Welcome to NFL playoff DFS, where the slates are shorter and results are magnified. We've decided to change things up a bit here, breaking matchups into tiers rather than simply note who has good and bad matchups.
The tiers are straightforward -- three stars for great matchups, two stars for decent ones and one star for guys you might want to avoid. We've also taken some other factors into account like weather and potential playing time.
Let's dive in with this week's three-star plays.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, DEN vs. PIT ($8,100)
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, DEN vs. PIT ($7,700)
Miglio: The luster from these two has worn off a bit as the week has progressed -- namely because Antonio Brown’s absence could lead to lower usage by way of a Broncos blowout -- but this is still an excellent matchup for Denver’s dynamic duo at wide receiver. Thomas scored twice when these two teams met earlier this season, and that was with Brock Osweiler at quarterback and Sanders out.
Rudnicki: While this game probably won’t be the shootout many had hoped for due to the Steelers injuries, I still expect the Broncos passing game to get a boost from the return of Peyton Manning. Thomas remains the primary receiver and should have a clear advantage over William Gay, while Sanders could spent most of the game matched up against Antwon Blake. Blake was the scapegoat for a lot of the Steelers coverage issues earlier this year that led to his benching, but he was back to nearly a full-time role against the Bengals last week.
Travis Kelce, TE, KC @ NE ($6,600)
Miglio: Travis Kelce had 98 receiving yards and a touchdown last year against the Patriots in that Week 4 spanking that sounded New England’s supposed death knell. That’s not terribly reliable data, but that defensive personnel isn’t too different. The fact the Patriots have given up four touchdowns in the past five weeks -- including a pair to Delanie Walker, whose role Kelce should reprise as Kansas City’s No. 1 option this week -- makes this a rather enticing matchup.
Rudnicki: We can probably expect the Patriots to focus much of their defensive game plan this week on limiting the damage that Kelce will do. He’s pretty clearly one of the most talented tight ends in the game, but has often been held back by the conservative offense he plays in. The Chiefs may need to score more points than normal this week, however, and without Jeremy Maclin around, it stands to reason that Kelce should be in line for another big outing like last week.
Greg Olsen, TE, CAR vs. SEA ($6,500)
Miglio: With or without safety Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks have had issues defending the tight end this season. That much was evident when Kyle Rudolph nearly carried the Vikings to victory in the waning minutes of the Tundra Bowl.
Rudnicki: Seattle does a lot of things well on defense, but they have consistently had difficulty defending the tight end position. While their numbers in recent weeks look pretty good, they haven’t exactly faced any players as good as Olsen. He put up 7/131/1 against them back in Week 6, and he should remain the focal point of the Panthers passing game, particularly with the receivers likely to have some difficulty with the Seattle corners.
Julian Edelman, WR, NE vs. KC ($7,800)
Miglio: He’s back. But is he better than ever?
Julian Edelman makes his long-awaited return from a foot injury that nearly cost him the entire year, just when the Patriots need him most, no less. The trouble is that the Kansas City defense is pretty good. They are a bit vulnerable in the interior and underneath, however, which is where Edelman has done a ton of damage in the past.
Rudnicki: Edelman is expected to return to action this week, and he should provide a huge boost to a Patriots offense that has looked a bit lost at times without him. He’s clearly Brady’s go-to target in key situations, and figures to do damage out of the slot as well as outside. The Chiefs defense is playing very well, but Edelman should be able to find enough openings against them.
Doug Baldwin, WR, SEA @ CAR ($7,400)
Miglio: It’s easy to look at Doug Baldwin and say he has a bad matchup against Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, but it’s not that simple. Baldwin operates out of the slot quite a bit, after all, and Norman doesn’t typically line up inside. Still, it’s not the greatest matchup for Baldwin, though he continues to state his case that he is matchup proof.
Rudnicki: The Panthers have been tough on No. 1 receivers due to the presence of Josh Norman, but he doesn’t typically work out of the slot -- that’s where Baldwin does the bulk of his damage. With Bene Benwikere out for the year, the Panthers are turning to castoff Cortland Finnegan, who was semi-retired not too long ago. With more favorable weather conditions this week, the Seahawks passing game should improve and Baldwin figures to be the main beneficiary.
Randall Cobb, WR, GB @ ARI ($6,600)
Miglio: This isn’t the best matchup for the Packers offense, but Randall Cobb looked like he got things going last week. If Aaron Rodgers had hit him while he was wide open one or more two times, he could’ve had a massive week. As it stands, Cobb has a decent matchup against the Cardinals cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson.
Rudnicki: The Cardinals lost one of their best players when Tyrann Mathieu went down with an injury, and he was mainly responsible for covering the opposing slot receiver. That should leave Cobb matched up primarily against Jerraud Powers, who has been a huge downgrade. While Cobb hasn’t had much success this year, he did seem to get on track last week with a touchdown as well as five rush attempts. If Patrick Peterson shuts down James Jones on the outside, I’d expect Rogers to look for Cobb rather often in this matchup.
Heath Miller, TE, PIT @ DEN ($5,400)
Martavis Bryant, WR, PIT @ DEN ($7,100)
Miglio: Antonio Brown eviscerated a very good Broncos secondary earlier this season. Unfortunately, he get a chance for an encore -- Brown has been ruled out of this week's tilt with a concussion. Time for Martavis Bryant to shine as a No. 1 receiver, right?
It looks like the motivational ploy worked for Bryant, who had one of the best touchdown catches you’ll ever see in victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Now we'll see if he can parlay that into a good game against a tough Denver defense. Sure, the Steelers unexpectedly shredded that unit earlier this season, but Brown did much of the damage. Denver will have less to worry about with Brown out, not to mention Ben Roethlisberger's bum shoulder.
One beneficiary to all this could be Heath Miller, though, who could see double-digit targets in the short game.
Rudnicki: The loss of Antonio Brown in this matchup figures to have a big impact. That should allow Chris Harris Jr to focus more attention on Markus Wheaton and render him nearly invisible. Martavis Bryant will move into the role of the team’s clear No. 1 passing target, and the increase in targets should more than offset the difficulty of a primary matchup with Aqib Talib. Heath Miller has slowed down of late, but also could become a bigger part of the passing game as Steelers will almost certainly have to rely on shorter passes with the injury to Ben Roethlisberger.
Michael Floyd, WR, ARI vs. GB ($6,500)
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI vs. GB ($7,900)
John Brown, WR, ARI vs. GB ($6,700)
Miglio: Sam Shields wasn’t back last week, but it looks like he’s on track to play against the Cardinals. The Packers were without Shields when they were throttled in Arizona in Week 16, and they did a pretty good job without him against Washington’s wideouts last week.
Rudnicki: The Packers secondary is expected to get a boost from the return of Sam Shields if he’s cleared from the concussion protocol, but I’d expect some rust since he’s missed over a month of action. Meanwhile, the Cardinals offense shredded this same defense just a few weeks ago. Floyd looks like the clear No. 1 target over the second half of the season and likely the best play here whether he’s facing off with Shields or rookie Damarious Randall outside. Fitzgerald has slowed down of late and could have a tougher time with Casey Hayward in the slot, while Brown is always a big-play threat but seems to be third in the pecking order.
Richard Rodgers, TE, GB @ ARI ($5,100)
Owen Daniels, TE, DEN vs. PIT ($4,800)
Rob Gronkowski, TE, NE vs. KC ($8,300)
Brandon LaFell, WR, NE vs. KC ($6,300)
Miglio: What in the world is Rob Gronkowski doing here? He’s matchup-proof, right? Perhaps. But this is going to be one heck of a matchup to overcome.
The Chiefs allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, letting the position score just thrice in 16 games. Their defensive dominance included games against Tyler Eifert, Antonio Gates and Martellus Bennett. Granted, Gronkowski is the best tight end to ever play the game, but Kansas City is surely going to focus on stopping him with safety Eric Berry spearheading the coverage. That and Gronk appears to be banged up with a sore knee and back.
Rudnicki: The Gronkowski matchup this week is pretty interesting seeing as he’s the No. 1 fantasy tight end, but he’s going against the defense that gave up fewest points to the position all year. Eric Berry figures to handle most of the coverage duties against him, but it will certainly require a team effort to keep Gronkowski fully in check. Meanwhile, LaFell figures to match up with Sean Smith, who has rebounded from a slow start and is once again playing like one of the best corners in the league.
James Jones, WR, GB @ ARI ($6,500)
Rudnicki: Jones has emerged as the go-to receiver for Green Bay lately and is coming off a strong playoff game last week. He figures to be matched up against Patrick Peterson for much of this game, however, and that’s not a matchup he should have much success against.
Ted Ginn Jr, WR, CAR vs. SEA ($6,500)
Miglio: That Seahawks secondary has been lights out lately. It’s going to be tough for any of Carolina’s receivers to get going, especially the only one that has been consistently productive given Seattle will likely focus on stopping him. Ted Ginn Jr could get loose for a play or two, but he is a major risk.
Rudnicki: Ginn mostly lines up on the left side of the formation, which should help keep him away from Richard Sherman but Jeremy Lane has helped solidify that side of the field as well. With safety Earl Thomas patrolling the deep secondary, Ginn figures to have a pretty quiet week.
Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA @ CAR ($6,200)
Rudnicki: Lockett has had a remarkable rookie season, but much of his damage has come on special teams. As a WR, he may wind up with one of the toughest matchups of the week as he should be lined up against Josh Norman for much of the game. The ability of Russell Wilson to scramble and buy time could help him get free for a big play, but you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.
Albert Wilson, WR, KC @ NE ($5,400)
Devin Funchess, WR, CAR vs. SEA ($5,300)
Markus Wheaton, WR, PIT @ DEN ($6,000)