Surviving the final week of the fantasy regular season

It’s here. The final week of your regular season. Playoffs await. At this point, you either need a win to get in, or you’re looking to wrap up a bye. (If you’re 3-9, you’re just reading this column to see what movie references I make.*) Your palms are sweaty, the skin of your cheek will tan (okay I’m done quoting John Facenda). Suddenly, choosing between DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart goes from “Eh, I’ll give Stewart a whirl” to “I can’t make this choice myself and need to try to infiltrate Panthers headquarters to find out. I’ll need a headlamp, a pickaxe, and a map to the running back meeting room.” So how do you want to proceed with the money on the table? How do you want to make these difficult lineup decisions? Here’s the philosophies that have helped me the last 17 years in fantasy.

1. Don’t automatically plug in waiver wire pickups. Every week, we all scour the waiver wire for options. And the general rule of thumb is you pick up a player to start him. But at this point in the season, playing someone who you’re just getting NOW off waivers? Can you really trust Dustin Keller in a flex over Mario Manningham? Obviously if you have an injury situation, that’s different. But final-week waiver wire salvation is too much of a gamble.

2. When in doubt, play the trends. All our teams are filled with big-name players who have just been okay for most of the season. (Chris Johnson, Steve Johnson, etc.) Can you really bench one of them for a lesser-name player who’s been streaking? (Laurent Robinson, Harry Douglas, etc.) The answer is yes. If a player has proven over the course of the last month that he’s consistently producing, he needs to be in your lineup regardless of who else you have.

3. Be comfortable with losing. This is the most important rule to follow, and one that will let you be at peace no matter what the outcome is. I know this seems a little pessimistic, but think about who you’d rather “lose” with. By that I mean who would upset you the least if you had them on your bench and they went off for a big day. For example, say you have a choice between Michael Crabtree and Eric Decker for your final WR slot. You play the guy who would upset you MORE if you didn’t play him and he was huge. If it was me? I’d be more unhappy if I benched Decker and he went off than if I benched Crabtree and he went nuts, because Decker’s been a good point scorer for most of the season and Crabtree is a real hit-or-miss player. So I’d play Decker. If you follow this, you’ll find that you can accept any outcome.

4. Have fun. Seriously, remember, it’s fantasy football. It’s great to be nervous and excited but in the end, it’s fantasy. It should be fun, and when you lose, if that’s the worst thing that happens to you this week? You’re doing all right. We talk about this all the time on our NFL Fantasy Live set. It’s awesome that owners get all worked up and sometimes exhibit more emotion than the teams that are actually on the field but in the end, if you had a season that came down to the final week playoff-wise? You had a great run. You weren’t eliminated after starting 0-4, and you talked trash and your team was relevant for 13 weeks. Enjoy the ride. And I say this coming off a week in which one league I lost by a point to put my season in doubt – even though my team’s point total would have beaten everyone in the league except for who I went up against.

*Because here in Los Angeles we didn’t get the Patriots-Eagles on TV, I split-screened the Bears-Raiders with ‘Star Wars’ episode IV. And I’m not making this up, Kamerion Wimbley’s INT and rumble down the sideline coincided with the Millennium Falcon arriving at Alderaan and having their bumpy ride through the remains of the planet. It looked like there was an earthquake on my television.

See Jason Smith on NFL Fantasy Live, airing Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on the Red Zone Channel, and Tuesday-Friday on NFL Network at 2 p.m. ET and 12 a.m. ET/9 p.m. PT. He writes fantasy and other NFL pith on NFL.com daily. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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