Wild Card Weekend’s Best Fantasy Plays: QBs and RBs

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

I don’t care who wins the Super Bowl.

I’ve said that before, and even in this time of postseason frothing at the mouth, I stand by it. Real football is of no interest to me. Give me stats, give me fakeness – just don’t make me pretend to care about the playoffs.

ESPN and NFL.com have had fantasy playoff contests for a few years now, since the suits at both corporations know our need for fantasy action is insatiable, and that without a little faux pigskin action, we might be able to tear ourselves away from these all-important games and, you know, live life.

Below is a breakdown of this week’s best ESPN Gridiron Challenge plays. The Challenge uses a $50 million salary cap system and doesn’t change the value of players based on performance for the first time in the game’s long and storied history. I’m not a fan of said change, but I like this game more than NFL.com’s version, which multiplies player points as they advance through the playoffs. In other words, it requires real football prognostication. Count me out.

Side note: I’m not going to list Adrian Peterson as this week’s No. 1 running back because faith in Purple Jesus should be firmly instilled in your soul by now. He’ll get his, no matter what. It feels redundant to tell you why he’s always the No. 1 option. He’s shown that too many time to ignore this year, including last week against this same Green Bay front four.

Here are my top-three plays at quarterback and running back this week, with explanations for each. I’ll have top wide receivers, tight ends, and defenses on Friday. And if you’re in search of a hyper-competitive crowd of fake footballers, consider joining the #DegeneratesInc Gridiron Challenge group. It’s free to join, and the winner will receiver a free copy of my Amazon Single, “Fantasy Football’s Fertile Ground,” a horror story about fake football, which might describe your 2012 season.

Feel free to shower praise or scorn upon me at @CDCarter13.


  1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers ($6.8 million) – A-Rodg skewered and roasted the Vikings’ cushy secondary on a spit last week in Minnesota, tallying 365 yards and four touchdowns. He only threw 40 passes, a wonder to those of us used to watching Matthew Stafford throw 65 times for precisely zero scores. Rodgers lit the Minnesota secondary aflame while under constant duress from Vikings’ pass rush freaks Everson Griffen and Jared Allen. Expect the Packers to keep a tight end in on pass protection, and for Rodgers to leave the pocket and compromise the integrity of Minnesota’s zone coverages. The return of Vikings’ cornerback Antoine Winfield shouldn’t be a huge factor here; Rodgers will have his way, whether Winfield dresses or not.
  2. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts ($6.5 million) – Luck joins Russell Wilson as Wild Card Weekend’s only viable quarterback values in the Gridiron Challenge. I think the two should be projected similarly for their first-ever playoff games, and when deciding between a couple guys who could post nice lines, I’ll always side with the signal caller playing in the higher scoring affair. That would be Luck. He’s only cracked the 200-yard mark once in his past four games, while 300 yards five times and 400 yards once, against the Dolphins, in Week 9. After a strong start against signal callers, the Ravens gave up a few nice stat lines to quarterbacks in the second half of 2012. Quarterbacks, of course, didn’t have to do a whole lot against Baltimore during that stretch, as the team’s front four was blasted off the ball on running plays. Still, I like Luck to have a dandy day against a deceptively soft secondary.
  3. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks ($6.1 million) – The Redskins have done a quietly amazing job at disguising coverages and blitzes, compensating for a secondary that – as demonstrated many times in the first eight weeks of 2012 – can be scorched. Washington still leaves the middle of the field wide open, a habit that won’t go unnoticed by Seattle’s crazily efficient rookie quarterback. Wilson has only thrown the ball more than 25 times in seven games this season. He attempted 40 passes total in his team’s final two regular season games. I think Wilson can keep his fantasy value afloat with pretty consistent rushing numbers. The Skins were eighth worst against fantasy quarterbacks in 2012.

Running backs

  1. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens ($5.8 million) – Somehow only the fourth most expensive running back option in this year’s Gridiron Challenge, Rice could be considered a value at this price. Only six teams were worse than the Colts against fantasy running backs this season. Runners gouged Indy’s defense for 74 fantasy points in the season’s final three weeks, and after letting Bernard Pierce do the heavy lifting in a meaningless Week 17 game at Cincinnati, Rice will be fresh and primed for what should be a ridiculous workload.
  2. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks ($5.8 million) – Washington is no slouch against opposing runners, allowing just 14 fantasy points per game to running backs. The introduction and consistent use of the read-option in Seattle, however, almost make Lynch slump proof. Wilson executes the read-option almost as flawlessly as his opposing number in this week’s content, freezing defensive ends in their tracks and giving Beast Mode a nice little head start. Lynch has eclipsed 100 yards in eight of his past 10 games. He’ll tack on a ninth against Washington.
  3. Vick Ballard, RB, Colts ($5.1 million) – I’m not including Arian Foster in this top-three for a simple reason: His matchup is less than desirable and he costs too much damn money. In his stead, it’s time to embrace Ballard as a legit Gridiron Challenge Wild Card Weekend option. The guy has shown he’s more than a plodder, and he’s become a tried-and-true workhorse back, carrying the ball 27 times last week and 20 times the week before. From Weeks 13-15, the Ravens gave up an average of 133 rushing yards. Ray Lewis’s return won’t cure all ills. Plug in Ballard, especially if you’re trying to free up a little cap room for a big name receiver.
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C.D. Carter Fantasy Football Analyst
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.