With two weeks of regular season action left to play, the post-season picture is getting a lot less murky. Seven teams are in. Five more are in position to progress if the playoffs started today. And a further seven teams - just two in the AFC - have a chance to displace them before it’s all said and done.
The National Football Conference is an open book, no more so than the NFC East where Dallas, the Giants and Washington are all square. Chicago and Minnesota, two more 8-6 teams, are in a fistfight of their own in the NFC North. And New Orleans and St. Louis are clinging on by their finger nails, hoping for significant collapses from teams in front of them.
With the Jets dumped out of contention by Tennessee, only the long-shot Dolphins and ever-tenacious Pittsburgh can upset the apple cart in the American Football Conference. Cincinnati (who travel to Pittsburgh this weekend) and Indianapolis are looking anxiously over their shoulders, but the Colts will feel good about putting themselves beyond reach - multiple scenarios get them over the top this week and next.
Might the reigning Super Bowl champions miss out? Few teams have specialised in the championship-hangover through the decades quite so prominently as the Giants. They might be about to experience that sore-headed feeling all over again.
Onto your fantasy questions for Week 16:
- ‘I’m a Falcons fan hoping they can clinch homefield advantage this weekend for the remainder of the playoffs… but I’m going against Julio Jones and Matt Ryan in my fantasy football final! I am conflicted!’
Mikey, let me don my Agony Aunt headscarf (directly on top of my Fantasy Football columnist baseball cap) and reassure you that we’ve all been there. NFL fans - and NFLUK fans in particular, you might argue - are deeply passionate about their adopted teams, and so they should be. But a season’s worth of nurturing a carefully selected/drafted squad of fantasy players tends to make one almost as fond of those individuals as it does of our favourite NFL franchise (all the more so when our favourite NFL franchise is tanking and isn’t on TV much as a result). That’s natural.
So the simple answer is the traditional (if rather unlikely) answer: hope the Falcons double-bluff the Lions on Saturday and run, run, run their way to a victory that sees them home to the top seeding in the NFC… and sees you home to some fantasy silverware I’m sure you deserve. Then Matt and Julio can go nuts when they start hosting playoff games in January. Simple.
- ‘Will Adrian Peterson get past 2,105 yards rushing and set the single-season rushing record?’
Peterson is a man on a serious mission - he wants that record and, surprisingly (given the fact the ongoing health of AP is so central to the franchise’s long term future) the Vikings are willing to give him the carries to do it. But will they still be willing if they are eliminated from playoff contention?
Call it a hunch, but I don’t think he’ll quite make it - at least not if Houston and Green Bay are both playing meaningful games throughout (i.e. not resting starters at any point). AP still needs 294 yards to get past Eric Dickerson’s magical 2,105-yard 1984 haul, and it must be noted he managed 210 against the Packers a few weeks ago. But Houston - keenly aware of the need to secure homefield advantage in the dangerous AFC - will be geared up to stop Peterson as first, second and third priorities on Sunday. Can the Texans’ fifth-ranked run D hold him? Not completely, but it might allow him ‘only’ 100-yards rather than his now customary 150+, leaving him with a mountain to climb in Week 17.
All that said, Peterson should be in your lineup in NFLUK teams this weekend. And for redraft or keeper players I hope, for your sake, you’re not facing him in finals elsewhere around planet fantasy (as am I in a fiercely contested keeper league). I think the Texans have a chance of keeping AP in check a little more than some others have done - but a) you wouldn’t bet on it, and b) even at his ‘worst’ AP will notch 90-something yards and a score. He’s simply unparalleled at the running back position and it’s amazing to watch this historically-great individual season unfold.
- ‘I need a strong kicker for Week 16 - who you got?’
This is a question that comes up time and again, but let’s revisit it since so many of you are facing do-or-die fantasy finals and since time is ticking down in the NFLUK game too. When we spoke to Vikings’ K Blair Walsh in our Team Talk interview earlier this year, he told us he changes kickers most weeks in his own fantasy team on the following two principles: find a kicker that’s hot and find a kicker with a matchup that’s favourable. A favourable matchup is one where the kicker you choose won’t be playing from too far behind (when field goals become irrelevant as a team scrambles to score touchdowns) or is part of an offense that provides opportunities through being either a) in a close game or b) so far out in front it need only accumulate field goals in the latter stages of the contest.
So, who fits the criteria this week? You could try Walsh himself against Houston - he’s just equalled the NFL record for 50-yard field goals in a season - but there’s a chance the Texans’ homefield advantage enables them to grow a decent lead early (bad news for Walsh). Better to take his opposite number Shayne Graham, who is coming off a significant Week 15 output and should get his chances whether the Texans are ahead or locked in a close one. I also like Stephen Gostkowski in Jacksonville (he should accumulate garbage time points), and no one is hotter than Stephen Hauschka of Seattle - though selecting him assumes a close game versus San Francisco (which I think is a fair assumption). Matt Bryant of the Falcons has been solid but his trip to Detroit unnerves me a little - I feel safer with the Broncos’ Matt Prater who should get plenty of late game opportunities against Cleveland if, as expected, the Broncos win easily. Garrett Hartley and Dan Bailey of the Saints and Cowboys, respectively, have been good of late and face each other Sunday in what could be a potent offensive game - but if you can cherry pick a kicker in your league (with most other teams out of contention), I’d prefer kickers on potentially lopsided winners - like Gostkowski, Prater and (arguably) Graham.
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