Tuesday, December 28, 2010

NFL Fantasy Title

This is it. For most leagues, the NFL fantasy champion will be decided tonight with the Eagles - Vikings game. Perhaps the finals match-up is already over at this point (such as in my league where I am leading by 7 and my opponent has no players left) or maybe the winner won't be decided until the final ticks of the Tuesday night game clock. Either way, it has been an interesting fantasy playoffs.

For the leagues that count week 17 as their title week and this may simply be semi-finals match-ups, good for you, but I will not pander my article to you people. In most leagues, this is it. Next week is the time to start paying attention to that fantasy basketball team you've ignored since the start of December.

There are a handful of interesting fantasy players in this final game of the 2010 fantasy season. In fact, a number of them have already been quite influential in teams making the championship game.

In week 15, fantasy semi-finals games, the three most important players were on the Eagles or Vikings. The Eagles' representative was none other than Michael Vick. He put up nearly 40 fantasy points in the most important match-up to date for his owners. Ever since you (and me) added Vick off the waiver wire back in week two, we have been riding him. He missed a few games mid-season, but for the most part, he has been the league's fantasy MVP, and for a player who wasn't drafted, that is quite amazing. Vick has, by himself, won weeks for his owners and week 15 was just a cherry on top, advancing many an owner to the title game.

Tonight Vick may do the very same thing yet again. Any fantasy player down by a couple dozen with Vick still to go has to have confidence he may get it done. Hell, even someone down by 40 cannot count themselves out. Not with this guy. The only defense against Michael Vick might be Andy Reid. If the coach lets him play the entire game, Vick owners will be feeling good.

However, Michael Vick is not the only quarterback with huge fantasy implications in tonight's game. And I'm not talking about Brett Favre. If Joe Webb plays tonight, he could sway some championship games, as he did last week with semi-finals match-ups.

In week 15, Joe Webb was questionable to start at quarterback for the Vikings. This would have been inconsequential news except for the fact that Joe Webb is wide receiver-eligible in fantasy football. He played some receiver for the Vikings; they moved him back to quarterback; Favre is hurting, Tavaris Jackson is out, so here we are. Or, more accurately, there we were. A player playing quarterback, easily eclipsing 12 points no matter how badly they play, is eligible at wide receiver, a position where only 13 players in the league have averaged over a dozen fantasy points per week. Starting Joe Webb at wide receiver while he starts at quarterback would be a secretly awesome advantage for anyone willing to gamble during their semi-finals match-up.

Then we all know what happened. The Metrodome roof caved in. Favre got a little longer to rest. The game was moved to a different stadium, and Favre started. Here's the kicker. This was the last game of the week. Anyone who gambled with Joe Webb at wide receiver would have little to no alternate option come game time. Plan backfired and it might have cost you a trip to the championship. But, of course, life is more interesting than even scripted plot could imagine. Favre starts but gets knocked out. Joe Webb owners, albeit a tad late, get their dream scenario and Webb comes in to play quarterback. He goes on to have a terrible real-life game but the plan works out anyhow. He scores a quarterback-measly 12 fantasy points, yet that is good enough for a top 25 wide receiver performance. The Joe Webb gamble paid off for someone somewhere gutsy enough to try it. I'm glad I had Vick to rest on instead.

But Joe Webb was not even the strangest Vikings fantasy story of week 15. He may have come in, mid-game, and carried some owners to the championship game from the wide receiver position, but one of his teammates had an even bigger impact on title match-ups, without even touching the ball.

Adrian Peterson is a top five running back. Even with a tough week 15 opponent in the Bears, Peterson would be started by every player who owned him. What better option would you have? So, the week progresses, some Peterson owners have a bit of a cushion, some may be down a few points, all are eagerly awaiting Monday night's game, the last of the week, with their big time running back still to go. However, come game time, Peterson, with just a simple knee bruise, is labeled inactive. He's not going to play. Fantasy hopes and dreams are crushed before the first whistle is blown.

This very scenario happened in my league. In the other semi-final match-up, (the one I was not a part of) one player was down two points. Just two. He had Adrian Peterson left to go and the other owner had no one. It was almost a slam dunk. Unless Peterson got absolutely shut down, and fumbled a few times, this owner would be title-bound. After all, Peterson had been at least average in 13 of the 14 weeks of the season. The only exception, the only week he scored less than 7 points, was the prior week against the Giants. And that had been with a giant question mark at quarterback in front of him and a tenacious Giants defense. Even so, he still managed 26 yards, which would be good enough to advance his owner this time around.

Game time approaches, the crushing news is reported, and there is no recourse. Unless he had added Toby Gerhart earlier, on a whim, he had no hope to replace Peterson with anyone, even having heard the news before the game kicked off. This was the last game of the week. Peterson had been his last hope.

So it is what it is. He was eliminated and his opponent advanced. (By the way, the saying "it is what it is" has to be the dumbest set of words people routinely speak. It is impossible for something NOT to be what it is. I mean come on! Of course 'it is what it is.' There's no alternative. If it wasn't what it was, it wouldn't be what it is!)

If those week 15 fantasy stories hadn't been enough, the week 16 championship game had its share of big time performances as well.

Week 16 was led by the Chiefs. Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel got back on track against the pitiful Titans. They, along with a number of quarterbacks, pushed many an owner to fantasy glory. Eight different QB's scored at least 20 fantasy points this week. One of those top signal callers was none other than Tim Tebow.

I am on the side of believing Tebow will never be a good starting quarterback. This is still yet to be proven. However, the thing I cannot debate is that he has looked respectable in his first few shots at it. The Broncos announced the change from Kyle Orton before last week's game, and very few fantasy owners took notice. Unless you were desperate, there was no reason to look Tebow's direction. However, after a solid first start, I am sure Tebow was added and started this week, and he delivered. This may be the only title Tebow ever delivers, but we'll take it.

Of course, week 16 was not all happiness and sunshine. As with the week before, there was some fantasy heartache from unexpected places. After being questionable each injury report for pretty much the entire season, fantasy stud Maurice Jones-Drew finally missed a game. Owners who had ridden his performance of 12+ fantasy points in seven of the past eight weeks all the way to the title game, would be forced to look elsewhere for production. At least with Jones-Drew, unlike Peterson the week before, owners were given time to find that replacement.

In an even stranger and more demoralizing turn of events, Peyton Manning screwed over his fantasy owners on a play where he ran the ball. Manning, who has been up and down this season in most people's minds, has actually had a very consistent fantasy season. And this final game was no exception. He scored over 19 points, making it over a dozen fantasy points for Peyton in 13 of his 15 games. But it was the points he did not get that were the story.

Much like Brian Westbrook's famous play from a few years ago, Manning was scampering around the edge on a beautiful bootleg, and had a clear shot at the endzone, but rather than run it in for the score and the six fantasy points, he slid down to run the rest of the clock out and secure a win for his team. Obviously Peyton couldn't care less about six fewer fantasy points, but I am sure there are at least a few owners out there who will lose their fantasy title by less than six points. That's fantasy football for you.

So here we are. One game remaining. Perhaps Vick has carried you all this way and you need one more performance to clinch that title. Perhaps Manning or Jones-Drew screwed you out of your title shot. Or just maybe you are again banking on the wide receiver-eligible Joe Webb to bring your team fantasy glory and hoping, with the rest of us, that Brett Favre will not show up to play.

Whatever the case may be, fantasy football is always exciting and always unpredictable. I'm glad I am assured of my 2010 championship, but am also relieved to have navigated such a mine field of question marks and injuries that was this fantasy season. Now how long until MLB opening day?

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

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