Kurt Warner: Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Welcome to the dirty little secret that is postseason fantasy football. At least, it WAS a secret ... before millions of owners discovered an addictive, highly creative way to get their fantasy fix long after Week 17 became official. To wit, here are the Revelations from the four wild-card games:
Arizona 51, Green Bay 45 (OT)
What We Liked: So much for the Cardinals feeling the loss of Anquan Boldin to injury. In a vaccuum-effect-effort for the ages, Steve Breaston (7 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD) and Early Doucet (6 catches, 77 yards, 2 TDs) played starring roles in easily the franchise's most thrilling playoff victory. What's more, they got the 2010 race for the No. 2 receiving slot (behind you-know-who) off to a flying start -- assuming the enigmatic Boldin is traded in the offseason.
What We Liked, Part II: We wouldn't blame Ryan Grant for feeling a little left out from the scoring bonanza ... but we're not in the position to characterize 83 total yards on just 13 touches as a "bad" day -- especially given Grant's superstar-like finish to the regular season. We're also left with a warm and fuzzy feeling over Beanie Wells' production (91 yards) against Green Bay. The way we see it, both backs are locks for the top 30 next fall (standard-scoring leagues).
What We Liked, Part III: Would it be asking too much of Packers WR James Jones (3 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD vs. Arizona) to become a fixture in Points Per Reception leagues next year? After all, he does play an integral role in perhaps the NFL's most progressive passing offense ... and Donald Driver (70 catches, 1,061 yards, 6 TDs in '09) cannot play at a high level forever, right?
What We Loved: For everyone who openly wondered how Aaron Rodgers could possibly rank as the No. 1 fantasy player this season -- beating out Chris Johnson, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, et al -- look no further than his 422-yard, 4-TD passing day ... AND one rushing touchdown. Simply put, Rodgers deserves proper mention with Brees and Manning in fantasy circles, regardless of scoring format. In fact, it'd be an absolute travesty if he weren't a mid-Round 2 pick or higher in all fantasy drafts.
What We Loved, Part II: If this was indeed Kurt Warner's last home game of a storied NFL career ... way to pull a Costanza (or Kramer) and leave on a high note. The numbers, at first glance, warrant an obvious double-take ... but they're real (and spectacular): 379 passing yards, five touchdowns and 29 completions out of 33 passes! Bottom line: This should go down as the single-greatest passing performance in NFL playoff history; it might even be the favorable tipping point with Warner's candidacy for the Hall of Fame in 2016 or '17.
What We Loved, Part III: It took 300-plus words and three separate drools on the keyboard ... but we've finally arrived at Larry Fitzgerald (6 catches, 82 yards, 2 TDs) and Greg Jennings (8 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD) ... and their super-sized contributions on this day. But we recall their dynamic numbers with a heavy heart, as well ... since neither player made yours truly's "Longevity" fantasy team from the SI.com & Friends postseason league. And there's a strong chance that other fantasy owners may have bypassed Jennings in "Survivor" fantasy leagues -- on the (incorrect) assumption that he'd live to fight another day in Round 2. Consequently, Fitzgerald's owners will have to find other options in survivor leagues next week (Doucet? Breaston?). But hey, at least they got their one-and-done money's worth.
What We'll Remember on Draft Day: One could make the case for 15-17 players cracking the top-10 preseason list of tight ends. But none should exclude Jermichael Finley (6 catches, 159 yards) from the elite strata of burly pass-catchers (and yes, we would've said the same thing before Sunday's Herculean effort). At the very least, Finley cracks the top-5 in overall athleticism, the top-7 in hands and top-10 in route-running acumen. What's more, he has immediate access to Aaron Rodgers ... and a passing offense that laughs in the face of danger (and 21-point deficits in playoff games).
Baltimore 33, New England 14
What We Liked: There's nothing wrong with Willis McGahee's sense of timing these days, as evidenced by the greatest 75-yard, 1-TD day of his career. We're serious here: Has McGahee ever looked stronger or faster as a professional -- including his breakout 2004 season with the Bills (1,128 rushing yards, 13 TDs)? And while we're throwing out bouquets to Ravens rushers, it's good to see that
What We Liked, Part II: If fantasy leagues held a re-draft after Week 9, Pats RB Kevin Faulk (89 total yards) would be a Round 5/6 steal in standard-scoring or PPR leagues. Simply put, when the weather turns colder ... Faulk is to Tom Brady as blue blankets are to Linus of Peanuts fame. (That's a good thing!)
What We Loved: This mini-sector begins and ends with Ray Rice, who rummaged through the Patriots for 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns -- including an 83-yard scoring run on the first play from scrimmage. In fact, if the Baltimore coaches really wanted to feature Rice on Sunday -- instead of saving his strength for Round 2 against Indy -- the Ravens star could've easily dropped 270 on a defense that had no clue how stop him. Of course, it helps that Rice routinely runs behind Michael Oher -- a late-Round 1 gem from last year's NFL draft.
What We Loathed: There's plenty of players to dismiss here ... but we'll start with WR Randy Moss (5 catches, 48 yards) and Pats TE Ben Watson (1 catch, 3 yards). On a day when Tom Brady threw 42 passes, it's hard to believe Moss/Watson finished with a soul-crushing six catches. Pathetic.
What We Loathed, Part II: Speaking of Brady (154 yards passing, 2 TDs, 3 INTs), he should've looked in Julius Edelman's general direction more than a double-handful of times. By my count, Edelman (6 catches, 44 yards, 2 TDs) only dropped one pass (arguably two) against the Ravens ... who went into conservative pass mode upon staking an early 24-0 lead.
What We're Choosing To Ignore: On paper, Joe Flacco (34 yards passing, zero TDs, 1 INT) was the worst fantasyland quarterback of the weekend -- perhaps of any playoff weekend in NFL history. But we're handing out a free pass for (silently) orchestrating Baltimore's parade of 234 combined rushing yards.
What We'll Remember on Draft Day: Given the lateness of Wes Welker's season-ending ACL tear, we cannot recommend selecting him before Round 10 of any drafts come August -- regardless of the 123 catches in '09. On the flip side ... Edelman may represent the optimum Round 5 pick in PPR leagues. As for Moss and Brady, they have officially vanquished the leftover fantasy aura from the '07 season (73 combined TDs); but on the bright side, fantasy owners may be landing a somewhat-underrated pair of studs next fall. And last but not certainly least, Ray Rice has won our hearts for the No. 4 overall pick in standard-scoring leagues (behind Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew) ... and the No. 2 choice in PPR leagues -- trailing only Johnson. Cha-ching!
Dallas 34, Philadelphia 14
What We Liked: Oh sure, Miles Austin (7 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD vs. Philly) safely hovers above the fantasyland radar these days -- thanks to his 16 catches, 421 yards and four TDs from Weeks 5 & 7 (back-to-back games). But there are some lingering doubts regarding Austin's staying power for the next few years, especially when sharing the glory with the Cowboys' three-headed rushing monster (Barber, Jones, Choice) and the rock-steady Jason Witten (94 catches in 2009). But we've seen enough to hail Austin as a legitimate No. 1 with Dallas ... and the perfect Round 3 pick in all scoring leagues.
What We Liked, Part II: Whether or not Jeremy Maclin (7 catches, 146 yards, 1 TD) usurps DeSean Jackson on the Philly food chain next year remains to be seen, but he should be a regular flex consideration in PPR leagues. And as a bonus, fantasy owners will likely reap the benefits of 4-5 kick-return touchdowns, making the Eagles defense/special teams a top-5 unit in the August drafts.
What We Loved: Now this is what we expected from Felix Jones -- 100-plus rushing yards, one score and fantasy owners frothing at the mouth in early, early preparations for the draft. Of course, no one should have him earmarked for 178 total yards every week in 2010 ... but Sir Felix has certainly raised the bar of expectations when completely healthy.
What We Loathed: Without a doubt, LeSean McCoy will be a top-15 fantasy back someday -- perhaps as early as 2011. But there's really no excuse for 33 total yards against the 'Boys -- early blowout or no early blowout. And while we're on the subject of Philly tailbacks, what can be explained for Brian Westbrook logging zero carries? Was he intentionally a decoy against Dallas? Or, was he simply not healthy enough to get the ball in crucial situations? Either way, we cannot help but wonder if his lone output (1 catch, 27 yards) will be his last act as an Eagle.
What We Loathed, Part II: On a night when Donovan McNabb attempted 37 passes, it's disturbing to see Jason Avant only register two catches for 32 yards. Bottom line: His hot streak from Weeks 10-12 (17 catches, 276 yards) now seems like eons ago.
What We're Choosing To Ignore: Roy Williams posted decent numbers against Philly, catching five balls for 59 yards. But he's still an active member of our Do Not Draft list. Sorry, Roy.
What Made Us Indifferent: As much as we like Tashard Choice (48 total yards, 1 TD) in the broad scope of NFL tailbacks for 2010, he's only a draft consideration for owners who acquire Marion Barber (4 yards on only 3 carries) and/or Felix Jones. Sad but true: He's nothing more than a favored-status handcuff.
What We'll Remember on Draft Day: Regardless of who's under center for Philly in Week 1 -- McNabb (230 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) or Kevin Kolb (the only QB in history to throw for 300-plus yards in his first two NFL starts) -- we'd be thrilled to have either one as our cost-effective QB1 in standard-scoring leagues. Oh sure, neither quarterback will trump Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers over a long fantasy campaign next year ... but they're both strong contenders for the No. 5 slot. Sorry, Mr. Brady.
N.Y. Jets 24, Cincinnati 14
What We Liked: Cedric Benson (181 total yards, 1 TD) literally put the feckless Bengals on his back and carried 'em ... to a surprising home loss. But the only blame here comes in the form of NOT informing the Cincy coaches that he throws a better cold-weather ball than Carson Palmer.
What We Loved: The fact that second-stringer Shonn Greene blasted the Bengals for 135 rushing yards and one TD isn't the shock of all fantasy shocks -- after all, the rookie dusted the Raiders for 144 yards and two TDs back in Week 7. But we're very surprised to see Greene collect six more carries than Thomas Jones (34 rushing yards, 1 TD). On the other hand, Greene's red-letter day couldn't have come at a better time for owners who are already observing mock draft boards for next season. Bottom line: IF Jones doesn't re-sign with New York this winter (a distinct possibility), Greene could vault into a predraft neighborhood higher than Fred Jackson/Jonathan Stewart ... and just a shade below Jamaal Charles/Frank Gore.
What We Loathed: Do we really need to comment on the sad days of Palmer (146 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT) and Chad Ochocinco (2 catches, 28 yards)? Talk about two despicable efforts. In fact, we're so floored by Palmer's ineptitude that he will likely be a late-entry candidate for our Do Not Draft list in 2010 ... meaning that Matt Moore, Matthew Stafford, Josh Freeman and even Matt Leinart (assuming Kurt Warner retires) would be automatic backup-QB considerations ahead of Palmer. (Like we're going to ignore anyone who has Larry Fitzgerald at their disposal.) As for Ocho, he doesn't get a free pass just because Darrelle Revis wore him for a hat all day; instead, it's quite possible that Saturday's feeble effort may be a sign of (bad) things to come in the new decade.
What We Loathed, Part II: If anyone should be subjected to Braylon Edwards catcalls for a lucrative contract extension in the offseason, they should merely point to Edwards' 2-catch, 15-yard effort as Exhibits A, B and C against such lunacy. It's as simple as that.
What We're Choosing To Ignore: Yes, Laveranues Coles pulled down six catches for 48 yards and one touchdown against his old team ... but we're not buying his relevance as a WR2 in 2010. Come to think of it, we'd rather have Quan Cosby -- if given the painful challenge of choosing between the pair. Ouch!
What Made Us Indifferent: QB Mark Sanchez (182 yards passing, 1 TD) deserves all the real-world kudos for guiding the Jets to their first playoff win in five years ... but from a fantasy perspective, the production elicits nary a reaction. But it also presents a good time to speculate on his numbers against the Chargers next week: 214 yards passing, 1 TD, 4 INTS. In other words, proceed with caution when filling out "Survivor" league lineups.
What We'll Remember on Draft Day: Behind a top-notch offensive line, Benson is an easy top-7 lock for standard-scoring drafts come August. Either Thomas Jones or Shonn Greene are solid choices for Round 2 (or Round 4 in Points Per Reception leagues). And fantasy owners should remember the bad times involving Jets TE Dustin Keller (3 catches, 99 yards, 1 TD) more than the good ones. Finally ... WR Jerricho Cotchery (6 catches, 67 yards) should be the second Jets playmaker taken in all draft formats next season -- assuming Thomas Jones is no longer with the club AND fellow wideout Edwards forgets to have a much-needed hands transplant in the offseason. (Oh shoot, we've used that joke before!)
Jay Clemons can be found on Twitter, day and night (@SI_JayClemons), accessing your fantasy questions and comments. You can also read his award-winning Revelations every Sunday and Monday during the NFL season.
We concevied our fair share of Wild Card predictions -- some that came through with flying colors ... and others justifying the Clicks haters' belief that we should be washing cars instead of penning long fantasy columns three times a week. Here's the rundown:
Quarterback Rankings -- Wild Card
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (435 total yards, 5 TDs -- excellent choice!)
2. Donovan McNabb, Eagles (243 total yards, 1 TD -- weak numbers for garbage-time goodness)
3. Tom Brady, Patriots (154 passing yards, 2 TDs -- a relative swing-and-a-miss)
4. Tony Romo, Cowboys (248 passing yards, 2 TDs -- solid numbers for playing secondary role)
5. Kurt Warner, Cardinals (379 passing yards, 5 TDs -- he obviously should've been higher)
6. Joe Flacco, Ravens (34 passing yards, zero TDs -- the very definition of fantasy-ugly)
7. Carson Palmer, Bengals (146 yards passing, 1 TD -- yikes!)
8. Mark Sanchez, Jets (182 yards passing, 1 TD -- yeah, like he cares about the numbers)
Running Back Rankings -- Wild Card
1. Cedric Benson, Bengals (169 rushing yards, 1 TD -- way to keep feeding the bulldog)
2. Ryan Grant, Packers (83 total yards -- a scrappy TD would've been nice here)
3. Ray Rice, Ravens (159 yards, 2 TDs -- definitely in the neighborhood of correctness)
4. Marion Barber, Cowboys (4 rushing yards -- wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy off)
5. Thomas Jones, Jets (34 rushing yards, 1 TD -- decent numbers for a secondary figure)
6. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (33 total yards -- our fantasy disappointment knows no bounds)
7. Beanie Wells, Cardinals (91 rushing yards -- sounds about right)
8. Laurence Maroney, Patriots (2 rushing yards -- Maroney is no friend to big deficits)
9. Willis McGahee, Ravens (75 total yards, 1 TD -- an absolute man-child)
10. Fred Taylor, Patriots (1 total yard equals persona non grata)
11. Brian Westbrook, Eagles (1 catchs, 27 yards -- nothing to see here, folks)
12. Tim Hightower, Cardinals (40 total yards, 1 TD -- like the spunk, dislike the disappearing act)
Wide Receiver Rankings -- Wild Card
1. Greg Jennings, Packers (8 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD -- 3-for-3 on No. 1 picks!)
2. DeSean Jackson, Eagles (3 catches, 14 yards, 1 TD -- not acceptable for the playoffs)
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (6 catches, 82 yards, 2 TDs -- an obvious No. 2 here)
4. Randy Moss, Patriots (5 catches, 48 yards -- another swing and a miss)
5. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals (2 catches, 28 yards -- the legend of Darrelle Revis carries on)
6. Miles Austin, Cowboys (7 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD -- perfect spot for the actual output)
7. Derrick Mason, Ravens (1 catch, 8 yards -- can be forgiven for being ignored, on the whole)
8. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets (6 catches, 67 yards -- good spot for the output)
9. Jason Avant, Eagles (2 catches, 32 yards -- it's too late for Early Doucet, right?)
10. Donald Driver, Packers (4 catches, 43 yards -- we were more right than wrong)
11. Steve Breaston, Cards (7 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD -- another example of his potential)
12. Julian Edelman, Patriots (6 catches, 44 yards, 2 TDs -- a silent killer on Sundays next fall)
There's nothing like a second chance in life, and the same thinking applies to fantasy football, as well. SI.com presents the ultimate fantasy game for owners whose dreams of a fantasy title went unfulfilled in the regular season, or the greedy owners who simply covet two championships in the same year: Facebook's Postseason Fantasy Football.
This test of fantasy survival is like no other game you've ever played, but it'll call on your keen abilities to predict the future -- one NFL week at a time. Are you game? Are you savvy enough to bring your fantasy expertise to a whole new level? This is a golden opportunity to win a slew of fantastic prizes, along with getting one last shot at redemption after taking Brian Westbrook in Round 1 of your fantasy-league draft.