Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are going to dominate the headlines for the championship games this weekend -- with maybe a little Wes Welker talk mixed in for fun. But these are the matchups most people wanted to see with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
You have the two top teams in the AFC with the No. 1 seed Broncos vs. the No. 2 seed Patriots. And these really are the two best teams in the NFC with the No. 1 Seahawks vs. the No. 5 seed 49ers. Both games are rematches and both have plenty of intrigue.
Manning won his first playoff game with the Broncos after they disposed of the Chargers in the Divisional round. He didn't have a dominant performance with just 19 Fantasy points, but a tipped interception in the end zone kept him under 20 points for just the fourth time all season. The last time that happened prior to the Chargers game was Week 12 at New England when the Patriots won 34-31.
We'll find out if Manning can do better against the Patriots this time around, and having a healthy Welker is important. He returned from a three-game absence with a concussion against the Chargers and scored a touchdown with six catches for 38 yards on nine targets. Welker finished with just four catches for 31 yards against New England the first time around, but the Broncos passing game should have more success at home.
For the Patriots, they have morphed into a dominant running team. In their past three games, Brady has attempted 26 passes or less, and LeGarrette Blount has carried the offense. Blount has 64 carries for 431 yards and eight touchdowns over that span, and he and Stevan Ridley (he had 14 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts in the Divisional round) should again get plenty of work if things go their way.
The 49ers and Seahawks are meeting for the third time this season, with the home team holding serve in each of the previous two games. The defenses, as expected, dominated those matchups with the Seahawks winning 29-3 in Week 2 and the 49ers winning 19-17 in Week 14.
Neither quarterback played great in their head-to-head meetings, and Marshawn Lynch was the lone standout for the Seahawks with at least 13 Fantasy points in both games. Frank Gore (11 Fantasy points), Anquan Boldin (nine points) and Vernon Davis (eight points) helped the 49ers do well in the rematch at home. The rubber match in the NFC Championship Game should again feature plenty of defense, but some quality Fantasy performers will hopefully emerge.
With that in mind, here are some Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em suggestions for the Championship round. Hopefully we'll get some big stat producers this week for those of you in the Playoff Challenge to either add to your lead or help you in chasing points.
LeGarrette Blount (at DEN): Blount is a free agent this offseason, and he's doing a great job to land a big payday with his performance down the stretch. He now has three monster games in a row heading into the AFC Championship Game, and it should be hard for the Broncos to stop him. Blount just had 24 carries for 166 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts in the Divisional round, and that comes after quality outings against Baltimore in Week 16 (16 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns) and then Buffalo in the season finale (24 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns). He was a non-factor against Denver in the first meeting with two carries for 13 yards as Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen and Ridley all had more work, but Blount is the main man now for New England. The Broncos have shut down their past three opposing running games with Houston, Oakland and San Diego not having anyone run for more than 30 yards, but the Patriots are on a different level right now. Blount and Ridley are quality options this week.
Julian Edelman (at DEN): Edelman didn't have a dominant performance against the Colts last week, but he played well with six catches for 84 yards on nine targets. That makes it seven games in a row with at least seven Fantasy points, although he's gone three games in a row without a touchdown. Still, you want players who are involved, and Edelman has at least nine targets in seven consecutive games with at least a third of Brady's passes the last three weeks going in his direction. Edelman was dominant against Denver in the first meeting with nine catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets, and the Broncos just lost standout cornerback Chris Harris (ACL). It should allow Brady to make plenty of plays if needed should the running game falter or the Broncos go ahead early. Edelman is a quality play in all formats, especially Playoff Challenge leagues that have PPR scoring.
Wes Welker (vs. NE): Welker definitely made his presence felt in his return against the Chargers after missing the previous three games with a concussion. He had six catches for 38 yards on nine targets, and only Demaryius Thomas (10 targets) got more attention from Manning. Welker was shut down in his first meeting against his former team with just four catches for 31 yards on eight targets in Week 12, but he's been hard to stop at home this season. Including the playoffs, Welker now has double digits in Fantasy points in six of eight home games with his worst game Week 11 against the Chiefs with eight catches for 72 yards. The Patriots will likely again make an effort to take away Welker, but the Colts just had two receivers score double digits in Fantasy points last week with LaVon Brazill and T.Y. Hilton. I'll stick with Welker's ability to play big at home and keep him active this week no matter how much Bill Belichick tries to keep him down.
Anquan Boldin (at SEA): The last time Boldin played in Seattle he was swallowed up by standout cornerback Richard Sherman, who shadowed Boldin and held him to one catch for 7 yards on four targets. In the rematch, Boldin had the benefit of a healthy Michael Crabtree, and he got free for six catches for 93 on eight targets. We're expecting a similar performance this week, which should still allow Boldin to be useful in most Playoff Challenge formats. Colin Kaepernick relies on Boldin to make big plays, and he had eight catches for 136 yards last week at Carolina on 12 targets. Boldin also has been dominant in the playoffs the past three seasons with double digits in Fantasy points in six of eight games. This will be his third consecutive Championship round after going to the AFC title game the past two years with Baltimore. He had six catches for 101 yards against New England in 2011 and five catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots in 2012. We hope he can do it one more time, and if he does then look for Boldin to have a shot at repeating as a Super Bowl champion.
Marshawn Lynch (vs. SF): The 49ers run defense has started to look dominant again, and they shut down the Panthers last week, including two goal-line stands. They didn't allow a 100-yard rusher all season, and only three running backs have scored double digits in Fantasy points against them since Week 8. Lynch was one of those three (along with DeAngelo Williams in Week 10 and Steven Jackson in Week 16), and he's been San Francisco's nemesis for the past three seasons. He has either a touchdown or 100 rushing yards in each of his past five meetings with the 49ers, and he's crushed them at home. He had 21 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 24 yards in 2011, 26 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 19 yards and a touchdown in 2012 and 28 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns and three catches for 37 yards and a touchdown in Week 2. In total, he has three 100-yard rushing games and seven total touchdowns in his past five outings against the 49ers, and he's Seattle's best chance to win this week. Feed Beast Mode, and the Seahawks have a chance to be in the Super Bowl.
Russell Wilson (vs. SF): Wilson has not been a good Fantasy quarterback since the calendar flipped to December. From Week 14 through the Divisional round of the playoffs he is averaging just 11.2 Fantasy points, and he hit a new low last week against the Saints with just five points. The Seahawks are one game away from the Super Bowl, which is all that matters, but the offense has sputtered, especially from a passing perspective. Wilson struggled against the 49ers in both meetings this year with 12 Fantasy points in Week 2 and 11 points in Week 14. He was awesome against San Francisco at home in 2012 with a four-touchdown performance, but he's been held under 200 passing yards in four career meetings with an interception in each outing. The 49ers also come into this game having held Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton to a combined 31 Fantasy points the past two games, and it's hard to trust Wilson right now in any Playoff Challenge league.
Colin Kaepernick (at SEA): It's tough to bench Kaepernick because he's been so good of late that even a standout defense like the Seahawks might not slow him down. He has at least 20 Fantasy points in five consecutive games, and he's using his legs to help his Fantasy production with at least seven points on the ground in three of his past four outings. But the Seahawks have been able to contain Kaepernick in their brief history matching up with each other. In three meetings, Kaepernick has two touchdowns and five interceptions, and he's averaging just 11.6 Fantasy points over that span. In two games at Seattle the past two years he's combined for just 21 Fantasy points. The Seahawks have allowed just Matt Schaub and Andrew Luck to score more than 20 Fantasy points this season, including two matchups with Drew Brees, Newton and the two against Kaepernick. I love the way Kaepernick has played of late, but I can't count on him to keep it up at Seattle against that defense.
Montee Ball (vs. NE): Ball did a nice job in his first playoff game last week against the Chargers with 10 carries for 52 yards. But five Fantasy points is about what you can expect from him barring an injury to Knowshon Moreno or if he somehow scores a touchdown. He hasn't scored now in four consecutive games, and 10 carries has been his high over that span, which he did twice. Ball had seven carries for 40 yards and a fumble at New England in Week 12 with three catches for 17 yards. But he's only going to spell Moreno in this matchup, and his workload could be limited. I'm still using Ball in the Playoff Challenge because I added him prior to last week based on his salary, but I have minimal expectations. New England has also allowed just six running backs to score on the ground this year, and Moreno has the better chance to find the end zone than Ball. Keep in mind, Moreno had 37 carries for 224 yards and a touchdown at the Patriots in the first meeting.
Percy Harvin (vs. SF): You can substitute Golden Tate in this spot if Harvin is out with the concussion, but I'm not expecting much from the Seattle passing game this week. The 49ers could get cornerback Carlos Rogers (hamstring) back for this game, which will only help the secondary, and San Francisco has done well against Seattle's receivers this year. In two games, both without Harvin when he was dealing with his hip injury, the Seahawks receivers combined for 14 catches, 197 yards and no touchdowns. Tate in Week 14 had the best game of the two meetings with six catches for 65 yards. Harvin played against the Saints in the Divisional round and had three catches for 21 yards and one carry for 9 yards before leaving with the concussion. He's just too risky to consider starting against the 49ers even if he plays this week since we haven't seen enough of him to know what he's capable of in this offense.
Michael Crabtree (at SEA): Crabtree was great in the Wild Card round against the Packers with eight catches for 125 yards on 13 targets. He followed that up with a tough game against the Panthers with three catches for 26 yards on seven targets. Can he get back on track this week? It's hard to count on Crabtree against the Seahawks since they have a tremendous secondary, and he has a miserable history against this defense. In his past four meetings, Crabtree has 18 catches for 225 yards and no touchdowns, and he's averaging just 5.3 Fantasy points. The Seahawks held him to four catches for 40 yards in Week 14, and Seattle has allowed just Marques Colston in last week's Divisional round to reach double digits in Fantasy points in the five games. Crabtree has made Kaepernick better since his return from the offseason Achilles injury in Week 13, and his presence has taken pressure off Boldin. But that doesn't mean he's a must-start Fantasy option in the Playoff Challenge since he's got a tough matchup at Seattle.
My Playoff Challenge Team
Here's the progression of my Playoff Challenge team starting with the Wild Card round:
QB: Andy Dalton, Bengals (49 units) 15 points
RB: Donald Brown, Colts (48 units) 21 points
RB: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (64 units) 14 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers (36 units) 3 points
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts (30 units) 34 points
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers (38 units) 9 points
K: Alex Henery, Eagles (15 units) 6 points
DST: Eagles (20 units) 8 points
Then the Divisional round:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos (76 units) 19 points
RB: Donald Brown, Colts (48 units) 6 points
RB: Montee Ball, Broncos (21 units) 5 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers (36 units) 13 points
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts (30 units) 10 points
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers (38 units) 6 points
K: Phil Dawson, 49ers (24 units) 11 points
DST: Broncos (27 units) 10 points
And now the Championship round:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos 76 units
RB: Stevan Ridley, Patriots 33 units
RB: Montee Ball, Broncos 21 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers 36 units
WR: Wes Welker, Broncos 41 units
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers 38 units
K: Phil Dawson, 49ers 24 units
DST: Broncos 27 units
Potential transactions for the Super Bowl round: two
I had to make two transactions for the Championship round with Brown and Hilton eliminated, and it was tricky to squeeze in as many Broncos and 49ers as possible since those are the teams I expect to win this weekend. I went with Welker to replace Hilton and then had to gamble on Ridley to replace Brown, and hopefully he continues to get his share of carries in tandem with Blount.
Over the past three games, with New England running the ball at a high level, Ridley has 41 carries for 180 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. The hope is he will give me some quality stats before potentially being eliminated. If the Patriots and Seahawks win this weekend then I'm done for the Super Bowl, but it's a risk I have to take based on my lineup decisions thus far. I'm currently No. 85 out of the 1,293 entries we had in the CBSSports.com Fantasy Staff buddy group with 190 points, which is 76 behind the leader. We'll see if I can catch up and hopefully get two more weeks out of the majority of this lineup with everyone but Ridley for the Super Bowl.