Way back before Al Gore invented the Internet one of the godfathers of fantasy football, John Habermaier, coined an axiom that for the most part has stood the test of time:
Never bench Emmitt.
Habermaier, who with his partner Guy Green hosted the world’s first fantasy football radio show (a predecessor to the “Fantasy Football Weekly” show entering its 20th year on KFAN in Minneapolis-St. Paul; full disclosure, I’ve been a co-host of FFW for the past 10 years), gave that answer whenever a caller to his show asked about benching a stud because of a difficult matchup. Named for the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, running back Emmitt Smith, NBE supposed that because a player was a stud he was capable of good games against opponents both soft and stout.
And if you took Habes’ advice and rode Emmitt throughout his career you would have been rewarded with 100 rushing yards or a touchdown—often both—in 63 percent of his 226 games. That number even includes Emmitt’s 25 games as a Cardinal, a two-year period David Dorey vociferously denies even happened. If you narrow it down to the decade in which Emmitt was truly transcendent—beginning with his second NFL season of 1991 and running through Y2K—he notched those benchmarks in almost three-quarters of his 155 games.
So against defenses great and not-so-much, Smith was a smart start at least 75 percent of the time.
The question then, of course, became which players should be elevated to “Emmitt” status and the debate rolled on. But in a world of overcoaching, any time I think about sitting down one of my studs because they happen to be facing a particularly tricky matchup Habes’ words echo inside my brain:
Never bench Emmitt.
Fast-forward some 20-plus years later and that axiom continues to hold up.
Except, perhaps, when it comes to this iteration of the Seattle Seahawks defense.
Over the several weekly radio appearances I do, the most commonly asked question heading into Week 1 was “should I play Aaron Rodgers against the Seahawks or [insert backup quarterback here]?” For the vast majority I steadfastly held to the Never Bench Emmitt mantra, finally relenting when an obvious NFC North fan had the option of Rodgers or Jay Cutler.
And how did Never Bench Aaron work in Week 1? Not so hot. Rodgers ranked 30th among quarterbacks in fantasy production; not only was starting Cutler the better move, but fantasy backups like Jake Locker, Chad Henne, EJ Manuel, Derek Anderson, Alex Smith, Matt Cassell, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer… for crying out loud even Geno Smith was a better fantasy play.
Rodgers’ track record heading into Week 1 was certainly Emmitt-esque; last year he threw for 300 yards or multiple touchdowns (or both) in six of nine games, one of which he was knocked out of after two passes. He turned that trick 12 times in 16 games the previous season as well, if you consider one rushing TD to equal two passing scores.
But in Week 1 Rodgers was a bust. So… it’s gotta be the Seattle D, right?
Back to the abacus, where some digging revealed that only once all of last season did a quarterback prove worthy of a fantasy start against Seattle—that is, ranking among the top dozen scorers at the position. And that, of course, was the unlikely Matt Schaub in Week 4.
Schaub’s 26.3 fantasy points came in Houston and were followed immediately by the only other 20-point game Seattle surrendered, 20.4 fantasy points to Andrew Luck in Indy—a total that ranked 13th among quarterbacks that week. For the season opposing quarterbacks ranked an average of 22nd; when the Seahawks were at home, that ranking dropped even further, to 24th.
And facing what is almost universally agreed to be the three elite quarterbacks in the NFL over the past four games, the Seahawks have given up 13.5 fantasy points to Rodgers, 18.0 to Peyton Manning, and 19.5 to Drew Brees. Those are all unstartable numbers in typical one-QB leagues.
Not that we didn’t know Seattle’s defense was good, of course. But it’s quite possible they provide the exception that proves the rule, the corollary to the long-standing Never Bench Emmitt axiom.
It’s a corollary that should likely be trotted out this week when Philip Rivers and the Chargers host Seattle. But it will be truly tested in Week 3, when Peyton Manning visits Seattle for a Super Bowl rematch.
You know, the game where the NFL record-setter threw for 280 yards and a touchdown, posting 18 fantasy points?
Never Bench Peyton?
I don’t own Manning in any leagues this year so I don’t have to figure out if I’m capable of pulling the trigger on sitting him down because of a tough matchup. But if the Week 3 questions adopt a tone similar to Week 1, I know I’ll be far more inclined to opt for what’s behind Door #2.