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Doug Orth | Archive | Email | Twitter
Staff Writer


Divisional Round
Road to the Super Bowl
1/12/12

Whether you are still basking in the success you enjoyed in cruising to your fantasy league's title, still smarting over your teams' inability to close the deal or not quite ready to hang up your owner's hat quite yet, playoff fantasy football may be just the thing you need to end this season right.

I'll be the first to admit that playoff fantasy football doesn't appeal to me quite as much as the usual 16-week marathon, but that doesn't mean I don't still enjoy it. And coming off my most profitable fantasy season yet, I'm looking to make a great season even better. For better or for worse, I want to share my experience with you (no matter which category mentioned in the first paragraph you may fall under) in hopes that some of you can end this season on a definite high note.

After winning one of my playoff money leagues last season, I’m ready for another shot at the dough. In addition to owning one NFL.com team, I will be taking part in several money leagues with Fuzzy's Fantasy Football. My goal over the next four weeks will be to help each of you through your decision-making process as you attempt to boost your bottom line.

NFL.com

For a complete rundown of how players will score fantasy points for your team, click on this link. However, much of the content immediately below is included on the “How to Play” page, so what I provide here should be more than enough to follow along easily.

The object of the game is to pick the players you think will perform best in their playoff matchup. Select one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one K and one D/ST. You will earn fantasy points based on their on-field performance during their game, and if your player's team wins, you will have the option to carry that player over to the next round, where he will earn a bonus point modifier to his score.

For example, if you pick Drew Brees in the Wild Card round and the Saints win, you can carry him over to the Divisional Round, and earn two times (2x) the points he earns in his divisional round game. If New Orleans wins again, you can carry Brees into the Conference Championship round for 3x the points, and if the Saints make the Super Bowl, you can earn 4x the points. In addition, a user can select a player/defense in the Wild Card round even if their team has a bye into the Divisional Round. In this case, the user would not earn any points for the Wild Card round, but would then be eligible to earn 2x points in the Divisional round, since the player was on the team’s roster for two weekly scoring periods. Further bonus point modifiers would also apply as long as that player’s team continued in the NFL Playoffs.

 NFL.com Scoring System
Offense Statistic (QB, RB, WR, TE, K) Fantasy Points
Rushing or Receiving Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Passing Touchdown: 4 fantasy points
Field Goal: 3 fantasy points
Passing, Rushing or Receiving Two-Point Conversion: 2 fantasy points
Rushing or Receiving: 1 fantasy point per 10 yards
Passing: 1 fantasy point per 25 yards
Extra Point: 1 fantasy point
Defense/Special Teams (D/ST)  
Punt Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Kickoff Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Fumble Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Interception Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Allowing 0 Points: 10 fantasy points
Allowing 2-6 Points: 7 fantasy points
Allowing 7-13 Points: 4 fantasy points
Allowing 14-17 Points: 1 fantasy points
Allowing 18-21 Points: 0 fantasy points
Allowing 22-27 Points: -1 fantasy points
Allowing 28-34 Points: -4 fantasy points
Allowing 35-45 Points: -7 fantasy points
Allowing 46+ Points: -10 fantasy points
Team Win: 5 fantasy points
Interception: 2 fantasy points
Fumble Recovery: 2 fantasy points
Blocked Punt: 2 fantasy points
Blocked Field Goal or Blocked Extra Point: 2 fantasy points
Safety: 2 fantasy points
Sack: 1 fantasy points

Before we get into the picks, let’s briefly review the rules and how we may use them to our advantage: 1) passing TDs are four points, so passing yards are valued more highly here than in the Fuzzy’s leagues I’ll discuss later; 2) all field goals are worth three points, which means we are more concerned about volume of field goals than distance; 3) this is a non-PPR format, which obviously favors the big-play threats; and 4) team wins are worth five points, so picking a “winning” defense is worth almost a touchdown and could be worth as much as 3.5 TDs if you pick a defense from this week and that team ends up winning the Super Bowl.

Given the bonus point modifier mentioned above, I could understand an owner making the decision to pass on selecting a defense this week and electing to get twice as many points from a defense such as the Ravens in the Divisional Round. (I’m not saying I would do that, just suggesting that it is a strategy to consider.)

Here are the most worthy candidates by position:

QBs
Tom Brady/Joe Flacco/T.J. Yates/Tim Tebow/Aaron Rodgers/Alex Smith/Drew Brees/Eli Manning

RBs
BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Danny Woodhead/Ray Rice/Arian Foster/Ben Tate/Willis McGahee/Ryan Grant/James Starks/Frank Gore/Pierre Thomas/Darren Sproles/Chris Ivory/Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs

WRs
Wes Welker/Deion Branch/Anquan Boldin/Torrey Smith/Andre Johnson/Demaryius Thomas/Eric Decker/Greg Jennings/Jordy Nelson/Michael Crabtree/Marques Colston/Lance Moore/Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz

TEs
Aaron Hernandez/Rob Gronkowski/Ed Dickson/Dennis Pitta/Owen Daniels/Jermichael Finley/Vernon Davis/Jimmy Graham/Jake Ballard

Ks
Stephen Gostkowski/Billy Cundiff/Neil Rackers/Matt Prater/Mason Crosby/David Akers/John Kasay/Lawrence Tynes

D/ST
Patriots/Ravens/Texans/Broncos/Packers/49ers/Saints/Giants

Because so many of my picks will remain the same this week for the NFL.com contest, I’ll devote my time at each position to other top candidates to consider.

QB: Drew Brees (x2). Thereís no chance I would consider Flacco, Yates, Tebow or Smith this week. Not only does each quarterback lead a conservative offense, but I also expect that Flacco will be the only one left standing after this week. As a result, we are left with Brady, Rodgers and Manning. Brady is an interesting option since I find it incredibly hard to believe that the Pats wonít carve up Denver and move on to the AFC Championship, but it is not unthinkable the Broncos wonít mix up coverages just enough to hold him below his 320-yard, three total TD effort in Week 15. Rodgers is probably the default choice for most owners after he seemingly walked over just about every defense he faced this season, but the Giantsí defense has been playing a pretty high level since their first meeting against the Packers and New Yorkís running game may very well put a damper on Rodgersí numbers in this tilt. Manning probably has the greatest difference between his fantasy ceiling and floor this week since the Giants will likely do their best to avoid another shootout with Green Bay by riding the ground game as long as possible. All of this brings us back to Brees, who has perhaps the most difficult matchup of the four top QBs of the weekend. The Niners have been one of the stingier defenses vs. opposing QBs this season, but Tony Romo and Manning are the two best passers San Francisco has seen and neither one of them was playing at the same level or in the same kind of aggressive offense that Brees is now.

RB: Ray Rice (x2) and Darren Sproles (x2). Once again, letís remove the candidates that do not warrant consideration this weekend: Green-Ellis, Woodhead, Tate, Grant, Starks and Ivory. Next, I will eliminate the backs that are likely to see their playoff runs this week: Foster, McGahee, Gore, Bradshaw and Jacobs. Of that bunch, I believe Foster is the best combination of likely production and multiple games, but tend to believe Baltimore will find a way to get it done at home.

After all the cuts have been made, we are left with Rice, Sproles and Pierre Thomas, who made a strong case to be included in this discussion with his hard-nosed running against Detroit. Although the Lionsí lackluster tackling had a lot to do with Thomasí final numbers, it was his effort on a number of third-and-long plays that extended drives and helped New Orleans pull away in the second half. In the end, however, I have no desire to switch Saintsí RBs now and go against perhaps the most elusive runner left in the playoffs. I have a feeling that while Thomas will not simply go away, San Francisco will present a much more difficult matchup for him than it will for Sproles, who the Niners Ė much like every other team in the league Ė have no matchup for when defenses must also account for Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston as well.

WR: Jordy Nelson (x2) and Marques Colston (x2). I will quickly remove Branch, Andre Johnson, Decker, Crabtree and Moore due primarily to injury or their role in their respective offenses. I will further eliminate longer-term strong bets like Boldin and Jennings as both are coming off injury. Despite reports suggesting that each player is more than ready for game action, I have always been one to make a player ďprove it to meĒ coming off a long injury layoff.

Welker should be a good bet for two games, but I tend to believe that if there is one player the Broncos will make sure does not beat them, it will be Welker (at least between the 20s). Additionally, despite Welkerís nine TDs this season, his stock always takes a slight hit in non-PPR, so with Denver likely to employ a steady dose of double teams, Iíd avoid him here. Torrey Smith has the matchup (likely against burnable CB Jason Allen for most of the day), but the upside in a run-heavy offense in what figures to be a low-scoring field goal battle just isnít there. Coming off his huge 200-yard receiving day against Ike Taylor, Thomas has a number of factors in his favor (such as Eric Decker likely out, his immense talent and Tebowís attention) and merits a start in at least one league below, but I donít believe in Denverís ability to win in New England this week, which makes any number he puts up this week almost meaningless in this format.

This process of elimination leaves me with my final four choices, the two I will go with (Nelson and Colston) and the Giantsí WRs. As I have said for several weeks now, there was never any doubt in my mind that Nicks was still Manningís favorite receiver. While he stepped up in a big way against a Falconsí secondary missing Brent Grimes, Victor Cruz was shockingly quiet Ė almost as if the playoff game was too much for him to handle. While I donít anticipate heíll struggle against Green Bay, his performance was more than enough to make me feel pretty good about my two 2x receivers, although I would not be the least bit surprised if the Packers get knocked out of the playoffs this weekend. However, I donít make my living betting against 15-1 teams hosting home playoff games, so Iíll stand firm with Nelson until Green Bay is eliminated.

TE: Jimmy Graham (x2). Graham at 2x against everyone else at 1x makes this a pretty easy call. About the only other options I would dare consider would be Hernandez, Gronkowski and Vernon Davis Ė probably in that order. Itís impossible to know for sure if Denver will play New England more straight up this time around and pressure Brady or if it will relentlessly double-team Welker and Gronkowski while allowing Hernandez to go one-on-one like it did in Week 15. San Francisco has allowed just three TE scores this season but hasnít exactly faced a tight end that presents the same kind of mismatches Graham does since Week 9 (Fred Davis) and that was against a lesser QB and weaker supporting cast. I include Vernon Davis in this discussion only because San Francisco will likely need at least 2-3 touchdowns to keep up with New Orleans. If that happens, Davis would be a good bet for at least one of those TDs. But in the end, Iím sticking with a close win for the Saints to keep the multiplier in effect for what promises to be a shootout in the NFC Championship Game, whether they meet the Giants at home or Packers at Lambeau Field.

K: John Kasay (x2). If I had any inkling the Niners would advance to the Super Bowl, I would have no issue in changing this pick to Akers, but given San Franciscoís season-long struggles in the red zone and the Saintsí ability to score points, Iím not sure Akers is going to get a chance to kick three field goals in this contest. The Packers-Giants game is a coin toss in my opinion, making it a foolish gamble to switch over to either Crosby or Tynes when either player stands a pretty good chance at being eliminated this week. The Patsí offense is too proficient to provide me with the field goal opportunities I desire, so it boils down to whether or not I want to stick with my original kicker or opt for the kicker of the team I think New Orleans will meet in the Super Bowl (Baltimore), especially since I think Cundiff has a higher upside this week. Still, I canít bring myself to trust Cundiff, who has converted more than one field goal just once since Week 10.

D/ST: Baltimore Ravens (x1). I think I can easily say the best plays this week are the Texans and the Ravens. Although Baltimoreís debacle against San Diego in Week 15 has left an indelible mark on my mind, it doesnít erase the fact that the Ravens have been their best against the best all season long. Although I donít have all that high of an opinion when it comes to Flacco, I will almost always bet against the rookie QB in a road playoff game and bet for a strong defense playing at home. Houston wonít give Yates much room to fail by keeping it conservative for as long as it can, but I have a hard time believing he will not crack under the Ravensí pressure once or twice this weekend.

Fearless predictions for my selected team:
Brees: 315 passing yards, two passing TDs, one INT (18x2 = 36 fantasy points)
Rice: 100 rushing yards, one rushing TD, 55 receiving yards (21x2 = 42 points)
Sproles: 30 rushing yards, 65 receiving yards (9x2 = 18 points)
Colston: 110 receiving yards, one receiving TD (17x2 = 34 points)
Nelson: 130 receiving yards, two receiving TDs (25x2 = 50 points)
Graham: 70 receiving yards (7x2 = 14 points)
Kasay: two extra points, three field goals (11x2 = 22 points)
Ravens DST: 13 PA, three sacks, one turnover and a team win (14 points)

Projected Total: 230 fantasy points

Week 1 Total: 80

Fuzzy’s

Many of the scoring parameters used above apply here as well. The key differences are as follows: no bonus point modifiers (including team-win points). More fantasy points are awarded to kickers who kick long field goals, PPR scoring is used and all TDs are worth six points. In short, your goal is to pick the highest-scoring lineup each week with no strings attached. Additionally, each owner is asked to select a tiebreaker each week which will be used to break any ties following the Super Bowl. Fuzzy's leagues contain no more than 50 teams whereas most other major sites employ a one-man-against-the-world approach. As a result, 20% of the entrants into Fuzzy's playoff leagues will - at the very least - recoup their entry fee, with first through ninth place receiving a nice return on investment for their troubles. Follow this link for a complete list of the rules.

Position Requirements: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 Defense/Special Teams

Since I will be playing with several teams with Fuzzy’s this season, I’ll simply list my teams below and present a brief overview on my overall thought process. Depending on how strongly I feel about matchups in a given week, I may use the same lineup in more than one league, but in general, I believe in “diversifying my portfolio” in the postseason as well.

 Fuzzy Portfolio - Wildcard Round
  Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4
QB Brees Brees Brees Brees
RB Rice Rice Rice Rice
RB Sproles Sproles Sproles Sproles
WR Colston Colston Colston Colston
WR Cruz Cruz Cruz Cruz
WR White White Jones White
TE Graham Graham Graham Graham
K Kasay Nugent Nugent Kasay
DST Steelers Steelers Steelers Steelers
Tie Stafford Stafford Stafford Stafford
Pt Total 152.8 147.8 152.3 152.8

Before I get started on this week, I cannot express to each of you how unhappy I was with the Saints’ defensive approach against the Lions. While it is certainly the defensive coordinator’s prerogative to alter his game plan slightly from what worked so well for his charges in the first game, I was stunned by the willingness of DC Gregg Williams to not jam Calvin Johnson at the line and let a linebacker serve as the “help” on the double team on a number of occasions. If I had any indication that Williams would depart so dramatically from a game plan that held Johnson to 69 yards and Detroit to 17 points in the first meeting, I would have started Johnson without hesitation and recommended each of you do the same. Congrats to those owners who virtually ignored his first matchup vs. the Saints and started Megatron anyway.

Last year, the above point totals would have easily placed me in the top 15-20 in each league after the first week. Unfortunately for me, every league had someone field a near-perfect lineup last week and just about everyone benefited from playing Johnson, which means I find myself about 60 points out of first place in just about every league. In short, I’ve got some work to do.

 Fuzzy Portfolio - Divisional Round
  Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4
QB Rodgers Rodgers Rodgers Rodgers
RB Foster Foster Foster Foster
RB Rice Rice Rice Rice
WR Colston Colston Nelson Jennings
WR Nelson Nelson Nicks Nicks
WR Nicks Nicks Thomas Thomas
TE Hernandez Graham Hernandez Hernandez
K Kasay Kasay Akers Kasay
DST Ravens Ravens Ravens Ravens
Tie Brady Brady Brady Brady

The good options at QB may be limited, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. With his full supporting cast back and no reason to believe the Giants have enough quality cornerbacks to follow each one of the Packers’ receivers all game, I expect Rodgers to carry his regular-season success over into this game, although I don’t expect another 40-point fantasy showing like he had in the regular-season meeting against New York. Brees was my no-brainer QB option last week, but I think it is a bit much to ask him to continue his four-game stretch of throwing for at least 300 yards AND three scores on the road against one of the league’s best defenses, which means I expect Brady to have a slightly better day since the Broncos simply cannot possibly double team all three of his best receiving options. As I stated earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver switched up its double teams for Welker and Gronkowski on a regular basis, but I have to believe Hernandez will not see double coverage at any point. Manning has a great shot at being the most productive QB of the weekend, but he’s also a good bet for three interceptions (if the Giants fall behind quickly) or a low-yardage total (should the Giants’ running game work as well as it has recently).

At RB, let’s discuss a few of the more interesting possible plays before we go any further. McGahee seems like a smart play given his status as his team’s clear RB1 and his team’s matchup against a defense that gives up a ton of yards, but he has just 100-yard game and no scores to his credit over the last five games. Factor in Tebow at the goal line and he’s just worth the risk. Sproles made a ton of sense against the Lions last week, but I’d just as soon not bet that either player will visit the end zone against a Niners’ defense that has been among the best ever at bottling up running backs. Separately, Jacobs or Bradshaw would be one of the better plays of the week if they did not have to share time with the other. I obviously prefer Bradshaw over Jacobs in this format given his receiving abilities, but I’d just as soon not roll with a committee RB quite yet. In past years, Gore would be a no-brainer pick against the Saints, but he caught a mere 17 passes this season. If New Orleans jumps out to an early two-score lead, can the Niners still get him 20 touches? This leaves us with Rice and Foster, an unlikely duo considering that Houston and Baltimore are the second- and third-stingiest defenses vs. opposing fantasy RBs. However, it makes sense to play them this week given the fact that Rice has already produced in a big way against this same defense earlier this season and Houston was just beginning life without Andre Johnson when these teams first met back in Week 6 – a game in which Foster still posted a very usable 16.1-point total despite being the sole focus of the Ravens’ defense. Since both Rice and Foster are heavily involved in the passing game, this is a low-risk move that may pay off.

As I stated last week, these week-to-week leagues will be won by the choices we make at receiver this postseason. I don’t anticipate another 38-35 shootout between the Giants and Packers this time around, but there will be still be plenty of points scored, which means I will be loading up on Nicks, Cruz, Jennings and Nelson. The other receivers worth consideration are Thomas (going up the league’s worst secondary with the added advantage of not sharing targets with Decker), Crabtree (who figures to be a high-volume pass-catcher late in the game if the Niners fall behind), Colston (top receiver on a pass-heavy team) and Welker (always hard to sit despite the knowledge that a defense may double him relentlessly). In the end, I’ll take the plunge – probably one I’ll regret – with Thomas in a league or two and Colston since he just missed two scores last week and is the receiver Brees should target the most against the man coverage New Orleans will likely see for the majority of the game.

There are three legitimate candidates at TE – the same three that finished at the top of their position to end the regular season. Despite the most difficult matchup, Graham is certainly a safe choice and a player that I would feel comfortable penciling in for approximately 12 fantasy points this week. Then there is Gronkowski, who put together one of the more dominant stretches by a player at any position this season and seems to be about as sure of a thing as an owner can have in his/her starting lineup. However, I doubt Denver will alter its approach much when it comes to doubling Gronkowski, which means Hernandez could go crazy in much the same way he did in two of the Patriots’ three games to close out the regular season, including the first meeting against Denver. Since each TE has a great quarterback and a wealth of talent, my choice here is based primarily on the expectation that Hernandez will receive the least attention. (With my selection of Hernandez in multiple leagues, this is obviously one area in which I am expecting to make up some ground this week.)

At kicker, I am opting to go with the two players who will be squaring off in the one game where I can trust the weather will cooperate and that I expect a number of field goals to be attempted. With Akers, that assumption isn’t much of a stretch considering his record-breaking year and San Francisco’s red-zone woes. But with Kasay, I do expect the Niners to have a fair amount of success stopping the Saints’ drives inside the 20. Since I am predicting a 23-20 score in that game, I feel reasonably good that I will get 9-12 points from both players. As for my defense, I pretty well spelled out my decision-making process above, so I will let that serve as my explanation here as well.

Suggestions, comments, musings about the article or fantasy football in general? E-mail me.


Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006, appeared in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in each of the last two seasons and served as a weekly fantasy football analyst for 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C. this past season. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can also follow him on Twitter.