The last week of the fantasy football season. It’s my fourth least favorite day of the year. If you know me at all, you know my least favorite day of the year is the day after the college basketball championship game. You know what I’m talking about. That day where I have to decide whether I’m going to pretend to start caring about late season NBA action or early season MLB action. Yinz Pittsburghers probably understand it better as the day the Steelers get eliminated from the playoffs and you have to start pretending you care about the Penguins. I just don’t how to function when I don’t have at least 2 sports to follow, and being that college hoops is easily my favorite of all sports, it becomes even harder to cope with its absence from my life.

And, of course, my second and third least favorite days of the year are the unofficial dates in May and December when everyone on facebook starts bitching about finals. It’d be one thing if that was the only thing we had to read about. But no, you have to proceed to let the world know when you’re done with finals. And two weeks after that, you have to start telling everyone what your GPA was, too? Nobody cares how worried you are about, how relieved you are to be done with, or how well you did in poli sci. Seriously. Nobody.

But I really do hate this day. Once I’m finished with this post, I know I won’t get to do another one for about 8 months, and I love writing them. When you don’t have a job or anything better to do, following the football season is the only way to remotely able to keep track of what day of the week it is. But I suppose this year I’ll still get to do another post after the end of our season because of the keepers and draft prices. Make sure to “tune in” some time next week for my post which will feature draft prices, the tax structure for keepers, and a list of the premier purchases and biggest busts on a fantasy point per dollar spent basis. And I guess within a week I’ll have the likes of Heroes, 24, and Lost to do the work of reminding me what day of the week it is, but it’s just not the same.

So, here we are again. Only difference is that this time around, we have a certain someone who is still in the Eliminator Challenge. Unfortunately, there are 10,228 other people still alive as well, and he’s probably not going to win any sort of tiebreaker, but it’s still an impressive feat. I’ve been doing the eliminator for 3 or 4 years now, and I’ve never survived beyond week 12.

In light of Damn’s accomplishment, and because there’s only one fantasy game this week for me to focus on, I’m going to rank all of his remaining options in order of my confidence in those 16 teams.

~~~The “Don’t Even Think About It” Zone~~~

16. St. Louis vs. San Francisco

I don’t think Steven Jackson is actually going to play, and the Rams are theoretically better off losing and ensuring themselves the #1 draft pick.

15. Detroit vs. Chicago

Somehow the spread in this game is only 3 points, but I think Chicago is going to keep the pedal to the metal in this one to figure out either how good this Devin Aromashodu character is, or what exactly they’re going to do in the off-season about their WR situation. Either way, I think they need to spend the first 5 rounds of the draft selecting nothing but offensive linemen.

14. Kansas City @ Denver
13. Oakland vs. Baltimore
12. Cleveland vs. Jacksonville

More on these three later.

11. Seattle vs. Tennessee

Chris Johnson needs 128 rushing yards to get to 2,000 on the season, and he’s going to get them. The only reason this one isn’t lower on the list is because that may be all Tennessee cares about, and Seattle isn’t completely worthless when playing at home.

~~~The “AFC East Contenders vs. Other Contenders” Zone~~~

10. Miami vs. Pittsburgh

Realistically, Miami should have no chance in this game. Their defensive weakness is the passing game, and Roethlisberger is 3rd in the league in passing yards per game. Their offensive strength is running the ball, and the Steelers are 3rd in the league at stopping the run. However, Pittsburgh has a habit this season of losing games they should win, and you can’t completely rule out the Dolphins at home when they still statistically have about a 3% chance of making the playoffs.

9. New England @ Houston

Belichick never rests his starters in Week 17, and technically the Patriots are still playing for the #3 seed in the AFC. This may not seem like a big deal at first, since we have no idea who will get which wild card spots, but I guarantee the Patriots would rather play San Diego than Indianapolis in the 2nd round. I know Andre Johnson is a beast, but so are Wes Welker and Randy Moss. I also know that the Patriots are 2-5 on the road this season, but this one is still a toss-up to me. The spread in this one is Houston by 7.5. I really don’t understand that, and would love to bet on the Patriots to cover, but I wouldn’t put my Eliminator life on their chances of winning.

8. New York Jets vs. Cincinnati

This is the Sunday Night game. That shouldn’t much matter to the Jets, because they control their own destiny, but there are actually a number of scenarios (5 of the 32 by my count) in which the Jets can lose and still make the playoffs. More than likely though, the Jets will have something to play for. And, if the Patriots beat the Texans, the Bengals will be locked into the #4 spot and have nothing to play for. Plus, in my opinion, the Jets are the slightly better team, although neither team gives up too many points. I would like this game a lot more if it were any team in the Jets’ position other than the Jets. Let me remind you of the point I made a few weeks ago about the J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS!

“The New York Jets do this every year. They start out hot and cause their fans to start thinking about whether the Jets or the Giants would play on Sunday in the Meadowlands when both teams get home-field advantage in their conference. Then they start to suck. Real bad. Losing home games against Buffalo and Miami that they shouldn’t have. And then their fans give up hope. But then they win a couple of games in a row and rope their fans back in. Get them to start thinking ‘hey, you know maybe we still have a chance after all.’ And then they lose a heartbreaker. Maybe that game is next week at home against the Falcons, but I think it’s this week against Tampa Bay.”

Well, I was wrong about the Tampa Bay game (as has been the case almost all season), but I was right about the game against the Falcons. It was a devastating last minute loss that nearly ended their season. But now their fans have been roped back in for a third time this season; just in time for a heartbreaker only Mariah Carey could adequately sing about. They have a 65.6% chance of making the playoffs, which historically means they have an equal likelihood of losing this game, regardless of whether the Bengals have anything to play for. It’s a tantalizing pick, but we can do better.

~~~The “Teams Who Have Nothing to Play For vs. Teams Who Won’t Be Playing Their Starters” Zone~~~

7. Buffalo vs. Indianapolis

I’m willing to bet that for Damn, this game is both the most enticing pick, and the pick he most wants to stay away from. When I get to the game featuring my Chiefs, you’ll understand what I mean if you don’t already, but when your favorite team is playing at the end of the season, you always expect them to do the opposite of what you actually want them to do. For instance, in the back of every New York Jets fan’s mind is the expectation that they will blow this opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. They remain optimistically desperate for a win, but some varying degree of their conscience is preparing for the loss. The Bills are sitting at 5-10. There are six teams in the NFL who are either 6-9, 5-10, or 4-11. With all the time I spent on the AFC playoff scenarios, I don’t have the time to figure out the tiebreakers for draft position for these six teams, but potentially, the Bills could be drafting anywhere between 5th and 10th in the first round. I have a friend with an uncle by the name of Scott Pioli (current GM for the Chiefs, former GM for the Patriots) who claims that the most coveted first round draft pick in any given year is the sixth, and I think he’s right. It’s impossible to get out of the cellar of the league if you’re constantly having to pay top dollar for a top five pick, but it’s also impossible to get out of “middle-of-the-road” purgatory if you’re constantly drafting in the 10-15 range in the first round. If you don’t believe me, just look at where the Lions, Chiefs, Texans, and the Bears having been drafting and finishing for the last six or seven years. With the 6th pick, you get the luxury of a great pick, but without paying too much of a premium. It’s the fastest way to improve a team. In this past year’s draft, the Bengals had the 6th overall pick. Two years ago, it was the Jets, and they only missed out on the playoffs because they’re the Jets, and because Brett Favre killed them. It’s a good place to draft, the Bills have a chance at getting it, and I’d say they’re on the cusp of becoming a decent team again. They’ve got a good secondary, a promising running game, and not too bad a group of wide receivers. If they could get a run stopping nose tackle or a quality quarterback, they’re on the cusp of the playoffs.

What a rant, eh? Well, Damn is a Bills fan, and Bills fans everywhere are rooting for the Colts this week, but Bills fans everywhere are fully expecting the Bills to pull off the upset this week. After all, the Colts will be benching everyone by halftime, and I’m pretty sure the backups failed last week because of Curtis Painter, and not entirely because of the Jets defense. I’m not touching this game with a ten foot pole, but I know it’s on Damn’s radar.

6. Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta

This is a tough game for me to predict, because Tampa Bay has absolutely been giving me fits since Josh Freeman came in at QB, and Atlanta is never healthy. That game the Bucs played against Green Bay was on national television, and I watched it. As far as I know, this is also the last Tampa Bay game that was televised, or at any rate, it’s the last one that I saw. First impressions can be damning. In the pre-season, I said Tampa Bay would finish at 2-14. Part of that was because, like Buffalo and Kansas City, they fired their offensive coordinator right before the season, but a lot of it was because of Byron Leftwich. So I watched this Freeman kid orchestrate a couple of great drives at the end of the game, and I started to think that maybe this team would turn things around. It’s been nine weeks since that game, and I think I’ve incorrectly picked all nine of Tampa Bay’s games against the spread during that span. Well, last week they somehow went into New Orleans and beat the Saints, despite the fact that Drew Brees played the entire game, and played it well. Now they’re facing an Atlanta team that may very well be without its starting QB and RB, as has been the case for about six weeks running. I wouldn’t be surprised with any result in this game, but let me put it to you this way: the Falcons are 2.5 point favorites, I’m picking Tampa, and you know how I have fared in their games as of late. Just run away from this one.

5. Carolina vs. New Orleans

This would maybe be a more confident pick if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t think New Orleans wants to be on a three-game losing streak going into the playoffs. Aside from that, the Saints have nothing worth playing for. They’ve clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. On the other side of the field, Carolina is 7-5 since starting the season 0-3, and as far as I’m concerned, is making a push to become the NFC Sleeper Team De Jour for 2010. I am still not a believer in the Matt Moore era, but I can get behind Jonathan Stewart running for 200 yards in a game. He might need to do exactly that in this one, because Moore lost his favorite target to a broken forearm in last week’s game. Hopefully Steve Smith has a more successful recovery process from that injury than Chris Henry did. What? Too soon?

~~~The “Sleeper Pick” Zone~~~

4. Jacksonville @ Cleveland

I actually like this one a lot, but it’s a risky pick since neither team has a playoff pulse, and because Cleveland has been doing well as of late. But Jacksonville is substantially better at stopping the run than the Raiders or Chiefs are, so Jerome Harrison is not running for another 150 yards in this one. And we all know Derek Anderson isn’t about to pick apart anyone’s secondary. So Cleveland shouldn’t be able to score, and they shouldn’t be able to stop Maurice Jones-Drew either, considering their rushing D is just as bad as that of Oakland and Kansas City. A lot of people are even leaning towards Cleveland in this one because they are inexplicably on a three game winning streak, but I think Jacksonville is going to win this one by three touchdowns. At least for the sake of my sanity I hope they do, because I’m not ready for an offseason in which people are touting the Browns as the 2010 sleeper team in light of the emergence of Jerome Harrison, and a four-game winning streak to close the season. However, if they get the #6 draft pick, all bets are off.

~~~The “Don’t Get Sucked In” Zone~~~

3. Baltimore @ Oakland

It doesn’t bode well that this is the third best option this week for Damn. Baltimore is 2-5 on the road this season, and Oakland has been the king of upsets. At 5-10, the Raiders have lost games to the likes of Kansas City, Cleveland, Washington, and the New York Giants, yet four of their five wins came against the likes of Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Denver, and Pittsburgh. And they’ve done it all while interchanging starting quarterbacks and running backs. Gradkowski, Russell, and Frye have each won and lost at least one game at QB, and then they have Fargas, McFadden, and Bush who have each led the team in rushing in at least one win and one loss. They were, officially, the most unpredictable team of the 2009 season. Their upset wins over the Pennsylvania squads probably eliminated 40% of the people who have been eliminated so far in the nation. The best thing about the Oakland Raiders? They almost single-handedly control the Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff hopes. If the Raiders beat the Ravens, Pittsburgh’s chances improve, but if the Raiders lose, the Steelers are almost dead in the water. Plus, because Oakland beat Pittsburgh and lost to Houston, the Texans hold the tiebreaker with the Steelers.

All that to say my expectations are that the Ravens’ Ray Rice will regularly rip right through the Raiders Rush resistance and lead Baltimore to a playoff spot, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they screwed it up somehow.

~~~The “Really Good AFC Playoff Contenders vs. Worst Teams in the NFL” Zone~~~

2. San Diego vs. Washington

They have nothing to play for, but at home against a terrible Redskins team, my AFC Super Bowl pick should coast to victory. Even if San Diego benches their entire team for the entire game, I have more faith in Billy Volek and Mike Tolbert than I do in Jason Campbell and Quinton Ganther.

1. Denver vs. Kansas City

It’s probably the only one that makes sense for Damn this week. When they played in Denver four weeks ago, the Broncos won 44-13, and nearly doubled the Chiefs in total yards. Since then, neither team has won a game, but at least the Broncos have been in competitive games. The only bright side for Kansas City this season has been Jamaal Charles, who’s averaged 93 rushing yards per game since taking over in Week nine. Unfortunately, he only had 56 yards in the aforementioned meeting with the Broncos, and there’s no chance in hell that Matt Cassel is carrying them to victory against one of the two best secondaries in the NFL.

Want to talk fantasy football now? Me too.

The League’s Championship Game:

Alex O’Neill’s Deserted Buccaneers vs. Scott Garland’s Giants

It’s the New York Giants against the New England Patriots, and O’Neill is searching for his David Tyree. Thus far, though, I think he’s looking in a few of the wrong places.

Keys to the game:

1. Kansas City @ Denver. It was #1 in my NFL picks, why not put it first here as well? After all, five of the eighteen factors in the Championship are playing in this game. Between Orton, Marshall, and Scheffler, Garland is banking heavily on the Broncos passing attack. But will they even need one? Kansas City has one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL, and Knowshon Moreno had his best game of the season in the last meeting with Kansas City. Marshall also did well in that game, but Orton and Scheffler certainly didn’t, and Marshall has a bum leg this time around. Will he be at full strength? Can Kyle Orton do anything without anyone to really throw to? I think the real question is how quickly can Denver jump out to an insurmountable lead over the Chiefs? The sooner they do so, the sooner the Broncos try to rest Marshall and maybe even Orton. And if Kansas City gets into a big hole, will they even make an effort to utilize Jamaal Charles? It’s a shame O’Neill doesn’t really have any other options or I would recommend benching the former Longhorn.

2. The Beast that is Chris Johnson. He needs 128 yards to get to 2,000. Therefore, he will have at least 12.8 points. Depending on how many yards he has by halftime, they might even try to get him to 233 yards to beat Dickerson’s record. The sky is the limit with this guy, and he’ll probably score a couple TDs, too. The only bright side for O’Neill is that whereas he usually plays a big factor in the passing game, I bet they focus almost entirely on getting him the necessary rushing yards. Regardless, I think the 23.7 point projection is on the low side.

3. O’Neill’s wide receivers. What I really don’t understand is why Jackson is only projected to get 16 points, but Andre Johnson is supposed to get 29, against a much better defense? Both teams are going to be playing their hearts out, and both teams are going to be trying to get the most out of their primary wide receivers. They should both be in the 24 point range, but at the very least, they should be projected in a closer vicinity to each other than a 13 point difference. And then there’s this new guy Aromashodu for the Bears who’s played really well in two of the past three weeks, and now gets to face the worst secondary in the NFL. I think both of O’Neill’s guys are getting lowballed by the projection experts.

4. Indianapolis @ Buffalo. O’Neill has Dallas Clark and Donald Brown. Garland has the Colts D/ST. I think all three of them are horrible plays. Dallas Clark is the worst of all though. There’s no way he plays beyond the first quarter. In my opinion, O’Neill would be better off picking up JP Foschi from free agency, or maybe even Joel Dreessen if he plays. As far as the Colts D is concerned, that’s where they have primarily been benching guys, and it’s been showing the past two weeks to the tune of 30 points allowed per game. And even though Donald Brown isn’t the starter in Indianapolis, I think it’s far more likely that we see Mike Hart and Chad Simpson take the bulk of the carries for the Colts. While I’m making pickup suggestions, I’d say Malcolm Kelly is a better play than Brown. Sometimes you have to dig deep and take risks to win championships. Other times, you try to take risks and look like a dumbass. We’ll see on Monday which would have been the better option in this one.

5. Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady…once again. The Giants have nothing to play for, and you have to wonder how long Manning will stay in the game against a Vikings team that is still fighting for a first round bye. The Patriots, on the other hand, are still trying to hang on to the #3 spot in the AFC, so I expect Brady to play the entire game, which will likely be a shootout, against a Texans defense that is right in the middle of the pack statistically. It looks like O’Neill has decided on Manning so far, and I think either way he should get decent production from his QB, but I think Brady has more upside this week.

X-Factor: Jonathan Stewart. The biggest concern is health; both his, and DeAngelo Williams’. If Stewart plays and Williams doesn’t, then Stewart should have another great game against a Saints defense that will probably feature a lot of backups. But both of them are questionable at this point in time, so it’s hard to forecast anything. If Stewart doesn’t play, then it looks like Garland is going to have to either play Maroney or vulture the waiver wire for a running back.

End Result: The games in Denver and Buffalo are going to be incredibly crucial to this match-up, and the injuries on Garland’s team may very well change the make up of this one between now and kickoff. If O’Neill can get some production from whoever who plays at tight end, it may very well pay off for him, as this should be a close, high-scoring affair. If rosters stay the way they are right now, and if all of Garland’s questionable guys play, I think he should be able to achieve the championship he’s been working towards all season. If any significant changes are made between now and soon-enough-before-kickoff-to-allow-me-to-make-adjustments, I may in fact change my projection.

Final score: NYG 146-132.