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Friday, January 21, 2011
Gridiron Playoff Challenge: Make your final picks

By Jim McCormick
Special to ESPN.com

If last week was an ideal time to invest in those talents believed to be headed for the Super Bowl, and then possibly Disney World, then this conference championship weekend demands that you get it right in order to contend. Given that it's the last chance to augment your portfolio, take some time to marry your fantasy inclinations with the championship prospects of specific teams when making these lasting edits.

These next two crucial rounds of the Playoff Challenge are determined by this week's final submission. You are asked to navigate the decision process with equal parts Pigskin Pick 'em and Gridiron Challenge in mind. The fantasy side of you may be prone to focus solely on the numbers and deem Aaron Rodgers as the surest bet at the position. The pigskin prognosticator in you might favor the home dog in the Chicago Bears, for whatever number of reasons, making the decision process even murkier. It's quite simple, though: In order to sit atop the leaderboard, you'll need to get your Super Bowl and productive player predictions mutually correct.

Abide by these few simple investment policies:

• This might appear to be a no-brainer but merits mention, nonetheless: Don't pair Rodgers and Jay Cutler in your lineup. Even if you smell an unlikely shootout in either conference championship game, you should pick one quarterback and running back from each conference that you bank on making it to Dallas. The rules of this Super Bowl thing demand that you do so.

• Go with your gut and consolidate your roster. That means you should invest only in the teams that you truly feel will be playing past this weekend. For example, if it's your belief that the New York Jets and Chicago Bears will meet in the Super Bowl, then only get players from those rosters. There's no point in investing in a third or even fourth team, as it will only ensure that you'll have dormant spots for the final Sunday. It's best to align solely with your Super Bowl selections.

• Wade through the hype and find your picks, the two teams that you envision moving on. Wavering is for waves, as we all know, and the fun of this playoff pursuit is derived mostly from the stress it incites. In this game, there are no lines; we are playing the money line only. I'm not trying to blow your mind here, but two games of production are better than one. Picking winners is all that matters.

Market Watch

A positional breakdown and investment guide

Quarterback: Will it be a battle of 6-seeds? Or will the home teams hold up? No one really knows, but it's actually pretty vital to this game that you do know. Know what I mean? In any case, it's time to select a quarterback from each conference. I'm personally going with Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, banking on a meeting of the storied Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers franchises. There isn't much of a statistical influence at play here, as the prospects of the actual teams will truly sway the results.

Running back: Throw out the budget. Really, it's gone. With the market dwindled to these sparse options there's really no way to max out that $50 million you have banked. That said, don't be afraid to "go cheap" and net a James Starks if you feel like he's in line to get 40-plus touches over the next two games. A tough scenario appears to be for those who see the Jets making it to Dallas, as the New York backfield could be difficult to decipher. Of the Jets' backs, I'd stick with the vet in LaDainian Tomlinson but could see Shonn Greene factoring in as a means to this assumed success.

Wide receiver: The cool thing at this position is that you can surely net the top two receiving talents from the respective teams in which you choose to invest. The not-so-cool element is how it's difficult to determine who the "top" guy is on each team. Selecting between the Jets' Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, for example, isn't as easy at it might seem. However, I'm deeming Holmes the top guy for Jets investors, Mike Wallace the Steelers wideout I'd pursue (even with the potential "Revis Island" factor), Greg Jennings the preferred Packers receiver and Johnny Knox as the Bears wideout to get.

Tight end: The only really murky situation at this position is Green Bay's, with no real leader emerging from its trio of tight ends. In the case that you are investing in the Packers as the eventual NFC champions, then I'd advise going with the AFC alternative.

Defense: This one is as simple as they get, with just four choices. I'm leaning to the Packers because of the potential for Cutler to turn the ball over and the stress that their offense can put on an opposing offense.

Jim's Final Lineup

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: 6.3 (locked price)/6.5 (market price)
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: 5.9
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers: 6.1
RB: James Starks, Green Bay Packers: 4.1
WR: Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers: 5.8/6.0
WR: Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers: 5.4
TE: Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers: 4.4
K: Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers: 3.4/3.7
DEF: Green Bay Packers: 5.4

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.