So what do you do when your MVP lets you down at the worst possible time?
If you're like a lot of fantasy players, you pack it in for the season and get ready for the holidays. If, on the other hand, you've built a roster with staying power, then chances are you're still reading this because you've earned the right to play another week.
Thousands of fantasy teams squeezed into the postseason with a winning combination of fortuitous scheduling and the contributions of one or two superstars. After all, even the least-experienced players knew enough to take LaDainian Tomlinson with the first pick of their preseason draft. Others were savvy or lucky enough to acquire Carson Palmer in the middle rounds, and prospered from his consistent, mistake-free production and 10 multi-touchdown games.
But sometimes the bottom falls out when you least expect it. Peyton Manning's owners over the last two years vividly recall his Week 16 stinker against the Broncos in '03 and his subpar outing against the Ravens in Week 15 during an otherwise magical 2004 season. Those poor performances led to an early exit for innumerable trash-talking owners who had already cleared room on their mantles for their championship trophy.
This weekend, countless fantasy teams were caught off-guard when L.T. and Palmer pulled their disappearing acts. In previous weeks, a typically stellar showing by these players, combined with modest production from an otherwise undistinguished roster, would be enough to secure the win. But that won't hack it in the fantasy postseason.
This is the time of year when fantasy owners who built a strong team from top to bottom are rewarded. They can withstand a let-down from their best player because the rest of their roster can pick up the slack. In my case, I was able to overcome Palmer's ill-timed nose dive thanks to the excellent play of Larry Johnson, Rudi Johnson and Joe Jurevicius. Meanwhile, my opponent fizzled with L.T., some guy impersonating Randy Moss and a host of underachieving Broncos.
This late in the season, there's little you can do to appreciably improve your roster. Setting the best starting lineup is generally your most critical assignment.
So don't get cocky if you've ridden into the postseason on the back of Peyton Manning or Shaun Alexander and a cast of misfits. A late-season let-down is almost inevitable, so you may be more vulnerable than you think.
POSTSEASON PICKS AND PANS
It's a whole new season now that the playoffs are here. Win and keep on playing. Lose and somebody else steals your glory. Here's a look at a few players that should shine, and others who may fade, during the fantasy playoffs.
Primed for the playoffs
Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals: His touchdown tosses have tapered off, but Warner is averaging 317 yards passing over his last six games. With Houston and Philly up next, few QBs will be as valuable in the fantasy postseason.
Cedric Houston, RB, Jets: This is no time to plug in an untested rookie RB, especially a Jet, despite his solid debut in relief of Curtis Martin. But consider scooping him up as a defensive move if your opponent is thin at the position.
Bobby Engram, WR, Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck claims Engram is his favorite receiver, which seems odd since he didn't bother to throw him a TD pass until December. With 3 in the past two weeks, he's making up for lost time.
Jimmy Smith, WR, Jaguars: With 2 TDs and 221 yards receiving over the last three games, Smith is David Garrard's most targeted and reliable receiver, by far. And what do you know? Here come the 49ers and Texans!
Checking out early
Mark Brunell, QB, Redskins: Stick a fork in him, folks; he's done. After posting Orton-esque stats against some of the most anemic defenses in the NFL over the past four weeks, he no longer deserves a roster spot on a fantasy playoff contender.
Willis McGahee, RB, Bills: The self-proclaimed "best running back in the NFL" hasn't scored since Week 6 or topped 100 yards since Week 8. After racking up three rushing yards against New England, methinks he spoke a bit prematurely.
Chris Brown, RB, Titans: Hampered by minor injuries (surprise!) and sharing carries with Travis Henry, Brown has slipped back to the fantasy periphery and should not be counted on against Seattle or a resurgent Dolphins defense.