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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Conference Championships
Road to the Super Bowl

Whether you are still basking in the success you enjoyed in cruising to your fantasy league's title, still smarting over your teams' inability to close the deal or not quite ready to hang up your owner's hat quite yet, playoff fantasy football may be just the thing you need to end this season right.

I'll be the first to admit that playoff fantasy football doesn't appeal to me quite as much as the usual 16-week marathon, but that doesn't mean I don't still enjoy it. And coming off my most profitable fantasy season yet, I'm looking to make a great season even better. For better or for worse, I want to share my experience with you (no matter which category mentioned in the first paragraph you may fall under) in hopes that some of you can end this season on a definite high note.

In addition to owning one team, I will be taking part in several money leagues with Fuzzy's Fantasy Football. My goal over the next four weeks will be to help each of you through your decision-making process as you attempt to boost your bottom line.

For a complete rundown of how players will score fantasy points for your team, click on the “Official Rules” link on the entry page. However, much of the content immediately below is included on the “How to Play” page, so what I provide here should be more than enough to follow along easily.

The object of the game is to pick the players you think will perform best in their playoff matchup. Select 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. Scoring System
Offense Statistic (QB, RB, WR, TE, K) Fantasy Points
Rushing or Receiving Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Passing Touchdown: 4 fantasy points
Field Goal: 3 fantasy points
Passing, Rushing or Receiving Two-Point Conversion: 2 fantasy points
Rushing or Receiving: 1 fantasy point per 10 yards
Passing: 1 fantasy point per 25 yards
Extra Point: 1 fantasy point
Defense/Special Teams (D/ST)  
Punt Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Kickoff Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Fumble Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Interception Returned Touchdown: 6 fantasy points
Allowing 0 Points: 10 fantasy points
Allowing 2-6 Points: 7 fantasy points
Allowing 7-13 Points: 4 fantasy points
Allowing 14-17 Points: 1 fantasy points
Allowing 18-21 Points: 0 fantasy points
Allowing 22-27 Points: -1 fantasy points
Allowing 28-34 Points: -4 fantasy points
Allowing 35-45 Points: -7 fantasy points
Allowing 46+ Points: -10 fantasy points
Team Win: 5 fantasy points
Interception: 2 fantasy points
Fumble Recovery: 2 fantasy points
Blocked Punt: 2 fantasy points
Blocked Field Goal or Blocked Extra Point: 2 fantasy points
Safety: 2 fantasy points
Sack: 1 fantasy points

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+; 3) this is a non-PPR format, which obviously favors the big-play threats; and 4) team wins are worth five points, so picking a “winning” defense is worth almost a touchdown and could be worth as much as 3.5 TDs if you pick a defense from this week and that team ends up winning the Super Bowl.

By now, I trust that you have a good sense of what to do in this format, so I’d like to talk briefly about some thoughts from the past weekend. With apologies to Atlanta and Baltimore fans, Seattle and Denver each did much more to lose than the Falcons and Ravens did to win. When a defense has surrendered just seven points and 108 total yards over the first 29:29 of the second half, the strategy to close out a win cannot be to play soft zone and let Tony Gonzalez run unchallenged down the field on successive plays when that same offense has two timeouts and 31 seconds left to get in position for a field goal. That is scared football. The fact that both throws were ones that most college quarterbacks could complete makes it even worse. Similarly, how bad are Rahim Moore’s ball skills? (This is hardly a shocking revelation to Bronco fans.) If a team is going to play soft, then how can you defend having a passing-game liability like Moore on the field in that situation? There are 4-5 safeties on all 32 NFL teams; the play Moore whiffed on is a play that every single pro safety should be able to knock down without fail.

But more than that, the above examples are just two instances where the better team lost because NFL coaches still subscribe to the belief that prevent defenses still work more often than not in this era of offensive football. Playing not to lose will almost certainly catch up to a team before all is said and done. Now let’s give a bit of credit: Atlanta and Baltimore each took advantage of their opponents’ numerous mistakes more often than Seattle and Denver did, which is why the Falcons and Ravens are still playing.

Matt Ryan/Colin Kaepernick/Tom Brady/Joe Flacco

Ryan deserves a ton of credit for being able to post the numbers he did against Seattle, even though his second interception helped pave the way for the Seahawks’ rally. Kaepernick was simply amazing against a Green Bay defense that has completely fallen apart over the last two years. Brady was his typical self, dissecting an overmatched Texans defense that hasn’t been the same since losing LB Brian Cushing and slot CB Brice McCain – two absences that really show up against a team like the Patriots. Looking strictly at the stats against Denver, Flacco regular-season road woes seem to take a back seat to his desire to be considered (and paid like) an elite quarterback with another banner playoff performance. However, just because he outplayed Brady in a similar spot last season doesn’t mean I expect it to happen again. While he’s not as bad as he is often made out to be, Flacco is easily the worst fantasy option of the four remaining quarterbacks considering the format.

The call: Colin Kaepernick. OC Greg Roman revealed after the win against the Packers that San Francisco chose to “throw opponents off” by limiting the team’s use of the Pistol formation over its last two regular season games in an effort to make future opponents believe the Niners had scrapped it. (Why would a team ditch an offense that scored 41 points in the rain at Foxboro in Week 15?) Regardless, it is back now and Atlanta’s defense isn’t any better bet to stop it than Green Bay’s was. To get right to the point, when you consider that Kaepernick’s floor in this offense is about three combined touchdowns, 60 yards rushing and 200 yards passing, he’s an obvious call for a team that got lucky Seattle didn’t advance. Don’t be surprised if the Niners roll against Atlanta and defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The other reason I like Kaepernick is that – assuming the Niners win this week – both of his remaining games are indoors, which means there will be no muddy fields preventing him from showcasing his running skills.

Running Backs
Michael Turner/Jacquizz Rodgers/Frank Gore/LaMichael James/Stevan Ridley/Danny Woodhead/Shane Vereen/Ray Rice

I’m not exactly sure what happened to the Seahawks’ run defense in recent weeks, but I’m relatively sure the Seattle coaching staff is still looking for an explanation as to how it surrendered 162 yards rushing to the combination of Turner and Rodgers. It’s not going to happen against the Niners. Since Gore won’t be dealing with the same kind of foot sprain that compromised Marshawn Lynch, I’d expect that he will take advantage of the Falcons’ defense in the way I expected Lynch to last week. The emergence of Vereen casts doubt on just how dependent the Patriots will be on Ridley or Woodhead going forward. Rice is probably the best fantasy option of the bunch (outside of Gore), but he probably has the smallest chance of any remaining back to make it to the Super Bowl. With Bernard Pierce (knee) guaranteeing that he will play this weekend after being leaving early last week, Rice loses a bit more luster in this format.

The call: Stevan Ridley (x2) and Frank Gore. As far as I’m concerned, there is no shame in sticking with Ridley despite Vereen’s huge game since it is entirely possible that it was Woodhead who was likely in line for his role before his early injury. Ridley is still the back to own in this format given the fact he is the top option in the red zone again now that Rob Gronkowski is out for the rest of the season. Gore is another easy pick for me since I cannot see the Falcons or Patriots focusing their gameplans on stopping him now that Kaepernick has emerged as such a devastating offensive weapon.

Wide Receivers
Roddy White/Julio Jones/Michael Crabtree/Wes Welker/Brandon Lloyd/Anquan Boldin/Torrey Smith

Anything can happen on a given NFL weekend, so I feel somewhat disingenuous for not seriously considering half of the remaining field. It’s not as if White, Jones, Boldin and Smith can’t all produce enough in one game to make it worth my while, but none of them play on the most complete team remaining in their conference. And when it comes right down to it, I’d just as soon lock in the likely Super Bowl participants this week as opposed to two weeks from now.

The call: Wes Welker (x3) and Michael Crabtree. Welker has been a no-brainer for me since the start, but I wish I had made the move to Crabtree last week after wrestling to play him over Demaryius Thomas. Still, Crabtree has been nothing short of a fantasy machine since shortly after Kaepernick took over the starting job. Assuming the Niners defeat the Falcons and face the Pats in the Super Bowl, it is entirely possible that Crabtree’s stiffest competition over his final two games will be Aqib Talib. While Talib has played well following his trade from the Bucs, neither he nor Alfonzo Dennard was a match for Crabtree in their regular season meeting.

Tight Ends
Tony Gonzalez/Vernon Davis/Aaron Hernandez/Dennis Pitta

It seems as though I get burned every time I dare take a chance on an “injury risk”. With that said, no player offered anything close to the upside Gronkowski did at this position, so I can rest easy even though my gamble did not pay off with him. When looking at the available choices, I have left to choose between what I believe will be one game from Gonzalez and two from Hernandez. In this non-PPR format, there is some temptation to choose Gonzo in what may be his swan song, but common sense tells me I’d be much wiser going with the player who is the better bet to play two more games.

The call: Aaron Hernandez. Even though it didn’t really manifest itself against Houston, it’s hard to hold the fact that Hernandez didn’t score against him simply because the Pats likely gameplanned Gronkowski as the primary red-zone option all week long in practice. With a week to adjust, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Hernandez return to the Gronk-like role he took on later in the regular season for New England.

Matt Bryant/David Akers/Stephen Gostkowski/Justin Tucker

This decision was made last week and I have no interest in changing it. Gostkowski and Bryant strike me as the best options this week, but the 2x qualifier makes this choice rather easy.

The call: Stephen Gostkowski (x2).

Defense/Special Teams

Even with a healthy John Abraham, I wasn’t going to give the Atlanta defense much chance to stop San Francisco’s offense. With him limited or possibly even out this weekend, I cannot realistically consider the Falcons an option. I expect Atlanta’s offense to have the same kind of offensive success as Green Bay did, which makes the Niners a low-upside play, even though they probably still have two games left to play. The Patriots almost always seem to be a good option at home, so although they have their issues – and despite the fact I don’t expect them to win the Super Bowl – they make a lot of sense this week (especially if Flacco remembers he is supposed to struggle on the road). The Ravens do not match up particularly well against any of the three remaining teams, so I’m comfortable in removing them from consideration.

The call: Patriots. Considering I was less than impressed with their effort against Houston, this is an uninspired choice, but one that presents the greatest upside (thanks to Flacco). It is also quite possible New England ends up winning the Super Bowl, which would end up giving me 15 points (five points this week for a team win, 10 points (5x2) if the Pats capture the big prize two weeks from now.

Fearless predictions for my selected team:
Kaepernick: 230 passing yards, two passing TDs, 65 rushing yards, one rushing TD (29 fantasy points)
Ridley: 70 rushing yards, one rushing TD, 10 receiving yards (14 x 2 = 28 points)
Gore: 120 rushing yards, one rushing TD, 25 receiving yards (20 points)
Welker: 90 receiving yards (9 x 3 = 27 points)
Crabtree: 80 receiving yards, one receiving TD (14 points)
Hernandez: 85 receiving yards, one receiving TD (14 points)
Gostkowski: three extra points, three field goals (12 x 2 = 24 points)
Patriots DST: 24 PA, two sacks, two turnovers and a team win (10 points)

Projected Total: 166 fantasy points
Week 1 Total: 73
Week 2 Total: 155


Many of the scoring parameters used above apply here as well, with the key differences being that Fuzzy’s uses PPR scoring and there are no bonus point modifiers or team-win points. Kickers get four points for field goals between 40-49 yards and six points for 60+ while all TDs are worth six points. Your goal is to pick the highest-scoring lineup each week with no strings attached. Additionally, each owner is asked to select a tiebreaker every week which will be used to break any ties following the Super Bowl. Fuzzy's leagues contain no more than 50 teams in a league whereas most other major sites employ a one-man-against-the-world approach. As a result, 20% of the entrants into Fuzzy's playoff leagues will - at the very least - recoup their entry fee, with first through ninth place receiving a nice return on investment for their troubles. Follow this link for a complete list of the rules.

Position Requirements: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 Defense/Special Teams

Since I will be playing with several teams with Fuzzy’s this season, I’ll simply list my teams below and present a brief overview on my overall thought process. Depending on how strongly I feel about matchups in a given week, I may use the same lineup in more than one league.

 Fuzzy Portfolio - Divisional Round
  Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4
QB Brady Brady Brady Brady
RB Gore Gore Gore Gore
RB Lynch Lynch Lynch Lynch
WR Crabtree Crabtree Crabtree Crabtree
WR Thomas Thomas Thomas Decker
WR Welker Welker Welker Welker
TE Gronkowski Gronkowski Gronkowski Gronkowski
K Prater Bryant Prater Bryant
DST Broncos Broncos Broncos Broncos
Tie Rodgers Rodgers Rodgers Kaepernick
WC Pt Total 94.9 84.8 119.6 99.6
DP Pt Total 155.5 163.5 155.5 165.2

When eight teams combine to score 276 points – a NFL record for a playoff round – you’d better believe fantasy totals are going to be affected as a result (and the above point totals included getting a zero from Gronkowski on all four teams). I’m not going to get mad at myself for playing Gronkowski, especially after it was revealed earlier in the week this forearm injury was not a re-break, but a fracture at the end of the protective plate that had been implanted in his forearm following the first surgery.

 Fuzzy Portfolio - Conference Championships
  Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4
QB Kaepernick Kaepernick Kaepernick Kaepernick
RB Gore Gore Gore Gore
RB Rice Rice Rice Rice
WR Boldin Crabtree Crabtree Crabtree
WR Crabtree Jones Welker Welker
WR Welker Welker White White
TE Hernandez Hernandez Hernandez Gonzalez
K Gostkowski Bryant Gostkowski Gostkowski
DST Patriots Patriots Patriots Patriots
Tie Brady Brady Brady Brady

I’m sure it looks like I’ve decided to hop on the Kaepernick train a week too late, but many of you will recall that I stated he was an “intriguing” choice last week against a poor Packers defense. Atlanta’s defense is better than Green Bay’s, but it’s not hard to imagine Kaepernick and Gore combining to rush for at least 225 yards against a defense that allowed Seattle to accumulate 123 yards on the ground with Russell Wilson and a limited Marshawn Lynch. If the Falcons’ defense thought life was tough last week, they are going to be in for a long day against the Niners.

Given my above remarks about Atlanta’s ability to stop the run, it should come as no surprise that I want to secure Gore on every one of my teams. The 29-year-old has been a near model of consistency since Kaepernick was named the starter and why not? On one hand, he’s got a quarterback that is starting to demand the attention of every defense with his running ability. On the other hand, the Niners’ interior run blocking – where Gore does most of his damage – is among the best in the league. I won’t deny that Bernard Pierce has run well when given the chance to play, but his emergence as a player Baltimore wants touching the ball 10+ times over the last month gives me pause when it comes to starting Rice in this format. Even with the rookie serving as a nuisance, however, Rice is always a strong bet for 100+ total yards and a touchdown, so he’ll join Gore on every team barring a severe last-minute change-of-heart.

I have no problem continuing to rely on Crabtree and Welker going forward. Both are near locks to secure 10 targets and at least seven catches, which obviously means a lot in PPR scoring. The other WR slot is a bit more difficult and comes down to White vs. Jones vs. Smith vs. Boldin. As most of this season has proved, deciding between the Falcons’ receivers has a virtual coin flip. White seems to be the most trusted option of the two, but Jones is always one likely broken tackle away from having a huge day himself. Smith had a huge two-score day against the Pats back in Week 3 and coming off another against Champ Bailey last week, but something tells me another big game against Aqib Talib isn’t in the cards, which is why Boldin is a strong choice. The problem with Boldin, however, is that he isn’t always a regular part of the gameplan (the Wildcard Round win against the Colts serving as a perfect example when he had no catches at halftime). I will be reviewing tape over the next few days and making my final call on how often I use him this week based on that.

For those owners wanting to make a move up their standings this week, tight end – along with WR3 and K – strike me as the most likely positions to do it. Based strictly off fantasy points allowed over the course of the regular season, the clear play this week is Dennis Pitta, with Vernon Davis a bit behind him. However, we have been given plenty of reason not to put much faith in either one of those players in recent weeks, meaning we are left with a player who seems to catch everything thrown his way (Gonzalez) going against an opponent that has given up just four scores to the position since Week 3 or the new wave at the position (Hernandez) going against an opponent that has given up just two scores to the position all season long. Much like my receiver dilemma above, this will come down to some film study later in the week, but my instinct tells me right now to roll with Hernandez in three leagues and Gonzalez in the other.

Half of Baltimore’s opponents this season have attempted at least three field goals, including New England back in Week 3. While predicting field goals is an inexact science at best, that serves as pretty strong evidence that Gostkowski is a solid play this weekend. There is always the possibility of bad weather in New England at this time of year – making any kicker a risky bet – but Baltimore is probably going to be a bit more successful at preventing touchdowns than Houston was last week. Bryant deserves at least one nod, but I have no problem “settling” for fantasy’s top regular-season kicker on the majority of my teams.

When the NFL gets down to its “final four”, picking a fantasy defense often becomes an exercise in choosing the least of multiple evils more than anything else. Generally speaking, the four remaining teams are the most complete teams and do the best job of protecting the football. Therefore, the best we can do in such cases is select the unit that has a dynamic return man and/or facing a mistake-prone quarterback. When all else fails, sometimes the best option is trust that a defense will play well in front of its home crowd. Of the four remaining teams, Baltimore’s offense offers the greatest fantasy upside for an opposing defense and thus makes for the best opponent to “pick on”. As a result, I’m going to use the Patriots in all four leagues.

Suggestions, comments, musings about the article or fantasy football in general? E-mail me or follow me on Twitter.

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006, appeared in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in each of the last two seasons and served as a weekly fantasy football analyst for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.