Now officially past the halfway point of the season, fantasy playoff runs are now under way. From here on out decisions will be and should be analyzed and scrutinized for what they are. Life changing. Maybe not literally, but to a fantasy owner with a year’s worth of bragging rights at stake it is pretty close.
Fortunately for fantasy owners the real games are getting more important as well. As division play gets fully underway one can expect teams and players to knuckle down a bit more. As team prepare to play one another, some for the second time, game plans and scouting become of the utmost importance.
The same should hold true for anyone in a fantasy league. Go back into the box scores and recaps. Note how your player performed against the opponent the first time or better yet a free agent who may help put your team over the edge.
As was the hope last week, read on for a line-up nirvana awaits you.
Philip Rivers vs. Raiders (Thurs.) Rivers returned to his older, more productive form this past week, posting 25+ fantasy points in a tough loss to the Packers. I'd keep him active against the Raiders, who have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Look for Rivers to shine on Thursday Night Football.
Matt Cassel vs. Broncos: When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong -- and Cassel didn't perform as well as I thought he would last week. Still, he's a viable matchup-based starter against weaker opponents. That's what he will face in Week 10, as the Broncos have allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks than any other team in the NFL.
Jeremy Maclin vs. Cardinals: If you didn't already know, it's pretty clear now that Maclin, not DeSean Jackson, is the best fantasy wideout in an Eagles uniform. The Missouri product needs to be active this week against the Cardinals, who have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in 2011.
Santonio Holmes vs. Patriots: Holmes hasn't put up a ton of yardage this season, but he has found the end zone in three of his last four games. That includes a Week 5 contest against the Patriots, who have given up more fantasy points to wide receivers than any team in the league. That makes Holmes a nice option.
Willis McGahee at Chiefs: Who says older running backs can't produce good fantasy totals? McGahee shredded the Raiders for 163 yards and two touchdowns last week, and an upcoming matchup against the Chiefs makes him an attractive option once again. Kansas City has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis at Jets: Green-Ellis has been terrible in the stat sheets in recent weeks, scoring a combined 14.7 fantasy points in his last three games. I'd still roll the dice with him as a potential flex starter, however, as the Law Firm faces a Jets defense that allowed close to 27 points to him in Week 5.
Mike Tolbert vs. Raiders (Thurs.): Regardless of the status of Ryan Mathews and his bum groin, Tolbert is at least worth a look as a flex starter on Thursday night. The Raiders have given up the third-most fantasy points to running backs, and Tolbert should see enough work to make him a viable option in most formats.
Brandon Pettigrew at Bears: The Bears defense is a dreadful 26th against the pass, and a lot of the damage done has been against tight ends. In fact, no team has given up more fantasy points to the position. That's good news for Pettigrew, who scored a touchdown against this NFC north rival earlier this season.
Billy Cundiff at Seahawks: Cundiff, who is a free agent in close to 50 percent of NFL.com leagues, is fifth in fantasy points at his position and has a great matchup this week. The Seahawks have surrendered an average of over nine fantasy points per game to kickers -- that's the fourth-most in the whole league.
Texans defense at Buccaneers: Coordinator Wade Phillips has turned the Texans into one of the top defenses in the league -- and in fantasy football. In fact, this unit ranks sixth in fantasy points among defenses after nine weeks. Owners should keep the Texans active against the Buccaneers, who have been inconsistent at best on offense.
Jay Cutler vs. Lions: Cutler had a surprisingly good stat line for fantasy owners last week, scoring 16.32 fantasy points in a win over the Eagles. Still, I wouldn't trust him against a Lions defense that has a far superior pass rush. Detroit's defense has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season.
Josh Freeman vs. Texans Freeman has been inconsistent at best from a fantasy perspective, ranking an unimpressive 16th in points at his position after the first nine weeks. He'll be hard pressed to improve that mediocre status against the Texans, who have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing signal-callers.
Sidney Rice vs. Ravens: It's been another case of a good wideout going to Seattle to die, as Rice has posted double-digit fantasy points just once since Week 4. In fact, he's averaging a meager 6.1 fantasy points in his last four games. With a matchup against the Ravens up next, Rice is a serious risk for owners.
Darrius Heyward-Bey at Chargers (Thurs.) What happened to Heyward-Bey last week? He played 12 snaps, saw one target and scored zero fantasy points against the Broncos. Until we see some signs of life from the Maryland product in a suddenly crowded corps of Raiders receivers, it's best to keep him benched.
LeGarrette Blount vs. Texans: Blount's return from a bad knee was an unimpressive one, as he totaled just 65 scrimmage yards and 6.50 fantasy points in a loss to the Saints. He'll be hard pressed to make a major impact this week as well, as the Texans have given up the third-fewest fantasy points to running backs.
Ahmad Bradshaw at 49ers: Whether it's Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs or both in the Giants backfield this weekend, fantasy owners shouldn't expect a whole lot of production against the 49ers. LB Patrick Willis and his crew have allowed no rushing touchdowns and the fewest fantasy points to opposing backs in 2011.
Vernon Davis vs. Giants: Someone should put an APB out on Davis, because he's disappeared in the stat sheets. Over his last three games, the veteran has scored a combined 5.6 fantasy points while leaving owners shaking their heads. This week he faces the Giants, who have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
Adam Vinatieri vs. Jaguars: Vinatieri was once considered one of the elite kickers in fantasy football. Unfortunately, the loss of Manning and playing behind an offense that's lacking firepower has left him with fewer opportunities to score. What's more, the Jaguars have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to kickers.
Cowboys defense vs. Bills: Here's an odd stat for you to wrap your fantasy brain around -- opposing defenses facing the Bills have combined to average an awful 3.63 fantasy points per game. That's the second fewest in the league and bad news for the Cowboys. There are better matchups to exploit, so put the Pokes on the pine if possible.
Roman Harper, S vs Falcons: After a few subpar performances, Harper was up to his old tricks Sunday. He now has 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks in nine games. He ranks seventh among defensive backs in tackles this season and first in sacks. Simply start him.
Marcell Dareus , DT vs Cowboys: Despite a slow start to his NFL career, the 2011 3rd overall draft pick has showed up on the stats sheets in a big way. In week 8 recording 3 sacks to go with 3 QB pressure’s and a tackle. Then following this up with a solid 5 tackles and a fumble recovery in his week 9 game against the New York Jets. Dallas’ offensive line is hardly stellar so his streak could continue.
Tramon Williams, CB vs Vikings: Williams was able to get himself 5 solo tackles, 6 total tackles, and 1 interception for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. Christian Ponder, this week’s opponent is no Philip Rivers.
Dwight Freeney , DE vs Jaguars: Freeney has not been productive this season. In fact Freeney is currently not even ranked in the top 30 DEs in the PFF IDP scoring system. Take away his one excellent 2 sack game against a the Steelers O-Line, and he has only 2 further sacks. Enhancing the problem is the fact the teams can run out the clock in games against a struggling Colts team which reduces Freeney’s playmaking opportunities.
Julius Peppers, DE, vs Lions: Peppers (knee) did not practice Wednesday, reports the Bears' official site. Peppers said, "The knee is still healing. It's not 100 percent yet. I think it probably looked worse than it actually was. But I didn't get it too bad." He left Monday night's game at Philadelphia, but was able to return. Consider him day-to-day at this point.
Barrett Ruud, LB, vs Panthers: With Cam Newton playing on an entirely different planet than pretty much anyone else, he can be a nightmare for a linebacker. Any play can turn into a Newton run and with Steve Smith playing as well as he is it is going to be a tough day to anticipate the play. Newton has made better men than Ruud look foolish this season. Best to stay away.