I know, I know…it’s not fair.

 

Seven teams finished at 7-7, and only two made the playoffs, even though all but one of them scored more points this year than all three teams who finished 8-6.

 

Well I just lost a pretty big pot against 9-2 offsuit while I’m holding pocket aces.

 

You put yourself in what you think is the best position to win, and then Scotty 2 Hotty puts up 202 points in a week where he probably would have benched all of his players if Travelpiece had asked nicely or monetarily enough.

 

Sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

 

If you don’t believe me, read Matthew Berry’s latest column:

 

http://sports.espn.go.com/fantasy/football/ffl/story?page=TMR091215

 

For the 8 of you who finished on the outside looking in, I apologize for your luck, thank you for your time, and really hope to see you again next year; partially because you were all active owners and it was fun to have you, but also because it’s a pain in the ass to find replacements, especially for a keeper league.  Now that everyone will be graduated and moving on with their life (more or less), I’m not sure what we’re going to do about the draft, but I’ll come up with something.  Keep in mind it’s a keeper league, and you have the choice of keeping 1, 2, or 3 players at a price that will be proportionately taxed based on the price they were paid for at the draft.  I will be putting up that tax structure once the season ends, which is when I imagine trading will be unlocked again.

 

For the 5 of you who will be joining me in holy battle over the course of what we each hope will be the next 3 weeks, welcome to the party.

 

No more playoff scenarios.

No more relevant standings.

It’s the way we all wish the BCS were formatted: win a few games and the title is yours.

 

We’ll get to my predictions for our 2 playoff games in just a moment.

 

Thankfully, Damn is still alive in the Eliminator Challenge, so I still have a BS excuse to continue making my 5 NFL predictions each week.  Since this portion of the post’s conception three weeks ago, I’ve gone 13-2, despite seeing my ability to pick games against the spread go down the toilet.  So for better or worse, here are my 5 NFL picks of the week, only this week I’m going to do them in inverse order of confidence.  (It’s a suspense building technique…need to learn how to use these things if I’m ever going to put these writing skills to good use.)

 

#5. Indianapolis Colts over Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Fantasy owners across the nation (Duncan included) are starting to really worry about whether or not Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts starters are going to ride the pine for a large portion of their remaining games.  If I could start a sidebar here, this whole mentality has never made sense to me.  I could understand if we’re talking about taking it easy on a running back with a sore hammy, or if we’re talking about giving 40 year old quarterbacks named Brett Favre a series off here or there, but these are healthy guys that we’re talking about benching for a good portion of the next 3 weeks which lead up to a bye week.  You know when else we talk about that kind of situation?  In the pre-season.  And how often do you see guys tear it up in Week 1 after 4 weeks of limited game-time action?  Less often than you would hope.  I understand the desire to keep the body and the mind fresh, but that doesn’t mean shut it down.  College finals are a bitch, but could you imagine having to take them after you came back from Christmas break and/or summer vacation instead?  I sincerely hope Jim Caldwell and Sean Payton keep their guys playing the rest of the season.  As far as this week is concerned, though, there’s no way you can bench your 13-0 starters in an intra-divisional game; a rivalry game against a team whose playoff hopes you could severely cripple.  Peyton Manning might eventually get pulled, but that would only be because the Colts are up by a couple touchdowns late in the 4th quarter.

 

#4. Houston Texans over St. Louis Rams

 

Realistically, you’d think this game should be a more confident pick.  Steven Jackson is banged up, the Texans just put on a clinic against the Seahawks, and as if it even matters, the Rams don’t know who their starting quarterback will be.  However, on the off chance that the Jaguars actually beat the Colts on Thursday, the Texans’ playoff hopes are all but dead.  It’s a shame they had a 4 game losing streak going into last week, but it’s a pity that all 4 of those losses came against divisional opponents, because they would now lose tiebreakers with both Jacksonville and Tennessee if that’s what it comes down to for the last wild card spot.  Well, if Jacksonville beats Indy, they move to 8-6 and still have a juicy game against Cleveland in Week 17.  Even if Houston wins out, they need to pray that Jacksonville loses their remaining games.  And as far as the other wild card spot is concerned, Denver has a 2 game lead on Houston, and still has 2 home games against Oakland and Kansas City, so it’s not looking pretty.  So here’s my dilemma: if Jacksonville loses to Indianapolis on Thursday, well then the Texans are pretty much a stone cold lock this week against the Rams, because they still have playoff hopes, but if Jacksonville wins, then I almost like St. Louis’ chances of pulling off an upset at home against a deflated Texans team.  That, my friends, is why we are putting this game at #4, and no higher.

 

#3. Arizona Cardinals over Detroit Lions

 

I’m not sure which game last week was more uncomfortable to watch: the Lions absolutely getting pummeled by the Ravens, or the Cardinals turning it over seven times against the 49ers.  Both teams looked bad.  Really bad.  But the difference is Arizona has a reason to bounce back this week, especially now that the 49ers are sort of, almost, kind of breathing down their necks in the NFC West playoff race.  The Cardinals have a 1.99 game lead over San Fran with 3 to play, and the remaining schedule for each team still includes Detroit and St. Louis, so we have to assume that San Francisco isn’t going to lose either of those must-win games.

But forget potential playoff situations, because I’ve been talking about those too much already.  Here are some facts about the Detroit Lions passing defense:

 

272 yards per game; 32nd in the NFL. Next closest is 258.

8.3 yards per passing attempt; 32nd in the NFL. Next closest is 8.2.

29 touchdowns allowed; 32nd in the NFL. Next closest is 27.

108.8 opposing QB rating; 32nd in the NFL. Next closest is 98.1.

69.5% completions allowed; 32nd in the NFL. Next closest is 67.7

8 interceptions; 31st in the NFL.

21 sacks; 29th in the NFL.

 

Kurt Warner will not have a repeat performance of last week against that secondary.

 

Newsflash for Eric Berry, Junior safety from Tennessee: Detroit will take you with the 3rd overall pick in this year’s draft if you enter.  Learn from Sam Bradford’s mistake and take the money while you can.

 

Those aren’t obscure facts that I’m pulling out of my ass.  That’s basically every statistical category in the books that defines a passing defense aside from longest completion allowed, and I assume the only reason that Detroit is nowhere near the worst in the league at that stat is because it’s hard to pin your opponent inside the 20 yard line when you can never make it out of your own.

 

Oh and P.S. Kevin Smith is done for the season, so the Lions are going to be incredibly one-dimensional (translation: predictable) on offense.

 

#2. Baltimore Ravens over Chicago Bears

 

Jay Cutler just loves to throw interceptions on the road, and the Ravens defense hasn’t allowed a visiting team to put up more than 17 points in a game since the first week of the season, and that includes games against the Steelers, Bengals, Broncos, and Colts.  Not to mention, the Ravens are essentially coming off of a bye week after beating the Lions by 45 last week.  Factor in that Chicago is near the bottom of the league against the run, Ray Rice has been running like a man possessed as of late, and that a win would potentially put Baltimore in the driver’s seat for a wild card spot.  I’m not even remotely afraid of the Bears this week.

 

#1. Denver Broncos over Oakland Raiders

 

All I need for this one are four words, which is good, because my hands are tired from the last four picks.  JaMarcus.  Russell.  Starting.  Quarterback.

 

 

 

Now it’s onto our two playoff games.  Say what you want about ESPN’s projections (and you know that I have), they seem to indicate we’re going to have a couple of really close games on our hands here.

 

Game #1. Daren Duncan’s Green Bay Packers (7-7) @ Adam Kauffman’s Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

 

The right to get kicked square in the ass by Garland in the semi-finals may well have already been decided by Friday morning if I’m wrong about the amount of playing time Peyton Manning will get, but we’re going to break this baby down 5 point style just like always.  But be prepared for the X-Factor, because it is one hell of an X-Factor.

 

1. Warner & Fitzgerald.  Isn’t this what it always comes down to?  Going into the Monday night game in which Warner & Fitzgerald were playing, Kauffman was down by 60, and I was about 70% certain he would still come back to win.  He didn’t even come close to doing so, but that proves my point.  You’d never be surprised to see this tandem put up 60 points, but they may very well be your death knell as well.  Fitz has a knee injury, but I’d be incredibly surprised if he doesn’t start.  If they don’t combine for at least 50 points against the Lions’ aforementioned gawd awful passing defense, it will be hard for Kauffman to win.

 

2. Miles Austin against the Saints.  New Orleans is 3rd in the league in terms of passing touchdowns allowed, and 2nd in the league in terms of interceptions, but they’ve also allowed consecutive 300 yard passing games to Jason Campbell and Chris Redman.  Duncan has two receivers on his bench who are projected to get more points than Austin, but I think these experts are just giving the Saints too much credit for being 13-0.  Believe what you want about the December curse in Dallas, but I think that Romo is going to show up and shut up the doubters for a few days.  That’s good news for Austin, who has 9 touchdowns in the past 9 games, and has reestablished himself as a consistent producer over the past 3 weeks.

 

3. Steve Smith against the Vikings.  On the other hand, we have someone who has “de-established” himself as a consistent producer over the past 3 weeks.  He has receptions of 41-TD, 42, and 66 yards over the past 3 weeks.  Aside from that, it’s 3 catches for 17 yards.  Steve Smith 1.0 was starting to once again become a reliable fantasy option for a few weeks in the middle of the season, and he somehow managed to put up 16 points last week, but I’m calling his bluff, and so are the Vikings.

 

4. Fred Jackson.  He appears to be the #1 back, as he’s been getting about 65% of the touches over the past few weeks, but it’s not exactly easy to run against the Patriots.  They’ve only allowed 3 rushing touchdowns on the season, so there’s little hope for the end zone six.  Last time they played, Jackson had 5 catches for 83 yards and his only receiving TD of the season.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing a repeat of that.  The Pats shut down DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart last week, and they’ve been a much more formidable rushing attack this season than has the Jackson/Lynch duo.

 

5. Reggie Bush.  The human X-Factor doesn’t even qualify as the X-Factor in this match-up, but he will prove to be crucial.  Dallas struggles to defend against passes to the running back.  Making receptions as the running back is about all Reggie Bush is good for.

 

X-Factor: What if Duncan benches Peyton Manning?  It might seem like the craziest, gutsiest move in the history of fantasy football, but could it pay off?  First of all, which direction would Duncan even go?  Does he start Jason Campbell?  The dude’s averaging 273 yards per game over the past 3 weeks, and has a 7:3 touchdown to interception ratio over the same time span.  And imagine the adrenaline pumping through the veins of both Duncan and Kauffman on Monday night, as Campbell would be the only guy from either team to take part in that game.  I think the only person in the nation who might be closer to the edge of their seat on that particular Monday night would be our very own Scott Garland as he engages in another 2 hours of watching greased up dudes in tights fondling each other.  I suppose I can’t throw stones, because I still flip over to Raw during commercial breaks from the MNF game, but think about that drama!  Could someone seriously bring themselves to put their fantasy playoff hopes on Jason Campbell?  Or what if he goes with Matt Hasselbeck against the Bucs instead?  In his two home games this season against the other horrific teams in the NFC, he put up fantasy scores of 26.2 and 26.8.  And if you can ignore the fact that he’s somehow had 6 fumbles in the past 2 games, he’s actually played relatively well in those games.  Even if you weren’t concerned about the possibility of Manning sitting out most of the second half against Jacksonville, these two guys are still tantalizing starts.  In a game that ESPN currently thinks may be separated by less than 1 fantasy point, it may all come down to one simple question: Does Duncan just roll with what got him here and hope for the best with Manning, or does he hope to catch lightning in a bottle with one of the other guys? Welcome to the playoffs, man.  Choose wisely.

 

End Result: Regardless of the quarterback decision, I like Duncan’s chances.  Kauffman is relying almost entirely on Warner and Fitzgerald scoring in bunches, but Duncan has a very balanced attack in which he could very well get 20+ points from anyone and everyone on his team.  In his first year in the league, I think Duncan moves onto the second round with a 134-108 victory.

 

 

 

Game #2: Alexander O’Neill’s Deserted Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7) @ Kerry Miller’s Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)

 

That’s right, AO, they’re my Chiefs.  I don’t care if you’re from Kansas.  I’m older, so there.  Sorry for that ugliness.  Time for a sentimental moment. It almost makes me sad that this has to be a first round battle.  I’m glad to see O’Neill finally make the playoffs, but as the season progressed, I found myself rooting for the guy who pulled me aside in the bar and told me that reading my posts was the highlight of his week.  If he had only scored 0.9 more fantasy points over the course of the season, he could’ve had the #5 spot and we wouldn’t have to meet until the championship.  Damn you, cruel and twisted fate!  I feel as though there may be some sort of NCAA foreshadowing to this match-up.  I just have a sickening feeling now that Duke will end up being the #2 or #3 seed in Kansas’ region now so we won’t be able to meet in the Final Four or better.  But alas, that’s 3 months away, and my only job right now is to predict what will happen in the next 5 days.

 

1. Dallas Clark vs. Jim Caldwell.  Look, if he plays the entire game, he’s going to do better than the 6 points he got against the Jags in Week 1, but if he or Manning sees the bench for much of this game, it’s hard to say what he’ll do.  He was able to do a lot of damage against the Broncos in the first half last week, and who’s to say he won’t repeat that performance?  All I know is I’m not going to be the one to say that.  I’m terrified of what he’ll do, and I’ve had a pretty good read on Dallas Clark this season.

 

2. Philip Rivers vs. the Bengals.  It’s been awhile since Cincinnati has gone up against a formidable foe at the QB position.  They faced Favre last week, who has been declining for a few weeks now, and before that, it was the Lions, Browns, Raiders, Steelers, Ravens, and Bears.  Any of those quarterbacks scaring you?  But way back in week 6 they went up against the Texans, and Matt Schaub went all PHILIP RIVERS on them.  Go back a few more weeks and we find more Browns, Ravens, and Steelers before getting to Aaron Rodgers, who had a pretty decent game.  They aren’t so great against the good quarterbacks, so I expect Rivers to do just fine. He won’t put up too many points, but he won’t look like Kurt Warner did on Monday.  ESPN’s projection of 22 is about what I expect as well.  (By the way, take a look again at that schedule the Bengals have played, and remember it when the playoffs roll around and you’re trying to decide whether the 9-7 Ravens will actually lose to the 11-5 Bengals for a third time.)

 

3. Knowshon Moreno vs. the Raiders.  I know that the Raiders rush defense sucks.  I know that Buckhalter was hurt last week and probably won’t play this week.  I respect the fact that he’s going to have a good game.  But he’s going to have a good game for Knowshon Moreno.  Dude has never run for 100 yards in his brief career, but we’re going to project him to go for 131 and 2 scores this week?  Just seems a little crazy to me.  I questioned the projections last week with Andre Johnson supposedly getting 30 points, and he ended up surpassing that, but we’ve seen Andre do that in the past.  Let’s let the kid prove he can be an every down back before we pencil him in for 26 points, ok?

 

4. Denver Broncos D/ST vs. Oakland.  Just go back to my #1 NFL pick for this week if you have any questions here.  Last time Denver faced Oakland and JaMarcus, they scored 3 points and had 3 turnovers.

 

5. DeSean Jackson.  Reggie Bush was my #5 in the other match-up, so it’s only appropriate to slot DeSean Jackson at #5 in this one.  Jackson and Chris Johnson have officially reached god-status.  If you don’t know what god-status is, go play a few games of Madden on the Rookie difficulty level, and check out your stats after like the 5th or 6th game.  Inevitably, you will have one player who single-handedly destroyed the other team’s defense at will in most of those games.  Now if you’re playing a season or a franchise or whatever they call it these days, you may occasionally have games where someone else on your team has a great game to which your all-star played second or third fiddle.  But, that guy is always going to produce to some extent, and may very well set an NFL record without you even realizing it was happening during the course of the game.  Now, you’ve been playing on Rookie, so you can make it more difficult, and maybe you’ll find that you aren’t as good with that guy as you hoped you would be.  But back in the day when I had nothing better to do with my life than play Madden…wait a minute…that sounds a lot like my present situation rather than the summers during my junior and senior years of high school…time to take an anti-depressant…okay, I’m back.  Where was I?  Oh yes, once upon a time, I was amazing at Madden, and I would have undefeated seasons on the hardest difficulty in the game, which I believe was dubbed “All-Madden.” Well, since there wasn’t any difficulty higher than that, and I still always managed to find THAT guy on my team, I decided that those guys had achieved god-status. Which brings me back to my point.  Chris Johnson and DeSean Jackson have achieved god-status.  They can do whatever they want against whoever they’re playing, and it’s not going to surprise you in the least.  I bring this up, because DeSean Jackson is playing against the same San Francisco defense that forced 7 turnovers against the Cardinals this past week, and he is still going to torch them for somewhere in the vicinity of 27 points.

 

X-Factor: Running backs aplenty.  I’ve been scavenging free agency for the past few weeks, and now I’ve got three spots to play five guys potentially worthy of starting. All five have upside, and all five have question marks lingering around them.  Yes, all five, which includes Maurice Jones-Drew.  I couldn’t possibly in good conscience suggest than Duncan consider benching Peyton Manning if I weren’t willing to do the same thing with my best guy.  He had 20 points in Week 1 against the Colts, and their defense has gotten all sorts of banged up since then, so despite his recent woes, I almost have to make MJD my #1 guy.  But then what?  Quinton Ganther was money for me last week, but he only had 50 rushing yards against a terrible Raiders defense.  Can I really rely on him to find the end zone multiple times against a considerably better Giants rush defense?  And then I’ve got a pair of guys in Beanie Wells and Justin Forsett who are clearly the best option on their team, even if their coaches deny it by refusing to give them a starter’s amount of carries, but they’re both playing against terrible teams.  And let’s not forget Arian Foster going against the Rams.  However, no one ever knows what the running situation is going to be in Houston, so he’s substantially behind any of the other four options, but I will somehow figure out a way to kick myself in the balls if he has a great game on my bench.  It’s all driving me insane, and I’ve already changed my mind and my roster three times this week.  As I write this, I’ve got MJD, Ganther, and Forsett in, but I’m strongly considering putting Wells in place of Ganther as soon as I finish this off. This will be the death of me.

 

End Result: I didn’t even find time to mention the fact that Brady has thrown for 300 yards seven times this season, and four of those were against division opponents, so I’m expecting big points from him against the Bills this week.  I am a chronic doubter in my own fantasy ability, so I’m going to predict O’Neill to win; but I made the playoffs in six of my seven fantasy leagues this year, so I’ve got to hold out hope for my boys to not lose by a score of 151-128.

 

If you actually read all of this four thousand word post, it was my pleasure to take you on this unnecessarily long journey.  Hopefully more of the same will be in order next week.

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