- KC Joyner, NFL Insider
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One of the questions I get most often this time of year is whether or not a fantasy coach should play it safe or play for upside in their playoff games. During the regular season, I am always an advocate of playing the percentages, but in the fantasy postseason I tell coaches to switch gears and play for the upside. I say this because there typically tends to be more predictable upside during the final weeks of an NFL season due to multiple factors (injuries, unmotivated teams, some teams getting stronger during the playoff run, etc.).
Having said that, my picks this week were tailored to aim for players whose upside potential is either really great (for starts/sleepers) or is really low (for sits).
Kevin Curtis, Eagles: Curtis has shown plenty of upside potential when he is on, as evidenced by his three games with 17 points or more. Two of those games came against the Lions and Jets secondaries, both of which had ample coverage weaknesses at the time, so facing poor competition seems to be a must for Curtis to get the big points.
Curtis' matchup this week is Jason David, who has been on the wrong end of highlight reels quite often this season. So Curtis should have an excellent chance of posting one of his high-point games.
Roddy White, Falcons: White had been on a tear prior to last week's zero-point showing against Tampa Bay. In the three previous games, White posted 47 points and his lowest single-game point total was 13.
White is due to face off against Antrel Rolle. Rolle made some headlines a few weeks ago by returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a game, and many were pointing to this as a sign that Rolle was turning things around coverage-wise. The tapes say otherwise. I still have Rolle's coverage grade as a C. The risk here is that the Falcons' offense may repeat its Week 15 performance, but the Cardinals' defense is not nearly as good as the Buccaneers', so make sure you find a spot for White in your lineup.
Calvin Johnson, Lions: Johnson has put up three games of 10 or more fantasy points in the past five weeks, so his upside is evident. He would normally seem like an easy start pick since one of those 10-point games came last week, but all of those points were earned after Detroit was down 27-0. Fantasy coaches know not to trust numbers that are put up in blowout games, and since Johnson's fantasy totals the previous two weeks were one and five points, he is a big question mark.
The good news for Johnson owners is that he is facing Patrick Surtain, who is a shell of his former self coverage-wise (I have him rated as a D-plus). So expect Mike Martz and Jon Kitna to target this matchup all game long.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Up until Week 11 of this season, Bowe had been a fantasy go-to guy. In six of his first 10 games, Bowe totaled at least eight points, and he topped the 10-point mark four times. Since then, Bowe's performance has dropped off, with only 20 total fantasy points in four games.
Even with his recent slump, if ever there was a week to take a chance on Bowe's upside, this is it. The Lions' secondary has coverage issues across the board and Travis Fisher, Bowe's lineup matchup this week, could be the worst cornerback on the team. Bowe has an excellent chance of posting eight or more points.
Isaac Bruce, Rams: Bruce has been one of the more consistent flex starters this season, especially during the past seven weeks. During that time, Bruce has posted seven or more points five times and scored touchdowns in three of those weeks.
Even with that consistency, there are two reasons to sit Bruce. First, as comforting as his consistency has been, his upside has been extremely limited (only two games with 10 or more points the entire season). Second, his matchup against Ike Taylor is extremely daunting. Taylor may have struggled against Randy Moss, but Bruce obviously isn't in Moss' league, so sit him this week.
Donald Driver, Packers: Driver has bounced around between being a start and sit the past few weeks. The reason for this is that his productivity is based on his matchup. When Driver has favorable matchups, as he did against the Lions on Thanksgiving and against the Rams last week, he does quite well (22 combined points in those two games). When he faces strong competition, as he did against Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 14, the Packers tend to avoid him, as shown by his three-point performance in that game.
This week, Driver is due to line up against Charles Tillman. Tillman is a very good cornerback (I have him graded as a B-plus), so don't expect Driver to see many passes.
David Patten, Saints: After exploding for 37 points from Weeks 6 through 9, Patten disappeared from the fantasy radar for a month by posting only six points in the next four games combined.
If the past two weeks are any indicator, Patten is finally back. He has 29 points in the past two weeks and is averaging 14.8 yards per reception. Despite this, he is still owned in only 18.5 percent of ESPN leagues. The Eagles' secondary did play maybe its best game all season last week, but during the course of the season they have struggled against the vertical pass. That is Patten's specialty, so if you are looking for a pickup with very high upside potential, he should be on your short list.
Roydell Williams, Titans: Starting a Titans receiver in your championship game may sound like a crazy idea, but hear me out on this one. Williams has 37 points in his past three games. Three of his 12 catches in that span have resulted in touchdowns and two of his receptions have been for more than 40 yards. Williams is also due to face David Barrett, who rates as only slightly above average coverage-wise.
Tony Scheffler, Broncos: I normally stick to wide receivers in this article, but with the injury to Jeremy Shockey, there are certainly a number of fantasy coaches scouring the available tight end list. Scheffler is the best overall pick in many leagues for a number of reasons. He is currently owned in only 27.7 percent of ESPN leagues, so availability shouldn't be an issue in most cases. In addition, he has posted a 14- and a 16-point game during the past four weeks. The Broncos also often split him out as a wide receiver. If that wasn't enough, Daniel Graham is questionable for this week's game, so Scheffler might see more playing time than usual. Add it all up, and he could be the perfect replacement tight end.
KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider.