Earlier this week, we covered the mega-matchup between the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers; which features a crazy-amount of fantasy talent, and will have a big impact on the fantasy football (and real) playoffs.
Another game this week, between the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions, features more fantasy studs, and is an important game in the Colts’ playoff push; as well as the Lions’ efforts to salvage what’s left of their season. So, let’s dive in; break it down by position, look at the key difference makers and find out who comes out on top.
Quarterback: Andrew Luck vs. Matthew Stafford
Luck, this year’s number one overall pick, has had a very good rookie campaign thus far. But, at the beginning of the season, no one expected Luck and the 7-4 Colts to be in the thick of the AFC playoff race. Luck is seventh in the NFL in total yards with 3205, but has had a hard time finding the end zone; with only 13 touchdowns (20th in the league), and the fourth-worst quarterback rating in the NFL at 76.7. Luck has struggled at times picking up coverage as well, throwing 13 interceptions. He has still managed to be a top-ten fantasy quarterback though, with a total of 193 points (ranked 10th) and averages 18 points per game.
Stafford has continued to show he can be an elite quarterback, despite the Lions’ struggles. He’s third in the NFL with 3429 passing yards, and has a decent quarterback rating of 82.9(22nd), but has also had trouble finding the end zone, with only 14(17th) touchdowns. Stafford’s offensive line has failed to give him consistent protection all season, resulting in rushed throws, and 10 interceptions. He’s been a great fantasy quarterback, averaging 18 points per week and totaling 202(eighth) so far.
Prediction: Most of Luck’s interceptions and 16 of the Colts’ 21 turnovers have come on the road. Luck and Company need to prove they can play well and limit turnovers on the road. The Lions’ front four are a blood thirsty bunch, and could give him a hard time all day.
Stafford and the Lions are a high-scoring elite offense, when they’re playing well. Stafford should prove to be too much for the Colts’ defense; looking to go deep early, and often. Stafford 19 points, Luck 14 points.
Running Back: Vick Ballard/Donald Brown vs. Mikel Leshoure/Joique Bell
None of the running backs in this weekend’s game are among the top-20 in rushing yards, receiving yards(for running backs), or fantasy points; and only Leshoure is in the top-20 (eighth) in rushing touchdowns. But, despite these lackluster numbers, all four are vital to the potent passing game, and success of their talented quarterbacks.
Ballard and Brown combine for over 800 yards rushing, and nearly 200 receiving yards, but only have two total touchdowns between them. Both are used effectively in the pass game; to setup play action passes and to block for rookie quarterback Luck.
Leshoure, who missed all of his rookie season last year with an ACL injury, has given the Lions’ stalled running game a big injection of talent. He’s only rushed for 534 yards (23rd in the league), but has been vital in red zone with six rushing touchdowns (eighth).
Leshoure is also active in the pass game, with 154 receiving yards and is a great backfield-blocker for Stafford. Bell has only rushed for 244 yards, but has been a favorite target of Stafford’s, racking up 312 receiving yards, seventh best among running backs.
Prediction: Vick and Brown will continue to split carries and help support the passing game. Leshoure will definitely continue to see red zone carries, and should find pay-dirt at least once. Joique will be active in the pass game as well, and should have a few catches for around 25-40 yards. Leshoure ten points, Ballard eight points, Bell seven points, Brown four points.
Wide Receiver: Reggie Wayne/T.Y. Hilton vs. Calvin Johnson/Ryan Broyles
Wayne is have a resurgent year, second only to Johnson in receiving yards with 1105. He’s averaging over 101 yards per game, but just like Johnson, he’s failed to score, with only three touchdowns. He’s still been a great fantasy receiver though, averaging 12 points per game. Hilton is having a stand-out rookie season, with six total touchdowns (five receiving and one special teams: a 75-yard punt return last week against the Bills). He’s proven to be a solid number two target for Luck, and has now shown his explosive ability in the return game as well.
Johnson, as usual, is leading the entire NFL with 1,257 receiving yards, but only has four touchdowns. He has done a good job of drawing double and triple-coverage in the red zone, allowing other targets to get open for Stafford. Broyles had a break-out game last week, with six catches for 126 yards and 13 fantasy points. Stafford should continue to target him.
Prediction: Johnson will have the biggest day, but Wayne should have a very solid day as well. Hilton will see quite a few targets in the passing game, and is also a big threat returning punts and kick-offs against the Lions’ horrendous special teams.
Johnson 18 points, Wayne 12 points, Hilton ten points, Broyles eight points.
Tight End: Coby Fleener/Dwayne Allen vs. Brandon Pettigrew/Tony Scheffler
Besides Pettigrew, the tight ends probably won’t be much of a fantasy-factor in this game; much like the Broncos vs. Buccaneers game. They will mostly serve as blockers in the running game, and possibly even the passing game. Stafford likes to target Pettigrew, and he should be the only one with significant fantasy impact. Pettigrew five points, Fleener two points, Allen/Scheffler one point.
This should be another great game to watch. Both teams have the potential to explode on offense, and not-so-great defenses; but look for Stafford and Company to be relentless through the air, and come out on top.