A little after 4pm on Sunday the Cleveland Browns lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, plunging them to the NFL’s second-ever 0-16 finish. The loss would have been soul crushing if only there had been any souls left to crush in Cleveland. Bad as the Browns season finale was, though, it wasn’t the worst of the day. There’s a strong case to be made that the Browns reached a new level of misery on Sunday but the drop from 1-15 to 0-16 is a lot less dramatic than the fall from making the playoffs to missing them.
Of all the teams with a chance to claim a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season, the Baltimore Ravens entered Sunday’s matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals with the best odds of making the postseason. Per ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Ravens had a 97% chance of making the playoffs on Sunday morning – almost 30% higher than the team with the next best odds – and with the game against Cincinnati winding down, the Ravens seemed to have it in the bag. After trailing all game, they had stormed back to take their first lead of the day late in the 4th quarter. With Cincinnati facing a 4th and 12 at the Baltimore 49-yard line, with 53 seconds on the clock and the Bengals out of timeouts, the Ravens needed just one stop to punch their ticket to the postseason.
With one week left in the fantasy regular season you might be sitting pretty as the #1 seed or maybe you’re clawing your way back into the playoff picture with a do or die game or, at the very least, you’re poised to play the role of spoiler because, while you’re out of it, a win this week would ruin Derek’s season. And seriously: fuck you, Derek.
Regardless of your predicament, the season has flashed before our eyes and the playoff push is upon us. 2017 has been really weird and, with the end of the fantasy season in sight, rosters are decimated, some teams are in tank mode and somehow Case Keenum has become a fantasy football savior. Here are some factors that could be vital for your playoff run:
The fantasy messiah. The reckoning. The perpetually suspended wideout. Josh Gordon will finally be activated this week against the Chargers. The former fantasy football god is returning to earth just in time for the playoffs. If you forgot, he’s still on the Browns but he’s only 26 and should have a lot left in the tank. If you were sneaky and followed his timeline all season, you added him to your roster for absolutely nothing. Now you get to insert him into your lineup and see his wizardry once again. Is it unfair to think that he’ll accumulate 1,000 yards in the remaining 5 games? He might not but he should because DeShone Kizer should throw him the ball on every down. Gordon’s impact should be enough for the Browns to get at least one win but, more importantly, he could be your secret weapon down the stretch. Have confidence playing him and then declare yourself a genius after you hoist the championship trophy in your fantasy league.
Go with your Gut or Take Risks?
If you’re a mere mortal and don’t have Josh Gordon on your roster, there are a few things you can do. In one corner, you can stay the course and go with what has gotten you to the playoffs in the first place. Whether it’s a solid RB1/RB2 duo or a trio of outstanding wideouts, you can keep chugging along with the roster that’s earned you a playoff spot. In the other corner, you could take some risks. Playing the hot hand over an established starter can be the difference between a playoff win or an end to your season. Taking huge risks with lineup shifts could be lead to success or devastation. Remember, money is now on the line and over-thinking your lineup could backfire. Look at your individual players and analyze the best matchups that they’re encountering. If you’ve got offensive weapons facing the Browns, 49ers or Colts, play them! Conversely, stingier defenses will make you debate whether or not you should start players lined up against them. Wavering on these decisions will lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. Ultimately, you know your team the best. It’ll be up to you to determine whether or not you want to take risks. Field what you think is your best lineup and roll with them.