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
Warner has a shot to relive his glory days against his old team this week. Warner heads into Week 17 on the heels of a stellar fantasy performance when he completed 36 of 53 passes for 361 yards along with three touchdowns. Warner has totaled six touchdowns and one interception in the last two games - just in time for those desperate in Week 17.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw all over the Rams last week with three touchdowns, and the Rams have allowed at least two touchdowns per game over the last two weeks. With wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (groin) and Anquan Boldin (toe) finally getting healthier, he should have a full arsenal at his disposal. Warner makes for an excellent No. 1 quarterback option.
Running Backs - Strong Plays
Reggie who? Stecker (toe) has hit the end zone twice in each of his last two games, and he has given the Saints the up-the-gut option they've been lacking since running back Deuce McAllister (knee) went down for the season. With running back Reggie Bush (knee) a game-time decision for Week 17 at press time, Stecker should carry the load again, provided he is healthy enough to suit up.
The Bears are allowing running backs to excel in both rushing and receiving, and Stecker has proven that he can do both. Quarterback Drew Brees usually looks to spread the ball, but Stecker could be relied upon for clock control. Stecker should be played with confidence as a low-tier No. 1 fantasy back.
Davenport slid right into the lineup when fellow back Willie Parker (leg) was lost for the season in Week 16. The bruiser ran off 123 yards with a touchdown on the ground and in the air. The Steelers could now rely on Davenport in a more old-school Steelers running game - power up the middle - instead of Parker's noted outside speed style.
The Ravens are just counting down the minutes for the remainder of this season but have been moderately effective against the run. However, their yardage defense doesn't translate to their scoring defense against the position as opposing backs are averaging 1.50 total scores per game. With Roethlisberger (ankle) most likely to sit out for Week 17, the Steelers will most likely build off Davenport to make backup quarterback Charlie Batch more comfortable. Davenport should be ranked in the same tier as Stecker.
Wide Receivers - Strong Plays
Burleson is quietly having his best season since 2004 and is leading the team in touchdowns scored with seven. Over his last four games, he has posted at least 50 receiving yards in three of them, while averaging six looks per game during that time. With the team locked into a playoff spot, they may look to lighten the load for fellow wideouts Deion Branch (calf) and Bobby Engram, which means Burleson may see more looks in their final game.
The Falcons defense ranks third-to-last in the league against opposing receivers, and the Seahawks will likely stick to their pass-first mentality despite their secured postseason status. Burleson could serve as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver for fantasy teams this week.
With a team name like the Bengals, one would think that a tandem of Johnson and Houshmandzadeh would be more ferocious than they have been over the last month. Johnson has managed 60 or fewer receiving yards in two of his last three games, while failing to find the end zone since his three-touchdown performance in Week 12. On the bright side, he continues to be quarterback Carson Palmer's favorite target; picking up double-digit targets in back-to-back games (22 combined).
Houshmandzadeh has seen his targets decrease since notching 13 in Week 14; tallying just seven looks in Week 15 and only five in their last game. The league leader in receptions (103) has scored just one touchdown since Week 11 and hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 6.
The Dolphins defense could be just what the doctor ordered for the Bengals receivers. They are giving up a healthy amount of receiving yards and are in a multi-way tie for giving up the second-most touchdowns per game to the position over their last four games. Both receivers make solid No. 2 plays due to their strong play matchup.
Washington had only two receptions in the team's last game, but he managed to make them both count as he scored on receptions of both 33 and 17 yards. The Steelers will host a playoff game but could still be the third or fourth seed, but the team may still look to rest starting wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. It is likely both of them will start, but they could make an early exit leaving Washington as a prime target for Batch, who is expected to start for Roethlisberger.
The Ravens secondary, who are without starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle (shoulder) and Chris McAlister (knee), is allowing the sixth-most receiving yards against and are in a multi-way tie for giving up the second-most touchdowns per game to the position over the last month. Washington has a lot of upside and should be considered a solid No. 3 option.
Tight Ends - Strong Plays
The Jaguars running attack has been shredding opposing defenses all season, leaving the passing game as an afterthought. Even keeping that in mind, Lewis has an ideal matchup and makes a nice one-week play as a mid-tier No. 1 tight end option. Between Weeks 13-16, Lewis has been targeted a little more than four times per game, while averaging a little more than one target (8.47 percent) in the red zone during that time.
The Texans defense has had major issues with shutting down opposing tight ends. They are allowing the most receiving yards and second-most receptions per contest to the position in the league. In addition, only three teams have allowed more touchdowns per game to the position over the last month. The Jaguars having nothing to play for this week, but Lewis should still see enough playing time to make him a worthwhile start.
Place Kickers - Strong Plays
We had been down on Nugent over the last two weeks, but that was due to a couple tough matchups. However, things are looking up this week as he faces a Chiefs defense that has been extremely generous to opposing place kickers. Nugent's eight actual kicking points scored per game between Weeks 13-16 may look pedestrian on paper, but he's tied for fourth in the league for the highest-scoring average among place kickers during that time.
Only one team in the league is surrendering more actual kicking points per game over the last four weeks than the Chiefs. Head coach Herm Edwards returns to his old stomping grounds, which could pump up his former team and help them keep the Jets out of the end zone. Nugent should be considered a solid No. 1 place kicker, barring any unforeseeable weather conditions at the Meadowlands.
Team Defenses - Strong Plays
The Bengals hit this list once again as a one-week play (not that there's much choice in the matter for those still in Week 17). Cincinnati is most likely available in your league, and they square off against the Miami Dolphins, who are looking towards next season. Cincinnati wants to finish their non-playoff season with a win.
They have a nice opportunity as they are expected to face a weak quarterback tandem of Cleo Lemon and John Beck. Cincinnati won by stifling the effective offenses of the Rams and Browns, but allowed the San Francisco 49ers to put up 337 total yards on them in between those games. Miami has allowed five sacks per game and more than two turnovers per game in the last month, and the Bengals' matchup makes them an outstanding matchup play.
Quarterbacks - Weak Plays
McNabb has tossed five touchdowns without an interception since returning to the field in Week 14. He has also found a bit of his former self with 101 rushing yards over that time. The Eagles have nothing to play for, but rumors are still swirling that this could be McNabb's swansong in Philly.
He might hit a sour chord, though; Buffalo is the only team that hasn't surrendered a passing touchdown in the last month. Quarterbacks haven't needed to excel to beat the Bills, who let the New York Giants pound out 291 rushing yards last week. Despite the Bills' numbers, McNabb could still serve as a solid No. 1 play.
Running Backs - Weak Plays
White (knee) put to rest any injury concerns last week when he posted 103 yards on 23 carries. He was kept out of the end zone for his second straight contest, but he has hit triple-digit yardage in two of his last three games with at least 95 yards in each outing.
The Titans are fighting for their playoff lives, but the Colts could rest some starters on offense and defense since they locked up the No. 2 seed in the conference. The Titans could put the ball in the hands of quarterback Vince Young despite his erratic play this year, and they could move the ball a bit quicker if the Colts secondary puts out its second string. Fantasy owners should still keep White in as a No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy back despite his weak matchup.
Rhodes grabbed the starting job when fellow back Justin Fargas (knee) was placed on Injured Reserve, and he put up 115 rushing yards on 27 carries in Week 16. He should keep this job for Week 17, and he could be leaned upon as rookie quarterback JaMarcus Russell tries to gain an offensive rhythm.
San Diego has allowed the second-lowest rushing total to opposing backs over the last month and a win would lock up the third seed in the AFC playoffs so don't look for them to rest many players. Plus, there's always fellow halfback LaMont Jordan lurking if Rhodes falters. Rhodes is not that safe of a play because of his tenuous hold on the job, and the Raiders might be looking to audition both backs to make a decision on the position for next season. Rhodes should be considered no better than a No. 3 back.
Wide Receivers - Weak Plays
Curtis contributed two touchdowns in last week's game, scoring one on a legit reception and the other on a hustle play; recovering McNabb's fumble in the end zone. He continues to lead the wideout's with 19 targets in the last two games, including 10 coming against the Saints last week.
The Bills defense is among the hardest in the league to crack through the air. They haven't allowed a receiver to find the end zone in their last four games while only six teams in the league are allowing fewer receptions than the Bills. Despite the weak matchup, Curtis still ranks as a moderate No. 2 option, mainly due to his status as the No. 1 receiver in the Eagles passing game.
Wide receiver Terrell Owens (ankle) has been ruled out for their Week 17 matchup, and after signing a four-year contract extension, Crayton may try to prove his worth in their final regular season game. He has, however, failed to produce over his last four games; failing to find the end zone in his last three games while totaling 12 catches during that time. He could also find himself on the sidelines if the team elects to rest key offensive personnel.
The Redskins are one of a couple teams that have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. If they win, they're in. The defense has been relatively solid against opposing receivers, tying several teams for giving up the second-fewest amount of touchdowns to the position in their last four games. The Cowboys are also expecting wide receiver Terry Glenn (knee) to see his first game action of the season, which could cut into Crayton's chances. Play him only as a No. 3 option.
Bowe heads into the final game of the season after making eight receptions for 97 yards and one touchdown in last week's loss to the Detroit Lions. He tallied his second-most utilizations of the season with 12 last week and is just 18 yards away from putting up 1,000 yards in his rookie season.
The Jets defense is giving up the second-least amount of receiving yards in the league while only four teams have given up fewer receptions to the position over their last four games. Bowe's matchup isn't the best, and he should be considered as no better than a No. 3 fantasy option.
Tight Ends - Weak Plays
The Steelers offense, which is without starting running back Willie Parker (leg) for the rest of their short season, may look to rest some of their starters in the passing game. Over the last four game, Miller has been targeted an average of four times per game, while receiving an impressive average of 1.75 looks inside the red zone.
While the Ravens struggle against opposing receivers, their linebackers and safeties have done a good job at containing opposing tight ends. They are allowing per-game reception, receiving yardage and touchdown numbers that all rank in the top-five in the league since Week 13. Miller could still be a factor early in the passing game but should be considered no better than a borderline No. 1 tight end.
Place Kickers - Weak Plays
Since Week 13, Bironas has scored an average of 6.8 actual kicking points per game for a very pedestrian offense is averaging just 16.5 points per game during that span. In last week's contest, he matched a season-low, scoring four actual kicking points for the third time this season.
While the Titans need to win this game in order to clinch a playoff spot, he might not be the most reliable kicking option for a championship game. The Colts defense is surrendering a league-low 2.5 actual kicking points per game to the position over the last four weeks. The Colts may look to rest some of their key starters, but they will give up by no means, which doesn't bode well for Bironas. Play him as a marginal No. 1 place kicker if a better option isn't readily available.
Team Defenses - Weak Plays
The Cowboys defense was already vulnerable to the pass, but now they might be more useless for this final week. The Cowboys have the top seed locked up, and their defense is a bit banged up: cornerback Terence Newman (foot, toe, knee) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (knee) could be rested for the playoffs.
The Redskins, however, are fighting for a playoff berth, and quarterback Todd Collins has shown effective decision-making while reducing turnovers. Dallas might not take too many defensive risks this week and should be avoided as the fantasy season runs out.
About Richard Garcia
Garcia served as a managing editor for KFFL. Prior to his time with KFFL, Richard worked in managerial roles with both Frito-Lay Inc. and UPS. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in public relations from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona and fulfilled his internship requirements with the Los Angeles Kings Hockey organization in 2001.
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