Tom Brady is the NFL and fantasy definition of a 'winner' in crunch time, evidenced by his December track record.
You know the fantasy mantras: Start your studs. Dance with the one that brought you. Great players make great plays with the season on the line. Now it is time to cross your fingers and hope they come through for you.
If you are looking to break some ties in your starting lineups based on historical stretch-run performances, the Patriots, Ravens and Chargers are pretty good bets in December.
We will start the discussion with Tom Brady, who is 40-8 (.833) all-time in the final four games of the regular season, the highest winning percentage among quarterbacks since 1970 (minimum 20 starts), according to NFL media notes. Brady explains:
Right now is when we say football season starts. The mental toughness, the discipline, the attitude, the work ethic, this is when it starts to show up. Those are intangibles that you don't really see in September and August when things are fresh and everyone is hopeful. Now you really see where you're at, and you see how you match up against other teams. We have to go out there and prove it and earn it.
Amen, brother. Do work.
It certainly helps that the Pats gets an easy schedule down the stretch.
The Ravens have also been good in December. They get the suspect Vikings—arguably the most exploitable defense in fantasy football—this week. Head coach John Harbaugh on his Ravens:
We're in control of our destiny. It's up to us to win games. I'm proud of our guys finding a way to win the last two games and finishing the way they have. I feel like we're a really good football team. But you need to go out and prove it, you need to prove it every week.
Take advantage of what should be a banner week for your marginal Ravens options. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Justin Tucker and the Ravens defense/special teams should be considered must-starts in their matchup. The Ravens are 10-1 at home against NFC teams under Harbaugh, too. This one shouldn't be close.
Here are the most successful teams in the final four games of the season since 2008:
|New England Patriots||18-2||.900|
|San Diego Chargers||17-3||.850|
|San Francisco 49ers||14-6||.700|
The Chargers might surprise you on the that list, but Philip Rivers (26-6, .813) is second to Brady (40-8, .833) among the best starting quarterback records in the final four games since 1970 (minimum 20 starts). Rivers and the Chargers should also prove to be great options—at least in the passing game—at home against the Giants this weekend.
This has been a fantasy friendly year because teams haven't run away and hid in the standings (save for the Seahawks, the only team to clinch a playoff spot thus far). Parity has left a lot of teams and players in the race. There are 20 teams within one game of a playoff spot still, and five more are within two games, according to the NFL media notes.
But fantasy isn't necessarily about team success. It is about individuals and how they work together to make teams successful.
While we love the aforementioned Ravens, you still have to keep an Adrian Peterson active in all leagues, even if he is facing a Ravens defense that is No. 6 against the run and No. 4 against fantasy running backs. Peterson is historically a fantasy monster down the stretch.
Here are the best stat performers in the final four games since 2008:
|Running Back||Rushing Yards|
|Wide Receiver||Receiving Yards|
There are hardly any surprises on those lists, and for good reason. Your players come to play in the home stretch. Pin your hopes on your donkeys.
This hasn't been a year to worry about fantasy teams resting their players down the stretch...yet. There is the potential you might not get full use of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson in your fantasy championships in Week 16 or 17, though.
Like we said above, the Seahawks are the lone team to clinch a playoff spot through 13 weeks. They are two games up on the Saints in the race for home-field advantage (with the head-to-head tiebreaker in their favor), too.
The Seahawks will clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye with a victory Sunday at San Francisco. A win and a Saints loss either of the next two weeks—at home versus Carolina (Week 14) or at St. Louis (Week 15), entirely possible—would put the Seahawks a Week 15 victory (at New York Giants) from clinching the NFC's No. 1 seed.
Here are all of the Week 14 playoff scenarios, courtesy of NFL media, if you want to dive into that minutia for fantasy purposes.
Quick Fantasy Notes
- Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) shot down rumors he will be shut down for the season, even if he is unlikely to play Sunday against the Falcons. If the Packers are eliminated from postseason contention, Rodgers still might get shut down, but:
Rodgers: "If I'm healthy, I want to be on the field. This is my team."— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) December 3, 2013
- Percy Harvin (hip) still isn't healthy, or a fantasy factor in crunch time. You can cut him if you need options to get by in the coming weeks.
Carroll on @710ESPNSeattle said of WR Percy Harvin that "he had a little procedure last week." Said feels good this morning.— Liz Mathews 710 ESPN (@Liz_Mathews) December 3, 2013
- Michael Crabtree (Achilles) can be, although he is a bad play against the Seahawks' No. 1-ranked pass defense in Week 14. Crabtree played a lot more snaps than anyone expected in his season debut, perhaps to get him ready for a full workload in a pivotal division game at home against Seattle with the NFC West on the line.
49ers WR play time (67 offensive snaps): Anquan Boldin 51 (76%) Michael Crabtree 42 (63%) Mario Manningham 16 (24%) Kassim Osgood 9 (13%)— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) December 2, 2013
- Jay Cutler (high-ankle sprain) was rushed back to action last time from his groin injury. The Bears figure to be more cautious this time around. ESPN's Michael C. Wright reports no decision has been made on his status for Monday night.
Thursday Night Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
- Houston Texans: Ben Tate, Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew and Cecil Shorts
These teams played to a lackluster 13-6 Jags victory at Houston in Week 12, so you can only like the primary options here despite the fact that each defense has been exploitable in fantasy. The Jags are fifth-worst against quarterbacks, ninth-worst against running backs and second-worst against tight ends, but the Texans couldn't take advantage of all of that at home just two weeks ago.
- Houston Texans: Case Keenum, Dennis Johnson, Garrett Graham, Owen Daniels, Randy Bullock and Texans D/ST
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Chad Henne, Jordan Todman, Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Marcedes Lewis, Josh Scobee and Jaguars D/ST
The Texans are in the top 10 against quarterbacks and wide receivers—not to mention No. 2 against the pass. It makes the fringe Jags options bad plays along with the woeful Texans.
Roster Trends Review
We break down the top 50 most-added players in fantasy football this week, using CBS Sports leagues as the example. You know it is a weak crop when you have a defense, tight end and a kicker as the three most-added players in fantasy.
|RK||Player||POS||TM||Past %||New %||Increase|
Alex Smith, Josh McCown and Cutler are three worthy additions if you're looking for a quarterback stopgap, but our favorite from Tuesday's Top Pickups at Bleacher Report is the fourth most-added player, Flacco. He is facing a Vikings defense that is the second-worst team in fantasy against quarterbacks, allowing an NFL-high 25 touchdown passes.
We will change our tune once McCown is officially named the Bears starter for next Monday night's game versus Dallas, though. The Cowboys are dead last in fantasy against quarterbacks.
LeGarrette Blount is the most-added back because he is getting the short-yardage carries for the Pats, but you cannot like his matchup against Cleveland. The Browns are the fifth-best team against the run.
We are surprised Willis McGahee, added in just two percent of leagues, didn't get more love. He should rack up 60 yards and a touchdown against the maligned Pats run defense, which is ranked 31st in the NFL.
There were no surprises at this position with the additions. We will say we are not big fans of reserve Raiders receiver Andre Holmes, though, coming off his surprising seven catches for 136 yards on Thanksgiving. Sure, the Jets are the seventh-worst team against fantasy wide receivers, but Holmes had a great rapport early with quarterback Matt McGloin because the two upstarts worked on the Raiders' scout team together.
Those situations usually settle down as the quarterbacks get comfortable, especially if starter Denarius Moore (shoulder) can return in Week 14. That would push Holmes behind Moore and Streater in the fantasy pecking order.
Ladarius Green is getting as many snaps at tight end as Antonio Gates now, as the Chargers employ more double-tight looks, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego's Michael Gehlken. He has the size and speed to be a playmaker for Rivers, but we still have to view Gates and rookie wideout Keenan Allen as the team's targets of choice. It will be tough for Rivers to sustain three fantasy options down the stretch.
We understand the allure of the Raiders against the error-prone Geno Smith right now. The Jets are the third-worst team in fantasy against defense/special teams. But you shouldn't be real eager to pin your fantasy postseason hopes on a defense ranked 18th in fantasy and 19th in the NFL.
Justin Tucker was the no-brainer addition of the week, especially facing a Vikings team that has allowed the fifth-most points in fantasy against kickers.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.