Next Challenge

Regular. Season. Champion.

Boom.

I did it. WE did it. Cuz you know there’s no way I could have done this without you, right? Without you letting me ramble on about a subject that traditionally no one cares about, without your encouragement when I made mistakes, without your excitement over my victories? The winning has been awesome, don’t get me wrong, but the joy of this season has been getting to share every step of it with you all, and I’m so thankful and grateful for that.

Now it’s time to step it up a level and face our newest challenge. These playoffs are not going to be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. I’m facing the best teams in my league, each at the top of their game. I’m going to need every skill I’ve been able to scrape together so far, and every ounce of luck I can possibly squeeze out, to go further.

So: who exactly are these playoff opponents, and what exactly am I up against?

First, a quick word about the fantasy playoffs themselves. There are two rounds of playoffs – 1 vs. 4 seed and 2 vs. 3 seed in the first round, with the winners of each matchup advancing to the final bracket, and the winner of that taking the championship. Each round lasts two weeks, and the scores of those two weeks are totaled together to determine the winner. So one bad week won’t necessarily sink me – but one bad week from my opponent won’t necessarily hand me the victory either.

Now that we’re all on the same page about how this works, let’s look deeper at each of the players in this little game.

#1 Seed: Team BlueAndGold

But you knew that, didn’t you?

It just feels good to keep saying it.

Anyway. To work.

Record: 10-3
Average Points Per Game: 99
Average Margin of Victory: 7.6

p1-blue

We’re all pretty familiar by now with this lineup, yes? We know its strengths and weaknesses. We know how incredible my running backs are, how legendary my quarterback is, how my wide receivers and tight ends have stepped up as I’ve needed them. There’s still room for me to improve at wide receiver – and still the hope that A.J. Green will come back before season’s end, which would be incredible because I could for sure use him. There’s still the question mark each week over who my streaming defense will be. There’s still the kicker position, where I’m not exactly riding with a hall of famer even though I wouldn’t trade him.

Should I though? Should I lose Kai Forbath and try to find a kicker with a stronger fantasy reputation? Should I milk every inch out of this lineup that I possibly could and try to upgrade my kicker, betraying my Bruin love?

Maybe. But not this week. Minnesota will score all day on Jacksonville, and Forbath will score with them. I’m not worried about it.

As for the streaming defense, well, the Bengals did well last week, and this week they face Cleveland. I picked them in Week Thirteen for two reasons: 1) every matchup was about equally awful, so even if they felt like a bad option, at least they weren’t worse than the others; and 2) it would guarantee that I’d have them on my roster for Week Fourteen where they faced Cleveland. Cleveland still hasn’t won a game all season. Now there’s memes going around about how Alabama would beat them. (I’m not sure how it would turn out, but I would watch the hell out of that game.) The Team Facing Cleveland is pretty much always a reliable choice. So I’m rolling with it. Go Bengals.

The actual interesting choice I have to make for the rest of the season – and I haven’t made it yet – is at quarterback.

Hear me out.

Yes, Brady is Brady, and yes, he just became the winningest quarterback in NFL history, and yes, he’s one of the best to ever touch a football. And yes, I wouldn’t have come this far without him. Witness my record before and after his return if you don’t believe that. But the end of the season is not prime Brady time. New England starts running the ball at the end of the season. They start playing conservative. They rest starters. They prepare for playoffs. Brady traditionally has astronomical fantasy numbers midseason but pedestrian fantasy numbers in the closing weeks of the NFL regular season. AKA the fantasy playoffs. AKA right now.

I still love him. I still trust him. I still believe he has great performances ahead of him. And in a vacuum, I’d still play him over Marcus Mariota every day of the week and twice on Sundays. (Get it? Because the games are played on… Sorry. Dumb joke. By the way – three months of dumb jokes like that and you’re still reading this blog? Who feels dumb now?)

Sorry. You’re not dumb. Please don’t go! Remember all the nice things I said about you at the top?

Okay. Back to business. Yes, I do love Brady, but I’m not sure I still think of him as a more reliable fantasy performer than Marcus Mariota for the rest of this season. Luckily, I have Marcus Mariota on my roster, waiting for me to decide that his matchup or his prospects are better. I haven’t made that decision yet, but I’m thinking about it. This week I kind of hate both of their matchups, so there’s that too. Do I stream someone else? Should I?

So many decisions. So much pressure.

This playoffs business is for real, y’all.

#2 Seed: Team rosellini

Record: 10-3
Average Points Per Game: 89.7
Average Margin of Victory: 11.9

p1-rose

My most recent opponent, who finishes tied with me at a 10-3 record. I get the tiebreaker by virtue of more points scored, but check out her average margin of victory, which is much higher than mine. I’ve faced much stronger showings from my opponents than she has, which is what has allowed her seemingly average team into the fantasy playoffs.

Because honestly? Her team doesn’t scare me that much. She has some good players, but nobody dominant (except for Delanie Walker, who is currently the #1 tight end in the league by points scored). I hate to say that she’s been more lucky than good. Let’s say instead that her lineup is deceptive, and that she’s maximized it well every week. She’s also got players with upside, like Jeremy Hill and Dak Prescott.

With all that being said, though, it would still surprise me if she went out and did damage in these playoffs. She could. She’s surprised me before. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

#3 Seed: KING OF TRADES

Record: 9-4
Average Points Per Game: 100.5
Average Margin of Victory: 21.6

p1-king

He did squeak past me at the end there for the lead in points on the season, but he gets the #3 seed because his record is worse than mine by just enough. Still, that margin of victory stat is scary. He crushes teams. (And/or hasn’t been as unlucky as I have to face his opponents at their best.)

You know what’s even scarier than that though? His roster.

Johnson and McCoy is a running back 1-2 that’s as good as mine, and that’s saying something. Jones and Nelson is a wide receiver 1-2 that’s far, far better than mine. Eifert’s a great tight end. Stafford’s gonna play well from here to the end of the season. The Broncos are a killer defense.

That’s a superteam. I hate the trades he’s made, and I hate the garbage trades he’s offered me. I think he’s shady and I don’t trust him. But damn, has it resulted in a good team.

Fortunately, I don’t have to face him in the first round.

Unfortunately, I do have to face somebody else.

#4 Seed: There’s always next year

Record: 7-6
Average Points Per Game: 91.5
Average Margin of Victory: 7.2

p1-tany

This seed came down close. There’s always next year lost his Week Thirteen matchup to finish the season tied in record with two other teams. But he just managed to edge out Team RAIDER NATION for the tiebreaker by 5 points. Bummer for me, because I’d much rather face RAIDER NATION, for several reasons. He’s more fun for me to play because I know him better. He’s made zero shady trades, so I’m more satisfied with his success. And his team isn’t nearly as scary as TANY’s.

The margin of victory stat is deceptive here, because while TANY’s had some crazy high victories (remember in Week One where he beat me by about 60 points?), he’s also laid a few eggs on his way to the playoffs. He depends a lot on Pittsburg, for one thing, which from a fantasy standpoint isn’t always a mistake, but there’s risk to that strategy.   So while he’s had his dominant weeks, he’s had some low lows in there too.

There’s just no getting around the fact that he has three of the top-5 wide receivers on his team. (Lest we forget, KING OF TRADES has the other two.) He got Antonio Brown by drafting, but the rest came about through trades that are every bit as awful as those that KING OF TRADES has made. His trade for Odell Beckham Jr. was lopsided, but at least it was legit. There’s been rumors of collusion between TANY and other players, resulting in the Mike Evans trade last week. It’s the rumors of collusion, more than the lineup it’s produced, that infuriates me. But I can’t do anything about that except try to beat him.

I’ll admit, though, that it looks pretty bleak from where I sit. Even controlling for the best outcome I can create by putting down the best lineup I have available, at this point I’m favored to lose the first week of this matchup. By more than 10 points.

Still, it’s not the first bleak outlook I’ve faced this season. Remember after Week Three, when I was looking up from the bottom of an 0-3 hole and wondering if I’d ever win a game, much less make the playoffs? And I conquered from there. From caboose to champion. I turned that around, I can do the same here.

Who knows?

Don’t count me out. I’m not done yet.

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