The Playoff Plan: Five Tips and Ten Players to Take You to the Title
1. Watch the schedule.
Invariably, certain players get hot and play big parts in winning titles in most leagues. In order to try and identify those players, it's crucial to look at each team's remaining schedule as you try and catch lightning in a bottle. Here's a few situations with great schedules, and the players you should add:
Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles.
He likely won't be much help in Week 16 against the Bengals, but no one has a juicier two-game stretch than Charles in Weeks 14 and 15, when he'll be facing Buffalo and Cleveland. He may not win you the title, but he sure can get you there.
Arizona RBs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower.
The Cardinals face three bad defenses in Weeks 14-16, taking on 49ers, Lions and Rams. The Week 16 matchup against the Rams puts this duo up against the third-easiest team on which to score fantasy points.
Cleveland RBs Jerome Harrison and Chris Jennings.
Harrison looks to be the lead back, so he'd be my first add of the two. The Browns have a tough matchup against the Steelers this week, but the running games are expected to dominate the touches thanks to inclement weather. The Browns then face Kansas City and Oakland, two excellent matchups.
New York RB Shonn Greene.
He has an excellent shot at flex-worthy stats in his Week 14 game against Tampa Bay. He'll then face the average Falcons run defense before taking on the Indianapolis backups in your championship game. If the Jets fall out of the playoff hunt, he'll also benefit from Rule No. 4 (see below).
Miami WR Davone Bess.
This PPR threat is emerging at the perfect time for owners, and he'll take on two of the league's worst secondaries in the league over the next two weeks in games against Tennessee and Jacksonville. If last week was any indication, he could have a Drew Bennett-type impact in your playoffs.
Baltimore WR Mark Clayton.
He's a bit banged up right now, but he'll be facing three below-average teams at defending WRs if he stays healthy. He or Kelley Washington could be a good flex play for the rest of the way in matchups against Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
San Francisco QB Alex Smith.
This week he'll face an Arizona secondary that -- despite their impressive game against Brett Favre last week -- is easily below league average at limiting QB fantasy points. After a potentially tough game against the Eagles, Smith gets to close out your fantasy playoffs against the Detroit Lions, making him the perfect QB fill-in (see Rule No. 5)
Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
If you can't get your hands on Smith, may I suggest a guy with a very similar schedule? Fitzpatrick travels to Kansas City this week and to Atlanta in Week 16, and those two teams are right in the top five in allowing points to QBs. You'll have to plan around his Week 15 game against the Patriots, but it may be well worth it.
2. Cut your losses.
I know, I know, you really think Brian Westbrook may be back for Week 16, or you're sure this is the week that Anthony Gonzalez makes his triumphant debut. I'm here to channel my inner Matt Snyder and give you a reality check -- it's time to throw the towel in on these injured players. I recommended cutting players like Chris Cooley and Clinton Portis well before they hit the IR, because you really can't have confidence that an injured player will return and be his normal productive self, especially when it's "win or go home" time for your team. Steve Slaton and Portis recently hit the IR, so they're obvious cuts, but it's also time to let go of Westbrook, Gonzalez, Lance Moore, and any other bum you've been getting zeroes from for the last several weeks (but not the suspended Dwayne Bowe, who may be back next week).
3. Raid the RB cabinet.
Think you have enough depth to withstand whatever the fantasy playoffs throws at you? The guys with some combination of Ronnie Brown, Steve Slaton, Clinton Portis, Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker, Jamal Lewis (and so on) thought they were set too. If you've been hanging on to a backup tight end, kicker, or defense, drop them to fill your roster with running backs. Best case scenario, your top dogs stay healthy, while your opponent is forced to start Larry Johnson and Michael Bush. Worst case, you're still fielding No. 1 RBs Jerome Harrison, Quinton Ganther, and Chris Brown, all who deserve roster spots at this point of the season.
4. Capitalize on injuries and terrible teams.
The bottom third of the league has nothing left to play for, so why rush injured players back? We've already seen Washington throw in the towel by deactivating Portis and Cooley, and other teams could soon follow suit. Several teams will also want to give some younger, inexperienced players some time on the field to better gauge their roles for 2010. You could find value in young position players in Cleveland (like receiver Brian Robiskie), Oakland (Louis Murphy), Houston (Arian Foster), Kansas City (Lance Long), Washington (Ganther and Devin Thomas), Carolina (Matt Moore), and St. Louis (Brandon Gibson).
5. Be prepared to lose Peyton Manning at QB.
The Colts aren't going to bother with 16-0; instead, they'll use Weeks 15-17 (or 16 and 17, if they need Week 15 to clinch home-field advantage) to rest players and limit the harm injury can do to the team. This means Colts fans will get every opportunity to know Curtis Painter over the rest of the season. You have to add a quality backup QB or two, preferably one that's been peaking over the last few weeks, like Jason Campbell, Alex Smith, or Vince Young. Manning isn't the only QB you'll have to worry about, as other teams could rest their franchise players once they've been locked into a playoff position. You might be without Drew Brees, Brett Favre, and Kurt Warner in Week 16, so make sure you have a backup plan in case that happens.