And then there were five...
We are officially in the home stretch of the 2012 fantasy football season. With a little more than a month until most leagues crown their champions, it's a perfect time to start looking at team schedules and evaluating where your postseason heroes may reside. After all, it can't just be coincidence that S.O.S. can stand for both "Strength of Schedule" and "Save Our Season." Sure, it could also mean "Share Our Sandwich," but that's just nonsense. Of course, as the schedule shortens and teams play games, some of these rankings may change.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. TEN, at BUF, vs. NYJ, at MIA, vs. NE)
This is like giving an iTunes gift card to a deaf man. Fewer teams have had less overall fantasy value than the Jaguars, yet here they are with an über-friendly schedule the rest of the way. If Maurice Jones-Drew is able to work through his foot injury within the next couple of weeks, that could be something for fantasy owners to hang their hats on. But trusting my playoff life to Blaine Gabbert and Rashad Jennings? I'd just as soon sit through all five "Twilight" movies in succession. Okay, maybe not.
2. Denver Broncos (at KC, vs. TB, at OAK, at BAL, vs. CLE)
So you're telling me Peyton Manning gets to face the Chiefs, Bucs and Raiders heading into the final couple weeks of the postseason? And to finish things off, Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman get their shot at the Ravens and Browns defenses? As though Manning hasn't shown he's matchup-proof already, the thought of him getting his running game even more involved just makes him that much harder to scheme for. That sound you hear is Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas owners celebrating.
3. Indianapolis Colts (vs. BUF, at DET, vs. TEN, at HOU, at KC)
It's not all sunshine and light for Andrew Luck and company down the stretch, especially that Week 15 game against the Texans. But the way the young man has been slinging it so far, those games against the Bills, Titans and Chiefs make Luck and Reggie Wayne pretty hard to resist in the final weeks of the season. Now if they could only find a running game. Anyone know if Edgerrin James is still available?
4. Dallas Cowboys (vs. WAS, vs. PHI, at CIN, vs. PIT, vs. NO)
Of the teams in our Top 5, none are as vexing as the men with the stars on their helmets. There are plenty of chances for the Cowboys' offense to make hay in the final five weeks of the fantasy season, but do you really believe Tony Romo won't find a way to muck it up somehow? Add to it that DeMarco Murray can't get healthy, and Felix Jones is sharing touches with every Dallas running back short of Troy Hambrick. This team has more question marks than Matthew Lasko's closet.
5. Atlanta Falcons (at TB, vs. NO, at CAR, vs NYG, at DET)
Few offenses have been as consistently efficient as the Falcons this season. Now they get to finish off the year by facing some of the NFL's worst pass defenses. After waiting most of the year for Matt Ryan to get both Julio Jones and Roddy White going in the same game, the quaterback has figured it out in recent weeks. And he's worked in Tony Gonzalez to boot. You know who this schedule doesn't work for? Michael Turner. But considering his level of production this year, fantasy owners have likely been making that statement since Week 2.
1. Minnesota Vikings (at CHI, at GB, vs. CHI, at STL, at HOU)
Adrian Peterson has proven to us that he's surgery-proof and matchup-proof. Heck, at this point if you told me he was flat out invincible, I wouldn't go against you. If only the same could even partially be said about Christian Ponder. He made us believe at the beginning of the season that he'd turned a corner in his second season, but lately he's looked like the Ponder that made us so wary before the season. There's not much to like fantasy-wise in the Twin Cities down the stretch.
2. Detroit Lions (vs. HOU, vs. IND, at GB, at ARI, vs. ATL)
It's great that Calvin Johnson has such high expectations for his offense. Wish I could say the same. Despite coming on strong in recent weeks, the Lions have been consistently inconsistent this season. They are already pretty deficient when it comes to the run and now will be forced to face a handful of quality pass defenses over the final few weeks. It's going to be so cold in the D.
3. Arizona Cardinals (vs. STL, at NYJ, at SEA, vs. DET, vs. CHI)
Hmmm, let's see...a confused quarterback situation, a poor running game and a general sense of "what's going on here" on offense. Combine that with a schedule featuring some of the league's least-forgiving defenses and looking for fantasy value here is like, well...searching for water in the desert. Not clear enough? Take it from Scar.
4. New Orleans Saints (vs. SF, at ATL, at NYG, vs. TB, at DAL)
While the Cowboys are an offensive enigma with a favorable schedule, the Saints have the opposite problem. New Orleans is the irresistible force that will be pitted against a number of immovable objects in the coming weeks. Let's face it, Drew Brees will get his points against anyone. Everyone else? It's a toss-up. Picking which Saints players will succeed is hard enough when the matchup is good. When it's not, you may as well just pick a name out of a hat.
5. New England Patriots (at NYJ, at MIA, vs. HOU, vs. SF, at JAC)
Before #Shanahanigans became a thing, the first rule of fantasy football was: Bill Belichick hates your fantasy football team. That usually meant the Pats finding new and creative ways to win football games (Mike Vrabel TD catches, anyone?) even if his players weren't filling up the stat sheets. The idea that New England finds a way to emerge with a winning record in this stretch of games isn't ridiculous. But the idea that Tom Brady is in line for a string of 30-point games might be pushing it.