Commentary

D Up! Playoff Pressure

Updated: December 24, 2009, 11:09 AM ET
By Jim McCormick | Special to ESPN.com

Fantasy football, like golf or poker, is an enjoyable hobby that can also vex and frustrate its participants to no end. The fantasy playoffs take the inherent stress of the pursuit and ratchet it up several notches to point where focus over seemingly minor decisions, like which defensive back to start, can lead to paralyzing indecision.

To be clear, I'm not paid or qualified to be a psychiatrist, but I would like those of you who are fretting over playoff predicaments to relax and be reminded that it was the brilliant blend of research, luck and downright skullduggery that got you this deep into the fantasy playoffs.

In the many years that I've competed in IDP leagues, it's become clear that the more proactive and aggressive managers shine in the playoffs. While that assertion vague, I'm purporting that in comparison to traditional leagues, defensive rosters require more attention and grooming in order to flourish. This is true because defensive commodities are intrinsically inconsistent. I only place weekly trust in the rare and coveted superstar talents like Patrick Willis and Jared Allen and the atypically consistent defensive back or defensive end. But in most IDP leagues I've competed in I rarely get to own a collective of such superstars and I consider my roster to be somewhat fluid from week to week, particularly in the playoffs, when in the hunt for immediate and isolated returns.

Playoff matchups are like any other week in the season, only remarkably more compelling and consequential. Be willing to make changes and consider some of the names that are discussed this week as every single point matters in these crucial final weeks. That, and enjoy the holidays.

Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders

Saint marching in: Jonathan Vilma was once considered the top overall fantasy defender in his time anchoring the Jets' defense, particularly after his ridiculous 173-tackle sophomore campaign. After a few subpar fantasy seasons that saw his stock drop, I've admittedly slept on him this season despite some impressive metrics and particularly in the past month in which he's tallied three interceptions and a volume of tackles. Vilma remains widely available in ESPN.com leagues and should provide his owners with a versatile outing as the Saints play host to the Bucs.

Return to the Nest: While Allen Iverson's return to Philadelphia was emotional and impassioned, it likely won't hold a candle to the rousing reception that Eagles' legend, and current Denver Bronco, Brian Dawkins will receive. And unlike Iverson, Dawkins' level of play has remained elite and worthy of fantasy fodder. While the catalyzing big plays are less frequent in his twilight, Dawkins' high-tackle production and nose for the ball remain reliable and worthy of fantasy loyalty.

Clay Matthews
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesClay Matthews has tallied 10 sacks so far in his rookie campaign

Rated Rookies: This season's class of rookie defenders has proven to be a Donruss-worthy bunch with three players in particular making a legit bid at the freshman crown. The reason I discuss these freshman so often is because they are poised to be to be elite fantasy commodities for years to come, as well as being highly coveted keepers. Each member of the triumphant trio of Green Bay's Clay Matthews, Houston's Brian Cushing and Washington's Brian Orakpo has the statistical résumé that you'd expect from a D.R.O.Y. candidate. For my money, though, Matthews should win out in a close race with Cushing thanks mostly his timely torrid streak that has seen him post seven sacks in his team's past six outings. Matthews makes for the top fantasy commodity of the group going forward since he'll likely continue to see snaps at a lean position in defensive end and has already proven somewhat consistent at an otherwise statistically sporadic position.

Infirmary: It's too late in the season and too risky in the playoffs to start ailing talents. If a player you are considering this week is in this group of gimpy defenders, or appears limited or liable to sit, then consider some of the names in the bargain bin as a salve to your injury woes. ... Washington's Andre Carter had vowed to play out the season despite a torn bicep in his right arm but has lost considerable value in my opinion given the so-so matchups he faces and the threat of shutting it down. ... Fantasy's top rookie defensive back so far this season has been Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, thanks to his nine interceptions and respectable tackle totals, but, sadly, his season is over due to injury. Despite the disappointing end to his season, Byrd remains a top keeper at the position. ... Tennessee lost veteran leader and resurgent fantasy beast Keith Bulluck for the season with an ACL tear that likely signals the end of his reign for the Titans. It will be interesting to see who replaces him on that defense, as it is a very productive linebacker system. ... Seattle's Aaron Curry continues to battle injuries and is likely to miss this week's contest in Green Bay, which should only elevate the value of fellow Seahawks 'backer David Hawthorne.

IDP Rankings Week 16: Top 10 linebackers, linemen and defensive backs

So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league: Tackle - Solo (1), Tackle - Assist (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (2).

Playoff Bargain Bin

A playoff-themed collection of promising and widely available talents

Kansas City's Demorrio "I love Oreos" Williams has both a sweet tooth and a sweet matchup this week against the run-heavy Bengals. Look for Williams to corral Cedric Benson regularly and likely rack up double-digit solo tackles. ... Tully Banta-Cain is the Patriots' key pass-rusher and he'll be asked to hurry and hurt David Garrard regularly in what has the makings of a late-season shootout. ... Lance Briggs has gone most of his career, outside of his prolonged contract dispute a few years back, without much attention for fanfare. Nevertheless, he remains an elite defender and an underrated fantasy commodity and should enjoy a nice day against what should be a run-first Minnesota attack. ... If you like netting lots of numbers from your fantasy players than Bernard Pollard is your guy. Since being signed by the Texans in Week 4, he's been the top defensive back in most formats and yet is still available in more than 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues. ... As can be expected from a rookie, Louis Delmas' production has been sporadic this year, but with some savory matchups to finish the campaign and a volume of ball-carriers and passes coming his way each week, he makes for a compelling playoff plug-in and a sound keeper to consider.

Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the editor and publisher of BLITZ Magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro. Contact espn.idp@gmail.com with all of your IDP concerns.

Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com.