The fantasy playoffs are upon us and you're on your way to the championship, I know. You want to make sure you win it all this year? I suggest you heed my five pieces of advice.
I'm not going to front as some fantasy football expert, calling certain players "locks" and others "misses." I did, however, reach four out of four championships last year, winning three. The things I've learned in my seven years of fantasy football playing tend to be universal.
You may not want to revolutionize your strategies but a friendly tip here and there might be worth it. Read on, future champs.
There's nothing worse than riding a star like Aaron Rodgers or Arian Foster all the way to the fantasy championship game only to have them sit for at least a half in your deciding game.
You have two options in dealing with this: 1) Complain about it and play Rodgers anyway, claiming that you "had to do it" or 2) be proactive and prepare for this likely possibility now.
I suppose a third option is that you complain and prepare, which is acceptable.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is a viable candidate to fill your gaping hole at quarterback. Furthermore, he's owned in only 34 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. You'll never confuse him with Rodgers, but a solid 13 to 16 points is worth a lot when dealing with uncertainty around Rodgers' playing time.
For running backs, if Kevin Smith and Marion Barber aren't owned in your leagues, you need to jump now. Currently, they are owned in 69 and 62 percent of leagues, which means two out of every five readers of this can have them!
The point here is that flashy stats from superstars whose teams have secured playoff bids rarely win fantasy championships. You need to prove your ability as a savvy owner to win the crown.
I'm guilty of not following my own advice on this one. When looking into who to start, sit and pick up off the waiver wire, rarely do I pay much attention to the last two positions: Defense/special teams and kicker.
Make sure you do. Champions will.
The Seattle Seahawks D/ST scored an impressive 17 points last week thanks to great defense and a special teams touchdown. They take on the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals in the final two weeks, both teams that will have their fates sealed by then.
The Seattle D/ST is owned in a mere 43 percent of ESPN leagues. There are several defenses like the Seahawks' that can help you, so take a close look at the matchup, the location (bad weather favors defense) and intangibles.
As for kickers, I don't care if you've had Stephen Gostkowski all year. Kickers are expendable in reality and in fantasy (Gostkowski is a terrible example this week, as he goes to the thin air of Denver, but you get my point, I hope).
At this point in the year, look for a kicker with a mediocre offense and a warm weather (or dome) matchup. These are the guys that get the most opportunities in the best environment for kicking. For instance, Robbie Gould looks great in Week 17 at Minnesota.
Take some extra time here. The defense and kicker points are often tiebreakers.
For those of you in leagues with one-week championship games, move on to the next slide. For the rest of you, use the two weeks to your advantage.
When deciding between a player like wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Antonio Brown, take into account their big play ability. While Marshall is almost certainly the better, more complete receiver, Brown possesses speed and high-scoring potential that is virtually unrivaled this year.
Or if you're picking between a prototypical fantasy star like Matt Ryan and an unusual product like Tim Tebow, consider the value of Tebow's running touchdowns. A 2-yard scoring run may not be considered "big play" in reality, but it's huge in fantasy.
If you are deciding between a guaranteed 12 from Player A and a 50/50 chance at 28 from Player B, take the 50/50 chance in the first week. After all, the expected points of Player B is 14.
This is one of my favorite tactics. If your opponent has a stud quarterback, do your best to play one or two of his top receivers.
I know this is often a lot to ask for, but let's look at one of the most prolific quarterbacks in fantasy: Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers has lost his top target, Greg Jennings, for the next couple weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if he sits until the NFL playoffs, long after your fantasy championship is won. That means players like Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver are likely to see an uptick in their production.
Play them! Add James Jones to your roster, too, if you're particularly weak at receiver. Rodgers can throw it to many players, yes, but playing some of his or other quarterbacks' favorite targets will help negate the potent scoring of your opponent's quarterback.
Other than top flight wide receivers, here are some that fit into this category: Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore for Drew Brees. Malcolm Floyd for Philip Rivers. Titus Young for Matthew Stafford.
This is the piece of advice that I stress most to my friends if they ever ask me who to play in a deciding game: Play. Your. Guns.
In the deciding week of games, play the best player. If you have the choice between Shonn Greene and Roy Helu, don't be stupid! Play Greene! (Sorry, Austin.)
There's nothing worse than losing in the championship game because you played a guy who scored well in the previous week over a bona fide star that carried you all the way. There's a reason they're the best, folks.
If I'm going to lose, I'm going out with my guns, not my fly swatters.
This piece of advice is the most important, but it assumes that you're in the deciding week of a game, and your player isn't being benched.