Let's not get cute here
If you're reading this, you're either in the playoffs, just a big fan of mine or killing time at work because you've already spent three hours on Facebook and can't get past Level 3 on Angry Birds. I'm glad you stopped by -- for whatever reason.
I can't help you if you're a fan or you're stuck on Angry Birds (still have no idea how to get three stars), but playoffs? Playoffs?! I can help. Because I worry too many of you are like Phil here, who sent this e-mail into our Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast:
Dear Fantasy Studmuffins: I met a girl at a bar Friday night and got her number early into the conversation. This girl was amazing. We connected on nearly every level. However, later on in the conversation, she claimed she was from Houston and a big Texans fan. But, when I asked her about her opinion on Andre Johnson's kerfuffle with Finnegan, she had no idea who Andre Johnson was. Is this a "Welcome to Dumpsville" moment? Thanks, Phil.
Dude. Dude. DUDE!!! Really? How is this even a question? What are you doing? Let's break this down.
Why are you at the bar in the first place? Is it the overpriced beer? Is it the line to get in and the crowded bathroom where a sweaty guy hands you a paper towel you could have gotten yourself but now you feel weird and have to give this guy a dollar as he hangs out in this smelly cubicle? Is it to hang out with your buddies whom you can't hear over the music?
No. It's to meet someone. I'm surmising from your e-mail that you are single and like women and, lo and behold, you have done just that. You've met a woman. And not just any woman. A hot woman. Because let's be honest. From the "should I dump her for not knowing Andre" question, you're clearly shallow, which means if she were ugly, you might have talked to her much later in the night, but you're not giving her your number early in the conversation and you're certainly not writing for advice about her. You're barely admitting you know her to your buddies, whom you'll tell that you "just gave her a ride home" but "nothing happened."
So it's a hot woman you characterize as "amazing." You connect with her on so many levels. And as a Texans fan, she's clearly not demanding and used to disappointment. Dude, you can totally phone it in in the bedroom department! What's the issue here?
OK, so she didn't know who Andre Johnson was. There are a lot of possible explanations for that. Maybe she was thrown by a guy under the age of 80 using "kerfuffle" in a conversation. Maybe it's your fault for believing anyone is actually a "big" Texans fan. Or, more than likely, she was saying something, anything, to ingratiate herself with you, the way women sometimes do. She just can't come out and say "I'm throwing myself at you," so she has to invent some sort of outlandish thing to curry your favor.
"I'm so drunk." "Yes, I've made out with a girl before. Why?" "I'm a big Texans fan" are among the lies women tell all the time to pique a guy's interest. And your job, my single-and-looking-to-mingle fantasy-football-playing friend, is to not question this too much.
You didn't go to this bar to meet a Texans fan, now did you? Exactly. Eyes on the prize, Phil. Don't overthink this.
It's a good lesson for us to remember as we approach the fantasy playoffs. Like, I got the following question on Twitter on Wednesday (I've taken the liberty of correcting the spelling and punctuation):
Putting aside the fact that he could easily look up my rankings and discover I have Jacobs at 22 and James at 47 this week, this is a guy who is clearly overthinking it.
Look, anything is possible in fantasy. And I mean anything. Last week, Tarvaris Jackson came off the bench and wound up with almost twice as many fantasy points as Eli Manning and Kyle Orton combined. But just because it happened doesn't mean it was likely. In fact, it was highly unlikely.
Jacobs has at least seven fantasy points in seven of his past nine, is coming off his best game of the season and is averaging double-digit touches since being named the starter. James, on the other hand, has had double-digit touches just once all year. He's the goal-line back, such as it is, on a pass-first team with a lot of options. Jacobs averages 11 carries a game since becoming the starter; James has had 11 carries total in his past three games. It could happen, sure, but it's not likely that James will outscore Jacobs.
I say this at the start of the year, and I remind you of it now. The playoffs are not the time to get cute. Set your lineup according to what is most likely to happen. Look at the situation, use your brain, league scoring, your team, our ranks and research, then make your own decision on what is most likely to happen. There are no absolutes, we deal only in probabilities.
Could Phil meet another girl who is everything he ever wanted plus is a true die-hard Texans fan? Sure. But it's unlikely. (Again, they don't actually exist.) The more likely scenario is he spends quality time with this woman and can get his "quizzing people on the Texans' roster" needs fulfilled by his buddies.
Last year in Week 15, Arian Foster and Chris Jennings of the Browns were popular "sleepers" and were started by many an owner looking to catch lightning in a bottle. Arian fumbled and got pulled (and I got a ton of crap for my support of his talent, both then and until opening day this year) and, of course, Jerome Harrison supplanted Jennings and went nuts, which no one saw coming. The point is, and I wrote this then about both guys, you're playing with fire in the playoffs. Maybe it works, but maybe you get burned. Like, Kenny Britt could easily go off tonight, but until I see him fully healthy and play a full game, I'm avoiding.
So I play it safe in the playoffs. For the more risky among us (or, if you're just stuck) I've added an "If you're feeling lucky" section to each position below. These are guys that are high-risk, high-reward. I like the matchup but realize it's a start that could easily blow up in your face. Proceed with caution.
Number in parentheses are my ranks and the average rank of the other three rankers. Let's get to it.
Week 14 players I love
Kyle Orton, QB, Broncos (8, 11): "Kyle Orton will be starting." That's a quote from interim coach Eric Studesville in his first news conference (Did I read the whole transcript? You're damn right I did.) talking about the Broncos, but he might as well be talking about your team. Look, I get the uncertainty about a new coach with a last name that sounds like an all-male review. But the man wants to win. Orton gives him the best chance to do just that, and the Broncos' defense (or lack therof) is what gives you the best chance of winning because Kyle will have to keep throwing. Mike McCoy, who was the quarterbacks coach, is gonna call the plays going forward, and he'll do well against a Cardinals team that gives up more points per game than any other team in the NFL.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens (6, 8): Starting a passing game against the Texans has worked all year long. Why would you stop now? Do you know that if you throw out the Rusty Smith disaster, as it's now referred to in history books, Houston has allowed every fantasy quarterback to score at least 19 points against it at home this season?
Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers (12, 18): You remember in "Revenge of the Sith" when Darth Vader heard Padme was dead and screamed to the heavens "Noooooooo!" The anguish, the pain, the deep searing convulsing of your entire body that you can't imagine how you're going to be able to live in the future with all this new information? That's how I felt when I heard LaRon Landry and Carlos Rogers got hurt. It's how I feel every time the Redskins take the field and I realize that, yep, I still can't shake 35 years of being a fan. Damn my childhood. Anyways, Freeman is as safe a bet to get double-digit points as any quarterback in the league.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos (5, 9): It might seem like a bit of an obvious name, but I'm listing him here because, as I said in the Orton part above, I have no concerns about the coaching change (the new coach was the running backs coach!) and because of the emergence of guys such as Arian Foster and Peyton Hillis, there's a very good chance you could have one of those guys, Moreno, and a guy I rank below both of them, such as Ray Rice or Steven Jackson. Moreno is as hot as any running back in the league, and that's not going to change against Arizona's 30th-ranked run defense.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers (10, 17): Remember when I had Blount in my hate section last week because I was worried about Atlanta's run defense? Yeah, that was wrong. My bad. Must have been punch-drunk when I made that call because it's clear that Blount is a must-start regardless of opponent. At least 80 yards in three of his past four games, he fell below that mark only against the Ravens, which is forgivable. I also might have mentioned my despair over the state of the Redskins' defense.
Chris Ivory, RB, Saints (21, 24): Five touchdowns in his past three games. Pierre Thomas? Zero carries in the Saints' past eight games. We saw how much work Reggie Bush got when he first came back, and I don't expect a ton of work for Bush or Thomas in this game. Sean Payton has said he doesn't want to diminish Ivory's role, so although their presence keeps Ivory out of the top 20 for me, if I'm starting a Saints running back, it's this guy.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills (17, 17): For his career, he averages 5.3 yards per carry at home in December. And, um, when he wears a red T-shirt on a Wednesday two weeks before facing an AFC North team, he goes nuts. I have pretty good confirmation that he did wear that. The Browns' run defense has been terrible lately (giving up more than 212 total yards a game to opposing running backs over the past four), and I expect a heavy dose of Jackson to set up play-action for Fitzpatrick.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (19, 21): Sometimes it's a bad matchup. And sometimes the matchup doesn't matter. Everyone who sat Green-Ellis against the Jets last week found that out the hard way. Despite Chicago being second against the run, I still like The Law Firm here. The Bears have to worry about Tom Brady, leaving running room for Green-Ellis. Five touchdowns in his past three games, double-digit fantasy points in five of his past six, plus this should be a cold-weather game, which will mean good news for the man with dreads.
Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens (24, 31): Ahh, Houston. Just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Who says Hanukkah is over?
Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers (14, 16): You've been officially warned. I'm all in on the Bucs' offense this week, so if you believe in the curse of the TMR, avoid, avoid, avoid.
Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers (22, 26): Very quietly, he's been fairly consistent. He actually has a touchdown in five of his past eight games. Alex Smith can't be any worse than Troy Smith, and, in fact, Alex was the quarterback when Crabtree had his best game of the season (105 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles). The Seahawks give up 31 fantasy points a game to opposing wide receivers on the road, and this week will be no exception.
Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets (16, 21): Even in the 45-3 beatdown at New England on Monday, Holmes still managed 72 yards. He's become as consistent a fantasy wide receiver as there is in the NFL. Four touchdowns in his past five games, plus, the Dolphins have had only one game on the road this year when they haven't given up a receiving touchdown, and that was Week 2 at the Vikings and the old man. One way or another, Mark Sanchez will get the ball to Santonio Holmes this week.
Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong, WRs, Redskins: I ranked Armstrong 32nd this week, but he didn't make the top 50 because I was the only one who ranked him. But that's out of my hands, just like Aqib Talib is out for the season. Moss is the name but it's been Armstrong who has been the more productive fantasy wideout recently, but both should do well against a Tampa Bay secondary that has lost both of its starting cornerbacks and has allowed 275 yards and two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers the past two weeks.
Benjamin Watson, TE, Browns (10, 8): Starting a tight end against the Bills? It's elementary, my dear. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along. Nothing to see. Keep moving, thank you ma'am, nothing to see, here we go.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions (7, 10): He went 8 catches for 91 yards the last time he faced the Packers, and it's clear Drew Stanton likes him (seven targets last week, same as Calvin Johnson). The Packers allow the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and we know the Lions are gonna have to throw.
San Francisco 49ers D/ST (6, 12): Opposing fantasy defenses score an average of eight points at home against the Seahawks. With Seattle's passing game banged-up, I see its offense becoming much more one-dimensional, which plays into the 49ers' strengths. I expect double-digit points.
New England Patriots D/ST (5, 11): Uh, did you see that game Monday night? Traveling on a short week, yes, there might be a letdown, but I'm counting on Jay Cutler reverting to his old ways more than I am a team like the Patriots taking its foot off the accelerator. Could be a bad-weather game, and did I mention Jay Cutler will be throwing balls around?
Week 14 players I hate
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs (13, 15): I have so few rules in my life. Don't set me on fire. If you're playing Super Rock God Jon Bon Jovi, turn it up. And if you have major surgery on the Wednesday before a big game, you don't play for my fantasy team in the playoffs. Period. He won't be ranked by me when the updates come out Friday.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets (NR, 17): Remember that great cold-weather game he played um against Atlanta in Week 15 last season when he had 186 yards, a touchdown and just three interceptions? Um. Wait. I'll find one. Looking. Looking. Yeah, I'm gonna have to get back to you on that. In the meantime, remember Monday night. I know Sanchez had a good game against Miami last time, but the Dolphins actually play better on the road than they do at home, and, in a playoff week, there's no way I'm trusting Mark Sanchez.
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans (15, 13): I could give you tons of stats here and talk about the pressure I expect Haloti Ngata to bring and the use of Arian Foster to counterbalance that, but here's the gut-level truth: I just don't trust Schaub. He has burned me a number of times this year, and even though he has averaged 16 fantasy points a game in the past four, I sort of feel that's his upside. Like, we're not gonna see a 23-point game against Baltimore. You're hoping for a 15-point game, and the downside is a game somewhere in the 9-12 range. I don't truly hate him, but I just don't like him very much.
LaDainian Tomlinson (24, 12) and Shonn Greene (34, 33), RBs, Jets: From 24 to 19 to 15 to 12. Four straight weeks now that Tomlinson's touches have decreased, and it's just enough of a time-share with Greene to be annoying. The Dolphins allow the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season and have given up only two touchdowns to opposing running backs when on the road.
Thomas Jones, RB, Chiefs (30, 18): With Cassel either out or limited, expect San Diego's fifth-ranked run defense to focus on stopping Jones and Jamaal Charles, which means you need Jones to score. Under 75 yards rushing in each of the past five games, you can't count on him being a part of the pass game like he was last week. Remember, the previous time he faced the Chargers this season, he ran 11 times for just 39 yards.
Tashard Choice, RB, Cowboys (37, 30): It was one week. The definition of getting cute. Only for deep leagues or the truly desperate. Incidentally, often said about me.
Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals (NR, 39): Ugh. Part deux.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs (18, 7): And he'll be lower Friday. We saw how the Broncos took Bowe out of the game, and although the Chargers don't have anyone as good as Champ Bailey, they do have the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. They are at home in a must-win game, and I understand it's tough to bench a guy who has been as studly as Bowe this year, and you could certainly argue that benching him is the definition of getting cute, but there's just a lot of risk here for my taste, and my new ranking will reflect that. (And tell you exactly whom I'd start over him and whom I wouldn't. Hint, hint.)
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (23, 15): Yes, the Broncos are bad. But they do have Champ Bailey, who shut down Dwayne Bowe last week, and maybe they decide to let Bailey do that again this week (as opposed to just playing one side of the field). Either way, in the playoffs, do you really want to ride the arm of John Skelton? Before you do, ask those who are missing the playoffs after riding Rusty Smith's arm. Excuse me, I'm gonna go pick up Randy Moss so I can cut him again.
Chad Ochocinco, WR, Bengals (34, 23): Here's the good news. Chad is actually better on the road than at home, which is good because he had just one catch for 15 yards when he faced the Steelers earlier this season. He's been more productive recently, and you expect the Bengals to be down and throwing here. But he's had single-digit fantasy points in five of his past six games, and the Steelers have allowed only one, count it, one touchdown to an opposing wide receiver when playing at home, and that was in Week 4.
Brent Celek, TE, Eagles (20, 13): I know. Back from the dead and showing signs of life the past two weeks. But although we remember all the good times and have fondness in our hearts for him, just because he's alive doesn't mean we have to use him. Feel the same way every time I see Dick Clark on New Year's.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (19, 17): Speaking of hell, where I'm sure I'm going after that Dick Clark joke, my guess is that a version of it is when, every week, you start a Patriots tight end, and every week, it's the other one who goes off. No matter whom you start, the other guy goes off, week after week after week. With two or fewer points in four of his past six, Gronk is total feast or famine. With the Bears giving up fewer than five points a game to opposing tight ends, this boils down to whether he scores a touchdown. Too much risk.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST (24, 9): I'm probably too low on them and will raise them a little in my update Friday. But I'm amazed my fellow rankers have them in the top 10. This isn't Redskins homerism. This is the loss of Talib and the fact that, with the exception of a great game against the Niners, it's not a great fantasy defense. Talk about Washington's offensive line problems all you want, but only the Bengals have fewer sacks than the Bucs this season. And now you have big issues in the secondary, where I expect McNabb to have a field day. Like I said; 24 is too low, but they won't be anywhere near my top 10.
Seattle Seahawks D/ST (23, 17): Here are their scores away from Seattle: minus-3, 6, 10, minus-2, minus-5, 9, 0. The 10-point game was against the Bears, when the Chicago offensive line was giving it up like it was free. To be clear, I'm referring to the fact that Cutler was getting sacked a lot and am in no way suggesting that any of Chicago's offensive linemen are promiscuous. I hear you need to wine and dine Olin Kreutz for, like, two months. Total prude. And the nine-point game was against the Cardinals. The loss of Red Bryant and Colin Cole on the defensive line continues to hurt the run defense, and the pass defense is 30th in the NFL. Alex Smith under center gives this defense some hope, I guess, but four out of seven times on the road this season, this defense has had negative points or zero. I know it dominated the Niners in Week 1, but that was a long time ago and we've all come a long way since then.
That's all I have this week. Good luck in the playoffs and just remember: What's most likely to happen?
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- tried to get too cute in this column and had two of his jokes cut. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend