The fantasy playoffs are a perfect time for a storm of fantasy agony. And a rough — really rough — Week 14 set up a slew of difficult circumstances in a week many leagues head into their semifinals.
Some owners will have to prepare to play without consensus No. 1 draft pick Adrian Peterson, with his status this week uncertain. Rob Gronkowski — who was just starting to reward patient players — is definitely out the rest of the year after being placed on injured reserve with a hurt right knee.
Enjoy deciding what to do about Robert Griffin III, who's having a rough second year in the NFL after leading Washington to the playoffs last year and delivering many fantasy titles in the process. Coach Mike Shanahan might make things more clear if he decides to bench Griffin this week.
Detroit's Reggie Bush gave owners perhaps their toughest game-time decision in Week 14 after he slipped and fell during warm-ups against Philadelphia, leading to conflicting reports about whether he'd play in the moments before lineups were locked in. Nearly three-quarters of owners in Yahoo leagues still started him even though he didn't play at all.
Some players played Bush simply because they didn't know he was hurt. Others knew but decided to gamble on him anyway because they didn't like their other options.
Many savvy fantasy players and analysts say avoiding a situation like that is about paying attention, that the more information you have closer to game time, the better. That's true, but there's more to it than that — you have to have a contingency plan so when forced to make a tough decision, you can do so quickly without starting from scratch.
If you're lucky enough to still be in, the final weeks of the fantasy season are certain going to test you with key, unexpected decisions. Be ready for them.
Hopefully you won't have to mine the waiver wire at this point for playoff starters because you can depend on players already on your roster. But bad matchups, blocking opponents and any number of circumstances should keep you active and knowing what's available to give yourself the best chances to win.
QB: Alex Smith, Kansas City. Remember when 13 fantasy points from Alex Smith was considered about right? Not this season, which is why his Week 14 performance in Washington seemed disappointing. Still, Smith has had six weeks above 20 fantasy points in standard leagues and is the 11th best fantasy quarterback, ahead of Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Colin Kaepernick. And he plays Oakland this week, which has trouble defending no matter who's on offense.
RB: Montee Ball, Denver. Ball is available in nearly 40 percent of Yahoo leagues and more than 20 percent of ESPN leagues. The past three weeks, he's averaged 14 touches per game. He's not a threat to Knowshon Moreno, he's a complement to an offense that will likely be without Wes Welker this week. Plus, he helped a guy in Las Vegas win $1 million this week (more on that shortly).
WR: Julian Edelman, New England. We've touted Edelman before, but Gronkowski's injury makes him even more important to the Patriots. And he's a free agent in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues and about one-quarter of Yahoo leagues.
TE: Dennis Pitta, Baltimore. Remember how disappointing it was when Pitta was injured before the season began? He got 11 targets in his first game back with Baltimore last week.
RINGER TIME: TRAVIS SPIETH
A 37-year-old marketer from Dakota Dunes, South Dakota scored $1 million in Sin City this week by tuning everyone else out and going with his gut despite bad weather in some NFL games and some recent bad play by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton.
Travis Spieth won the Fanduel Fantasy Football Championship, turning a $10 satellite buy-in into a hefty profit.
"I'd like to be humble about it but there's a lot of study — and you've got to have a little bit of luck," Spieth said.
Spieth said he picked his lineup early in the week and didn't waver, not wanting any of his friends to weigh in on his picks. Fanduel runs games that last one week each, on a scoring format that is relatively standard beyond awarding a half-point for each reception.
Spieth said weekly games have changed how he looks at season-long fantasy leagues, where he has four playoff teams in eight leagues. He said he's found the weekly games draw more serious players, challenging him to look at many different variables as he's making decisions each week.
There's an advantage if you really look at all the conditions," Spieth said.
Spieth said he plans to play more fantasy sports going forward.
"It's just the American dream when you can spend $10 and win a million," he said.
Got bounced from the playoffs in two leagues, leaving me with one team left in five leagues with a shot at a championship. One loss particularly stung — Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush got hurt, as did Lamar Miller in replacing Bush. Case Keenum got benched in the second half of Houston's game as Jason Campbell went nuts on my bench in the two-quarterback league. Michael Floyd and Harry Douglas had bad weeks and Ladarius Green put up zero points in replacement of Jordan Reed, who was out with a concussion.
It's on to keepers in that league, while going for another championship in a league with former journalism school colleagues.
Oskar Garcia is a news editor in Honolulu who spends way too much time on fantasy sports with too little to show for it. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/oskargarcia
Eds: Fantasy Grind is a weekly look at the incremental wins and frustrations that come with playing fantasy football. Each week, we'll highlight players and strategy, and learn from experts in the fantasy world. By the end of Week 16 or 17, hopefully you'll win a title and some decent bragging rights. But honestly, who knows? You don't, we don't _ and it's all part of the fun.