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Friday, December 7, 2007
Professional Grade: Playoffs begin

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Three men and Tom Brady.

That's the theme of our playoffs in the GMC Professional Grade League, which kick off this week with our four entrants: Howie Schwab (No. 1 seed, 9-4 regular-season record), Matthew Berry (No. 2 seed, 8-4-1), Ken Daube (No. 3 seed, 8-5) and Eric Karabell (No. 4 seed, 7-6).

Berry, incidentally, is the "lucky" owner of Mr. Brady, and thus will help us put to the test the question: Are Brady's owners unbeatable this fantasy postseason?

If there's any week for it to happen, it's Week 14 of the NFL season when Brady faces easily his toughest matchup yet, the top-ranked Steelers. But here's the catch: Our playoffs are two-week matchups, meaning that a team's total in both Weeks 14 and 15 counts in the matchup. In Week 15, by the way, Brady faces the Jets, ranked 25th in the league on total defense. Needless to say, Berry isn't worried.

"I really like my team here," Berry said. "I have way too many choices at running back; Willie Parker, Justin Fargas and Earnest Graham are getting the start for me here over the risky Laurence Maroney and Marshawn Lynch, who I am not convinced is going to play.

"I'm starting T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Wes Welker at wide receiver, as I'm worried about Brandon Marshall's matchup against a good K.C. pass D and I'm not convinced Santonio Holmes is 100 percent, either. Depth and Brady is what has driven me to the top spot and with the addition of Tony Gonzalez in a trade to shore up my tight end, I like my chances against a very good Ken Daube team."

That Daube team, incidentally, completed the regular season as the league's highest scorer, averaging 104.0 points per week. Berry's team was second, though, at 100.6. The last time these teams met, in Week 9, Daube won, 120-80, so we're talking quite the showdown.

"He might be the boss, but the next time he beats me will be the first," Daube said "That's not going to happen anytime soon. My matchups are horrible, players are injured, but I don't care because the Talented Mr. Roto is going down.

"Is there any truth to the rumor that Matt is picking up the Bengals D?"

Nope, Ken, sorry to inform you, as of press time, Matthew has the Buccaneers in his lineup. Of course, having picked up the Jaguars via waivers, he might plug them in, accounting for a favorable matchup against the Panthers and their quarterback mess.

In our other playoff matchup, top-seed Schwab draws Karabell, who squeaked into the playoffs in spite of averaging a mere 83.3 points per game. Still, both owners know all about the history of No. 4 seeds beating No. 1 seeds in the fantasy football postseason.

"Playoffs are always about the team that gets hot," Schwab said. "You never know."

"Half the time the No. 1 seed doesn't win a playoff round, and Team Karabell looks to make that happen again," Karabell said. "We stumped that Schwab by a 60-59 score four weeks ago, we can do it again! Plus, according to Hector and Victor, I am favored! And they're never wrong!"

Schwab's boldest move for the week: Benching Edgerrin James, in spite of his strong track record against the Seahawks. In their past two meetings, including in Week 2 of this season, James has topped 100 yards rushing with a score each time. In his place, Schwab spotted Adrian Peterson (the Bear) as his No. 2 running back, Fred Taylor his flex option.

Karabell's lineup was more of a "set-itself" one for Week 14, though he did note he's not yet ready to trust Javon Walker, who has "one more catch than I do."

"I did switch the Pats defense out for the Seahawks, but I doubt that has Schwab shaking in his Shaun Alexander jersey," he said. "This should be a good matchup."

A voice from outside the cut

Leave it to our own Scott Engel (6-6-1, 5th) to stir things up with our playoffs. Despite being a non-contender all year, he finished the regular season as one of the game's hottest teams, winner of two in a row and four of five, averaging 109.4 points from Weeks 9-13.

How did I notice Engel's hot streak? Well, he told me all about it. In the end, he finished a tie out of the postseason, but he didn't go down without a whimper.

"I narrowly missed the postseason and the participants should be thankful," Engel said. "Led by Derek Anderson, Adrian Peterson [the Viking], Ryan Grant and Reggie Wayne, my team was an obvious force late in the season. I scored 136 and 126 points in my final two games. My 1,247 points were third-best in the league. If not for a tie with Nate, I would have been in."

Where did it all go wrong?

Nate Ravitz (5-6-2, 6th), unfortunately, slipped out of the playoff race in Week 13, and like in the most recent column, I posed the same simple question -- the title of this section -- to him.

"What went wrong? What went wrong?! What went wrong?!," Ravitz said. "How about the fact that I have not one, but two ties on my record? One more lousy point in each of those games and I'm in like Flynn (whoever that is). Or how about this? In the season finale, against the No. 1 team in the league, I lost by three points. What was the margin? Well, Shayne Graham missed a 43-yard field goal. So that's three points I didn't get plus a negative one for the miss.

"On the other hand, I really can't blame any of those things for a three-game stretch between Weeks 4-6 when my team averaged only 55 points per game. It just seemed like my injuries, byes and worst performances all struck at the same time. For instance, in Week 5, Joseph Addai was injured, and Chad Johnson was on bye. Marc Bulger was also injured, which forced me to start Jon Kitna, who scored zero fantasy points in a 34-3 debacle loss to the Redskins. Sometimes, you just don't get any breaks."

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.