In this week's installment of FantasyInsiderOnline.com's Fantasy Football Report, we focus on how playoff implications in the NFL reflect on the performance of your fantasy studs. Many times, players seem to step their games up in the final weeks of the season when their respective teams are on the cusp of making the postseason. Yet, other times, players on those teams that are totally out of the playoff picture appear to almost give up and post lackluster performances at the season's end.
To explain how a team's location in the standings affects certain players' performances, we will take a look back at the month of December last year. That last month of the NFL regular season often has a few teams battling it out for a playoff spot each year, and 2005 was no different. Remember, the following takes into account only one season, however, the examples relate year in and year out.
First and foremost, we take a look at those teams fighting for divisional titles and wild card spots last year most notably Cincinnati/Pittsburgh (AFC East) and Tampa Bay/Carolina (NFC South). When you have a player on a team that is in the hunt for a playoff spot, often times, that guy will perform above average as he attempts to carry his team into the postseason. For example:
Cadillac Williams, RB, TB
In 2005, Williams averaged 73.6 rushing yards per game with six TD's. However, as the Bucs battled Carolina for the top spot in the NFC South, Williams rushed for an average of 95.3 yards per game in the month of December, and posted half of his touchdown total with three endzone appearances.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT
As Roethlisberger led the Steelers to four straight victories to finish out the 2005 regular season and clinch a wild card spot, he eclipsed his stat averages for the year in QB Rating (98.6) and passing yards per game (198.5). In the final month of the season, Roethlisberger posted a 103.4 QB Rating and threw for an average of 233.5 yards per game. Let's not forget to mention his five touchdown passes, which was almost a third of his season total (17).
Rudi Johnson, RB, CIN
Johnson rushed for 118.0 yards per game in December of 2005, which was 20+ more yards every week than his season average. In addition, he found the endzone five times as the Bengals looked to clinch the AFC North Johnson ended the season with 12 total touchdowns.
As you can see, when a team is in the hunt for the playoffs, players seem to turn it up a notch and post solid numbers. However, if some of your fantasy studs are on struggling teams out of the playoff picture, beware of dips in production. For instance, as the Packers sat at the bottom of the NFC North in December of last year, QB Brett Favre had a QB rating of 49.6 with no touchdowns and an astonishing nine interceptions. What about Raider RB LaMont Jordan? Yes, he had a horrendous 2006 campaign but he was the man in Oakland last season (finishing the season with 1,000+ rushing yards and 11 TD's). Nevertheless, as Oakland finished 2005 with six straight losses, Jordan finished his season without a touchdown in the last five weeks. You would hate to say that a player has lost his drive, but when there is no hope to salvage a season, guys may begin to look ahead to next year and disregard the remainder of the year. So, take note of any players on your fantasy roster whose playoff chances look unattainable. Unless there is a truly favorable match-up for the week ahead, you may want to consider looking elsewhere for a game of solid production.
It is also important to note that you should look out for any teams that may have clinched a playoff birth early (or even homefield advantage throughout the playoffs). Obviously, this brings to mind the Indianapolis Colts of 2005. Key players like WR Marvin Harrison and WR Reggie Wayne sat out for the Colts in Weeks 16 and 17 respectively. QB Peyton Manning participated in every game, however, attempted only 14 passes in the last two games of the 2005 NFL regular season without a touchdown a crucial point in time for your fantasy team. At times, players may sit games out in order to rest up or heal any nagging injuries before making a run in the playoffs. Therefore, make sure you have some decent depth down the stretch. You don't want to be caught in your fantasy league's championship game missing one of your starting receivers because WR Bernard Berrian was held out of the last game or two in order to rest his ailing ribs.
As was stated before, fantasy football is based on individual player performance. Nevertheless, how a player's team is doing overall is sometimes an outside factor that could affect your stud's performance. Keep those hungry players on playoff contending teams in your starting fantasy lineup. As they help their teams push for the NFL playoffs, it can only help you in your quest for that coveted fantasy title.
PATRIOTS FANTASY REPORT
Coming off last week's statement win against the Chicago Bears (which many have dubbed the "Super Bowl Preview"), the New England Patriots host the 2-9 Detroit Lions in Week 13. Along with a record that mirrors the NFL's worst (Oakland and Arizona), the Lions also bring with them their 26th rated defense. Thru Week 12, Detroit has allowed 131.5 rushing yards per game (23rd in the NFL) and 215.5 passing yards per game (19th in the NFL). Though the Lions rank in the bottom-third of the NFL against the run, the key this week should be the passing game for New England. The reason: Detroit does not make big plays on defense. Currently, they rank 27th in sacks (20) and are ahead of only Washington, Tampa Bay and New Orleans (all tied for last in the NFL with five) with six total interceptions in 2006. This is the reason why QB Tom Brady is the Patriots fantasy player to ride in Week 13.
If you have Brady on your fantasy roster, there is no reason not to start him. In most standard scoring leagues, Brady is one of the Top 5 active fantasy quarterbacks, and these fantasy stats reflect his play on the field. Even though he led the Patriots to a huge win last week, Brady will look to rebound from throwing two interceptions against the Bears and he should against a weak pass rush and lackluster Detroit secondary.
Brady has only faced the Lions twice in his career, posting a 64.7 QB rating with 216 total passing yards and no TD's (one INT). However, the first time he saw time against Detroit was in his rookie season, when he completed one of three pass attempts for six yards. So, even though the numbers don't lie, you can't really look at his career stats to project how Brady will do in Week 13. Nevertheless, you can take a look at how other NFL quarterbacks have performed against the Detroit defense in 2006. Five times this year, an opposing QB has thrown for two or more touchdowns against the Lions Rex Grossman (CHI), Brett Favre (GB), Marc Bulger (STL) and Joey Harrington (MIA) have all passed for three TD's or better against Dre' Bly & Co. Brady has had six multiple touchdown games so far this season so, things are looking good in Week 13 for the Patriots' air attack.
Of the NFL quarterbacks who have started in all 11 games this year, Brady ranks sixth in number of times sacked (17). Though the New England offensive line has been suspect on a few occasions, they have still allowed one sack or less in seven games this season. Couple that with Brady's scrambling ability (who can forget last week's 11-yard run, in which he evaded a tackle by Chicago MLB Brian Urlacher), and there is no reason why the Patriots can't shut down the Detroit pass rush.
All signs point to another big game for Tom Brady this week. The weather report looks cool and dry for this Sunday in Foxborough, MA
the perfect conditions for Brady to do what he does best - win ball games. The only question is: How often will the Patriots have to throw the ball against the 26th rated defense in the NFL? Look for New England to come out firing on all cylinders this week and go up early on Detroit
and they should do so by exploiting the lack of playmaking ability in the Lions' secondary.
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Patriots Insider has partnered with guest sports writers to provide insightful, expert advice for readers interested in fantasy football. This week's Patriots fantasy report is brought to you by Matt Hinzpeter at FantasyInsiderOnline.com. If you have any questions for Matt, you can reach him, or any of the other FIO experts, at TheTeam@FantasyInsiderOnline.com.
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