Fourth & 1 Debate: Nine Moves to Make for the Fantasy Football Playoffs

At this point in the season, you might be more concerned with getting to the playoffs than succeeding once you get there. That’s okay. Take it one week at a time. I’ll wait…

But if you have the true heart of a champion, some good luck, and if you’ve been doing your research, you’ve probably go a nice spot on the mantel dusted and ready for this year’s fantasy football championship trophy. It’s okay if we block this photo of the in-laws, right?

In that case, it’s best to start planning for your future, and we’re not talking about your kids’ college funds or your financial plan to navigate this tough economy.

It’s even better. I give you a fantasy football roundtable of epic proportions. This week’s Fourth & 1 Debate was mine to rule, and I chose to look ahead at who might blow up or sink your battleship during Weeks 14-17.

By the way, if you have a playoff schedule that puts your championship game in Week 17, slap your commissioner, reschedule that game immediately, slap your commish again, and never, never speak of playing in Week 17 again. Week 17 isn’t NFL football. It’s just not right to win your league with Jim Sorgi. Not right at all.

This week’s Fourth & 1 Debate roundtable question:

Looking ahead at the fantasy football playoffs (Weeks 14-17), what one player would you want to own during those weeks and what one player would you want to unload before Week 14?

My answer:

Trade deadlines are approaching. Playoffs spots will be locked up soon. The chances to acquire players through “sell high” or “buy low” opportunities are few are far between. That being the case, I’ve chosen to focus on a couple of guys who might still be easily moved. You wouldn’t have to break the bank, and you might end up with a stud on your hands in Weeks 14 through 16.

First, I’d look to acquire Tim Hightower.

Kurt Warner has been fond of the check-down passes thus far this season, and Hightower has been the beneficiary. Even against tough rushing defenses, Hightower never fails to stay involved in the passing game and take advantage of short-yardage and goal line opportunities.

It’d be great to have both Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower on your roster to hedge your bets against any late-season shifts in Beanie’s favor, but I believe Hightower will remain the primary receiving back on passing plays, which the Cardinals should be running plenty of in the fantasy playoffs.

The Cardinals face San Francisco, Detroit and St. Louis in the fantasy playoffs. In Week 1 against the 49ers, Hightower ran just eight times for 15 yards, but he caught 12 passes for 121 yards. A similar performance in Week 14 wouldn’t surprise me, and, well, the Lions and Rams are what they are, great matchups for a team with a powerful offense. By the end of this season, one or both of those squads could have already given up for the year.

If you can’t get Hightower, Beanie Wells, Jamaal Charles and Jerome Harrison aren’t bad substitutions. All have a chance to succeed late in the season, and they all carry a fairly low price tag at this point. Bargain bin!

And, for those of you playing at home, I would try to unload DeAngelo Williams before the fantasy playoffs.

Williams finished the year as the No. 1 fantasy running back after a slow start, and he’s once again been inconsistent to start the year in 2009. It’s not just Jonathan Stewart stealing time and touches from him. This year, Jake Delhomme has developed a bad habit of throwing to players in other jerseys.

While Williams is come on strong the past three weeks, he should hit a slump starting in Week 11 against Miami and continuing, outside of a brief practice session against the Bucs in Week 13, into the fantasy playoffs. In Week 14, Williams faces the Patriots in New England, followed by the Vikings at home and the Giants in New York for the Giants’ last home game of the season.

If you’re a proud Williams owner, you should deal him away to the highest bidder this week or next before you get stuck in the dumps with him during the playoffs.

Smitty from Fantasy Football Xtreme says:

Every season, a grip of players step up during Weeks 14-16, while others shockingly disappoint. It’s a tough business predicting either, but I have come up with two names. I have talked a lot about running backs and wide receivers over the past few weeks, so this week I’m going to focus on quarterbacks.

One quarterback worth talking about before we even sniff Weeks 14-16 is Kurt Warner. The aging quarterback has been hit or miss this season, and he has thrown 7 interceptions over the past three games putting him at 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year. He has also fumbled the football twice over the last three weeks.

You’re probably guessing that Warner is my “unload” recommendation for Weeks 14-16, right? Wrong.

While I will admit that I have concerns about the aging quarterback staying healthy long enough to see Week 14, he has a fantastic fantasy playoff schedule. The Cardinals face the 49ers (28th) in Week 14, the Lions (29th) in Week 15 and Rams (24th) in Week 16. If healthy, Warner should have a fantastic finish to the fantasy season.

As for my top quarterback to unload before we hit Week 14, I have to go with Carson Palmer.

The Bengals passing schedule isn’t impossible, as they have two decent match-ups in Weeks 14 and 16 in the Vikings (23rd) and Chiefs (29th), but they do have a rough contest against the Chargers (6th) in Week 15. I know Palmer had a monster 5-touchdown performance before his Week 8 bye, where he completed 20-of-24 passes, but before that Week 7 outing, Palmer’s completion percentage was under 60 and he had almost as many interceptions (7) as he had touchdowns (8).

On the year, Palmer has yet to pass for over 300 yards. His Week 7 stats are making him look strong, but I’m predicting that he and the Bengals struggle down the stretch. I say unload Palmer now and take a lateral step into a quarterback with less risk.

Trade Palmer for a Ben Roethlisberger or a Matt Ryan. Both quarterbacks probably have similar perceived value, yet I like both better than Palmer down the stretch (especially in Weeks 14-16).

Junkyard Jake from Junkyard Jake says:

Glancing ahead to the fantasy playoff weeks this year, it appears that Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing game could benefit from a very favorable set of defensive matchups. During Weeks 14 through 16, the Saints face Atlanta on the road and then Dallas and Tampa Bay at home.

As if Brees needed an additional advantage, all three of these games will be in a dome. Moreover, all three of these defenses currently rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of points allowed by opposing quarterbacks.

In contrast to Brees’s favorable playoff schedule, it looks like the Bears’ Matt Forte could have a tougher time. Forte is already having a slightly disappointing season, and it doesn’t appear that he will catch a break during the fantasy playoff Weeks of 14, 15 and 16 when he is slated to face Green Bay, Baltimore and then Minnesota.

Green Bay has been allowing only 91 rush yards per game, and they have yielded just 3 rushing touchdowns so far. Forte’s Week 15 opponent, Baltimore, has allowed just 79 yards per game on the ground. Forte then faces the Vikings in Week 16, a team that touts the No. 2 run defense in the league.

Hatty from Hatty Waiver Wire Guru says:

So essentially we are looking at a buy low/sell high for the playoff run. Having the right RB for the playoffs is a huge key to victory and health is a major consideration for playoff runs.

My sell high right now would be LaDainian Tomlinson. He is coming off a two-touchdown performance, but again is a huge injury concern. You just can’t afford to go into playoffs with one of your top running backs leaving due to injury.

The running back I would work hard to obtain for the playoffs would be a running back who receives a major workload on a team making a run for the playoffs. Cedric Benson helped me to win a fantasy championship in the past and is a stellar running back to go into playoffs with.  He is not prone to injury, doesn’t play in an RBBC situation and is on a team that has a solid chance at making the playoffs.

Ryan Lester from Lester’s Legends says:

Looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, there are a couple of wide receivers that I would love to own and one that I want no part of.

The wide receivers that I love for the fantasy playoffs are Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. Aside from being two of the best wide receivers in the game, there are some other reasons that make them so valuable when fantasy owners need them the most.

First of all, neither team is running away with their division meaning they will likely go full tilt the whole season as they vie for a playoff spot. While wide receivers like Reggie Wayne and Marques Colston are in the driver’s seat of their respective divisions, Fitz and A.J. are not. It’s conceivable that Wayne and Colston get a reduced workload in your league’s championship game. You don’t have to worry about that with Fitz or A.J.

They also have favorable schedules in the fantasy playoffs. Fitz plays at San Francisco, at Detroit and finishes at home against St. Louis. Week 14 could be tough for him, but the final two games could bring the monster performances you expected out of Fitz when you drafted him.

Andre Johnson’s schedule is also a breeze. He starts off at home against Seattle, travels to St. Louis and finishes at Miami. Obviously, I don’t like his championship opponent as much as Fitz, but if he leads you to the title game, you’re in the money anyway.

On the flip side, the player I don’t want on my team come fantasy playoffs time is Carolina’s Steve Smith.

The Panthers start off on the road at New England. Weather is very much a factor in New England in December, which doesn’t bode well for members of the passing game. Next up is Minnesota at home. The pressure that Jared Allen and company put on opposing quarterbacks could make for a long day. Finally, he finishes up against the Giants on the road in the swirling winds.

Smith faces three of the best teams in the league, two in what are likely to be bad-weather games, during the fantasy playoffs. Not to mention he plays in a run-first offense. If I were a Steve Smith owner and had championship aspirations, I’d try to move him now that he’s coming off a pair of good games.

Eric Stashin of Rotoprofessor says:

One of the players I would like to own down the stretch is Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons.

Fantasy football playoffs are tough because if you have a player who is on a team that is coasting into the playoffs, you just don’t know how much they are going to play. With the Falcons, they are three games behind the division lead already, but they are primed for a dogfight to take home the wild card.

In addition, the Falcons take on the New Orleans Saints (middle of the road in rushing defense), New York Jets (sans their big run stuffer, Kris Jenkins), the Buffalo Bills (currently allowing the most rushing yards per game in the league) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (need I say anymore).

That seems like the perfect set-up for a big way to close the season. He’s one of the best backs in the league, and if you are in a position to acquire him for the stretch drive, there is no reason to hesitate.

As for players to avoid, you almost have to look at the flip side: Which team appears to be ready to coast into the playoffs as well as having a tough schedule?

The Minnesota Vikings could be that team, as they have a lead in the division and have the Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and New York Giants on the schedule over the final four weeks. Three of those four teams are likely to be in contention for a playoff spot. The easiest game (Panthers) is on the road, as is the game in Chicago, so you don’t know what will happen there.

The likelihood is that the team focuses on the run, as they’ve already shown that they will do, meaning Brett Favre and the Vikings receivers may struggle down the stretch.

Paul Greco from Fantasy Pros 911 says:

I love looking ahead. Why you ask? Well, if I’m looking ahead to Weeks 14 through 17, that means I have a shot at the playoff. Yup, I’m about to make it rain in the Greco household.

The one player that I’d like to unload, not only during the Weeks 14 through 17, but right now, is Carolina Panther’s running back DeAngelo Williams. Coming off a huge game on the ground in Week 8, right now is the time to look to unload Williams.

Starting Week 11, Williams has the toughest Strength-of-Schedule (SOS) the rest of the season. With games against the Miami Dolphins (Week 11), New York Jets (Week 12), New England Patriots (Week 14) and the Minnesota Vikings (Week 15), all four teams are currently ranked in the top 10 for rush defense.

Cedric Benson, running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, is a player you must look to add to your team now. C.B. has the easiest SOS of any running back starting Week 11.

With games against the Oakland Raiders (Week 11), Cleveland Browns (Week 12), Detroit Lions (Week 13), San Diego Chargers (Week 15) and the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 16), all five teams give up an average of 117 rushing yards a game or worse.

C.B. has shown he can carry the load for the Bengals, so why not your team? Look to make a move for CB now, and enjoy big gains the rest of the season.

Bryce McRae from KFFL says:

My pickup for the playoffs: the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kolby Smith (knee). He’s a deep sleeper, yes, but it shouldn’t cost much to get him, and he could pay huge dividends.

Starter Larry Johnson’s suspension ends after Week 9, but the team has given some thought to releasing him. At some point, they have to start looking toward the future.

Jamaal Charles, a third-round pick last year, is expected to shoulder most of the load this week. He’s more of a speedy change-of-pace back, however, and the Chiefs have utilized him as a rusher only 23 times this year. A lot of that has come out of passing downs, too.

This leads us to Smith; the third-year back has carried a full workload in the past (Weeks 12 through 16 in 2007: 100 carries for 387 yards and two scores), and he says he has confidence in his rehabilitated knee. Head coach Todd Haley says Smith is moving around well in practice, too. Smith has the bulk (5-foot-11, 219 pounds) that could help him hold up as a primary back over the speedier Charles.

Kansas City faces the Buffalo Bills (most rushing yards allowed per game to backs this year), the Cleveland Browns (third most) and the Cincinnati Bengals in Weeks 14 through 16, respectively. Cincy isn’t a great matchup, but Smith could be a beast during those two first games.

On the flip side, one player I’m looking to unload before the playoffs is the San Francisco 49ers’ Michael Crabtree. I don’t have much faith in Alex Smith behind center for the long term. I feel defenses might be able to shut down Crabtree, too, once they have more film on him and how the 49ers are using him. Remember: This is still a run-first offense.

Also, I don’t believe his value will be any higher after his first three games. Wait for him to burn the Tennessee Titans, a generous defense to this position, in Week 9 and then sell high on the former Texas Tech wideout.

The defenses Crabtree will face in the traditional playoffs weeks: the Detroit Lions (Week 14), the Arizona Cardinals (Week 15) and the Philadelphia Eagles (Week 16). Philly’s D has been one of the top against this position all season while the other two have shown improvement in the last month. Plus, Detroit’s run D has been bad enough that San Fran might opt to pound the ball.

Kurt Turner from Top-Fantasy-Football says:

Strength of schedule is key when planning for the fantasy football playoffs. Teams like Arizona, San Diego and Miami all have juicy matchups. FFToolbox.com has a nice tool you can use found here that analyzes matchups by position for you.

Here are my picks to own and unload: Kurt Warner and Roddy White.

Snatch up Kurt Warner. He should be a beast in the playoffs. Trade for him now and don’t be afraid to overpay, especially if you’re hurting at quarterback.

A guy I don’t like for the playoffs is Roddy White. White faces some tough pass defenses weeks 14, 15 and 16. If you can get Warner for White (and some change) and still have some other good options at wide receiver, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Good Luck!

That’s all for this week’s Fourth & 1 Debate. While I am largely a fan of riding hot hands into the ground rather than trading them away because of perceived slumps on the horizon, preparing for the fantasy football playoffs is a necessity.

Oh, and if you have a championship game in Week 17, slap your commish again for me.

As always, the comments are yours. Have a player you’re concerned about for the fantasy playoffs? Would you like to add more names to the hat of players to add/drop? Leave a comment to let us know.

Foolish Super Bowl Predictions: Super Bowl XLIII

I’m not going to rub it in, but I’m pretty happy that my divisional championship predictions came true and put the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. My all Cardinals and Steelers fantasy football team is set up to dominate in the Gridiron Challenge, and I’m counting for a big game out of Tim Hightower to carry me over the top.

Maybe Larry Fitzgerald will leave a couple four or five yards out of the end zone for me.

Now that we’re here at the big game, I’m taking the Cardinals for two reasons — Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner. Much like last year’s Super Bowl came down to a last-minute play by Eli Manning, this game will probably come down to a final drive, and I have more faith that Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald will overcome the pressure.

As long as the momentum rolling with the Arizona defense hasn’t cooled off in the two-week break prior to the Super Bowl, they should be able to slow down the Steelers and make them grind it out for points with Willie Parker and the run game.

Now, I’m settling in to watch my prediction come to fruition. Enjoy the game, and feel free to drop some comments during the action. We’ll wrap up this season and the Super Bowl later this week as we begin the offseason.

NFL Divisional Championships: Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Once again, this weekend, we get a game that could very literally end with a final score of 3-0 and a game that could have a combined score of more than 70 points. Welcome the AFC and NFC championship games.

When I logged into the site to get geared up for this weekend, I got an extra treat. You want to know what the top search term of late leading people to Fantasy Football Fools is?

Booty. That’s right. I have a sneaking suspicion why that is, but it still doesn’t make it any less funny.

So with booty said, let’s get down to booty, er, business.

If you’re setting your salary cap playoff rosters this week, you’re probably locked in with them until the Super Bowl. There’s two ways to go here. You can either pick a collection of players from both teams that you expect to do well enough in this round and in the Super Bowl or you can suck it up and only pick players from the two teams you see making it all the way.

I’ll admit, I have the fear in me about being bold and only choosing players from my Super Bowl pick teams, but I’m so going there.

NFC Championship

Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

I don’t know what to think of the Arizona Cardinals. Many analysts predicted they would match the Falcons in the Wild Card round after their strong final game of the season, but I doubted them when they went into Carolina. I thought their possession of a running game was just an oversight by the Falcons defense and that the defensive plays made the Wild Card round were fluky.

In Carolina, Arizona showed us that they have a defense that will make plays on the ball. Their secondary was outstanding. They complimented it with a little bit of a running game again, thanks to Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, despite being able to get the ball into Larry Fitzgerald’s hands even if he was covered by a flock of Canadian geese — the kind that brings down planes.

Despite their success, it’s hard not to keep betting on their demise…they are the Buzzsaw after all.

Of course, there’s no overwhelming favorite on the other side of the field. The Eagles are practically the same team, only in the NFC East. The Eagles started off looking like one of the best in the division before they sank to the bottom of the barrel after a ferociously embarrassing tie with the Cincinnati Bengals when Donovan McNabb didn’t even know that ties were possible.

Thanks to the failings of many a team standing in their way, the Eagles got hot at the right moment and went on a streak to get into the playoffs. Donovan McNabb has looked great, and Brian Westbrook has been required to do only light lifting. The formula has been working to perfection.

On Thanksgiving, the Eagles began their winning streak against the Cardinals. Arizona was clobbered by the combined scoring power of Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb, but since that game, Brian Westbrook has virtually and literally disappeared from the field.

If the Eagles are going to win this one, the offense is going to need a big game from Brian Westbrook. Otherwise, it’s very possible that McNabb gets Delhomme-d and leaves his team fighting on the wrong side of a turnover battle if Arizona’s suddenly-dominant secondary shows up again.

I’m going with the Cardinals here. They’re at home with a newfound spirit in the playoffs. Maybe that’s crazy. Maybe I just don’t really want to see an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl, or maybe I hate part of myself. Maybe I just want an offensive team to get in the Super Bowl. Whatever the reason, I’m on the Buzzsaw bandwagon.

At least we know their going to put up some fantasy points this week.

Hot Hands: Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook (Q), David Akers

Bubble Boys: Tim Hightower, Anquan Boldin (Q), Neil Rackers, Arizona D/ST, Eagles D/ST, Brent Celek

Cold Shoulders: DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, L.J. Smith, Edgerrin James

AFC Championship

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Personally, I am not a fan of this matchup.

Watching these two teams slam into each other repeatedly for four hours with minimal points on the board just leaves me feeling unsatisfied — especially as a fantasy football fan. The team that makes the most mistakes is going to lose this one, and since I called it twice before, I have to continue my trend of calling on Joe Flacco’s rookie shortcomings to suddenly rise to the forefront.

If the Steelers can successfully take Derrick Mason out of this game, Flacco will become pretty ineffective. Without Flacco, the Ravens have LeRon McClain, who is already a little banged up, and some guy we used to know the name of named Willis McGahee. Sure, they could put something together with that running back committee. They even have Ray Rice, too, but not against the Steelers defense.

Ben Roethlisberger may be concussed, but maybe he plays better when he sees two or three of every receiver. His long ball and a healthy Willie Parker helped the Steelers run right over the Chargers last week, and it’ll help them put up enough of a fight against the Ravens.

If you’re looking for a kicker, I like Jeff Reed in this game. I know that the Cardinals and the Eagles are playing in a more offensively friendly matchup, but Jeff Reed is probably going to be one of the only players scoring points this Sunday night. You might as well get a piece of the action.

Hot Hands: Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Jeff Reed, Matt Stover, Steelers D/ST, Ravens D/ST

Bubble Boys: Willie Parker, Hines Ward, LeRon McClain, Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Derrick Mason

Cold Shoulders: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Heath Miller, Mark Clayton

Lineup Calls

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to go all-in with the Cardinals and Steelers on my roster this weekend. At least if Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner end up sitting out the Super Bowl, I will know that I tried and failed brilliantly.

Sure, I could throw Brian Westbrook on my roster as a safety valve and capitalize if the Eagles were to make it into the Super Bowl, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, no matter what running back gets to the Super Bowl from the NFC, they’re not going to do much against the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So this weekend, I’m a Buzzsaw-lovin’ Arizona Cardinals fan. Maybe they’ll make it to their first Super Bowl, and that’s a story that might even spare us the press on T.O. and Brett Favre for a few days.

Divisional Playoffs, Part 2: Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

So the Cardinals have game — and a run game at that. Of course, who really needs a balanced attack when Larry Fitzgerald can do whatever he wants on the field and you benefit from more than five turnovers?

Looks like the Buzzsaw is bound for the next round, so who will get you there in the fantasy playoffs?

San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Chargers come into Pittsburgh after finishing strong and knocking the Indianapolis Colts off in overtime with the legs of Darren Sproles, but the Steel Curtain closes this attack. Without LaDainian Tomlinson, I don’t see Sproles being able to carry the Chargers far against the Pittsburgh defense, and Philip Rivers cannot do it all with Troy Polamalu covering the field.

The Steelers offense is weakened with a concussed Ben Roethlisberger, but they can still pound the ball with Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore. The Chargers will make more mistakes, and the Steelers have enough to capitalize on them. Even though San Diego has been nice to opposing quarterbacks all season, it’s hard to put faith in the arm of a guy who got taken off in a stretcher just weeks ago. I’ll stick with the run game.

Try as he might, Rivers shouldn’t be able to take this one, but he can certainly try with Vincent Jackson and some help from Sproles.

Hot Hands: Willie Parker, Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles

Bubble Boys: Mewelde Moore, Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Antonio Gates, Nate Kaeding

Cold Shoulders: Heath Miller, LaDainian Tomlinson

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

The Eagles, much like the Chargers, had it all fall into their lap at the end of the season. They’re hot right now, and it’s hard to like the Giants more than the Eagles with the Giants cold finish to the regular season.

Despite the return of Brandon Jacobs, the Giants are likely to have a hard time running the ball against this Eagles squad, and the momentum is in the Eagles’ favor. The Giants will miss having Plaxico Burress as a playmaker. They either lose this game or take it in a nail-biter.

Calling it for Philadelphia, I like Brent Celek as a sleeper tight end. L.J. Smith is only going to see limited action, and Celek gets the start. For those of you trying to budget your roster for this week, Celek is a nice ‘buy low’ to go big at other positions.

Hot Hands: Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brent Celek, Brandon Jacobs, David Akers

Bubble Boys: Eli Manning, Kevin Boss, Domenik Hixon, Ahmad Bradshaw, Derrick Ward

Cold Shoulders: L.J. Smith, Amani Toomer

Divisional Playoffs, Part 1: Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

Today’s matchups treat us to a battle of two defenses and a battle of two different styles of offense.

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans

This game is all about the defense. I wouldn’t want to bet on many of the offensive stars being a factor, but there are a few players who should have an impact. Though the Titans have faded down the stretch, they’ll come into this game healthy enough to compete and make Joe Flacco show his rookie colors.

The running backs should be grinding yardage in this game, which will likely come down to time of possession. I think the Titans have enough in the tank and the more powerful rushing attack to take it. Feel free to start running backs on both sides even though they won’t score a great deal.

Hot Hands: Chris Johnson, LeRon McClain, Titans D/ST, Baltimore D/ST

Bubble Boys: Joe Flacco, Derrick Mason, LenDale White

Cold Shoulders: Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, Kerry Collins, Justin Gage

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

In contrast to this afternoon’s game, tonight’s game pairs two of the more powerful offenses in the playoffs. The Cardinals are going to look to throw the ball even though they showed signs of a running game in the first round. The Panthers, on the other hand, will try to pound the ball and make their running backs take time off the clock.

Unlike the Cardinals, the Panthers have a more balanced attack with the abilities of Steve Smith in the passing game. That balanced attack will trump the Cardinals and end Arizona’s first trip to the playoffs in…well, ever.

If Anquan Boldin sits, there’s a very good chance that the Panthers are able to shut down the Cardinals offense. Since the Panthers will spend more time on offense, the running backs and Steve Smith are safer plays than the Cardinals.

Hot Hands: Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, DeAngelo Williams

Bubble Boys: Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart, Panthers D/ST

Cold Shoulders: Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower, Arizona D/ST

Wild Card Weekend, Part 2: Sunday’s Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

After a day’s worth of exciting, close games, Sunday is all about defense. The Ravens, Dolphins, Eagles and Vikings have all made a habit of getting after the quarterback and stopping the run.

In a playoff setting, I don’t think we see a lot of points today unless the Vikings or Eagles blow it open.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

The Ravens ended on a hot streak, but Joe Flacco has done very little these past few weeks. In the playoffs, the Dolphins are going to shut down the run game, and I don’t think Flacco can compensate with a limited amount of turnovers coming his way from Chad Pennington’s excellent game management.

Miami should take care of the ball and get it done, and I think the star of the game is Chad Pennington. Davone Bess is a nice play as a possession receiver, but unless this game gets broken open, Ted Ginn Jr. should have only a few shots make it into his hands.

On the running side of the ball, it’s hard to like anyone. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, much like Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, have been back and forth all season, but Brown is the better bet here. Baltimore’s running committee has only one name you need to know, McClain.

LeRon McClain runs hard enough to get his, but he won’t be breaking 70+ yard plays in this one like he did against the Cowboys. Other than him, you don’t want to rely on Willis McGahee to make an appearance or Ray Rice to get a chance.

Derrick Mason is probably the best chance of a “big play” receiver in this game, where defense should rule the day. Even though he is injured, he won’t sit out this playoff appearance. Flacco will be targeting him if they need to score.

You could take a flier on Anthony Fasano at tight end, but he and Todd Heap probably won’t be doing much more than blocking.

If you want to take a kicker in this one, I think Matt Stover is a safe bet because the Ravens are bound to find themselves in several long third down situations. And now that I said that, Stover will have one field goal and an extra point in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings

Donovan McNabb and the Eagles are riding a hot streak, and it hasn’t been inspired by Brian Westbrook. That’s a good sign heading into a run-stopping defense like Minnesota. McNabb should play some inspired football and expose a weak Viking secondary. There’s no telling who his leading receivers will be, but I like   McNabb in this game.

The Vikings should lean on the run, but Adrian Peterson, struggling through injuries, should be able to do very little as long as the Eagles bring it like they did against the Cowboys. Brian Dawkins and the Eagles defense are ferocious when called upon.

I think this game gets pinned on Tarvaris Jackson, and he doesn’t have the tools to keep up with McNabb just yet.

For fantasy, I have to like McNabb and Bernard Berrian, simply because Berrian will be a big target in the Vikings offense when the run is stopped. Visanthe Shiancoe should show up to make some big plays, but in the end, I think you’re better off owning Eagles than Vikings.

This contest will probably be back and forth, but the Eagles start scoring on defense, they could run away with it. David Akers and Ryan Longwell are both decent kickers for this game.

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.

Foolish Thoughts on Week 17: Studs, Cowardly Lions and Cowbell

Your fantasy football season should now officially be over. We hope you all did better than expected, and if we were any help, even better.

We took this week off get our act together for the playoffs and recover from 17 weeks of fantasy football coverage. It’s grueling … but also so very, very good. Next season, I’m looking to play fewer teams on my own so that I can produce more articles and respond to more emails — there’s always one more than I don’t have the time to get to each week.

But enough about the future, let’s talk about the past…

The injury we all expected to strike Ben Roethlisberger before the end of the season finally hit him in Week 17, where it couldn’t really do much but hurt you if you started Big Ben against the Browns. I am sure that Mike Tomlin will forever be questioned for having Big Ben in that game to start with, and being carried off the field in a stretcher just before the playoffs usually takes a little win out of a team for the postseason.

Luckily for Big Ben and Steelers fans, Pittsburgh has a bye week for him to recover from his concussion. If you were planning on starting him in any playoff fantasy leagues — yes, more on that soon — I would reconsider. A concussed Big Ben still sounds like a Big Ben I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence in behind his Swiss cheese of a pass blocking line and against playoff-caliber defense.

Someone buy him a helmet with extra padding.

Was that an Edgerrin James sighting in the Cardinals stomping? Outside of Big Ben, the theme this week seemed to be fantasy studs making up for a slow season or dismal last two to three weeks.

Kurt Warner and the gang decided to bring it in this one like a playoff game, and old faithful certainly did that after a season of fantasy greatness. Warner had four touchdowns in the win over the Seahawks. Two of those went to Larry Fitzgerald. And just to round things out, Edgerrin James had over 100 yards.

It was the Seahawks, of course, but he also hit 100 yards with only 14 carries. Despite the Seahawks’ disappointing season, I’m sure that all the Seattle players wanted to take home this last one against the Cards for Mike Holmgren.

With that performance and the mediocrity that Tim Hightower showed when he was finally named starter, James may have his job back for the playoff run. I’d expect him to start against the Falcons, and maybe will use all that experience to do some good for the playoff strangers, the Cardinals.

If not, he can always hand out peanuts, right?

Speaking of fantasy studs making good for owners in the final week, LaDainian Tomlinson finally looked like LaDainian Tomlinson. Where was this three touchdown day when the Week 16 championship folks needed him?

I still like Darren Sproles as a big play threat moving forward, but both Sproles and L.T. had moves against the Broncos poor tackling. Even Jacob Hester had a touchdown in this one. Lucky for the Chargers, it’s a good time to have a running game, but the Colts won’t make as many mistakes as the Broncos this weekend.

Steven Jackson ended the season strongly as well even though the Rams have no postseason to speak of besides trying to figure out how to save the franchise.

The Rams may have finished better than the Lions, but the Lions still consider themselves the better team since they never recorded “Ram It.”

http://youtu.be/nOYY6futWBc

Besides Larry Fitzgerald, the Johnson stud receivers came up with two-touchdown days as well. Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson both locked up two scores as the Lions struggled to win one and the Texans struggled to once against convince Houston fans that they’ll be a contender next season — so far, they never come through on that promise they make by ending every season on a hot streak.

Atop the fantasy quarterback standings, Kurt Warner was joined by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Sadly, Brees four touchdown performance came up just shy of the record for passing yardage in a single season.

The way he played this season, I’m sure he’ll have another shot at it. His final pass looked like he was struck by the curse of history; it was one of the worst looking ones he threw all day.

The only real surprise performance of the week was Michael Bush against the Bucs. The Raider running back had two touchdowns and almost 200 yards to beat the Bucs — and to give the Eagles the motivation they need to push into the playoffs against the Cowboys.

Michael Bush showed a lot this season, and I really think that the Raiders could do much better for themselves starting a committee of Michael Bush and Darren McFadden over Justin Fargas all the time. Fargas may have proven himself last season, but Bush and McFadden have a ridiculous amount of talent.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raiders put Bush on display here in Week 17 to try and make a deal with him this offseason. He’s definitely one to watch. On another team, he could break out like Michael Turner if given the opportunity.

On the Lions
Are we really surprised that the Lions were the first team to hit 0-16? They’ve danced with the bottom of the barrel for enough seasons by now for us to see this one coming.

Yes, it sucks that they set a record like that for Detroit, but they deserved it.

They drafted poorly and played uninspired long enough to breed a culture of acceptable losses. Rod Marinelli couldn’t do much with that no matter how much respect the team has for him.

On expatriates
Now that they are both free of other commitments, will Bill Belichick rebuild the dream team of former Patriot coaches? He could have Romeo Crennel, fired from the Browns, and Eric Mangini, fired from the Jets, back after they both failed to make it on their own.

Somehow, I don’t think Mangini sniffs a job with the Patriots staff unless Belichick wants to make him be a janitor … but Belichick would so love to make him a janitor.

It really makes you wonder how Charlie Weis kept his gig. Don’t you know that the hot thing to do this offseason is fire former Patriot coaches, Notre Dame?

On Skeletor powers in flux
Mike Shanahan got the axe. Didn’t see it coming, but it was clear something had to change after the Broncos slowly declined into mediocrity after emerging as the favorite in the AFC West with a string of victories.

Despite his Eddie Royal selection this season, Shanahan has made bad calls on personnel in the draft and free agency that have kept the Broncos just short of the winning team. The defense has been hit the hardest.

Without Shanny, Cutler and the Broncos are definitely a team to keep your eye on. Their Patriot-style offense wowed fantasy owners early in the season.

Shanahan will end up somewhere since he’s still considered one of the top coaches in the league. He’ll make something happen with his ability to turn a running back into a fantasy stud — before tossing him to the curb for the next guy one game later and infuriating fantasy owners. I think his luck finally caught up with him this season since all of his running backs got injured as soon as they had their big days.

He has to go somewhere. Maybe even Dallas. What would a season be without our evil dark lord of fantasy spoiling fantasy football draft picks around the world? Let’s just hope he doesn’t get full personnel control of the Lions. They don’t need any more questionable draft picks.

On the end of the season
The season may be over, but there are still playoffs (and playoff fantasy football) to think about! We’ll be playing fantasy throughout the postseason before getting into our offseason coverage on how to make you a better fantasy football player, so make sure you stick around as we continue to bring you more cowbell.

And if you’d rather be more suave in checking back every week for our latest, you should subscribe to get our latest updates delivered to you each week. It’ll be the start of something beautiful — and mildly entertaining.

On legendary media frenzy
And now that the season is over, let the love festivus for Brett Favre begin. Will he retire? Will he stick out another year? When will fans stop caring? News at 11 … every night … for the rest of our offseason lives.

Week 17 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Championship Edition?

First of all, why are you guys still having your championship in Week 17? That’s like playing a game of chess for hours only to bring in toddlers to play out the final three moves. Why would you do that? And where did you get chess-playing toddlers?

This week, I absolutely love everyone involved with the Denver and San Diego passing games. Sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if Darren Sproles goes off for a long touchdown or if LaDainian Tomlinson gets some decent yardage and a score, but this game that will be decided by the arms of In Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers.

I am not sure who will step up this week, but I do like Denver a slight bit more than the Chargers. I think they have it in them to play all out for this last game.

I also love all the Falcons going up against a soft, soft St. Louis Rams that is just glad to not be the Lions these days. Michael Turner is already drooling over this one. Start ‘em if you got ‘em.

In contrast, I hate everyone that will be on the field when Indianapolis takes on Tennessee. Both teams have no reason to play on Sunday, but rather than just let them forfeit, we have to watch them struggle to figure out who really cares.

My guess is that all starters are pulled before halftime, and I give the edge to Peyton Manning in the scoring department. A sneaky play from that one is Vince Young, likely to see plenty of time once old bones Kerry Collins heads to the bench.

I hate Maurice Jones-Drew this week against the Baltimore Ravens defense. Jacksonville’s passing game isn’t scary enough to keep the Ravens off of Jones-Drew at the line, and I, once again, must hate Brett Favre this week.

Even in Favre’s matchup against Miami, which would clearly favor the pass for most teams, I don’t like Favre. I think the Dolphins take care of business in the Meadowlands for a playoff spot and make Jets fans wonder what might have been if they had kept Chad Pennington around.

Of course, that won’t really stop the Patriots from steam-rolling the Bills. The Buffalo boys will keep it close enough to keep their respect, but the Patriots are going to be sure to win this one with the chance of it actually meaning something for the playoffs.

If the Pats make it anywhere close to the big show this season, people really will start to wonder what they are going to do with Matt Cassel this offseason.

In the Bengals-Chiefs game, I like all the Chiefs fantasy studs on your roster.

A Bengals team without Chad Johnson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh is just going to try and run Cedric Benson all day and then call it quits at halftime with fingers crossed they have     Carson Palmer back next year.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, have some good reasons to play hard.

Larry Johnson needs to prove he still deserves to stay with the team despite his off-the-field issues, and Tyler Thigpen needs to continue to prove he can be effective as a quarterback in the NFL so that the Chiefs don’t forget about him this offseason. I am sure Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe would love to continue to get those stats up. Play your Chiefs.

And no, even though he looks like a better start than Eli Manning this week, I won’t recommend that you start David Carr. I just can’t go there.

Good luck.

A Fool and His Money in Week 17

It’s craziness in Week 17. Will the playoff teams even bother to start their studs? Will the backups be decent when they get in there?

We can attempt to negotiate through the darkness of the last week of the season, but in reality, we’ll just be happy to be at .500 for the season with this week’s picks.

Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Raiders (+13) over BUCS
Crazy things happen in the final week of the regular season. If we knew which Oakland team was going to show up, 13 points would be perfect. Will it be the one that has a decent defense and running game or the team that just plain sucks all around?

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

STEELERS (-10.5) over Browns
Normally, I would expect starters to rest for a team that has secured a bye and has nothing to play for, but Mike Tomlin insists that the Steelers are “playing to win.” If that’s truly the case, I expect the Steelers to easily win by double digits.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

Titans (-3) over COLTS
Both of these teams have already secured their playoff seeds. The Colts have not been particularly good at home this year, and Jeff Fisher says the Titans will play to win while Tony Dungy has been mum on the subject. Even if they both tried all out to win, I still like the Titans by a field goal in this one.

St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons

Rams (+14.5) over FALCONS
I loved picking the Falcons this year, especially when they were getting points and playing teams with inferior records. But alas, it appears those days are gone. I can’t refuse taking 14.5 points in an NFL game.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

Patriots (-6.5) over BILLS $
The Patriots are looking good right now, and there is playoff spot on the line. What does that mean? It means Belichick pulls no punches and rips into the Bills. I hope the Patriots make the playoffs over Miami because they are playing a lot better right now than they were earlier in the season.

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

Lions (+10) over PACKERS
This is a pity pick for the woeful Lions. This is your last chance to avoid history. Good luck.

Chicago Bears at Houston Texans

TEXANS (-2.5) over Bears
The Texans get on a nice little roll, and then what happens? They lose by double digits to the Raiders. I honestly believe this Texans team just doesn’t know how to be winners as an organization or as a team. They are full of players who weren’t dynamic winners or leaders in college. If only they had drafted Vince Young … I will never forgive them for this mistake.

Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals

Chiefs (+3) over BENGALS
Watch out, the Bengals are on a winning streak! Haha, that just sounds funny. I’m taking the Chiefs because they have looked decent every week recently and because Tony Gonzalez helped lead my fantasy team to the championship! Suck on that, Jacob!

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings

VIKINGS (+6.5) over Giants
If the Giants try, they will wipe the floor with this Vikings team, but I don’t think they are going to try very hard. The Vikings are at home with playoffs beginning a week early for them. I should at least take them with the points.

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints

SAINTS (+3) over Panthers
The NFC South teams are just plain sick at home, and I don’t see the Panthers being particularly motivated after losing the No. 1 seed in overtime last week.

Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers

Redskins (-3) over 49ERS
I don’t care about this game at all. I’ve already written too much.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens

RAVENS (-12.5) over Jaguars
I don’t like giving away so many points, but I like this Ravens team. I think the Ravens will rise under pressure with a playoff berth on the line.

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

CARDINALS (-6) over Seahawks
Do you smell that? That is the Cardinals stinking up the joint the past three weeks. They better get their mojo going in a hurry if they don’t want to be a sacrificial lamb in the first round of the playoffs. Luckily, playing the Seahawks at home can inspire a lot of false confidence.

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

EAGLES (-1.5) over Cowboys
This is purely a pick out of hate. I hate the Cowboys. I’m going to ignore the fact that the Eagles lost to the Redskins last week and only scored three points.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets

JETS (-2.5) over Dolphins
This will be one of the most intriguing games of the week. The Jets have looked horrible the past four weeks and went 1-3 in that span. Brett Favre did somehow get a Pro Bowl spot over a much more worthy Philip Rivers, so maybe he’ll prove why in this game. This week would also make for a nice revenge game from Pennington if he can come into the Meadowlands and take a playoff spot right in front of his former team.

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

CHARGERS (-8.5) over Broncos
Wow. Who would have seen the Chargers coming back to win the division? A Chargers-Colts rematch in the first round would be insane, but first, they have to get past the floundering Broncos. I’m guessing the Chargers dominate this game right from the beginning. Philip Rivers is the man. I traded Donovan McNabb and Marques Colston to get him in my fantasy league five or six weeks ago, and it worked out brilliantly. He gave me 35 points in my championship, and I pulled off an upset to win for our traveling trophy. My first three picks next year will be Philip Rivers, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez. I’m not joking either; those guys are my heroes.

Current Standings after Week 16:

Nick: 116-113-6
Nick’s Locks: 9-9-1