Take it from me, a 2007 Tom Brady owner, when I say that it is relatively easy to navigate through the fantasy regular season and playoffs when your quarterback throws 50 touchdown passes.
But when fantasy God-send Tom Brady made a quick exit from his 2008 campaign due to a season-ending knee injury, the odds-on favorite to drive this year’s fantasy teams to the promise land suddenly became a liability. And when the dust settled and reality set in, fantasy owners were left wondering who would lead their teams to the promise land in 2008.
While that answer has yet to play out, there are a number of candidates for the position. Unlike the current Presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, there are more than two parties at play here. The golden one could be a quarterback, runningback or wide receiver. The race is wide open.
A ton of players have the talent to lead fantasy owners to that elusive fantasy championship. But let’s face it: While it does take talent and skill, luck also plays a key role in the success of a team. And the best luck a fantasy owner can have with his/her players now, looking down the road toward the fantasy playoffs, could be the luck of the schedule.
Drawing the right matchups for stud players in weeks 13 through 16 may be the second-most crucial aspect of the luck it takes to win a fantasy championship, behind only the luck it takes to avoid the injury bug. But not every stud player has great fantasy playoff matchups. The ones that do, however, could be the driving forces of this season’s championship fantasy teams.
Six players are poised to vie for Brady’s crown by season’s end, while several others have the opportunity to be timely and crucial producers. And there even are a few guys who may put their fantasy owners in peril this playoff season.
The leading candidates
Drew Brees v. Atlanta, @ Chicago, @ Detroit: If the Saints continue to hover around .500, more and more pressure is going to fall on the shoulders of Brees. That means more passing down the stretch. While the trip to Chicago in winter might not be appealing, the home game against Atlanta and the road game at Detroit sandwiching the trip to Soldier Field will have Brees owners salivating. And if the weather holds up, Brees should have a field day against a lenient Bears’ pass defense.
Peyton Manning v. Cincinnati, v. Detroit, @ Jacksonville: Look, we all know this year’s Peyton is not the Peyton of old. But that offense is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. And the good thing about this year compared with those past: The Colts will have something to play for down the stretch.
Steven Jackson @ Arizona, v. Seattle, v. San Francisco: This should be a cake walk for SJax, if he can get back on the field. The injury concerns are worrisome for his owners, but taking the cautious approach right now could be the best thing for Jackson and his owners down the stretch. If fantasy owners can weather the storm without Jackson, he should be fantasy gold during the playoffs with these matchups.
Adrian Peterson @ Detroit, @ Arizona, v. Atlanta: As if. Of course Peterson is going to be a force down the stretch, particularly with the Vikings fighting for the playoffs. Even better, Peterson gets to run against the Lions, Cardinals and Falcons. Not too shabby.
Lee Evans v. Miami, @ New York Jets, @ Denver: Evans, my favorite fantasy wide receiver under the radar, is having his most consistent fantasy season to date. Missing are the gigantic 20+ point weeks sporadically dispersed among a majority of single-digit performances. Evans has only two single-digit performances to date this season as he has become one of the more consistent receivers in the NFL. As long as Buffalo continues to utilize his skills in the passing game, Evans will continue to produce and may put up a few 20+ plus weeks going forward.
Reggie Wayne v. Cincinnati, v. Detroit, @ Jacksonville: As Manning goes, so too does Wayne. Heck, Peyton does not even need to have a great game for Reggie to shine, which he should do during the fantasy playoffs. No one from any of these teams can match him one-on-one and, like I said above, the Colts will be playing for their playoff lives.
Worth a look
Brett Favre @ San Francisco, v. Buffalo, @ Seattle: Favre needs to turn things around quickly if the Jets are going to stay in the playoff race. He has turned the ball over too many times the last three weeks against poor defenses. If the Jets can stay afloat, Favre’s fantasy playoff schedule is pretty favorable.
Ronnie Brown @ Buffalo, v. San Francisco, @ Kansas City: Brown is hitting a midseason slump, and one has to wonder if this has anything to do with his conditioning level coming off major knee surgery. If not, he should return to form shortly and could post solid number in fantasy playoff weeks 15 and 16.
LaDainian Tomlinson v. Oakland, @ Kansas City, @ Tampa Bay: It looks like LDT finally is putting the injury concerns behind him. He exploded for a stud-like performance last week against the Saints and has a very favorable schedule down the stretch. With the Chargers on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in, Tomlinson will be called upon to carry the team in the second half of the season.
If they can avoid the rookie wall
Matt Forte v. Jacksonville, v. New Orleans, v. Green Bay: Three consecutive home games on a contending team with a good defense in a cold weather city = A unique opportunity for a rookie runningback with young legs. While the defenses of the Jaguars, Saints and Packers have had their moments this year, traveling to the Windy City at the onset of winter could play in Forte’s favor.
Donnie Avery @ Arizona, v. Seattle, v. 49ers: Wide receiver is notoriously the toughest position to predict in fantasy football, but this is the time of year to find some diamonds in the rough. Avery has world-class speed that the Rams are starting to utilize now that he is at full health. Not to mention going against the 21st, 30th and 18th currently-ranked passing defenses during the fantasy playoffs. Even Avery’s schedule preceding the playoffs looks appetizing: v. Cardinals, @ Jets, @ 49ers, v. Bears, v. Dolphins. Talk about an easy road for the Rams’ passing game.
Run for the hills!
Ben Roethlisberger v. Dallas, @ Baltimore, @ Tennessee: Big Ben played poorly against a stout Giants’ defense. If history repeats itself, watch out during the fantasy playoffs. Roethlisberger gets a decent matchup against the Cowboys in week 14, but goes on the road to face two of the toughest defenses in the NFL in weeks 15 and 16.
Marion Barber @ Pittsburgh, v. New York Giants, v. Baltimore: Gulp. I looked at a lot of schedules for the fantasy playoffs, but none are as menacing as those Barber will face in weeks 14 – 16. I know Barber owners are relying on him to carry their teams to the playoffs, but once you get there all bets are off. The good thing is he gets the Giants and Ravens at home, which could give him a nice little bump.
Braylon Edwards @ Tennessee, @ Philadelphia, v. Cincinnati: Edwards goes as quarterback Derek Anderson goes. And Anderson has been wildly inconsistent this season. While Cleveland does draw a favorable matchup in week 16 against the Bengals, getting to that week in the fantasy playoffs may be tough after Anderson and Edwards go on the road against the Titans and Eagles.