There are no moral victories in the NFL and generally speaking we don't go out of our way to credit a team fresh off a 16-point loss. That established, I was very impressed with what the Jacksonville Jaguars brought to the table in Week 6.
You know all about the setup: the unbeaten Broncos hosting the hapless, winless Jags. My buddy Chris Liss called it the Point Spread Super Bowl. Denver was spotting anywhere from 26 to 28 points in this game, the biggest mismatch in NFL history.
The Jags earned some respect in their 35-19 loss, and in the process showed us a thing or two about game theory. When you're a heavy underdog, you need to adopt different rules. High volatility is your friend. Playing conservatively in this spot is a gross error - forget scripting the Friendliest Loss, take a shot to win.
Jacksonville tried a fake punt on its first series, a move I loved (it's about process and upside, not outcomes). The Jags were physical on defense, making Manning uncomfortable (and forcing him into his worst game of the year - keep that in perspective, of course). Say this for Gus Bradley, he knew how to attack this game - and he gave his team a far better shot to win than anyone expected.
Fantasy owners need to consider the same themes in their make-believe world. Sometimes you're a heavy underdog in your weekly matchup, or maybe you're buried in the current standings. There's a time to be aggressive, to throw caution to the wind. There's a time to Play Like a Jaguar.
Here are some of the things I consider in those spots:
-- Matchmaker, Matchmaker: In an underdog spot, you might want to link your quarterback with one of his receivers. You want both players to be good, of course - the Ryan Fitzpatrick/Delanie Walker combo isn't going to cut it. But if your opponent has a much stronger roster than you do, the simplest path to an upset is your friend. Perhaps one or two touchdown hook-ups from quarterback to target can push you over the top.
-- No Country For Sitting Men: If one of my teams falls behind in the standings, I take injuries and even bye weeks personally. If I have a name-brand of note who's inactive for the coming week (for any reason) and my team is already a long shot for the playoffs, it's time to liquidate, see what I can get for right now.
-- Steal Points From The Opposing Offense: Sometimes a sneaky gambit is starting the fantasy defense that's tied to your opponent's quarterback (or primary offensive weapon). The idea is this: if the defense controls the game and adds a runback score or two, it will be scoring for you while it's not scoring for him. I wouldn't look to this angle in a game I think I can win straight up, but in a desperate spot, it's worth considering.
Anyone who tried this move (accidentally or intentionally) with the Dallas defense Sunday night was rewarded nicely. The Cowboys had a runback touchdown and controlled the game on defense, while the main offensive Cowboys had quiet games. I wouldn't look to get too cute with this strategy, but I'd consider it if I found myself in a desperate situation.
Similar to this idea, you want to make sure you're not starting too many fantasy pieces that oppose one another. Your kicker probably shouldn't be on the same team as your quarterback, say - it's hard for both of them to go bonkers in the same week.
There's some game theory to get you started. Quick-hitter game notes will follow shortly.
-- If you have access to every snap from Week 6, I implore you to spend a while enjoying Justin Blackmon's clinic at Denver (14-190 on 20 targets). The Broncos knew Blackmon was the only player to fear and they still couldn't stop him. This reminds me of Dez Bryant 2012, a gifted freak athlete ready to go ballistic on the score sheet. Henne is no starmaker, of course, but at least he gives Blackmon a chance to post pinball numbers - he's a tier or two above Blaine Gabbert.
And it's not like Blackmon's 20 targets were born from a heavy dose of garbage time; the Jags were in the Denver game until the very end. Blackmon's posted two validation games since returning from suspension; this is a Top 10 receiver, amigos.
You hear a lot of Buy Low/Sell High tripe every week, and in many cases it's advice that can't be applied in any sort of competitive league. But sometimes you need to think about the players who are worth Buying High and Selling Low. Blackmon is in the former group, someone I'd be willing to consider at sticker price right now. This is real and spectacular.
-- The other side of the coin is the C.J. Spiller situation in Buffalo. Remember how Dean Smith was the only coach to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points? That's basically what Doug Marrone is doing to Spiller. Granted, Spiller doesn't look completely healthy, but Marrone hasn't figured out how to use his best athlete.
The timing isn't great for a Spiller deal, but maybe you can still recoup most of his draft-day value. If you've traded for Spiller (or away from Spiller) in the last week or so, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Let me know the word on the street. And to be as clear as possible, I'm bearish on the Buffalo runner. At some point, a poor start downshifts into a poor season.
-- The Dwayne Bowe albatross season has been well-documented in Kansas City. Obviously Alex Smith doesn't like to take chances downfield. The Chiefs have been in the lead for almost the entire season. Bowe probably isn't a good fit for Andy Reid's offense, which values lateral movement as much as anything. And then there's the matter of Bowe's diminished speed; when Greg Cosell says it's raining, get your umbrella.
But what's the Marques Colston excuse in New Orleans? Why does he keep torching our fake teams?
Colston can't blame the context - he's been with Sean Payton several years, he's tied to a Hall of Fame quarterback, and the Saints always have passing-game volume. Perhaps Colston is starting at a cliff year at age 30; maybe this is the major season of slippage. It's frustrating to see Colston collect just 11 receiving yards on the same day Jimmy Graham gets bageled. If you can get Eric Decker or Blackmon (dreamer) or heck, Alshon Jeffery for Colston, I'd do it in a second. Denarius Moore? I'd strongly consider it.