Choose fantasy picks carefully in the wild-card round

By Scott Engel Special to
Published: Jan. 6, 2012 at 05:40 p.m.
Updated: Jan. 6, 2012 at 06:36 p.m.

Scott Engel of previews the first round of the postseason from fantasy perspectives and helps you also gain early advantages in the NFL Playoff Challenge.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

The plan for Andy Dalton will be to limit mistakes against a very tough defense and not crumble under heavy pressure. Dalton is not recommended for fantasy usage in any NFL playoff formats. When these two teams met in Week 14, A.J. Green was held to 59 yards on five receptions, so it's a good idea to look elsewhere for fantasy WR options. Plus, Green might also play only one game. Cedric Benson rushed for 91 yards in the Week 14 matchup, but he is dealing with a foot injury and should face a lot of defensive attention. Jermaine Gresham is a consistent TD threat, but like most other Bengals, he may be one-and-done, losing you opportunities for bonus points. T.J. Yates can certainly keep a defense honest and threw for 300 yards and two TDs in the first meeting. It's unlikely he'll come anywhere close to those numbers in a playoff atmosphere, yet he could utilize Andre Johnson well now that the WR appears ready to contribute again. Johnson has practiced fully and could get you two rounds of quality play. Arian Foster is clearly the best RB available in Round 1 and should be fired up to post excellent all-around production. Lock him into your NFL Playoff Challenge lineup for two weeks of outstanding total production.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints

The Saints will try to get a lot of pressure on Matthew Stafford, who threw for 408 yards when these teams met in Week 13. Look for him to get rid of the ball quickly and build a big stat line again, making him one of the best one-week plays in any fantasy playoff format. The Saints will try to jam and double-team Calvin Johnson, but he could still score. Titus Young is on the rise and should benefit from the extra attention Johnson receives, and he is a nifty one-week option. Count on Brandon Pettigrew to catch several key passes, especially in the red zone. Avoid Kevin Smith, though, as the Lions may have to quickly abandon their running game. Detroit will get free safety Louis Delmas back from a knee injury, and the Saints are without Lance Moore (hamstring), but the erratic Lions secondary will likely be no match for Drew Brees, who threw for 342 yards and three scores in the Week 13 meeting. Brees is a must-start, as the Saints have a great chance to go deep into the postseason and can rack up some excellent bonus point totals. The same holds true for Jimmy Graham, who might turn out to be the most productive TE in the NFL Playoff Challenge. Marques Colston should get many more goal-line area chances with Lance Moore out and is another elite option for this week. The NFL Playoff Challenge is not a PPR game, so keep that in mind when making a tight decision on Darren Sproles and another RB.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants

Look for the Falcons to run Michael Turner early and often, in an effort to stave off the Giants' pass rush and control time of possession as much as possible. Turner is a somewhat below-the-radar pick in many fantasy playoff leagues. He can roll up good numbers against the vulnerable New York LBs, and the Falcons have a legitimate chance to play in at least two postseason games. A quality running game should help Matt Ryan attack the shaky Giants' secondary with a receiving corps that simply overmatches the New York DBs. Julio Jones and Roddy White are great opening week starts in any formats. Ryan is certainly an underrated fantasy playoff option, as well, and do not fret if you get "stuck" with him in fantasy playoff drafts. Eli Manning will trade offensive punches with Ryan, as the Giants' passing game could simply be too much for a secondary that could be without Brent Grimes (knee). Victor Cruz is an outstanding start for this week, and Hakeem Nicks should score, but New York could be done after one game. Using Giants might be good for one-week scoring but could leave you needing to do much reworking in the divisional round. Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) should play and is a much better option for fantasy production than Brandon Jacobs right now.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos

Do not assume Pittsburgh will have its way offensively here. The Broncos should exhibit a strong pass rush and could harass Ben Roethlisberger often. He should be able to get the ball to Antonio Brown for possession catches, but Mike Wallace could disappoint again without any significant big plays. Denver seems to have trouble with shifty RBs, and that is not Isaac Redman's style. The Steelers have a strong chance to advance past the first round, but you may not get the optimum production out of their key offensive players in the wild-card round. It may not take much to outscore the Broncos, though, and as they slide into the postseason, their top offensive players should be avoided. The Steelers can play man coverage on the Denver WRs while focusing on containing the run up front. Willis McGahee could be stuffed early and often, and Tim Tebow is in danger of being corralled and forced into many incompletions. This could turn out to be a game to avoid.

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