Fantasy: 5 lineup-driven rules for fantasy playoffs

If you’re still reading The Fantasy Fox Blog at Week 14 of the NFL season (thank you, by the way), either you’ve made the playoffs and require a few pointers to clinch a championship … OR you’re looking to capture the less coveted but still uplifting Toilet Bowl title in fantasyland.

Either way, I’m happy to present five lineup tenets for surviving the experience — or at least keeping one’s sanity during this pressure-packed weekend:

1. Don’t penalize a flex-option tailback who’s playing in good weather

If your banged-up star is nimble enough to tie his shoes before game time or perform 20-yard sprints without the aid of crutches leading up to kickoff, he MUST be in the playoff starting lineup.

Take the Chargers’ Ryan Mathews, for example. Nursing a tender hamstring, he wasn’t a good bet for 12 or more touches last week against the Bengals. And yet, he ended up with 91 total yards and 19 touches — including five catches and six receiving targets.

For Week 14, Mathews has a solid matchup against the Giants, regardless if either he or Danny Woodhead officially gets the start on Sunday. Of his last seven outings, Mathews has notched 92 total yards or one touchdown six times.

And during that span, Mathews tallied 15-plus touches, as well.

2. It’s not always wrong to bench a star quarterback or receiver who’s stuck in wretched weather

On the surface, it’s beyond ludicrous to bench an all-world talent in December, but there is some precedent for making this move.

But keep in mind, the extenuating circumstances behind it should only involve injury or an act of God.

In Week 15 of the 2007 season, at the tail end of a record-breaking year of 50 touchdown passes, Patriots QB Tom Brady faced the Jets at home amid a torrent of heavy rains, cold temperatures and stifling crosswinds.

The result: He threw for only 140 yards and zero touchdowns, while single-handedly crushing the playoff hopes of every fantasy owner who rode Brady’s coattails to the postseason (and presumably a top seed).

And then two weeks ago, Denver’s Peyton Manning threw for only 150 yards and two touchdowns, the negative result of 22-degree temperatures and swirling crosswinds ranging from 20-25 mph.

Let’s clarify our weather stance here: Snow without high winds is not a big deal (shown by Brady’s six-TD demolition of the Titans in October 2009); and rain without high winds is generally doable, as well.

But for any game that marries a wintry mix (snow, ice, freezing rain) with winds at 25 mph or above … it might warrant a lineup change at quarterback or receiver.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff, like kickers and defenses

If you have a top-10 kicker, stick with him (in fair weather).

If you have a top-10 scoring defense or one that draws the Jets, Jaguars, Browns, Raiders, Texans, Redskins or Rams in Weeks 14-16, follow that clean trail to playoff success!

Whatever you do, please don’t over-think this process. It’s quite random.


4. When in doubt with receivers, use targets as the tiebreaker

Among wideouts, here are the targets leaders from the last three weeks, the previous five weeks and the full season, at large.

With Points Per Reception leagues, targets can be a driving force when settling flex-option dilemmas. Use this information as a timely reference guide.

5. DO NOT change a starting lineup AFTER 12:45 p.m. ET on Sunday

Take it from someone who got burned by a late swap in the SI.com league two years ago (bumping Steven Jackson for Rashard Mendenhall in Week 14).

At first blush, it seemed like a cosmetic move, swapping out one veteran rusher for another, especially since Jackson (then with the Rams) hadn’t scored in six games.

But that’s not the larger point. For five days, I had mentally settled on Jackson against the Seahawks — regardless of his recent struggles — and stuck to that rationale until five minutes before the 1 p.m. games.

The result: Jackson notched 123 total yards and one touchdown … and Mendenhall (then with the Steelers) rolled for only 76 yards and zero scores against the Browns.

Bottom line: Thoughtful lineup decisions from Tuesday through Saturday should always supersede panic-driven epiphanies.

Especially when neither weather nor injuries were the mitigating factors.

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Good luck in the playoffs. It promises to be great fun for everyone … even if it’s an educated crapshoot from this point forward.

Jay Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter at @FOX_JayClemons.