The rotation between Pat Angerer and Kelvin Sheppard continued last week. The stat crew in Cincinnati has leaned more favorable recently, but it's not enough to fully trust Angerer in a must win playoff matchup. Robert Mathis has a better than expected matchup with the Bengals deciding to move Andrew Whitworth to guard to cover for injuries.
This is a big week for Cameron Wake. If he's not able to break through in this matchup, he'll be very hard to trust against New England next week. The pressures are there for Wake, but he's not finishing in the pocket. That's a strength for Roethlisberger. I'd use Wake today, but his leash is short
Audie Cole has won the starting middle linebacker job. Erin Henderson will move to weak side linebacker. I expect that Cole will stick in the subpackages. His coverage has been a pleasant surprise thus far. Jamarca Sanford is questionable with an ankle injury, but fully practiced on Friday. Andrew Sendejo has been the better fantasy option at safety, however, and should be again today.
Byron Maxwell started for Brandon Browner last week. Jeremy Lane was in the slot. Maxwell didn't run up as many tackles as you might expect from a player opposite Richard Sherman, but the Saints aren't deep at wide receiver. That could change for Maxwell today. Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright get a good matchup today. The stat crew situation is a huge change from last week. Seattle's home crew doles out assists in bunches and depresses solo tackle counts. San Francisco's crew gives out very few assists but is generally more favorable for fantasy production.
Zach Brown is an extremely tough call today. Last week, he played every down and looked good. That may have been due to Michael Griffin's suspension, though George Wilson wasn't stealing many snaps in recent weeks. If the Titans feel Wilson is a better player in coverage on Julius Thomas and/or want the flexibility of Akeem Ayers in zone and pass rush, Brown won't play many snaps against Denver. But if Brown is an every-down player today, he has LB1 upside. In the end, I think there's too much risk unless you are an extreme underdog.
Darius Eubanks will start next to D'Qwell Jackson, with both Craig Robertson and Tank Carder out. The Jaguars have been a better matchup in recent weeks, but Eubanks is a desperation flyer only with the bye weeks behind us. I think T.J. Ward has better upside.
I was surprised to see Brandon Spikes practicing fully after he struggled to finish last week. The linebacker group is a question this week, after the Patriots benched Dont'a Hightower against Denver and used Dane Fletcher in nearly every package. Jamie Collins was also more involved. The Texans are a different matchup and don't have nearly as much speed outside the tackles. I expect we'll see a committee approach until Hightower or Fletcher declare themselves the better player. Spikes is a risky LB3 today, but I'd avoid the rest of this group. Steve Gregory could be back today, so those who have spot-started Duron Harmon will want to watch the inactive list closely.
The Colts rotated Pat Angerer and Kelvin Sheppard last week. Though they split snaps evenly, there wasn't a clear platoon. There also was nothing of note in local writer reports about the situation and neither player is on the injury list this week. It's hard to trust Angerer this week with his home stat crew, the up and down Tennessee matchup and the possible rotation.
Vontaze Burfict injured an ankle during practice on Friday and is questionable. Beat writers had no new information after Saturday's walkthrough and there was no indication that Burfict missed the team flight to San Diego. I think he's probably 80-20 to play, but make sure you've got a hedge in case pregame warmups don't go well for him. It's not been confirmed, but the locker room talk from Vincent Rey early this week strongly suggested that Rey Maualuga would return to the base defense at middle linebacker today. I expect we'll see Rey in subpackages and he'll get the call outside if Burfict cannot play. But be wary of all the Cincinnati linebackers today until the inactive list is released.
I thought last week's matchup would be better for Jon Beason, but the volume didn't improve his stat line. There's just too much good competition outside the tackle box for tackles right now and Beason doesn't have the foot speed to get his share. With Corey Webster still out, Antrel Rolle and Terrell Thomas should again both be strong plays. Jason Pierre-Paul will sit with a shoulder injury this week and don't be surprised if his absence stretches into a multi-week situation.
Charles Johnson is out today. Hopefully, he'll recover more quickly than Cameron Wake did from a similar injury. Mario Addison replaces him in the starting lineup. The matchup is very favorable, enough to consider Addison a boom-bust DL2 play in all leagues. The safety split between Quintin Mikell and Robert Lester skewed heavily to Lester against New England, but should be closer to 50-50 in this matchup. Neither are great options, but Mikell has the higher upside this week in tackle-heavy leagues. A.J. Klein again starts for Chase Blackburn but isn't a fantasy option.
Erin Henderson is out (personal, non-injury) this week. This would've been a big break for Michael Mauti, but he tweaked his oft-repaired knee last week and couldn't get the reps needed to establish himself. So Audie Cole gets the start and an every-down role this week. Cole's workout numbers don't translate to the field, but there's some upside for him in today's matchup. Consider him a LB4+ option. Brian Robison did not practice Friday with a neck injury and is a game-time decision with what's being called muscle spasms in his neck. Everson Griffen will be a surprisingly strong option if Robison is inactive.
Mason Foster is out with a concussion today. Dashon Goldson is serving a one game suspension. That puts Adam Hayward in the lineup at middle linebacker and Keith Tandy in at safety. Neither are good fantasy plays. Greg Schiano told reporters that they'll use combinations at linebacker to replace Foster. Expect Jonathan Casillas to rotate in heavily and, given that Detroit will spread the field often, Casillas may be the better play. If you're looking for a desperation body and can't get Tank Carder, Casillas is a consideration. Mark Barron should see the biggest bump in expectation with these lineup changes.
Corey Webster is out today. Prince Amukamara has a nice matchup, but the loss of a corner puts Antrel Rolle into the best fantasy spot as Terrell Thomas may see more snaps outside than in the slot with Webster down. Jason Pierre-Paul was limited in practice this week. It's been impossible to handicap his expectation this year. He plays poorly when things look most optimistic and puts up big numbers when his week of practice is worrisome. He's in the painful, extreme boom-bust DL2 in big play leagues category right now. It's all or nothing against a decent matchup today.
Moise Fokou is questionable, but practiced fully Thursday and Friday and should play. It's not good news for the fantasy value of Colin McCarthy. Mike Munchak strongly hinted that the starting job was still Fokou's and that the two linebackers would rotate until Fokou was back in football shape. That's also not good news for Zach Brown, who continues to leave the field in passing situations. Akeem Ayers is the best fantasy option among the linebacker group today. Derrick Morgan is back on the injury report after tweaking his groin on this week during practice. His durability issues are killing any fantasy upside he may have had.
Paul Posluszny has not been cleared for contact after last week's concussion. Russell Allen will move inside with John Lotulelei starting outside. Allen is a nice LB3+ play in what should be an every-down role. Those in deeper corner required leagues should consider Dwayne Gratz. He got his first start last week and is a physical tackler who should get boost his numbers with some plays in run support.
The Falcons will get Sean Weatherspoon back this week. Thankfully, we got the clarity we needed on the prospective alignments. As I speculated earlier this week, it wasn't Paul Worrilow or Joplo Bartu who were on the hot seat. It will be Akeem Dent who loses his role in the base defense, with Worrilow moving inside. What isn't yet known is whether Worrilow or Bartu will be the second nickel linebacker. And it's a tough call to handicap. Bartu was seen as an up-and-coming subpackage player this preseason. Weatherspoon will reportedly wear the helmet communicator. But both Bartu and Weatherspoon are better suited to an outside role in the nickel, whereas Worrilow makes more sense in the middle. And there's no guarantee Weatherspoon is ready to take a full time role. I think you can safely consider both Weatherspoon and Worrilow LB3 plays this week. But both have a low floor.
Vincent Rey was very impressive last week as an every-down middle linebacker. Mike Zimmer has been a fan of Rey's since last season but durability issues kept Rey from taking advantage of any possible opportunities. One week doesn't establish a trend, but this is a situation that is too good to wait on in the short term. The only competition for tackles in the back seven is from Vontaze Burfict, the stat crew has been much more friendly in Cincinnati this year and Rey has all-around talent. Rey Maualuga could be back in Week 12, but Vincent Rey could win more snaps with another strong week. Consider Rey a LB3 with upside this week.
Jason Pierre-Paul was limited this week. I'm very leery of his stinger symptoms after offseason disc surgery. There were times where Pierre-Paul looked to be turning the corner this year, but I think that ship may have sailed and there's an argument to be made that he may never return to elite defensive end status again. Last week, Jacquian Williams saw more snaps than Spencer Paysinger, leaving Jon Beason the only viable fantasy option in this linebacker group. The Packers should provide Beason with more opportunity than he's seen in the past 2-3 weeks. And there are now no more hints of injury-related issues; Will Hill has now taken over as the starting free safety for Ryan Mundy.
There was an erroneous report floating around that Erin Henderson wouldn't play this week with an illness. He's fully practiced Thursday and Friday and is ready to play in a very strong matchup. The Vikings should also get both Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford back today. Andrew Sendejo will continue to start, with Mistral Raymond headed to a reserve role. Sanford is a risk coming off the groin strain, but is the better bet for fantasy value.
The Steelers are pulling back on the snaps of Jarvis Jones. That doesn't mean he's a bust. Nearly every young outside linebacker under Dick Lebeau has needed time to grow into the defense. Had the Steelers gotten better production from Jason Worilds and others, Jones would've gotten the same opportunity. Cameron Heyward has flashed some pass rush ability lately, but don't rush to add him to the Cameron Jordan, Calais Campbell, Sheldon Richardson group of fantasy relevant 3-4 ends, yet. Still waiting to see when the Steelers may begin taking a longer look at Shamarko Thomas at safety.
The Bears used Jon Bostic in the nickel over Khaseem Greene last week. That's important for today's matchup. I'm still looking forward to another evaluation of Greene, but he'll be used sparingly today. Shea McClellin strained a hamstring midweek and is unlikely to play. Corey Wootton will stay inside at tackle and local writers expect a rotation of David Bass and Cheta Ozougwu. That's not good for anyone but the Bears' offensive line.
Moise Fokou is out today, giving Colin McCarthy another chance to build momentum as the every-down middle linebacker. Last week was better than Week 8. Another good week would go a long way to giving him relevant fantasy value through the playoff weeks. Michael Griffin is questionable, but practiced all week and will be back in the lineup over George Wilson. That may affect Zach Brown, who was losing subpackage snaps to Wilson recently. Proceed with caution with Brown today. And if Derrick Morgan is finally going to start converting some of his pressures to sacks, this would be the week for it.
The late week news on Terrell Thomas was promising. That's good for Thomas, but not-so-good for Will Hill, whose snaps ebb and flow with the relative health of Thomas. There's a chance Hill could see more time for Ryan Mundy, but Mundy is off the injury report and (theoretically) over the hip pointer that made him a healthy scratch two weeks ago. Jason Pierre-Paul is chirping that he's feeling better than ever. Given his pessimistic tone in recent weeks, that may be a very good sign.
The Broncos are without Champ Bailey again and could be without Duke Ihenacho. Ihenacho was limited Friday and listed questionable, but is a game-time decision. Ihenacho has already left a game after a setback this year. Avoid him today. Von Miller should continue to see his snap count trend toward full time duty. Some of Danny Trevathan's subpackage snaps are at risk.
DeMarcus Ware should be back tonight. It's not a great pass rushing matchup, so there's risk in getting him back in lineups right away. Bruce Carter seems to believe he's earned full time snaps again. It was reported that he's taken the bulk of the snaps with the first team this week. But be careful before trusting him against the spread offense of New Orleans. It was nickel snaps and coverage depth that got him in the doghouse originally. Any issues today could land him back on the bench. Jeff Heath will again start for J.J. Wilcox. Orlando Scandrick may see a bump in value with Morris Claiborne still out and a juicy matchup tonight.
The Saints are a very tough read for tonight. David Hawthorne didn't practice all week with a toe injury and Curtis Lofton was a late week add with an ankle injury on top of a nagging hamstring strain. Malcolm Jenkins made it back to a limited Friday practice and is also a game-time decision. Roman Harper practiced fully all week and should go. If you're planning on using Lofton or Jenkins, get a hedge in place. If Hawthorne and Lofton both sit, I'd bet on seeing a lot of Ramon Humber. But I'm not ultra-confident that he's the best hedge.