It's taken 15 weeks of micromanaging your team, alienating your friends and family and wishing not-so-nice things to happen to underperforming players, but you're finally here. The championship game. Where the winner gets to bask in the glow of championship glory and the loser gets mercilessly mocked until draft day 2013.
There's just one big rub: How the players perform on Saturday and Sunday is completely out of your control. All that we can do is manage our team to minimize the risk and maximize the reward and hope our stars don't pull a Victor Cruz from last week. (Darn you, Victor Cruz!)
Which stars will actually perform up to their top billing? Here is a look at a few guys who should soar to massive performances in fantasy championship week.
Cam Newton (QB, Carolina Panthers—vs. Oakland Raiders)
Fantasy owners who were patient with Newton during his early-season struggles have reaped the massive rewards of his recent brilliance. In the past four games, the second-year Panthers quarterback has thrown for 264 yards per week and nine touchdowns without one ball thrown to the opposing team.
As he's wont to do, Newton has also been brilliant in the ground game as well. Those same four contests have seen him run for 63.25 yards per game and three touchdowns, with the former figure heavily downgraded due to his seven-yard performance last Sunday.
In case you were wondering, those numbers average out to 29.5 fantasy points per week.
And luckily for all Newton owners, all signs point to him matching that average at minimum this week against the Raiders. Heading into Week 16, Oakland is 27th in the NFL against the pass and 21st in run defense. Over their past seven games, the Raiders have given up 30.7 points per game—and that includes last week's shutout victory over the Chiefs.
Even more helpful for Newton owners is the fact that Oakland seems to love giving up touchdowns. The Raiders are tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns allowed in the league and are in the bottom 10 against the pass as well.
You're obviously starting him regardless, but I have a hard time envisioning Newton being anything but the top-ranked fantasy scorer of the week.
Reggie Bush (RB, Miami Dolphins—vs. Buffalo Bills)
OK, perhaps I'm stretching the word "star" a little thing here. Bush has been a very solid RB2 all season, other than a bizarre stretch where the Dolphins tried the Daniel Thomas experiment again. That isn't what you would normally define a star.
Regardless, owners found out last week just how good Bush can be when he's actually getting work. Jacksonville allowed Bush to run for 104 yards on 21 carries last week, just the second time he's been given 20 or more attempts this season. Both times, Bush has gone into triple-digits on the ground, and the Dolphins have won handily.
If Miami doesn't take the hint and give Bush a heavy workload, I'm unsure whether Mike Sherman should even collect his paycheck next week.
Through the first 15 weeks, the Bills have been nothing short of abysmal against the run. Opposing rushers average 5.1 yards per carry against Buffalo and have scored 22 touchdowns on the ground, both of which are worst in the NFL. The Bills also rank 30th in rushing yards allowed and just allowed the Seahawks to gain 270 yards in Week 15.
Lest we forget that it was also Bush who came through with a 203 yards and a touchdown in Week 16 last year to win countless fantasy championships. That obviously doesn't carry over in any significant way, but the symmetry is worth mentioning.
Bush goes off again on Sunday, as fantasy owners get an extreme case of deja vu.
Dez Bryant (WR, Dallas Cowboys—vs. New Orleans Saints)
Neither a fractured finger nor the NFL's top-ranked pass defense can stop Bryant's string of fantasy brilliance. The fourth-year wideout grabbed just four balls for 59 yards against the Steelers last week, but caught a 24-yard touchdown and received nine targets.
Those latter two statistics gave Bryant his sixth straight game with a touchdown reception and proved that Tony Romo isn't going to be shy about throwing him the ball.
That's just about all you should need to feel comfortable starting him this week against the Saints. Though Jekyll and Hydeian in their weekly performances, New Orleans has been extremely consistent in its incompetence against opposing receivers.
Prior to this week's slate of games, the Saints are, at best, tied for 30th in the following defensive categories: passing yards against, passing touchdowns against and yards per reception.
Bryant isn't a home-run threat, so his stats will have to be more cumulative than one hugs strike. Nonetheless, his fantasy hot streak going against New Orleans' defense should be the perfect storm.
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