As the season progresses it is hard to find those diamonds in the rough or that guy that no one has heard of. This week we are going to examine the plethora of injuries across the league and who the most likely successor is to that starting job as well as highlight some prime matchups as well as surprising performers to this point. This article will also highlight a few long-term and speculative players that could see their value rise over the course of the season.
Zach Cunningham (HOU)
We rarely highlight a guy who has seen his playing time decrease in recent weeks, but Cunningham racked up 12 tackles and a forced fumble last week against the Eagles. He gets a Jacksonville offense that is struggling to move the ball at all and may even get the chance to rush the passer this week. Houston still has a lot to play for in this final week and they are going to lean on their starters as long as they have to in order to get the win. Cunningham has a chance at double-digit tackles again this week.
Anthony Walker Jr. (IND)
After being ruled out last week due to a shoulder injury, Walker appears to be back and healthy this week. He practiced every day last week before being ruled out, and it may have been a move to keep him healthy for this week’s matchup against the Titans. With everything on the line, the Colts are going to need him to step up alongside Darius Leonard and stop the run. There is a playoff spot on the line and Walker is going to play a big role in deciding that.
Dee Ford (KC)
Ford is coming off one of his best games this season with 3 solos, 4 assists, and .5 sack. He was all over the field against the Seahawks and was a big reason why the game remained close. The former first-round pick has a chance to build off that big game and carry it into the playoffs where the Chiefs are really going to need their defense to step up. They have relied heavily on the offense outscoring everyone and it is going to take a collective effort from Ford and the rest of the defense to make a deep run.
Arik Armstead (SF)
It has been a slow season for Armstead, but he gets to face a team that he recorded 5 tackles and a sack against earlier in the season. The Rams will be scoreboard watching and there is a good chance they pull their starters very early. If that is the case, Armstead has a great chance to repeat his line from earlier in the season. Look for something in the 5-tackle range again and the potential to add a sack.
Deatrich Wise Jr Jr. (NE)
The Patriots are pretty much set in their playoff seeding unless something crazy happens in the final week. They have a very favorable matchup against a struggling Jets team and Wise has a chance to rack up some tackles and get after the quarterback. He has been used sparingly this season and still has 4.5 sacks. He is highly sack-dependent in this final week but might be that last bit of points you need to push you over the top.
Kerry Wynn (NYG)
It has been a lost season for the Giants for quite a while now and they really have nothing to play for in the final week of the season. Wynn has underwhelmed to this point but has a chance to reestablish some value this week. The Cowboys are entrenched in the 4th spot despite Jerry Jones saying they are going to play it like any other game. Look for a lot of backups this week and a chance for Wynn to add a sack to close out his season.
Jaire Alexander (GB)
The Packers are playing for nothing but pride right now after having been eliminated from playoff contention. The secondary has long since been an issue for this team, but Alexander has stepped up in recent weeks. He had an outburst of 10 solo tackles a few weeks ago against Atlanta and has since fallen back to earth in recent weeks. Alexander gets a great matchup against a struggling Detroit offense and has a chance to end his season on a high note.
Curtis Riley (NYG)
Just like Wynn listed earlier, Riley is going to be playing for himself to close out the season for the Giants. It has been a tough season, but Riley is coming off a 6-tackle performance with an interception last week. He also had an interception return for a touchdown 3 weeks ago and is primed to close out the season on a high note. Look for Dallas to get their backups in early and give the Giants defense a chance to step up and make a statement in their last game of the season.
Terrell Edmunds (PIT)
There is a lot that needs to go right for the Steelers to make the playoffs in the final week. Edmunds has played very well in the secondary for the second half of the season and will need 1 more big game against a Bengals team that has long since thrown in the towel on this season. The Steelers are going to be playing angry and are a team no one wants to face if they can squeak into the playoffs. Look for Edmunds to continue his streak of good games in Week 17.
Sean Lee (DAL): Healthy Scratch
It was a coach’s decision to sit Lee this week despite being healthy. Jason Garrett said he was only going to play 8-12 snaps and they had a spot they needed to fill on special teams. Lee is healthy and good to go but was just not needed for this game. Expect Lee to be back for the playoffs and add to an already elite linebacker core for the Cowboys.
Austin Calitro (SEA): Replaced by K.J Wright
In a late-breaking story, K.J Wright returned for the Seahawks against Kansas City this week and that all but shut down Calitro this week. He ended up playing 0 defensive snaps and only 12 snaps on special teams. The news broke late on Wright returning this week and Calitro will not be a viable option at all in the final game.
Lorenzo Alexander (BUF): 9 solos, 6 assists, 1 pass defended, 1 interception
The final score may not have shown it, but the defense played well against the Patriots. It all started with Alexander in the middle as he racked up a season-high in tackles and added just his second interception of the year. The Alexander pick was dependent on a sack, but he surprised everyone by filling the stat sheet elsewhere. He has another favorable matchup next week against the Dolphins and could provide the boost you need in the final week of the regular season.
Sam Hubbard (CIN): 1 solo
After getting things back on track against the Raiders last week, Hubbard fell back down to earth this week as the Bengals were dominated by the Browns. Hubbard has not had a great season in the tackle department and that showed again this week. He did not manage to get anywhere near Baker Mayfield this week, but neither did the rest of the defense. A lot of work needs to be done in Cincinnati, but Hubbard seems to have a good career ahead of him.
Maurice Hurst (OAK): Ankle injury
It was another bad week for IDP Sleepers with the pick of Hurst. He was dealing with an ankle injury all week but was expected to play. Unfortunately, the ankle appears to have been worse than reported and it resulted in a big goose egg for Hurst. He has a very promising career ahead of him in Oakland, but unfortunately, he did not help anyone this week.
Ricky Jean Francois (DET): 2 solos, 2 assists
Everything looked great for the Lions on the first 2 drives Sunday, and then it came crashing down against the Vikings. The defense sacked Kirk Cousins twice, but Francois was not a part of either. He did tie his season high in tackles, but it was not enough to warrant the start. Francois’ outburst against the Dolphins earlier in the season seems to be more like an outlier rather than his ceiling. The Lions are limping towards the end of the season and Francois is not going to help anyone.
Rasul Douglas (PHI): 8 solos, 1 assist, 1 tackle for loss
The emergence of Douglas continues as the Eagles cling to their playoff hopes. He was all over the field on Sunday and fell just short of another double-digit tackle performance. He now was 9, 14, and 9 total tackle performances in the past 3 weeks. Douglas is seeing a lot of playing time and should be started in just about every format to close out the season.
Anthony Harris (MIN): 5 solos
The Viking defense held the Lions to 3 field goals and it was an all-around effort. They did not put up the big sack numbers from the past few weeks and did not create any turnovers. They made the tackles when they needed to and ended up getting Matthew Stafford benched. Harris added 5 solo tackles and had a solid game. He continues to fill in for the injured Andrew Sendejo and is a good source of tackles to close out the season.
Fabian Moreau (WAS): 1 assist
It was not a great game for Moreau or the Redskins this week. They played the Titans very tightly for the majority of the game and then had a big letdown at the end. Moreau could not build off of his interception from last week and had one of his worst tackling performances of the season. He had an average of about 5 tackles and failed to come anywhere close to that today. He will not be a good option next week against the Eagles and should be dropped in any format.