At this time of year, fantasy owners start overthinking themselves. Fortunately for me in The Shop league, my draft day stash of Tevin Coleman paid off without Devonta Freeman stealing his thunder, allowing me to go against all conventional wisdom and benching Shady McCoy despite every fantasy expert telling me otherwise.
It was still the regular season and I felt confident enough to mix and match my lineup, which, as luck would have it, clinched my division a week before the end of the regular season and gave me a first-round bye. Needless to say, the other owners in my division weren’t their typical chatty selves Monday morning at The Shop. I lot of quiet reflection was going on.
I am a firm believer in mixing and matching lineups during the regular season. I’ve never been one who feels obligated to keep playing guys simply because they’re guys you invested heavily in. When Aaron Rodgers went down every Packer – from Jordy Nelson to Davante Adams to Ty Montgomery to their kicker – became immediately dead to me. The same goes for anyone on the Giants, Browns and 49ers. There are only so many substandard days you can accept from Carlos Hyde before you feel obligated to give somebody else a shot.
However, when it comes to the playoffs, it’s a completely different story. In a one-and-done scenario, I don’t pay nearly as much attention to matchups as I do during the regular season. Seeing Cleveland or San Francisco the Giants on a schedule could be enough to sway me to bench a struggling star like Julio Jones or Shady McCoy for a lesser talent with a potentially dominating matchup.
But when it comes to the fantasy playoffs – Playoffs? You’re talking about playoffs? – I determine who are my crew is (my Regulators), we saddle up and we ride until we reach our destination or die trying.
This might seem a little close-minded and I don’t expect any of you to follow my lead on this. I’m just throwing it out because it worked so consistently and so often over the years I can’t shake myself from doing it.
In the fantasy playoffs, there are always “bad beats.” Teams that have rolled all season get knocked off by somebody who took a chance on Case Keenum or Orleans Darkwa and they produce a huge game out of nowhere. To me, there are few things worse than having your season end with one or two of your best players on your bench because you had a matchup hunch.
If I’m going to lose, I’d rather lose on my own terms and go do with all my best horses snarling and snorting and we ride into the Pit of Despair (Dilly, Dilly!). There is nothing worse than benching a guy you really like for a perceived better matchup, only to have that player score a ton of points on your bench. Before your playoffs start, without looking at matchups – injury concerns typically take care of themselves – pick the lineup you would choose with all things being equal.
There’s nothing saying you have to go with that lineup, but just make note of it and see if anything would have been different if you had saddled up your Regulators and a ridden into the sunset with them.
When it comes to your fantasy team, you are the final decision maker. But, doing this for 20 years has taught me that I’d rather celebrate or mourn with the guys I view as the best players on my roster regardless of matchup. Many more times than not, it has served me well and could do the same for you.
- Who would have guessed that Robby Anderson would become a must-start fantasy receiver? In his last five games, Anderson has scored touchdowns in five straight games, catching 23 passes for 408 yards and six touchdowns – receiver numbers you can put up against anyone in the league.
- Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. In Sunday’s game between the Broncos and Raiders, linebacker Navarro Bowman was laying on his back in the end zone when a ball was contested behind and landed in his lap. It was the first interception by Oakland all season – the span of almost 10½ games.
- Coming into Sunday’s game with Tampa Bay, Julio Jones had just one touchdown and two 100-yard games. That changed in a big way, as Jones caught 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a home win against the Bucs. In 2016, Julio has a 12-catch, 300-yard day against Carolina at home and in 2015 in front of the home fans, he had receiving days of 178, 162, 160, 149 and 141 yards.
- Hey, didn’t you used to be Jordy Nelson? In the five games that Nelson played that Aaron Rodgers started, he was targeted 38 times, catching 25 of them for 292 yards and six touchdowns. In the five games started by Brett Hundley, he has been targeted 26 times, catching 13 passes for 101 yards and no touchdowns.
The razor’s edge
- The Chain Gang – The personal animosity between Aqib Talib and Michael Crabtree reared its ugly head in the Broncos-Raiders game Sunday, taking away two of the best players on the field in a game that had “loser-leaves-town” implications in the AFC West. Their fistfight is likely going to lead to a stiff fine and possibly a suspension, but I have to side with Crabtree on this despite being the instigator. Last year, the two of them got into it and Talib snatched off Crabtree’s gold chain and stuck it in his uniform pants. He did it again Sunday. Pure and simple – you don’t snatch a man’s gold chain off his neck. If you do, prepare for the consequences.
- What Would Aaron Do? – We’re still a couple of weeks away from Aaron Rodgers potentially being back in action for the Packers. Personally, I have a problem with pushing a franchise guy back on the field when he may not be 100 percent and I won’t believe it until I see it because, if he doesn’t come back in Week 15, he’s got a date with Carolina and Minnesota and they will be coming after him. However, if Green Bay had completed their upset bid at Pittsburgh, I would have changed my tune. With Tampa Bay and Cleveland up next, if the Packers were at 6-5, there would be a reason for the confidence of an A-Rodg Christmas miracle. When a 7-4 team currently isn’t even a wild card in the NFC right now, the 5-6 Packers don’t look like a playoff team because they can’t figure out you double-team Antonio Brown at crunch time, not let him and Le’veon Bell own you like both of them did.
- The Chicago Fire Burning Out – There weren’t many who don’t drink the blue and orange Kool-Aid that thought the Bears would go into Philadelphia and come away with a win, but they had all the appearances of a bad college team. In the first half, the Eagles ran 41 plays for 272 yards, while the Bears ran 17 plays for just 33 yards. Even with an entire half of garbage time, the Bears managed just 140 yards on 49 plays, while the Eagles rolled up 420. We knew Mitch Trubisky would struggle through the air, but the Bears ran just 14 times and gained six yards – a near impossibility in the NFL. Sorry to tell you Foxy, but it may be time for you to go – the sooner the better.
- Slaying the Giant – The miserable 2017 season continues for the New York Giants and Thanksgiving night may have been a low point even for them. Eli Manning has been sporting that classic glazed-over Eli look all season and, now that the team has dropped to 2-9, you have to wonder if the Giants will keep him out there just to keep his consecutive games streak alive. When you’re losing like the G-Men are, it’s hard to watch. The Redskins defense isn’t stellar, yet they held the Giants to only two more yards passing (86) than they had rushing (84). It’s time to clean house in New York and Ben McAdoo has run out of excuses.
- It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish – The Indianapolis Colts can only blame themselves for the position they find themselves in. Despite being 3-8, the Colts have been a decent first-half team, outscoring their opponents 121-115 before halftime. But, they’ve been outscored 185-74 after halftime, including a whopping 117-28 disparity in the fourth quarter. They hadn’t lost at home in a decade to Tennessee and looked as though they were going to make it 10 straight over the Titans when they led 16-6 late in the third quarter. But, in the final 18 minutes, Tennessee ran 23 plays for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while the Colts ran 14 plays for 45 yards with a fumble and three punts. You’re only as good as your record says you are, but the Colts may be the worst second-half team of the last several years.
- Same Old Motown Sound – The Detroit Lions have played well enough to make the NFC playoffs two of the last three years – they don’t win once they get there, but they get there. The Kitties had a chance to pull within a game of Minnesota in the NFC North and would have a series sweep over the Vikings with a home win Thanksgiving Day. Instead, they allowed Minnesota to run over around and through them, basically surrendering the division title to the Vikings with their best hope being that other teams lose and they can maybe – maybe – slide as the second wild-card team. Detroit has a penchant for losing big games and Thursday had a playoff feel to it, which could explain why they lost.
- Hide and Go Zeke – In the six games before Ezekiel Elliott ran out of legal challenges to his six-game suspension, the Cowboys 28, 30, 31, 40, 33 and 28 points, sitting at 5-3 when Zeke was forced to start serving his suspension. Dallas is now at 5-6 after putting up point totals of 7, 9 and 6 in the three games Elliott has missed. The Cowboys weren’t even able to take advantage of the Chargers being without a kicker, which had to change what they would normally do. Elliott will be back in three games, but, at this rate, the Cowboys will be floating face down in the playoff pool and whatever Elliott accomplishes will be too little, too late. The delay of the suspension came at a time when teams pushing for the playoffs start playing their best, not their worst. It would appear that Dallas is in a “no Zeke, no win” situation and it’s just getting worse.
- Thrown From the Horse – It’s hard to believe the Denver Broncos were once 3-1 with wins in their pocket over division rivals Los Angeles and Oakland. On the heels of a seven-game losing streak in which they’ve been outscored 133-31 in the first half of those games, the Broncos still had a shot at the division with a win over the Raiders Sunday. But, with six minutes left in the third quarter, the Broncos offense had managed just 56 yards on 29 plays and were being shut out. They have been held under 20 points in eight of their last nine games and in the game they did score more than 20, it was largely at garbage time in a 51-23 loss to the Eagles. They’ve burned through three quarterbacks in four games and the organization has hit bottom. The happy memories of Peyton Manning are fading away and being replaced by the stark reality that when you have three pedestrian quarterbacks, you actually have none.
- It’s Not Pronounced “Mar-RONE,” It’s Pronounced “MOR-ron” – The Jacksonville Jaguars have arguably the best defense in football. So, there was no reason to fear potentially going to overtime against Blaine Gabbert and the Arizona Cardinals. Pinned on their own 10-yard line with 1:14 to play in regulation and the Cardinals having one timeout, all the Jaguars had to do was run the ball and, if they didn’t pick up a first down, just let the clock run and hit the overtime reset button. Instead, head coach Doug Marrone opted to put the game on the shoulder of Blake Bortles – historically a bad decision. Bortles threw an incompletion with 33 seconds left that allowed the Cardinals to get the ball back with enough time to attempt (and make) a game-winning 57-yard field goal that not only erased the Jags’ one-game lead in the AFC South, but now has them in a wild-card spot. With that defense he had nothing to fear going to overtime. Players can lose games for teams and carry that burden. When it falls on a head coach’s bad decisions, it’s inexcusable.
- From the Penthouse to the Outhouse – When Kansas City was flying high at 5-0, it seemed all but impossible for them not only to win their division but likely hold down a first-round playoff bye in the process. But, they have officially bottomed out with five losses in their last six games, including losses to teams that have found wins hard to come by in recent weeks – Oakland, Dallas, the Giants and Buffalo. There is talk of pulling Alex Smith for unproven rookie Patrick Mahomes as if that will be a cure at this late stage of the season. The good news for the Chiefs is that their division is so brutal, 6-5 still leaves you alone in first place, but this looking a lot more like the one-and-done Chiefs we’ve become accustomed to in those years that they make the playoffs, which may not be this year if they can’t pull out of their current tailspin.