Retrospection doesn't do much for you in fantasy football, particularly in the playoffs, and especially in the championship, when poor decisions quickly turn into an offseason of regret. Seemingly inconsequential lineup decisions can determine the fortune of our championship aspirations. An absentee outing from your kicker can end the arduous four-month road to imagined glory. The brutal nature of the NFL season has eroded real and fantasy rosters alike, and we find ourselves deliberating over players we never imagined would sway our seasons. The nature of the fantasy playoffs can be simply strange, as players like Marshawn Lynch and James Starks can best the likes of Chris Johnson and Michael Turner in a given week. On the defensive side of the ball, David Hawthorne and Drayton Florence are outshining vaunted talents like Patrick Willis and Bernard Pollard. This doesn't necessarily mean that we are to abandon our stars for upstarts, but it does incite a closer look.
Striking a delicate balance between trusting the players who got you this far and capitalizing on lesser-known commodities in prime positions to produce is the key determinant to playoff success. There's a propensity in fantasy sports for managers to want tough decisions to be decided by others, trusting published analysis and rankings lists. The truth is that many fantasy leagues have been won long before algorithmic projections and fantasy "experts" influenced the assessment process. While all of this accessible information and guidance is helpful, it is your team and your championship on the line. Blend equal parts research and gut instinct and you should be fine, and at least you won't have any regrets. That said, consider some of the names below as savvy playoff commodities to target.
Playoff pickups: Detroit Lions lineman Cliff Avril flourished in Kyle Vanden Bosch's place last week and faces a Green Bay Packers offensive line that is struggling with injuries and must deal with a boy named Suh. With Vanden Bosch unfortunately on injured reserve, it's Avril's gig for the remainder of the campaign. ... It wasn't Patrick Willis dropping ball carriers with ease last week in Green Bay; rather, fellow inside man and longtime vet Takeo Spikes has been on a tackling tear. His 17 takedowns last week might not be repeated, but he's certainly keeping busy playing behind an undersized line. ... New York Giants corner Terrell Thomas has arguably been the best fantasy DB of the past month, and he should extend his reign with an inviting visit to Minnesota. ... The Atlanta Falcons' Brent Grimes is another productive corner facing a series of savory matchups against sloppy passing games. ... Last season, the Seattle Seahawks' David Hawthorne carried many managers to mazel tov territory, and he's doing it again, having posted 39 tackles in his last three outings.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Premier Pierre: With the offensive Pierres, Garcon and Thomas, having lackluster and limited seasons, respectively (Garcon's two touchdowns Thursday notwithstanding), the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul has taken over as the league's most relevant French infused talent. Pierre-Paul started the campaign slow, but it was expected given how little football seasoning he has had. Lately, however, he's crept into a share of snaps with Osi Umenyiora, helping keep the veteran fresh while giving the rookie some valuable experience. Owned in just over 3 percent of ESPN leagues and with back-to-back monster outings plus a series of inviting matchups down the stretch, he could be the difference maker in your run to glory.
No really, Wake up: Clay Matthews has struggled as his front seven peers continue to drop like flies. Meanwhile, Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake has taken over the sacks lead with 12 total, 5.5 coming in the past five outings. For leagues that heavily reward sacks, there are clearly few better sources for the statistic, and he's owned in just 7.2 percent of ESPN leagues.
Abram, Not Jason: Not to be confused with the long-time Denver Broncos kicker, Cleveland Browns safety Abram Elam has been on a tear of late. The rare blend of tackles and turnovers should continue over the next few weeks as Elam faces the sloppy Buffalo Bills' and Cincinnati Bengals' passing offenses.
Tamba time: Every few weeks I'm contractually required to remind my readership that the Kansas City Chiefs' Tamba Hali is a dangerous man and should be owned in many more leagues. With a nice finishing stretch, he could sneak up and steal the sacks crown before it's all said and done.
IDP Rankings Week 14: The top 10 linebackers, defensive linemen and defensive backs
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league: Tackle - Solo (0.5), Tackle - Assist (0.25), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (2).
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Washington Post's "Behind the Helmet" and Sirius XM's Fantasy Sports Channel. You can reach Jim with your questions and comments at JMcCormickESPN@gmail.com or on Twitter @JMcCormickESPN.