Partiy, as we all know, is running rampant throughout the NFL.
Only the AFC West has a division leader with more than a 1-game advantage, and that means fans are in for an intense final month of the season.
With no true powerhouse teams, it's impossible to declare a Super Bowl favorite in either conference. The Patriots looked fantastic Monday night, but let's not forget they lost to the Browns earlier this year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are right there with the Pats.
And in the NFC? The Bears, Falcons, Packers, Saints, Giants and Eagles could all reach the Super Bowl and thanks to the putrid NFC West, one of them won't even reach the playoffs!
What's struck me this season is how the characteristics of the NFL seem to have seeped into fantasy football as well. There aren't as many stud running backs or wide receivers, and while some QBs have lit up the scoreboard, the elite ones don't have many more points than the Eli Mannings or Matt Ryans of the world.
What this has meant is that few teams in my leagues were eliminated by Week 12 or 13. The records were as follows:
&bul; Unit league (where we bid on players): 9-4, 9-4, 8-4-1, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-6-1, 6-7, 5-8, 5-8, 4-9, 4-9.
&bul; Regular league (snake draft), Division A: 8-5, 8-5, 6-7, 5-8, 4-9; Division B: 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, 5-8.
In the unit league, the difference between a playoff spot, or even a bye, was razor thin. After all, consider these amazing facts:
&bul; That 8-4-1 team's tie came because Wes Welker kicked an extra point in Week 9. If that doesn't happen, he goes 9-4 and beats me out for the No. 2 seed.
&bul; Three of my victories came by 1, 2½ and 5 points. The 1-point victory came thanks to Terrell Owens' ridiculous 141-yard, 2-TD game against the Steelers in Week 9.
&bul; One team's late-season trade for Frank Gore ended up costing him a playoff spot. Gore's injury hurt of course, but it was the player he gave up Ahmad Bradshaw that would have led him to a playoff-clinching win had the deal not been made.
In the regular league (where we use fairly standard scoring), five teams are within 79 points of the overall leader. That's astounding when you realize that in 2009, the fifth-place team ended up 172 back; 2008, it was 150; 2007, it was 441; 2006, it was 194 and 2005, it was 197.
Why is this? Well, as I've written before, we've lost plenty of points with many teams going to two-back systems.
So it's tough to dominate anymore. And that means early in the season, you must identify and go after the undrafted free agents. Even if you had a bad draft, you easily made up for it if you nabbed Michael Vick, Matt Cassel, Mike Tolbert, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden or Steve Johnson.
So congrats if you made the playoffs. It was a long, hard grind and a tough year to qualify.
And if you're in, here's some advice on how you can bring home the top prize.
Pickups: I touted Green Bay rookie James Starks as far back as Week 4 and he finally showed up last week with 18 carries for 73 yards. He's worth a pickup and a flex play this week against the Lions. ... Robert Meachem has just 7 catches the last three weeks, but 3 have gone for scores. He's available in about half the leagues and can be a great play this week in St. Louis. ... At the risk of repeating myself, get the Atlanta defense if you can. The Falcons play the Panthers and should give a big boost to playoff teams.
Watch the weather: On draft day, a player in front of me took Tom Brady to start the third round. I remember thinking, “Brady's a great fantasy QB but not someone you want to own in the fantasy playoffs.”
The problem is New England's late-season schedule is normally littered with bad-weather possibilities, and it's caused many a Brady owner to lose a playoff game after a great season. Consider his last three games played in Week 15:
&bul; 2009 at Buffalo: 115 yards, TD, INT
&bul; 2007 vs. Jets: 140 yards, no TDs, INT
&bul; 2006 vs. Houston: 109 yards, 2 TDs
I'm certainly not telling you to bench Brady against the Bears this week, but the forecast is ugly: 19 degrees and 30-mph winds. Trust me when I tell you that either this week or next week at home against Green Bay or at Buffalo in Week 16, Brady will throw up a fantasy stinker.
The one thing about the Patriots is this: They don't care about stats. They just want to win, and if handing the ball off 35 times in a blizzard will get it done, that's what they'll do.
So if the weather for any of your QBs looks brutal down the stretch, hopefully you have another option (Jon Kitna?) playing in a calmer climate to consider.
My teams: Unit-league group is sucking wind but still finished 9-4 and earned a bye. Regular team won 130-97, finished 7-6 and earned a No. 3 seed.
&bul; Packers RB James Starks at Detroit. It may be a three-headed monster in Green Bay, but I say Starks gets 60 yards and a TD Sunday.
&bul; Bears RB Matt Forte vs. New England. Forte (11, 15, 11 fantasy points the last three) has been hot, and the Bears will have to run to set up the pass or they're toast.
&bul; Patriots defense vs. the Bears. If New England gets a decent lead, Bill Belichick will bring the house and absolutely abuse Jay Cutler.
&bul; Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno at Arizona. I'm playing against Moreno (161 yards last week) in a playoff game and just praying the damage is minimal.
&bul; Ravens QB Joe Flacco and Derrick Mason at Houston. I say Flacco easily out-points Tom Brady this week.
&bul; Raiders WR Jacoby Ford at Jacksonville. Ford's last four games: 148-27-108-4. It's boom or bust with this guy, and I say it's BOOM time Sunday.
&bul; Bengals RB Cedric Benson at Pittsburgh. Benson's fantasy day in Week 9 vs. the Steelers was saved when he scored from 1 yard out after a pass interference call in the end zone. It'll take something like that again if he's to post double-digit points.
&bul; Panthers RB Mike Goodson vs. Atlanta. Goodson's playing second fiddle to Jonathan Stewart now.
&bul; Texans QB Matt Schaub vs. Baltimore. I blast the Ravens' pass defense, and it's like they heard me. I doubt Schaub throws more than 1 TD pass Sunday.
&bul; Bills RB Fred Jackson vs. Cleveland. The Browns have given up just 4 rushing TDs all season, plus rookie C.J. Spiller (7 carries last week) is starting to eat into Jackson's playing time.
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