For those of you in fantasy leagues that have Super Bowls this week instead of last, I have put together one final "sit 'em start 'em" just for you.
I had a great year in fantasy land. While I was one and done in the league I am commissioner in; my other squad, the Bombay Sapphires, did manage to win it all. The championship is extra special since it was the first year my mom decided to get involved in fantasy football, and we were co-owners of the team. It was very cool getting calls from her about our weekly match-ups and waiver moves. See, fantasy football brings families closer together!
Anyway, here’s my take on week 17:
Colts QB Andrew Luck
Looking for a QB this week to help you win the championship? Well, look no further than Senor Luck. The Colts are still holding out hope they can get a first round bye, so they will do what they can to win the game and then wait and see what happens with the other games. Luck should have no problem putting up at least 250 yards and two touchdowns, like he did when he faced this week's opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, earlier in the season.
Packers WR Jarrett Boykin
Boykin had a rough go with Matt Flynn at quarterback… until the last two games, when he caught 11 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. It doesn’t matter though because Aaron Rodgers is back under center for the Pack in a must-win game for them. That only boosts up Boykin’s fantasy value.
Panthers TE Greg Olsen
Olsen has been one of the most consistent TEs in fantasy this season. He will never be mistaken for Jimmy Graham, but Olsen has caught less than four passes only three times this season and had less than 40 yards on just five occasions. Carolina clinched a playoff spot, but still wants to win the NFC South and the #2 seed, so they will be going all out this week. With WR Steve Smith highly doubtful, look for Olsen to have a big week vs. the Falcons in a very important game.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan
The Panthers are playing for a division title and a first-round bye and their defense has been excellent all season. Carolina has allowed just one QB to throw for multiple TDs in a game this year and it was Drew Brees, who passed for four in Week 14. Ryan is coming off a good game, but the Cats held him to one TD and picked him off three times in Week 9. I just cannot trust Matty Ice in this one.
49ers RB Frank Gore
Boy oh boy, I know it’s tough to bench a stud like Gore, but this week’s matchup against Arizona just isn’t favorable. The Cardinals defense has given up the fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. To me that is all you need to know.
Ravens TE Dennis Pitta
I really thought that the return of Pitta to the Baltimore offense would help their anemic offensive attack, but the tight end has only managed 12 catches for 22 yards and 1 touchdown in 3 games. This week the Ravens take on the Bengals, who have surrendered the third fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends since Week 13. I would look elsewhere for TE production.
Can you believe we are already in week 16? Time flies when you're having fun and the home team is winning ballgames. Things haven't been pretty the last couple of weeks in Seattle and St. Louis, but a win at Carolina secures the Saints with the NFC South division crown and the #2 seed in the NFC postseason.
I'm still not sold on the Panthers offense and see the Saints pulling out the victory. They haven't lost back-to-back games under Sean Payton since 2009 for crying out loud.
PREDICTION: SAINTS 27 - PANTHERS 23
Now here's who I'll be watching on game day:
LT Terron Armstead
What a game to get your first career NFL start at left tackle. Armstead faces a Panthers defense that is 2nd in the league in sacks, with 45, as he's been tabbed to replace Charles Brown. The rookie was the Saints 3rd round draft pick out of Arkansas Pine Bluff and will be counted upon to protect Drew Brees' blindside in a game where the stakes are high.
LB Junior Galette
"The Beard" was kryptonite to "Super Cam" in that Sunday night beat down in the Superdome tallying 3 sacks. He's hungry for a second helping of some Newton, but like the team, Galette has been more effective at home than on the road. Out of his 9 sacks this season just 1 has come on the road. I want to see if Galette will show up big in a game they need his pass rushing ability the most.
K Shayne Graham
It will be very interesting to see how Graham does in his first action of the season. I feel like the fluidity involved between snap, hold and kick has to be difficult to develop some sort of chemistry in just a couple of days. The good news is that Graham has been a pro kicker for 13 years. So, he should be fine getting acclimated to things here. This game just may come down to a last second field goal, so we may get to find out just how clutch Graham can be now.
DE Greg Hardy
Hardy is 2nd on the team in sacks with 8 this season and I'm curious to see how his match-up against the rookie LT Armstead goes. In week 14, Hardy did not take down Brees once and will be licking his chops going up against some fresh meat. If the Saints are forced to provide Armstead with a little more help against Hardy, that could mean the Panthers' sack leader Charles Johnson could end up having a monster day.
RB DeAngelo Williams
After seeing Zac Stacy run all over the Saints defense last week, ANY running back would be on my watch list versus the Black & Gold this week. Williams has averaged 84 yards in his previous 13 games against New Orleans along with 7 touchdowns. He is also a receiving threat out of the backfield.
With teammate Jonathan Stewart sidelined with a knee injury, Williams will get the majority of the workload in the backfield and still has quite the speed burst at age 30.
I slobbered all over Kuechly in my write-up for the last game between these two and just couldn't help it; I had to mention him again. In his 2nd year in the pros he has established himself as one of the top middle linebackers in the NFL. He leads one of the best, if not the best front sevens in the league. Kuechly will have his hands full in this one, as he will likely be given the daunting task of trying to contain Jimmy Graham. Carolina did not stop Graham last time out, as the Saints TE managed 6 catches for 58 yards and 2 scores.
It's championship week in fantasy football land, and I congratulate all of you that have made it to the big game. Bask in the glory and enjoy all the trash talk leading up to this weekend's match-ups.
Here's who I like and dislike in week 16:
Redskins QB Kirk Cousins
The soap opera that is the Washington Redskins continues this week, but at least they face the worst defense in the NFL in the Dallas Cowboys. Kirk Cousins will once
again be the starting QB for Washington, who are resting RG3. Last week, in his first start of the season, Cousins passed for 381 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Not bad at all. Look for much of the same this week, as the Cowboys are giving up a league worst 297 yards per game through the air.
Jaguars RB Jordan Todman
With MJD sitting out this past week, Todman got the start and didn't disappoint. He rushed for 109 yards as well as 44 yards receiving. While MJD hasn't yet been ruled out for week 16, there is no real reason to have him out there with the Jags being eliminated from the playoffs. If in fact Jones Drew does sit, then Todman is a very good start as he showed last week with his 29 touches. He will be the focus of the offense, as Jacksonville will look to use his speed to help generate offense.
Ravens TE Dennis Pitta
After a promising performance in his return from injury two weeks back, Pitta laid down a dud in Detroit, with two grabs for just 24 yards. That doesn't mean you shouldn't trust him this week though. The Patriots give up a lot of fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and Pitta should remain a reliable part of the game-plan now that he's got his legs underneath him.
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer
Although a nice surprise for fantasy owners this season, Palmer should be left on fantasy benches this week. He's been a consistent performer this year, but may face one of the league's top defenses in the Seattle Seahawks. Add to that the fact that Palmer's top target Larry Fitzgerald suffered a concussion last week so the WRs status is up in the air.
Falcons RB Steven Jackson
A terrible season for the Falcons and their offense has included off season signing Steven Jackson. He has failed to break 100 yards rushing in a game this season, but did find the endzone twice in week 15. Don't expect a repeat though since the Falcons' struggling offense will have trouble moving the ball against the 49ers' sixth ranked rush defense.
Saints WR Marques Colston
Despite a nine catch, 125 yard, two touchdown performance against the Panthers in week 14, I just cannot trust Colston to match or top that this time. Look for Carolina's defense to be much more prepared this week, making it highly unlikely that he approaches those lofty numbers again in the fantasy championship game. The Panthers' defense ranks fifth in the league against the pass, and will be fired up for a huge divisional matchup that in their house this time.
Roman Harper returned to practice on a full basis Thursday as the New Orleans Saints get ready to face the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte Sunday.
The Black and Gold are gearing up for a cat fight in Carolina. They can lock up the NFC South and the #2 seed in the playoffs... with a win.
Coach Sean Payton was asked about the Panthers dynamic sack machine duo of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson who have a combined 17 quarterback takedowns this season.
"They have very good bursts and quickness and then when you combine that with power the elite rushers have that edge speed, but they also can convert at the power, then you find yourself setting for speed and then having to deal with the transitional rush", he responded. "When you look at their hurry and sack totals, they come from both of those elements as well as the inside rush. It is different when you have a guy that does one of those two things, but when they do both of them well like these guys do, then it becomes problematic."
The media has really jumped on the Saints ever since their loss in Seattle, saying they can't win away from the Superdome. Having that disappointing defeat in St. Louis really emphasized the point, and Payton was asked if losing those two road contests damaged his team's confidence at all.
"I don't think so. I think there are games where we can point to where we didn't play very well," he said. "I think it is more than anything else; it forces you as coaches, as players to look closely at hey, what can I do to improve how we play when we travel."
And Payton was asked with so much at stake in this game for his team, is it almost like the playoffs have come a bit early?
"Yes I think that atmosphere there will be much like that, a crowd that is really loud and recognizes the significance of the game and I think both teams approaching it in a lot of ways without some of the other distractions that might come up in the postseason. I think it is that important of a game and so I think the players understand that."
The Saints will practice one more time today before flying out to Carolina on Saturday. The weather forecast for game day is currently 72 degrees at Bank of America Stadium with a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms.
Raphael Bush did not practice for the 2nd straight day while Josh Hill and Keyunta Dawson were limited participants once again for the Saints.
I can't remember Saints coach Sean Payton calling an early morning news conference until today. So, I had a feeling something pretty important was going to be announced. The buzz last night was that kicker Garrett Hartley had been cut due to his inconsistency this season and that 13 year vet Shayne Graham was signed to take his place. Payton confirmed that from the jump.
But what followed hit me like a slap in the face. The Saints head coach revealed that rookie Terron Armstead would get the start at left tackle Sunday in place of Charles Brown. Sure, Brown was yanked from the game against the Rams due to his poor play, but giving a 3rd round draft pick his 1st start and action of the season on the road in such a crucial game was a huge shock to me.
"I think Terron has improved during the course of the season, taking scout team reps, and it's time to see what he can do," Payton said. "There were a handful of things that happened in the game the other day that prohibited us from having success. But this is one thing that I think is necessary right now for us."
It will be baptism by fire for the rookie. The Panthers defensive front is vicious and is ranked 2nd in the NFL with 45 sacks. You can bet they will be foaming at the mouth to take down QB Drew Brees early and often in front of their home crowd with a chance to take the division lead away from the Saints.
Armstead has been active for just 4 games this season and played solely on special teams. Now he'll be protecting Brees' blind side in the team's biggest game of the year so far.
Buckle up Who Dat Nation, it sure looks like it's going to be a bumpy ride.
The Saints are coming off a dominating win over division rival Carolina, which made Cam Newton and Co. look like a litter of kittens. This week the Black and Gold are back on the road where they are 3-3 on the year.
While the Saints are clearly a different team away from home, this week their opponent's house has a roof just like the Superdome. St. Louis has given them problems in the past though. There are only two teams in the NFL which Drew Brees has never had a 300 yard passing game against. They are the Saints and the Rams!
With so much still on the line for New Orleans; I expect a determined, focused and experienced squad to get the best of a herd of youthful Rams that are lost and still looking to find their way.
PREDICTION: I like the Black & Gold in this one 27 – 16.
Now here is who I'll be watching to be difference makers in Sunday's tilt:
LT Charles Brown
Brown has done a solid job over the last few weeks of protecting the quarterback against some tough pass rushers in the Seahawks & Panthers, but things don't get any easier this week as he will go toe-to-toe with defensive end Robert Quinn (see below).
The Rams D thrives on pressuring the QB and creating turnovers, and the entire Saints offensive line will be tested. If Brown can neutralize Quinn though, Dr. Drew will have tons of time to operate and perform surgery on a young St. Louis secondary.
RB Pierre Thomas
The Rams defense has allowed a league worst 9.4 yards per play this season on screen passes, so Thomas should have a huge day for the Black & Gold. He is one of the best in the biz at making a catch and being patient, waiting for his blockers to set up lanes to burst through.
Thomas has 64 receptions on 70 targets this year for 441 yards and 3 scores to go along with his 500 yards rushing and 1 TD. I expect him to be the X factor in this game after being contained in his previous 2 outings versus Seattle & Carolina.
S Kenny Vacarro
I gave Vacarro the nickname "The Assassin" in training camp for his for his aggressive, hard hitting style of play, and he hasn't disappointed though his rookie campaign so far.
He has been physical with opposing wide receivers, chucking them as they try and get off the line of scrimmage as well as coming up and providing help against the run. After some grumbling and mumbling from some fans about the Saints first round pick this year, Vaccaro has been playing like the real deal and meshes with defensive Rob Ryan's scheme and attitude perfectly.
DE Robert Quinn
When you look at this guy's numbers; you'll want to know why you haven't heard more about Quinn, and what he's doing this season. The 2011 first round draft pick is just punishing the opposition with 13 sacks to go along with 6 forced fumbles. BRUTAL!
If he starts to abuse Charles Brown, expect the Saints to give their left tackle some help. That may help free up some others to unload on Brees. As a unit, the Rams defense has 38 sacks to go along with 24 takeaways. If Quinn and the rest of the St. Louis D can disrupt what Drew & Krewe want to do on offense, they have legitimate shot of pulling off a stunner.
RB Zac Stacy
Not much love was given to the big bruiser coming out of Vanderbilt, but the Rams scouts saw something since they used a 5ht round draft pick on Stacy this year. With Steven Jackson bolting for Atlanta in free agency a huge void was left in the St Louis rushing attack, but the "Zac Attack" has filled it nicely.
So far Stacy has gained 721 yards this season with 5 touchdowns and average 4.1 yards per carry. He is 5 ft 8 and 224 pounds and would dazzle you with speed, but his compact, bulky frame makes him difficult to tackle. The Rams lean on him big time to provide their offensive punch since they've lost starting QB Sam Bradford for the season with a torn ACL.
TE Jared Cook
Losing QB Sam Bradford along with inconsistency amongst the receiving core has been the reason St. Louis's passing attack has been less than stellar. They are 26th out of 32 teams in the NFL passing the football, and Cook is their top receiver.
Back-up turned starter Kellen Clemens relies on his tight end as Cook is averaging 59.3 yards per game over these last three contests and has one touchdown. The Saints present a huge challenge though as they are just giving up 199 passing yards per game and rank eighth in the league against the tight end position, giving up just 46.1 yards per game to them.
Well, fantasy football fans I hope you've made it this far because the playoffs have officially started in EVERY league. Just as every inch matters to the pros, every point is vital to us fantasy owners as it could mean the difference between moving on to the championship game next week or wallowing in sorrow on how you coulda, shoulda, woulda won only if...
Here is my advice for week 15...good luck:
Jets RB Chris Ivory
Despite moving ahead of Bilal Powell on the Jets' depth chart, Ivory has struggled to put up meaningful fantasy numbers. Over the last three games, he has averaged only 60 yards per game, with his lone touchdown coming last week. Ivory and the Jets' running game will face their biggest test of the season this week, as the Panthers boast the league's best run defense and allow just under 80 yards per game on the ground. Add to that that the fact that the Saints humiliated Carolina's D in prime time last week. So, you can bet your bottom dollar they'll be looking to take out some frustrations on the Jets.
Patriots WR Danny Amendola
Boy has this guy been a fantasy disappointment this season. Amendola has been hindered by nagging injuries and poor chemistry with Tom Brady, leading to fantasy owners being frustrated with how high they drafted him. Amendola should be on the field more than usual this week, since TE Rob Gronkowski is done for the season. Even with added playing time, he cannot be trusted as anything more than your 3rd WR this week against the Dolphins.
Buccaneers TE Tim Wright
Wright has been a nice surprise for the Bucs this season, but going up against the league's best defense against tight ends this week, it could end in disaster for fantasy owners. The 49ers have allowed the fewest points to fantasy tight ends this year, a stat that should leave owners scouring the waiver wire for a fill in this week. As if you needed any more motivation, Wright has caught just four passes over the last two weeks for a combined 38 yards.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan
In need of a quarterback this week and still have Ryan stashed on your bench? Well, it might be time to dust this dirty bird off and give him a start. While Ryan is definitely having a down year, that is more to do with his receivers missing time with injuries. That being said, he has picked up his game over the past four weeks, averaging 265 yards passing per game. This week, he faces the Redskins, and if you watched Washington play last week, you know they have given up on the season and won't be putting up much of a fight. Matty Ice just may be the guy to help you get to your Super Bowl, if you are in a need of a signal caller.
Bills RB Fred Jackson
Despite CJ Spiller getting all the fanfare to start the season, it's been Jackson who has been the better fantasy running back this season, and that includes all the games they split carries. No matter how hard Buffalo tries to marginalize him and make Spiller the go-to guy, Jackson just won't go away. He leads the Bills with a career high seven total touchdowns, and he is a big factor catching passes out of the backfield. Jackson has 41 receptions already. This week he has a great match up vs. Jacksonville and should have no problem scoring big for your team.
Ravens TE Dennis Pitta
When Baltimore traded receiver Anquan Boldin in the off season, the expectation was that Pitta would help lessen the blow and be the new red zone target. That all ended when the tight end was injured in the preseason and missed the first 12 games of the season. Well, he finally returned to action last week, and it was obvious after one game how much he helps the Ravens offense. Against the Vikings, he caught six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. This week the defending Super Bowl champs & Pitta have a good match up vs. the Lions on Monday night.
It's the final countdown! We're in the 4th quarter of the NFL season as just 4 games remain. The 9-3 Saints have a huge NFC South contest this Sunday when they host the 9-3 Panthers.
The Panthers are riding an 8 game win streak and have their sights set on snatching the top spot in the division away from the Black and Gold.
The Panthers allows just 13 points per contest, which ranks #1 in the NFL. They are also 2nd in sacks and 2nd in interceptions.
I do expect the Saints to bounce back after getting smoked by Seattle on Monday night, but it ‘aint gonna be easy.
PREDICTION: Saints 23 - Panthers 20
Here are the guys I'll be looking for to make a big play or two and be a difference makers in this one:
RB Darren Sproles
What happened to Sproles over the last 2 weeks? The Niners and Seahawks were able to contain this versatile, hard to tackle back; and the offense really suffered. To me he is just as important to get involved in the game as is Jimmy Graham.
Hopefully the knee injury that kept him out of the week 12 matchup against Atlanta still isn't a lingering issue. Brees and Sproles could do some damage against this aggressive Panthers defensive front.
WR Kenny Stills
The rookie was on my list last week and remains on it for this matchup. I would dial up the deep homerun ball to Stills on the very first play of the game to remind Carolina whose house they are in and that the number one spot in the division isn't for the taking.
Stills leads the NFL in yards per catch, with 20.6 a reception, and can get the best of the Panthers DBs. The only question: Will Brees have enough time to deliver the ball?
S Kenny Vaccaro
If someone is going to lay a remember me hit on Cam Netwon, it's this guy. Vaccaro forced Marshawn Lynch to fumble the ball on Monday night, but unfortunately the Saints could not recover. It will take a force as fearsome as his to drive home the point against Newton.
When the big mobile QB takes off and scrambles, Vaccaro needs to finish the play with a hard tackle to make him think twice about doing it again.
QB Cam Netwon
You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout; I'm telling you why: Super Cam is coming to town. Yeah, he's a bit arrogant, can be a pouty crybaby at times, but when he's locked in; this kid is a stud. The latter has been the case more often than not this year.
What I've really been impressed with is the fact that he really doesn't have great weapons around him, but he is still getting the job done. If the Saints can knock him off his game, the rest of the team will crumble.
DE Charles Johnson
Well, well, well, look who's coming back this week. Johnson missed the last 2 games with a strained right knee but has taken part in practice this week, and baring a setback, he will be on the field for this game.
Not good news for the Saints O-line, and that means even worse news for Drew Brees. The league's top unit gets its best player back. Johnson has 8.5 sacks on the year and will be anxious to add to that total on the Sunday night stage.
LB Luke Kuechly
This sophomore is another young Panthers superstar and will be a thorn in the Saints side for years and years to come. All you need to know about this Cat is that he is basically a young Brian Urlacher.
Kuechly is a tackling machine and leads the team with 102. The 2nd year LB out of Boston College also has 3 INTs this season to go along with 6 passes defended. He just seems to be everywhere on the field. Keuchly is the guy you hate to play against, but you wish he was on your team.
For many leagues, the fantasy football postseason begins this week. No room for error now whatsoever!
If you have any Saints on your team not named Brees or Graham...SIT EM! The Panthers stingy defense is only allowing 13 points per game (good for #1 in the NFL) and even though this game is in the Superdome, don't expect offensive fireworks from Drew & Kewe.
Here's my take on week 14:
Colts QB Andrew Luck
Luck hasn't been so lucky this season. The Colts have been plagued by injuries to his receiving targets, and the offensive line has not been able to protect him from opposing defenses. He has been taking a beating, bringing his fantasy numbers down to a disappointing level for owners who were predicting a big year. It does not get any easier this week. The Colts take on the league's eighth best pass defense in the Cincinnati Bengals.
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews
It has been a mediocre season for Mathews, mixing a few big games in with a bunch of so-so outings. He faces a tough matchup this week against the Giants and their ninth ranked rush defense. Mathews should see around 15 touches this week, but will that be enough to make him starter for you? I think not, look elsewhere.
Panthers WR Steve Smith
Yes, he has historically been a Saints killer, but his overall production has really dropped off this season. Don't expect that to change Sunday night in the Superdome since the Black and Gold defense is giving up the 5th fewest fantasy points to wide receivers at home. Smith is at best a flex play if you are desperate.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco
Try to forget for a moment how this season has gone for the Super Bowl MVP. Instead, let's focus on the matchup. Baltimore hosts the Minnesota Vikings. They're not just awful against the pass, they've allowed the most passing TDs and the fourth-most passing yards in the NFL. Only two QBs have failed to put up big fantasy numbers against the Vikes: Eli Manning back when the GMen were at their worst and Matt Flynn's recent performance with the Packers. You could do a lot worse if you are in need of a signal caller.
Dolphins RB Lamar Miller
I feel like everyone except the Dolphins knew they should have been using Miller more often this season. For some reason, Miami's coaching staff had a man crush on Daniel Thomas and refused to hand over the reins. Well, nothing like an injury to change all that, and force the coaches' hands. Last week in the first game with Thomas out, the Fins handed the ball off to Miller a career 22 times. Unfortunately it only went for 72 yards, but it should be noted that he did this against the best rush defense in the league, the NY Jets. With Thomas done for the season, the Dolphins should continue to feed Miller the rock.
Titans WR Kendall Wright
This guy has definitely flown under the radar this season. Barely anyone talks about him, but over the first 12 games Wright has already caught 71 passes for 840 yards. The problem I guess is that he has only scored two touchdowns. Get him in your lineup this week as he faces a Denver Broncos defense giving up 284 yards per game through the air.