NFL Conference round had some surprise fantasy stars

Have you had a chance to catch your breath after what was an amazing NFL conference championship weekend? Unfortunately, it will be known more for the goats (Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff, Kyle Williams) than the heroes (Eli Manning, Victor Cruz). What's more, many of the biggest fantasy names failed to meet statistical expectations. That list includes Tom Brady, who threw for six touchdowns last week against the Broncos but failed to connect on a single score in a win over the Ravens. Ray Rice, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski also failed to produce at a high level, but such is often the case in the unpredictable National Football League.

Now the question is, will the Giants and their players turn into this season's version of 2010 Packers and run the postseason table with a win in Super Bowl XLVI? If you were smart enough to start Manning, Hakeem Nicks and the other top options in Big Blue, you are sitting pretty in the NFL Playoff Challenge. In fact, there were more than a few owners out there who made some terrific choices in the third round of the Fabiano Playoff Challenge. The best of the bunch came from kurven and giantsarehogs, who each scored 306 fantasy points (with bonuses added). The overall leader is Early Round Haymakerz, who has posted a combined 663 points after three rounds.

So, what was the perfect lineup for this weekend? Here's a look at the ultimate cast of characters for fantasy's conference round.

Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens (22 points): Flacco might have been considered the least attractive fantasy quarterback of the four competing in the conference round, but he ended up with the best numbers. The veteran threw for 306 yards, rushed for another 27 and scored two touchdowns in a loss to the Patriots. Had Lee Evans been able to hold on to a strike in the end zone that might have put the Ravens in the Super Bowl, Flacco's numbers would have been even more attractive.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants (12 points): The 49ers had allowed the fewest fantasy points to running backs this season, so it makes sense that Bradshaw would tie for the lead this week, right? The versatile veteran failed to score a touchdown, but he did record six catches and 126 scrimmage yards in the contest. He also saw far more touches (26) than Brandon Jacobs (seven). That further makes Bradshaw the most attractive running back to start in the Super Bowl.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots (12 points): When the Patriots decided to make Stevan Ridley inactive, Green-Ellis became a much more attractive option at the running back spot in the NFL Playoff Challenge. He made good on his team-high 15 carries, rushing for 68 yards (4.5 YPC) and one touchdown against the Ravens stout defense. The Law Firm, who scored on a 7-yard run in the second quarter, posted a meager 6.3 fantasy points against the Giants in Week 9.

Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (14 points): Cruz was all but silent in the stat sheets in wins over the Falcons and Packers, but he more than made up for it with a monster total against the Niners. The Massachusetts alum hauled in 10 passes for 142 yards in the contest -- that was 10 times more than San Francisco's wide receivers recorded combined. Considering New England's questionable pass defense, Nicks and Cruz will both be popular starting options in the Super Bowl.

Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens (14 points):Anquan Boldin might have led the Ravens with six catches and 101 yards, but Smith put up more fantasy points overall. The rookie posted 82 yards and found the end zone on a 29-yard pass from Flacco in the third quarter. While he was inconsistent, Smith still showed a ton of potential and will be a viable sleeper candidate in 2012 fantasy drafts. In fact, I'd be shocked if he wasn't selected ahead of Boldin in most formats.

Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers (23 points): Davis might have caught just three passes, but he made them count. The veteran tight end posted 112 yards, scoring touchdowns on connections of 73 and 28 yards from Alex Smith. While Gronkowski received more attention, it was Davis who has been the best fantasy option at his position in the last two weeks. In all, he recorded 10 catches for 292 yards and found the end zone four times. He'll be a No. 1 fantasy option again in 2012.

Stephen Gostkowski, K, Patriots (11 points): Gostkowski, who finished third in fantasy points among kickers during the regular season, continued to produce in the postseason with a solid effort against the Ravens. He connected on all three of his field goal attempts (29, 35, 24 yards) and made good on both of his extra points for a total of 11 fantasy points. Gostkowski will be a far more attractive option than Lawrence Tynes in the Super Bowl in fantasy leagues.

Giants defense (13 points): For the second consecutive week, the G-Men scored the most fantasy points among defenses in the NFL Playoff Challenge. When you consider one of those games was against the Packers, that's quite an accomplishment. Against the Niners, this unit put up three sacks and allowed just 17 points. There's no doubt that New York has the better of the two defensive units in the Super Bowl, so look for Big Blue to be the team of choice.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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