For semifinals week, we’ve got a few fantasy big dogs in the exploit space … and even one on the wrong side of the ledger. It’s not that we’re straying from our promise to avoid the obvious whenever possible here; things simply change so rapidly in this league, and our goal is to help readers separate fact from fiction in the biggest week of their fantasy seasons.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Rams (vs. Eagles)
After the worst two-game stretch since his rookie campaign, Jared Goff couldn’t get back to Cali quickly enough. His home/road splits in 2018: an 18-2 TD-INT ratio and 124.5 rating at the L.A. Coliseum, and 9-9 and 78.9, respectively, on the road. So despite the Eagles touching down in L.A. in a must-win situation, Goff remains a must start vs. a Philly ‘D’ whose issues in the secondary are both real and spectacular. Load up on Rams pass catchers and feel confident in their stalwart backfield again finding its footing.
Don't hesitate: QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, WRs Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods
Think twice (but it's alright): WR Josh Reynolds
Saints (at Panthers)
In the two games since undressing the Falcons on Thanksgiving, Drew Brees has totaled as many turnovers as touchdowns (three apiece) and the Saints have been held out of the end zone in five of the eight quarters they've played. However, New Orleans awakened late Sunday against the Bucs, scoring 28 points in the final 19-plus minutes. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara did much of the heavy lifting after getting neutralized by Dallas and largely forgotten for 30 minutes in Tampa. The Panthers, who suffered the rare hat trick of defeats to New Orleans last season, followed up their defensive staff changes by allowing Baker Mayfield — the next Brees? — to connect on nearly 82 percent of his passes at 10.8 yards per attempt en route to handing Carolina its fifth consecutive loss.
Don't hesitate: QB Drew Brees, RBs Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, WR Michael Thomas
Think twice (but it's alright): WR Keith Kirkwood, TE Benjamin Watson
Seahawks (at 49ers)
Russell Wilson played very poorly in the Monday-night win over Minnesota, tallying a career-low 72 passing yards and throwing an inexcusable red zone interception. He was also without safety valve Doug Baldwin on a short week vs. a very good defense. Now Wilson sees the Niners’ anything-but-elite defense for the second time in 14 days, after tossing four touchdowns and only six incompletions in the first meeting. Chris Carson remains a rock-solid RB2 despite splitting time with Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis, and we like Wilson’s rebound potential, which obviously bodes well for Baldwin and Tyler Lockett.
Don't hesitate: QB Russell Wilson, RB Chris Carson, WRs Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin
Think twice (but it's alright): RB Rashaad Penny, WR David Moore
Browns (vs. Broncos)
Mayfield tossed three picks two weeks ago and only one touchdown vs. Carolina, and yet he’s still QB10 overall in average scoring over his past four games. Nick Chubb has scored in five consecutive games and is up to RB13 overall despite not making his first start until Week 7. Jarvis Landry saved his best in what’s been a largely disappointing debut fantasy season in Cleveland for the playoffs, turning in a WR4 overall effort vs. the Panthers. And David Njoku, fantasy non-factor in three of his past four games, gets a Denver ‘D’ that allowed George Kittle to channel Shannon Sharpe and Jackie Smith on Sunday, with 210 receiving yards and a touchdown … all in one half.
Don't hesitate: QB Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb, WR Jarvis Landry, TE David Njoku
Think twice (but it's alright): WR Antonio Callaway
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Washington (at Jaguars)
Josh Johnson surely will be better than Mark Sanchez but will need to do so without TE Jordan Reed against a Jaguars ‘D’ that, if it has any pride at all, will be angry coming off the mini-bye following its embarrassing effort against Derrick Henry’s Titans. Johnson was actually QB3 overall last week largely on the strength of his 45 yards and a touchdown on the ground. But that was against a Giants ‘D’ needing only to protect a 40-point lead. With or without Reed, Washington is among the NFL’s worst skill groups on offense, a tough reality for Johnson as he readies for his first start in more than seven years.
Think twice (but it's alright): RB Adrian Peterson, TE Vernon Davis
Don't do it: Washington WRs
Jets (vs. Texans)
The Jets apparently are still playing for Todd Bowles, but even in 2018, there still aren’t fantasy participation trophies, last we checked. The Jets might have a couple nice young players in Elijah McGuire and Robby Anderson, both big contributors in Sunday’s win. Anderson could even stack impressive games for the first time this season against a Houston ‘D’ that was burnt to a crisp by T.Y. Hilton. Of course, that’s assuming Sam Darnold has time to find Anderson deep against the rush J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. That pair is surely seething after its nine-game win streak was halted and is likely to take it out on the rookie QB.
Think twice (but it's alright): RB Elijah McQuire, WRs Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa
Don't do it: RB Isaiah Crowell
Dolphins (at Vikings)
Since returning to the starting lineup following a five-game absence with a right shoulder injury, Ryan Tannehill has tossed eight TDs and one INT and tallied a passer rating north of 100 in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. However, that was against the Colts, Bills and Patriots, not a Vikings defense that’s permitted only 15 passing TDs, tied for the fewest in the league. We’ll forgive Kenyan Drake owners if they’re a bit nauseous after a roller-coaster Sunday (season?) that saw Brandon Bolden out-rush him prior to Drake scoring on the 55-yard “Miami miracle” TD.
Think twice (but it's alright): RBs Frank Gore, Kenyan Drake, WR Kenny Stills
Don't do it: QB Ryan Tannehill, WRs DeVante Parker, Brice Butler
Bucs (vs. Ravens)
Jameis Winston and his center, Ryan Jensen, in a heated sideline exchange late in a game that Winston completed less than 48 percent of his passes isn’t a good look. But that’s nothing new for Winston, nor for the oft-penalized Jensen. But even after Winston’s recent string of strong showings, a date with one of fantasy’s stingiest defenses was going to be a problem for him and Tampa’s explosive passing attack. Only the Jaguars have allowed fewer receiving touchdowns to wideouts than the Ravens’ nine.
Think twice (but it's alright): WR Mike Evans, TE Cameron Brate
Don't do it: QB Jameis Winston, RB Peyton Barber, WRs Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries