By Matt Kroeger
The fantasy playoffs are here for most of you (not for me, fortunately, because I’m not in the playoffs at the time being, so these next two weeks are go time). For those of you who were lucky enough to make it: congratulations and best of luck! For those of you who weren’t so lucky: see you next year. And we WILL see you again next year, because fantasy somehow has this weird ability to latch onto people like a parasite that keeps bringing them back for more and more and more, year after year after year.
For those of you in the playoffs, there isn’t much advice I can give you on improving your team other than to keep doing what you’ve been doing. Play the matchups, go with the hot hand, etc. Use the same strategies that got you there. The only obvious hiccup you may face is the issue of teams resting starters. In that case, just play it like any other bye week. Sure, it’s an unfortunate circumstance, but if you made it that far to the finals, you can’t complain.
QB: Joe Flacco (BAL). I know I’ve ripped on Flacco and the Ravens a lot this season, but Houston is last in passing defense. That is the only evidence I have and the only evidence I need. Plus, I think Baltimore really needs this game to stay in the hunt for the division title. Their remaining schedule is fairly difficult in my opinion: @ Houston, New Orleans, @ Cleveland, Cincinnati. On the other hand, the Ravens are almost a lock for the playoffs as at least a wild card. But if you are looking for a sure-fire starter for round 1 of your fantasy playoffs, I don’t think there’s a better option than Flacco this week.
Other options: Sam Bradford (STL), Matt Ryan (ATL), Josh Freeman (TB)
(Last week: Tebow vs. KC…didn’t play, WHOOPS)
RB: Knowshon Moreno (DEN). I put him here before I even looked at who he was playing. I’m that confident that the Broncos will run the ball more under interim coach Eric Studesville, who also happened to be the team’s RUNNING BACKS coach. Moreno has been on fire lately, averaging almost five yards per carry over his past seven games. The problem I had with McDaniels (mostly because I have Moreno on my fantasy team) is that it seemed like he was allergic to running the ball as Moreno only averaged about 15 carries per game during that stretch, losing six of them. He had 161 yards last week against the Chiefs, though, and generally plays a consistent factor in the passing game. That said, I like Moreno to have a huge week against the…checking, checking…Cardinals! Even better!
Other options: Peyton Hillis (CLE), Michael Bush (OAK), Jamaal Charles (KC, he has earned a weekly spot here until he has a bad game; it’s been decided)
(Last week: Chris Johnson vs. JAC…13 rush, 53 yds)
WR: Johnny Knox (CHI). I find it next-to-impossible that the Patriots will lose this game against the Bears. Sorry, Chicago fans. I know I should have more faith in you, but I think the Pats are too strong. The only reason I have Knox here is because I expect a blowout, leading to mop-up points for the Bears receivers as they try to throw their way back into the game.
Side note: is there a more frustrating problem with fantasy football than Mop-Up Points? It can sway an entire week just because one player padded his stats when they were losing by 21 points. It doesn’t make sense. Some advanced statistics nerd needs to create some inordinately complicated algorithm or something to remedy this issue. My only solution would be to make wins a statistical category, somehow including margin of victory or loss, but then guys like Larry Fitzgerald who are on crappy teams would get unfairly punished every week. I think the best option would be for someone to develop a “Quality of Points” meter that would take into account factors like level of difficulty, significance of the play (such as: did that play gain a first down? Was that interception thrown on your own 20 yard line or in the red zone?), relevance (is it a blowout or a close game?), etc. I like it. So get on it, scientists! This is a matter of utmost importance.
Other options: Davone Bess (MIA), Donald Driver (GB), Hines Ward (PIT, I’m expecting 100+ yards)
(Last week: White vs. DAL…4 rec, 32 yds)
QB: Donavan McNabb (WAS). Tampa Bay is good against the pass, and Donavan has thrown an interception at least once in every game other than week 1, including eight in his last five games. He’s 27th in completion percentage. He’s behind Alex Smith, so that’s saying something. Also, remember how we all joked about the amount of time Jay Cutler has been sacked this year? McNabb is only six sacks shy of Cutler’s total of 41. Luckily for Donavan, Tampa Bay is a bottom-dweller in terms of rushing the passer. Still, I don’t like his chances this week, especially with Santana Moss struggling.
Other options: Matt Cassel (KC, I hear appendectomies AREN’T fun. Who knew?), Eli Manning (NYG), Carson Palmer (CIN)
(Last week: Favre vs. BUF…0-1, 0 yds, 1 int, injured)
RB: Chris Ivory (NO). I picked New Orleans in my weekly picks on the Ducks on the Wire, but I’m starting to rethink that decision. Doesn’t this Rams-Saints game seem like a classic underdog victory? The Saints are riding a five-game winning streak, which is ripe for snapping. I can see them losing this game, tweaking what they need to fix, then rebuilding that momentum as they surge into the playoffs as a sneaky wild card team. Plus, this game means more to the Rams who need to bring their A-game every week because Seattle is right on their tails for the division lead. I think this will be a statement game for the Rams with Sam Bradford going off. In addition to formally retracting my Saints pick, I’m also saying the Saints run game stalls as the Rams pile on the points.
Other options: Felix Jones (DAL), Brandon Jacobs (NYG), Rashard Mendenhall (PIT)
(Last week: Rice vs. PIT…9 rush, 32 yds)
WR: Dwayne Bowe (KC). He got shut DOWN last week against the Broncos. Zero catches, and as far as I can tell, he was completely healthy. Champ Bailey proved to us again why he still one of the best corners in the NFL. That said, if Bowe gets more than three catches, I would be genuinely surprised. Chargers pass rush + Chargers pass defense + good Chiefs run game – Matt Cassel + Brodie “Yes, I’m Still Here” Croyle = a bad day for Dwayne Bowe.
Other options: Andre Johnson (HOU), Larry Fitzgerald (ARI), ANY TIGHT END (ANY, with Gates injured, there are ZERO reliable, elite tight ends in the game right now. Ridiculous)
(Last week: Welker vs. NYJ…7 rec, 80 yds, 1 td)