#1 TakingTigerMountain vs. #5 Cursed.
TTM's really? question - Is Ameer Abdullah going to start in a make or break game. The Tigers have spent all season benching talented rookie Abdullah who functions (sort of) on a broken Detroit run game. Then came the bye week news of Ingram's season ending injury. Worse waiver wire spend down Spencer Ware looks dinged up. Now it's a real question. If not Abdullah? Who? Crowell had a career game against the hapless Niners, but faces a serious negative match up in the Seahawks in week 15. Another option is passing game re-tread Darren Sproles who seems to have found some love in Kelley's floundering Philly system. Who does he face? oh just another prime time nightmare match up with the Cardinals on MNF.
TTM will win if - their dual WR1 wide outs go off. There's no defense against the ceilings of Brown and Hopkins. There's reason to worry about both of them. Brown has been stellar but seen 2 of his last 3 week under 10 points with significant lowballs even as the Steelers offense charges ahead. DeAngelo Williams in the backfield and the increasing development Bryant and Wheaton cut into Brown's volume and hence his week to week potential. Basically the Steelers' offense is functioning healthily and it brings a superstar like Brown into perspective. Hopkins is somewhat the opposite case. He's a man-apart in the dysfunctional Houston offense, but has made a season for himself on high target ratios. Those have been declining in recent weeks as the Texans offense has struggled to get their best play maker the ball consistently. Both players are beyond match up proof but Brown gets the league's toughest test in Denver and Hopkins gets one of the league's dream match ups against Indy. The Tigers badly need the dual threat team to at least cover their total points to cover for big questions on the rest of the field. If they exceed high expectations they'll be hard to beat. If they fall short the Tigers will be very vulnerable.
Cursed really? question - Is Fitzpatrick going to start over Stafford? The Jets quarterback is riding a nice streak of high scoring affairs, and faces an odd match up on the road in Dallas. Stafford has been mercurial to say the least and faces probably the league's worst pass defense on the road in New Orleans. There's a fair chance that New Orleans could just fold in this game relegating Stafford to clock management duties. The same might be true of Fitzpatrick's squad but the Jets certainly have more to play for.
Cursed will win if - their keeper veterans step up. Alshon and Frank the Tank have been pushing league average all year. And they were a big reason that the Cursed Ones were on the bubble to advance in week 13. Gore is getting the ball plenty. He'll face a mediocre Houston team and his total will almost certainly hang on whether he finds the endzone. Alshon will play a medium tough Minnesota coverage with a lot to play for. His targets and receptions are bullet proof. Breaking that scoring potential is a matter of seeing them spike the ball and little else.
Key match up - New York Giants vs. Carolina. The Cursed Ones live and die with their best player (and well on his way to be the best LSU offensive player of all time) Odell Beckham Jr. He receives his passes from the Mountain's shot caller Manning the lesser. Generally, QB/WR1 counter-titrations favor the receiver, since big plays and TDs accrue additional bonuses. However, both Giants will have to face the undefeated Panthers DEF on the road. Beckham has been reasonably consistent with huge games sprinkled in. Manning has been wildly inconsistent in the 2nd half, with likewise big games. There's almost no way Beckham can misfire without hurting Manning's numbers more. They're unquestionably the two best skill players on the team. TTM just has to hope that he finds the paint with another receiver at least once, Tye, Randle and Vereen are all minor pass vultures.
#2 Trichotilomaniacs vs. #3 psych dog
Trichs will win if - Cam Newton continues to play to his huge season. The Trichs have won their playoff stripes in no small part due to their QB playing to #2 by points. The undefeated Panthers have lived off of Cam's two way play and fourth quarter drives. Cam will go on the road to the Giants with technically very little to play for, having already clinched home field. Is there a chance Cam comes out of the game? Is there chance the Panthers aren't interested in fully engaging in smash mouth football in the Meadowlands? That would be disastrous for the Trichs.
Trichs really? question - Are the Trichs really going to roll with a 3 WR set? The Hair Pullers currently feature Robinson, Cooks and Tate in the 2 WR and flex positions. Robinson has been locked in at WR 1 but both Cooks and Tate have been up and down gambles. They are playing in potential aerial shootout, so they're high risk high reward. But with options like Anderson and Gates offering some guaranteed points and lower risk, it looks betting the season on a few fourth quarter targets in the Superdome.
psych dog will win if - Adrian Peterson takes the game in hand against the Bears. Peterson is narrowly RB #2 in the total points ranking but is by far the highest draft pick in that top 10. Minnesota has everything to play for against the Bears at home. Psych dog needs the Purple Jesus to provide significant points to continue to cover the initial cost.
psych dog's really? question - Are the Dogs really going to start Latavius Murray in the flex counter to their Green Bay DEF. Murry has been a middling disappointment this year, as his efficiency rating has plummeted since his bye week and Oakland's offense looks more predictable. Meanwhile, Green Bay's DEF has improved in recent weeks and could even contend for a bye with a couple more wins. Other options are Ted Ginn Jr, coming off back to back 2 TD games and facing the woeful Giants, and Allen Hurns, who has emerged as a prime red zone threat for the Jags.
Key match up - Denver vs. Pittsburgh. The psych dog holds probably the best offensive piece on the Broncos squad in Demaryius Thomas. Unfortunately, the Broncos passing projections have degraded over the year, turning him into the rare boom or bust WR1. Meanwhile the General is a known Broncos supporter and stacked his squad with orange. Let's start with CJ Anderson, he's an interesting flex gamble with Hillman struggling going into a big match up with play off import. The gamble is that he's coming off an injury, hardly has the backfield to himself, and the Steelers have been tough on the run. The Bronco's DEF the vaunted Orange Crush of the first half of the season have become decidedly more pedestrian as the offense has slid to obsurity. The Hair-Pullers triple down on the defense gamble by fielding two Broncos defensive players, Von Miller and Trevathan. Throw into that a QB controversy between a rookie that just shit the bed and the best of his generation and this one is a wild card of epic proportions. If Manning resurfaces in heroic fashion does that help Thomas? If Oz gets the nod does a ball management philosophy aide Anderson? Can the Denver corners keep the Pittsburgh wide outs from multiple long range scores either way?