Hasselbeck, Lynch prove valuable playoff fantasy X-factors - Sports Illustrated

Wild Card players often become valuable playoff fantasy X-factors

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Fantasy football owners greedy enough to covet a chance for two championships in one season, or those looking for a second chance at finishing on top, all felt the sting of wild card weekend, which was as wild as it gets.

Well, at least I did, as three out of four underdogs won, helping wreak havoc on my personal draft board and playoff team. Who knew the Seahawks were an offensive time-bomb ready to go off, LaDainian Tomlinson would rise from the dead and the Packers were hiding a surprise running game from the world for 16 previous weeks. With fantasy playoff football, the most important rule is to stay alive and racking up points from week to week for your postseason total. Depending on your picks last week, there may be a lot less of your guys to go around.

As the divisional playoff weekend kicks into high gear, those with big-ticket items (Patriots, Steelers, and maybe Falcons players, depending on one's NFC tea leaves-reading) hope to reel in some rewards for their investment. The one risk taking players on teams with byes is giving up one week's worth of point production, and judging from the historic success of wild cards making the Super Bowl, that's an X-factor to consider.

Using the common 1 point per 10 rushing and receiving yards and 1 point per 20 passing yards method, here are the top performers thus far in postseason fantasy football. (An * indicates the player is no longer alive in the playoffs.)

The top 20 fantasy playoff football scorers

1 QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks, 29 points2 QB Drew Brees, Saints, 28*3 QB Michael Vick, Eagles, 27*4 QB Joe Flacco, Ravens, 225 QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers, 215 RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets, 217 RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks, 198 WR Pierre Garcon, Colts, 17*8 RB Julius Jones, Saints, 17*10 WR Jason Avant, Eagles, 15*10 RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs, 15*10 QB Peyton Manning, Colts, 15*10 RB Ray Rice, Ravens, 1514 TE John Carlson, Seahawks, 1314 WR Devery Henderson, Saints, 13*14 WR Brandon Stokley, Seahawks, 1314 RB James Starks, Packers, 1318 WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens, 1218 WR Mike Williams, Seahawks, 1220 RB Willis McGahee, Ravens, 11

There was plenty of fantasy fodder from the first playoff weekend to sift through in projecting ahead.

The Saints and Colts running games have a lot in common: Don't mistake Julius Jones' battlefield promotion and goal line production for anything more than it was -- fleeting. The oft-injured Pierre Thomas has a lot to prove for next year, but lost traction to undrafted rookie Chris Ivory. Ivory had his moments this year, but will likely be part of a new rotation alongside Thomas. Both look like bit players to be had in the later draft rounds next season. For Reggie Bush, 2010 was pretty much a wash. He failed to do much at all even when healthy and will likely be on another team next fall unless he takes a massive pay cut. Either way, he's been a monumental disappointment.

The Colts' running game is no great shakes, but at least fantasy owners can set their watches by an annual Joseph Addai injury. Donald Brown's late-season surge puts him in a good spot to finally (maybe?) unseat the perpetual underachiever in 2011. Neither impressed last weekend. Looking forward. I'd avoid both teams' backs on draft day, but maybe saving a flier for the last few rounds.

LaDainian is Marsha Brady: No matter what happens the rest of the playoffs, if Tomlinson is Marsha, owning the younger Shonn Greene is like having Jan on your team. It's all about LaDainian even seemingly when for the second half the regular season, they were both awful. Last weekend Tomlinson got fewer carries but was the goal-line back, showed some burst as on his 23-yard spurt and is the preferred pass catcher out of the backfield. Unless the slower and less exciting Greene comes on against the Pats, last year's playoff star turn is looking more like an anomaly. He may have Father Time on his side, but fantasy owners' collective patience has to be gone with this regular season bust.

The Chiefs? Try Chefs: Sure, everyone expected the Ravens to win, but reducing the Chiefs to road kill was still a surprise. The Baltimore beatdown was enough to make me question everything I know about Kansas City, the departure of offensive "chief" (or is that chef?) Charlie Weis and the Claude Raines-like ability of Dwayne Bowe to go all-Invisible Man on us. Jamaal Charles, I still love. It's the rest of the Chiefs and their passing game that makes me wonder heading into next year. Expect Bowe to head up plenty of preseason magazine bust prediction lists, I'm betting.

Seven's Still Heaven: I've heard rumblings by some fantasy scribes that Aaron Rodgers is far and away the top QB for '11, but I'm still a card-carrying Michael Vick fanatic. The Eagles always seem one play away from breaking the big play with the youngest and most explosive offense in the league. And Vick, even on a mediocre night, can still come close to equaling the scoring output of Rodgers on a good night. In real life, I'll take Rodgers every time. But the Eagles have only been starting Vick for a season and his fantasy production was nearly unparalleled. The possibilities are endless next year.

Marshawn Lynch, still running: Before his run for the ages over and through the Saints, Lynch had 64 yards on 18 carries but had some tough carries. Earlier this season I banged the drum for him to be the feature back Seattle has been looking for since Shaun Alexander "retired" (one year before he officially retired if you catch my drift), but Lynch's lack of production and his '09 Bills level-of-disinterest turned me off. Consider my interest officially piqued for 2011.

All year long we analyzed the receivers, tight ends and running backs who got the most passes thrown their way, or Targets. One of the best indicators of a pass-catchers' worth, it's a nice way to see how involved your guys are in the offense, from week to week even if the production is off from time to time.

With '10 in the books, let's look at a six-pack of top receivers in the league, who don't get as many chances as expected. This either explains why they may have had off-years (Austin, Boldin) or show how much big-play potential they have with making the most of only a few chances per game (Jennings, Wallace). Either factor may help when making out next season's preseason draft rankings.

While it's easy to see that the Eagles' duo tend to cannibalize each other's chances due to the lack of a true lead receiver, it also illustrates why Jackson and Maclin are, at best, WR 2 or WR 3-type fantasy receivers. Neither gets the amount of chances they should for catches as long as each other is around. On the other hand, the data also points to the awesomeness of Jennings, who, if he received even more passes his way, would truly be scary as well as the feast or famine Boldin. Nobody does the deep ball better than Wallace, while Austin's struggles are connected to Tony Romo's injury and Jon Kitna's Kitna-ness (otherwise known as up and down play and questionable decisions).

To the surprise of no one with the exception of Aubie the Tiger possibly, Auburn's Cam Newton declared himself eligible for the NFL draft Thursday. Spread-style offense quarterbacks are still a relative unknown at the next level, but as the lone "canary in the coal mine" Vince Young could showed what he could not do when not melting down, diva-style. Mobile QBs are the ultimate fantasy X-factor, as Tim Tebow's late-season push demonstrated. Newton can offset a so-so BCS title game performance with measurables that will likely be off the charts come combine-time, raising his stock to top-10 status. Don't sleep on Newton's potential come draft time, and that goes too for your keeper league's fantasy rookie draft.