Strategies to guide you through the fantasy playoffs

Ah, the fantasy playoffs.

Here are five tips in case it's your maiden voyage:

Don't be in a hurry to set your lineup. If going to church on Sunday morning has been critical to your team's success this season, then by all means walk down that same aisle this week. Do yourself a favor: Go a little later than usual.

It's playoff time and you're going to need all the latest information. NFL.com has so many quality sources, you'd be a fool to submit your lineup early when you know your opponent is home making informed changes that could make a difference.

Don't over-think your choices. Your opponent has Tom Brady. That's a problem. Don't compound it by thinking you should play Deion Branch to help offset Brady's points. Don't get me wrong, Branch is a decent receiver and in the right matchup you might go with him this week. But not against the Bears.

Bottom line: Your goal is to score as many points as possible. Playing Branch won't impact your opponent's total; it'll just affect yours. Negatively, probably. So if you have someone better - and I'm guessing you do - then go with him.

Don't under-think your choices. There is no more foolish thing to do in a playoff game than to blindly go with your big-name guys. This isn't real football here. You gain no advantage playing veterans in big games. Cedric Benson had a couple of decent outings down the stretch to help you make the playoffs. And maybe he'll come through for you again down the line.

But this week against the Steelers? You may have better options.

Grab a weather map. I'm no Punxsutawney Phil, but I'm not sticking my head outside my umbrella this weekend in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Chicago. And while it might not be snowing, it just might be nearly as miserable in Tennessee, Washington, Carolina, San Francisco and New York.

If it's one of those stereotypical Candlestick Park types of windy, rainy December days in San Francisco on Sunday, I don't care how loyal you are to Seattle's Mike Williams. You have to sit him (his battle with injuries are also well documented).

Remember, use the schedule as a guide, not a decision-maker. This column has focused on the impact of the schedule on the fantasy game. But from the beginning, I have cautioned that the schedule should only be one factor in your lineup decisions.

You've got Beanie Wells against the league's worst run defense and Jonathan Stewart against one of the best. A no-brainer, right? In fact, it is. Stewart's trustworthiness trumps the Broncos' ineptitude.

So, where is the schedule leading us this week? Here are five players who get ideal matchups at just the right time, and five others who have you wondering: Why in the world did I draft this guy knowing this is his first-round playoff matchup?

Play him/Sit him

Play Joe Flacco. If he can throw for 266 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers, the sky's the limit against a Texans defense that makes every opposing quarterback look like Joe Montana. I'd play Flacco ahead of Ben Roethlisberger.

Sit Sam Bradford. Yeah, I know he's come through for you more times than not in the second half of the season. Throwing for 300 yards against the Broncos is one thing. Nobody does that to the Saints. I'd play Josh Freeman ahead of Bradford.

Play Knowshon Moreno. Why do teams make in-season coaching changes? For one reason, to wake up the players. Few guys have taken a longer nap than Moreno this season, but I sense signs of life. It's called the Arizona run defense. I'd play Moreno ahead of Brandon Jacobs.

Sit Mike Goodson. If you had the Panthers' super-sub in your lineup last week, you lucked out. His fantasy point total was far better than his performance. And that was against a poor run defense (Seattle). This week he's up against one of the best (Atlanta). I'd play Brandon Jackson ahead of Goodson.

Play Steve Breaston. True, the Cardinals have quarterback issues. But you haven't seen issues until you've seen the Denver defense. And if you look out your window Sunday morning and see snow, you know you're not in Arizona. I'd play Breaston ahead of Nate Burleson.

Sit Dwayne Bowe. You might already have been considering this, but not for the right reasons. Sure, he produced a goose egg last week, but these things happen. What doesn't often happen, though, is a fantasy-worthy performance against a quality pass defense (San Diego) with your star quarterback in the hospital. I'd play Jeremy Maclin ahead of Bowe.

Play Benjamin Watson. He's being labeled a one-week wonder after his monster effort against the Dolphins. That's a bit unwise, as he squares off against the league's worst unit at defending tight ends up next. Can you say two-week wonder? I'd play Watson ahead of John Carlson.

Sit Visanthe Shiancoe. Let's be honest, Brett Favre made the guy. And Favre will make the guy disappear as soon as he retires. The way Favre's feeling right about now, that retirement might start sooner rather than later. I'd play Anthony Fasano ahead of Shiancoe.

Play Garrett Hartley. Talk about the ideal matchup: Indoors, with a quality offense facing a quality defense. The Rams are good at a lot of things -- including giving up field goals. I'd play Hartley ahead of Shayne Graham.

Sit Dan Carpenter. I'm aware he leads the league in field goals. But I'm also aware he'd much rather be home in Miami watching football this weekend than actually playing in a game in New York. I'd play Matt Bryant ahead of Carpenter.

Dave Del Grande, a.k.a. Mr. Fantasy, offers free advice about your fantasy football team via e-mail at dave@mrfantasy.com.

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