Scott Engel of RotoExperts.com previews the upcoming quartet of divisional playoff games from fantasy perspectives and helps keep you ahead of the competition in the NFL.com Playoff Challenge.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
The Patriots know the Broncos' primary intention is to run the ball, and while they do have good size up front, Denver's offensive line has played well and should be able to impose its will. Tim Tebow rushed for 93 yards and two TDs when these teams met in Week 15, and while he is streaky as a thrower, you still take what you can get from him in the passing game as a bonus, even in this seemingly friendly matchup. Willis McGahee fares well on draws and misdirections, but there is a strong chance the Broncos may not advance past this week. Demaryius Thomas caught seven passes for 116 yards in the first meeting and should definitely be started if you carried him over from the wild-card round. Tebow did not throw a TD pass in the first meeting so it may be too much of a gamble to use Eddie Royal. The Patriots simply have too much weaponry for the Broncos' secondary to handle. Wes Welker was held to 41 receiving yards in the first meeting, but the greats come out in the big games, and he should burn the Denver CBs. In the first meeting, the Broncos doubled Rob Gronkowski, so Aaron Hernandez caught nine balls for 129 yards and a TD. Start Gronkowski of the two, as Denver may have learned a lesson that they cannot bracket him or they will get torched elsewhere. Tom Brady should pick them apart regardless, so you may as well employ his best weapons. Expect more than 275 passing yards and two-plus scores from Brady. Stevan Ridley is too unproven to use yet, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis can be good for a short TD run.
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
If you carried any Saints RBs over from the divisional round, getting bonus points this week will not be easy against the league's best run defense. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory should be avoided. It's hard to not use Darren Sproles, as he can still get loose as a receiver, but if you face a tight decision between Sproles and another RB, go the other way. The Niners will try to bring a lot of heat on Drew Brees, who might not be as effective as he would be at home. Still, New Orleans has too much offensive potency, and San Francisco can be beat in the air. Expect two or more TD passes from Brees, and keep his best pass-catchers, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, locked into your fantasy playoff lineups. Less reliable Saints such as Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem should be reserved in what figures to be a much more physical game than last week's pointsfest against Detroit. The Niners may come out throwing to loosen up the New Orleans defense against the run, and you can expect good totals from Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Frank Gore is not running as well as he did in the first half of the year, but he is very reliable for TDs and should be a big part of the San Francisco game plan as it tries to control time of possession as much as possible. Do not write the 49ers off here, and consider their best skill position players for usage at RB, WR and TE.
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens had the AFC's best run defense during the regular season and held Arian Foster to 49 rushing yards when these teams met in Week 6. Foster, though, still caught six passes for 52 yards, and no defense can fully contain him. Keep him in your lineups for this week, and you can still expect 100-plus yards from scrimmage while you also stack up the bonus points in the NFL.com Playoff Challenge. Keep Ben Tate out of the lineup, though, as he will likely not do enough with a sparse workload. T.J. Yates does a good job of protecting the football, but might not be able to make many significant downfield plays. Andre Johnson could be double teamed and his statistical upside is limited for this week. The Texans will blitz and could hit Joe Flacco frequently, disrupting his rhythm. If you are expecting the Ravens to advance, you may get mediocre fantasy totals in the process. Anquan Boldin will return from a knee injury, but Johnathan Joseph will be ready for him after Boldin caught eight passes for 132 yards in the first meeting. Boldin is a good bet to get shut down, and Torrey Smith might not get many opportunities to make big plays downfield. Like Foster, though, Ray Rice is simply unstoppable, even against Houston's outstanding LBs. Start him for sure as he is the best RB remaining in the postseason for combination of potential production and advancement.
Smith: Divisional Viewer's Guide
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
The Giants now have the running game to play some ball control and establish optimum offensive balance. Brandon Jacobs did average 7.4 yards per carry when these teams met in Week 13 and is running with a lot of confidence. He is a strong start in any format. Ahmad Bradshaw is playing with a lot of momentum and can actually be the better choice of the two. Both New York RBs, though, offer good statistical promise for this week. The Giants have too much explosiveness at WR to double or focus on any one pass-catcher, and both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz can anchor a fantasy playoff WR squad this week. Nicks, however, is more battle-tested and is the better choice of the two. He scored twice in the Week 13 meeting. Eli Manning could certainly throw for more than 300 yards and two scores against a very vulnerable Green Bay secondary. Ryan Grant ran with a renewed sense of urgency late in the year and could be a surprisingly effective performer this week. Aaron Rodgers threw four TD passes in the first meeting, but will be under a much heavier pass rush this time. Still, Rodgers has an ideal internal clock and usually gets rid of the ball quickly. Look for Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley to make several key grabs as Rodgers keeps the ball moving with precision short-range strikes. Jordy Nelson is Rodgers' man for the big play and is a must-start in all formats. James Jones and Donald Driver, however, should only be considered in deep and unique fantasy playoff formats, as they are obviously much less reliable. Do not shy away from using Giants, as New York matches up well with Green Bay and has momentum on their side.