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Working the Wire: Does anyone want the last playoff spot in the AFC?

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

If you lost your Week 14 fantasy matchup because of the Seahawks defense or David Wilson, I feel for you. Such are the vagaries of head-to-head fantasy football, where the best fantasy teams don't always take home championships. If you lost to Adrian Peterson, though, you need to tip your cap and move on. I own Peterson nowhere, but I'm glad to see Peterson owners rewarded at this time of year, as they were obvoiusly right to gamble on his return to health.

Peterson has been so terrific that, like we've been doing with Peyton Manning, it's time to stop talking about him just in terms of Comeback Player of the Year and instead as an MVP frontrunner. In a league that remains quarterback-dominated, it's an amazing testament to Peterson that the Vikings are in the playoff race with Christian Ponder (78.3 QB rating, 6.0 YPA, 184 yards/game, 14 TDs and 12 INTs) playing so poorly. If Minnesota makes the playoffs and Peterson eclipses 2,000 yards, how can you deny him the MVP? At worst, Peterson should be the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year. His most important accolade, though, may be 2012 fantasy MVP.

Does anyone want/deserve the sixth seed in the AFC? The Steelers have lost to the Raiders and Titans and just made the Chargers look good coming off four straight losses. You can't blame Ben Roethlisberger's injury, either, as all three losses came with Ben under center. Meanwhile, the Bengals have lost to the Dolphins and Browns and just made Tony Romo and Jason Garrett look clutch in the fourth quarter. Incredibly, the Jets are just a game back at 6-7 and even the 5-8 Chargers are still alive. The entire Rotowire staff bet against the Chargers in Staff Picks, and shame on us - we should know this is the time of year when the perenially under-achieving Chargers (they're 5-8 despite being +11 in point differential) string together some wins and inexplicably try to save Norv Turner's job. San Diego could easily finish 8-8 (Car, @NYJ, Oak), and with the Steelers and Bengals facing each other in Week 16 and the AFC being what it is, 8-8 might just be good enough to get the 6th seed.

Wait. If 8-8 gets the 6th seed in the AFC, the Colts already have nine wins, and the Ravens remain slotted into the fourth seed, that means the Colts will face the Ravens in the Wild Card round. So the two AFC teams I've repeatedly labeled the biggest frauds of 2012 will square off, forcing me to choose one and preventing me from fading them both simultaneously (and getting rich in the process)? Really? I've kicked my dog across the room over less.

If that sounds harsh, take another look under the hood at the Colts. They're 9-4 with a point differential of -37. Negative 37! Among the teams with a better point differential are the Browns and Lions. Perhaps my favorite stat of the year, though, is that the Colts are 27th in QB rating allowed (their 93.4 QB rating allowed is worse than every team except the Chiefs, Eagles, Titans, Raiders, and Saints) and 27th in QB rating (their 74.5 QB rating is better than just five teams - the Browns, Dolphins, Cardinals, Jets, and Chiefs). Think about that for a minute. It's just about impossible to be 27th in QB rating *and* QB rating allowed and still be 9-4. In fact, other than the Vikings, who have a ridiculous running game, the Colts are the NFL's only team with a lower QB rating than it allows that has a winning record - and the Colts aren't lower by just a little, they're in the red by 18.9 points! The 2012 Baltimore Orioles were something like 100-1 in one-run, extra-inning games, but the 2012 Indianapolis Colts might be exhibiting even more Luck (pun intended).

I've criticized the Ravens before, so I'll try to lay off this week. I mean, anyone can lose to Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins in successive weeks, right? And Jim Caldwell, I might not hire him to walk my dog, and yes, Caldwell makes Romeo Crennel look like an impassioned, emotional coach. But sure, promoting Caldwell (who has never called plays in the NFL) to offensive coordinator mid-year is going to solve the Ravens problems. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's Ravens vs. Colts! The 2012 AFC Playoffs!

Just to be clear, I don't even have a dog. But if Liss does, I'd kick his dog across the room.

Does anyone else think Patriots vs. Broncos for the AFC Championship is inevitable? Brady vs. Manning, one more time, with the winner having a leg up in the argument as G.O.A.T.

Somehow, the Jaguars, Panthers, Eagles, and Bills pitched first-half shutouts in Week 14, and the Chargers were a few seconds from doing the same. For those keeping track at home, that's Mike Mularkey, Ron Rivera, Andy Reid, Chan Gailey, and Norv Turner overseeing first-half domination. Of course, the Bills and Jaguars still managed to lose anyway. Perhaps we can't blame Mularkey, as he simply can't remove the stench from when he used to coach the Bills. (If Mularkey coaching Buffalo seems like it was a long time ago, it was actually six years *after* the Bills last made the playoffs.) As for Gailey, it's really unfair how everyone keeps criticizing him. Gailey is doing a great job of ensuring C.J. Spiller will be healthy for the Bills' new coach in 2013. I suppose that makes Gailey a hero, really - the NFL's version of the comrade who throws himself on the grenade for the sake of the greater good. Seriously, as bad as the coaching has been in Buffalo, I'll remember the Bills 2012 season as one where the defense had high hopes after the Mario Williams signing, and actually looked respectable in recent games, but allowed fourth-down conversions on game-winning drives, at home, to the Titans and Rams. So what did $100 million buy the Bills? 10 sacks from Mario Williams ... and soul-crushing, last-second, home losses to Matt Hasselbeck and Sam Bradford.

If you're a Cardinals fan, does it get worse than 58-0, eight turnovers, and 10 first downs? Yes, it's realizing that you don't have a quarterback and that you passed up Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, and Kirk Cousins in the 2012 draft, all three of whom were taken in the third round or later. Plenty has been said about Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin, but when Foles and Cousins are playing prominent roles in Week 14 victories, you know 2012 truly is the Year of the Rookie Quarterback.

Did you see the Twitter complaints of Larry Fitzgerald's dad, lamenting the Cardinals effort and poor quarterback play? Here's my response. "Dear Mr. Fitzgerald, Your son knew the Cardinals had subpar quarterback play when he chose to extend his contract for many millions of dollars. He had the chance to sign with a different, more talented team. But he took the money. So I guess what I'm saying is SHUT THE HELL UP. Sincerely, unsympathetic NFL fan."

If you're an Eagles fan, are you excited that you might have your quarterback of the future in Nick Foles, or are you pissed off the team allowed Mike Vick to fumble away the 2012 season? Probably a bit of both, I suppose. If Foles is the real deal, how tough will the NFC East continue to be for the foreseeable future, with Eli Manning, Robert Griffin III, and Tony Romo also in the division?

Who do you rank higher for 2013 in fantasy circles, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton? As much as I love Griffin, it's hard to deny Newton's size makes him more durable and, dare I say, a safer option. It will be fun to compare and contrast Newton and Griffin this offseason and for years to come.

Anyone thinking about drafting Josh Freeman in 2013 needs to remember Week 14 of the 2012 season. If Freeman can't come through at home against an Eagles defense that was historically bad the previous six weeks, how can we ever trust him in fake football? I realize every player has week-to-week fluctuations, and we can live with that inconsistency if a fantasy player is good enough to be a sure-fire weekly starter. With fringe fantasy starters, though, consistency is important to ensure we can exploit matchups.

Our society regularly advocates the message "don't drink and drive," as it should. But why doesn't anyone ever say "don't ride with someone who's been drinking?" Jerry Brown's death was horrible and tragic. If we're being honest, though, Brown getting into the car with Josh Brent was just as stupid as Brent's decision to drive. I hope I'm able to teach my kids this lesson when they're older, and I trust you can do likewise.

It was pretty cool hearing Vince Wilfork tell Steve Young and Trent Dilfer that he was going to watch tape of the 49ers on Monday night, right as Wilfork just finished playing a game and the clock approached midnight. Impressive stuff. Somehow, I doubt any Raiders or Cardinals share that effort and enthusiasm during the week.

Did you see Vince Young begging for work on Twitter? Sad. Equally sad that he's apparently spent the 34 million he earned in the NFL. There are no words...

The Browns have won three straight and remain my sleeper playoff choice for 2013. Weak conference, division in decline... It could happen.

It took several weeks, but we finally saw why I traded Drew Brees after Week 3. High volume is great, but even elite quarterbacks struggle with too much on their shoulders.

For a high-scoring team, the 2012 Packers sure had a lot of fantasy duds. Jennings, Nelson, Finley, all the RBs, even Rodgers. James Jones has nine TDs but had several duds after we bought in. Only Randall Cobb saved the cheeseheads from total oblivion.

Jimmy Graham had a couple of huge games while Darren Sproles was out but has otherwise been a big disappointment. I'll be curious at the extent to which Sean Payton can make Sproles and Graham co-exist in 2013.

It's crazy how good the Patriots offense looked on Monday night without Rob Gronkowski, who's a top-20 real life player. Is there any other team that could lose a stud and not miss a beat? Scary for the rest of the NFL to realize he'll be back for the playoffs.

Here are my waiver suggestions for Week 15. Who are you thinking about with your season on the line? As always, comments welcome.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: I'm not letting one decent week by the Eagles defense dissuade me from picking on a unit that was historically bad the six weeks prior. Dalton is owned in most leagues, but it's certainly worth checking in your league. And if you've been stashing Dalton for this long, this week's matchup is undoubtedly the reason why.

Nick Foles, QB, Eagles: You'd probably have to be in a two-quarterback league to use Foles this week against a decent Bengals defense. Looking ahead to Week 16, though, Foles faces a Redskins pass defense that's been at the bottom of the league in most statistical categories all season. If you have a bench spot to spare and don't like your starter's matchup in Week 16, consider stashing Foles now. Or maybe you just want to keep Foles from an opponent who's wondering if Robert Griffin will play.

David Wilson, RB, Giants: I doubt much elaboration is necessary here after Wilson exploded for 100 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, and a kick return touchdown last week. Regardless of the results of Ahmad Bradshaw's MRI, Wilson needs to be owned in virtually every format. The Week 15 matchup is just fine, too, as the Falcons are in the bottom of the league in YPC. Of course, if Bradshaw is out, the matchup really doesn't matter, and Wilson needs to be started regardless.

LaMichael James, RB, 49ers: Frank Gore remains the starter in San Fran. But Kendall Hunter is on injured reserve and Brandon Jacobs has been suspended. The 49ers don't treat Gore like a rented mule, and with James the only guy remaining, he should get some touches the next few weeks. Is it enough to start James? Probably not. But if you're worried about a Gore injury in Week 15, I suppose it's worth adding James for what would be a huge matchup in Week 16 with Seattle.

Montell Owens, RB, Jaguars: What a miserable experience it's been predicting the Jaguars running back play this season. Maurice Jones-Drew held out in the preseason, causing countless predictions as to when he'd return. That argument became moot when MJD got hurt. Then Rashad Jennings was thought to be valuable, but Jennings proved worthless. Then Jalen Parmele looked like he'd be useful, but he went on IR as well. Finally, when everyone (well, me, at least) gave up on the situation, Owens rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Kenny Britt, WR, Titans: I just checked, and I was surprised to see Britt is unowned in half of all leagues. Really? I know he's an enigma, but he's big, fast, talented, and plays on a team that has to throw a lot. This week's matchup against the Jets isn't ideal, but Britt seems to be getting healthy for perhaps the first time all year.

Josh Gordon and Greg Little, WR, Browns: I know, I know. It's the Browns. But this week's opponent, the Redskins, have allowed an NFL-high 27 passing touchdowns. Gordon is unowned in about half of standard leagues, while is available in about 75%. With several injuries to key wideouts in recent weeks, and a favorable matchup on tap, these percentages should be more like 80% and 50%, respectively.

Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Chiefs: Dwayne Bowe is likely to miss the remainder of the season with broken ribs. Even Bowe hasn't done much in recent weeks on a bad Chiefs offense, so why profile Baldwin? Easy. He's big, athletic, and, most important, faces the Raiders this week. As matchups go, it doesn't get better.

Joshua Morgan, WR, Saints: All year long, the Bucs have been solid against the run but terrible against the pass. Morgan might be the perfect guy to exploit such a defense. The Saints love throwing to him deep, and weather won't be a factor as New Orleans returns home to the Superdome this week. Morgan isn't terribly useful in PPR formats, but if you need a "hail mary" with upside, Morgan has as good a chance as anyone on waivers of posting a 60-yard touchdown catch.

Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: Davis has been cut in some leagues, perhaps understandably since he's been nearly invisible the past few weeks. And even in those leagues where Davis is owned, he might be stuck on the bench. I see a rebound coming for Davis this week. The Patriots allow the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends, and the 49ers likely won't have the luxury to play conservatively on offense against New England. Start Davis this week.

Dallas Clark, TE, Bucs: Clark has scored three touchdowns the past five weeks. If you don't have an elite tight end, don't you want a piece of the Bucs/Saints in Week 15, a game that has the highest over/under of the week and is likely to be a shootout?

Lions D/ST: The Cardinals just committed 8 turnovers and lost 58-0. Their quarterback play is so bad that when Ken Whisenhunt was asked who'd start next week under center, he asked the reporter if he/she could play (and I'm not sure he was kidding). The Lions are nothing special in the secondary, but they can get pressure on the quarterback. With how the Cardinals are playing on offense, that's enough.

Dolphins D/ST: If you can't get the Lions, and don't own one of the stalwarts, Miami is probably the best you can do for a one-week defense. They're at home against an injury-riddled Jaguars team which, despite strides in recent weeks, frankly, just isn't very good.

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