While some hope to revel in the rewards of winning a fantasy football title this weekend or next, many others are left to regret and reflect on another fantasy season lost. Grantland's content czar Bill Simmons once said something to the effect that fantasy football is one of the most ultimately humbling experiences, given that so many compete which such fervor and intent, yet so few actually win. While I agree that losing in a fantasy league is tough, it should also be viewed like golf: an experience that is at times as painful as it is rewarding. A seemingly endless series of bad shots can be deflating, but just one perfect swing can restore confidence and faith.
In fantasy, even on disappointing teams, there should still be some great moments for us to appreciate. In one deep "experts" league I was a part of this season, thanks to injuries and simply poor investing, my tailback talent was putrid, a reality that felled me for much of the season. Even while I was trotting out Green Bay's halfback depth chart in my lineup, I still enjoyed some strong weeks and ultimately enjoyed the experience thanks in large part to the extreme profits I netted with Robert Griffin III and J.J. Watt. Even though I was eliminated from the postseason in that league, for much of the season I was able to enjoy the weekly exploits of a dynamic rookie quarterback and the most dominant 3-4 defensive end campaign in the history of the league. My team wasn't great -- but parts of it were -- and that made it pretty fun. There is no grand lesson to extract here; the simple agenda here is to express how the fantasy football experience can still be rewarding even when it seems anything but.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Playoff Picks: With so many leagues holding their title games this weekend, it seems appropriate to discuss and endorse notable defenders who are widely available in ESPN leagues.
Defensive Back: Bucs legend Ronde Barber, who gets more shine in the section below, is available in more than half of ESPN leagues and is a top-five defensive back in nearly any scoring format. Houston's Danieal Manning has been a steady source of tackles and could enjoy a big day attempting to corral Adrian Peterson. Devin McCourty's transition to safety has resulted in a marked jump in production. Rams safety Quintin Mikell has been in my spellcheck for years thanks to his steady statistical contributions. With the Bucs up next, he could be in both run support and policing the passing lanes.
Defensive Line: Panthers end Greg Hardy never got the huge contract, but his numbers this season have certainly been worthy of a premier pay grade. Facing the Raiders this weekend, a strong finish to the season could get even better. Saints end Cameron Jordan has been a steady source of tackles -- a rarity from the defensive line. Temple product and Jets standout Muhammad Wilkerson has been one of the rare bright spots for the team this season. Facing a suspect Chargers offensive line, things are looking up for Wilkerson this Sunday. Finally, Chris Clemons has been a beast of late for the Seahawks, with 4.5 sacks in the past four games. Given that we've hyped him nearly every week, you can't say we didn't warn you.
Linebacker: Bucs 'backer Lavonte David has flown way too low under the radar considering how amazing the production has been for this dynamic rookie. Just as we've hyped his teammate Clemons, Seattle's Bobby Wagner is an ideal addition for this crucial weekend of competition. The Eagles' sorry season should see some significant changes come to the team, but DeMeco Ryans should continue to man the middle of that defense given how steady he's been. A slow start has given way to a strong finish for Lawrence Timmons, who has restored some lost luster and is once again a fantasy stud.
Regarding Ronde: While getting into Canton is a tough bid for a safety, the amazing numbers and consistency produced by Ronde Barber are likely going to earn him a tan jacket and a bronze bust one day. Admittedly, I slept on Barber for far too long this season, but hopefully you didn't. With a steady diet of tackles and some potential still left for a big play every few weeks, he remains an elite option at defensive back.
IDP MVP: With just two weeks of action left, it is due time to start considering the 2012 MVPs for IDP leagues. As we've done in previous years, we'll hand out these imaginary awards given for imaginary point production in Week 17. We'll be handing out a few different categories; MVP at each position (LB, DL, DB) and recognition of the most impressive IDP rookie. Send me your thoughts (via email or Twitter) on the players who merit consideration at each position, and why. It's pretty clear that a guy like Watt is leading the pack at defensive line, but suggestions are always welcome and the races at DB and LB are far closer.
Sack Race: As we head into these final weeks, many are focusing on the amazing statistical conquests that Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson are each respectively pursuing. On this side of the ball, however, we are also closely eyeing the amazing race for the all-time single-season sack record being run by Watt and Aldon Smith. With 19.5 sacks apiece, both players are close to Michael Strahan's 22.5.
The Top 30 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 (1), Tackle - Assist (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).