I need you to open your heart and mind for me, and let risk in. Embrace it, and hug it warmly. Make sure you call it tomorrow, and send it a Christmas card.
If you’ve been streaming defenses throughout the fantasy season (as you should have been if one of the very top units isn’t on your roster), you know this is a process of identifying which weak defenses with specific strengths can excel in the right matchup, preferably against an even weaker offense. The three listed below meet that criteria for semi-final weekend, but for two of them, you may have to set aside some deep rooted dumpster fire fears.
1. Tennessee Titans vs. Cardinals (percentage owned: 46%)
Let’s just entirely ignore last week, and that time the Titans were thoroughly thrashed by Pey Pey and his crew to the tune of 51 points. Cool? Pretty much any defense and every defense that isn’t fielded by the Chargers (seriously, how weird was that?) is getting dummied by Denver right now.
So once your mind gets past that game, let’s review another recent Titans defensive outing, focusing on their pass defense that’s anchored by Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty. Verner leads the league in passes defensed with 20, and although he’s listed as questionable this week, he practiced today and should be just fine. This is a defense that’s a week removed from sacking Andrew Luck five times while holding him to a completion percentage of 53.1 as his yards per attempt sunk to 6.3. And there’s Luck’s passer rating, which fell to 59.4.
The distance between the Titans’ defensive performance against Manning last week (who threw for 397 yards with four touchdowns) and Luck the week before is a vast and sprawling landscape. But with the Cardinals and their 26th-ranked running game teed up, here’s the middle ground that’s far more important against a vertical Bruce Arians offense that will continually ask a wounded and flat-footed Carson Palmer to chuck deep: Tennessee’s defensive backfield has held five quarterbacks to 200 or fewer passing yards this year, which includes Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisbeger, both of whom are averaging over 280 yards per game on the season.
Andre Ellington is a threat, and with his dozen or so touches per game he could always bust one deep. But this game will come down to the battles on the corners with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd when Arizona has the ball, a fight Verner, McCourty, and a secondary allowing only 226.8 yards per game can either win or at least sufficiently contain. Even if it’s the latter, that should be more than enough.
2. Philadelphia Eagles @Vikings (percentage owned: 18%)
Usually there’s not a whole lot to like here. I don’t have to do this, but I will anyway: the Eagles have been pretty regularly obliterated while allowing the second most passing yards per game (285.5), and the chunks have been plentiful too, with 49 completions allowed for 20 yards or more.
Here’s another thing I don’t need to do: tell you that an offense rooted in the run which now could very likely be playing without Adrian Peterson will be highly vulnerable, especially since said offense calls Matt Cassel its quarterback. Then that gets even more true with Toby Gerhart hurting, as both of the Vikings running backs enter the weekend listed as questionable. Gerhart missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, and was limited today. Peterson still has a shot to play on his wonky ankle, though he admitted there’s still pain, and he’ll surely be functioning at something far less than his typical awesomeness if he’s on the field. If both he and Gerhart can’t go, then someone named Matt Asiata will be the lead back.
So with the Vikings’ running game sufficiently zapped, that leaves the burden of competence resting squarely on Cassel’s arm a week after he completed just 44.7 percent of his passes against the Ravens.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Bills (percentage owned: 3%)
The risky bottom picking continues here, and similar to the Eagles above you don’t need me to list off all the reasons why starting the Jaguars during semi-final week is not exactly an appealing thing at first. But yeah, I’ll do it anyway.
- They’re allowing 256.2 passing yards per game (26th)
- They’re allowing 126.8 rushing yards per game (27th)
- They’re allowing 383.0 total yards per game (29th)
- They’ve allowed the third most touchdowns in the league (45 in total).
Well, that’s one hell of an endorsement. If this football writing deal doesn’t work out, I’ll start my own advertising agency. At the very least, I understand how employee compensation works.
But if you look solely at those numbers, you’re doing this all wrong, man. Even among the rubble that is the Jaguars we can find some gold when it matters most, and right now E.J. Manuel is that glistening nugget deliverer.
Earlier on in the season Manuel showed some flashes of something in an offense that kept everything as simple as possible for a rookie adjusting mostly through progression reads. Knowing what we know now about the Panthers defense, it’s seems like the boxscore must be telling an evil lie when it says that Manuel threw for his season high 296 yards against them back in Week 2. Now? Welp, he’s fresh off of being sacked seven times in Week 14 by the Bucs, a game when he also threw four interceptions.
That wasn’t just a one-off blip either, as Manuel hasn’t regained even the flashes of whatever he showed earlier in his rookie year. Of his four starts since returning from injury, Manuel’s already pedestrian YPA on the season (6.3) has fallen below 6.0 twice, bottoming out at 4.0 in Week 10. Over that stretch he’s completed 59.0 percent of his passes, and his passer rating has been below 80.0 twice (only 31.2 against the Bucs).
So no, there’s nothing overwhelming about the Jaguars defense, especially with Johnathan Cyprien doubtful. But right now, any Manuel opponent is a defense worth streaming.