Lost in the finals? Didn't make your fantasy playoffs? Don't worry, you have a fresh start in January. I will tell you everything you need to know about Wild Card Weekend and how you should plan for postseason success.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
Houston has stumbled into the playoffs dropping from the top seed all the way to the third seed. They still have home field advantage for the first round, though. Matt Schaub should not be on your radar in fantasy circles, but Arian Foster and Andre Johnson should. It appears there should be no concerns about Foster's irregular heartbeat. Andre Johnson stormed on to the scene after a slow start, posting big points per reception (PPR) league numbers since Week 6. He caught 95 balls in the last 11 games of the season, which allowed him to finish top 5 in the league in receptions. The only statistic slacking for Johnson was his touchdown numbers (four). In PPR leagues, he will make for a nice Week 18 option since Houston may not last longer than the divisional round with a rematch in New England looming if they defeat Cincinnati.
The last option on the Texans to consider would be Owen Daniels. The tight end field is slim this week, but Daniels has not been playing as well as he was for the first 75 percent of the season. It is likely no coincidence that the Texans have struggled as well in that same time frame. It is a good sign that coach Gary Kubiak knows this as well. He promised to get the ball more to Daniels in their game this weekend. He has been banged up, but who isn't this time of the year?
On the other side, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will need to have big days in order for them to bring down the Texans. Jonathan Joseph could be matched up with Green for most of this one, which could hurt his numbers. However, for the most part, Green has been matchup proof. The stud receiver from Georgia hauled in 10 touchdowns from Weeks 2-11, but then was able to score just once the remainder of the season. This could be a cause for concern as the Bengals enter the playoffs, but they know who they need to get the ball to in order to win. In Green's two career games against Houston, he his numbers are five catches for 59 yards and five catches for 47 yards (last year's playoff game). I would avoid BenJarvus Green-Ellis as his upside is limited.
As for the defenses, it will be hard to totally trust Houston, but I would give the Texans a chance at home this weekend. You do not want them for the long haul of January as you could be staring at some negative digits against the New England Patriots the following weekend.
Prediction: Houston 24, Cincinnati 10
Houston will be refocused and come out strong at home.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Who will be the most popular player chosen in Wild Card Weekend? You guessed it. The new member of the 2,000-yard rushing club will be hands down taken in at least nine-of-10 playoff sheets for those that can only take each player once and submit a new weekly lineup. Adrian Peterson and his Vikings are eight-point underdogs in Green Bay and they certainly cannot beat the Packers twice in six days, right?
Green Bay has had plenty of nightmares of Hakeem Nicks catching that 37-yard Hail Mary and will be looking to get back on track at Lambeau Field. I don't think Christian Ponder has what it takes to beat the Packers on the road. There are absolutely no receiving options, and only Kyle Rudolph should be considered at tight end for Minnesota. I am not as confident in him this weekend, though. Blair Walsh? Maybe, but check the weather report in Green Bay. This isn't the Metrodome, and if the Vikings need to keep up with the high-flying Packer offense, field goals won't cut it.
Now to the fun side of the ball -- the Green Bay offense. Aaron Rodgers is an intriguing pick for Week 18 as some believe the Packers could be the team that starts on Wild Card weekend and makes a run into February. This reminds me of 2011 when the popular New Orleans Saints went into San Francisco and the 49ers took care of business. I am taking the suspense out early, but I am going with a Denver-San Francisco Super Bowl, so I believe that the Packers will not play more than two games. Therefore, I would not mind loading up on Packers this weekend.
Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are all options for Saturday night, but I am trusting Jennings the most, especially after his eight-catch, 120-yard, two-touchdown line last week in Minnesota. Keep in mind that the Packers' medical staff still has some concern about Nelson and Cobb is also a little dinged. Jermichael Finley has quietly played respectably the last few weeks with 18 catches on 23 targets the last three weeks. Getting into the end zone has been difficult, but with the limited tight end options in Week 18, Finley is in your top three. For the entire postseason, you are better off trusting Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez, who can surely do more damage in two games that Finley could do in three, or even four games.
The only reason Mason Crosby needs to be mentioned is to remind you not to take him. Does your league penalize for missed field goals? Cross this kicker off of your list. It does not matter to me that he is four for his last four and hasn't missed since Week 15. He is 21-for-33 this year on field goals and that is after he started the year 5-for-5. Unless you think the Packers are going to the Super Bowl and you are not penalized for misses, avoid Crosby.
Prediction: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 20
Too much offense on the Packers side and Christian Ponder cannot be trusted on the road.
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
The Colts are rolling into the playoffs with momentum as winners of five of their last six. If you want to go even further, Indianapolis is 9-2 since its Week 6 disaster against the New York Jets, which seems unexplainable now. However, just one of their wins in that stretch came against a winning team -- Week 17 against Houston. They did post wins very early in the year at home against Minnesota and Green Bay.
There is some bad news for their rushing defense, which ranks 29th in the league, giving up 137.5 yards per game. Arian Foster found success in both games against the Colts, which could equate to a big day for Ray Rice. An interesting stat for the Colts is, that despite being 11-5, they have scored 357 points, but allowed 387. This could attribute to big losses to Chicago, the New York Jets and New England, but that is still difficult to swallow when you post 11 wins. Six of their wins were by just four points or less. Nevertheless, a win is a win in the NFL. The time may not be now for the Colts, though, since Ray Lewis will supposedly be retiring after his 17th season, but I am not totally convinced he is done.
Reggie Wayne's numbers dipped off a bit down the stretch, but his targets did not. In the last five games, Wayne caught just 22 balls (way down from his average of 7.6 catches per game in the first 11 games), but was still targeted 50 times. Andrew Luck will still make sure to look Wayne's way, but with a decently deep wide receiver field this postseason and even this weekend, Wayne may not make the cut.
The Ravens were slumping before their throttling of the New York Giants at home in Week 16. I trust Baltimore at home to take care of the Colts, but don't expect their defense to give a total dominating performance even with Ray Lewis back in the middle.
Joe Flacco will have Torrey Smith at his disposal, as well as Anquan Boldin, but you are digging deep for the veteran. Dennis Pitta finished the season with a respectable 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns, but disappeared at times during the middle of the season. As I previously stated, the tight end selections this week are slim, and it comes down to Owen Daniels, Jermichael Finley, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph or Jermaine Gresham. I would rank them in that order with the first three players being on winning teams.
I think Justin Tucker is the best kicker of Week 18 for what it's worth.
Prediction: Baltimore 23, Indianapolis 17
The Ravens will always have control, but will not completely separate on the scoreboard.
Seattle Seahawks at Washington RedskinsThis is the most evenly matched game of the weekend and thus the most difficult one to predict. The winner could springboard to the NFC Championship game, or perhaps even further as they are both hot teams. However, picking the winner isn't easy so you should go with your gut on this one.
Seattle is a slight favorite on the road, which goes against what the Seahawks are all about. They are extremely efficient at home, but tend to struggle on the road. Russell Wilson has taken charge of this team and flourished as of late. Marshawn Lynch ran for nearly 1,600 yards and posted 11 touchdowns this season. Seattle had the greatest point differential, plus 167 in the NFC and behind only New England and Denver in the AFC. Their defense did allow the lowest points in the league. Brandon Browner will also be back for the Seahawks this week after serving his suspension. This defense is loaded, but will Robert Griffin III be careless with the ball? Alfred Morris fumbled four times this season, so the question will be are there enough turnover opportunities for this defense. If they were home, the answer would be completely different as they lose that advantage on the road.
Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are lower wide receiver options this week and there really are not any tight end options in this game on either side of the ball.
While the Redskins may report that Griffin is back to 100 percent, it appears at times as if he is not completely there, yet. He did scramble and was effective last Sunday night, but there was a bigger burst before the injury. Seattle can match up with the Redskins offense, but if Alfred Morris continues to get five yards a carry, they will be unstoppable. Pierre...