Playoff Challenge: Wild Card Round

Just when you thought fantasy football was over, the powers that be decided to create a “second season” of sorts, the playoff challenge. Now, I tried the playoff challenge over at ESPN for the first time last year and I ended up in third place in my league, which wasn’t too bad for a beginner. But you know me. I never settle for anything less than the best, so this season while I was analyzing players for regular season games, I was also looking forward to this time when I would once again challenge myself to improve upon my performance in the playoff challenge.

Now the time has come. Quickly, for those of you not familiar with the playoff challenge (which I will be doing on NFL.com this year), it’s a simple system where you can pick a quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, and a defense. I know, it sounds like regular fantasy football, doesn’t it? Each round is a separate entity, though, and you can re-pick your entire roster if you’d like in the second round. The key is to pick the players who end up with the most points during that week to set you up for the following week with the most points in your league. For example, last year for the divisional round I picked Colin Kaepernick, and only 5% of players picked him. Of course he went off for a historic game against the Packers and I rocketed up the standings to first place.

So, who should you pick for the wild card round of this year’s playoffs to give yourself the best chance to come out of the weekend on top? Here are my top two (or three) selections at each position and rationalizations for each:

QUARTERBACKS

1. Nick Foles (PHI) – Foles has been the absolute mark of consistency since that first Dallas game, throwing for multiple touchdowns and scoring a passer rating over 100 in every contest since. The Eagles offense is dynamic and has played well. They face  New Orleans defense that doesn’t play well against dynamic offenses. Advantage – Foles. He is the number one quarterback in wild card weekend because he has the best potential for the most points, and he has been the most consistent.

2. Colin Kaepernick (SF) – Now, while Foles has been consistent, Kaepernick has been anything but this year. However, he started off the season with a wonderful performance against these Green Bay Packers, and he ended off the season strong after getting his number one weapon back from last year, Michael Crabtree. He has owned the Packers in the past, and there is no reason to think it doesn’t continue here.

3. Drew Brees (NO) – It is well-documented that Brees doesn’t play nearly as well outdoors as he does in the Superdome, and this year has reinforced that to great effect. The Eagles defense is largely underestimated and has actually been playing some good football in the second part of the season. They are still susceptible to the tight end so I think Graham has a good game, which will help Brees’ statistics in the end. He is third in my rankings, but drops if you are rewarded points for his team winning, because I believe they won’t win in Philadelphia.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Jamaal Charles (KC) – Sure, they struggled down the stretch, but their best wins of the season came when they gave Charles the ball as many times as was physically possible. He will shine in this matchup against Indianapolis, and makes it easy to pick him in the wild card round this year. In fact, the only reason you might stay away from him is again if you have bonus points for a team winning the game and you don’t believe the Chiefs will win the game. I think they will win the game, but I would play him anyway due to his possibility of scoring a LOT of points.

2. LeSean McCoy (PHI) – McCoy, the league rushing champion, is just as dynamic as Charles in the open field, and is really 1A instead of 2. Screen passes will be a big part of the Philadelphia attack this week as it always is, and McCoy is highly involved in the passing game that way. The New Orleans defense has given up a lot of points to running backs, and that won’t change here. The Eagles will lean on McCoy as much as possible to help out Foles, and he has a huge game.

3. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT ANYONE ELSE. The above two are your guys. Unless you’re a crazy, gambling man, you go with those two if only that the vast majority of other people will play them and you’ll at least come out even if they don’t play to expectations.

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. A.J. Green (CIN) – Green was on fire to end the year, and I think it continues here. In fact, if you’re feeling like the gambling man I mentioned above, play Dalton at your quarterback position too. As hot as Green has been, he can certainly carry his quarterback against a San Diego team that barely snuck into the playoffs. The only way you don’t play him is if he’s out for the game.

2. DeSean Jackson (PHI) – Yes, Jackson had two down games in a row to end the season, but he wasn’t taken out of the game by the defenses. The Eagles were just able to win without him. That won’t be the case against the Saints in the playoffs. All hands will be on deck, and Jackson is explosive enough to shred the secondary. I think he does it, and you do well picking him when many might shy away because of the past two games.

3. Anquan Boldin (SF) – Just as I’m all in on Kaepernick in this contest, I’m also high on Boldin and the other receivers for San Francisco. Boldin has played great in matchups that are in his favor, and this one fits solidly into that category. I think Crabtree and Vernon Davis also will play well.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Vernon Davis (SF) – The aforementioned Davis has played well against Green Bay, including the playoff game last year, and he has been red hot at the end of this season. I think it continues here. He’s just too physical and too imposing for the Packers to cover.

2. Jimmy Graham (NO) – Again, the only reason you might not play Graham is if your league rewards bonus points for his team winning. I think he has a great game against the Eagles and is the only reason the Saints stay close, but I don’t think they’ll win and therein lies the rub. Play Graham if you must, but my money’s on Davis because I think his team will actually win the game, and the difference between the two players is negligible.

3. Brent Celek (PHI) – I really don’t want to put him here, but he has scored in two straight games, and the chemistry between him and Foles is gelling at the right time. The only reason I don’t want to put him here is Zach Ertz who has also been heavily involved in the offense too. Again, if you get bonus points for playing a player who is lower down the list, maybe you should spin the dice on Celek. If not, leave him for now.

KICKERS

1. Phil Dawson (SF) – The Niners score a lot of field goals, and they will score a few touchdowns in this one too. Dawson has been great and easily slots in as a number one kicker this week.

2. Adam Vinatieri (IND) – They bend but don’t break. Of course I’m talking about the Kansas City defense. And this bodes well for Vinatieri, who actually had a pretty good season for Indianapolis this year. I look for him to hit at least three field goals in this one and maybe even more. The only reason not to play him is if you think Kansas City beats the Colts.

3. Ryan Succop (KC) – He is entirely underrated, but in terms of skill and opportunity, Succop ranks up there with the best of them. You could do a lot worse sticking with him in the playoff challenge.

DEFENSE/STS

1. Cincinnati Bengals – The Cincinnati defense is opportunistic, and they can get after the quarterback. Philip Rivers is nowhere near as accurate when he’s rushed, and I think it shows up here in the form of turnovers. That’s the best way for defenses to score points, and it will help the Bengals in this one. They are the number one defense for the wild card round.

2. San Francisco 49ers – Just like Cincinnati they can get at the passer, and they’ve done very well against Aaron Rodgers in the past (it’s the reason I don’t have him listed as one of my top three quarterbacks this week). I think they get after him again and force a few turnovers of their own.

3. Kansas City Chiefs – Time was when the Chiefs defense would have probably figured in #1 here, but not anymore. Injuries have hurt them, as well as increasingly poor play of late. However, this is the playoffs, and I think they step up here. I was impressed with how they played against a San Diego team that had everything to lose if they lost. That proved something to me.

Above all, remember that the more risks you take in this round, the more likely you will be playing from behind in the next one. Take a good look at what everyone else is picking, and if you’re going to take a risk, take only one risk in the wild card round. I suggest mixing up your wide receivers if you feel like you need to do that in order to try and give yourself a leg up on the competition.

Good luck with your wild card playoff challenge choices!

The Fantasy Ace

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