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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Super Bowl
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.

At this point, it becomes pretty clear: pick the player who you believe will perform the best in this game unless you have a player with 2x, 3x or 4x by his name.

Colin Kaepernick/Joe Flacco

After a regular season which he couldn’t seem to buy a decent game on the road, Flacco has added to his reputation as a very good playoff quarterback by helping the Ravens defeat two teams Baltimore probably had no shot of beating a month earlier. His supporters will suggest that Flacco simply needed former OC Cam Cameron to leave in order to fulfill his potential. A closer look reveals Baltimore is running more now than it did under Cameron (49% now, 40% under Cameron), which would seem to suggest new OC Jim Caldwell felt Flacco could do more for the team by doing less. Kaepernick has quickly proven he is able to beat defenses as a runner AND passer, so his effectiveness this week (and down the road) will usually come down to whether or not the unblocked defensive end is instructed to charge Kaepernick on the zone-read play, leaving the other 10 defenders to account for Gore.

The call: Colin Kaepernick (x2). Even though I predicted a Niners-Patriots Super Bowl last week, I ultimately went with Kaepernick over Brady because I felt he had a better conference championship matchup than either AFC quarterback. His running ability stabilizes his fantasy value, which makes him something of a safe bet on a weekly basis. Like several other choices we will discuss shortly, this is a call I made last week and still believe in now.

Running Backs
Frank Gore/LaMichael James/Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce

Gore is the unquestioned back in San Francisco and has benefited in a big way from the running threat that Kaepernick provides. Despite my continued displeasure about Rice’s on-again, off-again usage, the fact of the matter is that Pierce is producing. In the AFC title game, it’s not hard to argue that Pierce was the best runner on either side. Still, Rice is averaging just under a touch less per game than Gore in the postseason and is the team’s goal-line back, making him a clear choice.

The call: Frank Gore (x2) and Ray Rice. The 2x multiplier makes Gore a no-brainer (as if he wasn’t already), but Pierce is getting enough playing time now – and doing enough with it – that he could be a sneaky play over Rice as defenses continue to be baffled by the rookie’s deceptive size-speed combination. Still, the time to worry about Pierce’s drain on Rice is next summer. For now, I’m perfectly fine using two top-10 fantasy backs during the regular season in the final week of this competition.

Wide Receivers
Michael Crabtree/Randy Moss/Anquan Boldin/Torrey Smith

At this point of the contest, the multi-selection positions (RB and WR) often come down to selecting the top man on the depth chart from each side. For the Niners, the choice is easy since Crabtree has been the leading fantasy receiver for San Francisco every week since Week 12. But what about the Ravens? Doesn’t a receiver that burns Champ Bailey twice for touchdowns in the same game get the nod over his teammate who has essentially posted two big quarters out of the 13+ Baltimore has played this postseason? Boldin doesn’t get much separation anymore, but his ability to pluck key throws out of the air in tight coverage may be the single biggest reason the Ravens find themselves in the Super Bowl. While many have been quick to praise the changes Caldwell has made to the offense, it has been Baltimore’s inability to get Boldin established earlier and more often which has stuck out to me the most. If the Ravens do not make it a high priority to establish Boldin early and often in this game, they will not have little chance to win the franchise’s second Super Bowl.

The call: Michael Crabtree (x2) and Anquan Boldin. Much like Gore above, Crabtree is an obvious choice given the multiplier and his standing as Kaepernick’s favorite receiver. The selection of Boldin is a trickier one given that Boldin has twice entered halftime with zero catches during the postseason. With that said, Boldin has been a huge part of the offense since he was shut out in Week 15 by the Broncos (or the week after Caldwell took over as the play caller). Boldin is an unexciting option, but it has become clear late in the season that Flacco trusts Boldin and Dennis Pitta in the red zone.

Tight Ends
Vernon Davis/Dennis Pitta/Delanie Walker

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been all that surprising that Davis exploded against a Falcons defense that allowed an injured Zach Miller to tear them apart. While it is certainly possible the NFC Championship was the beginning of a long beautiful on-field friendship between Kaepernick and Davis, I’m willing to chalk up Davis’ vintage performance to the complete indifference Atlanta showed to the tight end position over its final two games. I highly doubt the Ravens will let Davis run open as often as he did against the Falcons. Pitta doesn’t excite me a great deal, but like Boldin, he has emerged as one of Flacco’s most trusted receivers in the short passing game – including the red zone.

The call: Dennis Pitta. As far as I’m concerned, this could be a toss-up given that Davis may be on the verge of re-establishing a 1A/1B status with Crabtree. Unfortunately, I need more than one game to make that call and it is not as if Baltimore has been surrendering big games to tight ends lately anyway. Davis’ blocking ability will likely be needed in this game as Terrell Suggs is starting to round into form and Paul Kruger has emerged as the team’s most consistent pass rusher. As a result, it’s entirely possible that Walker has a bigger game than Davis. The Ravens have no such issue with Pitta, understanding he is more slot receiver than blocker.

David Akers/Justin Tucker

Surprisingly, Akers and Tucker have combined for four field-goal attempts (two each) and 22 extra points this postseason, making the choice at kicker even more of a coin flip than it usually is. Ultimately, I think the selection boils down to the fact that Tucker is 32-for-35 this season (including playoffs) while Akers is 30-for-43. Perhaps Akers benefits a bit more from kicking indoors, but I have a feeling San Francisco will force Baltimore into more field goals than its previous opponents have.

The call: Justin Tucker. Akers has missed at least one field-goal attempt in four of his last five games while Tucker has missed three attempts all season. When it is put in that context, the rookie is the better choice.

Defense/Special Teams

As one might expect when 12 of the best teams in the league get together, defense has not been a haven for fantasy points during these playoffs. I don’t expect that trend to stop just because John and Jim Harbaugh will line their defensive-minded squads up against one another. San Francisco and Baltimore figure to both stick with the run as long as possible and haven’t shown a penchant to giving their opponents much to work with in the way of sacks and turnovers.

The call: Niners. Perhaps I haven’t given the Ravens nearly enough credit over these last few weeks, but I frankly have not been impressed with them in any of their games. Baltimore has surrendered 400+ yards in two of the three contests and 398 yards in the other, benefiting from a pathetic defensive play by Rahim Moore one game and New England’s refusal to stick with what was working in the first half for the entirety of the AFC Championship. The Niners haven’t exactly set the world on fire with their defensive play, but the case could be made they were able to shut down the Packers and Falcons – two teams with better passing attacks than the Ravens – once they got settled in to each of those games. I expect a relatively low-scoring game and am banking on San Francisco snagging the “team win” bonus.

Fearless predictions for my selected team:
Kaepernick: 230 passing yards, one passing TD, 35 rushing yards, one rushing TD (22 x 2 = 44 fantasy points)
Gore: 70 rushing yards, one rushing TD, 25 receiving yards (15 x 2 = 30 points)
Rice: 60 rushing yards, 30 receiving yards (nine points)
Crabtree: 110 receiving yards, one receiving TD (17 x 2 = 34 points)
Boldin: 75 receiving yards (seven points)
Pitta: 45 receiving yards, one receiving TD (10 points)
Tucker: one extra point, three field goals (10 points)
Niners DST: 16 PA, two sacks, one turnover and a team win (10 points)

Projected Total: 153 fantasy points
Week 1 Total: 73
Week 2 Total: 155
Week 3 Total: 123

Fearless Super Bowl prediction: Niners 24, Ravens 22


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 - 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
WC Pt Total 94.9 84.8 119.6 99.6
DR Pt Total 155.5 163.5 155.5 165.2
CC Pt Total 133.1 156.3 139.1 133.1

I thought I learned my lesson last season (and for the most part, I did), but playoff fantasy football has been less about matchups in recent years and more about individual talent. This seems to particularly true at receiver, which is probably the hardest position for me to evaluate and forecast from a fantasy perspective during the regular season as well. Last year at this time, I was guilty of paying too much attention to the way the Saints defended Calvin Johnson in their regular-season matchup – as well as Megatron’s late-season drop in production – that caused me the greatest pain. The award this season goes to Julio Jones after I chose to give the Niners’ defense more credit than it deserved. Then again, each year is a learning process and hindsight is often 20/20.

 Fuzzy Portfolio - Super Bowl
  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 Boldin Boldin Boldin
WR Crabtree Crabtree Crabtree Crabtree
WR Smith Smith Smith Smith
TE Pitta Pitta Pitta Davis
K Tucker Tucker Tucker Tucker
DST Ravens Ravens Niners Ravens
Tie Flacco Flacco Flacco Flacco

So did you hear the one about Flacco and “his camp” believing he is playing better than Peyton Manning? Wait…what? It’s not a joke? Look, I understand the best aren’t always the best and that good quarterbacks can sometimes outperform great ones, but the notion that Flacco has ever consistently played at a higher level – and deserves to be paid more – than Manning is ludicrous. And the notion that Baltimore was foolish not to lock up a quarterback that posted just one 100+ QB rating on the road during the regular season is every bit as foolish. While throwing more deep balls than any other quarterback in the league helps explain why Flacco hasn’t completed 60% of his passes in either of the last two seasons, there is a reason the Ravens are running more – not less – under new OC Jim Caldwell.

As far as the running backs and receivers, there really isn’t much to dissect. Both teams love to run the ball and lean on their bellcow RBs when they can, using their quarterbacks’ strong arms to make big plays down the field when the opportunity arises. I expect a desperate owner or two will start Pierce or James in the hopes they can catch lightning in a bottle, but the smart choices are pretty clear. The same can really be said at receiver, where Randy Moss or Jacoby Jones could get behind the defense for a surprise touchdown. Yet again, Boldin, Crabtree and Smith make the most sense.

There will be those owners that decide that Davis’ 6-106-1 line against the Falcons was a sign that Kaepernick is lessening his dependence on Crabtree and willing to spread the wealth a bit more. After Zach Miller’s eight-catch, 142-yard, one-score performance on a bad foot one week earlier against the same defense, consider me a bit skeptical. Neither defense has been particularly gracious to opposing tight ends, but Baltimore has been particularly stingy. Throw in the likelihood that San Francisco is probably going to do its best to keep the Ravens from throwing the deep ball and you have a recipe for a lot of short, chain-moving throws – exactly the area in which Pitta excels.

I’m not going to waste a lot of words on the kicker position as I already discussed it above. Baltimore trusts Tucker from 50+ yards (4-of-4), something that I doubt the Niners can honestly say about Akers (2-of-6). The Ravens’ fantasy defense has been the highest scoring D/ST of all the units this postseason and has forced twice as many turnovers (eight) as the next-closest team (three-way tie at four). I’d be mildly surprised if either offense turns the ball over more than once or gives up more than three sacks, but Kaepernick’s tendency to buy time on passing plays may work in Baltimore’s favor with Paul Kruger emerging and Terrell Suggs looking more like his pre-injury self. In the end, I expect the fantasy-point difference between the two defenses to be negligible, with a Jacoby Jones’ kick return TD serving as the one unknown that could make the Ravens a potentially great play.

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.