Tebow shines in opening round of the NFL Playoff Challenge

By Michael Fabiano NFL.com
Fantasy Editor
Published: Jan. 9, 2012 at 11:58 a.m.
Updated: Jan. 9, 2012 at 12:51 p.m.

"There's always at least one upset on Wild Card weekend."

Those were the fateful words of NFL Fantasy LIVE's Dave Dameshek on Twitter this weekend. Well, Dave was right. But in an unfortunate turn of events, it was his beloved Steelers who were the upset victims at the hands of Tim Tebow and the Broncos. Yes, it's the same Tebow I touted all season in fantasy land -- and the one who everyone (including myself) started to doubt after some awful performances to end the regular season.

But the question now is, can you trust him in the next round?

Tebow's 316 yards (yes, he threw for 3:16 yards!) and three touchdowns helped him score a ridiculous 31 fantasy points in the first round of the NFL Playoff Challenge, but he wasn't a starter in most lineups. Now he must head to New England to face Tom Brady and the Patriots in a contest that will heavily favor the home team -- that makes the Florida product a huge risk in the divisional round. So unless you were smart and brave enough to start Tebow in the wild card round, it's tough to advise playing him again -- especially with signal-callers like Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers still alive.

Decisions like this one are what makes the NFL Playoff Challenge so fun and, well, challenging. Of course, there were more than a few owners out there who made some terrific choices in the opening round of the Fabiano Playoff Challenge. The best of the bunch came from tonymac89, who scored 178 fantasy points and missed setting a perfect lineup by two players -- one of which was a kicker!

So, what was the perfect lineup exactly? Here's a look at the ultimate cast of characters for fantasy's wild card weekend.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (33 points): Stafford went off against the Saints, throwing for 380 yards with four total touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Lions loss means that owners who started Stafford received just one week of production and will need to look for another quarterback in the divisional round. Tebow (31 points) and Brees (30 points) were also NFL Playoff Challenge monsters, and the latter will no doubt be a very popular option in divisional round lineups. The same goes for Aaron Rodgers, who faces the Giants next.

Arian Foster, RB, Texans (29 points): One of the top running backs in fantasy football, Foster led his position in points on the strength of his 162 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Bengals. With the Texans advancing to the next round, owners who started him in the wild card round will receive double points against the Ravens. As a result, the smart play for owners who did start Foster is to keep him in their lineup -- even if the Texans are an underdog on the road against LB Ray Lewis and the Ravens.

Darren Sproles, RB, Saints (20 points): Could Sproles become the biggest "sleeper" back in the NFL Playoff Challenge? He posted 85 scrimmage yards and found the end zone twice in a win over the Lions. Sproles, who is coming off the best fantasy season ever, remains an attractive option (if you started him in the wild card round), even against a stout 49ers defense. Remember, if the Saints knock off the Niners, owners who started Sproles in the wild card round would receive triple points in the conference championship round.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions (33 points): Megatron's transformation into the top wide receiver in the league (and in fantasy football) was completed against the Saints, as he torched their defense for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson, who tied his teammate Stafford for the top point total of the weekend, does need to be replaced on account of his team's loss, however. If you are in that position, go after someone like Jordy Nelson or Wes Welker, who play for top seeds and have a great shot to make it the Super Bowl.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos (26 points): If Johnson is Megatron, would that make Thomas, who also went to Georgia Tech, the wideout version of Bumblebee? Regardless, the talented wideout went off against the Steel Curtain for a ridiculous 204 yards and scored one touchdown in a surprising win. Now the question is this -- is Thomas worth starting against an awful Patriots pass defense, even if the Broncos will be major underdogs? I'd go after Nelson or Welker first, but Thomas could become a solid one-week option.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints (11 points): Was there any doubt that Graham would be the top-scoring tight end in the first round of the NFL Playoff Challenge? He posted a modest 55 yards in the win over Detroit, but he also found the end zone on a 3-yard pass from Brees. If you started Graham in the wild card round, keep him active against the Niners and receive double points. If you didn't start him, though, the decision to start Graham or Rob Gronkowski becomes a tough one since the Patriots have the better matchup.

Matt Prater, K, Broncos (11 points): Prater, who tied Shaun Suisham for the most fantasy points among kickers in wild card weekend, connected on three field goals (20, 28, 35 yards) in a win over the Steelers. He wasn't active in most NFL Playoff Challenge lineups, though, and starting Prater against the Patriots isn't an attractive option. In fact, owners should use John Kasay, Mason Crosby and Stephen Gostkowski at the position this week in an effort to get double and triple points in future rounds.

Texans defense (25 points): The Texans defense was phenomenal against the Bengals, recording four sacks, three interceptions and one touchdown on a 29-yard interception return from J.J. Watt. If you were enough of a sage to start this unit in the opening round, it makes sense to keep it active in order to receive double points in the divisional round. Remember, though, that a Texans loss against the Ravens means you'll have to replace them in the championship round and receive normal points from your new defense.