Billy Cundiff's missed field goal to end the AFC Championship Game at New England on Sunday might have saved Ray Rice from a dismal season in 2012. The same goes for Kyle Williams and his problems on special teams against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game when it comes to Frank Gore.
If Rice and Gore had reached the Super Bowl then we could have been looking at two potential bust options next season.
As we pointed out last year with Rashard Mendenhall and will address again prior to Super Bowl XLVI, featured running backs who play in the final game of the season tend to struggle the following year or get hurt. It happened to Mendenhall this season.
Lucky for Fantasy owners, Ahmad Bradshaw is not a featured running back since he shares carries with Brandon Jacobs. The same goes for the New England backfield, which is led by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he is far from a workhorse rusher.
Rice will now be considered a Top 3 overall selection on Draft Day, and Gore is worth drafting toward the end of Round 2 or beginning of Round 3 as a top-end No. 2 Fantasy running back. Both of them -- for Fantasy reasons -- were saved by not playing in the Super Bowl. Consider them winners even for losing.
Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
Playoff performance: 10 catches for 142 yards at San Francisco
As we've pointed out throughout the playoffs, Hakeem Nicks is still the Giants receiver to target on Draft Day 2012, and he should be selected ahead of Cruz. But Cruz is no slouch, and he should remain a dominant Fantasy option in 2012 as the No. 2 receiver for Eli Manning. Cruz set the single-season receiving record for the Giants this year with 1,536 yards, and he was the No. 4 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. He should be considered a Top 10 Fantasy receiver coming into next season, and he is worth drafting in Round 3 in all leagues.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
Playoff performance: Three catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Giants
We hope Davis can carry his performance from the playoffs over to next season because he was a beast. He had 10 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns against New Orleans and the Giants, and he deserves to be drafted as an elite option in 2012. You can argue that Davis is a Top 5 tight end in the majority of leagues, but I have him ranked No. 6 behind Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten. Plan on drafting Davis in Round 4 in all leagues.
Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens
Playoff performance: Three catches for 82 yards and a touchdown at New England
Anquan Boldin had a quality performance against the Patriots with six catches for 101 yards, but he was matched up with Julian Edelman, a converted receiver playing cornerback, for most of his production. Smith will be the No. 1 receiver for the Ravens in 2012, and he has higher upside in Fantasy leagues. We consider Smith a No. 3 Fantasy option heading into next season, and Boldin is more of a reserve. Joe Flacco, for possibly the first time in his career, finally has two reliable receivers, with Smith the one to target on Draft Day.
Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers
Playoff performance: One catch for 3 yards vs. the Giants
Crabtree was barely a Top 35 Fantasy receiver this season, and he is among the worst No. 1 receivers in the NFL. He disappeared against the Giants, and Davis is the only receiving option worth trusting for the 49ers in 2012. Crabtree can be drafted as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver next season with a mid-round pick, but don't plan on starting him most weeks. He only had four games with double digits in Fantasy points this year, and that kind of production should be expected again next season.
Ed Dickson, TE, Ravens
Playoff performance: Two catches for 23 yards at New England
Dickson and Dennis Pitta both have the chance to be quality Fantasy options, but they continue to split production, which hurts their value. Pitta had the better game against the Patriots with five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown, but they will likely go back and forth again in 2012. Dickson had the better Fantasy season this year, but Pitta could be the better option next season. Our advice is to avoid both on Draft Day in the majority of leagues and use the hotter hand when you need a bye-week replacement.
Mario Manningham, WR, Giants
Playoff performance: One catch for 17 yards and a touchdown at San Francisco
Manningham has a touchdown in all three playoff games for the Giants, and he has proven to be a quality Fantasy option when healthy the past two years. But he will likely leave the Giants as a free agent this offseason, especially with Nicks and Cruz now the featured targets for Manning. We hope Manningham can land a starting job with a new team, but if he returns to the Giants his role and Fantasy value will be limited. Hopefully a strong performance in the Super Bowl will help him going forward.
Not that I had a chance at winning, but my final Playoff Challenge roster is now down to just four players in Manning, Nicks, Manningham and Aaron Hernandez. Hopefully they can accrue some quality production in the Super Bowl to help my final total.
For those of you who still have transactions, here are my final rankings for the Super Bowl:
Final score: Patriots 30, Giants 24. Both quarterbacks throw three touchdowns, but the Patriots get two more field goals from Gostkowski. This time, Brady throws the game-winning touchdown in the end with Manning on the sideline.