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Thursday, December 16, 2010
Updated: January 5, 1:41 PM ET
Gridiron Playoff Challenge: Choose wisely, be bold

By Jim McCormick
Special to ESPN.com

The Patriots are rolling but can Tom Brady find Super Bowl success in 2010?

No press conference necessary, Coach (Jim) Mora, we are indeed talking about the playoffs. In this postseason edition of the Gridiron Challenge, you are presented with an opportunity to extend the fun and compete into late January.

The premise is similar to the regular-season edition: Navigate a stock market for NFL talent with a budget of $50 million. Each player has a price tag to begin the postseason that can fluctuate from week to week based on not only his performance and demand for his services, but also his team's success. Thus, the hunt for bountiful bargains continues, but with a catch: You can set your lineup for only three of the four playoff weeks. Come conference championship weekend, you must select a roster that is fixed throughout the Super Bowl, testing not just fantasy acumen but your football forecasting skills as well.

Treat the first weekend as you would any other week. The pool for talent is definitely smaller, but placing premium on the prospects of playoffs teams that weekend isn't necessary, as you'll have the opportunity to re-invest for the second week. In essence, don't overweigh the element of expected team success in the first week. Invest with an eye on points, with team success being a secondary concern, as this shortened season puts a premium on building an early cache of points.

With each week, roster malleability does diminish, though, as the market for talent shrinks. In Week 2 of the GIC playoffs, or the divisional playoff round, the success of a team in the NFL playoffs becomes a key determinant, as margins on players can be enjoyed only if their teams remain alive in the playoffs. While you'll be allowed to augment your roster one more time before the conference championship games, it's important to have some enduring discounts in your playoff portfolio, thus placing an onus on successfully predicting team success in addition to focusing on individual performance. The divisional round is arguably the most crucial of all in this playoff challenge, as all of the remaining playoff teams are active (no bye weeks), and if you net some Super Bowl-bound talents, you can enjoy three weeks of production at a discounted price.

This isn't just a tweaked version of the regular-season Gridiron Challenge; rather, it combines the Gordon Gekko School of investing, with a Jimmy the Greek prognostication skill set. Essentially, you must combine the savvy for investing that the GIC market demands with a shrewd take on real playoff scenarios. At some point, likely in Week 2, you are going to have to take a stand with your roster in regards to which teams you believe will go far. It's certainly a risk to consolidate your roster with players from just the handful of teams that you could see playing at "Jerry's Place" in Dallas, but in the end, it's really the only way to win. In my experience playing this postseason game, the winning entries were those that built considerable points in the wild-card weekend and then accurately forecasted the Super Bowl teams over the following weeks.

This game is played in the course of a month; it's a sprint, no doubt, but one that should be played in stages. With that, here's the week-by-week strategy:

Week 1 (Wild-card weekend): Start out with a brazen first week of investments with a focus on immediate returns. Keep in mind the playoff potential of specific teams has some value, but that shouldn't be the primary factor when crafting a roster.

Week 2 (Divisional playoffs): Employ a calculated blend of hunting for production while keeping in mind the real playoff prospects of specific teams. If you can score a few key Super Bowl-bound commodities this early, a perch atop the leaderboard is quite possible.

Week 3 (Conference Championships and the Super Bowl): This is your last chance to manipulate your roster. Tough decisions will assuredly arise. You have enjoyed a premier performer at a discount for two weeks, but one that is on a team that you believe won't survive to the big game, so you must cut him and reinvest. A productive, if unspectacular, option on a Super Bowl team will more than likely outperform a superstar on a losing team in the conference championship round. It's all about who is playing in the end.

Jim McCormick is fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the producer of the Washington Post's "Behind the Helmet" series. You can reach him with your questions and comments on Twitter @JMcCormickESPN.