As I have for the past six-plus years, I will continue sharing my
thoughts on my NFL.com Playoff Challenge entry and playoff money
leagues with Fuzzy's Fantasy Football as we head into the second
week of postseason odyssey. Let’s get right to it:
For a complete rundown of how players will score fantasy points
for your team, click on the “Rules
& Prizing” link on the NFL.com entry page. Much
of the content immediately below is included on the “How
to Play” page, although the information I provide below
should be more than enough to follow along easily.
The requirements: 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
(which will be referred to as 2x, 3x and 4x from here on out).
For example, if you pick Aaron Rodgers in the Wild Card round
and the Packers 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 Green Bay wins again, you can carry Rodgers into
the Conference Championship round for 3x the points and, if the
Packers 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
be eligible to earn 2x points in the Divisional round, since the
player was on the teamís roster for two weekly scoring periods.
Further bonus point modifiers would also apply as long as that
playerís team continues to advance in the NFL Playoffs.
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 worth
four points, so passing yards are valued more highly here than in
the Fuzzy’s leagues I’ll discuss later; 2) all field
goals under 50 yards are worth three points, which means we are
more concerned about volume of field goals than distance –
unless we can find a kicker who regularly converts from 50-plus
(DraftKings does not use kickers); 3) this is a non-PPR format,
which obviously favors the big-play threats (both Fuzzy's and DraftKings
are PPR); and 4) team wins are worth five points, so picking a “winning”
defense is worth almost a touchdown.
I left open the possibility that I could fall flat on my face
in the first of this four-part series with my "contrarian
prediction" of Arizona and Kansas City and that is exactly
what happened. For the third straight year, both No. 1 seeds made
it to the Super Bowl (yawn). What's worse is that I didn't even
see much of a payoff for my faith in the Cardinals as David Johnson's
54-point effort in the Conference Championship round accounted
for over half of my team's points. Be that as it may, the strategy
to win this challenge remains the same: predict the Super Bowl
entrants and nail as many of the key fantasy players from those
teams as possible. (For me, there is always next year …
Cam Newton/Peyton Manning
The call: Cam
Newton. One of my several early playoff predictions that
did come true was Newton likely emerging as the top scorer in
the field. What I doubt anyone could have anticipated was Carolina
jumping out to a combined 55-7 advantage at halftime against arguably
the two "hottest" teams in the league. (Yet another
reason why I don't buy into the concept of "hot" teams,
only confident teams.) Manning has the edge in terms of weapons
and probably has a better chance of outscoring Newton in fantasy
than most people believe, but Newton is the play here simply because
he is truly a threat to score fantasy points on almost every offensive
play and his offense is geared toward making it happen. Manning's
ability to perform well in fantasy this weekend will rely heavily
on factors outside of his control, such as whether or not Denver's
offensive line is getting any push in the running game against
Carolina's front four or if the Broncos' defense is doing a reasonable
job of containing Newton and the Panthers' running game.
Jonathan Stewart/C.J. Anderson/Ronnie Hillman
The call: Jonathan
Stewart and C.J.
Anderson. In Denver's dream scenario, the Broncos jump
ahead early and get about 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns
combined from Anderson and Hillman. That scenario, along with
any one that includes Hillman breaking off a 50- or 60-yard scoring
run or Mike Tolbert converting a pair of short TD runs, are about
the only ones in which Stewart and Anderson won't be the smartest
plays at this position. Stewart has received 19 carries in each
of the Panthers' two playoff games and is a reasonable bet to
reach that mark again. Hillman is averaging two yards per carry
this postseason on 27 attempts and has once again proven why he
should be a complementary back. Anderson, who is averaging 4.6
YPC, has produced 72 yards rushing in each of his two postseason
outings and is the preferred choice over Hillman in the passing
The call: Demaryius
Thomas and Emmanuel
Sanders. In a game where it appears the Panthers have
a distinct advantage in a number of areas, their receivers versus
the Broncos' secondary is a matchup where Denver clearly has the
edge. After watching Ginn beat Arizona CB Patrick Peterson a time
or two last week and understanding his primary matchup this weekend
might come against Broncos CB Bradley Roby, I'll give him the
clear nod over any other Carolina receiver since Brown and Funchess
figure to see plenty of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. if/when
the Panthers go three-wide.
The general consensus would seem to be that Carolina CB Josh
Norman will shadow Thomas, but Thomas has been doing a fine job
of shutting himself down lately while Sanders has easily been
Denver's most threatening wideout. As such, Norman could end up
shadowing Sanders or (in what is a much more likely scenario)
just stay at his left cornerback spot. Thomas and Sanders each
see a fair amount of action in the slot anyway (Norman does not
leave outside receivers), so a case can be made to start both
Denver receivers. It may end up being a smart play if the Broncos
are forced to play catch-up as many believe they will have to
on Super Sunday.
Greg Olsen/Owen Daniels
Greg Olsen: There's no reason to be contrarian
The call: Greg
Olsen. I'm still having trouble coming to grips on how
athletic New England Patriots LB Jamie Collins could get beat
by Daniels twice for touchdowns (once on what appear to be a miscommunication,
the other one a fade route), but that is something that is very
unlikely to happen against Carolina's standout linebackers. Both
of Denver's safeties figure to enter the Super Bowl at less than
100 percent and the Broncos' cornerbacks have a clear advantage
over the Panthers' receivers, making Olsen an overwhelming favorite
to have a big game.
The call: Panthers.
This game has all the makings of being a low-scoring Super Bowl.
Turnover margin always plays a big role in deciding what team
wins each week and that should especially be the case on Sunday.
Much like he has since his triumphant return in Week 17, I expect
Manning to make all the right pre-snap calls and play a mostly
clean game. The Panthers' defensive line holds a clear edge over
the Broncos' offensive line and could easily force Manning to
throw against seven defenders all day long, which could lead to
a high-sack total and a mistake or two. I don't think either D/ST
pick is a bad one this week, but the above logic makes Carolina
a slightly better option in my opinion.
With DraftKings bowing out for the Super Bowl, we are left with
only the traditional playoff pick-your-studs leagues that are
wrapping up this weekend.
Below you will find my position-by-position projections. Because
I went into detail above and there is only one game this week,
I will simply lay out the projections and add any notes where
I feel necessary.
Key for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers
and tight ends: P Yds - Passing Yards P TD - Passing Touchdowns INT - Interceptions Ru Yds - Rushing Yards Ru TD - Rushing Touchdowns Rec Yds - Receiving Yards Rec TD - Receiving Touchdowns Rec - Receptions
For years, analysts have often suggested Manning versus the opposing
team's defensive coordinator is the key matchup. On Sunday, the
defining matchup figures to be Newton versus Broncos DC Wade Phillips.
Does Phillips continue to play press-man and trust his front seven
(occasionally with safety help) to contain Newton and Stewart? Carolina
did not see 3-4 fronts all that often this season and certainly
didn't go up against ones with the pass-rush ability or cornerback
play of the Broncos. The Panthers have more of a margin for error
in this game than the Broncos, but this is a contest in which Newton
can't try to do everything himself (something he hasn't done yet
or been forced to do this postseason). Denver's press-man tendencies
have resulted in a lot of rushing yards for quarterbacks this season,
so there should be plenty of opportunity for Newton to run. In order
for the Broncos to prevail, it is crucial Manning play error-free
football. Carolina has made a living off turnovers in the playoffs
and seemingly converted every miscue into points.
If Denver HC Gary Kubiak continues to lean more on Anderson than
Hillman in the Super Bowl (something he appeared to do in the AFC
title game), then the Broncos' chances of winning this game will
be much greater. In fact, I'll venture a guess and say that if Denver
pulls the upset, the MVP will either go to Anderson or a Broncos'
defensive player. This much I am sure of: the Denver running game
must thrive if the Broncos are going to win. Carolina has rushed
for at least 100 yards in 31 consecutive games and a good bet to
extend that streak here, if only because Newton should do at least
half of the work. Stewart may not be the team's top choice at the
goal line, but he puts enough fear into the defense to make the
read-option a smart call just about every time OC Mike Shula dials
it up. Stewart is a near-lock for 15-plus touches barring injury,
which makes him more of a sure bet than any other running back in
this game (even if Anderson possesses more upside).
The top-scoring offense in the league hasn't fared well in the Super
Bowl recently (four of the last five teams to hold that distinction
and make the Super Bowl have lost), perhaps giving Denver supporters
a bit of hope since the Panthers paced the NFL with 500 points.
With that said, I don't expect much in the way of aerial fireworks
in Super Bowl 50. The Panthers have the kind of speed at receiver
to hit a big play or two, but betting against Talib, Harris and
Roby is typically a mistake. Even though Newton is improving as
a passer, he still lacks pinpoint accuracy and could struggle to
post big passing numbers. Manning has obviously seen his better
days, which makes the Broncos' talent advantage at receiver over
Carolina's secondary less of a factor. If I was to pick one player
from this group (not including Sanders and Thomas) to have a surprisingly
big impact, it would be Funchess. For that to happen, however, he
will probably need to see more than a third of his team's snaps
- something that has rarely happened during his rookie year.
The over/under in the 44-45 range (depending on the site) and
Vegas has Carolina as 5.5-point favorites. While the Panthers
could certainly win this one going away, I don't think the Broncos'
defense is getting near enough credit and, as such, I think the
game will go under and fail to satisfy the heavy pull toward Carolina.
While there is plenty of sentiment to win (another) one for Peyton,
I honestly hope this game forces the league to confront any one
of its several on-field issues - the "catch rule" would
be a good place to start - so a low-scoring Super Bowl contest
that is decided in the final minutes or seconds by a controversy
might be just the push the NFL needs to address an issue that
will reportedly not be discussed or corrected this offseason.
Make no mistake about it: Denver could easily win this game if
it does not commit a turnover. It also would not surprise me if
a kicker or defensive player took home MVP honors because I don't
expect many touchdowns to be scored and can see a lot of drives
stalling in or around the red zone. It will be important for the
Broncos to stem the tide early and make sure the Panthers don't
ambush them like Carolina has Seattle and Arizona thus far. If
Denver can get out of the first quarter with a lead or in a tie
game, Super Bowl 50 should be a good one.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.