The championships are here.
If you're still alive in your league's playoff race, you've probably endured some rocky, unpredictable times. Such is the case when such prominent names as Eli Manning, Ray Rice and Roddy White go quiet while Russell Wilson, Beanie Wells and James Jones top the leaderboard in a critical Week 15, or perhaps for a better example of weekly fluctuation, someone like Danario Alexander scores 20 fantasy points in Week 14, then zero in Week 15.
This season as much as any shows us that anything can happen in the fantasy football playoffs.
The best we can advise is to formulate your strongest overall team strategy, set your best lineup, then cross your fingers once the games kick off.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for championship matchups. Some teams might feel confident in their chances for victory while others fear facing an uphill climb. Or, say, if you're Robert Griffin III's owner and have been lucky enough to survive his Week 15 absence, you might have previously been confident in your championship hopes but are now more wary because of his uncertain health.
The past two editions of Consistency Ratings took differing strategic approaches: Two weeks ago, we looked at the "safe" plays, and last week we examined higher-upside, home run options.
This week, let's combine the two.
Going position by position, here are a few less obvious plays to consider. Those in the "Start" class face teams that have frequently afforded their opponents start-worthy fantasy point totals. Those in the "Upside" class are more home run types, players to plug final lineup spots as you aim for the unexpectedly huge point total. An important reminder first: "Upside" plays not only have higher ceilings but also lower basements; last week's column picked Andy Dalton just as it did Chris Givens. You won't win all those picks, and that's the point, isn't it?
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using 2012 statistics and fantasy points determined by ESPN's standard scoring, the charts contained in this column rate players based on how consistently reliable they are. To familiarize you with some of the terminology:
Start: The number of times the player's point total in a given week was worthy of having had him active in an ESPN standard league.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top at his position.
Stiff: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the worst at his position, making almost any waiver-wire option a smarter choice.
These are the benchmarks for what constitutes a "Start," "Stud" or "Stiff" performance, numbers identifying the player's rank at his position:
Sat: The number of times the player missed a game. Players are not charged "Stiff" points for sitting out, but it does hurt their overall Consistency Rating.
%: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
Opponents appear in parentheses
Two things might scare Romo's owners off this week: One is that his opponent, the New Orleans Saints, afforded Josh Freeman, a comparably productive fantasy quarterback, only three points in Week 13. The other is that Romo himself has been a disappointment in 2012, only five times warranting the start in ESPN standard leagues and not once putting forth a Stud/win-your-week effort. Still, in three of Romo's past four games he has managed 21 or more points, and the Saints this season have allowed an NFL-high 10 Starts to opposing quarterbacks.
Bradford is coming off a season-high 27-point Week 15, that done against a Minnesota Vikings team that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- who traded one cornerback, Aqib Talib, seven weeks ago and lost another, Eric Wright, to a four-game suspension three weeks ago -- are an even worse defensive unit: They've allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, but more importantly, they've allowed a league-high five Stud games to the position, two of those in the past five weeks.
Ridley's lost fumble and season-low 19 snaps played in Week 15 probably have him on the panic list of every one of his owners, but he couldn't ask for a safer matchup in which to bounce back. Three teams might have afforded opposing running backs more total fantasy points than have the Jacksonville Jaguars, but no one has allowed a greater volume of Start-worthy games (20). Twenty! That means the Jaguars have allowed multiple backs to warrant Starts on six occasions this season, and, in five of those instances, both running backs to do so scored double-digit fantasy points. Yes, Danny Woodhead will remain heavily involved, but Ridley is the team's most powerful back, and that counts for something. It means goal-line carries at the minimum, and all it takes is one touchdown for him to matter.
Williams was a Stud in Week 15, the first time he has qualified as one this season, so can he make it two in a row? The Oakland Raiders grant him an excellent chance, considering they have allowed six Stud games to opposing running backs, tops in the league, and three of those came in the past five weeks combined (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Week 12; Trent Richardson, Week 13; Knowshon Moreno, Week 14). Don't read too much into the Raiders' containment of Jamaal Charles last week. This defense will have its hands so full with Cam Newton that it might forget about Williams' breakaway speed (13 runs of 20-plus yards since the beginning of 2011, 10th-most in the league).
"Start" class: Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams (@TB)
(Owned in 50.4% of ESPN leagues; 51st among WRs in fantasy points)
Injuries have historically been a problem for Amendola, who has played in only 10 of 30 Rams games since the beginning of last season, but, in his healthy games the past three years, he has been the kind of target hound that makes him the most trustworthy of the Rams' receivers when active. In eight of his nine games this season, he has either led the team or shared the team lead in targets, and he has a 9.4 targets-per-game mark for the season. Meanwhile, the opposing Buccaneers have afforded a Start-worthy game to at least one wide receiver in each of the past nine weeks and a total of 14 such performances in that span.
With Dwayne Bowe now on season-ending injured reserve, someone has to step up for the Chiefs, and in Week 15 it was McCluster, who easily paced the team in targets (8) and receptions (7). This is a swing-for-the-fences, Hail Mary-caliber pick at its core, and much of it has to do with the matchup against an Indianapolis Colts team that can't seem to keep its cornerbacks healthy. The Colts have allowed a whopping three Stud performances to opposing wide receivers the past five weeks, one of them to Julian Edelman.
"Start" class: Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (@HOU)
(Owned in 56.0% of ESPN leagues; 11th among TEs in fantasy points)
Rudolph might not strike anyone as a "safe" kind of fantasy play, and it has been pointed out many times in this space that he's actually a boom/bust style player. Slotting him here is entirely a product of the matchup: The Texans have allowed seven Start performances to opposing tight ends this season, three of those coming in the past five weeks. And if you look at the list of players who accrued them, you might understand why Rudolph is such an attractive option: Joel Dreessen (Week 3), Craig Stevens (Week 4), Jeff Cumberland (Week 5), Tom Crabtree (Week 6), Marcedes Lewis (Week 11), Aaron Hernandez (Week 14) and Dwayne Allen (Week 15).
"Upside" class: Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars (NE)
(Owned in 16.4% of ESPN leagues; 19th among TEs in fantasy points)
It might be fair to say there is no such thing as an upside play at tight end, being that teams' variable involvement of the position in their passing schemes causes unpredictable fluctuations in the fantasy-points-allowed numbers. But Lewis is the closest thing to one this week for two reasons: First, he has 12 red zone targets this season, five of those within the opponent's 5-yard line and two in Chad Henne's four starts. Second, he's facing a Patriots team that has allowed a league-high three Stud performances to the position and 18 red zone targets in 14 games.
Team defense/special teams
The best defense/special teams play for Week 16 is as obvious as they'll come all season: The Chicago Bears (@ARI). No team has afforded its opponents a greater number of Start- (11) or Stud-worthy (4) games this season, nor a greater number of either in the past five weeks (4 and 2). Even if this team is missing Tim Jennings, Henry Melton and Brian Urlacher for yet another week, the Bears still possess the personnel to make a run at the week's top D/ST score.
"Start" class: New York Jets (SD)
(Owned in 66.8% of ESPN leagues; 10th among D/ST in fantasy points)
For a team dragged down by its miserable offense, the Jets haven't been a bad fantasy defense by any means. They scored nine points in Week 15 and have averaged 8.3 points in the past six weeks. In addition, they're making a switch at quarterback, which could inject some life into the team, and they'll be facing a San Diego Chargers team playing out the string without starting running back Ryan Mathews, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone. Four times in the past five weeks, Chargers opponents have had Start-worthy point totals from their D/ST, including Week 15's Carolina Panthers (16).
Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the player's scheduled games -- not games played, scheduled games -- in which his fantasy point total registered a "Start" score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort. Players must have met at least one of the following minimums for inclusion in the chart: 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in standard scoring leagues, 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in PPR formats. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2012 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.