Reading the Defense: Championship Week awaits

It's Championship Week, aka winning time. Let's not mess around with a whole lot of chit-chat. Let's get to some guys who could help or hinder your quest for a fantasy football title.

Surprises

Johnathan Hankins, DL, New York Giants: It's been a nice season for the second-year defensive end, but he certainly topped himself with his Week 15 performance against Washington. Certainly the Giants hope that it's the start of good things for a young player in the midst of a defense in need of help. Who knows what the future will bring for Hankins, but next week could bring more good tidings against a shaky Rams offensive line.

Bobby Wagner, LB Seattle Seahawks: When Wagner returned from missing time with turf toe is when things really seemed to turn for the Seattle defense. The athletic linebacker put together one of his best games of the season in the win over San Francisco in Week 15. His next challenge is to slow down a Cardinals offense that hasn't been great along the offensive line and will be breaking in a new quarterback in Ryan Lindley.

William Gay, DB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Certainly the pick six went a long way toward putting Gay at the top of the Week 15 defensive back rankings. But the eight tackles certainly didn't hurt. Gay has been a recent bright spot in an otherwise dismal secondary. However he could have a tough task in Week 16 against a Chiefs passing game that doesn't often stretch the field and has been rather difficult to intercept.

Disappointments

Everson Griffen, DL, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings did an excellent job of stifling Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense in Week 15. So that's why it was strange that Griffen was such a non-factor in the stat sheets. He was held without a sack for the first time in three contests and tallied just 1.50 fantasy points. Next up is a porous Miami Dolphins pass blocking offensive line that hopefully can get Griffen back on track.

Curtis Lofton, LB, New Orleans Saints: The Bears offense was fairly terrible on Monday night, but the beneficiaries for the Saints mostly resided in the secondary and along the defensive line. That made for a quiet night for Lofton who was coming off his best game of the season. Lofton's Championship Week matchup against the Falcons has all sorts of potential for a rebound to end the season.

Joe Haden, DB, Cleveland Browns: Haden left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, but even when he was on the field Haden didn't offer much in the way of fantasy production. When it was over, Haden had just three points -- his lowest total since Week 7. Keep an eye on his injury to see if he'll suit up this week against the Panthers. Considering his solid peformances against the rest of the NFC South this season, Haden could bounce back nicely if he's healthy.

Four downs

» The Arizona Cardinals hope to have safety Tyrann Mathieuback in action before this weekend's critical game against the Seattle Seahawks. Mathieu fractured his thumb in a Week 13 contest against the Falcons, forcing him to miss the last two games. The Honey Badger hasn't been quite as productive this season compared to last, but it never hurts to have an extra playmaker back on the field. Especially one that can help top-scoring DB Rashad Johnson be even more of a ball hawk.

» The 49ers will likely be without linebacker Chris Borland for Saturday's game against the San Diego Chargers. Borland sprained an ankle in last week's loss to the Seattle Seahawks and general manager Trent Baalke says the linebacker is a "long shot" to play. The team signed veteran Desmond Bishop for the final two games of the season, but it's highly unlikely that anyone will be able to replace the surprising level of production Borland provided.

» Eagles linebacker Trent Cole has a fractured bone in his hand and is uncertain to play this weekend against Washington. If Cole can't play, Philadelphia would likely replace him with Brandon Graham who is in the midst of his best professional season. With a matchup coming against one of the NFL's most dysfunctional offenses, Graham could be a nice waiver pickup for your championship matchup.

» A difficult and frustrating season is over for Danny Trevathan. The Broncos linebacker has suffered a second knee injury in 2014 -- this one will land him on the operating table as well as on injured reserve. The Broncos had high hopes for the talented Trevathan, but he played in just three games this season. With fellow linebacker Brandon Marshall also on the shelf for the rest of the year, there are now plenty of question marks in the middle of Denver's defense.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG.

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