Fantasy football season isn’t over yet if you may finish last

A majority of last-place teams are the result of owners forgetting to swap out players on bye weeks, or other fairly elementary failures.

Baker Mayfield has thrown multiple touchdown passes in back-to-back games and is available in nearly 40 percent of ESPN and Yahoo! fantasy football leagues.
Baker Mayfield has thrown multiple touchdown passes in back-to-back games and is available in nearly 40 percent of ESPN and Yahoo! fantasy football leagues. –David Richard/AP Photo

In an ideal world, everyone would try as hard as they could for the entirety of a fantasy football season. You wouldn’t need to create punishments for last-place finishers.

Unfortunately, if this weren’t already painfully clear, we do not live in an ideal world. People, for some unknown reason, do not try hard in fantasy if their team is out of the playoff race.

I’m mystified by this. Do they have lives? Jobs? What could possibly be more worthy of your time than scanning the waiver wire for hours to gain a fractional advantage in Week 12? A lot, you say? All right, fair point.

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Having said that, making incentives to keep all the teams in your league trying for the entire season is critical for parity. Many leagues do this by designing a punishment for coming in last.

These can get creative, while others are downright diabolical. In one of my leagues, for example, the losing party has to retake the SAT. Think about that for a second (specifically, say, the math section). It might seem over the top — and it hilariously is — but without question it’s an effective deterrent against late-season apathy.

However your league doles out a last-place punishment, the goal is clear if you’re managing a non-playoff team by this point. All you have to do is be slightly better than the worst team in the league.

Most of the time, this can be achieved by standard management (i.e. actually setting your lineup each week). A majority of last-place teams are the result of owners forgetting to swap out players on bye weeks, or other fairly elementary failures.

Some leagues, especially ones with Draconian punishments, have a more competitive race to avoid finishing as the worst team. You therefore need to be a little more savvy with your lineup.

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With that in mind, here are a few players you can add to your roster, or should consider starting in Week 12:

■ Baker Mayfield, quarterback. After he peaked in preseason rankings as a top-five quarterback, Mayfield slumped over the first half of the season to the point where he became a droppable player for many teams. Even now, he’s available in nearly 40 percent of ESPN and Yahoo! leagues.

The tide may be turning back toward the 2018 No. 1 pick, however. He has thrown multiple touchdown passes in back-to-back games, and is facing a Dolphins defense that is certainly overmatched on paper. If Cleveland’s line can offer a minimal amount of protection, Mayfield should be able to pick apart Miami’s secondary.

■ Bo Scarbrough, running back. The former Alabama back has been used sparingly since entering the NFL as a seventh-round pick in 2018. The Lions are already Scarbrough’s fourth team, but he could find success in Detroit’s backfield this weekend.

With backup quarterback Jeff Driskel set to start again for the Lions, coach Matt Patricia could lean more heavily on the running game. This would be great news for Scarbrough, the likely beneficiary. And the 235-pound Scarbrough is a tough runner: According to pro-football-reference.com, 53 of his 55 yards a week ago were earned after contact.

■  Brandin Cooks, wide receiver. Cooks was dropped in a few leagues (including one I’m in) after he missed several weeks because of a concussion. Even in the leagues where he remained rostered, the 26-year-old probably isn’t a guarantee to go back into lineups.

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While Cooks has been inconsistent in 2019, he still possesses game-changing ability. And the Rams are heading into a high-pressure game against the Ravens trying to keep pace in the playoff chase. It might be a week where Los Angeles is particularly aggressive on offense.

If he’s a free agent in your league, or you’re deciding between options for your lineup, consider Cooks’s high upside.

■  Ryan Griffin, tight end. Round and round the tight end roulette wheel spins. This week, it might stop at Griffin’s number. The Jets tight end has been a quality option in three of his last four games (not including a dismal Week 10 outing against the Giants).

If one thing is clear from the 2019 fantasy season, it’s that there really isn’t a sure thing at tight end outside of essentially five players. Griffin is far from a sure thing, but he could be this week’s best option if you need to add a player. He’s available in a majority of leagues, and is playing an Oakland defense that has allowed the second-most touchdowns to tight ends.

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