For most of you, this is it. This is what it all comes down to – championship week. After a long and sometimes arduous four-plus months, you’ve reached the gates of the Promised Land and it’s finally time to open them up, step inside and celebrate your superiority over the rest of those chumps in your league. But before you do, obviously, there’s one more step you have to take to reach that brass ring. It’s time to set your lineup.
Now the good thing about this week is that every team has something to play for, regardless of the outcomes of other games. Sure, a loss by one team could guarantee another a playoff spot without that team actually winning their game, but that team heading towards the playoffs still needs a win to solidify their seeding or even get a better seeding. Clear as mud? I thought so. Bottom line is that everyone needs a win this week to improve their potential playoff standing, and if they aren’t headed to the playoffs, they sure as hell would love to play spoiler. So everyone is in play and there shouldn’t be any need to worry about a coach holding out his starters because the game doesn’t mean anything. That’s only a concern if your playoffs run through Week 17.
So with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some potential starts and sits for you this week…
Colin Kaepernick, SF – Over the last four weeks, Kaepernick has averaged 222 passing yards per game with seven touchdowns and just one interception. With his new corps of receivers in place, he is having a much easier time of connecting downfield and is primed for a big game this week against a Falcons team whose pass defense ranks 31st in the league. Atlanta is giving up an average of 255 passing yards per game with 28 touchdowns through the air and opposing quarterbacks have a cumulative 103.4 passer rating against them this season. While we’d love to see him rush for a touchdown or two, passing the ball this week might come so easy that he may not have to do much running at all.
Philip Rivers, SD – While so many seem so concerned with Rivers’ supposedly poor track record against the Raiders, allow us to dispel that myth and tell you that over his last three games against Oakland, he has thrown for a total of 793 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Obviously the picks are no good, but they all came in his last game against them which just wasn’t a good game for any of the Chargers, not just him. In the two games prior, he tossed zero interceptions and played very efficient games. San Diego still has an outside shot at the playoffs with a win this week and the Raiders have given up an average of 41.3 points per game over their last three. With the Raiders pass defense ranking 30th in the league, giving up 254 yards per game with 28 passing touchdowns, you can easily put your trust in Rivers this week.
Andy Dalton, CIN – He’s obviously looking to finish the season strong and potentially improve the Bengals’ seeding in the playoffs so it shouldn’t come as any surprise to see him averaging 252.5 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions over his last two games. Though he’s had a few stumbles during the season, he’s also had some incredibly bright-shining moments as well. This week against Minnesota should prove to be one of those bright-shining moments. The Vikings pass defense ranks 25th in the league and they are giving up and average of 291 yards per game with a whopping 32 touchdowns through the air. With a win virtually locking them into the No. 3 seed and putting the onus on New England to win as well, you can expect Dalton to attack early and often here.
Carson Palmer, ARI – It’s been quite the ride for Palmer owners as, over the last five weeks, he has averaged 307 passing yards per game with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. But that all stops now as he heads up to Seattle to face the NFL’s top-ranked defense. The Seahawks have given up an average of just 174 passing yards per game with just 14 passing touchdowns all year, while amassing 22 interceptions and 40 sacks for a total loss of 276 yards this season. Add to that the unfriendly, deafening confines of CenturyLink Field and the possibility of a concussed Larry Fitzgerald either sitting out or remaining limited, and that spells disaster. This is not a match-up you want here during championship week.
Matt Ryan, ATL – I’ve endorsed Ryan over the last couple of weeks, and while he hasn’t been terrible, he hasn’t been much of a fantasy asset either. With soft match-ups against Green Bay and Washington these last two weeks, Ryan has only averaged 208 passing yards per game with three touchdowns and two interceptions. If he’s offering up lackluster performances against those teams, how’s he going to fare against the 49ers’ sixth-ranked pass defense this week? The 49ers are limiting the opposition to 200 passing yards per game, have given up 15 touchdowns through the air and are holding opposing quarterbacks to a cumulative 73.5 passer rating. With a fierce pass rush in his face and blanket coverage on his receivers downfield, this could be a tough one for Ryan to escape.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA – The second-year starter has been playing some real good ball as of late, averaging 288.3 yards per game with nine touchdowns and three interceptions over his last four starts. However, not only did Buffalo limit him to 194 yards with three touchdowns and two picks, but their pass defense has vastly improved over the course of the season. The Bills pass defense actually ranks second in the league right now, limiting the opposition to just 219 yards per game and quarterbacks to a 78.5 passer rating. Add in the fact that the Dolphins have given up the most sacks in the league while the Bills lead the league with 49 and you’ve got a potential disaster on your hands. And we haven’t even gotten into the fact that it’s supposed to snow for this one.