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Working the Wire: Season Finale

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.

What a weird season for waiver claims. Where was the waiver-wire gem? Who was the diamond in the rough who made the difference between mediocrity and a fantasy championship? Arguably, we went 16 weeks without one. Alfred Morris and Randall Cobb might qualify for some, but they were drafted in my leagues (and, undoubtedly, many of yours). So were the stud rookie quarterbacks (a lesson we learned from Cam Newton 2011). Danario Alexander, Knowshon Moreno and Colin Kaepernick were solid down the stretch, but they were on the bench the first two-thirds of the year, and DX had a killer bagel in Week 15. Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman and Carson Palmer exceeded expectations, but nobody won because of them, particularly with how they played in the fantasy playoffs. Kyle Rudolph has nine touchdowns, but with less than 500 receiving yards, you got a bagel any week he didn't find the end zone. Incredibly, the closest thing many fantasy leagues had to Victor Cruz 2011 may have been James Jones, who posted 13 TDs and had terrific production in the all-important Weeks 15-16. If that answer leaves you cold because Jones was invisible for four games, then, well, that was the nature of waivers in 2012.

So what do we make of the relative absence of waiver gems? Was it a fluke? And how does this impact our strategies for 2013? The NFL's increasing use of timeshares at running back might make waiver gems less likely. As we saw in Green Bay and Jacksonville, even if the starter gets hurt, that doesn't mean the backup will be a feature back, much less perform well. As you're auctioning (not drafting, auctioning) in 2013, keep this in mind. After all, if waiver-wire gems are scarce, then "stars and scrubs" might be a less attractive auction strategy, with depth on auction day more important than normal. To illustrate, I can't help but think back to auction night in the Stopa Law Firm League. After the auction, I strongly felt that Dalton Del Don had too much depth (and not enough studs), inhibiting his ability to be aggressive with in-season waiver claims. As it turns out, he made the finals of that league, as his depth was rewarded while the "stars and scrubs" owners like me were unable to fill roster holes as few studs emerged from waivers.

The 4-10 Lions were trailing 21-13 early in the fourth quarter when they had fourth and goal from the Falcons two. Jim Schwartz kicked a field goal. Of course he did. In related stories, Detroit never again had the ball down one score, and the Lions are 4-11.

Here's a early look at my top 12 for 2013: Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice, Doug Martin, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Alfred Morris. At first glance, there seems little difference between any of the receivers after Megatron, so my instinct right now, if I can't draft in the top three, is to go at the end of the snake. Of course, we'll have plenty of time to hash out such matters before next season.

As if everyone didn't already think the 2012 quarterback draft class is the greatest of all-time, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers have spent much of the year trying to prove the point. Seriously, isn't it weird how Eli, Ben and Rivers - the three gems from the 2004 draft, previously viewed as the best quarterback class since 1983 - have all simultaneously fallen apart? It's hard to believe three rookies have outperformed the three quarterbacks from what had been viewed as the best draft class in the past 25 years.

The Saints victory over the Cowboys highlighted arguably the dumbest rule in the NFL. If an offense recovers its own fumble, and the ball bounced forward, then the ball is spotted where the ball was recovered. So silly ... why are offenses rewarded for fumbling? Fumbling is a bad thing; the offense shouldn't gain field position. Change the rule such that the ball is marked at the spot of the fumble.

Dez Bryant has been called many things in his young career. Immature. Headache. Out of shape. Here's a new one ... 2012 fantasy playoffs MVP. OK, Seattle fans. You're right. A lot of Russell Wilson owners earned 2012 fantasy titles, too. So there are your fantasy playoff MVPs - a receiver who spent the offseason beating up his own mother and a rookie quarterback who is so short nobody wanted him. Yes, fake football is hard.

For weeks, I've been calling out the Colts as historically lucky, yet somehow they keep outdoing themselves. On Sunday, Indy became the first team in NFL history to win a game whle allowing 350 yards rushing. As if that weren't enough, they were outgained 507 yards to 288 and allowed 7.6 yards per play while gaining just 4.8. For weeks, I've been saying I can't wait to bet against Indy in the playoffs, and if they somehow win their Wild Card game, I'm going to double down in the divisional round, as I'm certain a 40-17 type beatdown is coming. The stakes are lower this week, but I'll be all over the Texans at -4.5. You should, too.

Did the Bengals really pass up a 50-yard field goal and go for it on 4th and 22 only to later attempt a 56-yard field goal? I love aggressiveness on fourth down, but going for it on fourth and 22 in lieu of a 50-yard field goal is absurd. And this is from a team that won! Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 AFC Playoffs! In all seriousness, while every game must be evaluated on its own, I can't help but think the AFC playoffs will go chalk, especially in the early rounds, while the NFC playoffs have the potential for complete and utter chaos. Keep that in mind if you're gambling ATS - AFC favorites, NFC underdogs.

Everyone is jumping on Seattle's bandwagon, and I understand why. Yet they strike me as a little too much like New Orleans 2011 - dominant at home, but as a wild card team, winning on the road to make the Super Bowl is probably too much to ask.

Here are my Week 17 recommendations. I enjoyed this article, and hope you did as well.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and thank you all for a great season.

Michael Vick, QB, Eagles:
Look, I get the arguments against Vick. He hasn't played in weeks, and was a turnover machine when on the field. Plus, Philly is going nowhere and may well lay down and quit this week. However, the Giants look like they quit a few weeks ago, and Vick will be plenty motivated to showcase his talents for prospective, offseason suitors. The Giants allow an NFL-high 8.2 YPA, so there's plenty of big-play potential for Vick this week.

Chad Henne, QB, Jaguars:
Did the Titans quit against the Packers last week, or do they just suck that badly? I'm really not sure, but I don't think it matters. I like 250 yards and two TDs for Henne against a bad Titans defense (29 passing TDs allowed, 7.5 YPA, 94.6 QB rating).

Ryan Grant, RB, Packers:
It only took nearly two full NFL seasons, but we finally saw a Packers running back emerge as a top fantasy player, albeit for one week. While last week's 20-80-2 line was great, Alex Green might be back this week, DuJuan Harris is also in the picture and the Titans aren't on tap again this week. I have to profile Grant given last week's explosion, but keep expectations realistic against a tougher Vikings defense (3.9 YPC).

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints:
Ingram was universally panned throughout the fantasy community the first 8-10 weeks of the season. Then, somehow, the light went on. Ingram has four touchdowns the past six weeks and has suddenly emerged as the Saints best back (well, best traditional back, as Darren Sproles is more of a third-down guy). With a lot of questions on Week 17 running backs, Ingram is usable in fantasy football. I'd claim him before Grant.

Ben Tate, RB, Texans:
It seems Arian Foster will be OK after leaving last week's game with an irregular heartbeat. Even if Foster plays this week, though, Tate has some upside. The Colts just allowed 352 yards rushing, and you have to think Houston will take it easy on Foster, especially if the game gets out of hand. I like Tate's chances of scoring this week.

Brandon LaFell, WR, Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers:
The Saints have been a fantasy carnival all year, allowing an NFL-high 31 passing TDs, 8.1 YPA and a 95.6 QB rating. LaFell and Olsen are just the kind of fringe fantasy players who can have a good game against this defense.

Delanie Walker, TE, 49ers:
Vernon Davis suffered a head injury Sunday night, and he hasn't done much in the past month anyway. If you expect the Niners to bounce back at home against the lowly Cardinals, and I do, then Walker seems like a decent play, particularly if Davis is sidelined.

Chargers D/ST:
Last week's 11 sacks had as much to do with the Jets as they did the Chargers. However, those sacks certainly show the Chargers are still trying, and that's all I need to know with San Diego facing the Raiders at home without Carson Palmer. If you can't get one of the obvious plays, this is probably as good as it gets for a Week 17 defense.

Bills D/ST:
It's been a lost season for the Bills defense, and the Jets have been a bad matchup for many years. However, the Bills are at home facing a quarterback making his second NFL start who just got sacked 11 times. I prefer San Diego, but I like the Bills this week more than many other waiver options.

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