Welcome to the special championship week edition of Diamonds in the Rough. Well, why is it so special? Because I am going to narrow down the usual list of players from all the games to the five best under the radar plays that will fit in your championship lineup. These are my best choices to win you your title this week. And since it is that time of the year, I am going to spotlight the five most under the radar college bowl games (which start this Saturday) that you should sit down and watch, even though the matchup seems just okay on paper. But, before we get to that …
Week fifteen brought about more drama and more playoff clinching scenarios and more choking by the Dallas Cowboys. First off, the Dallas Cowboys (I guess the Big D does not stand for defense) took what seemed like a solid halftime lead of 26-3 and the kicker Dan Bailey was taking over your fantasy game. But, all of a sudden the Cowboys remembered that they did not have a defense and allowed Matt Flynn … MATT FLYNN!! to bring back the Packers to win 37-36. In other news, the Redskins lost again, but this time by going for two and failing instead of kicking the extra point to go to overtime; the Bears survived the rusty Jay Cutler and pulled out a win over Cleveland; the Eagles defense did not show up in Minnesota and allowed Matt Asiata to score three touchdowns; and lastly Justin Tucker scored all 18 points in the Ravens win in Detroit and then gave a shoutout to his fantasy owners.
Remember: This column is not designed to spotlight the top options at each position. If you are looking for advice on start/sit options or top players at a specific position, check out our rankings and other columns throughout the week. This is going to be a weekly spotlight of one player from each game this weekend that has a shot to be a nice flex or last starting option (a WR3 or RB3 for example). Will they all produce a large number of points? No. These are nice lottery tickets to fill in on your team and give you a chance to steal the win.
Now, we move on the list of my top five options for championship week (in no particular order):
QB Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins) – Hopefully you have your quarterback position settled as you got this far, but, if you need an option at quarterback, it does not get much better than Kirk Cousins. First off, he gets the Dallas Cowboys defense … the defense that gets shredded by most quarterbacks that come up against it. I literally think Tim Tebow would put up 300 yards passing against them. He looked amazing against the almost equally horrible Falcons defense a week ago by putting up 381 passing yards and three touchdowns. In a game that promises to be a shootout, Cousins will need to put up similar numbers to keep his team in it. I believe he will step up in an attempt to prove he is worthy of a starting quarterback job somewhere next season. Cousins gets 350 yards passing and three touchdowns against the Cowboys.
RB Dennis Johnson (Houston Texans) – With Ben Tate going on IR, Johnson now moves into the lead back position in Houston. The matchup against the Denver Broncos shapes up to be a pretty good one as the Broncos have been among the league’s worst against the run in their last five games. The Texans will need to control the clock and keep the Broncos offensive juggernaut off the field as much as possible (like the Chargers did) in order to have a chance to pull out a rare victory. Johnson has a chance to put up a solid flex play line. He gets 18 carries for 75 yards and a possible score.
WR Doug Baldwin (Seattle Seahawks) – While the Seahawks seem to spread the wealth around to their many pass catching options, Doug Baldwin sticks out as a nice flex option for championship week. The slot receiver in Seattle gets an Arizona defense that struggled mightily without their rookie standout Tyrann Mathieu (getting dominated by Kendall Wright). He has put up four touchdowns in his last seven contests including getting around 65 yards per game. If you are desperate for a lottery ticket at your flex position, Baldwin may just be your guy. He gets five receptions for 75 yards and a score.
WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco 49ers) – In the farewell to Candlestick Park, the emotions will sure be running high on the 49ers sideline and the push to put up one more dominating performance at home will be on their minds. I’m expecting this to be a 49ers blowout and a dominating offensive performance against a Falcons defense that just got shredded by Kirk Cousins at home. Crabtree hit pay dirt for the first time this season in Tampa a week ago and, in his return home, has a good chance to follow it up with another trip into the end zone. He gets five catches for 55 yards and a score in the goodbye to Candlestick.
TE Marcedes Lewis (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Very quietly (mostly because he plays in Jacksonville) Lewis has scored in three straight games. While the Titans have been rock solid against opposing tight ends this season, Lewis has become a frequent target in the Jaguars red zone sets and I believe this trend will continue. Lewis gets three catches for 40 yards and a red zone score (worthy of a shot at tight end or deep league flex).
Now, on to one the greatest parts of the year, at least according to me, the college football bowl games that are slated to start on Saturday. It is just exciting to see all of these interesting matchups and while the BCS and New Year’s Day bowl games get most of the pub, there are plenty of other matchups that are worthy of attention. Here are my top five underrated bowl matchups:
The Belk Bowl (12/28, 3:20 p.m.) Cincinnati 9-3 vs. North Carolina 6-6
While it may not be two teams that merit national title attention, this game features some high quality offensive potential. On the North Carolina side, they are led by sophomore dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams. He is as dangerous on the ground as he is in the air and runs a spread offense that features future NFL star, his tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron is a legit talent at 6’4” and 245 pounds that can both stretch a defense with his speed and post up in the middle of the defense to provide his quarterback a big target that is hard to miss. Ebron will be a first round pick given his production at North Carolina and his athletic ability. He should also be a major factor on the fantasy football radars in 2014 as a potential top five tight end talent (yes I’m that high on Ebron’s ability). For Cincinnati, Tommy Tuberville had a solid first season as head coach leading them to nine wins. Brendon Kay is the quarterback for the Bearcats (one of the best names in college football, Munchie Legaux, has been out since the second game) and he has run a pretty efficient offense putting up over 3,000 passing yards. Ralph Abernathy is an explosive running back that is like a jitterbug when he handles the ball and will be the athlete to watch for some excitement. It will be a close game (three point spread) with not much defense and one where North Carolina pulls out a last minute win.
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (12/31, 12:30 p.m.) Arizona 7-5 vs. Boston College 7-5
I’m sitting down and watching this game for one reason … the running backs. Arizona features Ka’Deem Carey, a running back with major pro potential despite his small stature (will make his decision about the NFL after his bowl game). His situation kind of reminds me of the way that people saw Giovani Bernard when he came out a year ago. Carey has major talent at 5’10” (one inch taller than Bernard is) and plays bigger than his size. He is a tough and patient inside runner that has been running all over and around opposing defenses over the past two seasons. In 2012, he put up 1,929 yards on the ground with 23 rushing scores. This year, he was slightly off only putting up 1,716 rushing yards and 17 scores (sarcasm). It is clear that he is a big time producer on the ground and, if he declares for the draft, he will be the most complete back in the draft in my mind and the top back on the board. On the other sideline is the Heisman finalist, Boston College running back and seemingly only offensive weapon Andre Williams. He put up 2,102 yards on the ground with 17 scores. Coming out of seemingly nowhere and bursting into the national spotlight, the senior running back has shown NFL scouts that he is a physical, between-the-tackles type of runner that can handle a heavy load (a BenJarvus Green-Ellis, downhill running type of back). While that may be his pro future, his current college situation has him as the main offensive threat. He will be receiving a majority of the looks on offense for the Eagles and needs to produce in order to keep the Eagles in the game. It will be entertaining on the ground, but I believe Carey and the Wildcats emerge victorious.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (12/21, 5:30 p.m.) Buffalo 8-4 vs. San Diego State 7-5
This game is not on here because I am a Western New York native and have friends that have graduated from the state college over in Buffalo. It is on this list because there are two intriguing parts of this game. First, there is Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, who was a Butkus Award finalist and is a projected first-round pick in the NFL draft. Mack racked up 94 tackles (19 for a loss), 10.5 sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles (holds the FBS record with 16 career forced fumbles). He is a beast on the defensive end that can get after the quarterback and may be the best defensive player in the nation right now. That is reason enough to sit down and watch the game on the blue turf out in Boise. The second reason is San Diego State themselves, who have played eight games decided by a touchdown or less. The Aztecs like making their games awfully exciting near the end and it should be another close one over in Boise. I like the Buffalo Bulls to pull out the victory and Mack to dominate yet another game on defense.
Poinsettia Bowl (12/26, 9:30 p.m.) Utah State 8-5 vs. No. 23 Northern Illinois 12-1
Ladies and gentlemen, this may be the last time you get to see Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch at quarterback running over defenders that try to tackle him on the way to the end zone for another rushing score. This game may not feature many players that will make it to the pro level (Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward may have the best pro potential of the guys on the field), but it is one that will feature the Heisman finalist that totaled 45 touchdowns, 23 passing and 22 rushing, and accounted for more than 4,500 yards of total offense. Lynch is truly a joy to watch on offense and one that should be celebrated as a great college (not pro) player. It is also a shame that the Aggies lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton to an injured knee in a 31-14 loss to BYU on October 4th. Their season went downhill after that injury and this bowl game would be so much more exciting with Keeton at quarterback. Northern Illinois pulls out the win and gives Lynch a nice sending off to the pro ranks, most likely the CFL.
Hawaii Bowl (12/24, 8 p.m.) Boise State 8-4 vs. Oregon State 6-6
The Hawaii Bowl is usually a reason to spend some time watching the television instead of being with your family on Christmas Eve. Okay, it still is this year, but it does have a good matchup of two explosive offenses with less than dominant defenses. For Boise State, it is the start of life without head coach Chris Petersen, who bolted for Washington. Boise State has won each of its past four bowl games and three of those victories were over Pacific 12 teams. They will look to continue that trend with a strong ground attack led by sophomore running back, and Mr. Pickle Juice himself, Jay Ajayi, who ran for 1,328 yards and 17 scores. On the Oregon State side of things, it was awfully disappointing this season as their offense did not show up in many big games and their defense seemed nonexistent at times. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion throws the ball over and over and over some more. Mannion finished the regular season ranked second among FBS quarterbacks with 4,403 passing yards with 36 touchdowns and 14 picks. He sure puts on an offensive show with wide receiver Brandin Cooks, the Biletnikoff Award winner. Cooks racked up 1,670 yards with 15 touchdowns on 120 catches and has a lot of pro potential as a slot receiver due to his 5’10” height. What set Cooks apart from his fellow pass catchers entering the NFL is his explosiveness as an athlete and his consistency in hauling in catches. The guy is just plain electric and a game changer in space. I see him as a slightly better T.Y. Hilton (he is 5’9”) type of player at the next level. I’ve heard some Steve Smith (the Carolina Panthers one) comparisons. I do not see the Smith link, but you never know. I can see this being an old-fashioned shootout with some turnovers mixed in. I believe Oregon State gets it done in the end by three points.
So, I hope you all enjoyed the special edition of Diamonds in the Rough. If you have any fantasy football questions this championship week, hit me up on Twitter (@DJ_Gilman). I wish everyone luck in their championship week and that you bring home the title. I also wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and we will see you next week for the last edition of this column this season.