Playoff fantasy games are gaining in popularity, and just like weekly salary cap games, they can make the playoffs fun even if your NFL team didn't make it. For those in playoff leagues, here's my ideal lineup based on the matchups this week.
Fantasy football 'Perfect Team'
QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers (vs. Vikings): Rodgers threw four touchdown passes last week against a Minnesota defense that allowed the second-most passing yards in the NFL over the final five weeks of the season. Rodgers gets a return date with the Vikes this week, this time at Lambeau.
RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings(at Packers): Only three men ever ran for more yards in one season against a team than Peterson did in gaining 409 yards against the Packers during 2012.
RB Ray Rice, Ravens (vs. Colts): In December opposing runners logged 173.4 yards per game against the Colts defense, the most in the NFL.
WR James Jones, Packers (vs. Vikings): The NFL's leading touchdown receiver has been a scoring machine all season, and with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb hobbled, he'll do it again.
WR T.Y. Hilton, Colts (at Ravens): The aging Ravens defense has struggled with quick and slippery receivers all year and the rookie sensation is both of those things. Hilton had 13 catches for 289 yards and four touchdowns in three games against current AFC playoff teams.
TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals (at Texans): No team gave up more touchdowns to tight ends this season than the Texans, who allowed 11.
FLEX Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (at Redskins): The Redskins were solid against the run this season but in each of his last four games "The Beast" has reached the 100-yard mark. During that span, he has averaged seven yards per carry for a total of 452 yards and five rushing touchdowns.
K Josh Brown, Bengals(at Texans): Since taking over for the injured Mike Nugent, Brown has tied for the league lead with 11 field goals. His only miss was an impossible assignment, a 56-yard prayer at Heinz Field,.
D/ST Baltimore: The Ravens should have a full complement of defenders back in the lineup against the Colts, and remember Andrew Luck is still a rookie. Don't be surprised to see Ed Reed with the ball in his hands more than once.
And now, more fantasy potpourri:
NFL rookie impact
The quarterback class of 2012 will be on full display in Maryland on Sunday in the wild-card round when Andrew Luck tries to get past the Ravens to advance to the AFC playoffs in Baltimore and Robert Griffin III hosts Russell Wilson in Landover. Those three have been the most ballyhooed of what turned out to be a historically good crop of first-year players at many positions. In fact, since the Houston Texans came into existence in 2002 to bring the NFL to its current 32-team format, no other rookie class accounted for more points than the 1,360 scored by the 2012 crop, signaling what may become one of the best fantasy classes in league history. Here's the breakdown of total points scored by rookies in each of those seasons and the non-kickers who scored at least 10 touchdowns. Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a trend and the 2013 draft is considered thin for offensive skill players, but as Wilson and Alfred Morris showed us, you never know.
Fantasy basketball clicks
? Pickup of the week: Avery Bradley, SG, Celtics. There was method in the Celtics' madness when Danny Ainge decided to break up Boston's Big Three and let 37-year old Ray Allen walk to South Beach. The C's are banking on the emergence of Bradley, the über-athletic 6-foot-2 shooting guard who temporarily supplanted Allen as the team's starter in the early rounds of last season's playoffs. Described as a "top-five" on-the-ball defender by Doc Rivers, Bradley is a high-energy player who brings youth to a Celtics team with the geriatric trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry as its scoring leaders. Anointed as the starter upon Allen's departure, Bradley has been sidelined this season until this week by surgeries to repair chronic problems in both shoulders. That explains why he's available in 85 percent of fantasy leagues. Another factor in his mass availability is the widespread belief that Bradley is a Bruce Bowen-esque defender who will provide little to no offense. While defense has been his calling card, once Bradley gets back into game shape (something that shouldn't take long for a 22-year old) he'll also be an offensive threat on a team that ranks 18th in points per game, 28th in made three-pointers, while filling up the stat sheet all elsewhere. If you don't believe that he can be a fantasy force, take a look at this highlight reel.
? Respect your elders:Seeing Kobe Bryant atop the NBA's scoring leaders doesn't seem like a big deal, especially since he's won the scoring crown two times before, but the ninth-ranked fantasy player this season could be on the verge of joining one of the most exclusive clubs in NBA history. Only two players were older than 30 when they won a scoring title, and with an average of 30.3 points per game, Bryant, 34, has a great jump on the 2012-13 field (Carmelo Anthony is second at 29.2) to become the third. For those who drafted Bryant, congratulate yourself for taking the risk. As for those other two over-30 scoring champs, well, you are sure to know them without even seeing their names or numbers. and league logos.
? Can you tell me how to get...The Clippers have the NBA's best record and just had their 17-game winning streak snapped. One of the main reasons for their success is the play of Blake Griffin, who is one of four players -- along with Dwight Howard, David Lee and Tim Duncan -- averaging at least 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He's also quite an actor, not only in his amusing throwback Kia commercials but also in a special appearance on America's favorite monster-filled city block, Sesame Street. In what could be foreshadowing of what may come in June, Griffin is asked to explain the word "champion" to Abby Cadabby and shows that he's a good sport in the process.
The Clippers' power forward is just the latest great athlete to make his way to Sesame Street. Here are some of our other favorites: Jackie Robinson (with a no-nonsense recitation of the alphabet); Kobe Bryant; Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire; David Beckham; and we couldn't leave out the time when "Birds" collided on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Fantasy baseball countdown
Only 37 days until pitchers and catchers report! In the coming weeks we're going to start rolling out fantasy baseball draft preparation help. In the meantime here's something to help you count down the milliseconds until players hit the fields in Florida and Arizona.