Somewhere out there, someone is playing fantasy football this weekend. Whether you’re taking notes by yourself, created a fun pool in a notebook with your pals, are riding the playoff challenge over at NFL.com or competing for big money at a daily fantasy gaming site, you might need a little advice. The 2014 fantasy football season was long and grueling. It was crazy and exhausting. It was a real son of a bitch. But it officially ends on Super Bowl Sunday and it only makes sense to punch out one last Start/Sit column to help anyone scratching their head over who to use.
It’s an insane matchup for the ages that adds to the intensity of lineup decisions, considering the New England Patriots are just the slightest of favorites (-1) over the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a top-five NFL offense (Pats) against the best defense in the league – one in which might be the best defense we’ve seen in years. But that doesn’t mean Tom Brady and co. won’t be able to move the ball (Aaron Rodgers did) or score the ball (Philip Rivers and Tony Romo could). It might not even mean the Patriots have to lose (they probably will, though). And if they’re not a total crater job like the Denver Broncos were a year ago, they just might be serviceable in the fantasy realm. And maybe, just maybe, using them could help you win some serious cash.
Let’s see who specifically has a shot in Sunday’s big game, and who you’re better off leaving on the bench:
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
There are two things we know about Brady in the Super Bowl: he’s pretty accurate (64% completion rate) and he doesn’t make many mistakes (two picks in five appearances). As good as the Seahawks are, it’s not like Brady hasn’t had tough challenges in the big game. He faced solid Rams, Eagles and Panthers teams (all wins) and ran up against two of the best defenses in the playoffs ever against the New York Giants. The stats weren’t always amazing, but the efficiency was there. Brady is safe, reliable and also possesses considerable upside. We’ve also seen pocket quarterbacks tear Seattle up this year. If you go back and look at their schedule, most of their success has come against teams that either don’t have a competent pocket passer (Rams, 49ers, Cardinals, Eagles and the like) or someone who didn’t dare to challenge Richard Sherman (Green Bay in week one). Brady isn’t afraid to challenge Seattle and he’s more than competent. I don’t think he’ll drop 300 yards and four touchdowns on the Seahawks, but 250+ yards and 2 scores is absolutely possible.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Beast Mode was alive and well in the NFC title game and I think it will be, at least at some point, in the Super Bowl, as well. New England was a top-10 run defense during the regular season, but they had their bad runs during the year and they also didn’t always fare the best against elite backs (Jamaal Charles destroyed them, Matt Forte had 114 rushing yards and Eddie Lacy had 98 rushing yards, to name a few). This is the big game and it’s Lynch. With what should be a close game, he’s going to get his, one way or another.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
Edelman has never faced the Seahawks, but the last time a New England slot man went up against this defense (in 2012), they racked up 10 catches for 138 yards in a one-point loss. This defense is obviously better now than they were then, but they were largely the same unit and Edelman is a lot like the guy who torched them (Welker). Tom Brady almost dropped nearly 400 yards and two touchdowns on them, so him being able to get the ball out and do so accurately may not be that big of a question. If he can, like I think he can, Edelman will be ready and able. That doesn’t mean he scores or goes off like Welker did, but 6-8 receptions and 70-80 yards should be in order. In a tight game without a ton of scoring, that should make him one of the better fantasy plays.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
I’m not betting against the Gronk, both because he’s awesome and because this Seattle’s defense biggest flaw is their ability to shut down athletic tight ends. Specifically, Antonio Gates destroyed them for three touchdowns earlier in the year and Julius Thomas, Zach Ertz and Jason Witten have found various levels of success against them. Gates is the best example and at least shows they’re a little vulnerable. Gronkowski just isn’t easy to stop, while I think he’ll have extra motivation after not being able to enjoy his first Super Bowl at full strength.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson is a gamer and more clutch than people give him credit for, but he’s not always a fantasy darling. He sure wasn’t last week, when he fumbled the ball once and tossed four picks. He probably salvaged his day by most people’s standards with that heroic comeback late, but I think he was also a little exposed. Bill Belichick is also really good at taking away what you do best, and I think his game plan will be centered around shutting down Seattle’s running game in all facets. If Belly makes Wilson beat him from the pocket, the results could be bad. Another fair point is that Wilson had zero pressure in his first Super Bowl a year ago. His team was up 2-0 right away and he did as he pleased. If the Pats get to him early like Green Bay did and can jump out to a lead, we could see a very different Wilson in this year’s title game.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots
I’m rarely impressed with Blount. He’s a big, physical back who has underrated quickness and speed, but he doesn’t have the best ball security and he can often come up extremely short. I also don’t love anyone going up against a staunch Seahawks run defense – one that was a top-three unit on the year and is bound to try to make Brady beat them from inside the pocket. Some running backs have had success against the Seattle, specifically due to their physicality (see: Eddie Lacy) but I don’t think Blount is as good as Lacy and his performance in the playoffs to this point has been a mixed bag. I think he’ll land somewhere in the middle and if he can’t find the end-zone, he’ll probably end up a fantasy failure.
Brandon LaFell, WR, New England Patriots
Seattle does one thing extremely well – they limit big plays. LaFell could rack up catches or find a random touchdown, but I really doubt he’s burning either Byron Maxwell or Richard Sherman for a big gain. He has the ability to do so, but he’s pretty inconsistent and the Pats tend to spread their offense out and keep you guessing. Unless he ends up seeing a crap load of targets, I don’t think he’s going to have much of an impact.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Kearse scored the game-winner in the NFC title game. That was pretty clutch and as a Packers fan, it was also disgusting. But that was his one and only catch on six targets. This weekend he’ll be up against either Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner, and neither are necessarily great matchups for him. He has some speed and can make plays on the ball, but he’s not a next level talent and he’s proven over time he’s not overly consistent, either. If New England’s pass defense shows up like it has been most of the year, Kearse shouldn’t be a problem for them.