There are about three weeks left in most fantasy regular seasons. This is when it gets real. But it's also the time to start building your roster for the postseason. As we move closer to the fantasy postseason, Reading the Defense will start taking a look at some of the guys who could go boom or bust in the playoffs. Let's get to it.
Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets: The Jets have been an easy punchline for a number of years now. But anyone who's paying attention knows that Gang Green's calling card during the Rex Ryan era has been its defense. Enter Wilkerson and Richardson who have combined for eight sacks from the defensive line and rank fifth and sixth, respectively, among fantasy scorers at their position. A Week 16 matchup against the rival Patriots isn't the most attractive, but there's a lot to like in the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs.
Playoff schedule: at MIN, at TEN, vs NE
Brandon Marshall, LB, Denver Broncos: No, this isn't the big Bears pass-catcher. Instead, the third-year linebacker has stepped in for the injured Danny Trevathan and tackled just about anything in his atmosphere. Marshall has just one sack this season but still ranks as a top 10 fantasy linebacker. Trevathan is due to return for Denver's Week 15 contest against the San Diego Chargers, but as long as Marshall continues to be a stopper it will tough to get him out of the lineup.
Playoff schedule: vs BUF, at SD, at CIN
Michael Griffin, DB, Tennessee Titans: Griffin was already putting together a pretty strong season -- he had a stretch of three double-digit games in four weeks earlier this season. But he could be asked to assume an increased role in the secondary with Bernard Pollard out for the season. With a season ending stretch featuring four questionable passing games, Griffin could be a game changer off the waiver wire.
Playoff schedule: vs NYG, vs NYJ, at JAX
Carlos Dunlap, DL, Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals defense has been trending downward in general this season, but Dunlap has been mostly immune from the struggles. However his playoff schedule offers few, if any, reasons to be encouraged. To make matters worse, Dunlap has very little help along the defensive line in getting pressure on the quarterback. This big cat is best left in the wild come playoff time.
Playoff schedule: vs PIT, at CLE, vs DEN
Paul Worrilow, LB, Atlanta Falcons: Forget the fact that the Falcons defense is a dumpster fire, Worrilow has followed up last season's IDP surprise with another quality campaign. But there's only so much one man can do by himself. The crazy part is that Atlanta is still in contention for a playoff spot, but late season matchups against the Packers and Saints could put a stop to that.
Playoff schedule: at GB, vs PIT, at NO
Eric Weddle, DB, San Diego Chargers: If you got fantasy points for epic beards, there would never be any reason to be concerned about Weddle. Sadly, I don't know of any leagues that offer scoring for fantastic follicles. Alas the Chargers have a lot of pass-happy offenses in their future. That could mean Weddle spends a lot of time chasing around wide receivers. It seems like it could be a good thing. But it's probably not a good thing.
Playoff schedule: vs NE, vs DEN, at SF
» Some good news for the 49ers defense with the return of Aldon Smith. The pass-rushing linebacker has been reinstated after serving a nine-game suspension and says he's "ready to go." Not only will Smith be a boost to a defense that has had its ups and downs this season, but could be a great addition off the waiver wire. How often can you come across a player capable of double-digit sacks this late in the season?
» It's not all wine and cheese in San Francisco. The Niners placed linebacker Patrick Willis on injured reserve Tuesday with a toe injury. Willis hadn't played since suffering the injury in Week 6 and joins NaVorro Bowman as two key pieces on the shelf for San Francisco. The upside is that rookie Chris Borland has played very well in Willis' absence and now will have a greater chance to shine.
» The Seahawks are feeling similar pain. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is finished for the season after tearing a hamstring. Mebane was one of Seattle's top run stuffers and helped open the pass rush on the edges for Seattle. In his place, the Seahawks will likely try a quartet of defenders.
» The Panthers didn't have a lot of positives to take away from Monday night's blowout loss and while the injury to defensive tackle Star Lotulelei isn't good news, the fact that an MRI on his injured ankle came back negative is. It's probably small consolation for IDP enthusiasts when considering how bad Carolina's defense has been, but having any starters back should (in theory) be a boon for the rest of the guys around him.