Fantasy Football Playoff Madness

Posted: December 17, 2010 in Fans and Opinions, NFL

By Nathan Hammer

Since the NFL upgraded to a 16 game season in 1978, week 14, up until the end of the regular season, has traditionally been reserved for fans that were fortunate enough to still have playoff relevant teams and to keep them on the edges of their seats. That all changed in 1989 when fantasy football exploded onto the scene. Although it is hard to argue with a typical “Purist,” who religiously believes that rooting for individual players can heavily taint the essence of the game, the benefit of 17 weeks of football being exciting for a fan who’s team is no longer in contention is both undisputable and invaluable. Nowadays, most fans like me are more concerned with their fantasy schedule and rosters, more so than their favorite NFL teams.

Fantasy football has evolved to the point where monitoring ones team is a crucial, and often dominant, part of a daily routine, and a win or a loss can have a major effect on ones general mood for the ensuing week. Inevitably, when the fantasy season is over, many of us will feel a major void in our lives, or like someone stripped us of our purpose in this world. Similar to cigarette and drug addiction, it will be nearly impossible to cope with this void early on, but as the offseason progresses and time heals our fantasy wounds, our short-term memories will allow us to believe that there is life after fantasy. The reason we ultimately accept this is because we have the comfort of knowing that there is always next season (realistically we accept that there is life BETWEEN fantasy). Fantasy football is no longer just a friendly game for bragging rights, but more like a secretly self obsessed backdoor society, with sub communities known as leagues. Even the NFL players themselves have fantasy teams, and will start themselves in order to have an added on field incentive. Maurice Jones-drew epitomizes this idea by starting himself in his personal leagues every weekend. In fact, MJD actually hosts a fantasy show on serious radio called “Runnin’ with MJD,” which airs every Friday at 7pm, for two whole hours. The remainder of this article will give my personal take on how to approach the critical week 15, and the remainder of the fantasy playoffs.

Finally, it’s here baby you made it! First off congrats to all of you still reading this, as it must mean that you have successfully qualified for the playoffs (or you are a fantasy junky like me who can’t help but indulging in anything fantasy related). Week 14 left many fantasy owners puzzled and frustrated, as many of the guys we leaned on to take us to the Promised Land were nothing short of invisible. Megatron was Megadone after his first reception, Jamaal Charles rushed for a season low ( the same week as signing a 5 year extension), Dwayne Bowe put up a doughnut, Rodgers didn’t survive the first half, and even AP looked more then pedestrian, scoring a mere 2 points in ESPN standard leagues.

Now the great question arises. Should these guys be given a second opportunity at fantasy playoff redemption, or is it time for them to ride the pine and your give your backups this week to shine. I can make a strong argument for both opinions, but the one thing I will say is stay consistent and most importantly, DON’T PANIC! If keeping a steady lineup with a few adjustments along the way is what got you here, then why go astray from a wining formula now when it matters most. On the other hand, for all those who do more then just a little tweaking from week to week, go ahead and jump on that waiver wire. The one common denominator for both styles of players must be to play your studs. It may be tempting to sit guys like Ray Rice for someone like Tim Hightower with a salivating matchup, and coming off a huge week, but you drafted Ray-Ray in the first round for a reason, and chances are he is likely to post more consistent numbers.

A major, but often overlooked factor to take into account in the fantasy playoffs is the record and playoff position of the NFL team your players play for. For example, last season’s proud owners of WR Reggie Wayne weren’t so proud come fantasy playoff time, because the Colts had already secured the division, a first round bye, and home field  advantage throughout. This is why I stress the importance of monitoring the NFL standings throughout the season, and preparing early for the potential of your studs being benched week 15 and on in real life.

I will finish by giving analyses of the first eight games being played this week, with the exception of Thursday night’s matchup, highlighting the players that are a must start. Best of luck to all of you this week on your matchups and remember that despite what anybody says, fantasy is life and cars are toys.

Please make note that I am writing this article on Friday, which obviously means that this column is unaware of any players ruled out after Friday morning and it is critical to check the status of you players (and players like Matt Cassel that your starters may be contingent on) on Sunday morning prior to kick off. Malcolm Floyd owners may have already been burned by this last night, as he was ruled out just hours before game time.

Browns VS. Bengals:

Must starts: Peyton Hillis is a must start as he is facing off against the 24th ranked rushing defense that has given up 9 rushing TD’s in the last 8 games. He is guaranteed a minimum of 20 carries and is very involved in the pass game as well.

Solid starters: Benjamin Watson, Carlson Palmer, Cedric Benson, T.O. (stock rises slightly towards a must start if Chad Ochocinco is out). Mohamed Massaquoi gets a slight boost with Colt McCoy under center.

Sleeper: Cleveland D/ST. This D always manages to step it up on the road and is facing a disgruntled Cincy offense

Cowboys  VS. Redskins:

Must starts: Jason Witten found the end zone twice last weeks and has a knack for stepping it up in divisional matchup’s. Chris Cooley I am less comfortable with, as he was virtually invisible last week and Dallas is pretty stingy against opposing Tight Ends. He remains a must start because he is the proud owner of the second most targets for a TE in the league and is Donovan McNabbs favorite check down option in a game where he will be bombarded by the likes of DeMarcus Ware. I will put Santana Moss here as well because Dallas has the 32nd ranked D against opposing WR’s and have given up at least 20 fantasy points (ESPN standard) to WR’s every week since week 1.

Solid Starts: Miles Austin, John Kitna (Yes, the Skins pass D is also that bad, ranking 27th In the league). A well rested Ryan Torain should be back on your radar.

Sleeper: Anthony Armstrong. He has an average of four receptions per game and is good for the occasional TD.  dd how bad the Dallas pass D is and your have your sleeper.

Texans VS. Titans:

Must starts: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and Chris Johnson. A healthy Owen Daniels and a healthier Andre has Matt Shaub back in the top 10 coming off a game where he threw the ball 60 times. Peyton Manning smoked Tenn. last week and I expect Shaub to follow suit with at least a similar performance (assuming Andre and Arian Play).

Solid starts: Daniels, Kerry Collins, Kenny Britt.

Sleeper: Bo Scaife. In the red zone he is the one and only option for Collins.

Jaguars VS. Colts:

Must starts: MJD is my number one ranked back this week. Coming off 6 straight 100 plus yard performances, he gets a matchup which seems like a fantasy within fantasy. The Colts are dead last against the run. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Jacob Tamme and yes the man that has given owners a heart attack all season Pierre Garcon. I predicted a big week last week from him and expect more fantasy goodness to come.

Strong starts: Mercedes Lewis, Blair White (4 receptions in 4 straight games), Mike Sims-Walker (if David Garrard plays)

Sleeper: Javarris James. 3 TD’s in his last 2 games and the Colts have to run the ball eventually right? …Right?

Chiefs VS. Rams:

Must starts: Steven Jackson, Jamaal Charles (Big bounce back game expected), Dwayne Bowe (pending Matt Cassel’s status).

Strong starts: Matt Cassel (If he plays).

Sleeper: Tony Moeaki. A relentless running game and an open Bowe down field should open up the middle for the athletic Moeaki to see some targets.

Bills VS. Dolphins:

Must Starts: Steve Johnson. With Lee Evans ruled out, who else does Ryan Fitzpatrick have to throw to?  Brandon Marshall. Chances are if you owned him all year you aren’t reading this article, but he managed the only score against the Jets last week and the drop off in CB talent from the Jets to the Bills is…..well the Bills rank 30th against opposing WR’s.

Strong starts: Miami D/ST. No fluke last week against the Jets my friends. This group is nothing short of elite (they have given up less then 20 points per game in the last 5, and have forced 9 turnovers during that span). Ronnie Brown (More of a reflection of the Bills rush D then of Browns talents).

Sleeper: Ricky Williams. Traditionally plays his best ball against Buffalo, and Buffalo is last in the league against the run.

Eagles VS. Giants:

Must starts: Michael Vick, Lesean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin(went for a buck 20 against the Giants in week 11), Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, Eli Manning. The Eagles D is banged up to the point where earlier this week, Andy Reid had no idea how he would fill the critical MLB position.

Strong starts: Kevin Boss, Mario Manningham, Brandon Jacobs, Desean Jackson. In addition to being significantly dinged up (enough to miss most of Thursday’s practice), DJax only managed 50 yards against Big Blue earlier in the season.

Sleeper: Derek Hagan. I believe they will attempt to acclimate him into the slot receiver role now that Steve Smith has been ruled out for the season.

Lions VS. Bucs:

Must Starts: Bounce back game for both number 1 WR’s Calvin Johnson and Mike Williams.

Solid Starts: Legarette Blount and Josh Freeman.

Sleeper: Kellen Winslow. Starting to find the end zone in the nick of time and yeah, it’s Detroit.

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