Commentary

Playing with the numbers: Wild-card Round

Updated: January 4, 2008, 7:52 AM ET
By Ken Daube | Special to ESPN.com

Want the secret to winning the ESPN Gridiron Playoff Challenge? It's simple: Take some risks by mixing the sure-fire studs with some second-tier guys who have a solid chance of "going off." You know the sure-fire studs, but how can you identify the others? Here's one method: Use a combination of weekly averages and standard deviations. This is essential because you don't only want to start good players, but you also want to start those with the largest upsides.

Think of it like this: Who would your more prefer to start in this format, Matt Hasselbeck or Brett Favre? If you were to look only at average scores, Hasselbeck edged Favre 16.1 to 15.5. Hasselbeck, however, was significantly more consistent in his scoring; his weekly scores produce a standard deviation of 5.5 to Favre's 9.3. In head-to-head fantasy competition, Hasselbeck is the safer play. In this format you need to pick the best lineup each week, so Favre's explosive scoring is necessary if you want to be competing for the grand prize.

Considering the number of potential combinations available, it's virtually impossible for anyone to highlight all the different choices, so below is the raw data along with some comments on each skill position to help you make an informed decision.

Note: All weekly averages and standard deviations are compiled based on scores from Week 1 through Week 16. Week 17 was purposefully excluded due to the large number of players who did not finish their games due because of playoff implications.

Quarterbacks

PlayerTeamWeekly AverageStandard Deviation
Tom BradyNE24.89.4
Tony RomoDAL19.78.3
Peyton ManningIND18.26.3
Ben RoethlisbergerPIT17.67.2
Matt HasselbeckSEA16.15.5
David GarrardJAC15.94.7
Brett FavreGB15.59.3
Jeff GarciaTB12.25.5
Jason CampbellWAS11.96.3
Philip RiversSD11.47.6
Eli ManningNYG11.16.1
Luke McCownTB118.5
Vince YoungTEN10.77.9
Todd CollinsWAS10.38.6
Aaron RodgersGB7.810.2
Quinn GrayJAC5.76.7
Kerry CollinsTEN3.24.4
Matt CasselNE1.13.8
Bruce GradkowskiTB13.2
Seneca WallaceSEA0.91.3
Brad JohnsonDAL00.1
Charlie BatchPIT-0.30.5

Comments on Quarterbacks:

After doing this number crunching, I immediately edited my opening week lineup to replace David Garrard with Ben Roethlisberger.

Going forward, I'll be more than happy to pencil Tom Brady and Tony Romo in every week.

As much as I think Hasselbeck is an underrated fantasy quarterback, I can't find a way to recommend him in this format.

Running Backs

PlayerTeamWeekly AverageStandard Deviation
LaDainian TomlinsonSD21.710
Joseph AddaiIND188
Clinton PortisWAS15.25.8
Marion BarberDAL14.78.5
Brandon JacobsNYG14.27
Earnest GrahamTB13.78.9
Maurice Jones-DrewJAC137.8
Ryan GrantGB11.58.9
LenDale WhiteTEN11.15.9
Fred TaylorJAC10.66
Laurence MaroneyNE9.75.6
Shaun AlexanderSEA8.95.5
Chris BrownTEN8.34.6
Maurice MorrisSEA8.15.6
Najeh DavenportPIT7.98.9
LaBrandon ToefieldJAC7.20
Julius JonesDAL6.63.9
Michael PittmanTB6.53.4
Kenton KeithIND68
Kevin FaulkNE5.73.6
Chris HenryTEN4.95.9
Reuben DroughnsNYG4.95
Ladell BettsWAS4.63.5
Leonard WeaverSEA4.13.1
Brandon JacksonGB3.94.3
Mike SellersWAS3.55.1
Vernand MorencyGB3.43.6
Darren SprolesSD3.37.3
Michael BennettTB32.5
Greg JonesJAC2.73.7
Michael TurnerSD2.45.3
Heath EvansNE2.42.8
Ahmad BradshawNYG2.36.3
B.J. AskewTB22.1
Kyle EckelNE1.93.4
Lorenzo NealSD1.21.8
Luke LawtonIND0.82.1
Tyson ThompsonDAL0.61.9

Comments on Running Backs:

If LaDainian Tomlinson isn't in your lineup until the Chargers are eliminated, you need to question why you are even playing.

He didn't emerge until about Week 7, but don't be shy about using Earnest Graham. His weekly average is low because he was primarily a backup early on.

If you aren't using Graham as your second running back during the first week of this competition, Brandon Jacobs should be your choice. He has the talent and the offensive line to dominate.

If the position was team running back, Jacksonville Jaguars would be a nice play. Remember that for future weeks in the event one of them gets injured.

Wide Receivers

PlayerTeamWeekly AverageStandard Deviation
Randy MossNE20.810.1
Terrell OwensDAL17.811.4
Reggie WayneIND16.47.1
Greg JenningsGB14.76
Wes WelkerNE13.88.7
D.J. HackettSEA13.39.5
Santonio HolmesPIT12.87.7
Plaxico BurressNYG12.59.8
Bobby EngramSEA12.15.2
Hines WardPIT11.97.6
Joey GallowayTB11.18
Donald DriverGB10.55.3
Deion BranchSEA10.47
Patrick CraytonDAL9.69.2
Chris ChambersSD9.54.2
Reggie WilliamsJAC9.26.3
Nate BurlesonSEA8.85.6
Santana MossWAS8.26.1
Marvin HarrisonIND8.16.2
Amani ToomerNYG7.85.6
Roydell WilliamsTEN7.56.7
Antwaan Randle ElWAS7.35.3
Dennis NorthcuttJAC7.34.7
Anthony GonzalezIND7.28.4
Ike HilliardTB7.24.8
Donte' StallworthNE7.16.1
Justin GageTEN6.85.5
James JonesGB6.65.1
Vincent JacksonSD6.65.3
Jabar GaffneyNE6.27.1
Nate WashingtonPIT5.36.1
Ernest WilfordJAC4.83
Keenan McCardellWAS4.74.4
Matt JonesJAC43.2
Koren RobinsonGB3.52.2
Ruvell MartinGB3.35.2
Eric MouldsTEN3.12.5
Michael ClaytonTB2.72.9
Sam HurdDAL2.73.1
Craig DavisSD2.63.1
John BroussardJAC2.64.9
James ThrashWAS2.56.8
Ben ObomanuSEA2.44.3
Sinorice MossNYG2.32.6
Cedrick WilsonPIT2.32.7
Malcom FloydSD2.21.8
Reche CaldwellWAS2.22.8
Craphonso ThorpeIND1.93.2
Willie ReidPIT1.51.6
Kassim OsgoodSD0.30.9
Terry GlennDAL00

Comments on Wide Receivers:

I love D.J. Hackett in this competition. He puts up fantastic numbers when he plays and he looks likely to be the primary receiver Saturday.

Bobby Engram was the most over-looked productive fantasy wideout this season. He should stay that way for this competition. He's consistently average. Average equals no shot at winning anything cool.

Donald Driver was the well-known version of Engram this year. Avoid him now like you will in next year's draft.

Looking for a desperation play later in the competition? Try Jabar Gaffney. He's the ultimate boom or bust receiver in this competition.

Tight Ends

PlayerTeamWeekly AverageStandard Deviation
Jason WittenDAL13.36.7
Antonio GatesSD128.6
Dallas ClarkIND11.38
Chris CooleyWAS10.36
Benjamin WatsonNE8.27.2
Heath MillerPIT7.95.3
Donald LeeGB7.85
Alex SmithTB5.44.3
Marcedes LewisJAC4.63.3
Ben UtechtIND4.42.7
Bo ScaifeTEN4.43
Bubba FranksGB4.23.4
Marcus PollardSEA3.72.9
Jerramy StevensTB2.95.9
Will HellerSEA2.14.2
Matt SpaethPIT1.83.3
Bryan FletcherIND1.73.3
Kyle BradyNE1.72.7
Anthony FasanoDAL1.62.3
Tony CurtisDAL1.52.9
Todd YoderWAS1.42.5
Brandon ManumaleunaSD1.32.2
Kevin BossNYG1.32.9
Anthony BechtTB1.12.6
Ben TroupeTEN0.50.9

You need to forget how Antonio Gates disappointed his owners this year, from a points per game versus scoring volatility stance; he's the best play for this competition in the first round.

When it comes to next weekend, the choices are plentiful, especially if San Diego wins their opening round matchup. This is the position you will need to nail if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Bottom line

This competition needs to be about taking risks if you want to win. If you play it safe, you can't possibly win. Take some big risks and use these numbers to really gauge which players are those risks and maybe, just maybe, you'll find yourself atop the leaderboard.

Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for espn.com. His espn.com fan profile is available at: http://myespn.go.com/KenD17.

Ken Daube

Fantasy Football
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Fantasy Football Now" with Dave Rothenberg on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET, which streams at ESPNNewYork.com, and can also be listened to via the ESPN Radio app.