Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
04 Jan 2006
Time for the third annual Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Draft. You'll find the first one here and the second one here. Hopefully this is up early enough to help give ideas to some of our readers who are doing their own playoff fantasy drafts later in the week.
The playoff fantasy game works like this: Each player drafts a QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, K, and a defense. You get the fantasy points for your guys, but if they go out (either for injury or because their team loses) you do not get to replace them. So you need to balance fantasy quality (Steve Smith!) with teams likely to lose in the first round (Steve Smith!) Total score for the entire playoffs wins.
Our fantasy scoring is as follows:
It's a standard back-and-forth draft featuring the following cast of characters: Jason Beattie (staff cartoonist), Vivek Ramgopal (Scramble for the Ball), Ned Macey (Any Given Sunday), Aaron Schatz (unknown vagrant), Al Bogdan (Scramble for the Ball), and Tim Gerheim (FO assistant editor, grammar police, and tortured Texans fan).
Jason: Shaun Alexander, RB, SEA. Easiest ... first pick ... ever.
Vivek: Edgerrin James, RB, IND. I'm not going to be able to ride one NFL team to the unofficial, self-proclaimed title of "King of All Playoff Fantasy Football" like I did last year with the Eagles. I just don't have that feeling about any team in either conference, so I'll have to go with the runner who I'm hoping will get at least two games -- Edge.
Ned: Peyton Manning, QB, IND. I swore to myself I was going to try and avoid Colts so that if they lose to New England, at least my fantasy team wouldn't be killed, but I'm overruling myself and taking Manning. I just don't trust the Giants, so I can't take Tiki, and I think there is a fall-off after that. Conceivably, Hasselbeck is more likely to win two games than Manning because of the relative strength of the conferences. I guess I would still bet on the Colts to win the Super Bowl, and if they do, I should be in good shape with Peyton.
Aaron: Tiki Barber, RB, NYG. You know, I usually would much rather take a running back early in these things. The best choice here, especially with the Colts starting to look vulnerable, would be that two-headed monster from the current number one team in weighted DVOA, "RB DENVER." Alas, the two-headed monster has two heads. That leaves me with this debate: Matt Hasselbeck vs. Tiki Barber. Matt Hasselbeck has a much better chance of making it to the Super Bowl, and he was the number four quarterback in fantasy football this year. Who could have predicted that? (Oh, yes, us.) But Tiki had just a monster season, and our ratings say the Giants are better than the Panthers, plus they have home field advantage. At that point, the Giants probably go off to Seattle, and even if the Seahawks win, that should be another shootout with lots of running. And there's that small chance of a four-game postseason for New York's favorite author of children's books. I'll go with the daring choice instead of the safe choice.
Al: Thomas Jones, RB, CHI. I love Thomas Jones here. I would have taken him over Tiki. The Giants aren't going anywhere this postseason with Don Bosco Prep's linebacking corps and a quarterback who will soon be enshrined in Bill Simmons' face pantheon. Did anyone else see the game on New Year's Eve? Everytime Manning threw a pass five yards away from Plaxico Burress, Eli had a look on his face that was equal parts astonishment at where the ball was ending up and fear that Plaxico was going to beat him up after the game for being such an awful quarterback. Sure, they'll probably get back Carolina, but I wouldn't be shocked if they didn't.
Oh yeah, Thomas Jones. Chicago has as good of a chance as anyone to get out of the NFC. With that defense and a potentially competent passing game to keep opposing defenses honest, Jones should be in line for a few nice games in the post-season.
Tim: Cadillac Williams, RB, TB. I might pick Rudi Johnson except I expect Cincinnati to lose to Pittsburgh. So I have to go with Cadillac Williams and hope the Bucs make some noise.
Tim: Tom Brady, QB, NE. It's between Matt Hasselbeck and Tom Brady. The H-Back is probably a better fantasy quarterback, but I'm leaning toward Brady because he gets an extra game, and my faith in the Patriots in the playoffs in this millenium is nigh unshakeable.
Al: Marvin Harrison, WR, IND. I normally don't like picking a WR this early, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the RB I really want will still be there for me on the way back. If the Colts go to the Super Bowl, the difference in production between Harrison and the #18 WR is greater than that of whatever RB I would take here and the #12 RB. Even with a broken hand he was one of the most productive fantasy wide receivers this season. With potentially three games indoors, there's no reason to expect him not to be that productive during the playoffs.
Aaron: Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA. After my big speech about whether I should take Tiki Barber or Matt Hasselbeck, I get to take both. I'm getting the feeling that a lot of us are expecting different upsets along the way. I'm much higher on the Giants than Al is, despite the problems at ILB. I'm also seeing a Bengals loss to the Steelers as a very good possibility -- which means the Patriots go into Denver in round two to meet a rested Broncos squad. I love my team, but I just can't buy the "Patriots magic beans" theory. That's what I call the belief of Patriots fans that nothing that happened in the regular season matters and that no injuries to the Patriots matter, because the Patriots will always win the Super Bowl as long as Bill Belichick is coaching and Tom Brady is playing quarterback. But there's no way to turn Ellis Hobbs and James Sanders into Ronnie Lott and Deion Sanders. People act as if Bill Belichick has some magic beans that instantly render the other teams helpless in the playoffs. I don't think the Broncos are affected by the magic beans.
Ned: Rudi Johnson, RB, CIN. I guess I'm the one who is truly in the minority in thiniking Cincinnati is going to win this week. A smart man who needs a running back would probably take Dillon here even given his struggles this year, as he is almost assured 2 playoff games (although I think Jacksonville with a healthy Leftwich would beat the Patriots on a neutral field, no way that team goes up north and wins). But, I think I'll ride with Rudi Johnson. I've been backing the Bengals all year, and a couple loose games after they clinched the division are not enough to get me off the bandwagon now.
Vivek: Jake Plummer, QB, DEN. I'm not touching the first round matchups yet. There are too many questions for Sunday. Can the Giants overcome their injuries? How will Byron Leftwich play after his injury? Has Chris Simms matured enough? Can the Redskins exact revenge for Mike Alstott's "touchdown" earlier in the season? Will the lack of playoff seasoning hurt the Bengals? With that being said, I'll take Jake Plummer and let the next few picks decide my other running back and wide receivers.
Jason: Mike Anderson, RB, DEN. And now ... with these two picks, I will look like a major Bronco homer. (While admittedly I am, I try not to let that cloud my judgement too much...) Like Vivek, I am still wary of the first round matchups, and Mike Anderson is the last remaining starting RB with a bye. Even with Bell stealing some carries, and maybe even a TD or two, I like his chances to put up big numbers.
Jason: Rod Smith, WR, DEN. I thought about going QB with my other pick, but since only Al and I are left, I'll hold off. So that leaves me grabbing the best WR on the board. Rod Smith is the clear #1 in Denver. He wins out over Darrell Jackson (injured), Reggie Wayne (second banana), and Muhsin Muhammad (weak offense).
Vivek: DeShaun Foster, RB, CAR. Given the fact that Al is in contention for one of New York's starting linebacker spots, I'll bank on the Panthers winning on the road this week. The Panthers (6-2 on the road) will not be intimidated by the Meadowlands, where the Giants lost only once all season. I'm not expecting a 100-yard game for Foster (his only two 100-yard games this year came against the Falcons), but potentially two or three games makes him an attractive pick to me.
Ned: Corey Dillon, RB, NE. He has 13 TDs in 11 games even if he has struggled on a per carry basis. The Patriots should win at least one game, so I think Dillon is a safer play than Portis who is a much better back. I do think Washington will win that game, but I guess I'm taking the safer bet in Dillon.
Aaron: Reggie Wayne, WR, IND. I know that the Giants have some injuries at linebacker, but they had those injuries when they beat the Chiefs, who were the hottest team in the league by the end of the season. I'm trying to figure out which Panthers player is supposed to take advantage of the linebacker problem. Foster? Mike Seidman?
Reggie Wayne or Darrell Jackson? Should I tie myself to one passing game so strongly? Nah. Wayne it is.
Al: Chad Johnson, WR, CIN. Against Kansas City, the Giants at least had their backups. Now, New York is out of backups. Last week the Giants only had one active LB that was on their roster before Week 15 -- Nick Greisen. I think they can still get past Carolina, but asking them to do more than that is a bit much.
I'm going to play with fire and take a somewhat educated guess that Tim won't take the RB I want. I'll grab the best WR on the board.
Tim: Steve Smith, WR, CAR. Well, I could take Portis, and be assured of making it out of this weekend with exactly one back still playing, who would then lose to Seattle or Chicago. If Pittsburgh had a back worth drafting I might do that. But since I don't want to do any of those things, I'll take Steve Smith. Because I love Steve Smith.
Tim: Muhsin Muhammad, WR, CHI. I'll go out on a limb with my second pick and take Muhsin Muhammad. I'm high on the Bears, and I think he'll be a much bigger part of their offense than any of Seattle's receivers. Muhammad is a new man now that Rex Grossman is back.
Maybe it's because I'm picking last, which is that much tougher when it's a smaller talent pool, but I really have the feeling that I have no idea what I'm doing at this point.
Al: Clinton Portis, RB, WAS. I like both your WR picks there. If the Bears go to the Super Bowl, Muhammad should be solid. Even if the Panthers lose to New York, Steve Smith could have a huge game. The past two weeks, New York's cornerbacks have been burned when left one on one with Santana and Randy Moss. Will Allen, Curtis Deloatch, and Corey Webster aren't good enough to handle an elite receiver without safety help. For whatever reason -- poor play, offensive misdirection, overcompensation for weakness at linebacker -- that safety help hasn't been coming. Smith wouldn't have made it back to you in the next round.
I was banking on the fact that you wouldn't grab both RB from the same first round game so I could take Clinton Portis here. Washington has been playing as well as anyone in the league these past few weeks. They're a much better team than they were during that great game with Tampa earlier in the season. Anthony Davis is going to have a tough time containing Phillip Daniels, who has just been unstoppable late in the year.
All that means I like Washington's chances of pulling off the upset, which means two more Clinton Portis press conferences and two games to help my team.
Aaron: Darrell Jackson, WR, SEA. Yes, I love the Portis pick. Washington and Seattle are basically tied in weighted DVOA and the Redskins have been really hot. I didn't take Portis because I had two different running backs I was looking at and my hope was that one of them would make it past Tim and Al, and I was right. Going with my "Even if the Patriots can beat Indy, they would lose to Denver" theory, I will be taking Tatum Bell. But I don't have to take him until the draft comes back the other direction, as Jason, Vivek, and Ned each have two running backs.
In past years when we've done this, there's been some discussion of which teams we think are going to the Super Bowl. There's less of that going on this year and I think that's because every team seems to have a weakness. The only one that doesn't is Seattle, but then you remember that the Giants nearly beat them at home and you think, well, they could lose too. Anyway, are any of us really confident in pronouncing, "Team X and Team Y are going to the Super Bowl?"
For my next pick, I'll take a fully rested Darrell Jackson.
Ned: Santana Moss, WR, WAS. Last night when I was putting a list together for this draft, I noticed how quickly the wide receiver pool became shallow. Then today I proceeded to draft a quarterback and two running backs with my first three picks. Brilliant. Anyway, I guess I'm stuck going receiver now. Having passed on Portis, I'll now back up my belief that Washington will win this weekend and take Santana Moss.
As for the lack of consensus on who will make the Super Bowl, I think rather than weaknesses from top teams (what's Indy's real weakness, or Denver's?) there are so many good teams this year that even the divisional round games should be competitive. That's my opinion anyway.
Vivek: Joey Galloway, WR, TB. I'm definitely in the minority here by thinking that the Bucs will end Washington's streak. As impressive as the run has been, there are three factors in my mind that give the edge to Tampa Bay: home field advantage, the maturation of Chris Simms from the teams' first meeting and a healthier Cadillac Williams. Washington's secondary has not been healthy all season, and Shawn Springs is questionable for this week with a groin injury. Add in the fact that Carlos Rogers has not played in three weeks, and Joey Galloway should have a big game.
Jason: Hines Ward, WR, PIT. Since I can't decide which Giants receiver to take, I'm gonna grab Hines Ward instead. (Ummm, what kind of logic is that? Can the excuse be that I'm the illogical one in this group?) Though I do think Pittsburgh is on a roll and has a great chance to upset Cincinnati.
Jason: Jerramy Stevens, TE, SEA. With my other pick, I'm gonna break the seal on other positions and grab the first tight end, Jeramy Stevens. 3 TDs in his last three games, and the tight end position looks to drop off pretty fast this year...
Vivek: Chicago Bears, DT. Wow, it took until the last pick of the fourth round for someone to grab a Steeler. Jason snagged my next pick with Ward. I think this week's Cincy-Pitt matchup will look more like the teams' first matchup, a slower game that featured a lot of blitzing on Pittsburgh's part. I'm eager to see the reaction to my next pick: Chicago Defense. No wide receiver jumps out at me right now. The ones left could be one and done or are second options. So I'll go with the best defense in the league who should play at least two rounds.
Ned: Bobby Engram, WR, SEA. I really thought I was going to go Plaxico here, but I am just not sure about them against Carolina. I was thinking he could have a big day against Seattle who is banged up in the secondary, but not only would the Giants have to beat the Carolina, 50/50 at best, but the Buccaneers would have to beat the Redskins. So, I'm going with Bobby Engram in the hopes of getting three solid games out of him. He started catching touchdowns late in the year, and with Jackson back fully healthy, he should see a lot of single coverage.
Aaron: Tatum Bell, RB, DEN. Like I said before, Tatum Bell. Congratulations, Tim, you win the "get to wait until the end to pick a running back" award.
We're still waiting on somebody to take someone from Jacksonville. Is this "east coast media bias," or recognition that the Jags were fading at the end of the year until the final week, or acknowledgement that they may be without three important defensive starters against the Patriots?
Al: Indianapolis Colts, DT. I think we're just like the betting public, who doesn't think Jacksonville stands much of a chance going on the road to New England, making the Jaguars an 7.5-point underdog.
Viv took one of my Super Bowl pick defenses, so I might as well grab the other one here and take Indianapolis. All I'm looking for from a defense in these leagues is games. The Colts are the best bet left to get three games.
Tim: Chris Cooley, TE, WAS. I almost just drafted a running back, because I forgot that you guys couldn't. It was clearly unfair to do this right after New Year's; I've been sleepy or hung over ever since then. OK, I'm definitely taking Chris Cooley. With any luck, I'll have a player on each side of every game this weekend, and I'll go insane watching them.
Tim: Ashley Lelie, WR, DEN. Then I think I'll take Ashley Lelie, not so much because I want him or he's that good, but because I have almost nobody with a first round bye and his team's good. And I certainly refuse to take a kicker or defense this early in any fantasy draft.
Al: Carson Palmer, QB, CIN. I'll leave Eli Manning for Jason and take Carson Palmer. I don't understand why Cincinnati is a home underdog in this playoff game. This team beat Pittsburgh on the road a month ago with Palmer having a good game. The Steelers had trouble putting away the Lions last week in a must-win game for them. Now they're supposed to go on the road and beat Cincinnati? I don't see it happening.
Aaron: Mike Vanderjagt, K, IND. If all you want from a fantasy defense in a playoff fantasy game is as many games as possible, that goes double for your playoff fantasy kicker. Give me the Idiot.
Ned: Jimmy Smith, WR, JAC. The pick of Smith is probably not intelligent given he is likely only going to play one game, and I could have gotten Josh Brown or someone who likely will play three games. But, after some brief study of DVOA numbers, it became absurd to me that nobody had taken anyone from Jacksonville. Of the 12 teams in the playoffs, only one entered Week 17 with a positive defensive DVOA, the Patriots. The defense ranks 12th against the run and 30th against the pass. The fact that the Patriots are eight point favorites seems ridiculous to me. I know the Bucs win was convincing, but what else have they done? Their weighted DVOA is below the Jaguars who have played the last few games without Leftwich. For the past eight weeks, the Patriots have had Seymour, Bruschi, and Colvin all starting.
Not counting Week 17, the Patriots played six games against quarterbacks who finished in the top 12 in DVOA and nine against quarterbacks who did not. Their record against good quarterbacks was 1-5 and against bad quarterbacks was 9-0. The only highly ranked qb they beat was Roethlisberger who didn't play great but did hit Ward for an 85-yard touchdown and completed a 49-yard pass to Randle-El before the ill-advised reverse. The Patriots playing with all their current defensive starters except for maybe whoever is playing for Harrison let Trent Green throw for 323 yards.
Byron Leftwich is ninth in DVOA. If he's healthy, and Will Carroll seems to think he could've played last week, he should be fine. As long as Del Rio doesn't decide that to win in the playoffs they need to run the ball, a definite possibility, the Jaguars should score points.
The Jaguars are better than the Patriots, and while I still think New Engalnd will win because of the Florida team going to the cold weather stat, I have to believe it will be much closer than people expect. Jacksonville has 4 losses on the season, and three are to Denver and Indianapolis who have higher season-long DVOAs than any team since the 2002 Bucs. They have only lost one game by more than 8 points. They almost lost to the PIttsburgh Maddoxes, but they beat a full-strength Seattle and Cincinnati team. Anyway, New Engalnd will win by 20 now that I've written all this, but I just couldn't not take advantage of the largest defensive weakness in the whole playoffs, the New England pass defense.
Tim: I'm obviously not doing enough research. Maybe I should just hire a monkey to throw darts.
Jason: Sorry. I'm already picking a team. Plus they don't trust me with sharp objects.
Vivek: Deion Branch, WR, NE. I have to drink some of the New England Kool-Aid as well.
Jason: Joe Jurevicius, WR, SEA. Well, with Superbowl MVP Deion Branch fianally off the board, I'm gonna have to go with the token white wideout of the draft: Joe Jurevicious! (He may not get the yards, but with 10 TDs on the year, he always seems to be a red zone threat, even with Jackson and Engram healthy) I'll leave the rest of you who still need a WR to be baffled by the Burress-Houshmandzadeh-Toomer mess left on the board.
Jason: Josh Brown, K, SEA. And while I'm putting all my eggs in one basket, I'll grab Josh Brown too. Looking forward to picking a defense and QB of the scrap heap next time around...
Vivek: Dallas Clark, TE, IND. Here's hoping for three catches for 40 yards times three games.
Ned: Jason Elam, K, DEN. In an effort to guarantee a 4th place finish, I will take my seventh player from a seventh different team. I'll go with Jason Elam figuring on at least two playoff games. I still fear the Colts beat the Patriots only to lose to the Broncos irony, so hopefully the pain of that will be mitigated by my having the Broncos kicker.
Aaron: Seattle Seahawks, DT. And now, a fantasy defense. From teams with byes -- the teams most likely to play three games -- we've got two choices, Denver and Seattle. According to our scoring system, Denver had 96 points this year, and Seattle 95. (I know this because we use this system in our regular league, and I looked it up. By the way, everyone congratulate Jason for winning first place. I was third with my team, "Larry Johnson and some dudes off the street.")
But I digress. Seattle's defensive numbers were helped significantly by their schedule, but they still ended up seventh in adjusted sack rate. Denver was dead last. I like Denver's chances to go to Detroit, but as far as game-to-game consistency, I'll take sacks over turnovers.
Al: Jeremy Shockey, TE, NYG. I've been down on New York, but I still think they'll get past Carolina. So I'll go with the best TE available - Jeremy Shockey, who should be good to go against the Panthers.
Tim: Denver Broncos, DT. Time to pick my kicker and my defense. This will probably be the only fantasy draft in the history of the universe in which somebody drafts a running back who will start with the last overall pick.
Thanks to following the Texans through the last two weeks of the season through the Reggie Bush Bowl, I became a strength-of-schedule junkie. I looked today into a sort of renormalized strength of schedule for each team that excludes the effect of that team's wins on the schedule strength. Take out Denver's wins and their schedule moves from the 18th hardest to a tie for third. The fact that they won 13 games against that is astounding. I'm like Aaron; I would have taken a Denver running back early if not for the committee factor. But unlike Aaron, I really want to take the Broncos defense, because Seattle had the easiest schedule in the league. So I will.
Tim: Robby Gould, K, CHI. Washington had the second hardest schedule no matter how you slice it, and if I could take its defense and Denver's kicker I would. But I don't really want to do it the other way round, partly because I already hitched my wagon at least a little bit to the Bucs train. So instead I'll try to reverse my trend of taking Wild Card players, even though every instinct I have says to take Jeff Reed, and get Robby Gould because Chicago's is the only kicker left with a first-round bye.
Al: Plaxico Burress, WR, NYG. I'll stay with the Giants theme and take Plaxico here. I'll just have to hope that Eli starts throwing the ball only a foot above his head instead of five feet too high.
Aaron: Ben Watson, TE, NE. Ha! Al, I had been thinking about taking either Shockey or Burress and I figured there was no way you would take one of them since you were so down on the Giants. I figured that since I took Tiki so early, the best way to win this thing was for the Giants to go far, and if the Giants were going to go far, I might as well get a couple more of them. Then you went ahead to take both guys.
I suppose the proper response here is to take Amani Toomer. But there's another receiver I like just as much -- T.J. Whosyourdaddy -- and the only other person needing a receiver is Vivek. Vivek, I'll let you make the decision for me so I can make a total homer pick, the kind of guy who should have some big plays, especially if middle linebacker Mike Peterson can't play. Ben Watson.
By the way, since part of the goal is to help people who may have their own fantasy drafts, I should point out that Denver Jeb Putzier has no touchdowns this year and had just two last year. The Broncos didn't throw him a single pass in a goal-to-go situation and he had only five passes in the red zone otherwise. This is why I did not take Jeb Putzier.
Ned: New York Giants, DT. Ok, I'm down to tight end and defense, but I have two tight ends I have no preference on, so I'll wait for Vivek to take his. That leaves defense. All four teams with byes have been taken. I want no part of any of the AFC defenses because the good defenses, Pitt and Jacksonville, are playing good offenses (and I think they're going to lose). In the NFC, I am trying to identify which team will play Chicago in the second round. Rex Grossman may be better than Kyle Orton, but I'm seeing at least two picks in this game.
Washington as the 6th seed can't play Chicago, so they're out (and they have no cornerbacks left). Even without cornerbacks, however, I think they'll beat TB, so that leaves the winner of the Carolina-NYG game. That game should be a turnoverfest with Delhomme and Manning taking turns tossing the ball to the other team. Carolina is the better defense, but I think the Giants will win the game, thus making them the better pick for this draft.
Vivek: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, CIN. Mr. Schatz, meet Mr. Toomer. I'll take Housh. The Cincy receiver is my first (and possibly only) pick for a team that I don't see winning at least one game.
Jason: Eli Manning, QB, NYG. I'll take Eli as my QB. While I did briefly consider Rex Grossman, I will instead lean towards a player who has a legitimate chance to crack double digits each time he plays. Let the best-of-the-rest teams have ol' Rex to head up their squads.
Jason: New England Patriots, DT. And I'll get my own little piece of the Pats. I'm just just glad Ned made a crappy pick for his D so I could get this one.
Vivek: Adam Vinatieri, K, NE. Greatest postseason kicker of all time.
Ned: Heath Miller, TE, PIT. Apparently Vivek already had a tight end. I'm a moron, particularly since I obviously wanted Clark on my own team and should have realized who took him. Anyway, since my team is probably beyond the point where a tight end will make a difference, I'll complete my terrible no two players from the same team strategy with Heath Miller. Cincinnati is terrible against tight ends according to DVOA, and Miller has over 100 yards and a touchdown during their two previous meetings. If I hadn't taken Rudi Johnson in Round 2 and thus predicted a Bengals victory, I would really like this pick.
Aaron: Amani Toomer, WR, NYG.
Al: Jay Feely, K, NYG. I really didn't say all those mean things about the Giants before as some sort of reverse psychology so that I could end up with three Giants. But Jay Feely is tops on my board so I have to grab him. I would really rather have three Bears instead of three Giants, but after I grabbed Jones, Muhammad and the Chicago defense didn't make it back to me. Somehow my roster is filled with Bengals and Giants, two teams that no one is very confident will make it to the second round. If I get two games out of both of them, I like my chances in this league.
Tim: Jerome Bettis, RB, PIT. There are only two teams whose running back positions haven't yet been tapped: Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. And I just don't want Fred Taylor. For one thing, I see the Jags losing in the first round. For another, Greg Jones has been more effective in a lot of situations, including around the goal line. For a similar reason, I'm taking Jerome Bettis ahead of Taylor or Willie Parker. He's more in the mold of how you beat Cincinnati and Indianapolis, and he's a safer bet to score a touchdown.
|2006 Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Teams|
|QB||Manning, NYG||Plummer, Den||Manning, IND|
|RB||Alexander, SEA||James, IND||Johnson, CIN|
|RB||Anderson, DEN||Foster, CAR||Dillon, NE|
|WR||Smith, DEN||Galloway, TB||Moss, WAS|
|WR||Ward, PIT||Branch, NE||Engram, SEA|
|WR||Jurevicius, SEA||Houshmandzadeh, CIN||Smith, JAC|
|TE||Stevens, SEA||Clark, IND||Miller, PIT|
|K||Brown, SEA||Vinatieri, NE||Elam, DEN|
|DEF||New England||Chicago||New York Giants|
|QB||Hasselbeck, SEA||Palmer, CIN||Brady, NE|
|RB||Barber, NYG||Jones, CHI||Williams, TB|
|RB||Bell, DEN||Portis, WAS||Bettis|
|WR||Wayne, IND||Harrison, IND||Smith, CAR|
|WR||Jackson, SEA||Johnson, CIN||Muhammad, CHI|
|WR||Toomer, NYG||Burress, NYG||Lelie, DEN|
|TE||Watson, NE||Shockey, NYG||Cooley, WAS|
|K||Vanderjagt, IND||Feely, NYG||Gould, CHI|
Once again this year, we invite people to list their "best of the rest" teams in the comments, and you can fill your team with all the Jaguars you want. We'll track which of those teams does the best and see if someone can dethrone reigning "best of the rest" champ "El Angelo." The scores for all these teams will be updated each week in Scramble for the Ball.
Vivek: (0-3 last week, 24-28-1 overall)
I needed one and a half more points from Houston, one and a half from the Giants and one from Tampa Bay last week. Three losses by four measy points. I guess I ended as the Chargers of Best Bets.
A lot of blitzing from the Pittsburgh defense and a heavy dose of Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis will dictate the tempo of this game. Like I said in the roundtable above, expect a game much more like these teams' first meeting.
Washington's last playoff appearance resulted in a loss to Tampa Bay, and this go around should have the same end result. Mike Alstott's phantom two-point conversion in Week 10 started a 6-2 run to the Division crown for the Bucs. I'll admit that wins over Atlanta and New Orleans (twice each) and a spanking at the hands of the Patriots might diminish the impressiveness of that stretch, but Tampa Bay now has a healthy Cadillac Williams and a much more seasoned Chris Simms. This will be the game of the week.
Take Jacksonville with the points, but New England straight up. Soon to be annointed 2005 MVP Tom Brady will (surprise, surprise) be the biggest difference maker here, as I can see Bill Belichick going with a lot of three receiver sets to create matchup problems with the Jacksonville secondary.
I do not trust Eli Manning's inconsistent arm against the secondary of the Panthers. The Ken Lucas-Plaxico Burress matchup could decide the outcome of the game, and Lucas' abilities mean that the team will not have to double team New York's go-to receiver. This frees up the safeties to go for the picks against Manning. When Carolina has the ball, expect the Giants to have a hard time taking down Deshaun Foster with its injuries in the linebacking corps. I'm pulling for the G-Men, but I'm having a hard time seeing a win.
Al: (2-8-1last week, 23-27-2 overall)
Washington has played better than anyone in the NFC in the second half of the season. When they lost arguably the best regular season game of the year against Tampa Bay in Week 10, Washington was missing Sean Taylor, which allowed Chris Simms to light up the Washington defense in the middle of the field. With Taylor back, Simms won't have as much success throwing downfield, even if the Washington cornerbacks are a bit banged up.
By almost any measure, Jacksonville was a better football team than New England was this season. This game should be much closer than people are betting on, especially if Byron Leftwich has fully recovered from his injury. Sure, the Jaguars will have trouble running the ball against the rejuvenated front seven of New England, but with no precipitation expected Saturday night in Foxboro, Leftwich should be able to throw the ball against the beleaguered New England secondary.
Steve Smith could get over 200 receiving yards, but New York should be able to contain the rest of Carolina's offense to come away with a win. On offense, the New York offensive line will need to dominate Carolina's defensive line like Dallas did two weeks ago so that Tiki Barber can have similar success to that which Julius Jones had nearly 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Carolina's pass defense has been good this year, but they haven't been doing it by containing opposing tight ends or running backs, the strengths of New York's passing attack. This will be a close game throughout, but I like New York's chances of pulling this out.
When was the last time a home team was this big of an underdog in the playoffs? Maybe you can make an argument that the Steelers are the better team right now, but not better enough to be a road favorite over a team that beat them at home a month ago.
90 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2006, 9:34pm by RLB