Mike Tanier

Going Deep

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Dominate the postseason

Wednesday, January 05, 2011




The Bears Receivers: Five different Bears receivers caught between 40 and 51 passes this year, including running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen. No Bears receiver caught more than five touchdown passes. The democratic approach will drive you crazy in the playoffs: draft Devin Hester, and you can be certain Johnny Knox will catch two touchdown passes.

Knox led the Bears in targets this season, with 100 passes thrown his way; no one else had more than 73. More importantly, Earl Bennett led the team with 18 red zone targets, but all of those passes yielded just two red zone touchdowns. (Bennett's ankle injury should not be a problem in two weeks). Olson was targeted 15 times in the red zone, Knox 12, and Hester 5. Despite getting shut out by the Packers, Knox is the best fantasy option among the receivers: a lot of offense flows through him, and his quick-strike capability gives you a shot at a 60-yard touchdown. Forte and Olsen are solid options at their positions, but remember that they (like the Falcons triplets) cannot help you this week.

The Saints Running Backs: Just when you think you have the Saints figured out, Pierre Thomas gets hurt again, Chris Ivory suffers an ankle injury and Reggie Bush wakes up for 70 yards on nine carries against the Buccaneers. The Saints should be a playoff fantasy treasure trove – a great offense that is all-but-certain to play at least two games – but their confusion at running back could cause a headache.

By now, you know that Bush only plays well when everyone has given up on him. He's still worth a look in deep leagues or PPR leagues, but don't waste a high pick or a lot of auction bucks on him. Thomas is expected back for the Seahawks game, and his Week 16 production – 19-63-1 on the ground, 7-39 as a receiver – suggests that he is a worthwhile second running back. Ivory is out and Julius Jones is still around to muck things up. Don't draft him.

The Seahawks: Mike Williams is a viable receiver to get you through this week. He has been targeted 16 times in the red zone this year, and with 100 total targets, he's the closest thing to a reliable weapon in the Seahawks' arsenal. He will also probably come far cheaper than Lance Moore or Derrick Mason, and you can use him as a fire-and-forget weapon while you wait for Roddy White or Mike Wallace to take the stage. Marshawn Lynch is now featured back in Seattle, with Justin Forsett in a reserve role, but "featured" is a relative term for a team that will probably be blown out on Saturday night. Lynch has not had a 100-yard game all season, and he regularly leads the Seahawks with just 10-14 carries per game. Lynch and Williams are more valuable in leagues that allow weekly re-drafts than in leagues that expect you to carry one roster through the postseason: if the Seahawks are still around by Sunday, I will eat my calculator.

Defenses and Tight Ends: The Packers and Jets will be the defenses of choice in most leagues, but make sure you know your scoring system. If sacks are worth a lot, the Packers make a great choice. If return touchdowns fetch a premium, look to the Bears (Hester), the Ravens (Ed Reed still looks to pitch and score every time he touches the ball) or even the Seahawks for a week (Leon Washington). The Jets recorded just 40 sacks and 17 interceptions this year: solid numbers, but their reputation outstrips their production, and Peyton Manning appears to have gotten past his interception jag.

Remember when the Saints had the most opportunistic defense in the NFL? Interception totals and defensive touchdowns vary widely from year to year, so their nine-interception performance this season wasn't really a surprise to people who study statistics. That being said, their defense enters the postseason undervalued: They are facing the Seahawks in the first round. They have recorded nearly as many sacks (33) as the Jets, Reggie Bush has been brutally bad on punt returns, which means he is suddenly going to break one. (That's not a statistically valid observation. It just always seems to happen).

As for tight ends, there's Olsen, Heap, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Moeaki, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Brent Celek, Dustin Keller, Heath Miller, Jimmy Graham (if he's healthy) and Jacob Tamme. If you can't find a perfectly good tight end at the end of a draft/auction, you just aren't looking.

Signing Off: That's it for 'Going Deep' this season. It has been a blast, and I have loved the feedback you have given me. You can catch me throughout the playoffs breaking down play diagrams on NBCSports.com, talking stats and strategy at Football Outsiders, and previewing games at the Fifth Down Blog in the New York Times. We will meet again sometime in the offseason. Enjoy the playoffs, and good luck in your NCAA Tourney Pools, rotisserie baseball leagues, fantasy badminton, or whatever gets you through those long, football-free months!


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