Fitz on Fantasy: Which Players Can You Trust in the Fantasy Playoffs?

Imagine that you’re in group therapy, and the therapist leads you through that exercise where you fall backwards into the arms of a partner. Now imagine that your therapy is made up of starting NFL quarterbacks. Which one would you want as a partner?

You know which one I’d want? Matt Ryan, rosy-cheeked, all-American boy. Ryan seems like the kind of guy who’d volunteer to take care of your dog if you had to go away for a few days, the kind of guy you’d want as a godfather to your child.

You know which one I wouldn’t want? Jay Cutler? Smokin’ Jay seems like the kind of dude who’d laugh as your head bounced off the linoleum. I’d sooner trust Charlie Sheen to make good on a vow of chastity.

The fantasy playoffs are under way, and trust is a critical issue to owners who are still alive. But this is no group-therapy exercise. Maybe Cutler, who’s expected back from a high-ankle sprain this week and was playing some of the best football of his career earlier this season, is a guy you really can trust to help you earn money and glory in the most critical weeks of the fantasy season. Maybe Ryan can’t be trusted to lead your team to victory. (In fact, he let me down in a title game in 2010 by dropping a Week 16 Monday-night stink bomb against the Saints.)

Here are some of the players I trust and don’t trust for Week 15. Mind you, this isn’t about good vs. bad. We trust Calvin Johnson; we don’t trust Darrius Heyward-Bey. That much is obvious. No, I’m talking about trust issues with some key players who will be borderline starters in a lot of leagues this week. Let’s examine some of them.

Trust … Matt Ryan. Yes, I trust him, even after he trashed my championship hopes in 2010. The Falcons are bad, but they refused to mail it in last Sunday on a frigid day in Green Bay when it would have been all too easy to mentally check out and spend 3.5 hours daydreaming about a January vacation in St. Bart’s. There’s no Julio Jones, and the offensive line is a disaster, but Ryan has been diligently making do with Harry Douglas, Tony Gonzalez and the suddenly reinvigorated Roddy White. Steven Jackson has given the Atlanta offense some balance since his return from injury. The matchup against the Redskins this week is appealing.

Don’t trust … Jay Cutler. No, I don’t trust him. I’m a Green Bay Packers fan living in the Chicago area, which often puts me at loggerheads with Bears fans. It amuses me that most Bears fans still have no idea what to make of Cutler — whether to embrace him or wish him gone. Cutler hasn’t exactly thrived in high-pressure situations since coming to Chicago. For instance, he’s played poorly in games against the hated Packers, and he was dreadful against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game a few years ago — a loss that Bears fans are still trying to come to grips with. The Bears are fighting for a playoff spot, and backup Josh McCown played brilliantly in Cutler’s absence, so Cutler’s performance in Cleveland this weekend will be freighted with pressure. It’s not hard to imagine the Chicago sports-radio guys calling for McCown’s return to the lineup when they take to the airwaves on Monday.

Trust … Joe Flacco. It’s been a wildly uneven season for Flacco, and he’s coming off a wildly uneven three-TD, three-INT performance in the Blizzard of Baltimore. But TE Dennis Pitta’s return from a hip injury gives Flacco a big boost. Pitta can now do yeoman’s work underneath, allowing Torrey Smith to run deeper routes. I think there’s some shootout potential for Monday night’s Ravens-Lions game, with Flacco taking advantage of Detroit’s weak set of cornerbacks.

Don’t trust … Andrew Luck. John Paulsen of 4for4 is one of the smartest fantasy football analysts around. He told me that he finds it nearly impossible to predict how Luck will fare in any given week. If Paulsen can’t peg him, I don’t want any part of him.

Trust … Ryan Mathews. Normally I’d trust this guy the way I’d trust a Labrador retriever with an unattended holiday turkey. But Mathews has quietly been running hard and churning out respectable numbers. I trust him in Thursday night’s game against a Denver defense that has myriad woes at the linebacker position.

Don’t trust … Frank Gore. Maybe it’s the minor ankle injury he’s been dealing with, or maybe the 30-year-old is just running out of gas late in the year, but Gore seems to be slowing down. He had been held under 50 rushing yards in three straight games before producing 110 yards against Seattle last week, and it should be noted that Gore wasn’t having much success against the Seahawks before breaking off a 51-yard run late in the game. I’d be more optimistic about Gore’s prospects against a stingy Tampa Bay run defense if he was more involved in the 49ers’ passing attack, but he has only 15 receptions in 13 games.

Don’t trust … Chris Johnson. Does this really need to be explained? Perhaps he’d deserve the benefit of the doubt against a bad run defense, but not against the Cardinals, one of the toughest teams in the league to run against.

Trust … Roddy White. After failing to crack the 50-yard mark in any of his first eight games, White has gone for 143 and 74 yards in his last two. He’s racked up 18 catches on 24 targets over the last two weeks. White showed up on this week’s injury report with a knee issue, but the ankle problems that dogged him earlier this season are behind him. I think you can start him with a fair amount of confidence.

Don’t trust … Vincent Jackson. Given the circumstances – bad team, rookie quarterback, no decent complementary receivers – this might go down as the finest season of Jackson’s career. But QB Mike Glennon hasn’t attempted more than 25 passes in a game since October, the Bucs have a bad matchup against the 49ers this week, and V-Jax is dealing with a balky hamstring. Jackson has caught only eight passes over his last three games, and while a lot of those catches have been big gainers, the low volume is worrisome.

Trust … Cordarrelle Patterson. A rookie receiver who’s had exactly one big game, fueled largely by one big play, may not seem like the trustworthy type, but this kid looks special. He’s been targeted 23 times in his last three games, and with Adrian Peterson out of commission this week (and possibly Toby Gerhart, too), it’s imperative that the Vikings get the ball in Patterson’s hands.

Don’t trust … Pierre Garcon. The situation at Redskins headquarters is so toxic these days, team employees should be given hazmat suits. I don’t want to say that the Redskins checked out against the Chiefs last week, but I’m pretty sure I saw a group of Redskins offensive linemen drinking eggnog on the sideline and opening secret Santa gifts. It’s unrealistic to expect RG3’s replacement, Kirk Cousins, to thrive in this situation, even against a bad Atlanta defense. I’d be reluctant to start the slumping Garcon – or anyone else on the Redskins – in a fantasy playoff game.

Trust … Jordan Cameron. I tend to be distrustful of handsome dudes, but I’m making an exception for this guy – even though my wife has made it clear that she’d throw me overboard for Cameron in a heartbeat. Cam hasn’t always clicked with QB Jason Campbell, but the two hooked up nine times for 121 yards and a TD last week. With Josh Gordon playing like a holy terror and opposing defenses preoccupied with slowing him down, Cameron should have opportunities to do damage against the Bears this week.