As the long-awaited fantasy football playoffs get under way this week, one of the most troubling matchups takes place in Minnesota.
The Vikings' Adrian Peterson is coming off a horrible game, has been unimpressive for three weeks and faces a Cincinnati run defense that ranks second in the NFL. On the other side, Bengals back Cedric Benson has only been back from a hip injury for a week and runs up against the Vikings' No. 3 run defense.
So, what to do in such situations during this critical do-or-die week? Do you analyze every stat, calculate the matchups and get fancy with your lineup in an effort to coach your way to a title? Or do you just plug in your same old players despite their matchups or recent struggles?
It depends a bit on the player, of course, but for the most part it's simple: Don't get cute. Your elite players got you to the postseason, and it's better to go down with them than to kick yourself later for your inability to resist Rock Cartwright.
As you force yourself to ignore Peterson's 1.5 yards per carry last week, here are some players to consider starting and some to sit in Week 14: QUARTERBACKS
TAKE A SHOT:
—Brett Favre's either at the point where he'll start breaking again or last week's poor showing was a fluke. Based on the fact that he actually attempted a no-look pass in the Vikings' second loss of the season, let's go with fluke and expect a bounce-back game.
—In his past three games Tennessee's Vince Young has a 70-yard rushing game, a nearly 400-yard passing game and his first two-TD pass game of the year. He may do all those things against the Rams.
—Donovan McNabb has been a non-factor the past few weeks for Philadelphia, but he faces the Giants' questionable pass defense in a huge divisional game. McNabb has thrown three TD passes in two of his last three games against the Eagles.
—If you somehow made the postseason without a decent quarterback, perennial waiver-wire offering Jason Campbell may give you a shot. He'll surely put up some nice numbers in the 59 minutes before the Redskins lose a close one to Oakland.
BACK AWAY SLOWLY AND NOBODY GETS HURT:
Please, in the name of UFL Most Valuable Player Brooks Bollinger, don't start these guys:
—Matt Schaub's brittleness is a big concern in the fantasy playoffs. He played just 11 games in each of his first two full seasons in Houston and last week — his 12th game this season — he left for a while with a shoulder injury. If you have a better option, bench Schaub in case he's unaware of the magnitude of this fantasy game and leaves hurt.
—Based on statistics, Baltimore's Joe Flacco should rip up the Lions' NFL-worst pass defense, but that Ravens offense just ain't right. It's been two months now since Flacco's gone for two scores in a game.
—The 49ers' Alex Smith has developed into a serviceable fantasy starter, but think hard about this decision: Do you want Smith as your starter in the playoffs? He faces an Arizona defense that has struggled against the pass but just befuddled Favre.
ALL DAY LONG:
For some reason the 49ers have decided the run just isn't for them, giving Frank Gore seven and nine carries in their past two losses. Still, don't overthink it and bench him against the Cardinals. He usually scores somehow despite the lack of carries and has TDs in six of his last seven games against Arizona.
—Here's another great example of why NFL purists hate fantasy football: The ineptitude showcase between Buffalo and Kansas City is actually a big game for the fantasy playoffs. The Chiefs' Jamaal Charles and Buffalo's Fred Jackson sure to rack up huge numbers in a game that'll be on TV only because of contractual obligations.
—Don't sweat Laurence Maroney's getting shut down last week or the Patriots' recent woes. Maroney scored six games in a row before last week and faces a Panthers' run defense that gives up 133 yards rushing and a TD run every week.
—If the Jets' Thomas Jones fell to you in your draft, your luck has remained good all the way to the fantasy postseason. His QB is injured, his team remains alive in the playoffs and he faces Tampa Bay's 31st-ranked run defense.
—The running backs in the Houston-Seattle game have disappointment written all over them. Both defenses have been respectable against the run, Seattle coaches insist the mediocre Julius Jones is way better than the explosive Justin Forsett, and the Texans have a job share going.
—Baltimore's defense isn't what it once was and has been hurt by injuries, but it should be just like the old days against Detroit. So bench Kevin Smith if you have a better option.
—Arizona's Chris Wells and Tim Hightower are just too unpredictable to use in the fantasy playoffs. Hightower has one TD in the past five games, and Wells has a combined 48 yards with no scores the past two weeks.
THROW HIM THE DARN BALL:
—Why not keep riding Robert Meachem, who's emerged from the huge pack of Saints receivers with touchdowns in five straight games (and the best defensive play of the year by a receiver). The Falcons are bad, but they have enough offense to keep the Saints passing.
—There's no more spotlight on Terrell Owens, but at least he'll have a chance to be a big deal in the pretend playoffs. The Bills are at least still trying, so he should easily go over 100 yards with a score against the defenseless Chiefs.
—Of course you never bench the Colts' Reggie Wayne in the fantasy playoffs even if he hasn't done much lately, but also don't bench Pierre Garcon. He has either a TD or 100 yards in each of his past four games.
—If you're really hurting for a receiver, give Miami's Davone Bess a shot after his 10-catch game. The Dolphins have mostly scrapped that Wildcat business, and Jacksonville's not much on pass defense.
SHOW HIM THE DARN BENCH:
—If Rex Grossman has to fill in for Schaub in Houston, then do the unthinkable and bench Andre Johnson. Grossman's 3-of-9 debut (with an interception and fumble) was only a tiny sampling of how terrible he can be.
—Jacksonville's Mike Sims-Walker seems up for a huge game against Miami's 24th-ranked pass defense, but his vanishing acts have been increasingly common. He's had touchdownless games of 9, 12 and 46 yards during the past six weeks.
—It's safe to say there's absolutely zero chance Oakland's Louis Murphy catches two TD passes again.
FREE AGENT SHOPPING LIST: QB Jason Campbell (367 yards, 3 TDs), RB Jerome Harrison (2 TDs), WR Davone Bess (10 catches, 115 yards, TD), QB Brady Quinn (3 TDs), TE Jermichael Finley (2 TDs), WR Devin Thomas (100 yards, 2 TDs), QB Bruce Gradkowski (308 yards, TD), WR Louis Murphy (128 yards, 2 TDs), WR Antonio Bryant (116 yards)
WHAT DO I KNOW?
Big Hits: I expected good things for Percy Harvin (101 total yards, TD), Roddy White (104 yards, TD), Brandon Marshall (94 yards, TD), Matt Forte (91 yards, TD) and Rashard Mendenhall (103 yards, TD). I forecast more terribleness for T.J. Houshmandzadeh (37 yards).
Big Misses: I expected good things for Marion Barber (36 yards, 0 elusive moves, 1 huge fumble) and Ray Rice (54 yards). I expected Vince Young (2 TDs) to return to earth and Brandon Jacobs (2 TDs) to not be nimble and productive. I didn't expect much from Eli Manning (2 TDs).