Week one of the fantasy football playoffs is in the books and owners of victorious teams are knee deep in week two lineup preparations. There is no rest for the weary at this point in the season and the level of opposition rises from one week to the next.
There were plenty of surprises last week with some big name players coming up short (I’m looking at you Daryl Washington and Chad Greenway) of expectation while others stepped up and flourished (Hello Ziggy Hood and Joselio Hanson) from out of nowhere.
For the IDP owners who have managed to survive and advance despite some of the aforementioned names disappointing as they did last week it is time to swing for the fences. Matchups and momentum are as important as season stats and it is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ world.
With that in mind we have skewed this week’s sleepers towards players that may have more big play potential than impressive season to date numbers. What players have done up until now is irrelevant and is all about what will they do moving forward.
Let’s take a look at the top sleeper candidates heading into week 15…
Frostee Rucker, DE, CLEVELAND vs. WASHINGTON: The Browns had a rare blowout victory and Rucker enjoyed a very productive day with seven total tackles and a sack. In his last three games Rucker has posted 12 total tackles, a sack and one pass batted down. He is an excellent option this week as the Redskins will continue to ride rookie running back Alfred Morris and that will equal tackle opportunities. There will also chances to get to the quarterback, as it will be either the much less mobile Kirk Cousins or a limited Robert Griffin III under center for the Redskins.
Michael Brockers, DT, ST LOUIS, vs. MINNESOTA: Brockers is hitting his stride for the Rams after battling through an early season ankle injury that cost him a few games. Over the past month he has amassed 21 total tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Surprisingly, the Vikings are not really very fantasy friendly to the defensive line position despite pounding the rock with Adrian Peterson as much as they do. That being said, Brockers has been playing so well of late that he is borderline matchup proof and look for nice fantasy totals this week.
Lawrence Jackson, DE, DETROIT, at ARIZONA: The Lions defensive line has taken some hits on the injury front lately with tackle Nick Fairley suffering a shoulder injury last week and Corey Williams being placed on IR with his knee problem. Jackson racked up his second sack of the season last week against the Packers and looked as healthy and active as he has all season. He had 3 combined tackles and also forced a fumble while playing only 27 snaps. Look for him to garner more playing time this week against the Cardinals and be one of many Lions defenders that put up nice fantasy numbers in the desert.
Corey Wootton, DE, CHICAGO, vs. GREEN BAY: Wootton recorded two solo tackles on Sunday and added a sack, bringing his season total to 5.5. The Bears defense is being ravaged by injuries and suffered two more when they lost rookie defensive end Shea McClellin to a knee injury and tackle Henry Melton to a shoulder injury in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota. With a trip to Green Bay on tap and their playoff chances hanging in the balance look for Chicago to pull out all the stops in getting after Aaron Rodgers. Look for an increase in snaps for Wootton against the most sacked quarterback in the league this week and some excellent fantasy numbers.
Chris Long, DE, ST LOU, vs. MINNESOTA: Long has not had the big season that a lot of fantasy pundits (including myself) predicted but is still an elite pass rushing option. He bought his season total to 7.5 sacks by assisting in bringing down Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Bills last week. The Vikings are a nice fantasy matchup for Long as Adrian Peterson has been racking up big gains by reaching the edge where Long will be lined up and able to amass tackle numbers. And while he has only been sacked five times in the last month, Christian Ponder has gone down for a loss 28 times on the season.
Desmond Bryant, DT, OAKLAND, vs. KANSAS CITY: Bryant had four solo tackles and a sack last week raising his totals to 29 total tackles, a single sack and a forced fumble. He’s been an up and down option along the defensive front for the Raiders and has a nice matchup this week to build on his productive week 14. The injury suffered by Dwayne Bowe will have the Chiefs likely to employ something close to a 65% rush to 35% pass ratio this Sunday. With a shaky Brady Quinn at quarterback and a very weak set of wide receivers, look for a steady dose of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. When Kansas City does attempt to throw the ball Bryant is applying consistent pressure and has been credited with five QB hits along with eight QB hurries over the past four games and is due to cash in. Look for a very nice fantasy performance this week.
Quinton Coples, DE, NEW YORK JETS, at TENNESSEE: Coples played one of the strongest games he has in his rookie season against Jacksonville last week. He produced steady pressure and was rewarded with two solo tackles and a sack while playing 35 defensive snaps. The Jets are technically still alive in the playoff race but realistically are not going to make it so look for them to continue to give Coples ample playing time. Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker was only sacked once in their loss to Indianapolis last week but was brought down six times by Houston two weeks ago. The Jets offense isn’t going to scare anyone so look for Coples and the defense to take matters into their own hands on Sunday and hound Jake Locker all game long.
Bruce Irvin, DE, SEATTLE, at BUFFALO (TORONTO): Irvin registered another sack last Sunday in the Seahawks destruction of the Cardinals, which brings his season total to eight. He is truly the ultimate boom or bust option for fantasy purposes as he has put up only 13 total tackles and is totally big play dependent. While he is a one trick pony that one trick is getting after the quarterback and he has the chance every week to explode for multiple sacks. St Louis sacked Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick 5 times last week and that bodes very nicely for Irvin.
Jason McCourty, CB, TENNESSEE, vs. NEW YORK JETS: McCourty has settled in nicely as the #1 cornerback in Tennessee, totaling over 70 combined tackles with two interceptions, a forced fumble and nine passes defensed. He’s willing to step up and help support against the run while allowing 68.9% of passes to the man he’s covering to be completed. That equates to a lot of chances to amass fantasy numbers, as quarterbacks are not afraid to throw his direction. This week he gets the chance to line up against New York QB, Mark Sanchez and his 12-13 TD to interception ratio. He’s primed for a big week and belongs in fantasy lineups.
Major Wright, SS, CHICAGO, vs. GREEN BAY: Wright has quietly been a very solid fantasy option this season while compiling 57 total tackles, four interceptions with a forced fumble and defensive TD scored. He had a relatively quiet game the first time the Bears faced Green Bay and finished with six total stops. Look for a much better stat line in the rematch as Detroit’s safety duo of Ricardo Silva and Don Carey combined for 11 solo and 16 combined tackles last week against Green Bay.
Leonard Johnson, CB, TAMPA BAY, at NEW ORLEANS: The undrafted rookie from Iowa State has had a very nice season with three interceptions, a defensive touchdown and 30 total tackles. Johnson did not play a single defensive snap in the first meeting with the Saints back in week seven so this will be his first look at Drew Brees and you can bet that the ‘rookie corner rule’ will be on full display. Brees has had two subpar performances and will look to get on track by continually testing Johnson and that makes him a very valuable fantasy option this week.
Patrick Robinson, CB, NEW ORLEANS, vs. TAMPA BAY: The first game between these two teams was a shootout and both offenses were effective through the air. The Saints had no answer for Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and it was Robinson covering Jackson more than any other Saints cornerback. He finished the day with seven total tackles and look for Tampa Bay to try and exploit Robinson again this week. He does have 50 total tackles and three interceptions on the year and will definitely be heavily involved in trying to contain Jackson as well as rookie running back Doug Martin. A big week is on tap for Robinson and he’s a very good sleeper candidate.
Dunta Robinson, CB, ATLANTA, vs. NEW YORK GIANTS: Robinson is in line for a very busy week against the Giants as the top two cornerbacks for the Saints last week put up 12 solo tackles. Over the last 4 games Robinson has totaled 22 combined tackles and a sack while playing very solid in pass coverage. He hasn’t allowed the receiver he’s been covering to score a touchdown in those games but will be hard pressed to keep that streak going against the talented Giants wide receivers. Robinson is an excellent sleeper candidate in this showdown between NFC division leaders.
Cassius Vaughn, CB, INDIANAPOLIS, at HOUSTON: Vaughn had a heck of a week 14 with 8 solo tackles, 3 passes defensed and an interception which he returned (more precisely he took two steps into the end zone) for a touchdown. He’s seen his role increase as the year has progressed after being called upon as an injury fill-in early in the season. His willingness to step up in run support, he has 19 total tackles in the last three games, will serve him well this week as the Texans look to get running back Arian Foster unleashed. Vaughn is only serviceable in coverage, which makes him an inviting target for quarterbacks, further enhancing his fantasy value.
Cary Williams, CB, BALTIMORE, vs. DENVER: Williams leads all Baltimore cornerbacks in tackles (62) and passes defended (13) this season and continues to build on his solid 2011 campaign. With a date with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on deck Williams figures to be tested early and often as Manning spreads the ball around and fears no cornerbacks. Williams has four interceptions and a sack as well this season so does contribute some big play potential. Manning is difficult to sack with his quick release but has thrown an interception in four straight games so that possibility is there for Williams. He’s a very nice sleeper option this week.
Chris Houston, CB, DETROIT, at ARIZONA: Yet another Detroit Lion makes the list but when there’s a matchup against the dumpster fire that is the Cardinals offense it makes perfect sense. In the last four games Arizona has been intercepted 9 times and lost 5 fumbles while tossing zero touchdown passes and only three rushing scores. Ryan Lindley has been named the starter and that bodes well for the Detroit secondary in general and especially their top cornerback Houston. Big play possibilities will be in the air (literally) on Sunday and look for Houston to take full advantage.
Ernie Sims, ILB, DALLAS, vs. PITTSBURGH: Sims had another strong outing as he put up ten total tackles and a sack Sunday against the Bengals. He has posted 14 tackles over the past two games while establishing himself as the man in the middle for the Dallas defense. Sims and Dan Connor were expected to share the load in the middle for the Cowboys after Sean Lee went down but it has been the Sims show. He’s played 125 snaps the last two games to 60 for Connor. The Steelers will look to reestablish a running game after an embarrassing loss to San Diego last week and Sims will have a lot of tackle opportunities.
Quentin Groves, OLB, ARIZONA, vs. DETROIT: Groves put up seven total tackles and a sack in the Cardinals humiliating loss to Seattle on Sunday and was one of the few players that didn’t appear to mail it in. Over the past three games he has been very productive, amassing 20 combined tackles, two sacks and forcing a fumble. Arizona defenders will be looking to save face, show some pride and put a hurting on the visiting Lions. Detroit historically struggles in Arizona and is struggling to find an offensive rhythm. Look for Groves to be harassing quarterback Matthew Stafford all day long and rack up some decent tackle numbers as well.
Justin Durant, SLB, DETROIT, at ARIZONA: Durant has seen his tackle totals dip over the past two weeks and has only managed to post six stops in those games. The Cardinals will look to run the ball as much as possible on Sunday due to their lack of a true NFL quarterback and that will afford Durant plenty of tackle opportunities. There is also the chance for the big play as Arizona has decided to turn back to Ryan Lindley this week and he’s shown a proclivity to throw equally well to the offense and the defense. Look for a bounce back week for Durant as the Lions try and return to the win column.
Erik Walden, OLB, GREEN BAY, at CHICAGO: Clay Mathews may be back on the field for the Packers this week and that should actually boost the fantasy effectiveness of Walden. Mathews will draw the lion’s share of attention from the Bears offensive line allowing Walden to bring effective pressure from the outside. Walden averages 50 snaps a game when Mathews is in the lineup so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to get after Jay Cutler (I’m assuming he gives it a go this week) and benefit from the return of Mathews. Look for Walden to add to the three total sacks he has put up so far in 2012.
Rob Ninkovich, OLB, NEW ENGLAND, vs. SAN FRANCISCO: Ninkovich has posted seven sacks, five forced fumbles, and totaled 48 tackles this season while manning the edge for the New England. He’s found his niche on the Patriots defense and is a big play threat every week while averaging a healthy 59 snaps per game. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been sacked 7 times in the past 2 games and that makes Ninkovich a very nice fantasy option this week.
Takeo Spikes, ILB, SAN DIEGO, vs. CAROLINA: The veteran Spikes is still producing at a decent level for the Chargers and has totaled 66 tackles while also forcing a pair of fumbles. For the season Carolina has not been a fantasy friendly opponent for linebackers but a closer look at last week’s game reveals that the trio of Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas, and Akeem Dent posted a combined 25 tackles for the Falcons. Spikes has always been solid in stopping the run and will post excellent tackle numbers lining up against the resurgent Panthers offense.
Whitney Mercilus, OLB, HOUSTON, vs. INDIANAPOLIS: The third time is certainly a charm for Mercilus as the kid has made the list again and that is three consecutive weeks. His snap count has surpassed 70 in each of the last three games and he has posted sacks in the Texans last two games and has also improved his play against the run. Houston is going to be angry after being embarrassed by the Patriots on Monday night and look for Mercilus and company to be all over Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. This is a statement game for the Texans and Mercilus so expect big fantasy totals.
Tamba Hali, OLB, KANSAS CITY, at OAKLAND: Hali got to the quarterback twice last week in Cleveland bringing his season total to eight. The Raiders only allowed a single sack against the potent Denver pass rush last week but Carson Palmer was under duress all game long as he was hit twice and hurried another six times. Palmer has been sacked 26 times on the season and the Raiders are lacking any consistency in their passing game. Hali had a very quiet first game against the Raiders in which registered only two solo tackles and wasn’t even credited with a QB hurry. Look for that to change in this meeting of two struggling teams as Hali gets to Palmer at least once.
OK, let’s add a couple of honorable mentions as we head into week two of the fantasy playoffs. Two veteran defensive ends that are perhaps headed for one last big fantasy week before heading off into the sunset are Detroit’s Kyle Vanden Bosch and New York’s Justin Tuck. Chicago linebacker Nick Roach could post another strong fantasy week against the Packers who seem intent on trying to run the ball more. Finally, Dashon Goldson has a favorable matchup against Tom Brady and the Patriots this week and could post season high numbers.
As always…good luck!!