Welcome to another edition of KFFL's "Strong Plays, Weak Plays" feature. Here, we'll identify strong matchups of interest that you can exploit as well as determine a few weak matchups in which you might want to consider benching your normal starter in favor of a backup. Our intention is not to tell you the obvious, such as "Start LaDainian Tomlinson!" or "Start Peyton Manning!" Instead, it is to point out some matchups involving players who aren't considered fantasy stars. Of course, we'll sometimes highlight a top fantasy player's matchup if it is an especially noteworthy strong or weak play.
Important, Please Read! Remember, just because a player has a strong-play matchup does not mean that it is an automatic endorsement as a starter. It does provide you with some valuable information to make decisions, though. As an example, some players with the "Strong Play" tag may still be a No. 4 fantasy wideout and shouldn't be started ahead of your normal starters. He just may have greater potential than normal but not enough to warrant a definite benching of someone else for him. Conversely, if a player is on the "Weak Play" list, he may not be an automatic bench, either. A stud won't have an easy matchup every week. However, he's a stud because he can overcome the weak-play situation.
Quarterbacks - Strong Plays
If you're still looking for a quarterback for your fantasy playoffs, look no further than the desert. Warner has thrown at least two touchdowns in his last six outings, including three scoring tosses in each of the last two games. Sure, he threw five interceptions in Week 14, but this week he is licking his chops with the matchup against the Falcons.
The Falcons secondary has been vulnerable over the last month, and if wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (groin) and Anquan Boldin (toe) are healthy enough to play this week, Warner should be able to find the end zone more than once this Sunday. He could make a great last-minute insertion into your fantasy lineup.
Running Backs - Strong Plays
Smith responded from a pitiful Week 14 performance (13 carries for 12 yards) with 82 rushing yards and 23 receiving yards last week. His Week 14 aberration was the only hitch in his step since Thanksgiving, having rushed for at least 82 yards in the other three games over the last month.
The Lions come at just the right time for Smith as they have been demoralized by opposing backs to the tune of almost three total touchdowns per game. Smith's only two touchdowns came in Week 12, but even if he fails to score again, the powerful back could still reach triple-digit yardage. He has already torn up the Oakland Raiders for 150 yards this year, and Detroit has been just as vulnerable against the ground game of late. Smith is a steady No. 1 back or a great No. 2 option.
White (knee) scared many of his owners by missing practice last week, but then reassured them with 93 rushing yards in Week 15. Averaging 80.7 offensive yards per game in the last month, White continues to pay off. He's listed as questionable again this week, but that is most likely the team being careful with the very robust running back.
Brown has only been used in nine plays per game over the last month, and his yardage totals have not been overwhelmingly helpful. However, he has scored twice in his limited utilization.
New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney was able to rattle off a 100-yard game against the Jets last week. Sure, that was in a colder environment, but the Jets will most likely be targeted by the Titans on the ground with both White and Brown. White stands as a No. 1 or No. 2 running back, and owners can squeeze Brown in as a No. 3 back if they're short at the position.
Wide Receivers - Strong Plays
Galloway slapped fantasy owners in the face with just one seven-yard catch in Week 15. Galloway had combined for 246 yards in his previous two contests, and it was the wrong time for him to fall short. Galloway has been kept out of the end zone since Week 11, but he has helped out since then with 15 receptions over the last four games, including a 60-yard catch in Week 13. With a combined 32 looks over the last month, Galloway still poses enough of a breakout threat to keep in your lineup.
The Niners offer an elixir this week for the 36-year-old wideout. San Francisco is allowing almost 200 yards per contest to opposing wideouts to go along with an average of one touchdown per game. Quarterback Jeff Garcia (back) seemed to get back into the swing in a 37-3 romping of the Falcons last week, so this could be the week he reconnects with the Bucs' undisputed No. 1 wideout target. For fantasy purposes, he fits in as a No. 3 wideout.
Boldin (toe) enjoyed his return to the field last week by hauling in six receptions for 83 yards. He didn't find the end zone - he hasn't scored since Week 11 - but was still able to contribute enough to help playoff managers.
In conjunction with Warner's matchup, Boldin could take advantage of the Falcons secondary, which has allowed 1.50 touchdowns per game to enemy wideouts. He has a catch of at least 24 yards in four of his last six contests, so the Falcons might have some trouble controlling both Boldin and his teammate Fitzgerald. Boldin received seven looks last week compared to just three for Fitzgerald, but the Cardinals have enough weapons to keep Boldin from having an elite game. He should still be played as a No. 3 option.
The Chiefs don't have much fantasy help to offer among wideouts, but Bowe's five-catch, 64-yard performance last week was productive enough to at least buoy those managers who were forced to play him. Wideout Samie Parker played the unwelcome role of vulture with a touchdown catch, one that was not expected by fantasy players.
Bowe doesn't come recommended too highly, but if your wideout corps is hurting, Bowe lines up for a strong play against the Lions. Although their 51-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers last week skewed their numbers, the Lions were also lit up by the paltry Minnesota Vikings passing attack to the tune of 227 yards in Week 13. Bowe could be suitable as an injury replacement based heavily on his matchup.
Tight Ends - Strong Plays
Lee has toned down his production over the last month; he combined for seven catches and 101 yards in Weeks 13 and 14, but he managed one four-yard catch in Week 15. That one small catch did wind up in the end zone, so Lee has scored in back-to-back games. Since Week 12, Lee has been on the end of 3.25 looks and 0.75 red-zone targets per game, along with 0.25 looks per game inside the 5-yard line. He is not going completely ignored in the scheme.
You should certainly pay some attention to him this week. In the holiday spirit, the Bears have been in a giving mood to opposing tight ends, allowing two touchdowns to the position in the last month. As stated, Lee has been a source of comfort in the red zone even if he's not fully involved in the passing game. Lee could help this week as a No. 1 tight end.
Place Kickers - Strong Plays
Hanson registered just two extra points in the Lions' debacle against the Chargers. Even less encouraging is the fact that he hasn't had an attempt of more than 40 yards in the last three weeks.
Don't get down on Hanson yet since there are a few bright spots in their upcoming game. The Chiefs have surrendered 9.8 actual kicker points per game over the last month, the second-highest total in the league in that time. The Chiefs currently rank first in the league in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns in just 36.8 percent of opponents' possessions inside their 20-yard line. A continuation of this pattern should translate into more opportunities for Hanson. If you need a kicker, Hanson could slide in as a marginal starter.
Team Defenses - Strong Plays
Formerly one of the more reliable defensive units this year, the Titans have stumbled a bit because of their decline against the run. However, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (hamstring) continues to be a rock, and the Titans have kept their sack and takeaway figures at a helpful level for fantasy owners.
The Jets offense could help their cause in Week 16. The Gang Green has allowed 4.5 sacks per game over the last month, and despite playing a moderately effective game against the Patriots last week, backup quarterback Chad Pennington hasn't started a game since Week 8. With quarterback Kellen Clemens (ribs) limited in practice, Pennington could be thrust back into action this week. The Titans should reap the benefits and make for a steady one-week play.
Quarterbacks - Weak Plays
Rosenfels has led the Texans to consecutive victories while filling in for injured quarterback Matt Schaub (shoulder). In his last three games, Rosenfels is averaging two touchdowns and more than 200 offensive yards per game; throwing only two interceptions during that time.
This week he matches up against the Colts, who are allowing less than 190 offensive yards to the position while averaging 1.50 interceptions per game over the last month. However, the Colts are giving up 1.50 touchdowns per game to the position and it could be interesting to see how motivated the defense will be considering they have clinched the No. 2 seed. Play Rosenfels as a last resort No. 1 option.
Running Backs - Weak Plays
Stecker has made the most of his opportunities over the last couple of weeks with the team playing without running backs Deuce McAllister (knee) and Reggie Bush (knee). Over the last two games that he has been the starter, Stecker has averaged 21 carries and has 248 total yards and two touchdowns; both of which came last week.
There are currently only four teams in the league that are allowing less rushing yards than the Eagles, who have yielded only 77.2 yards per game. They are even better in limiting receptions to the position, allowing just 2.25 per game, good for the fewest allowed in the league. Stecker's recent success can't be overlooked, though, so consider him a solid No. 2 option.
The running back situation in Denver has been hard for fantasy owners to swallow. Henry is averaging a touchdown per game over their last four games while Young has been receiving the majority of the carries and picking up more than double the yards per game. Neither back is the clear cut No. 1 option, and it looks as if this carry split could continue through the final two games of the season.
The Chargers defense is allowing opposing backs to average more than 100 total yards and one touchdown per game to the position in their last four games. While those averages don't seem that bad, neither Denver back has been a consistent threat in the passing game, which is where backs have done some decent damage. With that out of the equation and a time share in the backfield that doesn't allow for fantasy owners to count on either one to be a solid option, you should only play Henry as a No. 2 or No. 3 back with Young as a mid-tier No. 3 option.
Wide Receivers - Weak Plays
Williams has been one of the better receivers over the last three weeks; hauling in 12 receptions for 198 yards and three touchdowns during that time. He heads into the matchup this week after catching four passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday; arguably the best performance of his career.
While the Jets haven't won many games this season, their secondary has managed to be one of the best over the last four weeks. During that time, they are currently the second-best team in the league in receptions and receiving yards allowed to the position. We can't overlook the fact that he has been producing, making him a viable No. 2 option.
Stokley's (knee) status remains uncertain for the team's Monday night matchup this week after sitting out their Week 15 game. In the three previous weeks, he has had only one 100-yard receiving game while scoring a touchdown in another.
Fantasy owners might not want to rely on Stokley, especially if he comes down to a game-time decision for a Monday night game. Also, the Chargers are no pushover to the position and are currently a top-10 defense in the league when it comes to receiving yards against over the last month. Play Stokely as no better than a moderate No. 3 option or injury replacement.
Evans hasn't been the most consistent option for fantasy owners over the last four weeks. In Weeks 12 and 13, he totaled 70 yards and failed to score in each, running his scoreless streak at the time to four consecutive games. Then, in the following week, he made just two receptions, both for scores. Last week was another poor outing, but we will give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to horrible weather conditions.
The Giants have been solid against opposing receivers, allowing just one touchdown to the position over their last four games, while giving up the second-fewest amount of receptions in the league to the position. Play Evans as a No. 3 option or as an injury replacement.
Tight End - Weak Play
Daniels' fantasy value hasn't changed much with Rosenfels under center. He has hauled in three passes in three consecutive weeks while getting targeted six times per game; ranking him No. 10 in the league among all tight ends over the last month.
Since Week 12, only one team has given up fewer receiving yards to the position than the Colts. They also rank in the top-10 in the league in receptions allowed and scoring totals to the position. He is still producing well enough to be in starting lineups, but he should be considered a mid-tier No. 1 option for this week's matchup.
Place Kicker - Weak Play
Elam has been producing well of late, scoring an average of 9.8 kicking points per outing heading into their matchup last week. The Denver offense looked very shaky in Week 15, and this week they face an even tougher challenge in San Diego.
Since Week 12, the Chargers have surrendered a league-low 3.2 actual kicking points per game to the position. Elam's matchup is by far one of the worst in the league this week, making him a prime bench candidate.
Team Defenses - Weak Play
Over their last four games, only seven teams have given up fewer points per game than the Cowboys, while ranking among the top-five teams in the league with average sacks per game. However, for fantasy defenses to score a lot of points, they need to force turnovers and that's something that they have failed to do much of over their last four games.
The Panthers quarterback situation has been anything but stable all season, allowing for opposing defenses to take advantage. Over their last four games, the Panthers have done a good job of protecting the quarterback, but have struggled when it comes to not turning the ball over. Consider the Dallas defense a borderline No. 1 unit this week.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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