Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NFL Playoffs Fantasy Football - Rodgers, Cutler or Roethlisberger and Other Roster Questions

Come playoff time, most places stop writing about Fantasy Football.  This is crazy.  NFL.com Fantasy playoff challenge is offering the winner a trip to the Super Bowl and has hundreds of thousands of entries. ESPN.com is also running a playoff challenge with hundreds of thousands of entries.  It's not just the hardcore fantasy junkies playing, it's everybody.  It also features a smaller talent pool to choose from, so every roster spot is crucial.  I'm going to break down each position and offer up my top choices to fill a standard roster (QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE, K, DEF) along with the stats to back it up.

As the column title hints at, this is only a three man race.  Mark Sanchez is not a good fantasy choice in any situation.  Especially against the Steelers defense.  So the choice comes down to Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler or Ben Roethlisberger. Rodgers has been red hot these last few weeks and put in a dominating fantasy performance last weekend.  Cutler was erratic early in the season but has proven that he has the arm and talent to rack up fantasy points as well as anyone no matter how many picks he throws.  Despite that, Roethlisberger is surprisingly the best choice of them all.  The Steelers, Bears and Packers Defenses are ranked fourth, fifth and sixth respectively in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, all allowing just over 11 QB fantasy points per game.  Surprisingly, given their reputation, the Jets defense was just 24th in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, giving up over 15 QB fantasy points per game.  Rodgers, Cutler and Roethlisberger are all capable fantasy quarterbacks, but its hard to argue with the extra four points per game edge that Roethlisberger's match up provides.
Pick - Ben Roethlisberger

Running Back
The decisions to be made at running back are likely the easiest to make of any position this week.  The Green Bay running back situation has been a mess all year and after a dominating Wild Card performance James Starks barely showed last week in Atlanta.  Starks can't be counted on at this point in the season.  The Jets running backs are intriguing until you look at the fantasy points against chart.  The Steelers defense is the best in the league against opposing running backs and it's not close.  There was a 2.4 point difference between them and the next best team and the last place team allowed almost three times as many fantasy points as the Steelers did.  That just leaves the running backs that finished ninth and tenth in fantasy points scored.
Picks - Rashard Mendenhall and Matt Forte

Wide Receiver
The receiver position is the hardest to pick players at in the playoffs.  You have to consider the specific match ups of each receiver versus each cornerback, but even that is only speculation.  You never know what a team is going to do until game day.  Of course, I'm going to speculate anyways.  The top receivers available are Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace, but Charles Tillman and Darrelle Revis are going to be covering those guys.  The Bears and Jets have some good receivers too, but the Packer and Steeler defenses are fourth and fifth respectively against opposing wide receivers.  That's why I'm going to recommend a pair of boom or bust guys here.  The first is the Packers James Jones.  The Pack love to spread the field with three and four receiver sets and Chicago is going to be rolling attention towards Jennings.  Jones is the Packers other deep threat and likely the guy the Packers will target on a big play.  The second receiver is the Steelers Emmanuel Sanders.  The Jets are known for their pair of shut down corners but were still 22nd against opposing wide receivers.  Teams know they have to go to their third and fourth receivers against the Jets and I expect Ben to be looking for Sanders down the field on multiple occasions.
Picks - James Jones and Emmanuel Sanders

Tight End
The tight end position was weak all regular season for fantasy purposes and the cupboard is still pretty bare here in the playoffs.  Dustin Keller was a top ten tight end this year, but he hasn't gotten to eight fantasy points since week four.  The Packers started the year with Jermichael Finley at tight end but haven't gotten any production from Donald Lee and Andrew Quarless since Finley went down.  Heath Miller is a great tight end to have on your football team because of his blocking, but he only puts up fantasy points when he scores, he's not a focal point of the offense otherwise.  That leaves Greg Olsen.  Olsen finished the year just 23rd at tight end but is coming off a huge week where he had 113 yards and a touchdown against Seattle and he gets to play Green Bay, the 28th fantasy defense in the league against the tight end.
Pick - Greg Olsen

Not going to spend much time here.  Kickers are the biggest crap shoot in fantasy.  You want to pick a kicker on a team you think will score a lot of points.  I obviously expect the Jet/Steeler game to be more of a defensive struggle than the Packer/Bear game, so it comes down to Robbie Gould versus Mason Crosby.   You can't go wrong with either pick but I'm going to take Gould because he's playing at home and knows what to expect in terms of field and wind conditions.
Pick - Robbie Gould

This is the common theme across these four teams.  All four have top five fantasy defenses this year.  This is a spot, like kicker, where you have to play it by feeling some.  You can't be too wrong with any of the choices. I expect all four offenses to play good mostly mistake-free football because it is the playoffs.  So how am I picking a defense?  Special teams.  According to footballoutsiders.com, the Bears had the best special teams in the league during the regular season, while the Packers finished 27th.  That's why I'm taking the Bears (and Devin Hester) as my defense and expect to see some excitement on a Bears special teams play at some point in this game.
Pick - Bears D/ST

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