Dealing With The Deadline
Aggressiveness is a characteristic that tends to reward fantasy
owners more times than not. In the NFL, an offensive line will sometimes
hold up long enough to give the quarterback enough time to beat
man coverage down the field and make the defense look foolish against
a fierce pass rush. More often than not, though, when a defense
brings the heat and forces the action, crisis management becomes
the name of the game for the opposing team.
In that same vein, I hope to apply that same kind of pressure
to the owners in all of my leagues by beating my opponents to
the punch in regards to personnel moves. Sometimes, reaching a
conclusion about a player too quickly is much like trying to blitz
Peyton Manning – dangerous and painful. However, coming
to a correct conclusion two weeks or two minutes quicker than
your opponents is considered foresight. Fantasy owners can be
a uneasy lot, knowing that one two-or-three-game losing streak
can wreak irreparable damage to his/her team’s chances to
make a visit to the fantasy postseason. But just as it is in the
NFL and in life, it’s hard to land the big prize by playing
scared. Thus, I will strive each week to help each of you become
a smart blitzer, so to speak.
As a writer, you become accustomed to deadlines. In fact, the ability
to meet them can often determine whether or not there will be another
article left to write. After a while, a writer can actually grow
to love deadlines, almost as if it serves as some artificial inspiration
or fills some sadistic need to see if we can use the clock as some
kind of motivation to pull one more quality work of art out of our
As a fantasy football owner, I absolutely despise deadlines.
I despise the deadline which forces me to set my lineup five minutes
before the start of the early games on Sunday, in large part because
the joy of playing the right players each week doesn't come close
to matching the dread that comes with benching a player who decides
to boost your league-leading bench points total (isn't that right,
But, for me, the saddest deadline as a fantasy owner comes once
a year - my leagues' trade deadline. When the trade deadline has
past, no longer does an owner have the ability to play the "market".
Instead, we are left with only hope - hope that the waiver wire
will provide our teams with the key component that our teams are
missing (Ladell Betts, 2006; Ryan Grant, 2007 come to mind) in
order to make that late push to lock up a playoff spot and, ultimately,
secure a shot at the league title.
While the deadline can be stressful for both the writer and the
fantasy owner, the ability to deal with the deadline can be particularly
rewarding for the writer and/or owner who knows how to use it
to their advantage. For the writer, the energy surge you get as
time winds down can almost be exhilarating and can sometimes help
you focus all your creative energy into one application. The reward
is typically the confidence that comes from pounding out an article
with time to spare that combines creativity with coherency.
For the fantasy owner, the rush can almost provide the same kind
of energy and the reward can come in the form of using the trade
deadline to squeeze your fellow panicky owner into adding one
more player in a trade that he/she doesn't want to part with -
but has to - in order to secure the player that he/she must have.
The reward can also be as simple as looking at your team as the
deadline passes and realizing that you have done everything in
your power to produce a winner.
Just like a writer, a fantasy owner's ability to thrive at the
deadline can determine whether or not the holidays will be merry
in late December or something much less joyful. Granted, the loss
of one's writing job is more tragic than the downfall of one's
fantasy team, but doesn't the world just seem a little brighter
around the holidays when you know that all the eating and shopping
will be somewhat offset with a hefty league prize?
It is with that in mind that I will divert a bit from my usual
workload/target analysis. Instead, this week I will provide my
rest-of-the-season rankings in an effort to give you some sense
of value as you wrap up your trade talks for the year.
In what will be a reoccurring theme throughout this piece, take
advantage of New Orleans. I absolutely have no qualms with the
Saints' run towards 16-0. Whether or not they get there is debatable,
but there is no denying their remaining schedule is about as fantasy-friendly
as they come. In three upcoming games vs. the Rams and Bucs (twice,
including Week 16), Brees could legitimately throw for around
10-12 TD passes. Similarly, Brady gets the edge over Manning for
a slightly easier remaining schedule as well.
Fantasy's current #1 QB (Rodgers) headlines the "injury
risk QBs" and drops all the way down to fourth because the
chances he will continue his stellar play lessen each week he
incurs five more sacks. Warner gets the nod over Schaub because
he has served his bye already and has a very nice fantasy playoff
schedule while Schaub has yet to play more than 11 games in a
single season as a Texan. I will continue to hold his recent injury
past against him until he actually makes it through an entire
Favre will spend most of the second half of the season playing
under a roof and against eight-man fronts, so he doesn’t
figure to slow down anytime soon. Pittsburgh will likely be in
some cold-weather, windy games in December, so he falls a bit
because his yardage totals will probably take a hit. The risk
of running with Big Ben as your #1 QB late in the season is that
he'll post a low-yardage, 1-2 TD game because the weather and
the Steelers' dominant defense will often lead to a run-heavy
attack and/or short fields.
The way Chicago's defense is playing right now, Cutler may have
little choice but to continue airing it out; as luck would have
it, the Bears' remaining schedule doesn't exactly lend itself
to rushing success either. Rivers is probably a top-five fantasy
QB and needs to start almost regardless of the matchup, but five
of his remaining seven games (for fantasy purposes) are against
defenses that aren't too shabby at defending the pass. He's a
pretty good bet for at least two TDs per game most weeks, but
his yardage totals may be erratic.
After the Steelers in Week 10, Palmer and the Bengals should
be poised for big things in the passing game, but Cincy has been
content with beating opponents on the ground almost regardless
of the matchup, so predicting big numbers for Palmer seems a bit
foolish. However, his remaining schedule looks easy enough where
he should be able to post at least one or two more 3-plus TD games.
Conversely, McNabb isn't about to catch a break anytime soon.
Because the offense is so pass-heavy and his offense is so loaded
with explosive weapons, he'll have his big games in the second
half, but he'll probably have a few clunkers in there as well.
Much like Philly, Dallas isn't guaranteed much success through
the air either. Teams have already started to double Miles Austin
and most of the upcoming defenses on the Cowboys' schedule are
solid against the pass. Flacco may be the ultimate matchup QB
in the second half. He's not likely to have much success vs. the
Colts or the Steelers (twice, including Week 16), but he could
be in line for huge days vs. the Browns (Week 10), the Lions (Week
14) and Bears (Week 15). Hasselbeck's remaining slate of games
almost qualifies as ridiculously easy, but the offensive line
is enough of a concern that I wouldn't count on him making it
through the rest of the season unscathed.
Second-Half Surprise: Alex
Smith, 49ers. It's fairly obvious that Niners’ coaching
staff must have seen something they liked a few weeks before they
decided to pull Shaun Hill halfway through their game vs. the
Texans a few weeks ago. In Hill's six starts to open the season,
the Niners attempted 32 passes in a game just one time. Since
Smith was promoted to the top of the depth chart two games ago,
San Fran has attempted at least that many passes in both contests,
including the Week 8 vs. the Colts in which the Niners led for
most of the game. Perhaps the switch of offensive philosophy has
to do more with the quick learning curve of Michael Crabtree,
but it does appear San Francisco is much more willing to throw
than it was earlier in the season.
As we set the stage for next season, it appears likely there
will be four worthy candidates to go #1 overall in fantasy drafts
(Jones-Drew, Peterson, Chris Johnson and Rice). MJD and Peterson
are performing almost right in line of what I had predicted for
them entering the season (fantasy point-wise), but Johnson has
used three out-of-this-world performances to get himself into
the good graces of fantasy owners once again. If he continues
his 6.7 YPC pace, Johnson will need roughly 19.5 carries per game
over the remaining eight contests to become only the sixth player
in NFL history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in a single season.
As it stands, his current YPC is the highest for a non-QB since
Lenny Moore averaged 7.0 YPC for the Baltimore Colts in 1961.
Just as impressively, Rice's 92-catch pace would make him just
the fifth RB in league history to log that many receptions in
a single season (Larry Centers, Eric Metcalf, LaDainian Tomlinson
and Johnny Morris are the others).
Jones and Michael
Turner have been pretty much the same back in 2009. Going
forward, though, I would prefer Jones. While Turner gets to enjoy
the overmatched Bills' run defense in Week 16, his road to championship
week isn't quite as smooth at Jones'. When you also consider that
Jones will contribute more in the passing game than he did in
the first half (following the loss of Leon
Washington), his value in PPR leagues gets a slight boost.
Schedule and contributions in the passing game also give Gore
Williams a slight edge over Turner for the remainder of the
season. I love Gore's Week 16 matchup vs. Detroit whereas I still
don't like D-Will's shot at huge numbers during the fantasy playoffs
despite Carolina's renewed emphasis on the running game (or renewed
emphasis on making sure Jake Delhomme doesn’t beat his own team).
The presence of Jonathan
Stewart keeps Williams fresh, but you just never know what
week the Panthers will decide Stewart should vulture Williams'
I see Mendenhall and Benson as the same back for fantasy purposes
for the remainder of the season. Neither player will set the PPR
world on fire but both players will see almost all of their team's
carries and have some pretty favorable matchups the rest of the
Brown continues to make Chad Henne more and more irrelevant,
it's become clear that in Miami’s running game, Brown is the Dolphins'
Mr. Inside to Ricky
Williams' Mr. Outside. Almost all of Brown's 30 carries that
are labeled as wide left or wide right are the result of a slow-developing
play out of the "Wildcat" whereas most of Williams' 31 outside
plays are designed outside runs, such as a toss, sweep or even
an option pitch such as the one he scored on in Week 9. While
it makes sense from the standpoint that Williams is probably the
more explosive RB of the two, it befuddles me that a running offense
like Miami's would be that obvious with their attack. (To their
credit, they did a better job of switching that up in Week 9.)
While I feel I have a fairly discerning eye, I know I am not the
only person to pick up on this tendency. Outside blitzes in recent
weeks have made Williams less of a factor out of the "Wildcat",
which is why I believe the team has started to work rookie QB
Pat White into the mix more often. Either way, owners of either
Brown or Williams should be able to get some solid production
out of their backs over the next three weeks when Miami faces
the Bucs, Panthers and Bills in succession. But keep the inside/outside
approach in mind when the Fins’ schedule gets a bit more difficult
during the fantasy playoffs.
Steven Jackson will continue to see his 25 touches/game in the
Rams' otherwise useless offense, which will make him a fine low-end
RB1 in PPR leagues and top-end RB2 in non-PPR. In a real NFL offense,
he'd be a great bet for 15-20 TDs this season, but St. Louis may
not give the opportunity to score more than five times in 2009.
Much like Brees above, Pierre Thomas has a schedule in which he
should be able to produce solid fantasy numbers. It's hard to
recall the last time two RBs who have produced such weak rushing
totals were still such solid players in fantasy, yet Joseph Addai
and Tim Hightower have used their gaudy totals in the passing
game to boost their anemic numbers on the ground (neither player
is averaging more than 3.6 YPC).
McCoy: Second-half surprise?
It's very difficult for me to put Ryan Grant in Matt Forte's
neighborhood, but it's becoming apparent that Chicago isn't going
to get it done on the ground this season. Forte will probably
never be the type of explosive RB who goes over 5.0 YPC, but he
isn't a sub-4.0 YPC ball carrier either. If we are to believe
his running splits, the problem is on the right side of the offensive
line. On plays in which Forte runs up the middle or to the right,
he is averaging a dismal 2.9 YPC. On runs to the left, it is a
much more respectable 4.4 - this is a problem the Bears will likely
have to address in the off-season. Grant gets the nod due to a
slightly softer schedule because it could be argued the Bears
face only one opponent (the Rams) in which Forte could dominate.
The Packers' slate of games isn't much more favorable, but at
least Grant has some hope during Weeks 14-16.
Second-Half Surprise: LeSean
McCoy, Eagles. I'm really going to roll the dice on this one,
but Brian Westbrook is dealing with an ankle injury and has been
held out of the last two games due to a concussion (which, by
the way, is a smart approach by the Eagles' brass). Already known
as one of fantasy's most injury-prone RBs, Westbrook may need
to miss another couple two-week periods to deal with a future
injury if his history continues to rear its ugly head. Philly's
remaining schedule doesn't do the team many favors, but McCoy
could very well be that second-half darling that every fantasy
team wants on their roster as they make their championship push
if Westbrook must miss any more games because the Eagles’
offense does a fine job of making their RBs almost matchup-proof
due to their heavy use in the passing game.
I'm not going to spend much time with the top seven receivers
in either PPR or non-PPR. There is very little separation between
these WRs in terms of their fantasy-point potential. Fitzgerald
is arguably the most consistent weekly point producer at WR that
I can remember since I started playing fantasy football. In PPR
and non-PPR, it seems he is always posting at least 12-15 points,
which is worth an awful lot when you talk about the inconsistent
nature of the WR position. I'm a bigger fan of Marques Colston
and Vincent Jackson in non-PPR formats for the simple fact that
each has an elite QB in an elite passing offense throwing them
the ball, almost regardless of the coverage they are facing on
any given play.
The next wave of WRs (Sims-Walker, Ochocinco, Ward, White, DeSean
Jackson, Austin, Rice, Driver, Hester and Marshall) all have the
ability to match the elite WRs above some - if not most - weeks,
but have at least one knock against them that keeps them from
being Fitzgerald-consistent or Moss-explosive. However, if I have
two strong RBs, I'd be more than happy to roll with two WRs from
Bowe may be able to join the above group if the Chiefs follow
through with their plans to run a more up-tempo offense. Calvin
Johnson's owners have to be getting impatient but, unless
we receive some dooming news about his knee in the near future,
he is still the most physically-gifted WR in the league. As long
as he stays healthy, his numbers will improve dramatically. His
high-target, low-production Week 9 was to be expected after being
sidelined for as long as he was. I'll predict it gets a whole
lot better in Week 10 when he faces a Vikings' defense minus CB
I see the Giants' Smith and Austin as WRs who have hit their
apex for the season, but that doesn't mean they won't deliver
consistent production for the rest of the season. But just like
the Eagles did in Week 9 with Austin, defenses have and will make
the necessary changes to make sure 200-yard, 2-TD games won't
become the norm. I'm interested to see if Boldin's week off will
allow him to reclaim his status as a high-volume pass catcher
once again. Part of me believes Kurt Warner only has eyes for
Fitzgerald at this point, even if his inability to throw the ball
downfield favors a run-after-catch wideout like Boldin.
The high ranking of Crabtree figures to raise an eyebrow or two,
but the Niners are passing the ball much more effectively than
they were prior to Alex Smith being named the starting QB. Vernon
Davis has benefited the most, but Crabtree has completely blown
away his critics (and even his coaching staff) with his ability
to step right in and produce. Two of his next three games (Chicago
and Jacksonville) figure to be games in which the rookie should
light it up, something that can't be said about most of the players
ranked below him.
Second-Half Surprises: Robert
Meachem, Saints AND Jacoby
Jones, Texans. Fantasy leaguers have been teased by Meachem’s
talent for so long, it almost seems ridiculous he is only in his
third year and just turned 25 in September. But just as Chris
Henry's injury in Cincinnati frees up Andre Caldwell and Laveranues
Coles for more snaps (and possible fantasy production), Lance
Moore's supposed high ankle sprain will allow Devery
Henderson and Meachem to contribute more. We have a pretty
good idea of what Henderson is all about, but Meachem has provided
us some recent glimpses of his tremendous potential. In Week 9,
he saw a career-high six targets and made them count. No one is
overtaking Colston as Drew Brees' #1 target, but I wouldn't be
totally surprised if Meachem is ready to assert himself as a viable
option behind Colston, Jeremy
Shockey and Reggie
Bush in the passing game. Three games against the Rams and
Bucs (twice) should give Meachem a handful of opportunities to
take advantage of what could be a lengthy absence for Moore.
Jones has already flirted with some degree of fantasy relevance
by serving as a Meachem- or Henderson-like big-play influence
for the Texans prior to Owen Daniels’ injury. I believe
Week 9 was only the tip of the iceberg as it relates to Jones’
ability to be more than just a deep threat. He will stand clearly
behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter in the pecking order for
targets among Houston WRs, but the nice thing about big-play WRs
like Jones is the fact they don’t require a lot of catches
to do a lot of damage. The Texans have a pretty favorable schedule
for the rest of the season, so you could do a lot worse in deeper
leagues than to make a play for Jones.
Daniels out for the season, Dallas
Clark and Vernon
Davis have emerged as the top options at the TE position.
At the rate both players are being targeted, don't expect their
production to slow down anytime soon. The next 5-6 TEs (Celek,
Gates, Gonzalez, Shockey, Heath Miller and Witten) are all in
the same neighborhood and could realistically be traded for each
other right now, which is a shocking revelation from what we "knew"
about 4-5 weeks ago. After that, it appears that Olsen and Shiancoe
are their individual QB's favorite target when they get in scoring
If Finley can get healthy anytime soon, I like him to break into
the second class of TEs above, but it seems that his recovery
time from a sprained knee could be measured with a sundial considering
he was a game-time decision two weeks ago. According to the Packers'
TE, he's ready to go, but the team is being overly cautious. Keller
has seen double-digit targets in two of his last three games,
so he could also move a few steps up over the next couple of weeks.
Winslow and Heap are both players who could be top-12 TEs on different
teams, but Winslow's fantasy potential for 2009 is going to be
rocky with rookie Josh Freeman throwing the ball. Ray Rice is
getting so much work now in the short passing game that Heap has
been rendered somewhat ineffective after a strong start to the
season. If Chris
Cooley could be ruled out for the season, Fred
Davis would be the only other player besides Brandon
Pettigrew who could move up substantially between now and
Second-Half Surprise: Jermichael
Finley, Packers. The stage is set perfectly for him, so long
as he gets back on the field soon. Aaron Rodgers trusts him, Green
Bay has a multitude of receiving threats that should leave the
middle of the field open and the schedule doesn't look all that
menacing, at least for his ability to produce solid stat lines.
If healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if his second-half production
meets or exceeds that of the bigger TE names like Gates or Witten.
There's seems to be a general belief that the Saints' defense
cannot continue their high-scoring pace. As an owner of their
defense in all three of my money leagues, believe me when I say
I expect more of the same. At least four of their games (Rams,
Week 10; Bucs, Week 11; Redskins, Week 13; and Bucs, Week 16)
are against offenses that either can't sustain offense or have
a rookie QB under center. For a high-scoring team whose defense
has obviously made it a point of turning over its opponents, more
defensive touchdowns and big plays should be in the offing. In
fantasy, it isn't always the best real defense that wins; it is
often the defense that makes the most happen that prevails. Quite
often, the “most” happens against the weakest opponents.
Like the Saints, the Eagles, Cowboys and Steelers all blitz with
such effectiveness that each unit should be worth starting on
a weekly basis from here on out, even though their schedules suggest
that it won't all be smooth sailing. The Vikings should rejoin
the elite defenses once they get Winfield back while the Bengals
could benefit from a Saints-like stretch after Week 10's showdown
It appears to me that Denver is an elite defense when DC Mike
Nolan can match up his personnel with the offense's down-by-down
substitutions. But over the past two weeks, Baltimore and Pittsburgh
have utilized an up-tempo attack that has, at times, completely
left Denver dazed and confused. Fortunately for the Broncos, not
a lot of their remaining opponents have the offensive structure
and/or personnel in place to run the no-huddle as effectively
as the Ravens and Steelers did.
On a related but slightly different topic, here are some interesting
nuggets if you study the stats like I do: In the two full games
Saints DT Sedrick Ellis has missed, New Orleans has allowed 343
rushing yards (compared to 417 yards in the five full games he
played before his knee injury).
Similarly, since the Titans returned CB Cortland
Finnegan to the lineup, Tennessee has permitted a total of
363 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and five interceptions
in two contests. In the three full games he missed, the Titans
surrendered 1,040 yards, 12 passing TDs and one interception.
Believe me when I tell you the Titans' revival has much more to
do with the defense (and the new conservative offensive gameplan
that complements the defense) than it does Vince Young. Although
Young is certainly doing his part, I think Kerry Collins would
have fared just as well over the last two weeks.
Especially in light of Veterans’ Day, I’d like
to conclude this edition of the Blitz by thanking all military
personnel – past, present and future – for the work
that you do and the freedoms that each of you allow us to enjoy.
It is safe to say that however many times we thank our veterans
for all they do, it still isn’t enough. It takes a truly
special person to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for
his or her country. Your work is greatly appreciated!
e-mail me with any questions/comments.