Wild Card Weekend, Part 1: Saturday’s Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Here we are in the postseason, and just because the regular season is over, that doesn’t mean your fantasy football season has to come to and end.

Before we dive into our offseason coverage on how to make you a better fantasy football player and more attractive to the opposite sex, we’ll be covering the playoffs “game preview” style and starting with this week’s Wild Card Weekend.

In fact, I’ll be playing the ESPN Gridiron Playoff Challenge just to satisfy the itch for a few more weeks. You have no idea how good a hit it is…

I’d offer prizes, but then I would have to give something away — and didn’t we just do enough of that this holiday season. As a worthy substitute, you could consider joining up with the Bruno Boys’ league and stealing some of their prized booty.

Now, on to the previews … that’s why you’re here anyway, not for the Booty.

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals

Holy crap! The Buzzsaw in the postseason IN Arizona — and they barely sold enough tickets. I am not sure who takes this game. I know the Cardinals have the horrible playoff reputation and the shaky games as of late, but if you don’t think that Anquan Boldin is going to be head slamming people to make a playoff win happen, then you just don’t respect your facial bones.

You have to love Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin here in what could be a high-scoring affair. Matt Ryan won’t be a slouch, but rookie quarterbacks don’t have a good record in the playoffs.

Michael Turner is the best lock there is in this game — and I’m starting him. If Atlanta does get the win, it will be because of Turner. The Cardinals could let him go off early in the game even if the Falcons don’t get to control the clock with a lead in the second half.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have a risky situation at running back with Edgerrin James likely to get a start and Tim Hightower vulturing touchdowns. I’d take James if you need a yardage guy, but I’m not sure you can bet on the Cardinals scoring enough on the ground to make Hightower a good play.

If it came down to salary cap, I’d pay the price for Turner and Warner if you can afford it. More power to you if you can afford to grab Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald, but I dislike the probability that one goes off in spite of the other. They are two-headed receiving beast, and it’s hard to pick just one.

Roddy White makes a great bargain since we know he’ll be targeted quite a bit by the rookie QB and faces a Cardinals defense always ready to give up the big play — even to Tarvaris Jackson. White’s good for at least one score, and he’s more of a sure thing than the Arizona receivers.

I’m projecting this one ends up on the over rather than the under — currently set at an over/under of 51 points. If you can get your hands on any of these guys, I’d do it. There probably won’t be much kicking in this one, but Jason Elam and Neil Rackers should see a little short action when drives are stalled short of a score. I’d lean towards Elam.

And, obviously, I wouldn’t look to start either of these teams on defense this weekend.

Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers

It’s actually a good thing that this game is away. Even though the Colts looked more at home in their new stadium late in the season, it’s not quite the comfort zone it should be yet, and they already beat the Chargers in San Diego once at h this year. Now, they just have to go back and do it again.

In the first matchup, it was a close contest decided by a game-ending kick from Adam Vinatieri. The Chargers just left too much time on the clock when they tied it up and gave the ball back to Peyton Manning. It’ll probably look a lot similar tonight.

The Chargers, a quarterback-friendly team this year, just don’t have enough on defense to stop Peyton Manning on a game-winning drive. His will should be the deciding factor.

That said, Peyton Manning is probably the best fantasy bet you can take this postseason with Rivers just slightly behind him. Both quarterbacks have gone off several times this season, but Manning has the Chargers defense in his favor and a hot streak on his way into the playoffs.

The Colts defense, while questionable, is pretty good against the pass, and they could at least encourage San Diego to take a different approach.

The Chargers will probably look to LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles to support their efforts and keep Manning off the field, so I like both of them. For salary cap purposes, I’d actually go with a bargain in Darren Sproles, who had two touchdowns to L.T.’s three in the season finale against the Broncos. Sproles’ explosiveness is worth betting on for the price he’ll run you.

UPDATE: With news breaking of L.T.’s injury, Sproles looks like an even better play. L.T. will still make a go of it, but it’s hard to say how much he will be able to do. Looks unlikely that he’ll be a big factor.

The Colts backs are not nearly as valuable. There are too many question marks around Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes to trust them. Even when Addai starts, Rhodes sometimes gets the scores. I’d avoid them if you can.

As far as the receivers, I like Reggie Wayne, of course, and Vincent Jackson just a slight bit less. From there, it gets iffy. I’d rather have Dallas Clark than any other tight end in the playoffs at this point, even over Antonio Gates or Bo Scaife, once the Titans start playing.

Again, there’s not much to bet on with these two defenses. The Colts are questionable and the Chargers are not trustworthy. With such a selection of defenses playing tomorrow, it’d be better to choose between Miami or Baltimore in what should be a contest decided by who plays the most mistake-free football.

With an over/under of 50 in this game as well, it’s a safe bet to go with Colts and Chargers offensive studs when you can get your hands on them. Manning should be worth the price, and Rivers is a decent substitute if the commercial buckethead is out of your price range.

Adam Vinatieri is a good choice at kicker, but other options like David Akers and Ryan Longwell look good for tomorrow’s games as well. It is, as always, a toss up at kicker. Flip a coin, throw a dart at the board and then just pick one.

The good thing about salary caps in playoff fantasy football is that you can just use however much money you have left over for your kicker after you’ve put together your team. Easy call.

Fantasy Losers of the 2008 NFL Draft

My apartment management decided that I was so excited about the NFL draft this weekend that they needed to shut off the hot water this morning to calm me down. That’s okay though. I’m not bitter. I’ll just take those lemons and…

…and who am I kidding? I’m going to throw them at the door of the office in protest tomorrow.

In retrospect, there’s nothing like a cold shower to make you think about who really got the shaft in this year’s draft. For these players, the 2008 draft cooled off their fantasy value:

Willie Parker. Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers didn’t desperately need a running back, but when Rashard Mendenhall fell to them, they had to take him. Parker immediately enters into the twilight of his career. Returning from injury and with a much less Steeler-smash style of play, Parker will probably shift towards a supporting role to Mendenhall’s “I break ‘em, I bought ‘em” running. Something tells me Parker will not get a lot of chances for TDs now — he only sealed the deal twice last season — and begins his decline out of fantasy popularity.

Tatum Bell. Detroit Lions.
“You are what we thought you were,” Tatum. Just when it seemed like Tatum Bell was going to get his shot, Detroit grabbed Kevin Smith. Now Bell will end up being the compliment back in another RBBC alongside the yardage monster in Detroit. Considering the number of yards Smith ran up last season, he warrants being a big part of this offense next year and looks to be the better fantasy play.

Vince Young. Tennessee Titans.
The Titans have a great need at wide receiver. While Chris Johnson might be able to split out occasionally and be a playmaker, the Titans weren’t concerned with bringing in any new weapons. While it’s possible they were hoping that Limas Sweed, Young’s big target at Texas, would fall to them in the second round before the Steelers snagged him one pick too soon, no drastic moves were made to get that receiver help. Young will have to work with what the Titans grabbed in the fourth round in Lavelle Hawkins. He’s got talent but will likely be another project just like the mix of young WRs and older veterans that VY has now. It’s not looking very good again for Young in 2008.

Cedric Benson. Chicago Bears.
Coming off injury and a very weak showing in 2007, Benson’s likely to share carries with Matt Forte in 2008 and could even lose his starting role. The weak fantasy projections for Benson in 2008 just got weaker.

DeAngelo Williams. Carolina Panthers.
This year was supposed to be Williams’ time to shine with DeShaun Foster finally booted. When Carolina drafted Jonathan Stewart in the first, that all got thrown into doubt. Stewart is a big, power runner with a bruising style. Williams may start the season, but he is likely to lose carries to Stewart — especially in short yardage situations. That means less TDs for Williams and a knock to his fantasy value for 2008. Both RBs could have some fantasy impact this season, but Williams big chance is no more.

Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. Washington Redskins.
Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are now breathing down the necks of the two current WRs in Washington. Moss had a bad 2008, and Randle El wouldn’t be too upset to move to a slot role. The WR pool is not going to be friendly to a Moss bounce back in 2008 if one of these rookies breaks out. Pre-season will show how these rookies take to the game, but Moss might be one to avoid.

Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay Packers.
Oh yeah, Aaron, you just have to fill the shoes of this guy named Brett Favre. He didn’t break any big records or get much media attention with his retirement. Hey, he never even made the cover of Madden. Go ahead and take over his job in front of thousands of Favre-missing fans, Rodgers. If that shadow’s not big enough for you to overcome, we’ll put this guy Brian Brohm — possibly the most NFL-ready QB in this draft — behind you. That cool? Great. Oh, and this Matt Flynn kid from LSU is just hanging out here for a bit. He’ll keep your seat warm while your trying to win some games. Just don’t let those first-year jitters get to you. I don’t think Rodgers fantasy value is over and done, but it’s definitely on thin ice heading into his first season under center. The pressure is on, and pressure might not be what this young QB needs to get you fantasy points.

Amani Toomer. New York Giants.
With Mario Manningham under his wings and last year’s rookie WR Steve Smith already biting at his heels, Toomer’s days at the two spot in New York are numbered. Chances are he sees this one coming though, and I think he’s probably okay spending less time on the field. He’ll still start in 2008, but he won’t have much fantasy value once these guys get going and take his catches.

Dominic Rhodes. Oakland Raiders (until Monday).
It was hard not to see this one coming, but with Darren McFadden going to Oakland, someone had to get out of that backfield. The Raiders cut Rhodes Monday after he did a whole lot of nothing last year. They still have LaMont Jordan who seemed more likely to get bumped after the draft, but he might still be in danger of losing his job considering the Raiders now have McFadden, Michael Bush and Justin Fargas. Rhodes gets to go stand in line with Shaun Alexander and wait to be picked up by a team lacking in the veteran RB department.

Josh McCown and John Beck. Miami Dolphins.
Not that he thought he was a long-term solution in Miami — no one else did — but McCown became even more short-term with Bill Parcells snagging Chad Henne. Parcells obviously can’t trust his current developing QB John Beck. The starting job is likely to go to Henne before too long. McCown is just going to be a stand in until one of the younger guys is ready to go, and that’s never a good feeling. McCown and the loser will be left to battle for the backup role. Let the QB struggle begin.

Tarvaris Jackson. Minnesota Vikings.
You got some Booty behind you, Tarvaris. John David Booty has the potential to really threaten Jackson for the starting job if Jackson doesn’t show significant improvement this season. There’s no security in his fantasy value.

Chris Simms. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With no spleen and no playing time last year, Simms is now on the cut list with Josh Johnson drafted into the pack of QBs already in Tampa Bay. Johnson is no sure thing — especially if you ask Jon Gruden — but he has some good stats even if it was just at San Diego. He’ll make the team, and at least one of Tampa Bay’s current QB collection will have to find a new place.