It's fantasy playoff time.
If fantasy football is a cruel mistress, playoff fantasy football is a lunch lady with a facial scab peeking out from behind half-a-Band-Aid, loading Grade-D sloppy joe meat directly onto your cafeteria tray. Very, very bad things can happen to you in the fantasy playoffs.
We all have our horror stories. In 2003, a person I know (we'll call him Christopher H.) lost a conference semi-final fantasy game when the Chiefs, down 18 with :05 left in the game, scored a touchdown and decided, for some reason, to go for the two-point conversion. Down 18. If Morten Andersen kicks the extra point, Christopher wins by one, and goes on to win his league title. But this does not happen. Massive therapy bills ensue.
In 2004, another person I know (we'll call him C. Harris) lost a conference final under even more excruciating circumstances. Byron Leftwich and the Jacksonville Jaguars went into Lambeau Field and beat the Packers, 28-25. In that game, Leftwich went back to pass and was hit. The umpire blew his whistle and waved his arms frantically: incomplete pass. Jacksonville guard Vince Manuwai picked up the ball casually, as though to return it to the referee. Green Bay defensive back Darren Sharper knocked the ball out of Manuwai's hands, scooped it up, and ran for a touchdown. Which, for some unknown reason, counted. C. Harris's opponent that day started the Green Bay defense. C. lost by two. He still has a video clip of the umpire blowing the play dead. But he's not bitter. Oh, no.
Well, in the League of American Recreational Gridiron Enthusiasts (or L.A.R.G.E.), whose playoff season actually begins in Week 13, something very bad has happened already in 2006, and not to anyone whose initials are "C.H." This weekend, the owner of the Clarksville Clutter (we'll call him Tony C.) suffered the kind of loss that makes a man reconsider his passion for fantasy sports. Going into Monday night's game, the Clutter had a two-point lead, but looked to be in trouble: they had only Jake Delhomme left to play, while their opponent had Brian Westbrook and L.J. Smith. However, Delhomme had a terrific game for three-and-a-half quarters, and the Clutter never trailed. As the Eagles kicked a field goal to go up 27-24, the Clutter still led by a single point, heading into Carolina's final, fateful drive. The Panthers drove. Delhomme threw. Down inside the Eagle 10, it seemed inevitable that Carolina would at least kick the tying field goal to send it into overtime, or else win the game with a touchdown. Tony C. figured the game was over. Then Delhomme lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone, Keyshawn Johnson got bumped and couldn't fight his way through, and Lito Sheppard picked off the pass. Minus-two points for Delhomme. A quick check of the score. Unbelievable. Clutter suddenly fall back by one. Further check of the score. Jake Delhomme has 269 yards passing. That's right, folks. One more yard passing for Delhomme, one stinkin' yard, and the Clutter would've had an additional point, gotten the tie even with Jake's late interception, and won his tiebreaker, and thus the game. One. Yard. Passing.
And that, my friends, is one tough defeat.
Here's hoping you suffer nothing so ignominious over the next few weeks. As always, you can check back Friday for updates in my weekly rankings, as well as ratings from the other Yahoo! Sports Fantasy experts. And don't forget to get your Steelers and Browns into your starting lineups early, since those teams play on Thursday this week.
|Rank||Name||Opponent||Week 13 Rating|
|1||Peyton Manning||@ JAC||1|
|2||Michael Vick||@ TB||5|
|3||Drew Brees||@ DAL||2|
|6||Tom Brady||@ MIA||6|
|7||Matt Hasselbeck||@ ARI||9|
|8||Vince Young||@ HOU||15|
|10||Jeff Garcia||@ WAS||26|
|11||Steve McNair||@ KC||7|
|17||Eli Manning||@ CAR||23|
|19||Brett Favre||@ SF||12|
|26||Rex Grossman||@ STL||13|
|27||J.P. Losman||@ NYJ||22|
|28||Derek Anderson||@ PIT||NR|
|29||Aaron Brooks||@ CIN||25|
|30||Jay Cutler||@ SD||18|
|32||Brad Johnson||@ DET||32|
Notes: I'll stubbornly stick with Peyton in the top spot, despite the fact that Jacksonville's pass defense often gives him trouble, despite the fact that he had more interceptions than touchdowns in a game for the first time this season last week, and despite the fact that the Jags made Harrington look foolish in Week 13. The Colts are going to be mad … Vick has a great match-up at Tampa, whose pass defense has been the most generous to fantasy quarterbacks over the entire season and over the last five weeks … The Cowboys/Saints game should be an aerial extravaganza. The Saints stop the run much better than they do the pass, and the Cowboys' Roy Williams has been known to take play-action bait multiple times in a single game … I'm not actually loving Brady at Miami, but I feel like the ratings sort of fall off a cliff after him. Hasselbeck has a nice opponent in Arizona, but he hasn't been consistently sharp. Young has been terrific, but he's a rookie coming to his hometown for the first time, and there's a chance he could throw up a stinker. Roethlisberger has 14 TDs and 20 INTs, and I have him in the top 10? Garcia comes out of nowhere to be his same efficient self, circa 1999. There's a lot of shakiness after Brady … Rivers and Bulger have difficult match-ups; the Chargers ran wild against Denver three weeks ago and will do so again this week at home, while Bulger has to throw against a Bears pass defense that's allowed less than three fantasy points per game to quarterbacks in their last five contests. You can make the argument Chicago is a little vulnerable on the ground, but they're not giving up anything via the air … I'm coming around a little more on Leinart. He played really well against what had been a fair Rams pass defense. Anquan Boldin's drop cost him a passing TD, and it was just bad luck that caused Cardinals to keep falling down on the one-yard-line, giving Marcel Shipp his career day. Seattle has stiffened a bit against the pass, but I still think Arizona will score points via the air … Any doubts about Favre needing to retire are long gone. Announcer-fawning to the contrary, he's become an utter caricature of his gun-slinging persona. It's as though he just ignores defenders; he chooses where he wants to throw it, and whips it as hard as he can, as though no corner would have the temerity to intercept The Great Brett Favre. One wonders if he isn't tempted to blow fake smoke off his index fingers each time he passes … Grossman isn't usable for the foreseeable future. It's in his head, and in the Bears playbook. Who decided throwing the ball straight up 40 yards downfield would be Chicago's bread and butter?
Notes: Gore disappointed against the Saints last week; I don't think he'll do it again against a reeling Packers squad that allowed 5.7 yards per carry to the Jets in Week 13 … Rudi Johnson goes from one extreme to another: a brutal match-up against the Ravens to a favorable game against a Raiders rush defense that made Dayne look like a Heisman Trophy winner. Oh, wait … I've a feeling that Jackson will do just enough damage on Monday night against Chicago to warrant a start. The Bears are missing a couple people up front, and Tommie Harris' absence looms large. The Rams have to know that they won't get a ton done via the air, and maybe Marc Bulger's comments will spark some life into a dreadful offensive line … Betts very quietly carried it 28 times for 155 yards and a score last weekend, and if anything, the Eagles defense is struggling against the rush even more than the Falcons'. Joe Gibbs is returning in '07, but he knows his bread is buttered with Clinton Portis, so running Betts into the ground, even when the 'Skins are losing, doesn't seem to be a problem for ol' Joe … I'm a little afraid that Chicago will begin to rest Thomas Jones more, and let Benson platoon until the playoffs. Still, you have to play Jones against a Rams defense that's been pulverized by the run of late … Taylor and Jones-Drew are next to step up and play the game that's sweeping the nation: Rush On The Colts! Week 3 in Indianapolis was Jones-Drew's coming-out party, as he rushed for 103 yards and caught another 32 yards' worth of passes, while Taylor also racked up 74 yards rushing that day. Both are good plays … McGahee had a huge day against the Jets that same week: 26 carries for 150 yards. He didn't score (naturally), and that was way back when Willis was still RB1 material. Something tells me with the offensive line hurt and the Jets thinking playoffs, the sledding's going to get tougher … Cedric Houston has come off the reserve list to star for the Jets, and against a truly terrible Bills rush defense, he's someone you can start in deep leagues, or at a flex position. I'd actually have ranked him higher, but I'm paranoid about Eric Mangini's Shanahan-esque RB management. Right now, it appears Houston's the lead dog, with Washington the third-down guy, but Mangini did come out this week and say Kevan Barlow will be heard from again. Great … Dillon bumps up even though Miami's very tough against the rush, because I'm worried about Maroney. He clearly didn't have the wind knocked out of him; he was concussed, and according to teammates was completely out of it on the sidelines, and didn't make the post-game presser … DeShaun Foster may come back from his bad elbow, but DeAngelo Williams finally submitted the kind of performance his fantasy owners hoped, and just in time. It's hard to imagine Foster getting his job back.
Notes: Steve Smith hasn't caught a ton of passes the last four weeks, but he has caught a touchdown in each game. The Giants continue to struggle against the pass, and until they get their defensive line and linebackers healthy again, there'll be no pass rush to cover up for the sub-par secondary … The Bengals actually have a hard passing match-up against the Raiders, but considering how explosive Chad Johnson has been, I still think he'll score. Don't be fooled by his "low" point total from last week; he may not have scored a touchdown, but he caught eight passes for 91 yards before the Ravens finally decided to double him everywhere he ran. That's when Houshmandzadeh went off … I'm assuming Marques Colston and Joe Horn are going to miss Sunday night's game in Dallas. Colston would seem to be a better bet than Horn to me at this point, because he's three weeks into the healing process, and Horn has missed multiple games because of this same injury this year. Henderson and Copper would back these guys up, and be viable in what could be a shootout … Holt scored last week, but he dropped a long pass that would've been a touchdown, and seems bogged down in the lethargy that's caused St. Louis to lose six of their last seven. It's not going to get better against the Bears … I had Stallworth ranked in the 40s last weekend because I was worried about his hamstring, but his four-catch, 111-yard night, which included two spectacular long-distance grabs, convinced me he's fine. If Jeff Garcia stays committed to throwing the ball to his wideouts down the field, everyone associated with this offense can have a big day in D.C. … Matt Jones could just be this year's Patrick Jeffers. Or Chris Chambers. You know: the receiver who comes out of nowhere to make a huge fantasy impact in your playoffs. I do think we may need to see him do it again, but he played really well against Miami last week, except for a silly downfield fumble … Holmes had legal charges against him dropped, so he'll be at the Ketchup Bottle for Thursday night's game. Maybe he's super-relieved, and puts up a big game, but I think I still like Nate Washington just a little bit better; Holmes is the better athlete and is faster, but Ben Roethlisberger loves guys who wind up exactly where they're supposed to be. Washington is a fine story, sort of the receiver equivalent of Willie Parker: undrafted out of tiny Tiffin University, hung around as a sixth receiver last year, worked his way up to getting some catches in the playoffs, and now is starting for the Super Bowl champs, although his hands are sometimes a little questionable, as he's dropped at least a couple potential touchdowns. It's worth noting that Cedrick Wilson will miss this game, so Holmes and Washington both make interesting plays in deep leagues.
|Rank||Name||Opponent||Week 13 Rating|
|2||Alge Crumpler||@ TB||4|
|3||Todd Heap||@ KC||3|
|4||Tony Gonzalez||BAL ||9|
|5||Jeremy Shockey ||@ CAR ||10|
|7||Kellen Winslow||@ PIT||6|
|8||Benjamin Watson ||@ MIA ||7|
|9||Jason Witten ||NO ||11|
|10||Desmond Clark||@ STL||12|
|12||L.J. Smith||@ WAS||8|
|14||Ben Utecht||@ JAC||13|
|15||Bo Scaife||@ HOU||15|
|16||Jerramy Stevens||@ ARI||17|
|21||Daniel Graham||@ MIA||23|
|22||Bryan Fletcher||@ JAC||19|
|25||Jermaine Wiggins||@ DET||26|
|26||Courtney Anderson||@ CIN||25|
|27||Robert Royal||@ NYJ||NR|
|28||Bubba Franks||@ SF||28|
|29||Steve Heiden||@ PIT||NR|
|31||Joe Klopfenstein ||CHI ||31|
Notes: No Marques Colston on this list until I hear he's truly back, so Gates ascends to the top spot. He actually lost the top scoring spot among "traditional" (read: actual) tight ends (excepting Colston) to Gonzalez last week, but there's still no one I'd rather have than Gates … Shockey could actually find himself being liked by fans if he'd just tone down the stupid redneck act. "Act like you've been there before" is one of the few truisms of the sport that really resonates with most fans. I mean, all LaDainian Tomlinson needs to do is not act like a jackass when he scores, and he gets reams of column inches devoted to what a great guy he is. Very few people care to see Shockey's ridiculous histrionics with referees, opponents, teammates, fans, etc. He can be such a good player, too. It's a shame. Carolina has struggled with tight ends at times this year, so he can have a good game this week … Witten is one of Tony Romo's favorite targets, and he made the catch that won Dallas their game in the Meadowlands last weekend. What dampens Witten's value, though, is that the Cowboys don't bother throwing much in the red zone these days. And why should they, with Marion Barber around? … Too many more tight-end touchdowns in Pittsburgh, and Willie Parker owners are going to come looking for Heath Miller owners. And it's not going to be pretty.
|Rank||Name||Opponent||Week 13 Rating|
|1||Josh Brown||@ ARI||4|
|4||Robbie Gould||@ STL||1|
|5||Adam Vinatieri||@ JAC||2|
|6||Matt Stover||@ KC||5|
|14||Rian Lindell||@ NYJ||12|
|15||Jay Feely||@ CAR||15|
|16||Phil Dawson||@ PIT||17|
|19||Stephen Gostkowski||@ MIA||25|
|20||David Akers||@ WAS||27|
|21||Jason Elam||@ SD||16|
|22||Morten Andersen||@ TB||10|
|23||John Carney||@ DAL||23|
|28||Sebastian Janikowski||@ CIN||28|
|29||Rob Bironas||@ HOU||29|
|31||Ryan Longwell||@ DET||31|
Notes: Not too much excitement when it comes to rating fantasy kickers generally, and even less excitement when it comes to the end of the year. Gould and Vinatieri have tailed off a little, so I bumped 'em down slightly. Josh Brown deserves all kinds of kudos for having made four game-winning kicks, which ties an NFL record. He's also pumped in three from 50 and beyond … The only real kicker drama this week should revolve around Elam. The Broncos ran a strange fake field goal at the end of the first half against Seattle, a play on which Elam pulled his hamstring. As of this writing, Mike Shanahan claims Elam will be able to play in San Diego, but keep an eye on the situation. It would stink to head into a fantasy playoff game with no kicker.
|Rank||Name||Opponent||Week 13 Rating|
|1||Chicago Bears||@ STL||1|
|3||Baltimore Ravens||@ KC||4|
|4||New England Patriots||@ MIA||2|
|7||Seattle Seahawks||@ ARI||15|
|8||San Diego Chargers||DEN||5|
|9||Minnesota Vikings||@ DET||12|
|14||Oakland Raiders||@ CIN||11|
|15||New York Jets||BUF||20|
|16||New York Giants||@ CAR||17|
|17||Cleveland Browns||@ PIT||22|
|19||Kansas City Chiefs||BAL||9|
|20||Buffalo Bills||@ NYJ||31|
|21||Tennessee Titans||@ HOU||27|
|22||Denver Broncos||@ SD||10|
|23||Philadelphia Eagles||@ WAS||28|
|25||San Francisco 49ers||GB||25|
|26||Green Bay Packers||@ SF||14|
|27||St. Louis Rams||CHI||19|
|28||Indianapolis Colts||@ JAC||21|
|29||Atlanta Falcons||@ TB||29|
|31||New Orleans Saints||@ DAL||30|
|32||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||ATL||24|
Notes: The whole world was wrong about the Cincinnati defense over the past couple weeks, and while another seven shutout quarters is a tad ambitious, it's easy to envision the Bengals wreaking havoc on the woeful Raiders attack. You have to ride the hot hand … The numbers tell me Cleveland's defense should be rated higher than I've got them here, as in: perhaps even in the top 10. The reason isn't so much that they're good, because, well, they're not. But Pittsburgh's offense has just been incredibly generous to opposing fantasy defenses, giving up buckets full of points. When push came to shove, though, I couldn't justify putting the Browns in the top 15, not on the road on national television in Pittsburgh … Despite all their injuries, Houston's defense is actually playing kind of well. Mario Williams is having a fine rookie year, and lesser-known rookie DeMeco Ryans leads the team in tackles (by 38), has 3.5 sacks, a pick, and has deflected five pass attempts.