Thrilling, earth-shattering, befuddling, and at times sloppy and boring, but nonetheless unbelievably awesome, 2016’s NFL wild-card games provided numerous memorable moments. However, half of the games proved to be largely disappointing from a fantasy standpoint.
Only the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs managed to crack 30 points, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals totaled 34 points and the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings a mere 19 points, even though the endings of both games were quite exciting. Only one quarterback passed for more than 300 yards (Kirk Cousins) and no running back rushed for more than 99 yards (Alfred Blue), while tight ends Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed lived up to the hype and posted 100-yard games, though only one advanced.
And based off the teams currently left in the postseason ahead of Saturday and Sunday’s Divisional Round, DraftKings and FanDuel owners in weekly leagues may find more of the same results.
All of the eight teams left were among the top 10 best in the league this season. According to ESPN, all eight were ranked in the top 10 in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), seven of the eight were top 10 against the run, five were ranked no lower than seventh in turnovers forced, and five were among the league leaders against the pass.
Essentially, we could be in for another captivating, albeit low-scoring, group of affairs this week, making fantasy selections in weekly leagues that much tougher. But that’s where our rankings can be helpful.
On top of our weekly rankings for the best fantasy players at each position, we’re also including the best combinations for owners to employ and hopefully win some cash. Typically there are five players listed at each position but we’ve cut that back to four due to the smaller player pool, so here’s the full rankings for the NFL’s Divisional Round.
1.Carson Palmer, Cardinals
2.Aaron Rodgers, Packers
3.Tom Brady, Patriots
4.Cam Newton, Panthers
Bonus: Peyton Manning, Broncos
Palmer’s already lit up Green Bay’s No. 6 secondary for 265 yards and two touchdowns, and the Packers did just allow more than 300 yards to Cousins. Granted, Washington was buried and had to pass more, but they also don’t have Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd. Rodgers has returned to form and he’s a reliable option that probably won’t be too expensive. Brady’s potential lies in how healthy Julian Edelman is and if New England can generate the run against K.C.’s No. 8 rushing defense. Newton’s here over Wilson not because of his play in the regular season but because of Wilson’s struggles against an inspired but statistically average Minnesota D. Manning’s the wild card since he technically has the best matchup with Pittsburgh allowing 18.68 points per week to opposing QBs during the regular season.
1.David Johnson, Cardinals
2.Ronnie Hillman, Broncos
3.Brandon Bolden, Patriots
4.Spencer Ware, Chiefs
It’s a very difficult week to be a running back. Johnson stands out since he’ll face a Packers D that ranked No. 21 against the run and has the worst fantasy rushing D left in the playoffs with 16.88 surrendered per game. Hillman gets the Steelers and their No. 2 fantasy rushing D, so maybe go with Bolden or Ware in a Chiefs vs. Patriots game that should be decided on the ground. Bolden may lose carries to Steven Jackson, but may get the call in the red zone and in PPR leagues he’s definitely the better choice.
1.Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
2.Antonio Brown, Steelers
3.Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
4.Ted Ginn Jr., Panthers
Bonus: Julian Edelman, Patriots
If Palmer has a good game it’ll be because of Fitzgerald burning the Packers secondary. The veteran hasn’t caught a touchdown in the playoffs since 2009, but he has nine total in just seven career playoff games. Brown’s going to be lethal even if Landry Jones is under center, but Denver’s dealing with a litany of injuries in the secondary and the pass rush. Meanwhile, expect Ginn to gobble up at least one touchdown while the Seahawks struggle to contain our top ranked TE. Edelman’s impossible to predict, but that might just make him a cheap, "high-risk, high-reward" guy. He’s also been incredible with 42 receptions for 454 yards and two touchdowns in New England’s last two playoff runs.
1.Greg Olsen, Panthers
2.Owen Daniels, Broncos
3.Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
4.Richard Rodgers, Packers
The Seahawks Achilles heel all season has been defending tight ends, ranking eighth worst in the regular season and allowing Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph to breakaway and secure excellent field position in the closing seconds of the wild-card round. So it seems only fitting they’ll have to face a guy who’s not only Newton’s favorite target but who also burned them for seven receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown earlier this season. Daniels has the second-best matchup with Pittsburgh tied with Seattle against TEs this year, with Vernon Davis on deck too, and Manning loves his tight ends. The Chiefs had the best D against TEs this year so Gronk’s a tough start, while Rodgers may dice up Arizona’s No. 19-ranked work versus TEs.
1.Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers
2.Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos
3.Steven Jackson, RB, Patriots
4.James Starks, RB, Packers
Denver was the best in the league against fantasy WRs, letting up a mere 15.1 points per week, but Bryant and Brown combined for 26 receptions for 276 and two touchdowns when they met earlier this season. Sanders was just as brilliant against Pittsburgh with 10 catches for 181 yards and a score, complementing Thomas’ two scores. Starks can break off runs and Arizona did allow 78 receptions for 747 yards and four touchdowns to opposing backs in the regular season. Jackson’s a crap shoot, but a potentially dangerous one as K.C.’s first priority will be stopping Brady, Gronk, and Edelman.
Injuries rear their ugly head once again. The Steelers are still holding out hope that Roethlisberger can play, but the Broncos should be in good shape if he's not at full strength or if Landry Jones gets the nod. The Patriots have a far more formidable defense than Houston did, and the Chiefs may not have top receiver Jeremy Maclin. A week off for Carolina and Arizona should serve both well, and while they may allow a high number of points, each’s potential to force several turnovers and sacks will make up for it.
First Second Third
QB: Palmer Rodgers Brady
RB: Johnson Hillman Bolden
WR: Fitzgerald Brown Thomas
TE: Olsen Daniels Gronkowski
FLEX: Bryant Sanders Jackson
D/ST: Denver New England Carolina
Clearly it looks like Arizona and New England shake out as the teams with the most potential to blow up for weekly owners, while Denver and Green Bay can also put up huge chunks of points.