It's how the playoffs work: Someone has to win, and someone has to lose.
Today, you might find yourself trailing in your ESPN standard league two-week semifinal matchup or going up against an intimidating No. 1 seed in a league with one-week playoffs. Your odds appear long, your winter about to begin.
I'm here to tell you: Fear not, for there is always a chance.
Our weekly "Consistency Ratings" detail the most reliable players in fantasy football, and last week's edition revealed some of the unheralded "safest" bets for the playoffs. This week, let's use those statistics to help those teams in rough spots in their championship quests, the teams that need to hit the proverbial home run.
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using 2012 statistics, and fantasy points determined by ESPN's standard scoring, the charts contained in this column rate players based upon how consistently reliable they are. To familiarize you with some of the terminology:
Start: The number of times that the player's point total in a given week was worthy of having had him active in an ESPN standard league.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top at his position.
Stiff: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the worst at his position, making almost any waiver-wire option a smarter choice.
These are the benchmarks for what constitutes a "Start," "Stud" or "Stiff" performance, numbers identifying the player's rank at his position:
Sat: The number of times the player missed a game. Players are not charged "Stiff" points for sitting out, but it hurts their overall Consistency Rating.
%: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
"Stud" statistics contained in this column help players with breakout potential, particularly used in conjunction with their Consistency Ratings. Naturally, Adrian Peterson (6 "Stud" games, 92.3% Consistency Rating), Robert Griffin III (4, 76.9%) and Calvin Johnson (4, 69.2%) score highly in either department. You'd expect that but is there a way to use those statistics to identify future Studs, ones perhaps readily available on most leagues' waiver wires?
There is, and it's a matter of using those numbers against opponents to isolate high-upside matchups, much the same way that we calculate our Points Against statistics. Those pages rank teams by fantasy points per game allowed to specific positions, but what if we calculated those statistics by how many Start and Stud performances those opponents allowed?
Going position by position, let's identify some of the highest-upside matchups for Week 15, among players in the lower value tiers.
Quarterback: Andy Dalton, at Philadelphia Eagles
Though they snapped their eight-game losing streak in Week 14, the Eagles have nevertheless collapsed defensively, affording two Stud games to opposing quarterbacks in the past four weeks and four Starts in a row. In fact, the last time any Eagles opposing quarterback had a Stiff game was Joe Flacco in Week 2. The No. 10 scorer at his position this season, Dalton was started in less than 25 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 14, but he should be widely used in Week 15.
Others to consider: Josh Freeman (@NO) was also started in less than 25 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 14, but he had a season-high 29 fantasy points against the New Orleans Saints in Week 7, and the Saints have afforded a league-high 10 Starts this season. Russell Wilson (@BUF) is available in 78 percent of ESPN leagues, and he'll be facing a Buffalo Bills team that has allowed two Stud games, third-most in the league.
Running back: David Wilson, at Atlanta Falcons
It's the wild, wacky, so-completely-out-there-it-must-be-nuts pick of the week, but facts are facts: Ahmad Bradshaw is having tests done on his left knee, and his Week 15 status is currently unknown. Bradshaw might be completely fine, in which case he'd benefit from this matchup against a Falcons team that has allowed 10 Start and three Stud games to opposing running backs in their past nine contests, including two Starts to backups (which is Wilson's role). But what if Wilson got the call or Tom Coughlin decides to ease Bradshaw's burden with a straight split of the rushing chores? Week 14 showed us what Wilson can do granted the opportunity against a mediocre defense; here's another such defense. Best yet: He's available in nearly 60 percent of ESPN leagues.
Others to consider: Jonathan Dwyer (@DAL) will be facing a Dallas Cowboys defense that has allowed six Start games and one Stud game to running backs the past five weeks combined, the former tops in the league. He is also available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues.
Wide receiver: Chris Givens, versus Minnesota Vikings
I'd understand if anyone felt he/she couldn't trust Givens after his letdown of a Week 14, and for full disclosure, I used him in a playoff matchup of my own attempting to capitalize upon his boom/bust potential -- I was a six-seed facing a superior roster and needed to take risks -- and lost. (Also for the record, Givens' stinker wasn't the cause of said loss; the other team had a monstrous week.)
I'm going back to the well this week, and here's why: The Vikings have surrendered nine Start- and four Stud-worthy fantasy performances to opposing wide receivers in their past seven games combined and 10 touchdowns to the position during that span. This is a position where taking shots on matchups pays -- a point made in this space for weeks -- and while the St. Louis Rams' receiver pecking order can vary by week depending upon Danny Amendola's health, if Amendola is out again in Week 15, Givens is a home run waiting to happen.
Others to consider: Marques Colston (vs. TB) doesn't warrant any of the doubt some of his fantasy owners appear to cast upon him, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have afforded a Start-worthy performance to an opposing wide receiver in eight consecutive weeks, including three Stud efforts. Colston himself had 13 points against them in their Week 7 meeting. But what about some lesser Saints wide receivers worth consideration: Lance Moore, who had 12 points in that game, and Joe Morgan, who is fresh off a 100-yard game and is available in 99.9 percent of ESPN leagues? Andrew Hawkins (@PHI) battles an Eagles squad that has afforded two Stud and seven Start efforts in the past five weeks combined. This is also good news to A.J. Green's owners, coming off his mediocre Week 14.
Tight end: Dallas Clark, at New Orleans Saints
Available in nearly 95 percent of ESPN leagues, Clark faces a Saints defense that has been rattled by opposing tight ends for more than a month now. In the past five weeks combined, this defense has allowed one Stud performance, but also five Starts, one apiece to Brandon Myers, Delanie Walker and Martellus Bennett and two to Tony Gonzalez. Clark himself had his season high of 11 fantasy points against these very Saints in Week 7.
Others to consider: Bennett (@ATL) draws a Falcons defense that has afforded two Stud performances to opposing tight ends this season, both of them in the past five weeks (Jimmy Graham, Week 10, and Greg Olsen, Week 14).
Team defense: Detroit Lions, at Arizona Cardinals
After last week's meltdown by the Cardinals -- the Seattle Seahawks amassed 39 fantasy points against them, the highest performance by a defense in more than a half-decade -- future Cardinals opponents are patently obvious "streaming" (or must-start, in the case of top D/STs) options. But let's throw some more statistics out there in support of the Cardinals as the game's No. 1 D/ST matchup: They've allowed opponents to rank among the top 10 in fantasy points at the position in a whopping 10 consecutive weeks, and they are the only team in the NFL to have not caused their opponent to be a D/ST Stiff.
If you're in one of the near-50-percent of ESPN leagues in which the Lions D/ST is available, run -- don't walk -- to your waiver wire.
Others to consider: The New York Jets (@TEN) are available in just shy of 30 percent of ESPN leagues, and they face a Tennessee Titans team with an offensive line in shambles, ravaged by injuries. Titans opponents have two Stud D/ST games in the past five weeks combined.
Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the player's scheduled games -- not games played, scheduled games -- in which his fantasy point total registered a "Start" score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort. Players must have met at least one of the following minimums for inclusion in the chart: 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in standard scoring leagues, 20.0 percent Consistency Rating in PPR formats. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2012 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.