'This is where it really counts'

Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell's JC Aroma Of Tacoma team had never been alone in first place in the Alice in Chains & Friends Fantasy Football Charity League until the regular season ended last week.

JC Aroma Of Tacoma (9-4) took the regular-season crown when it knocked off Matt Willig's Halfway Clueless (1-10-2) 95-41 and got help when Scott Ian's Fear And Loathing topped Meat Loaf's Hell In A Hand Basket 122-78 last week.

It's a little bit of redemption for Cantrell, who founded the league last year but finished out of the playoffs with a 6-7 record.

"It feels great to have finished the regular season with the best record, but this is where it really counts. Any one of the four of us can take it down," Cantrell, whose chosen charity is Autism Speaks, said via e-mail Thursday.

The other three playoff teams are Fear And Loathing (8-5), Hell In A Hand Basket (8-5) and Kenny Wayne Shepherd's Team Re-Domination (8-4-1).

Cantrell's opponent over the two-week first round is Ian, who is already leading 21-0 thanks to Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon's two touchdowns and 93 receiving yards Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans. Ian has a chance to rub it in further because he has many 49ers on his roster and San Francisco is playing the Seattle Seahawks, one of Cantrell's two favorite teams. Ian is a noted poker buff, so I asked if he'd go all-in against Cantrell.

"Poker is not about gambling, it's about strategic investing," Ian said via e-mail. "We're gonna go with the best strategy to win. Come to think of it 49ers players do have a cake matchup this week (lol), but we dumped [wide receiver Michael] Crabtree today and it is hard to trust an oft-injured [running back Brian] Westbrook during playoffs."

The "we" that Ian referred to is co-owner Harry Tiyler, a music promoter in Florida. Ian enthusiastically says Tiyler deserves most of the credit for guiding Fear And Loathing to the postseason.

"He is the man. Don't get in his way, he will crush you," Ian said.

Ian and Tiyler are always the most active in the weekly transactions, even frequently picking up a guy early in the week and dropping him by Friday.

"Every week's has been tough lineup decisions for us as we haven't had any starting running backs all year," Ian said. "[Chargers RB] Ryan Mathews and [Lions RB] Jahvid Best have been hurt all year and [Chiefs RB] Jamaal Charles was in a ridiculous time share.

"It's funny but our lineup has been up to the other members of the league. … Whatever they drop we plug in and play. Four of our top 10 picks Best, Mathews, [Jermichael Finley] and V-Jax [Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson] we literally got no mileage out of. It has been a trying year to say the least."

Their methods have worked well lately as Fear And Loathing has won three in a row in a frantic push to the postseason. Ian said his team's best moves have been rotating in different team defenses week-to-week based on the matchups.

"Some of our defenses carried us to slim victories and just slid us into playoffs by the most narrowest of margins," said Ian, whose charity is Lifebeat.

Conversely, Cantrell has stuck with the Steelers' defense that has been solid all season. He said a couple of his best moves were picking up Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and trading for Falcons QB Matt Ryan after Cowboys QB Tony Romo was lost to injury.

"Picking [Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne] Bowe off the wire has to be my best move all year," Cantrell said.

The other game features the two top-scoring teams this season. Shepherd, who is playing for Mending Kids International, is making his second consecutive playoff appearance after falling short in last year's championship game against Matt Willig.

"I'm pumped to be in the playoffs," Shepherd said via e-mail. "Facing Meat Loaf is going to be tough. His team's projections indicate that he's got the clear advantage in almost every position. It's going to be tough, but I've always been one to root for the underdog."

Shepherd has some injury woes and other lineup dilemmas this week.

"I wish I had [Colts running back Joseph] Addai and [Colts receiver] Austin Collie in the game this week, but they've both been out for so long I don't know how effective they'd be if they played anyway," Shepherd said. "My biggest concerns are [Texans quarterback] Matt Shaub because he's not putting up big numbers consistently, and my tight end hasn't had any big games since the beginning of the season. I need all the points I can get for a win."

Shepherd said his best pickup during the season was Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, and Meat Loaf said his was Browns running back Peyton Hillis.

Short and to the point, Meat Loaf said via e-mail that his tougher decisions this week are at wide receiver (Anquan Boldin of the Ravens or Santonio Holmes of the Jets) and defense, where he currently has the Falcons and no backup.

Meat Loaf, whose charity is The Painted Turtle, has been busy shooting NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," and now he's on tour in the United Kingdom, so he hadn't made any comments on the league message board all season. That is, until after last week's games, albeit succinctly:

Scott kicked my ass
Posted: Dec 5, 8:46 p.m.
Michael Aday
Hell In A Hand Basket

Re: Scott kicked my ass
Posted: Dec 6, 6:46 a.m.
Jerry Cantrell
JC Aroma Of Tacoma

Meat Finally speaks … Wow, see you in the playoffs, man. You're still the team to beat in my opinion. I couldn't do it.

"It's been a really competitive season and I'm glad so many of my friends took the time to have some fun with us," Cantrell said Thursday. "Meat Loaf is a pro. He plays in 50 leagues a year. I think he won 35 of them [last year]. Scott's killing me with my own guy Garcon right now. I better make some lineup moves."

Participants in the Alice in Chains & Friends Fantasy Football Charity League will each put one valuable item up for auction by the end of the season. The league champion will get to designate which charity receives the proceeds of the auction.

Weekly updates on the Alice in Chains & Friends Fantasy Football Charity League, trash talk and interviews with the owners have been published in ESPN.com's The Life and Music sections throughout the season. Members of the league also have dropped by for occasional chats on SportsNation.

Here is a recap of Week 13 and a look ahead to the first half of the first-round postseason matchups:

Alice in Chains & Friends Fantasy Football Charity League overall regular season standings

  • Kenny Wayne Shepherd
    Place of birth: Shreveport, La. Age: 33 Fantasy football experience: 1 year Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts

    Personal: Shepherd cut his musical teeth opening for The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, The Eagles and Van Halen.

  • Jerry Cantrell

    Place of birth: Tacoma, Wash. Age: 44 Fantasy football experience: 6 years Favorite team: Seattle Seahawks/Pittsburgh Steelers

    Personal: Lead guitarist Cantrell's legacy with Alice In Chains includes 16 million albums sold, 21 Top 40 singles and seven Grammy nominations.

  • Scott Ian

    Place of birth: New York Age: 46 Fantasy football experience: 1 year Favorite team: New York Giants

    Personal: When Ian isn't playing guitar for Anthrax, he's schooling amateurs at the poker table.

  • Vinnie Paul

    Place of birth: Abilene, Texas Age: 46 Fantasy football experience: 11 years Favorite team: Dallas Cowboys

    Personal: Paul, who formed Pantera with his late brother Dimebag Darrell, plays drums for Hellyeah the way Ray Lewis hits people. In other words, hard.

  • Zakk Wylde
    Place of birth: Bayonne, N.J. Age: 43 Fantasy football experience: 1 year Favorite team: New York Giants

    Personal: Wylde landed the job of lead guitarist and co-songwriter for Ozzy Osbourne at the age of 19 and later founded Black Label Society.

  • Meat Loaf

    Place of birth: Dallas Age: 62

    Personal: Legendary singer, aka Michael Aday, has been just as successful on your TV and film screens as your radio.

  • Matt Willig
    Place of birth: Whittier, Calif. Age: 41 Fantasy football experience: 1 year and the AIC&FFFCL reigning champ Favorite team: No favorite, but "I do like to watch the Carolina Panthers every Sunday, especially to watch my boy, Jordan Gross [left tackle], play."

    Personal: One of two non-musicians in the league, Willig spent 12 years in the NFL with six teams.

  • Duff McKagan
    Place of birth: Seattle Age: 46 Fantasy football experience: 1 year Favorite team: Seattle Seahawks

    Personal: Before playing bass for Velvet Revolver, McKagan spent 13 years with Guns N' Roses, so he's ready for anything.

  • Mike Inez
    Place of birth: San Fernando, Calif. Age: 44 Fantasy football experience: 7 years Favorite team: Oakland Raiders

    Personal: Before playing bass guitar for Alice In Chains, Inez was rocking arenas with Ozzy Osbourne.

  • Jay Harris
    Place of birth: Norfolk, Va. Age: 45

    Personal: Harris is the weekday co-host of the 6 p.m. ET "SportsCenter" and has been with ESPN since 2003.