Fantasy playoffs: Every game counts now

Mike Harmon
Yahoo! Sports

For a number of fantasy coaches, the long journey to the playoffs is now complete. The preliminaries of the past 13 weeks taught us many valuable lessons, not the least of which is that even the best draft only gets you so far.

A number of culprits stung you along the way, from the long list of underachievers to the suspensions to the dreaded running back-by-committee situations. Oh, and the referees, blame them, too. They probably cost you points. That second foot came down in bounds!

Whatever, it's in the past. All that matters now is Week 14, which features a number of great matchups. So what's your strategy for this one? Do you just dance with the lineup that got you in?

If you're in first place, perhaps you do. But if you crept into the playoffs as the seventh or eighth seed, there probably is a position or two that can be switched out.

One possible angle to play this week involves a heavier gamble on your part, relying on QB/WR tandems. If you're running with Trent Green, you go out and grab the available receiver, be it Johnnie Morton or even Dante Hall. If you have Jon Kitna and are running without Peter Warrick or Chad Johnson, it's likely that you can still find Kelley Washington on the waiver wire. He's a big target and has scored two weeks in a row.

A second angle is to go out and grab those guys who don't see the ball much but seem to find the end zone. You've got Andre Davis and his touchdown for every six receptions. There's Mike Cloud, who has scored five times in 27 carries. And then there's Moe Williams, the ultimate vulture of TDs in 2002. He's back in that role with the re-emergence of Michael Bennett.

Finally, if you really want to get into the minutiae, hit the split stats on Yahoo! Sports for individual players. Find out who plays well in the cold, which of your normal players doesn't and how they shape up against certain teams. You've been hitting it all along I'm sure, but with the "win or go home" reality, you've got to find your spots.

On to this week's matchups:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay is down to two healthy receivers in the sure-handed Keenan McCardell and speedster Charles Lee. They thought that Joe Jurevicius' return would spark the offense, but he now officially is done. His injury caps a brutal season for the Buccaneers. That said, Brad Johnson has been efficient and has the big playmaker in Lee. Look for Johnson to work the ball his way. Jon Gruden would like nothing better than to play spoiler to the Saints' playoff hopes.

New Orleans has been resurrected and is clinging to playoff hopes. Aaron Brooks has been hot and cold this season but usually plays well against Tampa Bay. The two receivers everyone clamored for, Joe Horn and Donte' Stallworth, have been virtually nonexistent. But that's ok, big Boo Williams has been the go-to guy. He'll score again this week to nail the trifecta. And oh yeah, that Deuce McAllister guy will run wild.

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota is reeling. After starting off the season on fire, nothing seems to be working for the Vikings. But we don't care about wins and losses. It is just a matter of point production by the offense, and Minnesota should be able to engage in a track meet with Seattle. Michael Bennett has re-established himself as the lead back, but for those with an injury-riddled backfield, Moe Williams is always a goal-line threat.

Virtually any player on the Seattle offense is worth a start this week, including tight end Itula Mili. He's been a solid addition to the offense, and with things clicking on all cylinders, he is a decent bet to hit the end zone. Koren Robinson welcomed his return to the fantasy spotlight, posting his first 100-yard game in Week 13. Shaun Alexander owners can only hope for another of those mind-blowing five-TD performances.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Who is Brock Forsey? The Boise State product rumbled through the Arizona secondary in Week 13 in relief of the A-Train. But Anthony Thomas is poised to reclaim his role this week against the Packers. That said, keep an eye on his status as the week progresses. If he can't go, Forsey might be worth a gamble as your second back. On paper, the QB and wide receiver corps don't stack up favorably. However, with Dick Jauron's job on the line and the Bears still harboring dreams of the NFC North title, Justin Gage and Dez White stand a chance to find the end zone. Marty Booker will play martyr in this one and draw the efforts of Mike McKenzie.

The Packers offense lit up the Bears in their earlier meeting and is a good bet to do it again. Coming off the disappointing Thanksgiving performance, Brett Favre and company can still win the division and desperately need a win here. Look for Favre to hook up deep with Javon Walker again, and he's rediscovered his big target in Bubba Franks.

San Diego Chargers at Detroit Lions
Doug Flutie gets another shot in San Diego against the porous Detroit secondary. So long as he doesn't hang up floaters like Brett Favre did on Thanksgiving, he could have a big day. The real question is whether David Boston continues to play like the good David Boston or reverts to the evil fantasy team-killing alter ego we saw earlier this season.

Joey Harrington gained some confidence in his outing against the Packers. He's actually a very solid play in this spot against a bad San Diego defense. Az-Zahir Hakim and Mikhael Ricks are his two favorite targets; they stand poised for big days.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
The Arizona offense has struggled the last couple of weeks, putting up a paltry three points against Chicago in Week 13. San Francisco has allowed tight ends to break free consistently this season, and Freddie Jones makes a great TD threat in this one. Anquan Boldin hasn't set the world aflame lately, but all it takes is one game. He's got to be in your lineup.

San Francisco looks to make up for a miserable Week 13 showing. Jeff Garcia is poised to piggyback on Kordell Stewart's dominance of the Cards D in Week 13. The main beneficiary will be – who else? – Terrell Owens. The big spot play of the week goes to Kevan Barlow, earning his first start in place of the injured Garrison Hearst. He's available in 30 percent of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football PLUS leagues and makes a great addition to your backfield for this one.

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Dave Wannstedt must have heard my battle cry of two weeks ago, "Run Ricky Run!" Just put the ball in his hands and good things will happen. He plays well down the stretch and doesn't lay the ball on the carpet quite so much. The passing game dominated Dallas in Week 13 and should have decent success moving the ball here. Keep an eye on Randy McMichael as the release valve against the attacking New England D.

New England continues to win without a standout wide receiver and a revolving door at tailback. Tom Brady has been steady throughout the season and Deion Branch has established himself as the best threat at wideout. He makes a solid play in your third receiver slot. Against the Dolphins D, you're looking for the home run ball, because they're stingy in the red zone.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
He's finally back! Michael Vick owners have been waiting all year for this one. He got some reps last week and looked solid. Peerless Price and Alge Crumpler owners are dancing over this news. They'll face a Carolina defense that ranks 22nd against the pass. Look for a solid day out of Vick in his return and for T.J. Duckett to finish any business down near the goal line.

Carolina torched Atlanta in their first meeting (and who doesn't?). Jake Delhomme is worth consideration this week, as is former fantasy stud Muhsin Muhammad. Because Atlanta will spend much of the day chasing Stephen Davis from behind, the passing game will get a lift as well.

And finally, on to Monday night

St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns
This one is all Rams. Marc Bulger and company get to feast on a Cleveland team in disrepair. Marshall Faulk re-established himself as, well, Marshall Faulk. That means opportunity for the Rams' passing game, even if Cleveland does rank fifth against the pass. Cleveland will be hoping for miserable weather on Monday.

If you want to pick up a Browns player for Monday night's game because you can watch it, see if Dennis Northcutt and/or Andre Davis are available in your league. Northcutt will see the ball more, but Davis seems to find the pylon more often. Northcutt still owes me for falling short of the goal line in the Pittsburgh game.

It's a great slate of games down the list this week, with both the fantasy and actual playoffs hanging in the balance. Keep an eye on the weather reports. Early indications are that it'll be wet on the East Coast. Stealing points out of kickers, tight ends and defenses may just determine whether you win or go home.

Here's hoping you move on. Good luck!

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