FANTASY GRIND: Crunch time cool, XN Sports' Carter

AP - Sports
FANTASY GRIND: Crunch time cool, XN Sports' Carter
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Fantasy footballers hoping for the playoffs this week are a lot like poker players trying to reach the money in the World Series of Poker main event.

That bubble can be brutal - and it can make good players make bad decisions.

In no-limit Texas Hold 'em that comes in the form of some players folding every hand - even pocket aces - until they're guaranteed to cash from the $10,000 buy-in, or doing the opposite and playing recklessly in hopes of building a nice stack of chips toward winning the title worth millions of dollars.

The truth players seem to forget? The decisions you make should be exactly the same whether you're betting $10,000 or nothing but pride. And if you change things up when you're close to the end, it shouldn't be because of pressure - it should be a purposeful, strategic choice.

C.D. Carter, a fantasy writer who wrote a book comparing fantasy sports to poker, ''How to Think Like a Fantasy Football Winner,'' says it's natural for even good fantasy players to get conservative at this point.

''Evaluation should be the same in Week 2 as it is in Week 13 and 14,'' said Carter, who writes for XNSports.com (We'll hear from him more below on waiver-wire streaming).

Evaluating things the same way is hard when you won't have time to make up for a loss. But it's the correct play and the way the card sharks do things.

Part of why Carter's poker comparison works enough to fill a book is because cards and fantasy sports both require players to make decisions with limited information, then watch things play out among varying degrees of luck.

And just like in poker tournaments, where players respond many different ways to being on the cusp of making money, sometimes fantasy players see making the playoffs as good enough.

It's OK if that's your goal - titles aren't always possible. But like in poker and other games, playing scared in fantasy rarely leads to the best decisions.

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PPR PLAYS

A conversation I had on Reddit (http://bit.ly/Ibhght) about points-per-reception versus standard leagues was a good reminder that not all fantasy players really take into account their unique scoring systems when they're making decisions about players to pick up and start.

Remember, only 24 percent of CBS Sports leagues use standard offensive scoring, the rest are modified in some way. PPR is the most popular way to do that, and it's used in 28 percent of leagues on the site.

It's easy to assume that giving points for receptions simply makes all ball-catchers more valuable, but it's more complicated than that. More importantly, it changes the relative value of players compared with others at their position.

Here are some players to keep in mind as PPR starters (or potential last-minute trade targets) the next few weeks, even if they're not as exciting in standard leagues.

RB: Pierre Thomas, New Orleans. In a somewhat down year for Darren Sproles, Thomas has 56 catches on 62 targets. It's unexpected, but he's easily a No. 2 running back in PPR formats.

WR: Julian Edelman, New England. You might consider Edelman an unexciting bench player on your fantasy roster. True enough in standard leagues, but he's a worthy flex player in PPR leagues or leagues that require a third wide receiver. He has 89 targets, the most on the Patriots, and his 61 catches are tied for 10th among wide receivers.

TE: Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta. If you have Vernon Davis, Gonzalez's owner may be willing to part with him as part of a package deal that improves you in two or more areas (without the other guy knowing it).

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RINGER TIME: CD CARTER

If you've been playing matchups and piecing together your weekly fantasy lineups based on who's available on the waiver wire, don't back off now that the playoffs are looming.

Many fantasy players stream their defenses and kickers - or at least wait to the last rounds to pick them - but Carter has taken weekly waiver plays to a new level. The past two seasons, he's drafted with the strategy of streaming his quarterback and tight end, reasoning that it's viable to find one player at each position each week capable of putting up a start-worthy performance.

Carter says the strategy lets him load up on running backs and wide receivers early, then look for value opportunities in other spots.

''I win a lot of these games because I have big, fast, red zone-relevant wide receivers and running backs that get the ball a lot,'' Carter said.

It's much different than a ''go with who brought you'' approach, which usually ends up more like ''set it and forget it.''

But even if you're not streaming or comfortable with the idea, challenging yourself to compare your players against one-week opportunities is a good start to honestly assessing your fantasy chops.

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FULL DISCLOSURE

Clinched the playoffs in a second of five leagues and got a crucial win in my two-quarterback keeper league to all but clinch a playoff spot. A win this week would do it and I'm far enough ahead in points scored to sustain a loss. But let's keep things simple. Went 4-1 for the week and 2-3 in daily leagues after putting too much stock in Case Keenum. Hey, so did the sports books in Las Vegas, so not much to feel bad about.

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Oskar Garcia is a news editor in Honolulu who spends way too much time on fantasy sports with too little to show for it. He can be reached at ogarcia(at)ap.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/oskargarcia

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