The NFL’s version of the “Final Four” is set.
This Sunday, four NFL teams will duke it out for the opportunity to advance to Super Bowl LI. For three of those teams, deep playoff runs like this are business as usual. But it wouldn’t be a party unless somebody crashed it.
The day’s slate begins with the NFC Championship in Atlanta, where the Falcons will meet the Green Bay Packers in a battle of MVP candidates. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan already won the PFWA’s version of the award, beating out the man I voted for (yes, I’m a member of the Pro Football Writers of America – wipe that surprised look off your face) in Green Bay signal-caller Aaron Rodgers.
The teams played at the Georgia Dome back in Week 8, with Atlanta squeaking out a 33-32 win. The odds of defense being played in this second showdown are about the same as the chances for rain…
Inside the building.
After that it’s off to Foxborough for the AFC Championship. The New England Patriots are playing in a staggering sixth straight AFC title tilt – against a Pittsburgh Steelers squad that’s been this deep in the season an equally impressive 16 times.
The Texans offered something of a blueprint for the upset in battering Tom Brady last week, and the Steelers have the offense to pull it off. Provided, of course, that they can move the ball against the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense in a stadium where the Patriots have never lost a game in which they led at halftime.
Without question, the storylines surrounding these games are all about offensive superstars and MVP quarterbacks. But in playoff IDP leagues, fantasy owners still have to try to cobble together a defensive lineup from a less-than-stellar cast of characters.
And that’s where this article comes in.
In order to help you in a final quest for fantasy glory this season, I’ll be publishing IDP rankings each week during the 2016-17 playoffs here at Fantasy Sharks. These rankings assume a league format where teams start two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two defensive backs and a “flex” spot.
They also assume a “one/two and done” format where players are concerned. In other words, while the entire pool of individual defensive players is available, each player can only be used once (or twice, in some formats). So, while matchup and talent are still the primary considerations, it’s also important to identify which teams are going to be eliminated in a given week and use those players where possible.
Otherwise, by the time we get to Super Bowl LI (Back to Roman numerals – order is restored to the universe) IDP owners won’t have anyone left to slot in starting lineups.
With those caveats in mind, here’s a look at the top five defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs for the conference championships.
- Rob Ninkovich – DE, New England Patriots (vs. PIT)
- Trey Flowers – DE, New England Patriots (vs. PIT)
- Stephon Tuitt – DE, Pittsburgh Steelers (at NE)
- Brooks Reed – DE, Atlanta Falcons (vs, GB)
- Dwight Freeney – DE, Atlanta Falcons (vs. GB)
- Ryan Shazier – ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers (at NE)
- Lawrence Timmons – ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers (at NE)
- Deion Jones – ILB, Atlanta Falcons (vs. GB)
- Vic Beasley – OLB, Atlanta Falcons (vs. GB)
- Jake Ryan – ILB, Green Bay Packers (at ATL)
- Sean Davis – S, Pittsburgh Steelers (at NE)
- Morgan Burnett – S, Green Bay Packers (at ATL)
- Keanu Neal – S, Atlanta Falcons (vs. GB)
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – S, Green Bay Packers (at ATL)
- Michael Mitchell – S, Pittsburgh Steelers (at NE)
Finally, since I know you’re dying to know who I’m picking to advance to the Super Bowl…
OK, can you pretend to be dying? A little curious at least. Come on! Throw me a bone here!
On my podcast on Fantasy Sharks Radio all the way back in August, I predicted that Super Bowl LI would pit the Green Bay Packers against the New England Patriots. I see no reason to back off that pick now.
It’s a shame the NFC title game is first. I expect it to be the best game of the day – a thriller that may come down to who has the ball last. The Falcons could easily emerge with the win, but I just can’t bet against Rodgers after watching him pull a win from the ether last week in Dallas.
The AFC Championship will be more uneventful. There are too just too many things that have to go right for the Steelers and wrong for the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been especially good on the road this year, and the odds of the Pats playing flat two weeks in a row at home in the playoffs aren’t good.
Green Bay 34, Atlanta 31
New England 27, Pittsburgh 20
Enjoy the games!