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January 8, 2013
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Divisional Round Rankings

Mike Clay
Writer, Rotoworld.com

The first round of the NFL playoffs is in the books, which brings us the always-entertaining Divisional round. Today, I’ll be ranking and analyzing each player expected to make an impact in this weekend’s games.

Quarterback

1. Aaron Rodgers - GB (@ SF)

You can’t really call the team ranking 12th in Pass:Run ratio a “pass heavy” team, but you could put the Packers in that category when they enter a situation like the one they’ll be in this weekend. When the Packers took on the 49ers (at home) in Week 1, they called 52 passes and only nine runs. That was with a healthy Cedric Benson on the roster, too. On the year, the Packers have called pass on 62 percent of their offensive plays, but that mark is 72 percent in losses. The 49ers have a tough defense, but Rodgers will have a strong fantasy day thanks to a high volume of throws. Expect him to approach the 45 dropback mark. The Packers are averaging 3.0 offensive touchdowns-per-game this season, but sit at 3.8 over their last five. That matches their season-long mark from an impressive 2011.

2. Tom Brady - NE (vs. HOU)
3. Colin Kaepernick - SF (vs. GB)
4. Peyton Manning - DEN (vs. BAL)
5. Matt Ryan - ATL (vs. SEA)
6. Russell Wilson - SEA (@ ATL)

I feel Rodgers stands above the field this week, but the next tier of quarterbacks is fairly even. Brady and Manning are known elite fantasy quarterbacks, but both figure to be in situations where their team can lean on the run game to protect a lead. It may surprise you to know that both the Broncos (ninth) and Patriots (10th) are among the league’s run-heaviest teams.

The Texans have been extremely generous to opposing pass games recently, and New England is averaging 3.8 offensive touchdowns and 75 offensive plays-per-game, both of which are tops in the league…The Ravens have one of the league’s top pass defenses, but they’ll struggle to slow a Broncos offense ranking third in the league with 3.1 offensive touchdowns-per-game…Since making his first start for the 49ers in Week 11, Kaepernick ranks eighth among quarterbacks in fantasy points. His 42 carries during that span ranks second at the position to only Cam Newton (64). The Packers have been tough against opposing passing attacks recently, but Kaepernick can use his legs to make up for an underwhelming passing performance…Ryan’s Falcons rank sixth in the league, averaging 2.8 offensive scores-per-game. They sit at 3.3 over their last five games. Atlanta ranks as the league’s seventh pass-heaviest team and averaged a 51:14 Pass:Run ratio during their three regular season losses. The Seattle pass defense is one of the league’s best, allowing only 12 fantasy points-per-game to opposing quarterbacks over its last eight games, despite missing No. 2 cornerback Brandon Browner in half of those affairs…Wilson has exactly one pass touchdown in four of his last five games, but had four in the other. The Seahawks have 11 rushing scores over that span, four of which were scored by Wilson. Seattle calls a pass only 50 percent of the time, which makes them the league’s run-heaviest team. Averaging 2.6 offensive scores-per-game, the Seahawks rank eighth in the league. That comes after a late-season surge that’s seen them averaging 3.8 offensive touchdowns over their last five games. The Falcons sport one of the league’s top pass defenses, which limits Wilson’s ceiling a bit.

7. Joe Flacco - BAL (@ DEN)
8. Matt Schaub - HOU (@ NE)

The Ravens are only middle-of-the-pack in offensive touchdowns-per-game and lean towards a run-first offensive attack. That certainly limits Flacco’s upside, especially against a tough Broncos pass defense. The only good news for Flacco is that he can be expected to throw the ball quite often as the Ravens figure to play from behind in Denver…The Texans last passing touchdown came in Week 15. They have only one over their last five games and three total offensive scores over their last four contests. Houston figures to be throwing the ball quite often in New England, but the recent dreadful production makes Schaub a fantasy liability.

Running Back

1. Arian Foster - HOU (@ NE)
2. Knowshon Moreno - DEN (vs. BAL)
3. Marshawn Lynch - SEA (@ ATL)

The Texans have handed the ball to a running back 99 times over their last four games. Foster has handled 85 (or 86 percent) of those carries. Ben Tate is clearly no threat to his workload right now. New England has been tough against the run recently, but allowed 100 yards and two scores on the ground when these teams met in Week 14. Houston will throw more than usual this week, but 20 carries is a safe over/under for Foster…During Weeks 1-13, the Broncos had a 29:6 Pass:Rush TD ratio. Over their last four games, they have an 8:6 mark. In six games since taking over as the Broncos lead back, Moreno ranks sixth among backs in fantasy points and third in carries. With Denver expected to lead or at least remain competitive in this one, Moreno should end up right around 20 carries, which is a mark he’s reached in five of his last six games. Baltimore has been near league average against the run over the last eight weeks…Benefiting from the league’s run-heaviest offense, Lynch has reached the 20-carry mark nine times this season. Seattle figures to throw a bit more than usual in Atlanta this week, but Lynch will remain involved enough to end up with 18-20 carries. Relative to their season-long production, the Falcons run defense has been better recently, but they remain one of the league’s easiest defenses to run the ball against.

4. Ray Rice - BAL (@ DEN)
5. Stevan Ridley - NE (vs. HOU)
6. Frank Gore - SF (vs. GB)

With Bernard Pierce’s playing time seemingly up over the last month, Rice’s fantasy stock is down. Don’t be fooled by the chatter. Take the Ravens’ Wild Card game against the Colts, for example. The Ravens were very run heavy in this one. Rice was in on 36 plays, 20 of which were pass plays. Pierce was in on a healthy 20 snaps, but ran it 13 times. He only ran five pass routes and doesn't have a target in his last three games as a backup. The majority of his production comes on the ground when Baltimore is trying to control the clock. This week, when the Ravens are struggling to keep up with Denver, expect to see a whole lot of Rice. He may struggle a bit against a tough Denver run defense, but he’ll still get the carries, and certainly the targets…The Texans sport a strong run defense, but Ridley is the lead and goal line back on a run-first team that leads the league in offensive plays. New England figures to control this game, which will leave Ridley with 16-18 carries and a good shot at a touchdown…Although the 49ers tend to score most of their touchdowns through the air, Gore benefits from the league’s third run-heaviest offense. The Packers may force the Niners to throw a few extra passes this week, but Gore should still be able to take advantage of a good 15 or so carries against an unintimidating run defense.

7. Michael Turner - ATL (vs. SEA)
8. DuJuan Harris - GB (@ SF)

As mentioned earlier, the Falcons are averaging just 14 rushes-per-game in their three losses this season. That doesn't bode well for Turner in what should be a tight one against Seattle. He generally takes advantage of games where Atlanta is looking to milk the clock with a lead. On the plus side, he’s the favorite for goal line duties and Seattle’s run defense hasn’t been very strong over the last two months…Harris has taken clear control of the Packers’ lead back job, but still surrenders passing down work to John Kuhn and a few carries to Ryan Grant. Still, 15 or so touches will keep him on the fantasy radar, even against a tough 49ers run defense that is allowing a league-low 3.3 adjusted YPC over their last seven games. Although Harris saw six targets on Saturday vs. Minnesota, keep in mind that he ran only 12 routes.

9. Danny Woodhead - NE (vs. HOU)
10. Jacquizz Rodgers - ATL (vs. SEA)
11. LaMichael James - SF (vs. GB)
12. Robert Turbin - SEA (@ ATL)
13. Brandon Bolden - NE (vs. HOU)
14. Bernard Pierce - BAL (@ DEN)
15. John Kuhn - GB (@ SF)
16. Ronnie Hillman - DEN (vs. BAL)
17. Ben Tate - HOU (@ NE)
18. Ryan Grant - GB (@ SF)
19. Jacob Hester - DEN (vs. BAL)
20. Jason Snelling - ATL (vs. SEA)

Woodhead will benefit most if New England falls behind early in the game. If they jump to a big lead, he’ll have trouble finding snaps…Rodgers is in a similar boat. If Atlanta is forced into a pass-heavy mode, he’ll see additional action…James and Turbin are around to keep Gore and Lynch, respectively, fresh…Bolden will approach 10 carries if New England can handle Houston with ease. He won’t play, if not…I touched on Pierce earlier – he needs the Ravens to build a lead in order to approach 10 carries…Kuhn scored twice in the Wild Card round, but he won’t do that this week despite handling some goal line and third down work…Hillman and Hester are competing for reps behind Moreno…Tate is barely being used with Foster handling most of Houston’s backfield snaps…Grant will keep Harris fresh.

Wide Receiver

1. Andre Johnson - HOU (@ NE)
2. Julio Jones - ATL (vs. SEA)
3. Michael Crabtree - SF (vs. GB)
4. Demaryius Thomas - DEN (vs. BAL)
5. Eric Decker - DEN (vs. BAL)
6. Roddy White - ATL (vs. SEA)
7. Wes Welker - NE (vs. HOU)

Johnson has reached the nine-target mark in 10 of his last 12 games, but saw only five in Saturday’s win against Cincinnati. Expect him to bounce back in a big way this week with the Texans likely to have to throw the ball early and often…Crabtree has seen between nine and 12 targets in each of his last five games. Over that five-game span, he ranks third among wide receivers in receptions (35), third in yards (538), fourth in touchdowns (four), and second in fantasy points (78). A whopping 39 percent of Kaepernick’s throws have gone his way since Week 13…Thomas and Decker have combined to see 45 percent of Manning’s targets this season. Thomas has reached eight targets 12 times this season. Decker has achieved the feat on nine occasions. Denver’s likelihood of controlling this week’s game against Baltimore (and thus running quite often in the second half) is the only thing keeping these two from a top-three ranking…Welker remains a target machine, having seen eight or more targets in all but the season opener this season. Of course, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have played only three full games together this season. Welker already doesn’t score very often (six touchdowns on the year), and will see even fewer opportunities near the endzone with those two fully back this week.

I wanted to expand a bit on Falcons wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White vs. Seahawks corners Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, so I separated them from the field.

First of all, thanks to ProFootballFocus.com, we can take a look at a few snap splits from the 2012 season. Sherman plays left corner on 82 percent of his snaps. That's where Roddy White is 56 percent of the time. Sherman is in the slot on only two percent of his snaps, compared to16 percent for White. On the other side of the mirror, Browner plays right corner on 89 percent of his snaps. That's where Jones is 62 percent of the time. Browner is in the slot on one percent of his snaps, compared to seven percent for Jones.

That being the case, we’d expect to see Sherman on White more than he is on Jones, and vice versa. Additionally, check out the Seattle secondary’s effectiveness against wide receivers this season (Weeks 14-17 are excluded because Browner was out):

Wide Receiver Trg Rec Yds TD % Slot F Pts   Wide Receiver Trg Rec Yds TD F Pts
Titus Young 9 9 100 2 7% 22.0   Calvin Johnson 7 3 46 0 4.6
Wes Welker 14 10 138 1 74% 19.8   Brandon LaFell 3 3 44 0 4.4
Brandon Marshall 12 10 165 0 15% 16.5   Steve Smith (Car) 11 4 40 0 4.0
Davone Bess 8 7 129 0 57% 12.9   Greg Jennings 9 6 35 0 3.5
Miles Austin 9 5 63 1 63% 12.3   Michael Crabtree 5 4 31 0 3.1
Andre Roberts 6 5 54 1 41% 11.4   Santana Moss 4 3 19 0 1.9
Danny Amendola 8 5 53 1 71% 11.3   Jordy Nelson 3 2 19 0 1.9
Ryan Broyles 4 3 37 1 65% 9.7   Dez Bryant 7 3 18 0 1.8
Brandon Lloyd 12 6 80 0 7% 8.0   Brian Hartline 5 2 17 0 1.7
Earl Bennett 3 1 12 1 60% 7.2   Randy Moss 3 1 14 0 1.4
Larry Fitzgerald 9 4 63 0 14% 6.3   Percy Harvin 6 2 10 0 1.0
Jeremy Kerley 7 5 57 0 59% 5.7   Randall Cobb 2 1 -1 0 -0.1
James Jones 6 5 55 0 6% 5.5              
Chris Givens 3 1 52 0 14% 5.2              
Pierre Garcon 6 4 50 0 12% 5.0              



The chart on the left shows the top wide receiver performances against Seattle during our 13-game sample. Notice that six of the top eight and eight of the top 12 games in terms of fantasy points were put up by wide receivers who work as their team’s primary slot man. This is a product of Sherman and Browner’s dominance on the outside. For further proof of their impact, check out the chart on the right side. This is simply a list of additional top receivers who faced off with Seattle this season. The duo was able to keep the likes of Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith, Greg Jennings, Michael Crabtree, Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, Percy Harvin, and Randall Cobb each below five fantasy points.

Jones and White are among the best at their position and have combined to see 45 percent of Ryan’s targets this season. That keeps them on the radar as strong plays this week. Still, Seattle’s dominance against outside receivers may force Ryan to throw to slot man Harry Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez more than usual.

8. Randall Cobb - GB (@ SF)
9. James Jones - GB (@ SF)
10. Greg Jennings - GB (@ SF)
11. Jordy Nelson - GB (@ SF)
12. Torrey Smith - BAL (@ DEN)
13. Golden Tate - SEA (@ ATL)
14. Anquan Boldin - BAL (@ DEN)

I feel like I cheated a bit by putting all four Packers right next to each other, but it’s really the only way to go right now. Cobb's low for targets this season is two (three times): Weeks 2, 3, and 18. He ranked third at the position in snaps against Minnesota on Saturday, but remains the team’s target leader this season. He’ll bounce back this week. Jones is a touchdown machine and played all but two snaps last week. Jennings was second in line for snaps this past week and has seen a team-high 20 percent of Rodgers’ targets since Week 13. Nelson was targeted six times despite playing only 19 snaps last week…Tate has seen a team-high 19 percent of Wilson’s targets since Week 7. Seattle moves their wideouts around quite a bit, but Atlanta’s corners are locked into their spots. Tate will see Dunta Robinson when he’s lined up wide left (about half his snaps), Asante Samuel when he’s wide right (a third of his snaps), and impressive Robert McClain when he makes a rare trip to the slot.

The Ravens will throw more than they’d prefer against Denver this week, which means additional targets for both Smith and Boldin. Smith has scored only once since finding the endzone twice against Oakland back in Week 10. Still, he’s seeing near 20 percent of Flacco’s targets and leads the league in average depth of target. Boldin is on fire over his last two games, having hauled in 12 of his last 14 targets for 238 yards and a touchdown. The key here is which receiver will be covered by Denver’s standout corner Champ Bailey. When the two teams met in Week 15, Smith played 36 snaps before leaving with an injury. Bailey lined up across from him on 32 of those plays. In fact, after Smith left, Bailey covered replacement his Jacoby Jones, leaving Boldin to Chris Harris and Tony Carter. In that game, Smith caught one pass on three targets. Boldin was shut out on six targets.

15. Brandon Lloyd - NE (vs. HOU)
16. Sidney Rice - SEA (@ ATL)
17. Randy Moss - SF (vs. GB)
18. Doug Baldwin - SEA (@ ATL)
19. Brandon Stokley - DEN (vs. BAL)
20. Harry Douglas - ATL (vs. SEA)
21. Kevin Walter - HOU (@ NE)
22. Jacoby Jones - BAL (@ DEN)
23. Tandon Doss - BAL (@ DEN)
24. A.J. Jenkins - SF (vs. GB)
25. Deion Branch - NE (vs. HOU)

Lloyd played behind Branch in Week 17, but that doesn’t figure to be the case in a more competitive game against Houston this week. Still, Lloyd is now fourth in line for targets with Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez all back to full health…Over his last three games, Sidney Rice has totaled four targets. He’ll see a lot of Asante Samuel and Robert McClain this week…Speaking of McClain, Baldwin is a name to avoid this week with McClain shutting down slot corners in the second half of 2012…Moss will start, but is too reliant on the occasional touchdown in order to reach fantasy respectability…Stokley and Jenkins need their respective teams to remain in competitive games in order to see favorable snap numbers…Douglas is a nice sleeper this week with Jones and White stuck up against Browner and Sherman…Walter could benefit from Houston trailing New England throughout most of their game…Jones, Doss, and Branch are well off the fantasy radar.

Tight End

1. Rob Gronkowski - NE (vs. HOU)
2. Tony Gonzalez - ATL (vs. SEA)

Despite appearing in only 11 games this season, Gronkowski managed to account for 32 percent of the Patriots’ receiving touchdowns (11 total). He scored in Week 17 despite working just 25 snaps. Expected back at full strength this week, Gronkowski is locked in as fantasy’s top tight end…During Atlanta’s first nine games, Gonzalez averaged 8.6 targets-per-game and reached 10 targets four times. In seven games since, he’s averaged 6.3 targets and hasn’t eclipsed nine targets. Still, six or so targets is strong for a tight end and he may see even more looks than usual with Jones and White facing tough coverage on the outside.

3. Owen Daniels - HOU (@ NE)
4. Aaron Hernandez - NE (vs. HOU)
5. Dennis Pitta - BAL (@ DEN)

I guess Texans coach Gary Kubiak wasn't kidding when he said he’d be getting Owen Daniels more involved. Daniels saw a season-high 11 targets against the Bengals. He’ll remain heavily involved against New England this week…Hernandez is averaging 8.9 targets-per-game in nine full games this season. His touchdown chances take a shot with Gronkowski back, but he remains a target machine…With Smith and Boldin getting shut down on the outside, Pitta put up 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns on seven receptions against Denver in Week 15. With Smith seemingly stuck on Bailey again this week, Pitta should be in for another six-plus targets.

6. Jermichael Finley - GB (@ SF)
7. Zach Miller - SEA (@ ATL)
8. Vernon Davis - SF (vs. GB)
9. Joel Dreessen - DEN (vs. BAL)
10. Delanie Walker - SF (vs. GB)
11. Jacob Tamme - DEN (vs. BAL)
12. Anthony McCoy - SEA (@ ATL)
13. James Casey - HOU (@ NE)
14. Garrett Graham - HOU (@ NE)
15. Ed Dickson - BAL (@ DEN)

Finley has seen 43 targets since the Packers’ Week 10 bye. That’s tied for second on the team at all positions…Since Week 10, Zach Miller has seen 32 targets, which is one more than Sidney Rice…Since his eight-target Week 11 performance, Davis has totaled 11 targets in six games. Over that same span, Walker has handled 18 targets…Tamme has struggled with inconsistency this season, seeing nine or more targets three times, but fewer than five targets nine times. He’s totaled 10 targets in four games since putting up 13 in Week 13. His teammate Dreessen has scored only one touchdown since Week 10.

Kicker

1. Matt Prater – DEN (vs. BAL)
2. Steven Hauschka – SEA (@ ATL)
3. Stephen Gostkowski – NE (vs. HOU)
4. David Akers / Billy Cundiff – SF (vs. GB)
5. Matt Bryant – ATL (vs. SEA)
6. Shayne Graham – HOU (@ NE)
7. Justin Tucker – BAL (@ DEN)
8. Mason Crosby – GB (@ SF)

Team Defense / Special Teams

1. Broncos (vs. BAL)
2. Seahawks (@ ATL)
3. Patriots (vs. HOU)
4. 49ers (vs. GB)
5. Packers (@ SF)
6. Falcons (vs. SEA)
7. Ravens (@ DEN)
8. Texans (@ NE)

Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter .

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