Playoff Challenge: Popular vs. Best

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsLet’s take a look at some results from the Wild Card Round and see how we can apply them for the divisional round of the playoffs. The biggest thing I’ve noticed from the Wild Card Round is that the most popular picks in each instance did not end up being the best picks. There were a plethora of surprises at nearly every position, so what does that tell us about the possibility of surprises in the next round? At NFL.com, here were the most popular picks vs the best picks for the Wild Card Round:

WILD CARD ROUND MOST POPULAR BEST RESULTS
 QUARTERBACK  Drew Brees (11 Points)  Andrew Luck (37 Points)
 RUNNING BACK #1  Jamaal Charles (1 Point*)  Knile Davis (21 Points)
 RUNNING BACK #2  LeSean McCoy (14 Points)  Donald Brown (21 Points)
 WIDE RECEIVER #1  A.J. Green (3 Points)  T.Y. Hilton (34 Points)
 WIDE RECEIVER #2  Jordy Nelson (12 Points)  Dwayne Bowe (21 Points)
 TIGHT END  Jimmy Graham (4 Points)  Jermaine Gresham (12 Points)
 KICKER  Adam Vinatieri (9 Points)  Shayne Graham (14 Points)
 DEFENSE/ST  Kansas City Chiefs (5 Points)  San Diego Chargers (20 Points)

As you can see, in not one instance did the most popular choice actually perform like it. In the case of Charles (RB1) it was because he was injured early on, and you can tell that the running back position did very well for KC with Davis picking up the slack. Of course almost no one played Davis so he scored all those points in vain. Andrew Luck benefited from the shootout no one saw coming against Kansas City, as did T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Bowe. Now, let’s look at the most popular choices as of Thursday for the Divisional Round:

DIVISIONAL ROUND MOST POPULAR (as of Thursday)
 QUARTERBACK  Peyton Manning (35%)
 RUNNING BACK #1  Marshawn Lynch (44%)
 RUNNING BACK #2  Knowshon Moreno (31%)
 WIDE RECEIVER #1  Damaryius Thomas (42%)
 WIDE RECEIVER #2  Anquan Boldin (27%)
 TIGHT END  Jimmy Graham (58%)
 KICKER  Adam Vinatieri (29%)
 DEFENSE/ST  Seattle Seahawks (32%)

So, do the disappointing results of the Wild Card Round’s most popular factor in this week? Should we avoid these most popular players this week in favor of lesser names who might duplicate the feats of their counterparts in the first playoff week? Or do we stick with the most popular choices to give ourselves at least as many points as the majority of people in our league? I already told you what my methodology is, and that’s going with players from what I think will be the two Super Bowl teams, but maybe you’re more conservative and just want whoever the players with the possibility of the best results are this week. Who were those best possibilities apart from the popularity contest?

I’ll break them down for you game by game.

NEW ORLEANS vs. SEATTLE

At the quarterback position, don’t trust either one in this game. You can run the ball on New Orleans, and the Seattle defense stifles opposing quarterbacks. I think this will be a low-scoring affair, which doesn’t help out either signal caller. Now, if you’ve gone with Drew Brees in the Wild Card Round and you are excited about getting bonus points from him here, unless you’re certain the Saints win this game, now is the time to switch allegiances. He was dominated in the seasonal game, and it will happen again here.

Even though I said you can run on New Orleans, the Eagles didn’t have the best go at it even with an elite rusher in LeSean McCoy, and Lynch has the distinction of being the most popular rusher this week. I think you should tamper your expectations for him as remember I think this will be a low-scoring game. On the other side, Mark Ingram had a good game last week (16 points) but against Seattle leave him on the bench. Avoid the wide receivers in this matchup as well, but if you’re looking for a sleeper go with Golden Tate or Kenny Stills as both will have a little room against the oppositional defenses that will be keyed up to stop Lynch and Ingram. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think either will score many points, but if you like to gamble, those two are the only ones to do it with.

As for tight ends, Graham remains elite even though he disappointed owners with his low-scoring round one. Brees will need him to at least try and remain close. Zach Miller on the other side will be useful as well for dump-offs from Wilson but not much else. I predict 12 points from Graham (which would double to 24 if you used him last week), and 5 from Miller. The kickers, though, might be the most valuable players on the field, as I believe the offenses will struggle to score touchdowns. Hauschka and Graham should be high on your list of kickers to use this week. It’s your call which one you use, depending on who you think will win this game. Both defenses will also be viable, but I would go with Seattle because of higher probability of winning the game.

My prediction on the game winner is Seattle, by six points.

INDIANAPOLIS vs. NEW ENGLAND

Whereas the previous game should be a defensive struggle, this one promises to be a shootout, with Andrew Luck and Tom Brady locking horns in what I think will be an epic battle. Both quarterbacks are great plays, as both should score a lot of fantasy points. Actually, I like Brady to score more points in this one, but if you were of the 3% that played Luck last week and were rewarded, go with Luck again. It’s a no-brainer as he will get you double the points this week, eclipsing Brady’s output in that way. I would be wary of any of the New England runners because I think it’s a crapshoot which one will actually score the points this week. My money would be on Shane Vereen if I’m a gambling man just because I think the Patriots will need to throw it out of the backfield more often and he’s the catching back. For Indianapolis, Brown is the man, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use him this week if you think the Colts will win. He will have a strong encore for the 21 points he scored last week.

Wide receivers in this game will also enjoy the benefits of a shootout, as Edelman, Amendola, and Hilton should have standout games. If you played Hilton last week this is also an obvious choice as he will score double points for you this week. Edelman should play very well in that offense at home. Avoid the tight ends, though, as New England has defended well against them, and as the Patriots also don’t have a solid tight end at the moment anyway. The kickers should also be avoided because I don’t think the offenses will have trouble scoring touchdowns. And the defenses should go the same route.

My pick to win the game in an upset is the Colts. They’re on a roll and they’re hungry. Colts by three points.

SAN FRANCISCO vs. CAROLINA

This is another rematch of sorts, as has been publicized a lot in the press this week. The first matchup during the season was a defensive struggle, with the Panthers getting the best of the 49ers. I don’t see this one going the same way. The 49ers defense is ready for this one, and it’s also Cam Newton’s first playoff game, probably without Steve Smith, which means something. I think that both quarterbacks struggle a little out of the gates, but Kaepernick rebounds more quickly and more decisively. We all saw how Harbaugh let him run last week against Green Bay, and they can keep the defense honest and on its heels with Kaepernick against this week and his escapability. I would definitely go with Kaepernick this week, especially if you think San Fran wins the game as it will give him bonus points next week. Newton has been great this season, but on this big stage for the first time I think he’s an unknown.

Running backs will suffer here, as both defenses are strong against the run. I wouldn’t play either Gore or any of the Carolina backs. The only reason I would possibly play Gore is if I think the 49ers go to the Super Bowl, as he should have a good matchup there regardless, and you could get a lot of bonus points for him. But that’s a big gamble, as Gore has a bad history against both Carolina and Seattle, the team I think will be there in the next round, and both games would be on the road in tough environments. Wide receivers should be just fine, but I would go with Crabtree over Boldin for San Francisco. It was obvious to me in the last game that he’s back, and that Kaepernick is trusting him, and I think he makes the difference in this one. No Carolina wide receivers are worth the roster space, but both tight ends should be highly active. I would choose Davis over Olsen, however, just because I think the 49ers win this one, and because Davis is more dynamic.

Both kickers are good options as both will get several opportunities to score field goals, in my opinion. Either one is worthwhile, and the defenses are both solid plays also. Again, depending on who you feel will win the game.

My pick for this one is the 49ers by ten points in an upset on the road.

SAN DIEGO vs. DENVER

Both regular season contests between these teams turned into relatively low-scoring affairs even though both offenses can be prolific. I don’t see that happening in this one as the Chargers come into Denver as hot as any team, and the Broncos want to make a statement that they are the team to beat. I think that even though Peyton Manning is the popular choice this week you should go with him. Someone has to break the streak, so why not the most dynamic passer in the game today? And Philip Rivers is also a good selection as he will have to keep pace, and he has the arm to do it. The Chargers might be without Ryan Mathews, but with the heavy lifting Ronnie Brown did last week, I think they’ll be fine in that category. I would roll with him this week if Mathews is out because you can run on Denver and it will keep their defense honest, at least early on. If the Chargers get down early, which I think they will, though, Woodhead will get more touches through the air, but I don’t think enough to make him more desirable than Moreno or even Ball on the Broncos.

In fact, I’m going with both Moreno and Ball this week against the Chargers, not because I don’t like their defense, but because I think Denver is too dynamic not to win this game, and I want both runners on my roster for the next round against either Indianapolis or New England. Plus, if there’s anyone who could be that surprise in the Divisional Round, it’s the dynamic Ball, who is a threat to take it all the way to the house even in his limited touches. I think he makes up for his disappointing performance against San Diego last month and has a good showing, along with Moreno. As for wide receivers in this game, the most consistent one for Denver has been Thomas, so I suggest you play Decker instead. Manning has a way of finding him in the end zone, and I think it continues here. Keenan Allen has been disappointing for the Chargers in the last few games, but I think he shows up in this one too.

The only tight end worth using in this one is Julius Thomas, and you should roll with him. I have him as my top tight end in this postseason, and I think he delivers against that San Diego defense. Jermaine Gresham showed them up last week, and I think Thomas duplicates the feat this week. I would count on him for 14 fantasy points in this matchup. Kickers will be useful, but I wouldn’t use either one unless you think the offenses will somehow stall in the red zone. As for the defenses, I would avoid both as well, even though the Chargers came through with 20 points last week. The Broncos aren’t the Bengals. Which is a good thing.

My pick is the Broncos by seven points in a high-scoring affair.

The Fantasy Ace

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