The fantasy (regular) season is over, the playoffs are here, and it’s time to hand out some awards.
MVP: Let’s get this one out of the way quickly. In the three major positional categories — quarterback, running back, wide receiver — no one has distanced himself from others at his position. The fantasy point leaders in each — Roddy White (receiver), Adrian Peterson (running back), Drew Brees (quarterback) — are all just a handful of points ahead of the competition. So I’m handing this award to Drew Brees, who has been terrific from the beginning of the season, when he opened up with a 32-point effort against a strong Tampa defense. Brees leads the NFL in touchdowns and passing yards and has been tremendous despite some of his key weapons suffering injuries.
The "I Should Be Drafted No. 1 Overall In 2009" Award: Adrian Peterson, come to the podium. Peterson may have been drafted No. 1 overall this year in some leagues, ahead of Tom Brady and LaDainian Tomlinson (Tomlinson went first in my league), but Peterson should be the consensus top pick next year. He’s explosive and consistent, putting up big yardage numbers week after week. Peterson owners probably wish he had more than nine touchdowns, but he makes up for that with his total-yardage numbers and his ability to break long touchdown runs, which are worth extra in most leagues.
The "Do I Draft This Guy In The First Round Again?" Award: Hometown hero/aspiring supermodel Tom Brady, come on up! Brady was taken third in my draft, and for good reason — he was the NFL’s 2007 MVP and set a league record with 50 touchdown passes. Obviously there’s a long way to go in Brady’s rehab between now and next September, but if he progresses and gets a full training camp under his belt, there’s no reason to think he can’t come back to his All-Pro form. He may not be worth a first-round gamble, but he will still have Randy Moss and Wes Welker to throw to, and he should not last past the second or third round.FULL ENTRY
The NFL has four weeks left in its regular season, but in fantasy football, the playoffs start now.
Head-to-head leagues such as the one I’m in typically begin the postseason after the 12th NFL game; this allows you three weeks for the playoffs, and also allows you to ignore the final week of the NFL season. Including the final week, particularly for the playoffs, is foolish and should not happen. You can’t count on a team that has already wrapped things up — like a division title or home-field advantage — to play its best players.
Last season’s Patriots team was a rare exception; the Pats were playing for an undefeated season. But if you have, say, Eli Manning or Brandon Jacobs, both members of the New York Giants, and the Giants have clinched everything going into the final regular-season game at Minnesota, are you going to feel confident playing them? Both could play only a quarter and then get yanked. Why would the Giants risk an injury heading into the playoffs?
That’s why the last week of the regular season, in both head-to-head leagues and overall point total leagues, should not be part of your season’s schedule. In my 12-team league, six squads make the playoffs. The top five won-loss records qualify, and the sixth spot goes to the remaining team with the highest overall point total (based on the thinking that if you have the most points, you probably have a pretty good team). In that spirit, if you finish with the high point total of the week, we reward the achievement with a weekly payout.FULL ENTRY
UP: Brandon Jackson, RB, Green Bay:
If he's available, expect Jackson's name to light up waiver wires this week. Ryan Grant, the starter in Green Bay, left Sunday's game with a 'sprained thumb,' and Jackson stepped in with 80 yards on 11 carries. The second-year pro from Nebraska is great insurance for Grant owners about to begin the postseason.
UP: Cadillac Williams, RB, Tampa Bay:
Another insurance policy. Starter Earnest Graham is out for the season, and mainstay Warrick Dunn received the bulk of the carries last weekend against New Orleans, but Williams -- who returned against the Saints after missing the previous 14 months with a brutal knee injury -- had his number called on the goal line and delivered an 8-yard touchdown run.
UP: Davone Bess, WR, Miami:
Starting in place of the injured Greg Camarillo, Bess produced six catches for 84 yards against St. Louis. Bess is not a No. 1 or 2 fantasy option, but he can provide depth during the playoffs. In addition, the rookie from Hawaii has some favorable matchups on the horizon. The Dolphins' next three opponents are Buffalo, San Francisco, and Kansas City.
DOWN: Clinton Portis, RB, Washington:
Portis is battling nagging injuries and had to be repeatedly pulled from last weekend's game against the Giants. One of the NFL's best backs throughout the season, Portis is in the middle of two straight brutal matchups: the Giants and this weekend's opponent, Baltimore. If you own Portis, try to get your hands on his backup, Ladell Betts.
For the second time this season, Ronnie Brown’s matchup with the Patriots left me filled with anxiety.
Flashback to Week 3: Brown, the Dolphins’ talented running back, shredded New England’s defense for four rushing touchdowns, including a 62-yarder. He also threw a touchdown pass and finished with 48 fantasy points — an unheard-of amount.
This should have been great news for me, since I selected Brown in the fourth round of my draft, but it was a devastating development. I left Brown on my bench that day and had the immortal Selvin Young starting in his place. Young proved useless, giving me only six points, and I lost that weekend — but would have won easily if Brown had been in my lineup.
He’s been there ever since and has provided me a nice one-two punch with 49ers running back Frank Gore, my first-round pick. But a few weeks ago, with both Brown and Gore approaching their bye weeks and with little running back depth on my bench, I swung a trade that bolstered my bench in the short term and will likely help my chan-ces as the regular season winds down and the playoffs approach.FULL ENTRY
UP: Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland: Cleveland is a mess (1-5 at home) and may start looking at alternatives on offense. Pick up Harrison and stash him on your roster; he's been productive for two straight weeks playing behind Jamal Lewis and could provide valuable depth if you make the playoffs.
UP: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh: If you rotate Roethlisberger with another quarterback, this is a good weekend to start the Steelers' signal-caller. He's facing the Patriots, who have allowed big games to Chad Pennington (341 yards, three touchdowns) and Brett Favre (258 yards, two touchdowns) in the last two weeks. Expect Roethlisberger to produce at the same level, unless there are weather issues in Foxborough.
UP: Gus Frerotte, QB, Minnesota: Frerotte is a turnover machine and hasn't eclipsed 200 yards in four straight games, but he's got a favorable matchup this weekend: the Bears, whose pass defense is third-worst in the NFL. Even Jacksonville, which tends to play conservatively, threw for more than 300 yards through the air against Chicago last weekend.FULL ENTRY
Next season, the first defense taken in many fantasy football drafts will be Green Bay’s.
That will be a mistake.
This season, Green Bay’s defense is outpointing the next closest defense in my league by 27, and the third closest by 39. Those are big numbers and can be attributed to the Packers’ nine defensive touchdowns, a fantastic achievement that is all the more stunning because six games remain. In this decade, only one team — the 2004 Bills — reached 10 defensive touchdowns in a season. Two others — last year’s Vikings and the 2006 Bears — had nine.
The key for Green Bay has been the stellar play of its secondary. The Packers are third in the league against the pass and lead the league with 16 interceptions. Green Bay dominated Chicago last weekend, allowing only three points and not allowing the Bears’ receivers to record a catch until the third quarter.
No one could have predicted such an outburst from Green Bay; the Pack was taken in the 15th round of my draft. Not that fantasy defenses are typically drafted early. They’re not, and for good reason. Many defenses will give you roughly the same output week after week, and if you don’t like yours, the waiver wire is full of others. Rarely do owners carry more than one.FULL ENTRY
UP Sammy Morris, RB, New England:
Morris was slowly worked back into the lineup against the Jets and faces a tough Dolphins run defense this weekend. But when you look ahead at New England's schedule, you realize there are some favorable matchups on the horizon: at Seattle, at Oakland, against Arizona. Expect Morris to start getting the bulk of New England's carries.
UP Lawrence Tynes, K, New York Giants:
John Carney has filled in for the injured Tynes since the season began and has been one of the top kickers in fantasy football. However, Tynes inked a long-term deal last off-season after helping the G-Men win the Super Bowl, and he's healthy. If you don't like your kicker, grab Tynes off waivers. He's going to get plenty of chances kicking for the best team in football.
UP Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco:
Earlier in the season we told you to drop Davis, and for good reason: He wasn't producing. But Davis has two touchdown catches since his spat with new coach Mike Singletary. He may be worth a spot on your bench if you need depth for the upcoming playoffs.
Last weekend I went to see the Hold Steady, a rock band, perform at the Orpheum. The show was tremendous, and the group highlighted its latest album, “Stay Positive.” With that theme in mind, instead of focusing on which player is killing my fantasy squad or your fantasy squad, I thought I, too, would stay positive and point out players who were not drafted early in my league but turned out to be terrific performers.
Accept a healthy round of applause if you drafted any of the following. All were selected after the fifth round in my draft.
Jay Cutler, QB, Denver: Cutler lasted until the ninth round in my draft and was taken one spot after Donovan McNabb, another player worthy of being on this list. Cutler is second in the NFL in passing yards and has 18 touchdowns, most of which have gone to young receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. The Broncos’ running attack has been torn apart with injuries, which is good news for Cutler owners, because the Broncos will be sure to pass on most downs.
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta: White was taken in the sixth round in my draft by default — his owner didn’t show up, and our commissioner made the pick instead. Initially, the sixth round seemed too early. Not anymore. White leads my league in fantasy points by a wide receiver, and after nine games, his production can no longer be considered a fluke. White has six touchdowns and more than 800 yards receiving, and he has become the favorite target of rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.FULL ENTRY
UP DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina:
Williams has emerged as the Panthers' top back after spending the early part of the season splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart. Williams averaged 18 carries and 105 rushing yards in his last three games and broke free for a 69-yard score against Oakland. Even better for Williams' owners is that Carolina is facing the Lions this weekend; Detroit's run defense is the NFL's second-worst.
UP Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit:
The Lions may be terrible, but Smith is now a decent fantasy option. He has four touchdown runs in his last six games and is also a receiving threat (25 catches). The rookie from Central Florida is likely going to be the starter over Rudi Johnson and may come cheaply in a trade if you need to shore up your thin backfield.
UP Mark Bradley, WR, Kansas City:
The Chiefs have not quit and are starting to throw the ball more effectively with Tyler Thigpen (another player to consider if he's available in your league) at quarterback. Thigpen already has two skilled pass-catchers in Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez, and Bradley -- who has 18 catches, 187 yards, and two touchdowns in the last three weeks -- makes three.
I left too many fantasy points on my bench last weekend.
It’s one of the worst feelings you can have in fantasy football. You debate yourself on who should be in your lineup, and you base your choice on a number of factors, such as matchups, injuries, style of play, and weather. When those factors leave you even more confused, you make a decision and hope you get lucky.
And then, if you’re me, the games start and your decision totally backfires.
For example: Last weekend I started Jacksonville’s David Garrard at quarterback over Denver’s Jay Cutler. Horrible move. Cutler had been terrific as my starter throughout the season, and I hated sitting him on Oct. 26, when the Broncos were on a bye. But Garrard replaced Cutler for me that day and was tremendous, finishing the day with 283 yards passing, two touchdowns, and a whopping 24 fantasy points.
Instead of accepting that performance (a season high in points for Garrard, by the way) as the gift that it was, I began to outsmart myself last weekend in search of reasons to play Garrard over Cutler — a scenario I had not even considered all season.FULL ENTRY
If you used a high draft pick on a big-name receiver this season, you’re probably regretting the move.
Of the first 10 receivers taken in my draft, only four have lived up to their billing, while six have underperformed and left their owners with weekly decisions they never expected to consider.
We’ve already documented why the first receiver taken in my draft, and the only wideout taken in the first round, has struggled. Randy Moss is still an elite talent, but Tom Brady’s injury has limited Moss’ stats. Now, the same situation is occurring with the second wide receiver taken. Terrell Owens was having a tremendous year until his quarterback, Tony Romo, went out with an injured finger. In the last three weeks, Owens has no touchdowns and has not eclipsed 36 yards receiving.
The third receiver off the board was Braylon Edwards, and I regret making that pick. Edwards has one big game under his belt and is not approaching the production you would expect from a second-round pick. He has just two touchdowns; the Browns have struggled putting points on the board this season, and I never saw that coming.FULL ENTRY
UP: David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville One of the more underrated fantasy quarterbacks, Garrard has been on my bench behind Jay Cutler, but with Cutler on a bye last weekend, I finally inserted Garrard, and he responded with 283 yards passing and two touchdowns. I may leave him in the lineup again, as the Jags face the lowly Bengals this weekend.
UP: Donte' Stallworth, WR, Cleveland Stallworth began the season with an injured quad, and his stats in the three games since his return have been modest: a total of seven receptions and one touchdown. But the Browns have won two of three since Stallworth returned. If youÕre looking for a receiver with breakout potential, this is your man.
UP: Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis The rookie from Houston is quietly becoming the RamsÕ No. 1 receiver, particularly since teammate Torry Holt is having such a tough season. Avery had a big game against New England last weekend (six catches, 163 yards, and a touchdown) but he didnÕt come out of nowhere: He had 14 catches in the previous four games.
DOWN: Jason Campbell, QB, WashingtonCampbell is a borderline fantasy starter anyway, but definitely keep him on your bench this weekend: He and the Redskins play Pittsburgh and their top-rated pass defense (164.4 yards per game).FULL ENTRY
With every team in the NFL seemingly capable of finishing with seven to nine wins (exceptions: Kansas City, Detroit, and Cincinnati), performances have been fluctuating like the stock market, and there are a host of fantasy issues worth examining as we get closer to the season’s midpoint.
Steven Jackson owners are undoubtedly walking with an extra bounce in their step this week. Jackson finally seems to be living up to the expectations that come with being a first-round fantasy pick (he was taken sixth in my draft).
Jackson, like the Rams, started slow, but two of his last three performances have been exceptional, particularly last weekend’s 160-yard, three-touchdown gem against Dallas. The Rams are playing inspired football under new coach Jim Haslett, and local fans will get to see Jackson (right) up close this weekend when the Rams visit the Patriots, whose run defense is nothing special.
I had a decision to make last weekend regarding which of my defenses to play, and I screwed it up. I have San Diego and Buffalo, and they played each other. I decided that Buffalo’s defense was too banged up and went with San Diego. A bad move that cost me 11 points: the Bills’ defense put up 11, while the Chargers actually scored out to a zero — the ultimate indignity.
Tennessee running backs LenDale White and Chris Johnson are a rarity for teammates: Both are worthy fantasy starters. White has fewer carries (80) but has eight touchdowns — tied for the league lead. Johnson has rushed for 549 yards and is also the Titans’ second-leading receiver (14 catches). Owners should not hesitate to start either on Monday night against Indianapolis, which allows 153.5 rushing yards per game, fourth worst in the NFL.
While watching the Jets-Raiders last weekend, I felt JaMarcus Russell had improved — almost — to the point in which he could be a fair fantasy backup. He seemed confident, but his receivers are terrible and constantly dropping his throws. This is not the weekend to consider playing him, even if your quarterback is on a bye, because the Raiders face Baltimore’s punishing defense.
What do Roddy White, Lee Evans, and Bernard Berrian have in common? They are all in the top 10 in scoring among wide receivers in my league.
With Reggie Bush likely to miss two games with a knee injury, anyone who picked up Deuce McAllister a few weeks ago when he returned from his own knee troubles is about to get rewarded. McAllister carried nine times for 47 yards when Bush went down, and is likely to see increased action during the next two weeks.
Ed Ryan writes about fantasy sports and betting for OT and can be reached
UP Thomas Jones, RB, N.Y. Jets
Don’t keep Jones on your bench against Kansas City. Based on his production the last two weeks (two touchdowns and 65 yards against Cincinnati, 159 yards against Oakland), Jones deserves to crack your starting lineup — especially this week, when he and the Jets face the Chiefs, whose run defense (207 yards per game allowed) is the worst in football.
UP Patrick Cobbs, RB, Miami
If you need a back, why not take a chance on Cobbs? He barely gets carries for the Dolphins, but they’ve been throwing to Cobbs the last two weeks with excellent results: he’s combined for 202 receiving yards. Cobbs is not worth a start unless you are desperate, but many of us are when it comes to fantasy running backs. Someone in my league started Kevin Faulk last weekend.
UP Kyle Orton, QB, Chicago
Orton has 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his last five games, and his performance has Chicago atop the NFC North. Only 47 percent of his owners started him against Minnesota last weekend, but Orton is either a solid starting option or a solid chip in a trade offer to a team that is weak at quarterback.
When Tom Brady limped off the field in Foxborough just a few moments into the season, Randy Moss may as well have limped off with him.
That's the fantasy football perspective, anyway. Owners of Brady have a built-in excuse if their teams are tanking thus far: Their (likely) first-round pick was lost for the year in the first quarter of the opening week. But the extensive Brady fallout has an impact on many other owners in addition to those who drafted the Pats quarterback.
For instance, are you one of the unlucky fantasy owners who felt obligated to select Moss in the middle of this year's first round? Back in August, prior to my draft, I heard time and time again from the guy in my league with the sixth overall pick, "If Moss is available, I have to take him."FULL ENTRY
UP --Fred Taylor, RB, Jacksonville
Taylor’s performance has been inconsistent, and he’s had only one breakout week, against the Colts in Week 3 (26 carries for 121 yards). Taylor is a good bet this weekend for two reasons: Jacksonville plays at Denver, which ranks 25th in the NFL against the rush, and Taylor (below)stands to gain most of the carries against the Broncos because his colleague in the Jaguars’ backfield, Maurice Jones-Drew, sprained an ankle last weekend against Pittsburgh.
UP--Wes Welker, WR, New England
Welker and the Patriots also have a favorable matchup this weekend, at San Diego. The Chargers struggle defending the pass (worst in the NFL), and even though striking downfield is not the Patriots’ strong suit, Welker should thrive catching the short stuff — and turning it into big gainers — against a lousy San Diego defense.
Running back platoons are all the rage in the NFL. Running back platoons are also killing fantasy football owners.
NFL decision-makers definitely did not consider fantasy value when they decided — wisely — to reduce the wear and tear on their top runners. Instead of one back getting most of the work, many teams are now distributing carries between two or more backs. Think pitch counts in baseball. Teams are protecting their investments.FULL ENTRY
Braylon Edwards of the Browns is friends with Olympian Michael Phelps. They both went to Michigan, and they've traded training tips.
That's a nice story, but when it comes to Edwards in 2008, it's the only story. If you were like me and you spent a second-round pick on Edwards (right), or even thought about it, then consider this: 25 percent of Edwards' season is complete (four games), and he's accumulated 14 total fantasy points, one touchdown, and 95 total yards.
That's a borderline disaster, and not what you would expect from someone who amassed 16 touchdowns and 1,289 yards in 2007. Edwards himself, when discussing how he was in contact with Phelps during the Olympics, told reporters that he was going to have to top Phelps' efforts by getting at least 17 touchdowns this season.
Good luck, Braylon. He did finally catch his first touchdown pass of the season last Sunday, but the Browns' offense has been brutal. Edwards' catch was the only touchdown Cleveland put up in a win against the lowly Bengals, and Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson -- whom Edwards gelled with nicely last year -- is apparently fighting for his job on a week-to-week basis.
It's not as if owners of Edwards, like myself, can bench him. He's not hurt, and there's no way you can take a chance on sitting a guy with that much breakout potential. You've got to live and die with him, and hope you drafted well at that position. I've been fortunate: Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City) has been steady, and I grabbed Eddie Royal (Broncos, 27 receptions) off waivers early in the season.
I'm still waiting for Wes Welker to break out as well, but that's another story. In the meantime, I'll have to wait on Edwards awhile longer: the Browns have a bye this weekend.FULL ENTRY
In a moment, you'll read how I think it's time to give up on Selvin Young as a starting fantasy football running back. I lay out my case quite nicely, I think.
Full disclosure, though: I started Young last Sunday over Ronnie Brown. Yes, Ronnie Brown, who ran over, through and around New England to the tune of 48 fantasy points.
Brown's career day (four rushing TDs, one passing TD, 113 rushing yards), while bittersweet for me, does nothing to dissuade me from benching Selvin Young. Even if Young goes off and finds the end zone this weekend or next, you still can't count on him to get enough carries, even in a high-powered offense like Denver's.FULL ENTRY
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