Because we all want to think our fantasy football leagues are unique little snowflakes, we're yet to agree on a universal format.
There are standard leagues, PPR leagues, half-PPR leagues and ones that use individual defensive players. Some that split special teams and defenses, others have two quarterbacks. There's the auction and the standard draft. Keeper leagues and dynasty leagues reign supreme. Odds are if you joined a league with people you actually know rather than a free one on an inebriated whim, your league has one of these quirks.
The one thing you'd think we would all agree on, though, is the playoffs. Having Week 17 as your only championship week is nonsense, and yet people do it. I understand the desire for a two-week playoff structure where Weeks 16 and 17 decide your season, but if Week 16 isn't part of your championship, something has gone wrong.
So, with that in mind, congratulations on making your finals! After all the painstaking research, the divorce, the kids disowning you, etc., you have the opportunity to win a free dinner at Dave & Buster's. (What? You guys play for money? Psh.)
And if you have reached this point, odds are you're relying on superstars to get the job done. Whether you waited out Josh Gordon's early suspension to receive his glory or just had that feeling that Matt Cassel was bound for a breakout game in Week 15.
That said, not all superstars on the level of Matt Cassel can perform all the time. Here's a look at a few top stars who won't come through as you (should) compete for a championship.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (@ Baltimore Ravens)
Bless your soul if you've gotten this far in the playoffs—heck, even made the playoffs—with Brady as your fantasy quarterback. Touchdown Tom is on pace for his third straight 4,500-yard passing season, but barring two massive final weeks, he won't reach the 30 touchdown plateau for the first time since 2009. That's otherwise known as his first year coming back from a torn ACL.
Brady's problems have mostly been rooted in personnel shortcomings. Rob Gronkowski's series of injuries, the absence of Aaron Hernandez and bumps and bruises to Danny Amendola have often left him with a series of inexperienced or frankly untalented skill-position players—only augmented by the irreplaceable Julian Edelman.
This isn't always necessarily a bad thing for his fantasy owners. Despite his struggles as a real-life quarterback against the Dolphins last week, Brady finished with a respectable 20 points—tied for eighth in Week 15. It was his fourth straight 20-point performance and, to some, perhaps an indicator that Touchdown Tom rides again.
Only watching the painstaking way Brady got to those points was far more disconcerting. Brady needed 55 pass attempts to finish with 364 yards and two touchdowns. His passes were a series of short checkdowns to Edelman and Amendola despite Miami's secondary being depleted by injury. Michael Thomas, the Dolphins defensive back who picked Brady off to seal a 24-20 victory, was on the 49ers' practice squad earlier that week.
Brady won't have such inexperience to prey on against Baltimore. The Ravens and Brady have a long history of engaging in epic, last-minute battles, though the departure of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed takes away some of the luster. But this time around Brady faces a defense that's only trending upward—right as his offense is heading in the opposite direction.
The Ravens haven't allowed more than 26 points since their Week 1 beatdown by Denver, and they've held opponents to 20 or fewer points eight times this season. They allow only 14.6 points per game to opposing fantasy quarterbacks, tied with the Chiefs for the 10th-best rate in football. That ranking is matched by the secondary's DVOA score.
In essence, it's a not-great matchup at a bad time. It's hard to bench Brady because of his reputation, but if someone in your league dropped a Jay Cutler-type, it's time to trust the player with pass-catching talent than the one without.
Projected Stat Line: 280 YDS, 1 TD, 0 INT
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
We're obviously not at the point of calling Stacy a real-life star. While he's had a stellar rookie season, characterizing beyond "pretty decent" is unfair. He's a worthy starter in the NFL, someone who ranks 11th in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. That's someone the Rams can plug into their starting lineup for next season. He's one of the few boxes that is already checked for 2014 but not someone so sensational that they should eschew running back entirely.
That said, for what constitutes a "star" fantasy running back, Stacy fits the bill. He received 85 percent of the offensive snaps in last week's 27-16 win over the Saints, toting the rock 28 times for 133 yards and a touchdown.
"That was the plan for us, to keep it away from them," Stacy said, per NOLA.com. "We have the same mentality week in and week out, to go out and dominate."
Week 15 was the fifth time in six games that he's scored a rushing touchdown, and his nose for the end zone has helped obscure some otherwise disappointing outings.
The Buccaneers don't give up rushing touchdowns. No, really. They don't. Tampa has allowed only two rushing scores all season long, and last week's pummeling by the 49ers aside, are among the league's best run defenses. The bad performances are typically outliers, games where teams just find something that works and exploit it toward huge days.
Tampa's biggest flaw against opposing running backs is curtailing them out of the backfield in passing situations, but Stacy isn't advanced as a pass-catcher yet. In the 10 games since he's been receiving regular work, Stacy has compiled more than 11 receiving yards just twice—none of which have come since Nov. 3 against the Titans.
His receiving total over the past five weeks: 22 yards.
Odds are you're probably forced to start Stacy. He's one of only a select few players getting enough work to make him a necessary evil. But if you're looking for touchdown-filled afternoon that single-handedly wins your week, you'll probably leave Week 16 disappointed.
Projected Stat Line: 75 YDS, 0 TDs
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
Nope. Not falling for it. I'm not believing in you again, Matt Flynn. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me into paying you $14.5 million, watching you play for three teams within the same season and then return to some level of competency? Nope.
The Dallas Cowboys secondary, if you can call it that, allowed Flynn to have the second-best performance of his professional career last Sunday, as he threw four second-half touchdowns en route to a thrilling comeback victory. Flynn was the fifth-best fantasy quarterback of Week 15.
The other four?
If the above list doesn't confirm fantasy football is stupid (super awesome) and we are all wasting our time (having the time of our lives), nothing will (stop it). The odds of those five players ever leading a week in fantasy scoring were roughly one in a made up number that doesn't even exist yet.
Oh, Jordy Nelson? Right. About him. He's the dude who was on the receiving end of one of Flynn's finest, and the Packers wideout finished with a solid-enough 12 fantasy points in standard scoring. For the season, Nelson has 72 catches for 1,107 yards and eight touchdowns—otherwise known as elite, high-end WR2 numbers.
Don't let that fool you. Nelson's touchdown grab against Dallas was his first of the season not thrown by Aaron Rodgers. Yes, the same Aaron Rodgers who has missed seven games (counting the one he was hurt) in a row. While Nelson has roughly been getting the same amount of targets, the inaccuracies and poor ball placement of the Rodgers replacements has resulted in continuous disappointment.
There is some chance that Rodgers returns in Week 16, but those odds are looking slim. The team announced Wednesday that the 2011 NFL MVP has yet to be cleared for Sunday's contest against the Steelers.
Until Rodgers is cleared, I'm assuming he's sitting out. And if Rodgers is sitting out, that means Flynn is the man.
Nope. Not falling for it—and you shouldn't either.
Projected Stat Line: 60 YDS, 0 TDs
(All fantasy stats via ESPN.)
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: