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Fantasy Football 2014: Championship-Winning Players

Adam Pfeifer identifies the top fantasy football studs with the perfect playoff matchups to win owners a championship.

Julio Jones

I would say that Julio Jones‘ 10-catch, 189-yard, one-touchdown performance from Week 13 was impressive, but it wasn’t.

At least, not to Julio Jones.

After torching Patrick Peterson for career-best numbers last week, Jones had his sights set on Sam Shields, who, ironically enough, celebrated his birthday during Monday night’s shootout. However, it was Julio receiving the gifts from Shields, as Jones absolutely roasted him and the rest of the Packers secondary, setting a new career-high, catching 11-of-17 targets for 259 yards and a touchdown. Jones busted a 79-yarder on the first play of the second half, and right then, you knew he was going to dominate the rest of the game. Unfortunately, he exited the game earlier than he wanted, dealing with an apparent hip injury. He was seen trying to jog it off on the sideline, but couldn’t manage to get back onto the field for the rest of the game. Jones didn’t want to talk about the hip injury after the game, which could be concerning. But, if the fantasy gods could allow Julio to be healthy enough to suit up for the rest of the season, it could make all the difference.

Next week, the Falcons face one of the most struggling secondaries in all of football, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. This unit has surrendered 80 points over their last three games, including 12 touchdown passes. And over their last six games, they’ve allowed long passing touchdowns of 69, 80, 67, 35, 52 and now, after A.J. Green murdered them, 81 yards. Meanwhile, only the Philadelphia Eagles have coughed up more passing plays of 40 yards or more than Pittsburgh’s 13 this year. And according to Pro Football Focus, Julio is sporting an aDOT (average depth of target) of 12.6, a healthy number. And, as Nick Mensio of Rotoworld points out here, Julio will face off with either William Gay or Ike Taylor, who have combined to allow 28 catches for 584 yards and seven touchdowns over the last six weeks.

After that, he’ll help many fantasy teams potentially win their championship with a Week 16 matchup against the New Orleans Saints’ atrocious defense. Wide receivers are averaging 12.6 catches, 180 yards, 1.2 touchdowns and 26.42 fantasy points (3rd-most) per game against the Saints this season. During the first game of the year, Julio had a nice outing against a then healthy New Orleans defense, catching seven balls for 116 yards. Now the Saints are depleted in the back end, losing multiple safeties. And considering that both of these games are indoors, only makes me more excited. Help us, Julio Jones. You’re our only hope (for a fantasy title).

Or are you?

A handful of other players have terrific schedules down the stretch that can help you solidify that fantasy gold.

Segues, kiddos. Segues.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Upcoming matchups: vs MIN, @CHI, @GB

What a difference a healthy Calvin Johnson makes…

During the three games with Megatron back in the Detroit lineup, Matthew Stafford has looked like the top-10 fantasy quarterback that everyone pegged him to be entering the season. In that span, he’s passed for 965 yards (321.6 per game), five touchdowns, one interception and is averaging a healthy 19 fantasy points per game. The offense has been clicking lately, after going two straight games without a touchdown, Detroit has now scored 34 points in two straight contests. Good things happen when you throw the football to Calvin Johnson, and Stafford has targeted his star wideout 35 times over the last three weeks. Now riding a hot streak, Stafford faces a beatable Minnesota secondary at home, and then the dream matchup against the Bears. Chicago is allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers this year (20.86), coughing up nearly 280 yards and 2.3 passing scores per game on the season. We saw Stafford torch this defense on Thanksgiving to the tune of 390 yards and two touchdowns a few weeks back.

After a mortal lock for 20 fantasy points in that game, he’ll face the Packers exploitable secondary that just allowed Matt Ryan to flirt with 400 passing yards and toss four touchdowns on Monday night. With Calvin, Joique Bell, healthy tight ends, and Golden Tate, Stafford has arguably the best weaponry in the NFL, and we’ve seen him be reliant on Megatron when he’s in the lineup. He is, and Stafford has good matchups and should continue to post strong fantasy numbers down the stretch.

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers

Upcoming matchups: vs TB, vs CLE, @ATL

It’s been a while, but Stewart is running the football very, very well this season. A lot better than DeAngelo Williams, at least. On the season, Stewart is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has clearly out-played Williams. And after a monster game on Sunday where he carried the football 20 times for 155 yards and a touchdown, it’s criminal that Ron Rivera still hasn’t committed to him as the starting back in Carolina. He’s scored at least 11 fantasy points in three of the last four weeks and continues to run hard. Stewart could legitimately win folks some fantasy titles, as his upcoming schedule is among the best out of any rusher in football.

The Bucs are up first, a team that sees 29.4 rushing attempts per game, good for the 6th-most in the NFL this year. They are also almost surrendering a full rushing touchdown per game. Cleveland, meanwhile, has struggled to stop the run all year long, allowing a healthy 129.5 yards per game on the ground, the 7th-most in football to this point. And finally, the lowly Falcons run defense, who have been god awful against the run all year, allowing 22.88 fantasy points per game to the position (3rd-most), as well as a league-worst 1.2 rushing scores per game to running backs on the year. And even if DeAngelo Williams is back for this game, multiple backs have destroyed Atlanta all year long. Both Cincinnati, Green Bay, and multiple New Orleans backs found the end zone against the Falcons lowly defense this year. Atlanta is so bad against the run that… that… just take a look.

ATL RUNN

Daniel Herron, Indianapolis Colts-

Upcoming matchups: vs HOU, @DAL, @TEN

Ahmad Bradshaw isn’t coming back, and Boom Herron hasn’t just replaced him, but he’s also become the number-one running back in Indianapolis, as Trent Richardson continues to play like– Trent Richardson. Herron’s replacing Bradshaw’s role, and don’t forget, he leads all running backs in red zone targets, catching six touchdown passes, too. There’s upside with Herron’s role in an Indianapolis offense that averages about four red zone scoring chances, scoring 2.2 red zone touchdowns per game this season. Richardson only has 15 carries over the last two weeks, and over the those two weeks, Herron has out-snapped him 74-60. The matchups are favorable for Herron, facing a Texans defense that is coughing up just under 19 fantasy points per game to running backs. Then there’s a shootout in Dallas against a unit that is starting to come apart, especially the linebackers. And finally, the best matchup possible for running backs, facing a Titans defense that is allowing 23.44 fantasy points per game to opposing rushers (2nd-most), 1.1 touchdowns per game (2nd-most) and a league-worst 141.5 yards per game on the ground. They’ve been bad against the run all year, but especially as of the last five weeks.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Upcoming matchups: @CAR, vs GB, vs NO

Lately, even when it seems like Evans is having a bad game, he still delivers for fantasy owners.

Despite catching just 4-of-11 targets for 45 yards on Sunday, two of those catches went for touchdowns, giving him at least one touchdown reception in six of his last eight outings. He’s been an absolute target machine lately, posting totals of 11, 9, 11, 9, 9, 11 over his last six games. Talk about consistency, folks. Evans has scored an awesome 10 touchdowns on the year, despite only seeing 10 red zone targets, converting four into touchdowns. So he’s making big plays down field in the passing game, too. That bodes well, facing a weak Panthers secondary that is allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts this year (25.05) and 1.2 touchdowns to receivers. And again, Tampa Bay should be throwing all day against the Packers, so the volume will be there all game for Evans. Finally, I love his matchup against the Saints, who have allowed 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more on the season (8th-most) and the 3rd-most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts. He has yet to play New Orleans this year, but should eat alive an undersized and weak Saints secondary.

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