Playing with the numbers: Wild-card Round

Want the secret to winning the ESPN Gridiron Playoff Challenge? It's simple: Take some risks by mixing the sure-fire studs with some second-tier guys who have a solid chance of "going off." You know the sure-fire studs, but how can you identify the others? Here's one method: Use a combination of weekly averages and standard deviations. This is essential because you don't only want to start good players, but you also want to start those with the largest upsides.

Think of it like this: Who would your more prefer to start in this format, Matt Hasselbeck or Brett Favre? If you were to look only at average scores, Hasselbeck edged Favre 16.1 to 15.5. Hasselbeck, however, was significantly more consistent in his scoring; his weekly scores produce a standard deviation of 5.5 to Favre's 9.3. In head-to-head fantasy competition, Hasselbeck is the safer play. In this format you need to pick the best lineup each week, so Favre's explosive scoring is necessary if you want to be competing for the grand prize.

Considering the number of potential combinations available, it's virtually impossible for anyone to highlight all the different choices, so below is the raw data along with some comments on each skill position to help you make an informed decision.

Note: All weekly averages and standard deviations are compiled based on scores from Week 1 through Week 16. Week 17 was purposefully excluded due to the large number of players who did not finish their games due because of playoff implications.


Comments on Quarterbacks:

After doing this number crunching, I immediately edited my opening week lineup to replace David Garrard with Ben Roethlisberger.

Going forward, I'll be more than happy to pencil Tom Brady and Tony Romo in every week.

As much as I think Hasselbeck is an underrated fantasy quarterback, I can't find a way to recommend him in this format.

Running Backs

Comments on Running Backs:

If LaDainian Tomlinson isn't in your lineup until the Chargers are eliminated, you need to question why you are even playing.

He didn't emerge until about Week 7, but don't be shy about using Earnest Graham. His weekly average is low because he was primarily a backup early on.

If you aren't using Graham as your second running back during the first week of this competition, Brandon Jacobs should be your choice. He has the talent and the offensive line to dominate.

If the position was team running back, Jacksonville Jaguars would be a nice play. Remember that for future weeks in the event one of them gets injured.

Wide Receivers

Comments on Wide Receivers:

I love D.J. Hackett in this competition. He puts up fantastic numbers when he plays and he looks likely to be the primary receiver Saturday.

Bobby Engram was the most over-looked productive fantasy wideout this season. He should stay that way for this competition. He's consistently average. Average equals no shot at winning anything cool.

Donald Driver was the well-known version of Engram this year. Avoid him now like you will in next year's draft.

Looking for a desperation play later in the competition? Try Jabar Gaffney. He's the ultimate boom or bust receiver in this competition.

Tight Ends

You need to forget how Antonio Gates disappointed his owners this year, from a points per game versus scoring volatility stance; he's the best play for this competition in the first round.

When it comes to next weekend, the choices are plentiful, especially if San Diego wins their opening round matchup. This is the position you will need to nail if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Bottom line

This competition needs to be about taking risks if you want to win. If you play it safe, you can't possibly win. Take some big risks and use these numbers to really gauge which players are those risks and maybe, just maybe, you'll find yourself atop the leaderboard.

Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for espn.com. His espn.com fan profile is available at: http://myespn.com/KenD17.