Welcome to the fantasy football playoffs! We've fought our way through 13 weeks of NFL action to rise to the top of our leagues and sit just a few dozen games away from eternal fantasy glory. It's a great time to be alive.
Hopefully you're reading this article out of pure enjoyment as you bask in the glow of a first-round playoff bye week thanks to your number-one finish. But, naturally, a few of you are likely matched up in a Wild Card playoff game and looking to see which stars from the Buccaneers vs. Lions matchup are going to push your one step closer to the trophy.
Let's get right down to it.More Than Meets the Eye at WR
This game, of course, comes with its fair share of must-starts, namely at the wide receiver position as Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson go up against Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. With a nice, bright green opponent ranking of "28th" (as in strength of opponent) sitting next to the Detroit duo's names this week, owners must be looking forward to cruising easily into the next round.
But, not so fast.
Yes, if you have Johnson and Tate (ranked 24th and 12th at their position, respectively) you should without a doubt roll with them this week. Johnson is fresh off an 11-catch, 146-yard, 2-TD performance last week, while Tate is on pace for 100 catches and 1,500 yards this season. But, looking deeper than the Bucs being ranked 28th in points allowed to opposing receivers this year, you find that they are among the best in the league in that same category over the past three weeks.
The Buccaneers have given up just 35 fantasy points to wide receivers over the last three games. That 11.7 points per game (ppg) clip is well below both the Bucs' season average of 24.5 and the league's season average of 21.1. Only the Bengals (11 WR ppg), 49ers (10.3 ppg) and Seahawks (a ridiculous 4.3 ppg) have been better over that period. With the Buccaneers allowing just 87 WR yards per game in those three games, Johnson and Tate could find production much harder to come by this week than originally expected.
On the other side of the ball, the statistics take a 180-degree turn, with Evans and Jackson facing the defense ranked third in fantasy points allowed to receivers this season. This season, they've allowed just 17.2 WR ppg, but have given up games of 26, 17 and 23 in their last three outings.
Mike Evans is coming out of a stellar month and has the third-most fantasy points of any WR since Week Six. The Lions are one of the best teams in defending the long ball, but no one has really found the answer to covering Evans deep yet. Meanwhile, Vincent Jackson saw his second 100-yard game of the season two weeks ago as defenses started keying in on Evans and could have another decent Flex performance here if extra attention is given to the rookie.
Bottom line is that all should, as is the case every week, find your starting lineup, but this week the numbers could be deceiving.The Best of the Rest
Moving on from wide receiver we find a lot more question marks.
The Buccaneers defense has allowed just 12.2 ppg to opposing quarterbacks since their bye week, the eighth-fewest of any team since Week Eight. Matthew Stafford, usually a weekly fantasy starter hasn't been his usually fantasy self this year, ranked 14th at his position. This is largely due to the absence of Calvin Johnson through much of the season, but even with him back in the lineup in Weeks 11 and 12, Stafford had five- and nine-point games. He is coming off a 21-point home performance, with a home edge and his full suite of receivers, so he is worth starting, but not without risk from an underrated defense.
Get to know the key players on Detroit before the Buccaneers face off with the Lions on Sunday.
At RB, Joique Bell has been the Lions' best option this year with 99 fantasy points this season, 22 of them coming last week with fellow RB Reggie Bush sidelined with an injury. Bush is probable for this game and his presence makes the Detroit RB outlook a bit hazier. Bell, ultimately is worth a start as the Bucs have allowed 11 rushing touchdowns this year and he should see the lion's share (ha) of the carries. Thanks to that ankle injury, Bush has topped five fantasy points just once this season and can't be trusted in your playoff lineup.
Outsider of receiver, any player from the Buccaneers offense would have to be considered a risk. Josh McCown is coming off just a five-point game, but was performing well in his three starts before that. Against the sixth-ranked Lions defense however, it is better to go with a more proven fantasy option.
The Lions have given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, while the Buccaneers have not really gotten their ground game moving consistently and have what is essentially a three-RB split over the last few weeks. Despite the Lions allowing the fewest rushing yards per game of any NFL team, either Doug Martin or Charles Sims could find themselves in the end zone through the passing game as Detroit allows more than 50 receiving yards per game to RBs, third-most in the league. However, which RB could get those points is anyone's guess. With such an unpredictable amount of touches going to any Bucs running back, it is hard to recommend that any grace your first week playoff lineup.