- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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Congrats, dude. Even if you're a girl.
Because if you're reading this, you must have survived one of the craziest playoff weekends I can ever remember. Disappearing acts from guys like Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Kyle Orton (ahem), Adrian Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall, the Chiefs' running backs, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Brandon Lloyd, Calvin Johnson, Jeremy Maclin and Anquan Boldin, among others, killed a ton of teams. Or put them in a deep hole in two-week playoff formats like ESPN standard leagues use. Don't worry, we'll get to you guys later.
Add to that two wacky Monday night games, especially the crazy finish in Houston, and it made for some amazing games, and my inbox is overflowing with ridiculous tales of improbable comebacks (thanks Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Derrick Mason) and crushing last-second defeats (Baltimore defense, Peterson again, Boldin again).
So you're a survivor. Congrats, my cyber pal. And also, good on you for drafting Arian Foster. You're welcome, Stockholm.
How do I know you drafted Arian Foster?
Because like I said, chances are, if you are reading this, you are in the playoffs. And no player is on more ESPN playoff teams than Foster. The great Mike Polikoff, who oversees our league manager product, looked at all of our prize-eligible leagues on ESPN (they tend to be the most active), and Foster (at 19.72 percent) is the most commonly owned player on all playoff teams. And even more impressive? He's owned on 35.57 percent of first-place teams, also tops. Who's No. 1, baby? TMR readers who took his preseason advice on Foster! (Um, no word yet on where TMR readers who drafted Pierre Garcon are. Probably reading the KaraBlog.)
While Foster (a late fifth-round pick, on average, this preseason), was a crucial part of going far this year, he's not the only one. Let this be a lesson to everyone who leaves their draft feeling like they botched it. For everyone who showed up drunk or hung over, had an out-of-date magazine, was forced to do something else less important, like seeing their kid born or get married. ... The draft is important but it's not the be-all and end-all. You could literally not show up to the draft and still be OK. Like, check out this e-mail I got just after Week 13:
Alex Lozano (Orange County, Calif.): Hey TMR, I am a big fan and appreciate your advice. I wanted to send you an e-mail to share my pain this week. I am in a 12-team standard-scoring league. One of the teams did not draft a single player due to the fact that he went to Vegas for his bachelor party over drafting with us. He agreed that he would pick up his players on the waiver wire and play out the season. Lo and behold, he got the 8th seed in the playoffs and went against me in Week 1 of the playoffs!!! I was boasting all week to the league how I got a first-round bye. I lost to him 82-75. My starting lineup: Philip Rivers; Chris Johnson; Rashard Mendenhall; Ahmad Bradshaw (flex); Roddy White; Johnny Knox; Jacob Tamme; Matt Bryant; Seattle Seahawks DST.
His lineup: Sam Bradford; Darren McFadden; Brandon Jackson; Mike Goodson; Steve Breaston; Earl Bennett; Todd Heap; Garrett Hartley; New York Giants DST. Please read this so that others can know exactly how embarrassing to be the No.1 seed and lose to the 8th seed in the playoffs, a team that was not even drafted but waiver-wired. Also, I missed his bachelor party specifically to draft this team, karma is a cruel mistress!! Thank you for all your advice.
TMR: Tough break, Alex. On losing, missing the bachelor party and playing in a 12-team league that lets eight teams in the playoffs. Come on, man. What are you, a hockey league? A third-grade kickball team where everyone gets a ribbon for participating? Someone call our friends over at Miller Lite, who sponsor "Fantasy Focus." Alex's league needs to man up. Six teams is the absolute maximum for a 12-team league.
That said, I'm not surprised, even in a 12-team league, however, that you could pick up a solid team over the course of the year just by playing the wire and getting a bit lucky.
Players on most playoff teams
Just witness the No. 2 guy on all playoff teams: Peyton Hillis at 15.51 percent (he's third on first-place teams at 18.58 percent). In fact, check out the top 15 of guys that are the most playoff teams.
Of the top 15, four were in-season pickups (Hillis, Vick, Tamme and Lloyd) in most leagues. Only two (Peterson and Rodgers) were first-rounders, and there are some third-rounders (Calvin Johnson, White and Jennings) in the mix. But the majority of the players (10 of the 15) were drafted in the fifth round or later, and McCoy went in the middle of the fourth).
By the way, want to kill a few minutes with something fun? I enjoy looking at all the girls I went to high school with on Facebook to see which ones turned out attractive, I continued to be obsessed with both Angry Birds and Words with Friends on my iPhone and of course, there's all the gang on Twitter. You really don't need more than 140 characters to show the world you're not very bright. But if you don't want to do any of that, check out the live draft results from the start of the season. Were we ever that innocent? The second round was disastrous. It starts with Randy Moss, and the next receiver off the board was Larry Fitzgerald. Lost to injury were No. 13 DeAngelo Williams and No. 15 Ryan Grant. The round finishes with Cedric Benson and Brandon Marshall. In fairness, Fitzgerald and Marshall were on my preseason hate list, just like Shonn Greene (leading off Round 3) was on my preseason love list, along with another third-rounder, Ryan Mathews. There were some good Round 2 guys this year. The problem is they went in the first round (Ray Rice, Steven Jackson). It's fascinating to go back and look at how we thought this season would turn out. Check it out. The birds, words and girls on Facebook will still be there when you get back.
Players on most first-place teams
Now, here are the guys that showed up on the most first-place teams. More or less the same list, though Mike Wallace, an eighth-round pick, shows up in place of Lloyd, who just missed the cut.
A few other things that jump out at me as we look at these lists. First, how dominant Antonio Gates has been. Not surprising, but he was so much better than any other player at his position, you could argue (as Nate Ravitz has many times on our podcast) that he was the most valuable player in fantasy. As one of only two tight ends that made the majority of playoff rosters (and Tamme didn't come on until late), having someone that much better than anyone else at one position is a clear advantage.
Five running backs, five wideouts, two tight ends, two quarterbacks and a defense. Fairly even distribution with the common theme being a very, very simple one: The draft is merely one small part of your fantasy football season and the middle and end rounds are just as (if not more so) important than the first few rounds. Also, there is nothing more important than the weekly pickups. And that includes this week.
As I preach every year, the playoffs are not the time to get cute. I know, I know. You got killed by Bowe, Lloyd, Jennings, Megatron and any number of elite wide receivers this past week. Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson derailed your playoff dream. I get it. I hear you. But they were more likely to go off than not. Frustrating to be sure, but you rolls yer dice, youse takes yer chances.
Having said that whole don't-get-cute speech, sometimes you have no other option. Injuries happen of course (like maybe Rodgers or Bradshaw miss this week). And for those in ESPN standard leagues, your playoffs are two weeks each (which I love, because that way you don't get totally screwed by Rodgers getting his bell rung), you might be down by a lot and hoping for some Hail Mary magic.
So with that, here are 10 pickups this week that could potentially start for you if your lineup suddenly sprung a leak (as always, ownership percentages in standard ESPN.com leagues are in parentheses):
Pickups of the Week
"Say baby, can I take a picture of you? I wanna show Santa what I want for Christmas."
Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals (63 percent): If he's still out there in your league for some reason, he should be the No. 1 pickup. You saw the crazy 18-for-148-and-two-scores game Sunday, and it wasn't a fluke. I had discussed Hightower as a potential flex play on Fantasy Football Now this past Sunday not just because of his sweet matchup with the Broncos, but because he's the guy the Cardinals are trusting. Hightower had twice as many touches as Beanie Wells the previous two games (32 to 16). Now you add in the 18 touches Hightower got Sunday to the six for Wells and it's not close. Arizona trusts Hightower more in the pass game (he's a better blocker) and with a rookie quarterback, that's important. He's the guy Arizona wants right now and that's crucial because when Hightower has gotten a shot, he's been effective, averaging 5.2 yards per carry this year. On the road at Carolina (the Panthers give up the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs), it doesn't get much better.
Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins (42 percent): He's a Mike Shanahan running back. I say that in the same tone I would use if you were on the bomb squad. "If you cut the wrong-colored wire, it'll blow up!" Just so you know what you're dealing with. There is no rhyme or reason to what he will do. Remember, a week after getting 29 touches for 95 yards against the Titans, Keiland Williams got just seven touches against Minnesota. That said, Torain has gotten at least 20 touches in every game he has played since Clinton Portis went down before Week 5, except the Lions game, where Torain got injured. He certainly looked healthy last week, when he had 182 yards, and against the Cowboys this week (324 yards, four touchdowns to opposing runners the past three weeks), if you feel lucky, there's a chance your opponent will be lip-synching "Blame it on Torain."
Mike Goodson, RB, Panthers (29 percent): One hundred yards or a score in five straight games, Carolina is gonna run, run, run and then look at other ways to run against the Cardinals. There are enough carries to go around for the Panthers, especially against Arizona. I'd rather have Jonathan Stewart, but in a deeper league, I could see using Goodson as a flex if you were a bit needy. (Running-back wise, not emotionally. If you're emotionally needy, I'm assuming you're one of my ex-girlfriends. So hey, how are you? Good to see you again. Yes, we should totally catch up but I got to talk about the Dolphins' defense right now, so text you later? Great. Bye.)
Miami Dolphins D/ST (16 percent): 17 points last week, they've averaged seven points a week since the bye and get the Bills at home. The Bills are much better than when these teams faced off in Week 1, but they have given up a total of 27 fantasy points to opposing defenses the past three weeks.
Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders (6 percent): Yes, he stunk against the Steelers. I got news for you. A lot of people stink against the Steelers. And the Broncos, whom he faces this week (third-most points allowed to opposing quarterbacks) ain't the Steelers, you dig? If you throw out the Pittsburgh Massacre, Campbell has averaged 17 points a game as a starter over his past five games, including a 17-point game against Denver in Week 7.
Kerry Collins, QB, Titans (1.3 percent): You heard me. If you lost Rodgers and are scrambling around, here's your guy. Assuming all the better potential free agents (Garrard, Freeman, Kitna, Campbell, etc) are gone, this is the best of the dregs. By the way, that's a pretty good band name. "Best of the Dregs." I wish I had even one ounce of musical aptitude. Anyways, Collins had a nice game last week (244 yards, three touchdowns, 21 fantasy points; same as Michael Vick) and even better, he is at home this week to the QB points factory known as the Houston Texans, who are traveling on a short week.
Kevin Boss, TE, Giants (61 percent): A touchdown in four of his past six, Boss faces an Eagles team that is bad against the opposing tight end. (Hint: Kevin Boss coming to a love/hate column near you!)
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans (41 percent): Looked healthy to me.
Bo Scaife, TE, Titans (3 percent): One of the reasons Collins had such a big game last week, Scaife scored twice and caught all four of his targets. You have to be pretty far down and desperate to have to use Scaife, but Collins clearly likes him and the Texans give up the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
If You're Really Desperate
"Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius." - Benjamin Disraeli
Here are some guys that I wouldn't start unless I was in a super-deep league or truly desperate, but it's worth noting that Rashad Jennings has scored in three straight and you can run on Indy. ... I don't like the short week and matchup with San Diego, but Alex Smith and Brian Westbrook were both very productive last week and Anthony Dixon wasn't terrible either. ... If the Cowboys get to the goal line against the Redskins (a fairly decent proposition), Tashard Choice has a pretty good shot at getting the ball to punch it in. ... And speaking of that game, those are two very bad secondaries. Which means, even though they did nothing this past week, I could see Anthony Armstrong and Roy E. Williams both doing well.
It would take a truly desperate act or, as we call them in the business, big solid brass ones, to start Maurice Morris (or even Jahvid Best for that matter), but the Buccaneers' run defense has been crushed recently and just lost defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Quincy Black. ... Happiness is a defense facing Jake Delhomme. Defenses facing the Browns the past three weeks have scored 13, 6 and 14 points. The Bengals' defense hasn't registered negative points since Week 1 and could be OK at home to the Browns this week. (If that's not a ringing endorsment, I don't know what is!) ... The Bills have been better against tight ends, but they're still not "good" and Anthony Fasano does have two scores in his past five weeks. ... Not sure as of this writing which Oakland wideout Champ Bailiey will be on, but the one that he's not covering, be it Louis Murphy or Jacoby Ford, could have a big day here. ... I didn't list Matt Hasselbeck because we don't know if he's gonna have anyone to throw to. But if, as expected, Mike Williams North and Ben Obomanu are starting, the Falcons are not great against opposing quarterbacks and don't play as well on the road as they do at home.
That's all I have this week. Congrats again for still reading at this point. Here's to seeing you back here in seven days.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- had Orton on one team and played against McFadden and Andre. Good times. 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
Matthew Berry looks at fill-in options for teams who may have suffered an injury or face a tough matchup in the second week of the playoffs.