I am not sure if I love the Wild Card Weekend of the NFL season better than next week, when the Division Championships begin, but it is close.
That is because over the next two weeks, the games seem to be more wide open, and the upsets deliver themselves, making the whole spectacle a lot of fun.
So, while picking players this week, I did try to balance the crap shoots with the reasonable, giving me a sort of succotash of stable and potential breakouts, if someone can be a breakout after having made the postseason.
The biggest dilemma I faced this week is that of the $60K salary cap the game allows, I left $800 on the table. This was tough, and I suspect not necessarily an abnormality when the player pool is reduced from 32 teams to just eight, but I decided to go with the players I thought would indeed produce rather than trying to completely empty my wallet.
QB: Cam Newton ($8300) - Maybe the toughest choice, as Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck are all out there with formidable resumes this season. But, Cam can run, and Cam can throw, and Cam has been playing at peak form and seems to be on a mision. If his team pulls ahead, there is a good chance he gets to carry in short yardage situations, and if the Panthers fall behind, he can rack up the passing points trying to even the score. So be it.
RB: DeMarco Murray ($9000) - Especially with Le'Veon Bell out, Murray is clearly the top Running Back to suit up this weekend. And, well, as he goes, so go the Cowboys. A lot of the thoughts around who I am playing this time has to do with money players, as these are, when push comes to shove, money games. Making Murray the man.
RB: Dan Herron ($5400) - This was the toughest compromise, and seems like the place where I could have dropped my $800 leftover to upgrade, but the reality was the jump in talent/cost was so large that I would have needed at least $1100 to move to Joique Bell or Jonathan Stewart. In the end, that doesn't matter as I don't expect a repeat thumping by the Bengals, and do think Herron will get the start and the bulk of backfield touches. At least I hope so.
WR: Antonio Brown ($9000) - It was either Brown or Dez Bryant. I know the weather in Pitttsburgh is supposed to be wet and blustery, which adds the risk element to this play, but with Bell out, Brown has to be the impact player and I think he will step up. As Todd and I agreed yesterday, one way or another, Roethlisberger will have to hinge on Brown, perhaps instead of medium to long passes, with a cluster of short routes hoping Brown will break one out.
WR: Steve Smith ($6400) - It is a playoff game, so I went with the wisened vets in a few slots, and this is one. All things being equal, that is.
WR: Reggie Wayne ($5500) - Much the same as Smith. the tough issue here was whether to go with Wayne and Smith, or go after Larry Fitzgerald. But, I also think that the Panthers defense will chew up Ryan Lindley, making the great Fitzgerald an afterthought today.
TE: Jason Witten ($5400) - Another tough choice, but against the ostensibly tough Detroit defense, Romo will have to use all of his weapons, and that makes Witten a prime red zone target. Well, like Herron, at least I hope so.
DEF: Carolina ($5300) - Finally, the defense that closed out 2013 as a crusher unit seems to be playing the same game now. The thing about the playoffs in any sport is winning is largely a function of being hot at the right time, and the Panthers defense is certainly that. In fact, they are my sleeper team to run the table. It would be delicious, to have a sub-.500 team upset the playoff apple cart, no?