Playoff pressure is real, even in fantasy football. You feel it as you pace in your house and deliberate those few final decisions that could sway your run at imagined glory and an offseason rife with bragging rights.
Striking that fine balance between being aggressive in acquiring new talent at this late and crucial stage of the campaign and trusting the talent that got you there is often a defining element on the way to a fantasy playoff run. The best bet is to be proactive and pursue the productive commodities that your league might be missing out on. Even if you have a crew of proven stars, if your roster can accommodate more talent even as depth, then do so. Hoarding isn't a bad habit when it comes to good fantasy commodities. Below we discuss some valuable late-season additions, particularly Tennessee's new middle man, which might move you past your playoff foe and into the next round of stress with an eye on a fantasy crown.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Line up for these linebackers: We've been promoting Colin McCarthy with fervor over the past several weeks as he has taken his shot at manning the middle for the Titans. Well, he has produced at a star level. With 37 total tackles and at least a part of four turnovers in his past four games, he's among the league's hottest performers, if not commodities, when it comes to individual defenders. Still available in more than 97 percent of ESPN leagues, he's an ideal acquisition for the fantasy playoffs. Fellow Titans rookie 'backer Akeem Ayers is one to watch in deep keeper leagues and dynasty formats as the team builds a strong corps of young talent at the position. There is a Houston sighting in Kansas City. The Chiefs' Justin Houston has enjoyed a spike in snaps recently as the team deploys him opposite Tamba Hali with increased frequency. His three-sack breakout in Week 13 merits mention, and he is a nice matchup play for the next several weeks in deeper formats that heavily reward sacks. In the nearly 40 percent of ESPN leagues in which Kansas City's Derrick Johnson is available, it would be wise to acquire and start the stud 'backer as he pursues the franchise record for total tackles in another quietly strong campaign for the Texas product.
Have you heard about Sheard? Cleveland lineman Jabaal Sheard has sacks in three straight games and has forced five fumbles, the most of any Brown since the team came back to the city. Owned in just 20 percent of IDP leagues and with the valuable defensive tackle designation for leagues that specifically roster the position, he's an ideal stretch-run addition to consider.
Life without Willis: Losing a talent like Patrick Willis from your fantasy lineup is never easy to cope with, but being proactive is the best salve to the situation. The solution, or stopgap, could come in the form of his teammate and fellow 'backer Aldon Smith, who has compiled sacks in bunches this season and faces a favorable stretch of opponents in the coming weeks. It's also worth considering Larry Grant, Willis' understudy at the inside 'backer gig, who enjoyed some statistical success last week.
Bargain Bin Each week we profile players owned in fewer than 40 percent of ESPN leagues, and often seek out those dramatically below this ownership threshold. Seattle's David Hawthorne has a nose for the ball and faces some sloppy offenses in the coming weeks. Somehow, someway, Chris Long is owned in fewer than 40 percent of ESPN leagues. Help out a deserving fantasy superstar by simply clicking the plus symbol next to his name. Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd is a proven playmaker and also remains widely available. Byrd's teammate, George Wilson, returns from injury and merits immediate attention as a playoff addition. Miami's Vontae Davis has been coming on strong over the past several weeks and provides some spark for those in need of some defensive back depth. Arizona's Calais Campbell is on pace for career highs across the board and recently discussed his high school experience with ESPNHS.
IDP Rankings Week 14: The Top 20 linebackers, 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 (0.5), Blocked kick (3).
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com and high school football editor for ESPNHS.com. Contact him at JMcCormickESPN@gmail.com or @JMacPhillies on Twitter.