The Divisional Round of the 2012 NFL postseason included one of the most exciting finishes ever, as the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers traded offensive blows in the fourth quarter en route to a 36-32 win for the home team. Alex Smith, channeling his inner Joe Montana, led the Niners on a pair of touchdown drives culminating in a memorable 14-yard strike to Vernon Davis in the final seconds.
Of course, the game was memorable for another reason in the case of fantasy owners (including myself) who started multiple Saints in the NFL Playoff Challenge. Sure, Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham all had monster stat lines in this contest, but the loss means having to replace them all in the conference championship round.
The same holds true for those owners who started Aaron Rodgers and his teammates in Green Bay, who were all one and done in a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants. Rodgers didn't post a bad stat line, and it would have been even better had several of his receivers not developed a case of the dropsies. But outside of Rodgers and Donald Driver, who wasn't active in most NFL Playoff Challenge lineups, no one from the Packers explosive offensive attack scored even double-digit fantasy points. In fact, Hakeem Nicks outscored the combination of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley!
Of course, there were more than a few owners out there who made some terrific choices in the second round of the Fabiano Playoff Challenge. The best of the bunch came from caieme, who scored 330 fantasy points (with bonuses added). The overall leader is a tie between pepedoclez and TartanArmy, who have posted a combined 453 points after two rounds.
So, what was the perfect lineup for this weekend? Here's a look at the ultimate cast of characters for fantasy's divisional round.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (38 points): Brady looked like he was going to throw 10 touchdown passes against the Broncos, as he tossed five in the first half and finished with six total in a 45-10 blowout win. Brady, who also threw for 363 yards, hit on scoring strikes of 7, 10, 12, 61, 19 and 17 yards, three of which went to Rob Gronkowski. He'll be the most popular pick at the quarterback position in the NFL Playoff Challenge for the upcoming conference championship round.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans (21 points): Foster, who I believe should be the No. 1 overall selection in 2012 fantasy drafts, was one of the lone bright spots in the Texans' 20-13 loss to the Ravens. The talented back rushed for 132 yards and one touchdown against a stout Baltimore defense and was the top-scoring fantasy runner in the first two rounds of the postseason. In all, Foster put up an impressive 285 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the postseason.
Darren Sproles, RB, Saints (19 points): The NFL Playoff Challenge doesn't count receptions for fantasy points, but Sproles would have been even more of a statistical beast if it did. The versatile back had a total of 15 catches on 19 targets (both playoff records) against the Niners and finished the postseason with 19 catches, 207 scrimmage yards and three total touchdowns. Looking ahead to 2012, Sproles will no doubt be seen as a No. 2 fantasy back regardless of league format.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants (28 points):Victor Cruz might have had a better regular season, but Nicks has been the best Giants wideout in the playoffs -- and it's not even close. He recorded seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Packers and now has a combined 13 receptions for 280 yards and four scores in the postseason. Owners who were smart enough to start Nicks in one of the first two rounds of the NFL Playoff Challenge are reaping the rewards.
Marques Colston, WR, Saints (19 points): Colston was a beast in the postseason, posting a combined 16 catches for 256 yards and one touchdown. That includes a 136-yard, one-touchdown performance in Saturday's loss to the Niners. The pending free agent finished the season on a high note, posting at least seven catches and 81 or more yards in each of his final six games. If he remains in the Big Easy, Colston will be a high-end No. 2 fantasy wideout in 2012 drafts.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (32 points): Seriously, Gronkowski's numbers are getting a little ridiculous. He posted 145 yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos, scoring 32 fantasy points in the process. Oh, and how's this for a stat: In 34 career games including the playoffs, Gronkowski has scored a combined 31 touchdowns. 31! Like his teammate Brady, Gronkowski will be the most started player at his position in the NFL Playoff Challenge for the championship round.
Lawrence Tynes, K, Giants (13 points): Of all the kickers in the divisional round, Tynes was one of the least attractive. During the regular season, he finished an awful 26th in fantasy points at his position. What's more, the Packers had allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to kickers. That all went out the window at Lambeau Field, though, as Tynes connected on three field goals (31, 23, 35 yards) and four extra points as the G-Men disposed of the defending champs.
Giants defense (17 points): Defenses going up against Rodgers and the Packers scored the second-fewest fantasy points during the regular season, which makes the Giants' 17-point performance even more impressive. This unit held Green Bay's offense to 388 total net yards, recorded four sacks, one interception and forced two fumbles in their 37-20 win. Next up is a date with the Niners, who have what will likely be the most started defense in the NFL Playoff Challenge.