What defines a successful season for a top-five fantasy selection? Consistent performance over the course of 16 games is certainly one criterion, as is the ability to single-handedly win matchups on occasion. But don't forget about this one: Saving his best play for the fantasy playoffs.
By most measures, Ravens RB Ray Rice was having a somewhat disappointing fantasy campaign entering Week 15. He ranked around No. 15 among running backs, a fair amount below where he was drafted in most leagues. He had only three touchdowns, one 100-yard rushing game and three outings of 50-plus receiving yards. And there was only one game — a Week Five explosion against Denver — in which he alone led owners to a victory. For a guy that was taken fourth overall in most drafts, those numbers simply were not cutting it.
But a funny thing happened on Sunday when Baltimore hosted the Saints. In a week when most owners were playing in their fantasy semifinals, Rice reminded everyone why they invested such a lofty pick in him. The third-year back carried the ball a career-high 31 times for 153 yards and a TD and caught five passes for 80 yards and a score in a close win. It was the sort of effort he constantly put forth in 2009, and it likely propelled most of his owners to berths in their championship matchups.
If you were one of those owners, chances are you suddenly don't feel like choosing Rice was such a bad move. He may have come up short for a majority of the campaign, but as long as your squad was good enough to advance to this point, he put your team on his back and carried it to the next round. There simply aren't many guys capable of doing that.
The even better news for Rice owners is that he could come close to repeating these numbers next week against the Browns, a run defense that just got lit up by Cedric Benson for 150 yards and a score. Rice was held to 15-80-0 against them back in Week Three, but there's almost no way he touches the ball that little this time around.
It's obviously impossible to predict exactly how players are going to do in the fantasy postseason during draft time, but landing someone like Rice, who clearly had a favorable late-season schedule, proved valuable regardless of what he did prior to December.