86-yard effort, his best game in two years. Look for Henry to play a larger role in the playoffs as the Pats use the short passing game as an extension of the run.

If they do need a big play, Kendrick Bourne is usually the first option. He has five scores on the year, but is averaging just three targets per game in recent weeks. The secondary is the strength of this Buffalo defense, so while Bourne seems to have passed Nelson Agholor in the pecking order, it won’t mean much in this matchup.

BUF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.32
BUF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.25
BUF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.32
BUF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.30

Running Game Thoughts: The Bills defense has been exposed since that Week 11 game against RB Jonathan Taylor and the Colts. Two weeks later, the Pats famously threw just three times and ran on this defense at will. While Buffalo has addressed some of those issues, they are susceptible to the run, and that is where I expect Belichick and company to attack. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he’s going to split that load between Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Both should average about 15 touches, and Brandon Bolden should continue to see third down snaps in more of a receiving role. Even in their Week 16 loss to Buffalo, when they fell behind early, New England continued to run the ball and actually came back to make a game of it.

Harris and Stevenson are high floor-low ceiling guys who could flash, but I wouldn’t rely on that as a first option game plan.

Value Meter:
QB: Mac Jones (low-end)
RB: Damien Harris (mid-range), Rhamondre Stevenson (mid-range), Brandon Bolden (mid-range)
WR: Jakobi Meyers (mid-range)
TE: Hunter Henry (mid-range)
BENCH: WR Nelson Agholor, WR Kendrick Bourne, TE Jonnu Smith

Passing Game Thoughts: As the weather has gotten worse in Buffalo, even the strong-armed Allen has struggled at home. Since the start of December, he has not completed more than 55% of his passes in any game, and has not passed for 250 yards in a game. His best effort was 239 yards last week, and that was against the Jets. He has still been a factor in the red zone though, connecting on six scoring throws and two TD runs in those same four games. He is still one of your top QB options for Wild Card Weekend.

Even in bad weather, Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis continue to see targets, averaging 10 and 7 over the last six weeks, respectively. They will continue to be fantasy starting options this week, despite the Patriots joining the Bills as one of the top passing defenses in the league.

Cole Beasley, once a target monster in the short to intermediate passing game, has seen a drop in production in the second half of the season with the rise of Isaiah McKenzie, who can work from the slot or on the perimeter, and has been more of a factor in the red zone in recent weeks. He could be a sleeper in the mix.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.31
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.14
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.31
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.32

Running Game Thoughts: The Patriots have allowed over 2100 rushing yards this season at a clip of 4.5 yards per carry. RB Devin Singletary is poised to take advantage. The clear work horse in Buffalo, he has averaged 21 total touches over the last five games and has at least three games in that stretch with more than 20. Zack Moss has become the short yardage back, but Singletary continues to see red zone snaps and has a definite role in the passing attack as well. He’s your clear play at RB in this game for either team.

Value Meter:
QB: Josh Allen (high-end)
RB: Devin Singletary (mid-range), Zack Moss (low-end)
WR: Stefon Diggs (high-end), Gabriel Davis (high-end), Cole Beasley (mid-range), Isaiah McKenzie (low-end)
TE: Dawson Knox (mid-range)
BENCH: RB Matt Breida, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Prediction: Patriots 15, Bills 13 ^ Top

Eagles at Buccaneers - (Swanson)
Line: TB -8.0
Total: 45.5

Passing Game Thoughts: The Eagles kick off their playoff run with a difficult road matchup against Tom Brady and the Bucs in Tampa Bay. In a classic battle between a young and inexperienced playoff team taking on the defending Super Bowl champ Bucs, 23-year-old Jalen Hurts takes on a 44-year-old ageless wonder in Tom Brady.

Hurts entered the season as a favorite breakout candidate for fantasy writers. Although he did not turn out to be this year’s Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen of previous seasons, he did finish with at the No.7 ranked QB in fantasy points per game and led all quarterbacks with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Sunday’s contest will be a rematch of a Week 6 tilt in which Hurts posted a solid 25 fantasy points, with two rushing touchdowns and 115 passing yards. On the positive side, Hurts managed to use his legs effectively as a weapon and posted two scores on the ground. On the negative side, he complied just 46% of his passes against Tampa Bay’s secondary while posting his second-lowest yardage total of the year.

It will be interesting to see how the Eagles approach this game. They are a run-heavy offense that finished with the second-most rushing attempts in the league behind the Titans. If head coach Nick Siriani had his way, they would follow their previous games with a run-heavy attack against the Bucs. Unfortunately, the Bucs boast one of the best run defenses in the league and will make that goal difficult to obtain.

Add in the fact that Tom Brady and the offense are getting reinforcements with Leonard Fournette returning from IR and a possible negative game script for running, and you have the likelihood of Hurts needing to throw a ton.

He will lean on rookie DeVonta Smith and his wide receivers for sure, but the player to watch is tight end Dallas Goedert. The Bucs gave up the 15th most points to tight ends this season and can be beaten by that position because of their aggressiveness on play action.

TB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.8
TB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.29
TB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.7
TB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: Boston Scott proved to be a league-winning play in Week 17, with a pair of rushing touchdowns against the Washington Football Team. Scott and Jordan Howard carried the load for injured Miles Sanders (hand), with the former providing two critical rushing scores.

Kenneth Gainwell and Jason Huntley shared carries in the meaningless Week 18 game in which both Scott and Howard sat. If playing DFS, Scott projects to be the better play for two reasons.

First, the Bucs are a stout run defense, and running between the tackles is not easy, and Howard is more likely to be the one to attack the middle of the defense. Second, as the better pass catcher, Scott projects to get more work if the game script does, in fact, go sideways on the Eagles.

Value Meter:
QB1: Jalen Hurts (High-End)
RB2: Boston Scott (Low-End)
RB3: Jordan Howard (High-End)
WR2: DeVonta Smith (Low-End)
WR3: Quez Watkins (Low-End)
TE1: Dallas Goedert (High-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: At age 44, Tom Brady has put together arguably his best season as a pro. He led all quarterbacks in passing yards, completions, and passing touchdowns. One would think that he is in line to win another MVP award, although Aaron Rodgers has a valid case as well.

The Eagles finished the season ranked 20th in points allowed to quarterbacks, but over the past five weeks, they have allowed just six passing touchdowns and 864 yards as they took advantage of an easy late-season slate.

Brady put up a modest 297/2 line when the two teams faced off back in Week 6. It wasn’t his best game by any measure, and he did throw one of his 12 interceptions on the year.

Like the Eagles defense, Brady took advantage of a fairly weak final three games of the season, with monster games against the Jets and the Panthers twice. The Jets nearly pulled off the upset, but Brady came through in the end for both the Bucs fan base and fantasy managers.

An interesting matchup to watch will be Mike Evans outside against Darius Slay. Only the Bills gave up fewer points to wide receivers than the Eagles this season, and Slay provided a pro-bowl performance.

Evans is banged up with leg issues but logged a full practice on Thursday. He will be needed, as the Bucs already lost Chris Godwin to an ACL tear, and Antonio Brown went nuclear two weeks ago against the Jets.

Look for this to be a monster game for Rob Gronkowski. The Eagles are the second-worst defense at stopping tight ends, and Gronk will be relied upon even more than normal with the depleted wide receiving corps.

In DFS, Gronk should be a smash play with close to 100 yards and a score.

PHI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.20
PHI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.9
PHI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.30
PHI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.1

Running Game Thoughts: The team will look to activate starting running back Leonard Fournette from his hamstring injury that forced him to the short-term IR.

The team has not been as efficient running the ball with Fournette out, as evident to the 21 combined rushes for just 62 yards back in Week 17 against a Jets team that was destroyed on the ground by other teams.

The Eagles are a team that can be run on, and the Bucs will look to run the ball early and often with a depleted wide receiving group and the fact that the Eagles are strong against limiting wide receiver production.

If you are in a playoff league, Fournette should be in your lineup if he is active.

The Bucs do have an extensive list of players on the injury report, including Ronald Jones, who is dealing with an ankle injury, and backup WR Cyril Grayson, who was out on Thursday with a hamstring.

Fellow reserve wide receiver Breshad Perriman was limited with a hip. If you are looking for a sleeper DFS play, Scotty Miller could be interesting.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady High-End)
RB1: Leonard Fournette (Low-End)
WR1: Mike Evans (Low-End)
WR3: Breshad Perriman (Low-End)
TE1: Rob Gronkowski (High-End)

Prediction: Tampa Bay 28, Philadelphia 24 ^ Top

49ers at Cowboys - (Ken Ilchuk)
Line: DAL -3.0
Total: 51.0

Passing Game Thoughts: QB Jimmy Garoppolo seems intent to finish this 49ers run strong. Over the last three games, he is averaging well over 70% completion rate and almost 10 yards per attempt, including back-to-back 300-yard efforts. HC Kyle Shanahan seems willing to ride or die with Jimmy G and hasn’t hesitated to put the ball in his QB’s hands in the big moment. That’s a recipe for success for fantasy owners, especially against an improving, but sometimes inconsistent Dallas defense.

Deebo Samuel is the glue, the spark, whatever you want to call him – he’s the guy that makes the offense go. He’s a threat as a runner, as a receiver out of the slot, on the perimeter, on the move, whatever, and Shanahan continues to invent ways to get the ball in his hands. The Niners have been in do-or-die mode for a few weeks now and Deebo has been the go-to guy, averaging almost 15 touches per game. Get him on your roster this week.

Brandon Aiyuk has come alive with over 200 receiving yards over the last two games and a 20-yard average per catch. He’s the big play guy along with TE George Kittle, who has seen a dip in production in recent weeks with his role as a blocker in the run game. But, he continues to be Garoppolo’s security blanket when he needs a play.

DAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.13
DAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.27
DAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.16
DAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.13

Running Game Thoughts: Despite Garoppolo’s strong finish to the season, it has been San Francisco’s commitment to the run that has sparked their late season surge. Elijah Mitchell has run the ball 42 times over the last two games, has at least 20 totes in five straight games, and has posted 100-yard rushing efforts in four of his last eight contests. On volume alone, he gets the nod as one of the top RB1 candidates for Wild Card Weekend.

Value Meter:
QB: Jimmy Garoppolo (low-end)
RB: Elijah Mitchell (high-end), JaMycal Hasty (low-end)
WR: Deebo Samuel (high-end), Brandon Aiyuk (high-end), Jauan Jennings (low-end)
TE: George Kittle (high-end)

Passing Game Thoughts: Is Dak back? It certainly seems that way. He has tossed 12 TD’s in the last three games while averaging over 8.5 yards per attempt. That includes a 330-yard effort and another near-300 yard performance in the season finale. Now, that work came against a bad Washington team, a Cardinals team that limped its’ way to the end of the season, and a Philly defense that was resting most of its’ starters. But if it’s just about getting back his mojo, Prescott is there, and the Cowboys are much more likely to attack the 49ers defense through the air – a unit that is yielding an opposing QB rating of nearly 100.0 on the season.

Dak’s quiver is full and healthy. Amari Cooper, since becoming the squeaky wheel, has seen a significant bump in opportunities and production and seems to be the WR1 in this attack, but CeeDee Lamb is still a big play waiting to happen and could be due for another breakout. Cedrick Wilson’s late season burst will force San Francisco to account for him, which could open things up even more in the passing game. TE Dalton Schultz is also a threat with four touchdowns in his last four games after a midseason swoon.

SF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.22
SF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.23
SF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.14
SF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.26

Running Game Thoughts: Zeke Elliott’s 87 rushing yards last week were a welcome sight, but again, it came against an Eagles team pretty much playing out the string. Despite claims of being back to full health, he just hasn’t looked the part, and Tony Pollard has been the more explosive back, both as a runner and as a receiver.

With that being said, Dallas seems intent on feeding Elliott the ball, particularly in the red zone and near the goal line, so Pollard’s ceiling is limited unless Elliott is hobbled again. It might not be a bad play to tie these guys together on your roster if you have to, but against a 49ers defense allowing less than 4.0 yards per carry in the run game, it’s going to be tough sledding no matter who gets the ball.

Value Meter:
QB: Dak Prescott (mid-range)
RB: Tony Pollard (mid-range), Ezekiel Elliott (mid-range)
WR: Amari Cooper (high-end), CeeDee Lamb (mid-range), Cedrick Wilson (mid-range)
TE: Dalton Schultz (high-end)

Prediction: 49ers 22, Cowboys 17 ^ Top

Steelers @ Chiefs - (Green)
Line: KC -12.5
Total: 45.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Pittsburgh entered play in Week 18 with slim odds of securing a playoff berth... and yet here they are. With their win over Baltimore, coupled with losses from Indy (at Jacksonville!) and Los Angeles, the Steelers claimed the No. 7 seed and a return trip to Kansas City, where they lost 36-10 in Week 16. Ben Roethlisberger passed for 244 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in Baltimore. Those are middling numbers but still represent a major step up from the 159 yards he threw for in KC, most of which came in garbage time in a game that was essentially over at the half.

One interesting development for the Steelers is the potential return of JuJu Smith-Schuster (shoulder), who has been out since Week 5 with a shoulder injury that was supposed to end his season. It’s no sure thing that he’ll play Sunday night, but it’s a piece of encouraging news for an offense that has really struggled. Diontae Johnson (7-51-0) made a surprisingly quick return of his own last Sunday, coming off the COVID IR to lead the club in targets and receptions. Chase Claypool (5-37-1) caught the team’s only touchdown pass, and Pat Freiermuth paced the club with 53 yards on six grabs.

Kansas City ranked 27th against the pass this season, allowing 251.4 yards per game, which was the most among the league’s playoff qualifiers. A chunk of that can still be attributed to their miserable start to be sure, and they had no difficulty in locking down Pittsburgh’s dink-and-dunk approach just three weeks prior. Still, perhaps the return of Freiermuth, who missed that game with a concussion, and maybe even Smith-Schuster will change the equation.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.2
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.13
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.15
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.17

Running Game Thoughts: Najee Harris (elbow) logged just 15 touches in Week 18 and has yet to practice this week due to an elbow injury. The team is holding out hope that he’ll be available as the rookie has been their steadiest contributor on offense. He had 110 total yards against KC in Week 16. If Harris can’t play, Benny Snell (12-22-0) will get the call, which is a major downgrade. The Chiefs sit 21st in run defense at 117.6 yards per game, but their 4.8 YPC allowed was second-worst in the NFL.

Value Meter:
QB2: Ben Roethlisberger
RB1: Najee Harris (inj-elbow)
WR1: Diontae Johnson
WR2: Chase Claypool
TE1: Pat Freiermuth
Bench: JuJu Smith-Schuster (IR-shoulder), Ray-Ray McCloud

Passing Game Thoughts: With a shot at the No. 1 seed still on the table last Saturday, the Chiefs played their starters in a hard-fought win over Denver. Patrick Mahomes connected on 27 of his 44 passes for 270 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs while also scampering for a team-best 54 yards. It’s a reminder that the ultra-athletic Mahomes always holds that running ability in reserve for big spots, and the playoffs qualify as that. Mahomes had little trouble with the Steelers in their earlier meeting, passing for 258 yards and 3 TDs in a game the Chiefs led 30-0 at one point.

The most interesting subplot of that throttling of the Steelers is that Travis Kelce missed the game on the COVID list while Tyreek Hill (heel) managed just two receptions. Hill picked up a heel injury in Week 18 and played sparingly, so that’s a situation that should be closely monitored. Kelce (4-34-1) was quiet last Saturday, but he’s as dangerous as they come, and his presence is another problem for the Steelers, which gave up eight catches and 85 yards to Mark Andrews last weekend.

Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman should have a puncher’s chance to contribute as well; Pringle scored twice against the Steelers in that earlier meeting, and Hardman topped 100 yards in the season finale. Pittsburgh finished ninth in pass defense at 215.1 yards allowed per game, and their ability to get heat on Mahomes may determine whether they have any shot of getting the upset win. The Steelers ranked first in the NFL with 55 sacks, led by T.J. Watt’s 21.5.

PIT FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.21
PIT FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.7
PIT FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.24
PIT FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.23

Running Game Thoughts: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) injured his shoulder versus the Steelers on Dec. 26 and hasn’t played since. His status is up in the air for Sunday, but it certainly seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Minus CEH, the duo of Darrel Williams and Derrick Gore should continue to see most of the work. Williams had 85 total yards against the Steelers in Week 16 with Gore logging 104 of his own. Pittsburgh was the league’s worst run defense in 2021, allowing 146.1 yards per game and 5.0 per carry, though KC averaged a more modest 3.6 YPC against them.

Value Meter:
QB1: Patrick Mahomes
RB2: Darrel Williams
RB3: Derrick Gore
WR1: Tyreek Hill (inj-heel)
Flex: Byron Pringle
Flex: Mecole Hardman
TE1: Travis Kelce
Bench: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (inj-shoulder)

Prediction: Chiefs 38, Steelers 23 ^ Top

Rams at Cardinals - (Caron)
Line: LAR - 4.0
Total: 49.0

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Stafford looked like a potential MVP candidate at one point this season, but the Rams quarterback has certainly struggled down the stretch, at least from a fantasy standpoint. Stafford threw seven interceptions in his final three games and while he wasn’t terrible, he just wasn’t the borderline elite QB that he was earlier in the season. From a positive standpoint, his most recent “big” game came back in Week 14 against the very same Cardinals defense he’ll face here in the first round of the playoffs. Stafford threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns and avoided throwing any interceptions in what was a solid Rams road victory over their division rivals. That was a nice improvement from what Stafford delivered back in Week 4 against Arizona when he threw for 280 yards and just two touchdowns with an interception. Overall, though, Stafford’s numbers have been solid this season and there’s little reason to think that he won’t continue to come through for his fantasy owners during the wild card week.

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp completed one of the greatest receiving seasons of all time and now he gets to face a Cardinals defense that he caught a season-high 13 passes against for 123 yards and a touchdown. While he was held in check back in Week 4, Kupp has been absolutely incredible and he shouldn’t be looked at as anything other than one of the very best fantasy options in the league.

Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson have had their moments but both players are taking such a back seat to Kupp that it’s tough to really be confident in them and it’s very possible that they deliver duds. Both players scored against the Cardinals back in Week 14, but Jefferson hasn’t scored since and Beckham has been held to fewer than 40 yards in four straight games despite scoring a pair of touchdowns during that stretch.

Tight end Tyler Higbee has quietly been the most productive pass catcher in Los Angeles—aside from Kupp—down the stretch. Higbee was disappointing this year, but he has now caught at least five passes in each of his final four games, including a two-touchdown performance in Week 18. Unfortunately, Higbee did not have much success against the Cardinals this season in the one game he played against them. Worse yet, the Cardinals have locked up every tight end they’ve played this season as they gave up the second-fewest fantasy points per game to the position. Higbee just isn’t a great option in this playoff matchup.

ARI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.17
ARI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.20
ARI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.5
ARI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.31

Running Game Thoughts: Cam Akers made his return in Week 18, completing what was an absolutely incredible return from a torn Achilles injury that he suffered before the season started. While he’s back on the field and may even technically be the “starter” in Los Angeles, the Rams showed their hand when they gave five carries to Akers while his backfield-mate Sony Michel continued to operate as the team’s primary ball carrier with 21 attempts. It’s possible that Akers ends up eating into the backfield more this week, but it’s hard to bank on that.

Michel has been a workhorse down the stretch and while he doesn’t do much in the passing game, he’s seeing a massive workload as a ball carrier which has allowed him to deliver some nice fantasy performances. The last time he faced the Cardinals, he was held in check as he ran for just 79 yards on 20 carries and didn’t get into the end zone. Still, a 20-touch game is not out of the question this week as Michel has not yet finished with fewer than 18 carries in a game since he became the primary back for the Rams. That kind of workload alone is enough to make him a strong RB2.

Value Meter:
QB2: Matthew Stafford
RB2: Sony Michel
WR1: Cooper Kupp
WR3: Odell Beckham Jr.
Flex: Cam Akers, Van Jefferson
Bench: Tyler Higbee

Passing Game Thoughts: With DeAndre Hopkins out for the season, the thing that’s been saving Kyler Murray’s fantasy value is his rushing. Murray rushed for 35 or more yards just once (39 yards vs. the Rams) in his first eight games of the season, but reached that mark or more in five of his final six games post-injury. The rushing floor is a big part of the reason that we were drafting Murray as high as we were so it’s been nice to see that, but it sure would be nice if we could see at least one of his receivers start producing some bigger numbers.

Christian Kirk has been the best option for the Cardinals down the stretch as he was targeted nine or more times in three of the team’s final four games. He was fine due to the high volume but we’d expect more from someone who’s seeing a near Hopkins-level target share in this Cardinals offense. Still, Kirk’s usage has to make him a decent WR2 in this contest.

Fellow wide receivers A.J. Green and Antoine Wesley, and even Rondale Moore if he returns, need to remain on fantasy benches. They’re just not seeing enough volume to give us good fantasy value.

Tight end Zach Ertz has remained the Cardinals’ defacto WR2 option since Hopkins’ injury and he looks like he’ll continue to fill that role for the foreseeable future. He’s been targeted at least nine times in each of the Cardinals’ final four games and he’s now caught at least five passes in five straight games. He may not be as exciting as the Kelce/Kittle group at the top, but he’s quietly delivering very good numbers down the stretch and can be trusted as a TE1.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.28
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.9
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.20

Running Game Thoughts: Both Cardinals running backs James Conner and Chase Edmonds have injury designations heading into Monday night’s wildcard round game, but it’s Conner who’s currently looking less likely to play now that he sat out Thursday’s practice. Conner is dealing with a rib injury and it’s hard to know, for certain, that he’ll even be healthy enough to suit up, let alone take the bulk of the backfield touches. Edmonds, meanwhile, has a rib injury of his own but has been able to practice in limited fashion and looks like he’ll at least be in line to play.

If both Cardinals backs are unavailable, the team would likely have to turn to Eno Benjamin. Benjamin hasn’t carried the ball more than 10 times in a game this season but he did see 11 total touches in Week 18 when Edmonds ended up not playing. Benjamin doesn’t have quite the upside that Conner or Edmonds do, but if he ended up being the sole back in Arizona this week then he’d realistically be an option as a low-end RB2.

If we assume that Conner and Edmonds will both be on the field, though, each back is a mid-level RB2 with potentially higher upside depending on your scoring system. If one or the other is out, however, we’ve seen both players be capable of producing low-end RB1 numbers. Either way, fantasy managers will need to pay close attention to the injury reports.

Value Meter:
QB1: Kyler Murray (low end)
RB1: Chase Edmonds (if Conner is inactive)
RB2: Chase Edmonds (if Conner is active), James Conner, Eno Benjamin (if both Edmonds and Conner are inactive)
WR2: Christian Kirk
TE1: Zach Ertz
Bench: Eno Benjamin (if either Edmonds or Conner is active), A.J. Green, Antoine Wesley, Rondale Moore

Prediction: Rams 27, Cardinals 23 ^ Top