Is it just me, or does it seem like the NFL schedulers have been back-loading divisional matchups more and more each year? For example, let’s take a look at last year’s Super Bowl contenders, the Patriots and Falcons. Both of those teams have five divisional games in the final six weeks of their seasons.
Not only is that insane on the most basic level, but it makes the fantasy playoffs that much more volatile. Divisional games are a special breed, due to the familiarity shared by the participants and the rampant emotions that seem to seep through more frequently in these contests. Tom Brady almost always lights up the Bills, but nearly every trip down to Miami ends in disaster.
Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, only in his second year as a pro, has already created a pattern of making big plays against his hometown New Orleans Saints. The former case, of Tom Brady, might be evident to some particularly vigilant neutral fans, but the latter?
Unless you followed the Falcons or Saints, it would likely be off your radar. These nuances can make or break a fantasy playoff run, and the NFL has made it so that every round of the playoffs will feature these problems.
Ben Roethlisberger (PIT): ECR – 3 / Finished – QB12 / WIN
Samaje Perine (WAS): ECR – 18 / Finished – RB30 / WIN
A.J. Green (CIN): ECR – 7 / Finished – WR47-T / WIN
Zach Ertz (PHI): ECR – 4 / Finished – TE6 / LOSS
Joe Flacco (BAL): ECR – 22 / Finished – QB8 / WIN
Tarik Cohen (CHI): ECR – 45 / Finished – RB57 / LOSS
Chris Hogan (NE): ECR – 34 / Finished – DNP / NO CONTEST
Ricky Seals-Jones (ARI) ECR – 17 / Finished – TE35-T / LOSS
Nothing to complain about on my end. Tight ends are a crapshoot, so there’s no use getting too upset either way.
Tarik Cohen was always going to be one play away from giving me a win, and he never made the play. Chris Hogan was a surprise, to say the least; most figured he’d only be getting healthier once he saw the field for the first time, and there was no news of a setback. Ben Roethlisberger came very, very close to giving me a loss, but that subject is worn out by now.
Best of luck to anyone still in it, now let’s dig in.
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Overvalued: Nick Foles (PHI): vs. OAK; ECR – QB11
Nick Foles has proven to be fools’ gold in the past for the Eagles, and this time might not be so different. He had his way last week against the Giants, but Oakland should be a different story. For starters, the Raiders probably won’t have that divisional motivation that the Giants were playing with, and are instead a west coast team traveling east for what the players realize is likely the nail in the coffin for a lost season.
In other words, the Raiders won’t be able to hang with the Eagles quite like the Giants did, which should mean Foles isn’t throwing quite as much. Oakland’s pass defense has also been improving steadily throughout the season, and the last time an opposing quarterback scored more than 16 fantasy points was Week 11, and that QB was Tom Brady.
Is he a great fill-in option for Aaron Rodgers owners? Absolutely. Should he be ranked two spots ahead of Jared Goff? Absolutely not.
Undervalued: Joe Flacco (BAL): vs. IND; ECR – QB 17
I’m doubling down on Flacco, who continues to be slept on despite being more than serviceable in the home stretch. He was the benefactor of a few unusual designed runs at the goal line last week, which is not something to count on, but he also gets to play the Colts, who have been one of the most consistently generous defenses to fantasy quarterbacks.
They’re currently the eighth-most favorable QB matchup, and that’s after getting to play against Nathan Peterman and Brock Osweiler the past two weeks. Baltimore is in the playoff hunt, and the Ravens have every reason to leave it all on the field against a vulnerable Indianapolis team.
Overvalued: Leonard Fournette (JAC): @ SF; ECR – RB10
Injuries have been the story of an otherwise stellar rookie campaign for Fournette, and his production in the wake of returning from his ailments has left something to be desired. San Fran’s run defense has turned a corner since the team’s Week 11 bye, as no running back has rushed for even 60 yards in the four games following.
As far as the position goes, nobody is quite as boom-or-bust as Leonard Fournette, despite the fact that he tends to get plenty of carries regardless of the result. He’s obviously too talented to bench if you’ve survived his duds thus far to make it to the final round of the playoffs, but he hasn’t played in a way that’s deserving of his current RB1 ranking.
Undervalued: Duke Johnson Jr. (CLE): @ CHI; ECR – RB35
Things have opened up for Duke Johnson Jr. since the Browns got both Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman back. He’s obviously been touchdown-dependent, which isn’t ideal for a player on such a lousy offense, but there’s also no denying that he’s currently the hot hand in Cleveland.
He had almost twice as many snaps (43) as Isaiah Crowell (22) last week, and the Browns held the lead in that game until the third quarter was nearly over, so his presence wasn’t just a product of game flow. This week may very well be the Browns’ last chance to avoid the imperfect season, and they’ll need Johnson to be at his best for what is essentially the team’s Super Bowl.
Overvalued: Keenan Allen (LAC): @ NYJ; ECR – WR3
A few red flags are surrounding this game. First of all, Allen didn’t even finish last week’s contest and was carted off of the field. Somehow he’s not even on the injury report anymore, but it’s at least worth wondering if he and/or the team are forcing the issue based on the team’s current desperation in the standings.
Second, the Chargers are a lot like the Raiders this week in that they’re traveling across the country after a crushing loss. Now, none of this is enough to take Allen out of the conversation as a top 15 receiver this week, but it’s something else to expect him to land in the top three based on what he and that team are going through.
Undervalued: T.Y. Hilton (IND): @ BAL; ECR – WR36
Uh oh: the Ravens allow the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts. T.Y. Hilton has been super inconsistent this year. Better bench him, right? Maybe not.
Hilton has been stymied by some brutally difficult matchups in the past three weeks, and the Ravens will be his easiest test in at least a month. Top receivers have been lighting up the Ravens lately, with Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown each going for over 100 yards receiving in three of the four games coming after the Ravens’ bye. That fourth game featured Marvin Jones “only” reaching 90 yards receiving.
Baltimore will be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is suspended and on injured reserve (ouch). They did shut down the Browns, but in addition to that being “just the Browns,” that game was a slugfest in which the Browns played conservatively with a lead for most of the contest. Indianapolis’ defense isn’t half of what Cleveland’s is, which should result in plenty of passing attempts and more volume for Hilton.
Overvalued: Jimmy Graham (SEA): @ DAL; ECR – TE7
Graham has been masking his mediocre play with touchdowns all season. He’s more likely than not going to finish the year with under 600 yards receiving, which would be his worst since his rookie season with the Saints. Even in 2015, which saw him start slow with a new team and finish tragically with a torn patellar tendon,
Graham had 605 yards receiving. And up until last week’s embarrassment at the hand of the Rams, Russell Wilson was in the MVP conversation.
But again, nine touchdowns in 15 games will go a long way with fantasy players. The Cowboys have a weak secondary but one of the league’s better linebackers (in coverage and in general) with Sean Lee, which points to yet another game where Wilson will be looking primarily at his receivers.
Undervalued: Cameron Brate (TB): @ CAR; ECR – TE14
O.J. Howard is out, and the impact of his absence can be spun either way. On one hand, Howard wasn’t targeted much – 2.8 targets per game compared to Brate’s 4.9 – so Brate shouldn’t see that much of a bump. On the other hand, Howard out-snapped Brate by a significant margin: 43.4 snaps per game to Brate’s 35.6.
If the Bucs want to have at least one tight end on the field for most of their plays, then Brate will, in fact, see his usage go up. That’s because if he’s on the field, he’s much better off running routes than he is blocking, which is what Howard did most of the time. If he were a borderline startable tight end when only being on the field 53% of the time, then it would stand to reason that Brate should slide into the top 10 at the very least if he’s going to have more opportunities.
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Shane McCormack is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Shane, check out his archive and follow him @ShaneMcCormack_.