It's time to break out the Jim Mora "Playoffs?" rant, as we find ourselves on the doorstep of the fantasy postseason. For teams already locked into a playoff spot, consolidation becomes the focus, while those still battling for a berth are looking to load up for this all-important matchup.
Sadly, there isn't any magic formula for success. There is, however, a formula for enjoying the stress of the process. I've certainly espoused active roster management in the past, and once again I'm championing a progressive approach with regard to managing your defensive roster. It's simply more rewarding to be an aggressive and risk-taking manager when there is a reasonable window to do so.
In most individual defensive player leagues, a great deal of worthy talent remains available on the wire or in free agency, and it's incumbent upon you to investigate whether an acquisition or two might be in order. It sounds amazingly simple, but it's not always so easy to actually assume the risks and augment a roster this late into the game. Just by perusing the ownership numbers across ESPN leagues, it's clear that some valuable commodities are widely available. Consider some of the choice names below as key targets for this decisive weekend in fantasy. In a game of inches on the field, crucial fantasy matchups often come down to games of minor margins.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Timely Playoff Targets: Seeking out strong finishers is the key to success in the fantasy postseason. Let's discuss some notable names who are heating up just in time for the most meaningful matchups. The Titans' Zach Brown has an inviting matchup this week with the Texans and should be able to tally double-digit tackles as he regularly pursues Arian Foster & Co. out of the backfield. … Pats 'backer Brandon Spikes is limited to early-down work, but he has been quite productive in corralling ball carriers in the inside lanes. In leagues that handsomely reward tackles, he's a safe bet down the stretch. … A duo of former elite options in Pittsburgh are heating up, as Steelers linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison are flashing the big-play production that once had them considered fantasy stars. Harrison in particular has elite upside given his inviting matchups in the coming weeks against some suspect offensive lines. … Paul Posluszny heads back to Buffalo to take on his former team while he's in the midst of an undeniable hot streak. The tackles have been healthy, if not herculean, but the real impact has been in the turnover department recently. The former Penn State leader faces three sloppy offenses in the coming weeks, making him an ideal addition in the 40 percent of leagues in which he's available. … I'm not sure if there is a better defensive back to target for the playoffs than LaRon Landry. With three forced fumbles in his past two outings, a steady tackle clip and an amazingly inviting stretch of matchups with sloppy and suspect offenses (Cardinals, Jaguars, Titans, Chargers and Bills), we're likely to see an awesome finish for the hulking safety. … In the wake of acquiring Aqib Talib, the Pats converted former cornerback Devin McCourty to safety. The results have been quite impressive, at least from a fantasy perspective, as McCourty has forced three turnovers and tallied 24 total tackles in the past three games. … As is the nature of pass-rush specialists, there are bound to be lean weeks, but owners seeking a strong finish should seek out Seahawks end Chris Clemons. The Bears, Cardinals and Bills are the next three opponents Clemons faces, and a binge of sack production is quite possible. … Panthers end Greg Hardy has been stellar so far this season, doubling his previous career high in sacks with eight on the campaign. Playing across a feared force in Charles Johnson and with some inviting matchups on the horizon, a career year bodes to get even better.
Breaking Points: The Eagles' disastrous season has many culprits, and recently released defensive end Jason Babin was certainly one of them. With a sack-first mentality, Babin was often out of position when it came to stopping the run and simply didn't help at all in gap control in the team's widely panned "Wide-Nine" scheme. The bust label certainly applies from a fantasy perspective as well, as Babin is likely to become, according to Eagles scribe Reuben Frank, the first defender in 19 years to follow up an 18-sack season with fewer than 10 the following campaign. Even with the Jaguars claiming Babin off waivers and likely deploying him right away, it's best to let him sit out these next few weeks before reinvesting. The real fantasy takeaway will be the increased opportunity for Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry in Philly. Curry, in particular, has great upside going forward in keeper and dynasty formats. … The Raiders are releasing 2010 top pick Rolando McClain after what can only be deemed another epic misfire for the fallen franchise. McClain was considered a sure thing by the vast majority of pundits following a stellar college career at Alabama, but off-field issues and, more relevantly, on-field ineptness led to his rapid demise. It's unclear whether he'll get added to a team this season, but for fantasy purposes, it only bolsters Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler's three-down role.
It's All Good, Wood: Last season offered us a glimpse of what Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard was capable of when given a healthy number of snaps. This season, the undrafted Kentucky product has ascended to new statistical heights with a stellar line stuffed with solo tackles and sacks. On pace for 141 tackles, 90 of the coveted solo variety, and with valuable deployment on blitzes, the leap to fantasy stud is confirmed. "Wood," as teammates and cool kids call him, is available in more than half of ESPN leagues and faces some inviting matchups for racking up tackles down the stretch.
Bargain bin: Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
Geno Atkins is the rare defensive tackle with sustainable statistical fantasy production. With some soft matchups on the way for the bruising Bengal, it's a good time to invest. Similarly, Bengals ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap could be legit fantasy factors down the stretch. … While Aldon Smith is deservedly getting all the pub these days, his teammate Ahmad Brooks has been coming on strong recently. … Anthony Spencer could enjoy a big day versus the Eagles' suspect line on Sunday night. … Demorrio Williams could have a big day policing the inside lanes for the Chargers if Donald Butler can't go. … Former fantasy stud Donte Whitner is heating up just in time for the money matchups. … Texans safety Danieal Manning is finally flashing the big-play potential that made him a worthy fantasy commodity at times in Chicago.
Week 13 Ranks: Top 30 linebackers, linemen and defensive backs
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league: Tackle - Solo (1), Tackle - Assist (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).