Thursday, December 25, 2008

Game-planning for Week 17? Good luck

Week 17 of the NFL season is probably the trickiest one to predict from a fantasy standpoint.

You’ve got a handful of teams that already have their playoff positioning locked in. Will they opt to rest their key starters? We saw how that strategy backfired on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. So do teams instead go the New York Giants’ route and give 100 percent in a “meaningless” finale? The Giants players credited their Week 17 loss to the New England Patriots last year as a catalyst for their Super Bowl run.

NFL coaches face some serious conundrums when it comes to resting starters who are nursing injuries and risking their teams losing momentum or getting out of synch come playoff time. And then there are the non-playoff teams: Are they motivated to play spoiler or end the season on a high note, or have they already mentally packed their bags for some sunny offseason locale?

It’s an interesting dilemma, and it makes for some difficult roster calls. Here’s some advice for those whose fantasy teams are still alive this week:

g The Arizona Cardinals clinched a playoff spot weeks ago, but I’d still expect to see at least a few quarters out of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and the still-healing Anquan Boldin against Seattle. Those three need to get their aerial act together if they want to avoid getting bounced in the first round, so count on them seeing significant time against a bad Seahawks defense coming off an emotional win with little left to play for.

g I’m avoiding Marion Barber and his toe troubles this week unless I have no other choice — and that includes Dallas Cowboys rookie backup Tashard Choice, who’s run for 88, 91 and 90 yards against three of the league’s toughest run defenses the past three weeks.

g Use caution if you’re starting any Indianapolis Colts or Tennessee Titans, as both of those teams already have their playoff spots locked in. A quarter or two of Peyton Manning is probably too good to pass up, but I’d be a little hesitant about starting anyone else in that game.

g Start all your noteworthy San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos in what will be a win-or-go-home, defensively challenged shootout: Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Eddie Royal. Just bench Broncos RB Tatum Bell — the position’s cursed this year.

g The New Orleans Saints are out of it, but Drew Brees is only 402 yards shy of Dan Marino’s single-season passing record. Brees, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas are worth starting, even against the Carolina Panthers, whose playoff positioning has yet to be determined.

g If the Detroit Lions want to avoid an 0-16 season (let’s assume they do) they would be wise to utilize running back Kevin Smith against Green Bay. The rookie matched his single-season high for carries (24) last week and had his second-best rushing total (112) along with a TD. With enough work he could match those numbers against the Packers’ so-so run D.

g If last week taught us anything, it’s to start your New England Patriots no matter what the weather forecast looks like. QB Matt Cassel was simply awesome in the snow, and with a playoff spot still a possibility I expect he and the Pats’ passing game will crush the Buffalo Bills.

g This sounds crazy after the Giants just rushed for 301 yards, but you may want to avoid all of Big Blue’s running backs this week. New York has nothing to play for against the Minnesota Vikings, so they could opt to rest Brandon Jacobs and his ailing knee — which limits Derrick Ward’s threat as a change-of-pace back. Ahmad Bradshaw might end up seeing the most touches, but he faces a stout run defense and a team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff spot.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No use crying over shattered playoff dreams

Got a sob story from a Week 15 playoff loss?

I know of at least one matchup that was decided on that controversial Pittsburgh Steelers “touchdown” late Sunday afternoon.

Pass the Kleenex.

Or perhaps you started a seemingly fool-proof lineup consisting of some or all of the following: Eli Manning (191 yards, zero TDs, two INTs), Marion Barber (eight carries, 2 yards), Reggie Bush (46 total yards), Anquan Boldin (six catches, 34 yards), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (five catches, 19 yards) and Jeremy Shockey (one catch, 11 yards).


And what about yours truly? One of my playoff teams (the other had a first-round bye) put together its second-lowest point total of the whole season at the absolute worst time and got bounced. My decision to bench Tyler Thigpen (one TD passing, one rushing) in favor of Matt Ryan (zero TDs) at the last minute because of the poor weather forecast in Kansas City didn’t help my cause, but even that wouldn’t have been enough to save my team from its fate as an also-ran.

Just goes to show you that no one is exempt from bad luck, bad timing and bad decisions, even at playoff time. Those who are lucky enough to still be playing this week should keep this in mind as they try to dial up one more victory.

As you prep for your Week 16 showdown, consider the following:

g The Minnesota Vikings’ Tarvaris Jackson threw only 11 passes Sunday, and four of them went for touchdowns against what the Arizona Cardinals are calling a pass defense. I’m not advocating starting Jackson this week against the Atlanta Falcons, but I am giving New England Patriots QB Matt Cassel (above) my full seal of approval against a Cards D that gives up an average of two passing TDs a game, worst in the league. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are must-starts too.

g Tony Romo is a relatively safe play at QB (assuming his sore back feels better), but don’t go overboard with your expectations. The Baltimore Ravens have not allowed a quarterback to throw for more than one TD against them since Derek Anderson did so in Week 9.

g Two very sneaky RB choices that will get lost in the matchup of Drew Brees’ high-flying New Orleans Saints vs. the lowly Detroit Lions: Pierre Thomas (eight total TDs in his past five games) and Kevin Smith (212 total yards and a TD in his past two games). Both would be nice No. 2 RBs or flex players this week.

g Is it a coincidence some of the most productive running backs in recent weeks have been those with younger, fresher legs? Marshawn Lynch, Steve Slaton (above), Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew all fit that category — and all face suspect run defenses this week.

g It doesn’t really matter who starts at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — his priority will be getting the ball downfield to Antonio Bryant, who’s caught four TDs in his past three games. He has a good shot at another one against the San Diego Chargers, who’ve allowed the third-most scores through the air in the league.

g Just for old time’s sake, you may want to start the San Francisco 49ers’ Isaac Bruce (26 catches, 333 yards and two TDs in his past four games) as he returns to his old stomping grounds, the home turf of the St. Louis Rams.

Friday, December 12, 2008

CC to NY

No, we haven't forgotten about baseball. Even in the thick of the fantasy football playoffs, the record contract CC Sabathia is about to sign with the New York Yankees is worth the attention.

Sabathia is obviously one of the premier pitchers in baseball and a major fantasy commodity. But how does the move to the Bronx affect his value?

His numbers last year with the Indians and Brewers were off the charts - 17-10, 2.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 251 Ks. Pretty spectacular stuff right there. But CC doesn't come without some concerns, either. He pitched a massive amount of innings last year, a career-high 253. Historically, he hasn't pitched well at Yankee Stadium (1-4, 8.61 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, as The Sports Network points out), and the Bombers' new home has the same playing field dimensions. And while he feasted on some weak-hitting NL lineups during his blistering late-season stretch with the Brewers last year, he now moves to the dangerous AL East (although he does have pretty good career numbers against the Yanks' division rivals). And of course there's always the pressure-cooker that is New York, which has ruined many a pitcher before.

I think CC will be hard-pressed to match his phenomenal second-half production next year in Pinstripes. However, he's still capable of reaching, say, his 2007 Cy Young totals - 19-7, 3.21 ERA, 209 Ks - which would make him one of the top three fantasy pitchers in the game, right up there with Johan Santana and perhaps Tim Lincecum. For now, let's pencil him in at No. 2, right behind Mr. Santana, and check back in when it's closer to pitchers-and-catchers time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Week 15: Who to start, sit in playoffs

So you’re in the playoffs.

Congratulations. Would you like a medal?

Fact is, making the fantasy football postseason is a nice accomplishment, but this is no time to rest on your laurels and pat yourself on the back. There’s more work to be done and tough decisions to make before you can call yourself a champ.

Here’s some advice to help you keep this thing rolling:


g RB Dominic Rhodes vs. Detroit: Sure, Joseph Addai is the Indianapolis Colts’ “starter,” but he’s a bit banged-up, and Rhodes has seen an increased workload the past few weeks. Plus, he’s playing the Lions, who let another “backup,” Chester Taylor, have a nice day last week.

g RB Derrick Ward at Dallas: Brandon Jacobs says he’ll play despite a sore knee, but I could see the New York Giants giving Ward lots of touches to help keep the big guy fresh for the postseason.

g RB Sammy Morris at Oakland: He’s back in the mix as the New England Patriots’ top tailback, so you can assume at least 10 touches and perhaps a score like the past two weeks.

g RB Steve Slaton vs. Tennessee: Don’t let the Titans’ run defense scare you from using a kid who’s rushed for 479 yards and three TDs in his past four games. Oh, and he had 116 yards and a TD the first time his Houston Texans played the Colts this year.

g QB Tyler Thigpen vs. San Diego: After a so-so effort last week at Denver (187 yards, TD), raise your expectations against a pretty bad Chargers pass defense.

g QB Donovan McNabb vs. Cleveland: He’s elevated his game since his competence and brainpower were called into question a few weeks ago. Expect him to light up a Browns team in disarray.

g WR Reggie Williams vs. Green Bay: The Jacksonville Jaguars receiver is at least a No. 3 receiver this week given Matt Jones’ suspension and the Packers’ general ineptitude the past few weeks.

g WR Devin Hester vs. New Orleans: The Chicago Bears’ most dangerous weapon could break off a few big plays against a Saints’ D that’s given up 20 receiving TDs.

g WR Brandon Marshall at Carolina: The Denver Broncos are running out of running backs, so they might opt to throw it a lot against a secondary that’s been torched to the tune of 274, 293 and 298 yards the past three weeks.


g RB Steven Jackson vs. Seattle: I understand starting him if you don’t have a better option, but Jackson should no longer be treated like a No. 1 fantasy back. His lack of involvement in the passing game and his so-so rushing totals have been killing teams lately.

g RB Willie Parker at Baltimore: I don’t like the timeshare situation unfolding with Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Mewelde Moore, and I certainly don’t like the matchup.

g RB Larry Johnson vs. San Diego: After a poor effort last week at Denver (11 carries, 36 yards), lower your expectations against a pretty good run-stopping Chargers defense.

g RB Tashard Choice vs. New York Giants: The Dallas Cowboys rookie will be a popular pickup this week after what he did against a tough Pittsburgh Steelers run defense (88 rushing yards, 78 receiving yards). But if Marion Barber can go and wants to shut Jerry Jones up, Choice returns to relative obscurity.

g QB Matt Schaub vs. Tennessee: Don’t overreact to last week’s air raid on Green Bay. Schaub was terrible against the Titans in Week 3 (188 yards, zero TDs, three interceptions) and isn’t worth the risk this week.

g QB Ben Roethlisberger at Baltimore: If your idea of a good fantasy outing for your QB is about 200 yards and maybe a TD, Big Ben is your guy this week. If you have another QB on your roster who’s capable of more, plant Roethlisberger on your bench for this slugfest.

g WR Laveranues Coles vs. Buffalo: The veteran has combined for three catches and seven yards in his past two games. Do you dare start him this week?

g WR Domenik Hixon at Dallas: Forget about last week’s costly drop, as bad as it looked. It was unfair to expect the guy to just step in and replace Plaxico Burress, and he’s been too inconsistent to warrant a start at this point.

g WR Chris Chambers at Kansas City: He’s been an afterthought in the San Diego Chargers’ offense lately, with just one catch in the past two weeks. Sure, the matchup is good this Sunday, but you can do better.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Your guide to success in important Week 14

Forget about putting up the Christmas lights this weekend and tell your significant other you’re taking a pass on that shopping trip.

This is a crucial week in fantasy football, either the regular season finale or the opening of the playoffs. We can’t be bothered with trivial stuff like holiday preparations, household chores and human interaction. It’s Week 14! Enough nonsense . . . we’ve got more important things to think about, like who to start and who to sit this week.


g RB Adrian Peterson at Detroit: The biggest no-brainer in the history of no-brainers.

g RB Larry Johnson at Denver: He torched the Broncos for 198 yards and two TDs in Week 4.

g RB DeAngelo Williams vs. Tampa Bay: I make it a point to never sit a running back coming off a four-TD game. Call me crazy.

g RB Brian Westbrook at New York Giants: See above.

g QB Matt Cassel at Seattle: Welcome back to reality, son. Now go out there and carve up that Seahawks “secondary.”

g QB Kurt Warner vs. St. Louis: If he doesn’t throw for at least 300 yards and two TDs, I’ll buy you a drink.

g WR Bernard Berrian at Detroit: His best fantasy output of the season was against — you guessed it — the Lions in Week 6 (five catches, 131 yards, TD).

g WR Lance Moore vs. Atlanta: Has caught six TDs in his past five games and should continue the trend.

g WR Torry Holt at Arizona: He has only two TD receptions this year, but one came against the generous Cardinals pass defense in Week 9.


g RB Jamal Lewis at Tennessee: I’m no defensive coordinator, but do you think the Titans might stack the box this week with Ken Dorsey playing QB for Cleveland?

g RB Clinton Portis at Baltimore: It pains me to say this because I know he’s carried you (and Washington) all year. But Portis is banged-up, coming off his worst game of the year (22 yards) and facing the Ravens. That’s three strikes.

g RB Marion Barber at Pittsburgh: Uncertainty about his toe injury and the Steelers’ run defense make me very apprehensive this week.

g RB Willis McGahee vs. Washington: How can you start a guy who suited up the week before but had no carries?

g QB Tony Romo at Pittsburgh: Games against San Francisco and Seattle were walks in the park, but did you see what the Steelers did to poor Cassel last week? Factor in the prospect of no Barber in the backfield and bad weather in the Steel City, and I’m considering other options.

g QB Jake Delhomme vs. Tampa Bay: The Bucs are simply too tough. There are at least 20 other quarterbacks with more upside this week.

g WR Braylon Edwards at Tennessee: No way am I putting my playoff chances in this guy’s hands. Or to be more accurate, letting them bounce off this guy’s fingertips.

g WR Chad Johnson at Indianapolis: There’s a big difference between doing funny things in the end zone and having an absolute joke of a season. I bet I could close my eyes, pick up a random receiver off the waiver wire and get more production out of him this week than Ocho Cinco.

g WR Roy Williams at Pittsburgh: This guy’s stock has plummeted more than — well, it’s just as bad as all the stocks out there in real life, I guess. But there’s no reason to start him in any fantasy league this week.