January 03, 2007
Fantasy Football: It's Not Over Yet
It seems like only yesterday we were pouring over cheat sheets and earnestly preparing for our Fantasy Football drafts. Now, only 19 short weeks later, the action has abruptly stopped — but not quite.
No matter how you fared, the playoffs allow one more opportunity for fantasy thrills and a championship. Most of the online services offer playoff Fantasy Football, or you can just get some of the guys together from your regular-season leagues and set up a playoff league. The scoring is the same as the regular season, with one twist — it is cumulative. In other words, the team that scores the most points throughout the playoffs is the winner. The twist is, of course, once a team loses the season is over. So some players may play four games and others only one.
There are no sure things, but here a few general observations:
— Home teams tend to win in the playoffs
— The teams with the best regular season records tend to advance deepest into the playoffs
— Teams on a roll going in usually fare well
— There is always a surprise player who emerges (think Deion Branch)
Of course, Pittsburgh last season defied most of the rules, but the Steelers, though playing on the road, were on fire going into the playoffs.
Let's examine the likely contenders based on the above criteria. Chicago (NFC) and San Diego (AFC) have home field advantage throughout by virtue of accumulating the best regular season records.
The Bears, however, don't have a lot of fantasy talent, play outside on a field that may well be frozen, and have an iffy quarterback who has been turnover prone. Their defense, however, should be the first chosen, and their place kicker, Robbie Gould, is reliable, though again, weather may come into play. The Bears running back, Thomas Jones, and two top wideouts, Bernard Berrian and Musin Muhammad, are probably worthy of drafting, though they are not dependable starters.
San Diego, on the other hand, has the undisputed king of the Fantasy playoffs — LaDanian Tomlinson. If he isn't the top pick in your draft, someone is smoking crack. Antonio Gates should also be the first tight end chosen. Quarterback Philip Rivers may be worth a flyer late in the draft, but I don't like any of his receivers. (I might draft Keenan McCardell with a late pick, though.)
The hottest teams in the NFL coming into the draft were Tennessee, Philadelphia and St. Louis. Philadelphia is the only team that qualified, and the Eagles are extremely dangerous in the playoffs. Quarterback Jeff Garcia is hot, running back Brian Westbrook puts up big numbers, and David Akers, the kicker, is a blue-chipper. Grab them if they are available. Wide receivers Reg Brown and Donte Stallworth are middle rounders.
Don't make the mistake of passing on players because you think their team will lose, because the chances are there will be a couple of upsets. That means top tier players should always be grabbed early, because if their teams do advance they will probably put up the best numbers. The Colts trio of Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Marvin Harrison, Chad Johnson of the Bengals, Larry Johnson of Kansas City, and Shaun Alexander of Seattle fit into that category.
Drum roll please . . . Here are my top two picks, by position:
QB: Drew Brees (New Orleans) and Tom Brady (New England). Sleeper: Garcia
RB: Tomlinson, Westbrook, Larry Johnson. Sleeper: Reggie Bush (New Orleans)
WR: Marques Colston (New Orleans), Harrison, Terrell Owens. Sleeper: Mark Clayton (Baltimore)
TE: Gates, Desmond Clark (Chicago). Sleeper: Todd Heap (Baltimore)
K: Nate Kaeding (SD), Gould. Sleeper: Matt Stover (Baltimore)
Defense: Chicago, Baltimore. Sleeper: San Diego
Who will win? The fearless prediction here is that San Diego edges Baltimore for the AFC crown, New Orleans knocks out Philadelphia for the NFC title and upsets San Diego to win the whole enchilada and restore some pride to the Big Easy.
Note: There is no "fan" in Fantasy Football. Do not be swayed because your favorite team is in the playoffs. Though anything can happen, the odds are against the Giants and Jets winning a single game, so don't stock up on players from those teams. The Jints will be playing on the road without Michael Straham, and the team has a dismal record when he is injured. The Jets will be playing New England, a playoff-tested team.