Fantasy Cheat Sheet: Ten tips for the brutally unfair postseason
Larry Fitzgerald does not project as a 'stud' performer going into the playoffs
Despite snow, the Packers and Lions should still be spreading the ball around
Ben Roethlisberger's return bodes well for the fantasy value of Pittsburgh's WRs
Let me let you in on a little secret: As much as fantasy writers want you to think there is a magical formula for success in the fantasy football postseason, there is none.
Well, maybe none outside of this mantra: Winning fantasy games in crunch time is more about minimizing risk and hoping for the best.
It is not quite what you want to hear when you come to SI.com to read the weekly Cheat Sheet that boasts the top 10 tips to help you win. These 10 tips below do help you minimize your risk at least.
We wish you the best of luck as the sometimes-unfair, brutally unforgiving, single-elimination fantasy football playoffs begin:
1. Larry Fitzgerald is not a stud.
Well, there is a caveat to that statement: Fitzgerald is a stud, but one rendered impotent by an awful quarterback situation. John Skelton is back starting for the Cardinals this week as the Cardinals choose to move away from the woefully ineffective rookie Ryan Lindley, but that is merely garbage in and garbage out.
"Oh how I wish Kevin Kolb was the quarterback?" said no one ever (until now).
You cannot trust Fitzgerald's quarterback, so therefore you cannot trust Fitzgerald himself. Bench him.
You should dance with the one that brought you, but unlike other early round picks that helped you get here, Fitzgerald hasn't done a thing of late. He has caught just one pass in three games this season. From 2005 through 2011, he had just one game with fewer than two catches. You could add up his production the past three weeks and still come up with numbers hardly fantasy-starter worthy: five catches for 65 yards and no touchdowns.
"I have no words. I have to laugh to keep from crying," Fitzgerald said this week.
To be fair, Fitzgerald was referring to the Cardinals' eight-game losing streak, but his words of lament are fitting for his fantasy owners, too. They should laugh to keep from crying in crunch time.
Start him in Week 1 of the fantasy postseason where one loss eliminates you? When he is facing off against Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman?
The best case scenarios are Skelton revives Fitzgerald, or Kolb saves Fitzgerald's season in future weeks. Those are the only reasons Fitzgerald should be owned at all at this point.
2. So, who can we take a shot on? Let's try Brandon Lloyd.
The Patriots haven't used Lloyd much in a good, long time, but the bet here is the targets are going to come back to him. This is a mere hunch, but here is where this thought comes from:
Lloyd's busiest performances this season have come in the Pats' toughest games. He reeled in season highs (nine catches for 108 yards) in the Week 3 loss at Baltimore. That was just a week after he had eight catches for 60 yards in a loss to the Cards. In the Week 6 loss at Seattle, Lloyd had his third-most catches (six) and second-most yards (80).
The 10-1 Texans should provide a big challenge, especially with cornerback Johnathan Joseph (hamstring, groin) saying there's "no doubt about it" that he's "good to go."
With Wes Welker (ankle), Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and Lloyd (knee) all questionable -- while Rob Gronkowski (arm) and Julian Edelman (foot, IR) are out -- the Pats won't have the luxury to play games with their targets like that sometimes have. Welker, Hernandez and Lloyd each have to play and figure to be frequent targets. And if you're the Texans, you might want to use your best cornerback, Joseph, on Hernandez and Welker more than on the mostly invisible Lloyd.
It is a bit of a risky play, but Lloyd is a nice sleeper to make a surprise fantasy postseason push Monday night.
3. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
It will begin to look a lot like Christmas on Sunday night in Green Bay, because there is a winter storm watch for the Green Bay area Saturday night through Sunday. So, does that mean we should be wary of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game?
You should be excited for it.
If you've never played football on a slick, snow-covered field, you might not know just how hard it is to cover someone cutting on you in those conditions. A receiver knows the cuts he will be making. A defender is left to react. On slick turf, it can lead to fallen defenders and some huge plays in the passing game.
The Packers won't be taking advantage of this with the run game, that's for sure. They never really bother to run much anyway, but the banged-up backs put even more emphasis on the passing game and Rodgers' play-making. Starting running back James Starks (knee) is out. Alex Green has done very little, while fullback John Kuhn and recently re-signed Ryan Grant are hardly feature-worthy.
It is going to be a busy day for Rodgers and all of his targets.
Jordy Nelson (hamstring) has been ruled out, but you should start Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and even Jermichael Finley in every league possible. Remember, Finley's best game this season (three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown) came in Week 11 against the Lions. Detroit has been the fifth-worst team in fantasy against tight ends, too.
4. So which Lions WRs benefit from this then?
Titus Young (knee) is out for the season. His predecessor, Nate Burleson (knee), and his replacement, Ryan Broyles (knee), are, too. This is why Calvin Johnson is on a legendary tear, and yet Matthew Stafford hasn't performed like the top-five quarterback he was drafted to be.
The ball goes to Megatron because it has to. Stafford needs someone else to step forward on what could be tricky turf.
That makes Brandon Pettigrew a must-start tight end, Tony Scheffler a sleeper at tight end and Mike Thomas a Hail Mary flex option. The Packers are going to score points and the Lions are going to be playing catch-up.
5. What about the Lions' running game?
It is possible the Lions try to capitalize on the tricky conditions with their running game -- even if this is an infamously "soft" dome team playing in the great outdoors. Mikel Leshoure is a solid starter this week, particularly with his six touchdowns in the past five games.
But Joique Bell is a sleeper play as well. The Lions are impressed with the big-play ability Bell has brought to the running game of late and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan vows to get him more and more involved.
"Him rattling off really the three explosive runs that we've had this year certainly gives him more opportunities I think in our offense, not just in the games," Linehan told DetroitLions.com this week. "I think you'll see him playing a little bit more throughout the game."
Bell had 10 touches and 102 combined yards last week, so you might be able to count on him for 15-plus touches and double-digit points this week. Unlike the Packers, the Lions are going to need to lean on their backs. Consider Leshoure and Bell solid starts this week.
6. Men of Steel are back
Ben Roethlisberger's (shoulder/ribs) return does more than boast his own fantasy owners. It makes Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown viable again.
Those are two elite receivers that have been benched for weeks, if not cut, with Charlie Batch ruining most of the Steelers' fantasy options. You can get them active again, especially against the Chargers defense.
The Chargers are a lame-duck, West Coast team playing in the 1 p.m. slot in the Eastern Time Zone. They will sleep-walk through this one as Big Ben rips them in his return. It should also be noted only the Giants and Chiefs have allowed more passing touchdowns to wide receivers this season than the Chargers.
Big Ben, Wallace, Brown, Heath Miller and starting running back Jonathan Dwyer all look like they will be productive fantasy starters for us this week. Shaun Suisham and the Steelers' D/ST should be active for you as well.
7. RB game-time decisions:
Michael Turner (elbow), Falcons -- He will play and is a great start against the Panthers defense that has surrendered the sixth-more points to running backs in fantasy this season.
DeMarco Murray (ankle), Cowboys -- He proved healthy and productive last week and immediately becomes a must-start for fantasy owners that have long waited for this.
Michael Bush (ribs), Bears -- Matt Forte is healthy and will be the only Bears back to trust against an underrated Vikings run defense that is allowing just 3.8 yards per rush.
Beanie Wells (knee), Cardinals -- He is still not 100 percent and is facing a stiff Seahawks run defense on the road. Also, the Cards have that frustratingly awful passing game. Keep Wells benched.
Jonathan Stewart (ankle), Panthers -- He would have been a bad play at full health against the Falcons. He has been ruled out.
Cedric Peerman (ankle), Bengals -- You don't need this guy anyway, but his being inactive makes BenJarvus Green-Ellis a bit more intriguing.
8. WR game-time decisions:
Stevie Johnson (hamstring), Bills -- He said "I will be cool for Sunday." Keep him active as needed. The fact the Rams are in the top 10 of fantasy versus wide receivers might make you more wary of him than his hammy does.
Hakeem Nicks (knee), Giants -- When isn't Nicks banged up? He can still star against a Saints secondary that has been the third-worst in fantasy this season. Keep him active.
Danny Amendola (foot), Rams -- He was on the bad side of questionable and is now inactive. Consider Chris Givens slightly more intriguing.
Andre Roberts (ankle), Cardinals -- He returned to practice Friday, but it's unsafe to trust any Cardinals wide receiver against the Seahawks defense. If Fitzgerald is a "sit," Roberts is a "forget it."
Mario Manningham (shoulder), 49ers -- The fact he is doubtful won't change the fact no owner should trust him in lineups this week, but it does make Michael Crabtree and Vernon slightly more trustworthy.
9. Surprise performer of the week: Bilal Powell.
No, Powell won't steal feature-back duties from Shonn Greene between the 20s, but Powell is a threat to reach the end zone once or twice against the Jaguars suspect run defense. We already know the Jets struggle to pass the ball to an awful receiving corps that will be even weaker with Dustin Keller (ankle) out.
The Jags have the second-worst run defense in the NFL. Only the Saints are worse. The Jags are also fifth-worst in fantasy versus running backs. It should be a week of 20-plus carries for Shonn Greene and double-digit points for him and his back-up/touchdown vulture Powell.
Start both Greene and Powell in this most-favorable of matchup.
10. Roster trends re-evaluation:
We haven't ripped your flavor of the week pick-ups for months, so we decided we would get back on the horse here. Breaking down the top five most-added players this week:
WR Chris Givens, Rams -- This one makes some sense with Amendola's injury but Givens is not starter-worthy for a true fantasy contender. The Rams will just be too run-happy against the Bills.
RB Alex Green, Packers -- He is one of the NFL's starting running backs now, so he has to be owned, but he is a bad play against the Lions run defense. Bench him.
WR Josh Gordon, Browns -- He is Brandon Weeden's leading receiver, but the Chiefs have quietly allowed the fewest receptions to wide receivers in fantasy this season.
WR Donnie Avery, Colts -- He is a potential starter this week, but you never know when his targets wind up going to Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen or the now-healthy Coby Fleener. Start him at your own risk.
RB Montell Owens, Jaguars -- Yes, he projects to start and the Jets have allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL this season, but the Jags running game is just too sketchy to trust in fantasy crunch time.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his last-minute Cheat Sheet on Sunday mornings and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).