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Player Rankings – Week 3 – Conference Championships
San Francisco @ Atlanta – Sunday, Jan. 20th – 3:00pm ET on FOX
Baltimore @ New England – Sunday, Jan. 20th – 6:30pm ET on CBS
(Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 15 - 9:21PM CT)
1. Colin Kaepernick (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Considering what’s going on with Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco, these Harbaugh brothers sure know what they’re doing—as does the main man here at Pyro®; d-Rx®. He’s a forward-thinking fantasy guy and has been high on Kaepernick since he was sitting on the bench in the beginning of his 2011 rookie season. Why, you ask? Because he noticed that the league was changing, and not only did he realize that Kaep had some really nice quarterback skills, but that he also had the potential to be one of the best running QBs in the league. It’s a reality now, folks. The best fantasy quarterbacks aren’t just passing machines anymore—like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees—but they’re also the most athletic, like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, RGIII, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. With the way fantasy scoring rules are today, if you want the best fantasy score, you simply have to take a chance on Kaepernick this weekend.
2. Joe Flacco (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – I can already hear the pundits out there… Joe Flacco ahead of Tom Brady, are you nuts?!?! Yeah, maybe I am. But I’m also logical. Check this out. In three regular season games against the Patriots, Joe Flacco averaged 310.3 passing yards a game and has thrown for seven touchdowns compared to two interceptions. In those same three games, Brady averaged 295 passing yards, yet only threw for three touchdowns and two interceptions. If you’d like to check out the playoff head-to-head, we can do that, too.
Flacco: 26-46 for 340 yards, two TDs and two INTs (in the first game he was barely used as he went just 4-10 for 34 yards and one INT, yet the Ravens won).
Brady: 45-78 for 393 yards, two TDs and five INTs.
Hey, I’m not trying to say that Joe Flacco is a better quarterback than Tom Brady, but when it comes to this particular matchup, Joe Flacco just happens to be the better fantasy call. Period.
3. Tom Brady (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Tom Brady is one of the best there ever was and always will be. However, his track record against the Baltimore Ravens hasn’t been all that great. In fact, his average of just one passing touchdown per game against them (seven games, playoffs included) is tied for the worst against any team in his career. His completion percentage and yards per attempt are both awful against them as well. Basically, if you’re looking for a bit of Kryptonite in Brady’s armor… Baltimore is it. Still, he’s 4-1 against them in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs, so it looks like coach Bill Belichick and the Pats coaching staff find ways to win regardless. That being said, I can’t see Brady having one of his better fantasy games this Sunday, especially with Rob Gronkowski being out.
4. Matt Ryan (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – I still believe that Matt Ryan is one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the game and I will likely be ranking him in the top ten guys going into the 2013 season. With Roddy White and Julio Jones as your wide receivers, how can’t you? Be that as it may, this will NOT be one of Ryan’s better outings going up against this dominant 49ers defense. I didn’t think Ryan would do much against the Seahawks last week, and even though he threw for three touchdowns, his 250 passing yards were the fewest of any QB in the divisional round. I guess what I’m saying here is that even though Ryan may very well have a decent game this week (though his fantasy numbers were far inferior at home this season), he still won’t outperform Brady, Flacco and Kaepernick. It’s as simple as that.
(Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 16 - 12:34AM CT)
1. Ray Rice (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Is Ray Rice a fantasy player worth taking on your team with the Ravens on the road? Well, during the regular season I wouldn’t say so, but Baltimore has done well to make him a focal point on the road this postseason, that’s for sure. Bernard Pierce may have taken himself out of the equation with an injury last weekend, but Rice did all he could against a dominant Denver run defense anyway rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. The Patriots have been awful against running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield this season, so Rice will have every chance to dominate come Sunday.
2. Frank Gore (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Of the four teams left in the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons are the easiest to score big fantasy points against—no doubt about it. Gore has been rested all year for this exact reason and I expect the 49ers to use him accordingly in this game. Yes, Colin Kaepernick will take his fair share of keepers for a good amount of yards, but Gore should find some wide open holes because of it and turn them into a good 100 rushing yards and a touchdown. To be honest, Gore’s fantasy value just went up exponentially next season with the recent play of Kaepernick. Awesome combo.
3. Stevan Ridley (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – The Ravens can be beaten on the ground, which is exactly why the Patriots will run the hell out of the ball this Sunday. Stevan Ridley is one of the better young runners in the game today and because Bill Belichick knows it, he’s allowed Ridley’s fumbling woes to go by the wayside. Right now is the time to turn him loose because Baltimore can’t and haven’t been able to stand up to a dominant running game all season. New England has the top rushing attack in the league, believe it or not, and I have no doubt it will be used to its fullest this Sunday. With Tom Brady drawing the most eyes, Ridley could very well be the focus of the attack and should be able to go over 100 total yards with a score.
4. Shane Vereen (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Vereen certainly came into his own last weekend with three touchdowns and 124 total yards against the Texans. However, this isn’t the reason he’s ranked here. The reason is because of the New England Patriots running game and how little it’s paid attention to throughout a game. “Underestimated” is a term used when an aspect of a game is at least a consideration. However, the Pats have one of the best running games—if not the best in the entire NFL— and all anyone ever talks about with the Patriots is Tom Brady. The fact is, the Patriots had the most rushing touchdowns, the second most rushing attempts, and the seventh most yards per game in the league this year. Somebody other than Stevan Ridley is going to make an impact in this game. I’m thinking it's Vereen.
5. Michael Turner (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – I’m impressed. Give me whatever reason you want as to how Turner ripped apart the Seattle Seahawks defense last week and I’ll still be impressed. Has he been underestimated? Absolutely. Is he 30 years old? Yes. Not what he used to be? Yes. However, Turner was rested enough throughout the season to make a difference RIGHT NOW, and THAT is what is important. The Falcons knew they would get here; it was just a matter of how much they actually needed Michael Turner in order to get there. Well, it’s time to unleash the Centaur, and though he won’t go for more than 60 to 70 yards in this game, it won’t be for lack of trying because I expect at least 15-20 carries in this one. You HAVE to do that against the 49ers… or they’ll kill you for lack of respect.
6. Jacquizz Rodgers (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Quizz is the X-factor. Could he get more touches in this game than Michael Turner? It’s entirely possible, yes. However, it won’t be on the goal line and the fact that he hasn’t scored a postseason touchdown in his career definitely makes a difference when choosing between the two. I love his game and I love his toughness, but he won’t give you more fantasy points than the rundown Centaur will.
7. Bernard Pierce (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – When Bernard Pierce is healthy; he’s a beast carrying the ball. He’s bigger and stronger than Ray Rice, and might even be faster. But at this point, he’s a player who will see at most 10 to 15 touches, which just isn’t enough to be a fantasy starter. Throw on top of the situation that he’s currently hampered by a knee injury and he’ll likely see only five to eight touches this Sunday. I absolutely love his game and believe he can be a stud in the years to come, but in a do-or-die situation like this, I’m not expecting too much.
8. Danny Woodhead (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Woodhead has some sort of thumb injury going on, so he’s hardly a dependable secondary guy to take this coming fantasy weekend. I loved him a week ago and believe he would have gotten most of Shane Vereen’s fantasy points had he not left the game, but with as fickle as the Patriots offense is, Woodhead isn’t a guy I would make a bold fantasy prediction on. If he’s active, he’ll get a decent share of the offensive calls seeing how he’s the best no-huddle running back they have. However, if Belichick has the slightest doubt in him, Woody will be on the bench all day.
9. LaMichael James (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – LaMichael didn’t see a whole lot of action this past weekend, but that was to be expected as a rookie running back in a playoff game. Still, the ‘Niners DID trust him enough to get him the ball four times (21 rushing yards, seven receiving), so he’s obviously still in the gameplan from week to week.
10. Anthony Dixon (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Dixon is a LOT better than he’s given credit for, but he happens to be on a team with far superior running backs right now. Seeing how he gave the 49ers a touchdown on his sole touch of the day last week, I suppose it’s possible he gets the call again… though I wouldn’t exactly count on it.
11. Vonta Leach (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Fullbacks have been getting more goal line calls this postseason than you normally might see, but since Leach already grabbed a TD in the Wildcard round, I wouldn’t start betting on a second anytime soon.
12. Jason Snelling (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – One touch, one catch, one touchdown. If you take him on your fantasy team, that is the absolute best you’ll get the second time around… and I give it maybe a three percent chance of happening again.
13. Brandon Bolden (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – It seems Bolden is the odd man out this postseason… though in my mind, he’s a lot like Chris Ivory from the New Orleans Saints in that he may never get his due because of the talent that occupies the Patriots backfield. I still believe he should, though, because he’s friggin awesome.
(Updated: Thursday, Jan. 17 - 8:24PM CT)
1. Wes Welker (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – So Rob Gronkowski is out of the playoffs, which means that Tom Brady will have to depend on somebody else to get those short-yardage gains he needs to be successful. Plain and simple, that man is Wes Welker. The little guy continues to be one of the most under-estimated wide receivers in the game today, both in fantasy and real life. Last week, however, Welker grabbed eight balls for 131 yards and was the best player on the field… again. Just once all season did he see less than eight targets in a game and only twice did he catch less than five passes. He had 13 targets last week against the Texans, and I fully expect him to see that many and more against the Ravens. Throw a touchdown in there and he’s definitely the top receiver of the week. If not, then he’ll merely catch a bunch of passes for enough yards to be a top-three wide receiver by the end of the championship weekend.
2. Michael Crabtree (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Who doubted Michael Crabtree when the season started? I’ll admit, I am one of those raising their hands. Plain and simple, the kid is the hottest wide receiver left in the 2012 NFL playoffs and should probably be the top wide receiver this week… However, with Asante Samuel likely covering him this Sunday, I can’t endorse him as the number one guy. Colin Kaepernick obviously loves him, so Crabby will get his targets no matter what… as he should. That being said, the Falcons don’t normally allow many fantasy points to opposing wide receivers (eighth fewest during the regular season) and let up the least amount of touchdowns to them in 2012. So even though I have Crabtree ranked high this week, believe me, the kid will have his work cut out for him.
3. Julio Jones (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Julio Jones is probably the most talented of the remaining receivers, but his skillls don’t always translate into production. Julio’s track-record at home has been less than impressive over the past two years and though he may be DUE to have a big statistical home game, I can’t very well believe it will happen against the 49ers pass defense. I'm a huge fan of yours, Julio, but you’re going to have to prove yourself before I give you my top ranking.
4. Anquan Boldin (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – He might not have made it into the end zone, but Anquan Boldin had another nice performance against the Broncos this past weekend going for 71 yards on six catches (11 targets). He’s become Joe Flacco’s go-to guy over the last couple of months, and will likely fill the role once again this Sunday. In the three games he’s faced the Patriots while donning a Ravens uniform; Boldin totaled 14 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown. In last year’s conference championship between these two teams, ‘Quan grabbed six balls for 101 yards, numbers I can easily see him coming up with again.
5. Roddy White (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Roddy White is the goods. I’ve been drafting this kid out of Alabama-Birmingham for years now and let me tell you; the guy rarely disappoints. When it comes to the playoffs, he’s managed to catch a touchdown in three of his four appearances, including last week against the Seattle Seahawks. He’s also never had less than five catches for 52 yards in a playoff game. Basically, he’s as steady as you could hope for as a fantasy owner and would be the one to snag when you’re debating between him and another receiver. Regardless of his price, Roddy will be the guy you want.
6. Torrey Smith (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Holy Christ! If Torrey Smith could just give me an intermediate route every once in awhile, he’d be a top ten receiver from now to eternity. His speed is simply jaw-dropping, as anyone could see in watching him get behind Champ Bailey last weekend. That simply doesn’t happen. However, this is a new week and a different game—one in which I believe Torrey has a slightly better chance of getting behind the secondary than he did against Denver. Back in Week 3, Smith went off for six catches, 127 yards and two touchdowns against this New England secondary. Can he do it again? Absolutely he can, though I’m thinking more along the lines of one deep touchdown and about four catches for 90 yards.
7. Brandon Lloyd (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Brandon Lloyd had just two 100-yard games this season, but it just so happens that one of them came against the Baltimore Ravens back in Week 3. In that game, Lloyd caught nine of his 12 targets for 108 yards, both of which would end up as his second-best outputs of 2012. Without Gronkowski in the lineup, Tom Brady will need Brandon to step up his game once again if they want to avenge their last-second loss to them from earlier this year.
8. Jacoby Jones (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Jacoby has a chance to be the X-factor this weekend, just as he was against the Broncos last week when he caught two balls for 77 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens will undoubtedly be tossing the ball around a bunch in this one, so look for Jones to get involved early and have a pretty nice game in the end.
9. Randy Moss (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Moss didn’t see many balls flying his way against the Packers last weekend, and I can’t see much changing against Atlanta this Sunday. The Falcons boast one of the league’s more formidable secondarys, so with his skills obviously nowhere near where they once were, I’m not expecting too much out of Randy.
10. Harry Douglas (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Douglas was in the game just 40 percent of the time against the Seahawks, but he actually ended up playing three more snaps than Michael Turner did, and I fully expect the same this weekend. Leadfoot Turner won’t be able to bust through the ‘Niners front seven and he certainly won’t be able to run around them, so I expect the Falcons will turn to the passing game in order to move the ball. Douglas may be ignored a bit with Julio and Roddy running around out there, so he could come up with some sneaky numbers here if Ryan can’t buy enough time in the pocket to throw it to his big guns.
11. Tandon Doss (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Doss was actually targeted three times against the Broncos, but he was unable to come away with a catch. However, because I expect the Ravens to pass the ball more than they usually do in this one, it wouldn’t shock me to see Tandon put up something different than a bunch of zeroes in the box score this time. One or two catches could actually be had here.
12. Deion Branch (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – He only saw nine snaps on offense last week and nary a target, but Branch is a seasoned veteran that could be useful in a pressure-filled game such as this. A couple of catches could be made here, but probably without much impact.
13. Ted Ginn (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Ginn actually caught one of his two targets last week and turned it into a three-yard gain. Hey, at least it was more productive than what A.J. Jenkins did! Anyway, his real value comes from his special teams play where the chance he takes a punt to the house gets him ranked one higher than the bottom.
14. A.J. Jenkins (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Jenkins was on the field for only seven snaps last weekend and saw zero targets from Colin Kaepernick. For no particular reason, I think he improves on those numbers and sees eight snaps this Sunday along with one target. He still won’t make a catch, though.
(Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 16 - 4:52PM CT)
1. Dennis Pitta (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – With guys like Aaron Hernandez and Tony Gonzalez headlining this list, how does Dennis Pitta end up with my top ranking? Matchups, baby. It’s all in the matchups. Baltimore and San Francisco are two of the best in the league at covering the tight end, while New England is one of the worst. So even though Gonzo and Hernandez are ranked ahead of Pitta 95 percent of the time, this happens to be that five percent where Pitta comes up as the lead dog. Last week, the Patriots allowed TE Owen Daniels to catch nine passes for 81 yards against them, as well as both James Casey and Garrett Graham to combine for 42 yards on five receptions. That’s a total of 123 yards and 14 receptions out of the tight end position and while a touchdown wasn’t in the mix against the Texans, it could very well be with the Ravens. Pitta caught a touchdown versus the Pats both in Week 3 of this season and in the Conference Championship last year.
2. Aaron Hernandez (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – The possibility of Hernandez coming up with the best tight end numbers for the week are as good as anybody’s this week, especially with Gronkowski out for the remainder of the playoffs. However, the Ravens had the top defense against opposing tight ends this season allowing the fewest touchdowns and fantasy points to the position. Something has to give, right? My guess is that Brady targets Aaron enough to get him six or so catches for around 80 yards, but a touchdown being added to the mix is questionable at best.
3. Tony Gonzalez (vs. SF; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Gonzo is going to get his targets, especially in the red zone, but you can bet your ass the 49ers will be watching him like a hawk all over the field this Sunday. The ‘Niners gave up the fewest yards to tight ends in 2012, so Tony G might have a bit of a problem keeping up with Pitta and Hernandez in that department. However, they also allowed eight touchdowns to tight ends in 16 games this season, so Gonzo could make up for his lack of yards with a 6-pointer. Considering how this could actually be the final game of his career, I expect Matt Ryan to show him a little extra love this weekend.
4. Delanie Walker (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Walker was on the field for 73 percent of the offensive snaps last week compared to 95 percent for Vernon Davis. However, those numbers don’t mean much of anything when your quarterback likes you more than the other guy. Over the last five weeks of the season, Walker caught 10 passes on 16 targets for 160 yards and two touchdowns. In the same time, Davis caught just six passes on 11 targets for 61 yards and zero touchdowns. I doubt either one has much of an impact on this game, but I’d probably have to go with the one Kaepernick likes more if I had to choose.
5. Vernon Davis (at Atl; Sunday, 3:00pm ET) – Vernon Davis has been nearly invisible in the stat column for over a month now, but things can change pretty quickly in this crazy game of fantasy football. Last week versus the Packers, Vernon saw the second most targets on the team behind Michael Crabtree with five balls thrown his way. Actually, he was tied for the second spot with the ‘Niners OTHER tight end, Delanie Walker. Davis, however, was able to put up more fantasy points going for 44 yards compared to Walker’s 17. The ugly part of that last equation is that both players caught just one ball in the game. Who wins the duel this week is up for grabs, but it’s at least promising for both seeing how the Falcons allowed the tenth most fantasy points to tight ends this season.
6. Ed Dickson (at NE; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Dickson was in the game for 41 percent of the snaps last week and ended up catching three of the four balls thrown his way for 29 yards. He might see the same this weekend with the Ravens likely to be throwing the ball, but that’s not really enough to make him a fantasy starter now, is it.
7. Daniel Fells (vs. Bal; Sunday, 6:30pm ET) – Fells has a shot to be active this week due to Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending injury, but I wouldn’t expect much playing time for him with the Patriots season on the line.
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