What initially drew me to fantasy football some 18 years ago wasn’t the idea of owning my own team of players. It wasn’t the spectacle of conducting a real life draft. It was winning, plain and simple. I wanted to be able to look at my friends and say, on that day, I was better. I’m a competition junkie, and if there can be a winner and a loser, I’m all in.
Naturally, this love of competition facilitated a love of sports. From being a young bowling prodigy to playing rec league sports as an adult, I want to be the best at everything I do. While God blessed me with a fair amount of skill in many of the sports I play, one thing he chose not to bestow upon me was a whole lot of athleticism.
I mean, I’m no slouch or anything out there. I can get up and down the court or field with anybody. But you won’t see me on the receiving end of an alley-oop or pulling away from defenders in a straight sprint. Hell, any day I can jump and be able to touch the rim is a good day by my standards. Knowing that I won’t be able to stand up to the physical talents of others, I know I have to find other ways to level the playing field. So I flex my biggest muscle: my mind.
The best examples I can give you come from my thousands of hours on the basketball court. I was that eight-year-old who saw NBA teams pulling the hack-a-Shaq in the fourth quarter and brought it to my community league, to the bewilderment of many parents and even a coach or two. Twenty years later, I’m that guy fouling with 10 seconds to go in the first half of a running clock, watching the confused looks of nine other guys as they see the clock tick down, and down, and down, while I casually stroll towards the bench. These are subtle plays on my part, but when games can come down to just a few seconds, inches, or points, moves like these can be the difference between a W and an L.
So you can imagine I have a little gamesmanship when it comes to fantasy football as well. There are advantages beyond the normal scope that could set you up quite nicely for the endgame, whether that’s a deep playoff run or just making it to the dance. Here are a few tricks that will give you a leg up on the competition as we come down the stretch.
- Trading for Players on a Bye – If your team is solidly in playoff position, you might be able to poach more talented players from squads that can’t afford to lose a stud to a bye week. Last year in Week 12, when I had a playoff berth already locked up, I was able to acquire LeSean McCoy in a 1-for-1 deal for Reggie Bush. While Bush was having a very good year in 2013, everybody will acknowledge that McCoy was the better player in that deal. How could I swing that trade? McCoy had a bye in Week 12 and his owner couldn’t afford to take the hit while fighting for his playoff life, something I made sure to point out early on in trade negotiations. After this week’s Bye-pocalypse, there will still be some very talented players who have yet to get their break (DeMarco Murray, Antonio Brown, Greg Olsen just to name a few). Scour the playoff contenders in your league and see if there’s someone you might be able to scoop up heading into the tournament
- Trading Bye Week Players to Opponents – For those on the other side of the coin, who are in desperate need of a win each and every week, there’s a way to use the bye weeks to your advantage as well. Don’t be afraid to sell off a good player on your team whose bye week corresponds to the week you face a team in your league. For example, if you’re a T.Y. Hilton owner and you’re playing against Kelvin Benjamin this week, make that swap and ensure your opponent has to play a lesser WR while you get Benjamin against the Eagles. Yes, it hurts some in the long run, but what good is a playoff roster if you’re stuck on the outside looking in. To that point, look down the road at who you’re matched up with to make a move like this as well. I guarantee your Week 12 opponent isn’t thinking about bye weeks when he sees Le’Veon Bell in a trade offer. Any leg up you can get over your competitor is worth it at this point.
- Assembling a Roster for a Post-Bye Schedule – Once this last six-team bye week monstrosity is in our rear view, it’s time to reconsider your roster management. Depth becomes an unnecessary luxury and takes a backseat to insuring the studs who’ve carried you this far. If I’m a Matt Forte owner, making sure I have Ka’Deem Carey as a handcuff is much more valuable than taking a flier on who might emerge in the Cleveland backfield, so sell off that depth while you still can. And FYI, next week I’ll have a complete list of all the handcuffs that need to be owned for the rest of the season. Just as important, those of us who stream defenses (and considering the landscape this year, this should be just about everyone) need to start looking ahead to playoff week matchups. If I can swing a decent deal for the Lions D/ST, who play the Bucs, Vikings and Bears in Weeks 14-16, I’m pulling the trigger.
So there’s just a few tips and tricks to help you navigate the final few weeks of the regular season. Hopefully those weeks will be a bit more lucrative in the fantasy points department than this past week was. If you were disappointed by your team’s final tally, you weren’t alone as there were plenty of studs who disappointed and no-names who vultured the glory (thanks, Taylor Gabriel). Let’s take a look at how things played out for the Hot List in Week 9.
Week 9 Hits:
Alfred Morris – Standard scoring: 22.9 pts; MLFS scoring: 24.9 pts
Shane Vereen – Standard scoring: 12.7 pts; MLFS scoring: 17.7 pts
Julian Edelman – Standard scoring: 20.9 pts; MLFS scoring: 39.3 pts
Jeremy Hill- Standard scoring: 28.3 pts; MLFS scoring: 37.55 pts
Bobby Rainey – Standard scoring: 12.1 pts; MLFS scoring: 13.1 pts
Dwayne Bowe – Standard scoring: 5.5 pts; MLFS scoring: 11.5 pts
Kenny Stills – Standard scoring: 7.2 pts; MLFS scoring: 8.2 pts
Week 9 Misses:
Frank Gore – Standard scoring: 5.8 pts; MLFS scoring: 6.8 pts
Michael Floyd – Standard scoring: 3.6 pts; MLFS scoring: 7.6 pts
Andrew Hawkins – Standard scoring: 3.4 pts; MLFS scoring: 6.4 pts
Much like I implored owners not to give up on Keenan Allen, I gave Julian Edelman the same treatment a week ago, even though it looked as if he had been passed by Brandon LaFell on the Patriots’ WR hierarchy. Edelman responded with a eight-reception effort and scored twice, once through the air and the other on a dazzling punt return. There will always be a place for an underneath possession receiver on a Brady-lead team, no matter what kind of numbers LaFell and Gronk are also putting up. He won’t be as consistent an option as he was last year, but with how Brady is distributing the ball this last month, Edelman retains his spot as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3 going forward. If you hung tough with him, congratulations because you’ve made it through the low point of his season.
I think it is finally time, however, for me to admit I was wrong about Michael Floyd in 2014. Less than 400 yards and just two touchdowns over the season’s first half is a long way from what I expected the former Golden Domer to produce in year three. What’s most troubling, aside from the obvious lack of production, is that he’s on pace for less than 100 targets for the season. After averaging over seven targets a game in the first five games of the season, Floyd has seen just four passes a game come in his way over the past three contests, which just so happens to coincide with Carson Palmer’s return. With John Brown joining Fitzgerald and Ellington as viable pass catching options in the desert, it looks like there just won’t be enough balls to go around to make Floyd an upper-tier receiver. I began the season with him firmly entrenched in the WR2 discussion, but now I’m wondering where he fits in the WR3 argument with names such as Beckham, Evans, Allen Robinson and Martavis Bryant coming on strong as of late.
As mentioned above, this is the last of the brutal bye weeks with another six teams sitting out this week, including a few loaded fantasy lineups. Make sure all of your Colts, Texans, Vikings, Patriots, Redskins and Chargers are firmly planted on your bench. If you need help finding replacements for those players, the Hot List has you covered with a few recommended options for Week 10.
Jeremy Hill, RB (CIN) – Obviously, you don’t need me to tell you that Hill can handle a full workload all by himself after his performance against Jacksonville. If it’s possible to have an even better matchup, that’s exactly what the Browns are tonight. Don’t be fooled by the below-average numbers their past two opponents have put up on the ground. Oakland and Tampa Bay just don’t stack up in the rushing department to what Cincinnati can offer. With such RBs as Foster, Bradshaw, Morris and McKinnon all sitting this week, odds are you don’t have two better plays than Hill to insert into your lineup. But if you still have Hill available to you in player eliminator or daily games, you have to deploy him this week before Giovani Bernard makes his return. This could be the last week Hill offers RB1 upside for a long time.
Expectation: Top-12 RB
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR (NYG) – It’s easy to recommend Beckham when he’s going up against a banged up Colts’ secondary in a game you know Eli is going to have to throw it all over the field. But do you have the cojones to roll with him in one of the grizzliest matchups he’ll face all year, at Seattle? I’m not crazy here. I’m not expecting another 156-yard performance against the Legion of Boom. My sentiment is not to treat OBJ (yes, it’s OBJ people, let’s get it right) as some kind of leper just because @SEA shows up next to his name. The Seahawks have been giving up yards to teams that have multiple threats on the outside, including twice at home (GB in Week 1, DEN in Week 3). Beckham and Randle aren’t in the same class as Nelson/Cobb or Thomas/Sanders, but I do think they provide enough of a threat that one of them has a solid game here, and that’s OBJ. Don’t make a rush to judgment and sit him in favor of names like Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree or Doug Baldwin just because of the matchup. He’ll get the looks and the yards to make him a legit WR2.
Expectation: Top-20 WR
Steven Jackson, RB (ATL) – It’s a rare occurrence, nowadays, for Steven Jackson to show up in the Hot List, but how could you not be encouraged with what he did last time out? 18 carries for 60 yards might not sound like a great day, but he did that against the fearsome front seven of the Lions while also finding the end zone. The most encouraging number to me is that very first one, 18. This represented a season-high in carries for Jackson and he turned in a season-high in yards as a result. Now, fresh off a bye and with two weeks to rest, Jackson and the Falcons get Tampa Bay. Forget what the Bucs did to the Browns’ ground game a week ago, I told you Cleveland’s situation was a bad one and it showed. Atlanta, despite their own O-line struggles, has piecemealed something together that should hold up in this one. I like Jackson to again cross the 50-yard threshold and be a prime candidate for a short TD burst, numbers that make him worth your trust.
Expectation: Top-20 RB
Charles Sims, RB (TB) – I was preaching patience all week on Sims while the masses speculated about just how spectacular his opening salvo would be. Low and behold, the West Virginia product was active but did not play in the Bucs’ Week 9 loss to Cleveland. I think this is the week the training wheels come off and Sims is unleashed on the fantasy world. He’ll be the compliment to Bobby Rainey and have a dream matchup against Atlanta his first time out. But attack this situation reasonably, folks. Despite the hype, I fully expect Rainey to lead the Tampa Bay running backs in touches (and again be a strong play in his own right), not Sims. If Sims gets 8-10 touches as I project he will, I think he can still put up some viable fantasy numbers, especially in PPR leagues considering his prowess out of the backfield. Deploy him responsibly, but understand that this is only the beginning of something very, very good.
Expectation: Top-24 RB
Martavis Bryant, WR (PIT) – I can’t stand chasing the points in fantasy, but consider me hooked on Bryant. The argument against him can be made quite easily in that he was only on the field for 34 of the Steelers’ 69 plays against Baltimore. He had just three catches on five targets in those 34 snaps, and in three games this year has just 17 targets total. There’s just something about the package, though, that I can’t walk away from. I’m a sucker for H-W-S (height-weight-speed) freaks like Bryant and loved the pick when Pittsburgh took him in the fourth round of this past May’s draft. And I absolutely buy the narrative that his emergence has helped Ben Roethlisberger become the fantasy kingpin these last two weeks. Bryant is an incredible matchup nightmare and now gets the Jets, who make just about every receiver look like a matchup nightmare. I’m not typically one for betting on a particular receiver outside of the top-5 to get into the end zone, but I have faith Bryant does it again this week and that he will continue to be the main benefactor of the mesmerizing play of Antonio Brown.
Expectation: Top-25 WR
Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB (BAL) – The Baltimore run game never got going against Pittsburgh and opportunities became almost nonexistent after Big Ben decided to go on another six-TD tear. That won’t be anywhere near the case when the Ravens take on Tennessee at home. Tennessee is one of the most vulnerable defenses to opposing rushers, giving up 135 yards per game and eight touchdowns to running backs. That last stat is the key for Low-T (sorry Lorenzo, sometimes nicknames just aren’t flattering). He should find himself with multiple opportunities to punch in a short score and sneak into double-digit fantasy points. I’d take a chance on Taliaferro this week before I rolled with any of the RBs from the Panthers, Bills or Browns.
Expectation: Top-25 RB
Chris Johnson, RB (NYJ) – If you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel at RB— excuse me a moment. Sorry, I must be getting a little delusional here. I thought I actually put Chris Johnson’s name on the Hot List. Let me get my bearings and— holy fantasy flameouts, Batman, it’s true! Yes, Chris Johnson makes a shocking appearance this week after an equally shocking 69 yards on just 11 carries. I think there’s something to having him in the backfield, lined up next to Michael Vick in the shotgun, that just works. The speed they both possess and, more importantly, can threaten defenses with, will open up some holes against the Steelers just like it did against KC. Keep your expectations reasonable though as Johnson is merely a spot start for those in bye week hell. This far down the list, hard to find too many other RBs worth getting excited about, so let’s hope we get a CJ2K flashback just this once.
Expectation: Top-32 RB
Andre Holmes, WR (OAK) – You already know Oakland is going to have to put the ball in the air a ton in the second half against Denver. I mean, come on, is there anyway this isn’t a two-touchdown or greater spread in the fourth quarter after the way Peyton Manning and friends got drubbed by New England? But garbage time stats are still stats and Holmes will have a chance to put up some decent ones against the Broncos. I could see him posting a line similar to what he did two weeks ago against Cleveland (5 for 69 with a TD) and being a useful WR3 for those crunched by the bye weeks. You might not want to follow the GameCast of this one as it could be painful at the beginning, but trust that when the final gun sounds, the numbers will be there.
Expectation: Top-36 WR
Jordan Matthews, WR (PHI) – I’m double-dipping a bit with my endorsement of Matthews here. I do think he will have a solid game against a Carolina secondary that has been torched all year by opposing wideouts. Although he was targeted just four times last week, Matthews had averaged eight targets per game in the five weeks prior, and that connection between he and Mark Sanchez last week was a thing of beauty. Sanchez himself is a major reason I have this much faith in Matthews. Some of you see that name and immediately trigger memories of the infamous Butt Fumble, a stigma that Sanchez has carried ever since. Despite moments of ineptitude in New York, Sanchez actually does have some talent, something that getting away from the Jets allows a QB to display. There’s a reason the Sanchise was a high first-round pick, just like there’s a reason Chip Kelly went after him this offseason. Not only do I think Sanchez thrives given this opportunity, but I think his rise will mean the end of Nick Foles in Philadephia. Start all your Eagles pass catchers with confidence against the Panthers this week, and that includes Jordan Matthews should you need a plug-and-play WR.
Expectation: Top-40 WR
Jerricho Cotchery, WR (CAR) – If you’re in need of a deep-league off-the-radar WR option this week, you could do worse than an option from the Carolina passing game against the Eagles. Cam Newton hasn’t looked like much more than a mediocre passer these past couple weeks, but getting Philly is a good way to get him right. You’re already starting Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen, but Cotchery could make a worthwhile start in his own right. He’s averaging seven targets per game over his past four contests and let’s not forget, this is a man who reached pay dirt 10 times last year. Cotchery has yet to score in 2014, but stands a great chance to break that streak in this one.
Expectation: Top-48 WR
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________(Click the link below to listen live) Major League Fantasy Football Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D. Roberts on Sunday the 9th of November from 11am-12pm EST for this weeks episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio provided by The Sports Palooza Radio Network. We will be taking live callers at 646.915.8596.This weeks guests are Jeff Nelson and Ron McCleese. Jeff is the DB coach for White Hall H.S. in PA and a two time Major League Fantasy Football champion. Ron is the newest addition to the writing staff and his articles are published every Friday about QB/TE plays for the coming week! Come join the party!