I really thought about making my post this week only four words: Screw you, Dallas Clark.

In case you didn’t know, I was in seven fantasy football leagues this year. I would dare say I got more into the NFL this year than I’ve ever gotten into college basketball, which is borderline blasphemy. I’m guessing it’s only because I had so much damn free time this NFL season, and I’ll get even more into college basketball than ever starting in a week or so.

But I digress. I was in seven leagues, and I made the playoffs in six of them. The only one in which I didn’t make the playoffs was on account of the fact that each return yard was worth 0.1 points in that league, and I didn’t know that. As a result, 2 of the top 6 RBs in the league were Darren Sproles and Jamaal Charles, and 3 of the 6 most valuable wide receivers were Josh Cribbs, Percy Harvin, and Danny Amendola. Perhaps now you understand why I’ve never even considered counting return yards for our league.

But I digress again. In six of my seven leagues I was in the playoffs last week, and in five of those six leagues, I played against Dallas Clark. I only advanced to the next round in one of those six leagues. Care to take a guess which five I lost in? I already hated the Colts, because the Chiefs have made the playoffs just four times since I’m old enough to remember (1994), and in three of those four years, they were eliminated by the Colts. But now I have a personal vendetta against Dallas Clark. Combine this with the fact that Calvin Johnson pussyfooted his way to a 3 for 35 day against one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, and I found myself wondering how far away we are from our first fantasy related “assassination.” Now, believe me, as intense as I get over fantasy sports, I wasn’t pondering whether or not I’d be the first to do it, because I’m not quite that crazy, but I would have gladly punched Megatron in his bum knee and demanded he give me the money I lost because of him. But this league is only for $10. There are leagues in which people pay thousands as an entry fee, and no, I’m not making that up. Someone with that much at stake is bound to go insane sooner or later, aren’t they? Just a little food for thought. Two years from now when (insert running back drafted in the top 10 in every league in the nation) has the worst game of his career during the fantasy playoffs and finds himself the victim of a hate crime, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

(By the way, in light of that rant, at the end of the season, I’m going to calculate which guys were the best and worst investments this year on a fantasy points per auction dollar spent basis. I’m certainly looking forward to it.)

In less morbid news, I was right with a lot of my predictions last week, but it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I improved to 17-3 in my NFL predictions, but for the second time, my #1 pick was the one I missed. Damn you again, Oakland Raiders! And I was right on virtually all of my individual predictions in each match-up, except for Steve Smith, and boy was I wrong on that one. But I correctly called who would win each game in the first round of our playoffs, and now we’re left with four teams.

But let’s get to the good news. Damn is STILL alive in the Eliminator Challenge. Damn, and 11,766 others. I’m so proud. Combine this with the fact that I said I would make 5 NFL predictions until I failed to go 4-1 or better and have yet to do so, and you know it’s time for my picks. Same format as last week, only hopefully this time around I’ll be leading up to a correct pick.

#5. Cincinnati Bengals over Kansas City Chiefs

A win and you’re in game at home against the same team who just allowed the Browns to run for 351 yards in a game? The only thing about this pick that doesn’t add up is that the Bills still have a worse rush defense than the Chiefs. The only reason this pick isn’t higher is because these are the games at the end of the season that the Bengals always lose, and that the Chiefs always lose draft position with.

Cincinnati: 35
Kansas City: 24

#4. New York Giants over Carolina Panthers

All signs point to this one being a potential upset. The Panthers are coming off of a big win over the Vikings, Matt Moore is finding his stride with Steve Smith, and the Giants have a pretty weak pass defense. But this is a game that the Giants want and need more than the Panthers do. Plus, over the past 3 weeks, the Giants are averaging 38 points per game to Carolina’s 17. The Panthers may have a good secondary, but I trust Eli Manning’s hot streak more than I trust Matt Moore’s.

New York: 31
Carolina: 17

#3. New Orleans Saints over Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It must be nice to face Tampa Bay at home with home field advantage on the line.

New Orleans: 27
Tampa Bay: 10

#2. Green Bay Packers over Seattle Seahawks

Never mind the fact that the Seahawks just lost by 17 points at home to a previously 1-12 Tampa Bay team. I pointed out two weeks ago in my Seattle/Houston prediction that the Seahawks are a terrible road team. They went on to lose that game by 27, and with the exception of their win in St. Louis, they have lost every road game this season by double digits. On top of that, I think the Giants would win a tiebreaker with the Packers, so they need this win to feel a little safer. This should help: the last five quarterbacks the Seahawks faced (which include the likes of Josh Freeman, Alex Smith, and Kyle Boller) have averaged 275 yards and just over 2 touchdowns per game. It’s so nice to meet you, Mr. Rodgers. Can I assume you will be using your frequent flyer miles this week?

Green Bay: 34
Seattle: 10

#1. Arizona Cardinals over St. Louis Rams

Here’s a not-so-far-fetched scenario for you: Minnesota loses their remaining games (@Chicago in Favre’s only cold weather game of the season, and vs. a potentially desperate-for-a-playoff-spot New York Giants), Philadelphia loses their remaining games (against Denver and Dallas, both of which are fighting for their playoff lives), and Arizona wins their remaining games (home games against the Rams and Packers, who may have already clinched the #5 spot in the playoffs if the Giants and Cowboys have each lost one of their last 2 games, which would leave them with nothing to play for.) If all of that happens, the Cardinals get a first round bye. Okay, maybe it is a little far-fetched, considering from a strictly statistical standpoint, there’s a 1 in 64 chance of all of those things happening, but do you really think the Cardinals are going to blow a distant chance at a home game in the second round of the playoffs by losing to the Rams? I certainly don’t.

Arizona: 42
St. Louis: 17

But now it’s on to the part you’re all waiting for. Well, at least I know for sure that my boys in the Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay game are waiting for it. Without further ado, it’s my predictions for the semi-finals.

Game #1: Daren Duncan’s Green Bay Packers @ Scott Garland’s New York Giants

1. Clinched playoff spots. Of the six teams who have made the playoffs (Indianapolis, San Diego, New Orleans, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Arizona), Duncan is starting four, and Garland might be starting one, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a substitution for the injured Shockey. But it’s not as if Garland is starting a bunch of Rams and Lions; if he plays Fasano instead of Shockey, everyone on his team is on an AFC team fighting for a playoff spot. For Duncan, Manning has played the entirety of the last two weeks against potential playoff foes and thrown for 4 touchdowns in each of those games. Does he play all of this week in an effort to eliminate the Jets from the playoffs? I’d certainly love to eliminate the potential of having to face Darrelle Revis in the playoffs. And what about the undefeated record? You have to try to one up the 2007 Patriots, don’t you? Last week, my gut told me Manning would play the whole game, and that’s what it’s telling me again. However, I don’t think the Saints are going to risk playing Reggie Bush this week, and with Michael Turner likely to be sidelined again with an injury in a game in which the Falcons have nothing to play for, that pretty much leaves Duncan to play Braylon Edwards in the flex spot. One could certainly do worse than starting a wide receiver against the Colts.

2. Cedric Benson vs. Kansas City. He hasn’t been doing much as of late, as he hasn’t scored a TD since week 9, but I think he should have a pretty easy go of things against the Chiefs this week. I don’t know if the experts are afraid to predict anything too bold from a running back after completely and predictably botching Knowshon Moreno’s line last week, but 18 fantasy points for Benson in this one seems like a lowball offer to me. He’s not going to put up 50 like Jerome Harrison did last week, but I’m willing to bet he ends up being in the top 5 for fantasy running backs this week.

3. Chris Johnson vs. Eric Dickerson. Speaking of top 5 fantasy running backs, CJ is 270 yards away from hitting 2,000 yards, and 375 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards. He’s run for at least 100 yards in nine consecutive games, and has an extremely favorable match-up this week with the Chargers. San Diego is in the bottom third of the league against the run, and they throw the ball a lot, which should lead to a good chunk of time of possession for the Titans. On a short week which usually favors the offense, he should get his fair share of chances to top the 150 yard mark this week. In other news, he has yet to run the ball 30 times in a game this season, and would have to average 35 carries per game to reach the curse of 370, so if he doesn’t break the record this year, I like his chances next year.

4. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Baltimore. The decline of the Ravens defense has been severely exaggerated. Like, to the point where I don’t even understand who started those rumors. They are 2nd in the league in points allowed, and 4th in the league in yards allowed. In the past 8 weeks, they’ve only allowed more than 17 points in a game once. In the past 5 weeks, the only running back to go for more than 75 yards against them just so happened to be Rashard Mendenhall, and let’s not forget Dennis Dixon was the QB for that game. Mendenhall’s a little banged up these days, and with Roethlisberger throwing for 500 yards in a game, I don’t foresee him getting another 24 carries in this one. Yes, he had six catches for 73 yards last week, but that was an anomaly. He had about 13 points the last time the Steelers faced the Ravens, and I’d be surprised to see him get 10 this time around.

5. Andre Johnson vs. seemingly no one. He is averaging 9 catches for 163 yards and a TD for the past 3 weeks. Miami is 23rd in the league in passing yards allowed per game. Houston has no running game and needs to win this game to have a shot at the playoffs. And I think Andre may have also joined Chris Johnson and DeSean Jackson in the god status category that I talked about last week. He could break Willie Anderson’s record of 336 receiving yards in a game, and I wouldn’t even be surprised. Andre is leading the league in receiving by over 200 yards, and is 4th in the league in receptions. Remember that other league I told you about in the intro? The one with all the return yard stats? Andre is only the 5th best receiver in that league. You go ahead and explain that one to the rest of the NFL.

X-Factor: Antonio Gates vs. Laurence Maroney. They’re the same guy at different positions. In any given week, you expect probably 6 catches for 60 yards from Gates, and about 15 carries for 75 yards from Maroney. More importantly, though, you expect each of them to get a red zone touchdown, and you hope for two. Just look at their projections every week if you don’t believe me. They’re each always supposed to score, but neither of them is ever supposed to get over 100 yards. Occasionally they’ll surprise you, and occasionally they’ll epically fail you. Well, when Jacksonville isn’t facing Chris Johnson, they’re pretty good against the run, and Tennessee isn’t all that great against the pass, so I think Antonio Gates will have the better game, and I think it will be crucial.

X-Factor #2: The curse of the Packers defense. Yeah, bet you didn’t see that second X-Factor coming, did you? This one is a shout-out to my boy Shaver. Two years ago, Shaver had the best team all season, and there was no doubt about it. Can’t remember his whole line-up, but he had Brady when he was setting touchdown records, Edgerrin James when he was still relevant, and Dwayne Bowe and Adrian Peterson before anyone knew they were going to be great. But in the playoffs, his team had one fatal flaw: The Green Bay Packers Defense. A playoff bound team facing an abysmal Bears squad; the Packers didn’t force one turnover, didn’t record one sack, and allowed two defensive touchdowns in a 35-7 loss. I think Shaver got -7 points from them in a 4 point loss. It was cataclysmic, and he still brings it up any time the two of us talk about fantasy football. Fast forward to this year where Garland has the best team in the league, and there’s no doubt about it. Brandon Marshall and the Johnson boys have been leading Garland to victory week after week, culminating in a 202 point performance two weeks ago. Well wouldn’t you know it, Garland is starting a potentially playoff bound Packers defense against an abysmal Seahawks squad. They’re supposed to score 11 points this week. Just wait. It’s only appropriate that for whatever reason, I gave Duncan the Green Bay Packers this season.

End Result: GB 137-135.

Game #2: Alexander O’Neill’s Deserted Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Andrew Nelson’s Pittsburgh Steelers

1. Dallas Clark vs. my intuition. For some strange reason, I always know how Dallas Clark is going to perform, and for some strange reason, I don’t like him this week. It’s easy to predict that Reggie Wayne will have a rough day on Revis Island, but that rubs off on the rest of the passing game. Aside from the obvious difference at QB, you’d be hard pressed to prove to me that the Colts passing attack is all that much different than that of the Falcons. On each team, there’s a great wide receiver, a great tight end, and a mediocre second wide receiver. Well against the Jets last week, the great tight end for the Falcons was absolutely shut down with the exception of a 6-yard touchdown at the end of the game. I’m expecting Clark to have a similar game.

2. Drew Brees vs. Tampa Bay. Brees struggled last week against the Cowboys, but in the 4 weeks before that game, he had been averaging 318 yards, 3.25 TDs, and 32.3 fantasy points per game. Here is my assumption: Brees only plays 3 quarters this week against the Buccaneers. Therefore, I will assume he scores ¾ of what he had been scoring, which would be 24 fantasy points. You’d like him to do better, but it’s hard to complain. It’s like Bo Burnham’s song “Love Is”…Love is a homeless guy searching for treasure in the middle of the rain, and finding a bag of gold coins and slowly finding out they’re all filled with chocolate. Even though he’s heartbroken, he can’t really complain, ‘cause he was hungry in the first place.

3. 49ers wide receivers. Both Crabtree and Morgan are borderline worthless fantasy options if they don’t score a touchdown. Between the two of them, they have 5 touchdowns, and only 5 corresponding games with double digit fantasy points. They have yet to score in the same game, and Alex Smith has looked downright awful the past two weeks. It’s an incredibly ballsy move which is highly unlikely to pay off, but it may very well be one of those situations where you have to play both in fear of playing the wrong one. I mean, one of them has scored in four of the past five weeks, but there’s no telling which one will score this time around. If it were me, I would probably play Crabtree and Collie. Morgan has three healthy games this season in which he tallied 0 catches, 1 catch for 3 yards, and 1 catch for 5 yards. Crabtree has at least been good for multiple catches in every game he’s played, and I think Collie is the main benefactor from the Colts facing Darrelle Revis. Garcon is banged up, so Collie will more than likely be the #2 guy this week, and he should get a lot of looks from Manning. He’s got a touchdown in each of his past three games, and I think the Crabtree/Collie combo has more upside than Crabtree/Morgan. Show me how much stock you put into my posts, AO.

4. Thomas Jones vs. a respectable rush defense. At first glance, it looks like Thomas Jones is having a pretty good season, but let’s take a deeper look. If the over/under for a good game as a running back is 80 rushing yards, then he’s had seven good games and seven bad games. I’m going to throw out the games against New England and Miami, because he’s got one on each side of the line against each of them. But that leaves us with five good games against Houston, Oakland, Tampa Bay, and twice against Buffalo; and leaves us with five bad games against Tennessee, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Carolina, and Atlanta. What Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Oakland have in common is that they are in the bottom five in the league against the run. And Tennessee, which is 9th against the run, is the best defense he’s played against all season, which just so happened to be his worst game of the season: 14 carries for 20 yards. Enter Indianapolis. They’re not great against the run, but they’re not too shabby either. Despite all their injuries, they’re right in the middle of the pack, and I think they’re going to shut down Thomas Jones this week.

5. O’Neill’s starting quarterback. The decision to be made here all comes down to what you believe about Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Is Brady more injured than we want to believe and bound to continue playing below our expectations for him, or is he still Tom Effin’ Brady; bound to throw for at least 350 yards a game at least once a month? Is Eli finally putting together the type of season that will let him be a little less overshadowed by his brother, or has he just been riding a temporary hot streak as of late? Or what about the Panthers pass defense? Do you really believe they have one of the best secondaries in the league, or is that a product of having played games this season against Jason Campbell, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chad Henne, Mark Sanchez, a clearly depleted Brett Favre, and two against Josh Freeman? I believe Brady is banged up, and I believe Eli is coming into his own, and I think the Giants are more desperate for a win. I would play Manning over Brady, but what do I know?

X-Factor: Josh Cribbs vs. Oakland. Thankfully, return yards aren’t worth a damn in our league unless they culminate in a touchdown, so for the majority of the season, Josh Cribbs has been an incredibly non-productive fantasy option. But now that Brady Quinn is out for the rest of the season, the over/under on number of snaps in a game that go to Cribbs in the Wildcat formation is 8.5. He rarely throws in these situations, but he should prove to get a decent number of rushing yards. Plus you never know when he’s going to take a kickoff to the house. Definition of X-Factor.

X-Factor #2: DeSean Jackson vs. Denver’s secondary. There are two teams in the NFL this season that I never want to start wide receivers against: the New York Jets, and the Denver Broncos. The last time an opposing player had 75 or more receiving yards against the Broncos? Week 9. The last time an opposing player had 100 or more receiving yards against the Broncos? 2008. The Eagles lead the league in plays from scrimmage of over 50 yards. I think they have 19 on the season. The Broncos have allowed just one, and it was on a fluke play to Sam Hurd. Jackson’s had his fair share of great games, but they’ve come at the expense of the Chiefs, Giants, 49ers, Bears, Saints, and Raiders. None of those teams are anywhere near as good as the Broncos are at stopping the pass. He’s going to struggle this week. And if O’Neill survives until next week, Jackson’s worst game of the season came against the Cowboys.

End Result: I think this one is going to be an incredibly low scoring game. Each guy has three guys they bank on for points week in and week out, and I’m seeing all six of those guys having below average weeks. Nothing against Garland or Duncan, but whoever ends up winning this one is who I’m rooting for in the championship game, and I think Nelson is going to win by a score of 104-91.