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Wild Card Playoff Rankings

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Chet Gresham takes you through the fantasy football relevant training camp news

The NFL playoffs are here, but that doesn’t mean your Fantasy Football season is over. There are a variety of playoff contests available across the web, which is why we’re going to continue providing player rankings and analysis all the way through Superbowl Sunday.

During the week leading up to each round of this year’s playoffs, I’ll be supplying you with positional rankings and tiers at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, kicker, and defense. Playoff contests tend to vary greatly in terms of format, so I won’t be getting too into specifics. Instead, I’ll just be providing one-week, standard-scoring player rankings. Feel free to use them as needed.



Be sure to check out Chet Gresham’s Complete Playoff Rankings, which include positional rankings for the entire playoffs.

Quarterback

1. Drew Brees – NO (@ PHI)
2. Nick Foles – PHI (vs. NO)

Much will be made about the Saints road struggles and rightfully so. New Orleans is averaging an elite 4.4 offensive touchdowns per game at home this season, compared to a miserable 1.8 on the road. On the other hand, Eagles’ opponents are averaging 46 drop backs per game this season, which is the most in NFL history. The Saints already throw it a ton (No. 5 pass-heaviest team during regular season), which should easily allow Brees to eclipse 300 passing yards. He’s our top-rated Wild Card weekend quarterback.

Since Foles returned in Week 9 against Oakland, the Eagles are averaging an NFL-high 4.1 offensive touchdowns per game. The Broncos are averaging 3.9 during that span. The highly-productive Chip Kelly offense will allow Foles to produce at a level near that of Brees, but the Eagles do like to run the ball. That limits Foles’ ceiling against teams with respectable defenses. Foles does make up for a limited number of attempts with his legs; He’s averaging 4.3 designed runs per game since Week 9. Opponents of the Saints averaged an NFL-low 59 offensive plays per game this season. Additionally, offenses are averaging only 1.9 scores per game vs. New Orleans, which is sixth-lowest in the league.

3. Aaron Rodgers – GB (vs. SF)
4. Colin Kaepernick – SF (@ GB)
5. Andy Dalton – CIN (vs. SD)

The 49ers’ strong defense has allowed only 19 passing touchdowns this season, which helps limit Rodgers to our second tier of quarterbacks. The Packers are averaging 3.0 offensive touchdowns per game this season when Rodgers plays the entire game. That’s exactly where Green Bay was in 2012. Of course, the Packers – once a team that exclusively threw the ball with the end zone in range – now like to run the ball with Eddie Lacy near the goal line. This will limit Rodgers’ ceiling a bit.

The 49ers’ offense went on a dominant early-season tear that saw them score 19 touchdowns over a five-game stretch spanning from Weeks 4-to-8. Since their Week 9 bye, however, the Niners have totaled just 15 offensive scores in eight games. Although that’s concerning for Kaepernick, it’s worth noting that a majority of that drop-off came at the expense of the team’s running backs. Kaepernick has four two-plus touchdown games over his last seven appearances. Additionally, he’s the best bet to lead all quarterbacks in rushing yards this weekend. Headed to frigid Green Bay, Kaepernick is a solid, but unspectacular play.

Fantasy’s No. 3 quarterback during the regular season, Andy Dalton was third to only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in passing touchdowns. The Bengals have been exceptional at home this year, averaging 34 points per game en route to an 8-0 record. The Chargers’ secondary isn’t very good, which should allow Dalton at least a pair of passing touchdowns. All that limits Dalton is the high likelihood of Cincinnati controlling this game early on. Cincinnati runs the ball a ton at home (no shocker considering their perfect record), which will mean plenty of running plays in the second half.

6. Andrew Luck – IND (vs. KC)
7. Philip Rivers – SD (@CIN)
8. Alex Smith – KC (@ IND)

Luck will have his hands full with the Chiefs’ tough defense, but the Colts figure to be throwing the ball quite a bit in this one. He’s a poor bet to eclipse two touchdowns, which makes him an unattractive play…The Chargers are playing well lately, but they’ve also been running the ball a ton. Playing from behind in Cincinnati, Rivers figures to get more pass attempts than usual, but note that the Bengals have allowed fewer than two passing scores in an incredible seven of their last nine games…The Chiefs’ offense was significantly better in the second half of the regular season, but it struggled badly against the Colts in Week 16. The Kansas City offense scored once in that affair and it was of the rushing variety. Not to be overlooked here should the Colts’ surging defense, which has allowed a total of two scores over its last three games.

Running Back

1. Jamaal Charles – KC (@ IND)

With 1,981 total yards and 19 scores during 15 regular season games, Charles is the clear top fantasy tailback during Wild Card weekend. Obviously one of the more explosive talents in the league, Charles is also a fairly safe play when you consider that the Chiefs have at least one rushing touchdown in six consecutive games. Charles is also heavily involved as a pass-catcher, handling a position-high 104 targets en route to seven receiving touchdowns. Charles put up 144 yards and a touchdown on 18 touches when these two teams met in Week 16. A candidate for 25 touches this weekend, Charles is the top fantasy bet at the position.

2. LeSean McCoy – PHI (vs. NO)

Charles had the bigger fantasy season, but it was actually McCoy who easily led the NFL in rushing this year. The Eagles are No. 2 in the NFL in offensive touchdowns and are the No. 6 run-heaviest team in the league. This provides McCoy with a massive number of scoring and touch opportunities, respectively. Consider that McCoy has reached the 25-carry mark five times this season. That’s rare in today’s NFL. The Saints have allowed only 11 rushing scores this season, however, including two over their last five showings.

3. Eddie Lacy – GB (vs. SF)
4. Frank Gore – SF (@ GB)

Lacy was a fantasy star during the second half of the regular season and appears to be back near full health. Still, he’ll have hands full this weekend with a 49ers’ run defense that has allowed five rushing touchdowns since Week 5. In fact, the San Francisco defense has allowed only one rushing touchdown during its last seven road games. The Packers, however, have run the ball pretty well since Lacy took control of the backfield. They had at least one rushing touchdown in all but five games during the regular season. Lacy has 10 20-plus carry games and also has 41 targets to his name. The matchup is tough, but Lacy is your best bet once Charles and McCoy are off the board.

Gore figures to see near 20 touches in Green Bay this weekend, but the 49ers’ running game hasn’t been producing touchdowns as of late. Despite finishing the regular season as the league’s run-heaviest team, the 49ers totaled just three second-half rushing scores. They had 15 in the first half. On the other hand, the Packers defense allowed 46 total touchdowns during the regular season, which is seventh-most in the league. Even more promising for Gore is the 13 rushing scores the Green Bay defense has allowed since Week 8. With backs putting up a yards-per-carry mark a half yard higher than their season average against Green Bay over the last two months, Gore is a fairly strong play this weekend.

5. Giovani Bernard – CIN (vs. SD)
6. Ryan Mathews – SD (@CIN)

Progressively taking on a larger offensive role, Bernard averaged 13 carries per game over the team’s final seven games and actually had exactly 13 in each of the final three. BenJarvus Green-Ellis totaled 27 carries over those three games. Although Green-Ellis has been Cincinnati’s primary goal line back this season, Bernard has five carries within 5 yards of the end zone over the past three weeks. Green-Ellis has one. The Bengals are going to score a lot of points in this game and San Diego has allowed eight rushing touchdowns over their last seven games. Bernard is in for a strong game.

Ryan Mathews ran the ball on a massive 60.7 percent of his snaps this season. His late-season surge was helped by the Chargers ability to lean heavily on the run. They called 153 runs and 121 passes over their last four games (all wins). Of course, San Diego figures to have to pass it more than they’d like in Cincinnati. Add to that the fact that the Bengals’ defense has allowed only six rushing touchdowns this season. Touch volume shouldn’t be a problem for Mathews, but efficiency will be against a tough Bengals’ defense.

7. Danny Woodhead – SD (@CIN)
8. Donald Brown – IND (vs. KC)
9. Pierre Thomas – NO (@ PHI)
10. Trent Richardson – IND (vs. KC)
11. Darren Sproles – NO (@ PHI)
12. BenJarvus Green-Ellis – CIN (vs. SD)

With Mathews emerging, Woodhead’s role has slumped a bit over the past two months. He saw 3.5 targets per game in the second half after handling 6.9 per game in the first eight games…Brown and Richardson are working in a full-on committee in Indianapolis. It’s anybody’s guess who will lead the unit in touches this weekend, but we’re giving Brown a slight edge. Colts running backs are a perfect 5-for-5 on carries from one yard out this season. Richardson is responsible for two, Brown one, and Ahmad Bradshaw the other two…Thomas’ carries have dropped off dramatically as of late. He’s averaging only six per game over the Saints last five games. The Saints have two rushing touchdowns on the road this season. Yes, two…Sproles saw a massive 84 regular season targets, but only carried the ball 53 times. His ceiling is limited unless the Saints fall behind and abandon the run…To no one’s surprise, Green-Ellis has fallen behind Bernard on the tailback totem pole in Cincinnati. He’ll be touchdown-or-bust on 10 or so touches vs. San Diego.

13. Mark Ingram – NO (@ PHI)
14. Kendall Hunter – SF (@ GB)
15. James Starks – GB (vs. SF)
16. Bryce Brown – PHI (vs. NO)
17. Anthony Dixon – SF (@ GB)
18. Knile Davis – KC (@ IND)
19. Chris Polk – PHI (vs. NO)
20. Ronnie Brown – SD (@CIN)
21. Khiry Robinson – NO (@ PHI)

Wide Receiver

1. A.J. Green – CIN (vs. SD)

Green is clear top fantasy wideout during Wild Card weekend. First of all, Green was his dominant self during a regular season that saw him haul in 98 passes for 1,426 yards, and 11 scores. Only Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson scored more fantasy points and only Johnson equaled Green in end zone targets (23). Next, as mentioned earlier, the Bengals’ offense has been terrific, especially at home where it averages 3.6 touchdowns per game. Finally, Green figures to see quite a bit of struggling cornerback Shareece Wright, as well as some routes against underwhelming Richard Marshall. Averaging a massive 13 targets per game over Cincinnati’s last three games, Green is primed for a big outing against the Chargers’ weak secondary.

2. Marques Colston – NO (@ PHI)
3. Jordy Nelson – GB (vs. SF)
4. T.Y. Hilton – IND (vs. KC)
5. Anquan Boldin – SF (@ GB)
6. Keenan Allen – SD (@CIN)
7. DeSean Jackson – PHI (vs. NO)

I don’t see much of a difference between No. 2 and No. 7 in our second tier of wide receiver rankings, so feel free to start the cheapest names in this list in salary cap formats.

Prior to the Saints’ Week 7 bye, Colston was averaging 5.7 targets per game. Since returning from injury in Week 10, he’s seen 8.4 per game – a sizable amount in the Saints’ high-scoring offense. New Orleans’ primary slot man, Colston will see quite a bit of Brandon Boykin this weekend. Boykin ended the regular season as Pro Football Focus’ top cover corner. Colston will have his hands full when lined up inside.

Nelson is averaging 8.1 targets per game and is the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver (49 receptions, 810 yards, 7 TD) when Aaron Rodgers plays this season. With Randall Cobb not quite 100 percent healthy and Jermichael Finley on Injured Reserve, Nelson won’t struggle to find targets during the playoffs. Nelson figures to see a lot of Tarell Brown in coverage this week, providing him with a slight roadblock to a big week.

In the weeks immediately following Reggie Wayne’s season-ending injury, Hilton’s target volume was actually down from where it was over the first two months of the season. That changed in December with Luck looking his way on exactly one-third of his throws during the Colts’ last three games. Fantasy’s No. 19 wide receiver has a plus matchup this week with Brandon Flowers oddly struggling in coverage this season.

When Michael Crabtree returned to action in Week 13, it was assumed that Boldin would take a bit of a hit in the target department. That hasn’t happened. In fact, Boldin’s role has increased over the past month. Without Crabtree, he was seeing 7.1 targets per game. With Crabtree, he’s seeing nine per game and hasn’t been below seven in a single game. Boldin moves around quite a bit, but San Francisco’s primary slot man will see Micah Hyde when working inside. Green Bay has struggled to slow opposing wide receivers as of late.

Following season-ending injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd, Allen was presented with an opportunity to take over as San Diego’s top wide receiver. He answered the call, hauling in 71 passes for 1,046 yards, and eight touchdowns. Despite playing in a reserve role early in the season, Allen finished as Fantasy’s No. 17 wideout. The rookie’s primary position is left wide receiver where he’ll have his hands full with Adam Jones this weekend.

Jackson’s targets over the Eagles last eight games: 6 – 4 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 15 – 4 – 4. Remove the outlier and we’re looking at 4.7 targets per game during the bulk of the Nick Foles era. The Eagles’ high-scoring and big play offense will allow Jackson to produce at a high level on a lesser-than-ideal target total, but the bust factor is high. Even worse, Jackson figures to see quite a bit of Keenan Lewis – one of the better cover corners playing this weekend.

8. Randall Cobb – GB (vs. SF)
9. Michael Crabtree – SF (@ GB)
10. Marvin Jones – CIN (vs. SD)
11. James Jones – GB (vs. SF)
12. Dwayne Bowe – KC (@ IND)
13. Riley Cooper – PHI (vs. NO)

Cobb would be in tier two if we had some assurances of an expanded role. He scored twice in his return to action in Week 17, but he did it on just two targets while splitting snaps with Jarrett Boykin. Carlos Rogers’ (hamstring) status up in the air for this weekend, but, if he plays, he’ll cover Cobb in the slot…Crabtree is averaging six targets per game and is No. 32 in fantasy points among wide receivers since returning in Week 13. His role only figures to increase, but his ceiling is limited by his recovery, the 49ers’ run-heavy offense, and the presence of Boldin and Vernon Davis. Crabtree’s probable primary defender will be Sam Shields on Sunday.

Powered by 10 touchdowns on just 80 targets, Marvin Jones was No. 21 in fantasy points among wide receivers this season. The Bengals finally got him involved in the passing game on a more consistent basis down the stretch. He totaled 23 targets over the team’s final three games. Set to see quite a bit of exploitable Richard Marshall this weekend, Jones is a high-ceiling play…James Jones and Rodgers appeared in only six full games together during the regular season. He averaged an underwhelming 5.6 targets in those games, but was No. 23 in fantasy points at wide receiver. Jones will have his hands full with Tramaine Brock in coverage this Sunday.

Bowe’s regular season usage was inconsistent enough that he finished as the No. 44 scoring fantasy wideout despite leading the Chiefs in targets. Bowe saw fewer than seven targets in eight games, but eclipsed double digits on three occasions. Bowe bounces around the formation, but no one figures to cover him more than Greg Toler…Not unlike aforementioned Marvin Jones, Cooper powered his way to a Top 25 finish among wide receivers thanks to a high touchdown rate on a low number of targets. Benefiting from a high volume of down-field jump balls from Nick Foles, Cooper hauled in 47 balls for 833 yards and eight scores. Cooper will be backpedaling into the playoffs, however, having seen just three targets in each of Philadelphia’s last two games. He’ll mainly see Corey White in coverage.

14. Griff Whalen – IND (vs. KC)
15. Lance Moore – NO (@ PHI)
16. Eddie Royal – SD (@CIN)
17. Da'Rick Rogers – IND (vs. KC)
18. Kenny Stills – NO (@ PHI)

Whalen has emerged as Luck’s No. 2 option in the Indianapolis’ passing attack. He’s an excellent sleeper this week with Brandon Flowers and Marcus Cooper in coverage…Moore and Stills are Brees’ fifth and sixth options in the Saints’ passing attack. Both will see plenty of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher on Saturday…There aren’t many flukier eight-touchdown seasons than the one Royal put up in 2013. Life won’t be easy with Chris Crocker covering him in the slot on Sunday…Rogers will see upwards of a half dozen targets against Kansas City, but it won’t be a walk in the park against Sean Smith.

19. Jason Avant – PHI (vs. NO)
20. Dexter McCluster – KC (@ IND)
21. Vincent Brown – SD (@CIN)
22. Donnie Avery – KC (@ IND)
23. Mohamed Sanu – CIN (vs. SD)
24. Jarrett Boykin – GB (vs. SF)
25. Robert Meachem – NO (@ PHI)
26. Andrew Hawkins – CIN (vs. SD)
27. Quinton Patton – SF (@ GB)
28. LaVon Brazill – IND (vs. KC)
29. Junior Hemingway – KC (@ IND)
30. A.J. Jenkins – KC (@ IND)

Avery has a tough matchup against Vontae Davis on tap…Sanu is a noteworthy sleeper with Marcus Gilchrist set to cover him in the slot…Boykin is unlikely to see many snaps with Cobb’s role likely to expand.

Tight End

1. Jimmy Graham – NO (@ PHI)

Despite inconsistent playing time and a variety of injuries, Graham was easily this year’s top-scoring fantasy tight end. Drew Brees’ favorite weapon hauled in 86 passes for 1,215 yards, and an absurd 16 touchdowns. Graham’s yardage did dip quite a bit in the second half, however. He had five 100-yard games in the first half, before managing only one from Week 10 on. Of course, Graham scored six touchdowns over his last six games, so the drop in yardage didn’t keep him from strong production. The Saints are going to run a ton of plays and should be throwing the ball a ton against the Eagles. Graham is easily the tight end to own this weekend.

2. Vernon Davis – SF (@ GB)

I mentioned earlier that Anquan Boldin’s looks didn’t suffer as a result of Michael Crabtree’s return to the 49ers’ lineup. The same can’t be said for Davis. San Francisco’s standout tight end has seen just 16 percent of Kaepernick’s targets since Crabtree’s Week 13 return. That’s exactly half of what he enjoyed during the first the 12 weeks of the season. Despite the drop in targets, Davis remains a force in fantasy because of his heavy usage near the end zone. Davis has seen 15 end zone targets this season, which is seventh-most in the NFL. He’s caught an impressive nine for touchdowns and has four additional scores on the year. It’s worth noting that the Packers have been excellent against opposing tight ends as of late.

3. Antonio Gates – SD (@CIN)

Rivers’ No. 2 target in San Diego, Gates racked up 77 catches, 872 yards and four touchdowns en route to finishing as fantasy’s No. 9 tight end. After averaging 7.5 targets per game over the first 13 games, however, Gates has totaled 10 targets over the last three weeks. Additionally, Gates was targeted while within 5 yards of the end zone only 10 times all season, which helps explain his underwhelming touchdown total. With the Bengals doing well against tight ends as of late, Gates makes for an unintriguing start this weekend.

4. Zach Ertz – PHI (vs. NO)

Ertz’s role as a situational player has continued throughout his rookie season, but he saw enough targets to finish as fantasy’s No. 20 tight end. A look through his game log shows some serious volatility in the target department. Since Foles returned in Week 9, Ertz has three games with six-plus targets and three others with either one or zero targets. The good news is that this weekend’s game figures to be competitive, which will allow Ertz plenty of pass routes. Five or six targets in the Eagles’ high-scoring offense would be more than enough to make Ertz a worthwhile flier – good news considering the underwhelming options at the position this weekend.

5. Coby Fleener – IND (vs. KC)
6. Anthony Fasano – KC (@ IND)
7. Brent Celek – PHI (vs. NO)
8. Andrew Quarless – GB (vs. SF)
9. Jermaine Gresham – CIN (vs. SD)
10. Tyler Eifert – CIN (vs. SD)
11. Ladarius Green – SD (@CIN)

Fleener has been targeted only eight times over the team’s last three games. Reserve tight ends Jack Doyle and Weslye Saunders have combined for five during that span. He’s not a recommended play against a tough Chiefs’ defense…Fasano’s ceiling is low, but he’ll provide a handful of points on four or so targets…Celek had a rare big game against Dallas in Week 17, but has eclipsed the four-target mark only once since Week 5 and isn’t a preferred target of Foles’ near the end zone…Quarless’ targets will be few and far between with Cobb back from injury, but the 49ers have struggled to slow opposing tight ends as of late.

Gresham and Eifert both missed Week 17 due to injury, but the duo is expected back this weekend. Considering that they were averaging near six combined targets since the team’s Week 12 bye, neither is a recommended fantasy play…It’s hard to find a more boom-or-bust producer than Green, who, after a three-game stretch where he totaled 16 targets, saw a total of three over the Chargers’ final four games.

12. Ben Watson – NO (@ PHI)
13. Sean McGrath – KC (@ IND)
14. Vance McDonald – SF (@ GB)
15. Ryan Taylor – GB (vs. SF)

Defense

1. Bengals (vs. SD)
2. Chiefs (@ IND)
3. Colts (vs. KC)
4. 49ers (@ GB)
5. Eagles (vs. NO)
6. Chargers (@ CIN)
7. Packers (vs. SF)
8. Saints (@ PHI)

Kicker

1. Nick Novak – SD (@ CIN)
2. Mason Crosby – GB (vs. SF)
3. Phil Dawson – SF (@ GB)
4. Adam Vinatieri – IND (vs. KC)
5. Shayne Graham – NO (@ PHI)
6. Ryan Succop – KC (@ IND)
7. Alex Henery – PHI (vs. NO)
8. Mike Nugent – CIN (vs. SD)

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