There are plenty of reasons to keep a close eye on this weekend’s NFL divisional playoff games even if your favorite team is weeks into its April draft planning and your most-hated rival has been knocked out, because there are several 2010 fantasy implications playing out in each game.
Although I buy into EP’s warning not to take too much into playoff performances, especially since teams typically play differently once they are in the playoffs — more reliance on the running game and a little more conservative in the passing attack — fantasy owners can still take tidbits from what happens this weekend.
Take last year for example. We saw our first evidence of Jake Delhomme forgetting how to throw on target, which continued into this season to deepen his fantasy plunge. We saw Arizona develop a consistent running game, which led to them investing a first round pick on Beanie Wells in hopes of building on that success. We saw the Wildcat offense flutter when a defense was ready for it, yet Miami and other NFL teams fooled some fantasy owners into believing Pat White, Michael Vick, etc. may have some value this year. And we saw the growth of Ben Roethlisberger into a star, which gave us a hunch he may explode this year – 4,328 yards and 26 TDs (100.5 rating) in 15 games. Not bad Ben!
Cardinals at Saints – Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Arizona has the unfortunate hurdle of playing on a short week after playing the late game on Sunday, however, the Green Bay battle wasn’t physical and these Cardinals have been down this path before. New Orleans has been vulnerable to the running game this season (i.e. Miami and in December), so Beanie Wells will again be the player to watch. The key is to see if Arizona will be committed and give the potential workhorse 15 to 20 carries, and this will tell us if Wells can handle a full-time load next season. Also take notes on Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. Another dynamic game out of these WRs could help propel these backups into decent fantasy roles next year.
New Orleans is primed to get back on track after resting some injuries and lying low the last three weeks of the season. After seeing what the Packers did last week, it’s a sure bet Drew Brees will have a sore arm by the fourth quarter. Unfortunately this season for fantasy owners, Brees has been very generous with the ball. Maybe this game we’ll determine if he has a favorite or a special connection with any of his talented receivers. Let’s pay specific attention to who he looks at on regular third downs and on early downs in the red zone.
My foolish prediction: New Orleans 31, Arizona 24 … The Saints are healthier — especially on defense — because of their rest, and Arizona will discover it’s more uncomfortable playing in New Orleans’ mega-noisy dome than at home.
Ravens at Colts – Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
Baltimore may have – well, probably – played its best game of the year last weekend. How can the Ravens start any better on Saturday? If they come close to matching it, then Joe Flacco won’t have to win the game and that’s what Baltimore is hoping for. As for us, focus on Todd Heap to see if he can recapture his fantasy value and get open. He disappeared last week, and we need to see if Flacco realizes Heap is a good security blanket, especially on third downs and in the red zone. We know what we have in Ray Rice, so let’s search for another Ravens’ offensive weapon.
Indianapolis has been waiting to prove its worth since throwing in the towel against the Jets. This means Peyton Manning will be airing it out and airing it out some more. We already have the book on the regulars – Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne – but we should start taking notes on Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Are these young receivers ready to be WR2s next fantasy season? We’ll start the evaluation on Saturday, particularly how often Manning looks to them in early downs. We know where he is going on key passing downs.
As for the game itself: Indianapolis 27, Baltimore 21 … It should be closer than what everyone expects, because the Ravens’ defense is hungry, the Colts can’t stop the run and Flacco should play a little better than last week. However, the Colts have too much firepower for the Ravens to keep up.
Editor’s Note: Jay-Mo’s Sunday snapshot will go live around noon eastern time today.