Playoff time. In the NFL it means everyone is playing every moment for all the marbles. Players hit harder, sprint more swiftly and make leaping grabs that defy gravity. All is on the line in fantasy football too. There is a palpable intensity that you can taste, as the final few owners begin to sweat it out before turning in their weekly lineups. Long gone are the pretenders, some worthy contenders lay in dust after missing the final cut. A champion is to be crowned at the end of the bracket. But, how to get there?
Without the opportunity to trade for fresh blood, without the possibility of aid from the waiver wire, owners are left to sort out a starting lineup from among the remaining men on their own roster in an attempt to field the best possible combination of players.
During the fantasy season, the odd off week didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If you inserted a dud at the wide receiver position and a second RB who only gets eight carries, no big deal. You can leave some points on the bench and still make the playoffs. But now, in the post-season, any mistake you make can be the decision that kicks you to the curb. If that happens, you’ll be kicking yourself for months.
It is essential to start the right players on your roster. And there are some principles you can use to increase your odds of doing just that. If you are to win, you’ll need every point you can get, and if you should lose, it’s better to know your team did the very best that it could. Here are the factors to keep in mind when slotting your players in the playoffs.
Starting players with a hot hand is always a good idea. Players get on a roll much the way a sales person will have the Midas touch if he or she pulls off that one big deal that gets the confidence going. After a slow beginning, players like running backs Domanick Davis and Clinton Portis, or wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Chris Chambers are must-starts now.
This category of player cannot be ignored when they are in the midst of a searing streak, even in favor of other players who have better season statistics. For example, you may be tempted to play Willis McGahee ahead of Davis, since McGahee has more yards and two more touchdowns this season. That would be a mistake right now, because McGahee has cooled considerably as the season has progressed, while Davis is on fire. In the case of wide receivers, it might seem prudent to give the nod to Santana Moss or Plaxico Burress over Chambers, since they have the advantage in receiving yards. But Chambers has exploded the last two weeks, while Moss and Burress have barely issued a fantasy peep.
By this same strategy, you will likely be wise to sit players who have gone suddenly frigid. Why shuffle out cold bacon such as Mike Anderson or Willie Parker if you have a hot player in the wings making the bench smoke?
There are players we keep expecting to score well this season, even though they have proven over time that this is a down year. Don’t count on these guys to turn it up a notch for you in the playoffs, and become your savior. I personally spent too many weeks early this season expecting Nate Burleson to be worth something. That was a serious mistake. Don’t you make the same error.
It doesn’t matter if a guy like Randy Moss was your top draft pick – he isn’t producing. You simply cannot afford to pin your hopes on potential in the fantasy playoffs and expect to get away with it. Use your peripheral vision and bench these other players as well:
You will of course start the top players that you have, regardless of opponent. No one is going to sit LaDainian Tomlinson just because he is facing the Colts defense in Indianapolis this week, but when deciding between two players of similar caliber to fill a lesser roster spot, schedule does become a factor.
For instance, let’s say you own both the Bengals’ Chris Henry and Falcons player Roddy White. You need one of them to fill your flex player slot. They have both come on of late and are both rookies. Henry plays for a team that passes the ball more, but White is a target who is higher in the check-down list for his respective club. They seem evenly matched. When we look at the schedule however, the choice becomes clear. Henry has to “play” against the Detroit Lions, whereas White will face the new monsters of the midway in Chicago.
Bird in the Hand
There is a critical point at which you must favor production over potential, and that moment is the instant you make it to the fantasy playoffs. It is not at all acceptable to lay a goose egg now, and across-the-board double-digit point totals are what you should be shooting for. To that end, you need to choose players that you know will at least get you some points, rather than roll the dice with a feast or famine player.
Start players you are certain will get you some points. Now is not the time to get fancy with a feast or famine type of player. Steer clear of guys like Jerry Porter, Donte’ Stallworth and Antonio Bryant. Substitute instead solid stat guys like Rod Smith or Derrick Mason.
Hire Joe Levit for corporate or client appreciation events at fantasyfootballspeaker.com. His fantasy football columns appear on SI.com and thehuddle.com. Joe, a PFWA and FSWA member, writes about the NFL for patriotsinsider.com and is a fantasy football analyst on radio. He is the creator of the Sleeper League and FF Hold ‘em League concepts.