OK, let’s take a minimalist approach to this game. Is there any Eagle you wouldn’t play?
The short answer? No. Any Eagle on my fantasy roster is a candidate for a start (aside from the tight ends, who still are week-to-week guys).
The Eagle offense moves the ball every week. Despite a slow start against the Lions in a blizzard last week, Philadelphia was able to make some very effective halftime adjustments for which the Lions had no answer whatsoever. What Chip Kelly is doing isn’t a gimmick, nor is it completely revolutionary. But what it is, is incredibly effective. Kelly has confidence in his skill players (the Eagles get their plays off quicker than any team in the NFL), and he understands how to put them in position to succeed. There’s a reason
Take a look at McCoy, who destroyed the Lions’ elite run defense last Sunday in the snow. At halftime, Kelly switched the Eagles to a more power-based blocking scheme, double-teaming both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the interior of the defensive line. It’s not what the Eagles, a predominantly zone-blocking team, have been doing all year. But the Eagles should have the chance to go back to what works this week, as the Vikings have had problems with teams that mix up inside and outside zone runs, which are Kelly’s specialties. Defensively, the Viking run defense has improved since inserting Audie Cole, a player with a nice story, at middle linebacker. Cole has blown past Erin Henderson on the depth chart, and he gives the Vikings a little bit more stability behind defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Letroy Guion. But the Vikings have still given up 117.6 yards per game on the ground to running backs over the last five weeks, eighth-most in the league, which should mean McCoy is ready to feast.
But the passing game is where the Eagles could really make a splash. The Vikings will be majorly hurt this week if corner Xavier Rhodes, an improving rookie, can’t play with an ankle injury. Rhodes has developed into their top cover guy with Josh Robinson (chest) out, and without him the Vikings will have absolutely no answer for the Eagles’ big-play guys, DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. Even getting safety Harrison Smith off of IR this week shouldn’t be enough to save the Vikings.
How legit a handcuff for Adrian Peterson is Toby Gerhart?
Completely legitimate. Since Gerhart entered the league in 2010, Peterson has missed five games (one in 2010 and four in 2011). In those games, Gerhart averages 15.2 fantasy points per game in a PPR league. For context, that would rank him #13 among running backs for the 2013 season, if he averaged that line over a full season. He’s not in the same galaxy as Peterson when it comes to talent, but Gerhart is big, runs hard, and can catch passes, which makes him an ideal fill-in.
Of course, if both Peterson (foot) and Gerhart (hamstring) are out this week, then all bets are off. Matt Asiata is a talented player, but he has a grand total of 11 yards from scrimmage in his career and hasn’t touched the ball this year. So if Peterson doesn’t go, Gerhart is viable, but Asiata is a complete shot in the dark.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Do I dare consider a streaming quarterback in a fantasy playoff week?
You can absolutely consider going with a streaming option this week. Heck, it’s been working for a while now, and if you were riding to the playoffs on the shoulders of Josh McCown, chances are you’re reading this right now. Unfortunately, McCown is now back to the bench, as his excellent play wasn’t enough to stop Marc Trestman from going back to the healthy Jay Cutler.
So with McCown benched, who are some other streaming quarterback options for this week?
Jay Cutler, Bears – Well, why not? It’s entirely possible Cutler was dropped given McCown’s monster run, and few quarterbacks in the NFL have the weapons that the Bears do. The Browns do have corner Joe Haden, but he can only defend one person.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins – Tannehill was a viable streaming option last week against the Steelers’ sinking defense, and he came through by completing 20/33 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns (with a pick). He also added two runs for 56 yards, an underrated part of his game (he has 36 rushes for 220 yards and a score this year). Over the last five weeks, Tannehill is now tied for #7 among quarterbacks with 23.3 FPG, and he’s got a couple decent matchups with the Patriots and Bills the next two weeks.
Joe Flacco, Ravens – Flacco had a strong fantasy performance last week now that he’s got Dennis Pitta back, and he’s got another good matchup against the Lions this week, so long as the Ravens offensive line can hold Ndamukong Suh and company at bay.
Jason Campbell, Browns – WHAT?! Seriously? I’ve had trouble shaking my biases against Campbell from his time with Washington, but he’s played better football under Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner now than he ever has before. And he does have that Gordon guy to throw to.
Who are some typical fantasy studs with tough matchups this week?
First, a disclaimer: I want to make sure that acknowledging a player has a tough matchup doesn’t mean you bench him for a scrub and hope he hits. Take my advice in the video from above, for example. If you watch, you can imagine me eating my own foot after the Jacob Tamme recommendation (where the hell did Andre Caldwell come from?). Anyway, here we go…
Tom Brady, Patriots – Brady just lost Rob Gronkowski for the year and now he’s going up against a Dolphins defense against which he put up just 116 yards passing with a touchdown and a pick earlier in the season. Brady’s been playing great football overall, but the Dolphins are scrapping for a playoff spot at home.
Frank Gore, 49ers – Gore’s been quieting down a little bit of late, and the Bucs have one of the NFL’s more underrated run defenses, holding the Bills to miniscule production last week.
Alshon Jeffery, Bears – Jeffery’s reached the point where he’s been so unbelievably dominant and productive that I’m never going to sit him, but it’s worth pointing out that he’s likely to see the most snaps against Browns top corner Joe Haden this week, given that teammate Brandon Marshall spends a lot of his time running routes in the slot.
We know what happened last week. What are some games in which weather could be a factor this week?
As of now, it doesn’t look like many games will have snow. But then again, check out last week. This column is published on Fridays, and I don’t think that I even mentioned snow once for the Eagles-Lions preview. We might not know, for sure, which games have even a chance of inclement weather until Sunday. But here are the games in cold-weather cities that might have a chance at bad weather.
Bears at Browns – As of Friday, there’s a chance of snow with temperatures near freezing. Keep an eye out if you have any of the three elite wide receivers playing in this game.
Seahawks at Giants – The Giants’ passing game is atrocious anyway, but you may want to watch out for Russell Wilson.
Bengals and Steelers – Elite fantasy receivers A.J. Green and Antonio Brown are playing in a game where, as of Friday, snow was deemed possible with temperatures below freezing.
INJURIES TO WATCH
Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, Vikings – I mentioned these injuries above, so you know what the deal is. UPDATE: Both players have been declared questionable by head coach Leslie Frazier.
John Carlson, Vikings – Carlson, the Vikings’ replacement for Kyle Rudolph (on IR with a foot injury) has not yet passed NFL concussion protocol and is questionable to play this week. UPDATE: He has been ruled out by head coach Leslie Frazier.
Reggie Bush, Lions – Bush (calf) is questionable. Playing him this week is extremely risky, as he plays on Monday night and you may be stuck if you have him in your lineup and don’t have Joique Bell to back him up.
Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler (ankle) has been cleared to play and will start this week, despite the play of Josh McCown.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers (collarbone) is closer to playing this week than he has been in over a month, but the Packers are still planning on having Matt Flynn as their starter this week. UPDATE: Rodgers has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Eddie Lacy, Packers – Lacy (ankle) is considered questionable to play this week. If he can’t go, James Starks will start.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – MJD (hamstring) doesn’t look likely to play this week, making Jordan Todman an interesting reach if you need one.
Jordan Reed, Redskins – One report this week suggests Reed (concussion) will be shut down for the remainder of the season. That’s not difficult to believe, but the team has yet to officially confirm it.
Andre Ellington, Cardinals – Ellington (knee) is fighting through pain, but he did score last week.
Cecil Shorts, Jaguars – Shorts (groin) has been dealing with a nagging injury for weeks. If it finally keeps him out, Ace Sanders could see even more targets, while Mike Brown potentially has to deal with top corner Stephon Gilmore on the perimeter.
Willis McGahee, Browns – McGahee (concussion) is questionable this week. It’s bigger news than it typically would be because the Browns are going against the Bears’ atrocious run defense. None of the other backs (Chris Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whittaker) are particularly reliable.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Stewart (knee) is unlikely to play this week, making DeAngelo Williams more appealing.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals – Green-Ellis (illness) has missed practice this week. Both he and Gio Bernard have been great recently.
Tavon Austin, Rams – Austin (ankle) has missed practice time this week and is questionable to play.
Garrett Graham, Texans – Graham (hamstring) is considered questionable to play this week. He’s sucked up targets recently, so this would be a big loss for Houston.
Zach Miller, Seahawks – Miller (ribs) is considered questionable to play this week.
QB: Russell Wilson, Seahawks – Wilson was on an absolute tear before his modest showing against the 49ers last week. His game in Week 14 was his first with fewer than two touchdown passes since Week 6. Expect him to get back on track against the Giants this week.
RB: Alfred Morris, Redskins – While I’m not entirely confident that Kirk Cousins is going to be a great fantasy option this week, I do think that Washington needs to get back to shoving the ball down its opponent’s throat. In Cousins’ lone start last year, Morris had 27 carries and 2 TDs.
WR: Roddy White, Falcons – For the first time all year, I’m advocating this. Finally looking healthy, Roddy caught eight of his 10 targets last week and goes up against the Redskins’ awful defense this week.
TE: Dennis Pitta, Ravens – After one game, I’m already buying in. Pitta had a strong game last week despite playing fewer than half of the Ravens’ offensive snaps. As a great possession receiver, he offers something Joe Flacco has lacked all year.
QB: Kirk Cousins, Redskins – I support sitting Robert Griffin III because it’s clear that he’s not seeing the field very well at this point. But the Redskins are such a terrible mess that it’s hard to endorse Cousins as a legitimate fantasy option this week.
RB: Reggie Bush, Lions – With Bush dealing with the calf injury he aggravated in warmups against the Eagles last week, it is not prudent to rely on him for fantasy this week, given that he plays on Monday night. Rolling with Bush is more defensible if you have Joique Bell to handcuff him, but if not, we absolutely would not take the gamble on him.
WR: Victor Cruz, Giants – I give up. The Giants have had absolutely no positive results in great matchups in recent weeks, so there’s no reason to anticipate that they’ll have a good run against the Seahawks this week.
TE: Jared Cook, Rams – Cook nearly had a long touchdown last week against the Cardinals, but Kellen Clemens underthrew him. The bottom line suggests Cook didn’t come through in a great matchup, and this week he has a much tougher one against the Rams.