In our world of fake sports, it's all about the layers. Every piece of fantasy news has a butterfly effect.
Consider the Atlanta Falcons, fresh off their YYZ victory. Roddy White's rebound is a hot topic for the moment, but let's not miss the spillover – Matt Ryan is finally off the restricted list.
Ryan's disappointing year has been an unavoidable sabotage for the most part. His offensive line isn't good; the running game is a joke; White's been limited most of the season; and Julio Jones went down after Week 5. Ryan was able to fight the good fight for a while, but the loss of Jones and White eventually collapsed his numbers.
Ryan was fantasy's No. 6 quarterback through the opening five weeks (along with a QB rating over 100), and he torched Tampa Bay in Week 7 (20-for-26, 273 yards, three touchdowns). But when the schedule toughened up, Atlanta's offense was fully exposed.
Ryan managed just three touchdown passes - against seven picks - in consecutive losses to Arizona, Carolina and Seattle. Nasty defenses, all. After scoring 153 points through six games, Atlanta scored just 33 over that stretch. Fantasy owners went running, and with good reason. Ryan had some garbage-time production in Week 11's loss at Tampa Bay, but it didn't restore consumer confidence.
The rebound started in a National TV game, slowly but steadily. Ryan didn't have a touchdown pass in Week 12, though a 30-for-39 effort against New Orleans was a positive step forward. And he was sharp for most of Sunday's overtime win at Toronto, finishing with a 28-47-311 line (one score, no picks, 17 scrambling yards). White's play also jumped off the screen from the Buffalo victory - he snagged 10-of-14 targets (for 143 yards), ran crisp routes, looked like his old self. Welcome back, 84.
The better play of late comes in spite of the offensive line - Ryan's taken 11 sacks the last two weeks. And the Falcons haven't hit any home runs in the vertical game, limited to a long completion of 29 yards. That's where Jones is missed the most, in the intermediate and deep tree.
Ryan's potential excites me for 2014, where I expect him to be a tremendous middle-round value pick. Tony Gonzalez is fully expected to retire, of course, but just having a presumably-healthy Jones and White should do wonders for Ryan. Harry Douglas is a capable slot target, and Atlanta's line play should improve by default.
You don't necessarily have to wait on the redemption song, either. Atlanta plays Green Bay and Washington the next two weeks, both plus matchups. Ryan is an easy-to-play QB2 in any format that uses two starters, and he might be worth a look at the back end of QB1 class. It's nice to have this option again. No one expects much from the Falcons in the final two games (San Francisco, Carolina), but we'll cross that championship bridge if and when we get to it.
• While White's route-running precision is welcome back in the Falcons huddle, Andrew Luck secretly pines for his missing pieces. Reggie Wayne might be the most technically sound receiver of his generation, and the Colts offense has been a mess since he suffered his season-ending injury.
It's painful to watch Indianapolis tape these days. The offensive line is horrendous, the wideouts haven't really stepped up, the running game is subpar (even when Trent Richardson is marginalized). Throw in overmatched offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and it's one hot mess. The Colts somehow found a way to beat Tennessee on Sunday, but this is a team with major problems. The schedule is dicey for the fantasy playoffs, too (at Cincinnati; Houston; at Kansas City).
I'd like to put Luck on my (very early and preemptive) 2014 shopping list, right next to Ryan, but it's difficult to trust Hamilton and the Colts. This is an organization that put a heavy value on Richardson, after all. This is an organization that wants to play smashmouth, old-school football - the holdout pong player walking aimlessly through the pinball arcade. Do you trust Indianapolis to get Luck the help he needs for 2014? I wish I did.
• Percy Harvin isn't going to play Monday against New Orleans and it's possible he won't return until the playoffs. You know the drill. For fantasy, it's a one-way ticket to drop city.
Obviously formats differ and every situation is different, but the Harvin story underscores why I rarely want long-term lottery tickets clogging up my fantasy roster. There's a screened opportunity cost here - you're playing a man down, cut off from a free-agent pick. And don't forget the "prove it" week that's often needed before you can trust an injury returnee.
I know, I know, the Gronkowski Youth wants to spike their success as often as possible. Score one for the other side. But to anyone who avoided Harvin in 2013, or sold right before his return, I salute you. Over-optimism is something you can consistently leverage against. If a name brand is involved, someone will chase the best-case scenario.
• As awful as Geno Smith has been in the second half of the year (22.0 rating, no TDs, six picks), it doesn't make any sense for the Jets to bench him. Know who you are, New York. This isn't a Super Bowl contender or even a playoff threat in 2013. Your final month should be spent on development and evaluation; see what you have with your second-round pick.
Mind you, fantasy owners will want to gang up on the Jets where possible. The Raiders defense could be worth a streaming look on the road in Week 14. Carolina is a strong play a week later, and maybe you can try Cleveland at New York in Week 16. Smith or Matt Simms, it doesn't matter. Let's pick on the overmatched.