Division Weekend Start Them-Sit Them
By Steve Schwarz, Fantasy Sports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As we head into the division round of the NFL playoffs, the names are well known to every fantasy owner. But the defenses are also much better, thereby making the decision to start or sit harder and harder.
This weekend, you will find a few must-start performers from the regular season aren't on the list, or get lukewarm recommendations, but that's to be expected at this point of the NFL playoff season.
Baltimore at Denver
Start - Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Justin Tucker
Start - Peyton Manning, Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Matt Prater
Comments - The Denver run defense is the best of the eight remaining teams in the playoffs. When combined with how well backup Bernard Pierce has played down the stretch, it's only a halfhearted recommendation for Rice. We slot Rice as the seventh-best back available this weekend. On the other side of the ball, Moreno has been solid as a replacement for Willis McGahee and getting almost 22 carries a game over the last six. He'll face a defense that is yielding 122.8 ypg on the ground. The Broncos split their tight end work between Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme and it's been a while since either put up fantasy-worthy numbers.
Green Bay at San Francisco
Start - Aaron Rodgers, DuJuan Harris, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Mason Crosby
Start - Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree
Comments - The Packers have changed running backs as often as any team in the league and the latest "hot hand" is Harris, who combined for 100 yards and a touchdown last week versus Minnesota. The other options, Ryan Grant (seven carries, seven yards) and Alex Green (zero carries), aren't fantasy worthy. As for their passing game, Green Bay has four quality pass receivers and any of the four can have a big game. We tend to think Jordy Nelson (knee, ankle) will not get a full workload, so favor the other three options against the 49ers. Since Kaepernick took controls of the offense in Week 11, Vernon Davis has been invisible. Even backup Delanie Walker has been more productive, though neither is fantasy worthy. Meanwhile, Crabtree has 538 yards and four touchdowns in his last five games, putting him right up their with the best receivers this weekend despite the fact that Kaepernick is only averaging 229.7 passing yards per game as a starter.
Seattle at Atlanta
Start - Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Ryan Longwell
Start - Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Matt Bryant
Comments - Wilson has used his arm and legs to overcome low passing yardage totals and still be a viable fantasy option. The Falcons have the worst run defense of the remaining eight teams and Lynch be in full "beast mode." He should lead all fantasy running backs in productivity this weekend. The Seahawks receivers are all limited by Wilson's passing totals, but at least Rice and Tate are touchdown makers with seven each. Over the final eight games, Turner failed to crack the 50-yard mark in six of them, but he managed to satisfy most fantasy owners because he scored six touchdowns over that same span. Still, the low rushing totals makes him a high-risk selection. Gonzalez hasn't done much recently, either, but he's a favorite Ryan target in the red zone. Speaking of Ryan, there is good news and bad concerning his start this weekend. The good news is that he rarely loses at home, where he is 7-1 this season and 33-5 for his career. On the other hand, despite the winning record in the Georgia Dome, he was a much better quarterback on the road in 2012. In the eight regular-season home games this season, he threw 11 touchdown passes versus nine interceptions with just an 86.2 QB Rating. Beware of selecting him too high.
Houston at New England
Start - Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Shayne Graham
Start - Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Stephen Gostkowski
Comments - These teams already met once this season and it didn't work out well for the visiting Texans, who were blown out, 42-14. Houston will have to be much better on the ground behind Foster if it wants to control the tempo, which is a must if the Texans are going to be competitive this time around. The Patriots ranked No. 1 in scoring (34.8 ppg) and yards from scrimmage per game (427.8) and they were without their most potent weapon, Gronkowski, for a major portion of the season. Ridley had some late-season fumbling problems which allowed Woodhead to be a viable fantasy option down the stretch and that should continue as coach Bill Belichick usually goes with his surest-handed back in playoff situations (think Kevin Faulk over years past).
01/11 11:37:53 ET