We're in the sixth week of the 2011 NFL campaign, which means the Mad Lib columns will start. It's the strangest season. Look at all the surprises. Hasn't it been a weird year?
You might as well program those stories in your calendar. They happen every year in the NFL, the ultimate reshuffle league.
But annual madness doesn't have to bother us as fantasy owners. I say, let's embrace the craziness. Let's take the best stab at figuring out today, and worry about tomorrow (and November and December) down the road.
The Yahoo! Friends & Family League is a bloodbath, a very competitive 14-team industry league. We're all taking it seriously, bidding weekly, setting our best lineups, doing all we can to beat the other guy. There are no weak players at the table, no suckers, no easy wins. And with short benches, things can get a little tricky in the middle of the year, especially when the heavy bye weeks come calling.
Andre Johnson was my first F&F pick this year and all was ducky for three weeks. Johnson was in fine form, not going ballistic but playing just fine, thanks. Then he went down with a scary non-contact hamstring injury in Week 4, and that left me with a tough decision. Sit tight and hope for the best, or do something about it? What's my objective here: play for today, or align for tomorrow?
In a less-competitive group, I would have strongly considered stashing Johnson on my bench and leaving it to that. We know how dynamic he is when he's on the field, a sure Top 5 receiver (and at times the best in the game). I've never doubted Johnson's ability, and upside, for a second.
But in the F&F I'm looking at limited bench spots, bye-week demands, and a skimpy waiver wire. And while the Texans say they expect Johnson back in a couple of weeks, who's to say if that's really accurate? Gary Kubiak is from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree: never tell anyone anything if you can avoid it. Johnson's singing an optimistic tune about his recovery, but generally the player is the worst source for any injury timetable. Everyone thinks they'll be back soon, everyone claims to be a quick healer. When you grow up as a superhero, you tend to think that way. Just once I want to hear an athlete admit "sorry everyone, I heal slower than everyone else."
My team was off to a 4-0 start, but I wasn't blinded by that. I'm just fifth in overall points out of the 14 teams; I have a solid group, a respectable team, but it's no juggernaut. (If you want to see what a juggernaut looks like, consider Team Behrens. Yikes. That roster is so loaded, I can only imagine how many NCAA violations he must have committed while assembling it.)
Ultimately I decided to put Johnson on the block, with the "discounted" tag and all. At the end of the day I figured it was more important to chase wins today and I'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow. And while I didn't get blown away with any superb offers, I eventually decided Marques Colston was enough (the philanthropic Jay Clemons offered that, I initially said no, then re-offered the deal a day later. Yes, it was a liquidation of sorts).
The main takeaways here:
-- The important thing to grasp is why I traded Andre Johnson, not necessarily what I got for him. Make sure you see the distinction.
-- The main goal in any head-to-head league is to make the playoffs (hopefully as a bye team), then get lucky for 2-3 weeks in the tournament. To be specific, the goal is to score points, but they're means to an end — you're looking for wins. Anything can happen once bracket play begins. I had a very ordinary 7-6 team that snuck in the F&F post-season last year, and then we got lucky for three weeks and won the title. I never had the best team over the course of the season, even with Michael Vick in tow.
-- Every week it looks like we've picked the waiver wire clean in the F&F, and then players emerge from out of nowhere (or semi-nowhere). That's the NFL today; more skill players than ever are viable. Most teams use backfield platoons, most teams have 3-4 receivers you better be familiar with, a lot of teams even have two tight ends of interest. There will be someone worth grabbing later. That's one reason why I hate to waste a bench spot on anyone who is a wait-and-see player, even one as talented as Johnson. Roster space is a currency.
-- It's very important to be fair with yourself as you gage your team's strengths and weaknesses. Points scored are the truest barometer of strength. Even with a 4-0 start, I wasn't going to be blinded by my place in the standings. I knew all along my team was solid but far from great. And with that in mind, I need all the wins I can get now. You gotta take what you can, when you can, while you can — and you gotta do it now.
Conversely, if you are the dominant team, if you do have a cushion (and a juggernaut), maybe you're the team that can make a move for an injured star like Johnson. I didn't receive a trade offer from Behrens last week but he's got the type of team that can easily burn a bench space on an wait-and-see superstar. He's undefeated and has a points-scored edge.
-- If you're swimming with the guppies, today's theme isn't going to apply to you. Truth be told, if you're in a neophyte league, you don't need advice from anyone. Just keep doing what you're doing and start clearing off some mantle space.
Tomorrow is going to be crazy, gamers. Let's do the best we can with today.
• Tim Tebow is the hot topic of the week and I'd be remiss if I didn't duck in a couple of thoughts on Tebowmania. First and foremost, I'm considering him a low-end QB1 going forward. Yes, he's a work in progress as a passer, a mechanical mess, a project all the way. And no, we can't be sure if John Fox will get out of the way and let Tebow breathe, let him keep the job long term (remember, Fox is the man who kept DeAngelo Williams rotting on the bench while DeShaun Foster hobbled along). But rushing yards and scores are fantasy gold - it's simple algebra, friends - and we saw what Tebow is capable of doing last year, when he was the tipping point in many leagues. A lot of you won 2010 titles because of those monster Tebow numbers down the stretch.
I'm a little mad at myself for not having Tebow stashed anywhere. I had it in my mind to preemptively add him here or there when the Broncos got done with their bye week, thinking he had a shot to maybe take over in November. Sure, it's easy to say that now, but it was on my agenda. But I didn't make the move early enough, so now I have to bid on him like everyone else. And I'm not even sure I have the right financial setup to get him where I'd like him. So it goes.
So who's the next Tebow, the next lottery ticket, a player who's worth absolutely nothing today but perhaps something tomorrow? Maybe Matt Flynn in Green Bay. We know the Packers have an overload of riches at the skill positions and we know the offensive line will be without Chad Clifton for a while. I'd never wish injury on anyone and I'd be sad as a football fan if Aaron Rodgers got hurt, but we have to look at this unemotionally. Would Flynn be a Top 12 fantasy quarterback if Rodgers got hurt? I think he could be.
In very deep leagues with heavy roster space, I'd consider a spot for Terrell Owens. My gut tells me he'll play 4-6 games this year (or maybe my gut is telling me it's time for a sandwich; the signals can get mixed during brunch). Owens is a circus act off the field, but he still plays hard between the lines and he's never taken a play off. Some team will see value in him.
• If you ever find yourself in a legal jam, call Cedric Benson. His lawyers obviously know what they're doing.
• I can't say that the Jets would have won, but they definitely made a grave error by eschewing the pass for so long against the Patriots. Rex Ryan and Co. overreacted to how poorly Mark Sanchez (and the offensive line) played at Baltimore; the Week 5 focus should have been on how vulnerable the New England pass defense is. Sanchez threw a couple of touchdown passes and had a snappy 105.6 rating for the game, but the Jets only attempted 26 passes. Ground and pound is a nice idea if you're living in 1977, but we're in a passing league today, Rexy. Get your head (and your toes) out of the sand.
• I'm astounded at the job Jim Harbaugh is doing in San Francisco, and he'd win coach of the year in a landslide if we voted today (sorry Jim Schwartz). And Harbaugh's finest work might be the reclamation project on Alex Smith (7.7 YPA, 104.1 rating, seven touchdown passes, just one pick). But before we get too carried away with Smith from a fantasy standpoint, let's assess what's really happening here: Harbaugh is managing Smith, massaging him into a balanced offense, and not asking the QB to do a lot. Smith has just 126 pass attempts through five games, and he's gone past 30 attempts just once (he had a mere 19 last week). Smith is in fine form, but he's not steering the offense. I'll upgrade him some in the next Shuffle Up and pass, but I doubt it will be anything significant.
• Matt Ryan is in a curious situation where he might play worse this year but be a better fantasy option because the Falcons defense has fallen apart. Pinball scoring should be on the way with Carolina and Detroit next up on the schedule. But I'm probably not going to downgrade Michael Turner from this, given that he's still the unquestioned feature back here (not many current backs get that tag), and he'll be fed plenty at the goal line.
Images courtesy of Associated Press