Dear Mr. Fantasy: Keep the season alive!
The Colts have nothing left to play for, but you do. Boy, do you.
If you advanced to the playoffs and survived the first round, your Fantasy life hinges on the next two or perhaps even three weeks, which puts you at odds with the increasing number NFL teams that want to rest their players for either the postseason or next season. Once they learn they're in or they're out, their priorities change.
Which leaves you with the task of guessing who will play and how much, who will surrender to apathy and who will step up in his place. It's not as simple as looking at the depth charts anymore.
Sounds difficult? Well, only as much as you make it.
I have Reggie Wayne , Anquan Boldin , Sidney Rice and Greg Jennings as receivers and need to start three. I think Boldin and Rice are definite starters and I usually start Wayne with them. But like everyone else, I'm worried about the Colts sitting their starters. Should I start Jennings over Wayne? -- David Hunter, Boston
SW: I wouldn't, David. I understand the concern over the Colts resting their starters, but they've already said they'll continue to play ball. Three weeks, not counting a first-round bye, is more rest than any team needs, and the pursuit of an undefeated season should keep them motivated. They might have a quicker hook on their starters if they build up a three-score lead in the second half, but otherwise, I think they'll do what they normally do.
Of course, Wayne has less than 50 yards receiving in each of his last three games, which makes this discussion worth having even if the Colts had more of an incentive to play their starters. Still, I'll take three weeks of struggles from Wayne over a season's worth of struggles from Jennings.
And for the record, your decision does, in fact, boil down to those two. Rice is still the preferred receiving option for a rejuvenated Brett Favre , making him good for 80-plus yards more often than not, and Boldin, though inconsistent, is still too good when at his best to take a seat, especially since he faces the Lions and the Rams over the next two weeks.
First week of the playoffs in my league. I have Ryan Grant going against a tough Steelers defense, but I picked up Chris Brown (at Rams) and Jerome Harrison (at Chiefs). Who would you start? -- Hector Espinoza
SW: Really, this is a decision?
Let's see ... Grant is the every-down back for the Packers and already has 1,000 yards rushing this season. Brown and Harrison, meanwhile, had a combined 16 yards rushing last week.
Listen, I don't have a problem with anybody playing matchups, but the two choices need to be at least in the same ballpark (not literally, which is confusing when talking about athletes, but try to keep up).
Brown doesn't get the most carries for the Texans. Harrison doesn't get the most carries for the Browns. And neither player necessarily gets the second-most carries for his respective team. Harrison used to, but Chris Jennings emergence last week combined with the Browns' willingness to experiment with Josh Cribbs makes Harrison's already uncertain role even more dubious.
I don't know how to make this answer any more simple: Brown and Harrison are both backup running backs, good for maybe five or six carries each week. Will Brown get one of those carries at the goal line? Might Harrison break off a 40-yard run with one of his? Perhaps and maybe. But the reward for them doing something is too minimal to justify the risk of them doing nothing.
Grant at least has an opportunity. As tough as his matchup might be, you know he'll get his usual 20 carries. And facing the Steelers isn't exactly a death sentence for a running back. Cedric Benson , Adrian Peterson , Jamaal Charles , Ray Rice and the aforementioned Jennings all managed to score 10-plus Fantasy points against them. Grant himself scored 10 points in an equally tough matchup against the Vikings back in Week 4. Besides, if all you can hope for is a long run or a vulture touchdown from Brown or Harrison, couldn't Grant do the same with any of his 20 carries? Who do the odds favor, really?
Maybe if you had alternatives like Knowshon Moreno or Beanie Wells we could talk matchups, but against a couple of backups like Brown and Harrison, Grant remains your only choice.
If for some reason you have to start two of those running backs, Harrison is my second choice just because he had a good performance two weeks ago and probably hasn't completely run himself out of the picture. But he's a distant second choice, like a ceiling fan to air conditioning.
My lineup for Week 15 is pretty much a no-brainer except for my decision at DST. I drafted the Vikings DST and rode it all year long with pretty good success. Planning ahead, I picked up the Chiefs DST. The Vikings visit the Panthers this week, but for all intents and purposes, they've already clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Do you think coach Brad Childress might lean toward giving his starters some rest if the game becomes a blowout either way? Ordinarily, I know you would never trust the Chiefs DST, but the Chiefs host the Browns this week. Do I go with my trusted stallion, or do I play my new pony? -- Steven Hawk, Birmingham, Ala.
SW: I don't get many opportunities to answer DST questions. Or maybe I don't make many opportunities to answer DST questions. We'll debate later.
I'll admit DST is the one position where I exploit matchups to the fullest. In fact, I'd argue the opponent of the DST matters more than the DST itself. But the DST itself still matters, and like at any other position, you can get too cute playing matchups with it.
First of all, the Vikings DST is the kind you never sit unless it faces the Saints or the Colts -- and even then, you'd need to have a seriously good replacement. The Panthers are on the opposite end of the spectrum from those two undefeateds, having to resort to the kind of lackluster offense that can only hope to get off a punt against a defense as dominant as the Vikings'. Whether they go with backup quarterback Matt Moore or starter Jake Delhomme -- 18 interceptions and all -- it will get ugly.
But Vikings DST or not, Steven, I don't understand why you or anyone else would want to start the Chiefs DST. It's one of the worst units in Fantasy -- the kind susceptible to a blowout any given week and the kind even the Browns might succeed against.
Just because a team has a bad offense doesn't mean every defense will succeed against it. The worst defenses might make that offense look good. Look what happened when the Browns faced the Lions in Week 11. The teams combined for 75 points, sinking Fantasy owners who wanted to take advantage of the "good matchup" on either side of the equation.
A bad DST is a bad DST just like a bad quarterback is a bad quarterback. You wouldn't want to use it except in the most desperate of circumstances. And the off chance the Vikings rest some of their players after already piling up five turnovers against an overmatched Panthers offense hardly fits the bill.
I made my league's playoffs despite a 6-7 record and have some running backs with real potential this week: Knowshon Moreno (vs. Raiders), Jamaal Charles (vs. Browns) and Laurence Maroney (at Bills). My only dilemma is which two to start. Any thoughts? -- Matt Perny Wilmington, Del.
SW: At least seven thoughts at every moment of the day, Matt, but I'll share with you only the ones that pertain to your situation.
I initially thought you had to start Moreno. He's the safest bet of the three from week to week and has a great matchup. Why would you sit him?
Most people shouldn't, but you, Matt, aren't most people. You have options, and when I take a closer look at them, I realize just how much you risk giving up by starting Moreno.
Maroney faces the Bills, who rank dead last in run defense, allowing an average of 5.0 yards per carry. Any running back who faces them is an automatic must-start in Fantasy, and Maroney is no exception. True, the Patriots prefer to throw the ball, but bad weather in Buffalo might force them to lean on Maroney more than usual. Or maybe the matchup itself will. Either way, Maroney has the potential to put up some massive totals this week, perhaps even scoring multiple touchdowns if everything breaks his way. No chance you sit him.
The decision really comes down to Moreno and Charles, and though Moreno plays for the better team and has the higher ceiling, I think Charles is the safer bet for big numbers this week. He faces an equally poor run defense, is coming off a 181-yard performance against the Bills and represents the Chiefs' only real source of offense given the struggles of their passing game. The Broncos could always decide to beat the Raiders through the air rather than on the ground -- Brandon Marshall did just have a 21-catch game, after all -- or they could spell Moreno with Correll Buckhalter , as they tend to do from time to time.
You know Charles will get opportunities on top of opportunities while Moreno has the potential to fade into the background. So even though Moreno has a good matchup and is an advisable start in most Fantasy leagues, I prefer Charles.
Should I start Quinton Ganther or Hakeem Nicks at flex? Ganther's two touchdowns helped me last week, but his rushing average wasn't impressive. And that came against a lousy Oakland run defense. This week, he'll face the Giants, whose run defense looks pretty stout, despite all the points yielded to the Eagles last week. I would generally favor a running back over a wide receiver, but I'm leaning toward Nicks in this case. Any thoughts? -- Marcus Todd, Atlanta
SW: I like this question more for the philosophical argument it presents than for the specific players involved: Does a running back, regardless of talent or opponent, have an inherent advantage over a wide receiver?
True, Ganther didn't exactly run wild against a Raiders defense worse off than the Giants defense he'll face this week, but he did score two touchdowns, which any full-time running back is capable of doing any week regardless of how much he struggles to move the ball. Why? Any time a team gets inside the 5-yard line, the running back gets the football. It's the most predictable play call this side of a punt or field goal. Split backfields have made it less predictable than in the past, but Ganther doesn't have much competition with the Redskins already down two running backs.
Nicks is one of several Giants receivers who could end up on the other end of an Eli Manning touchdown pass -- and that's assuming the team doesn't get inside the 5-yard line, in which case the touchdown would probably go to Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw instead. As for yardage, forget it. The Redskins allow an average of 188 through the air.
So yeah, I buy into the argument that running backs have an inherent advantage over wide receivers and think it applies here. I obviously wouldn't start Ganther over a superior player like Marques Colston , but against one with similar upside, like Nicks, it makes sense. Ganther might only rush for 41 yards on 17 carries -- a bad day for a running back -- but if one of those carries puts him in the end zone, he'll finish with 10 points -- a good day in Fantasy.
And he might just end up running the ball better than you think. The Giants rank ninth in run defense, so they aren't exactly the Vikings.
Right now, I have Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer on my roster. With Ryan out and Palmer not putting up great numbers, I'm looking to pick up a quarterback for the rest of the playoffs. The ones available are Jason Campbell , Kyle Orton , Matt Cassel , Alex Smith and Vince Young . Which of these should I pick up to take me through the playoffs? -- James Hoey, Beloit, Wis.
SW: Yeah, you can pretty much give up on Ryan. Another loss more or less eliminates the Falcons from playoff contention, giving them no reason to rush Ryan back from turf toe -- an injury that requires a much longer recovery period than most people realize. Palmer, on the other hand, has a good matchup coming up in Week 16 against the Chiefs, so you might want to hold on to him.
But you don't have to. With the options available to you on the waiver wire, you can mix and match your way to good quarterback play from now until the end of the season.
I still don't understand why Smith goes unowned in so many leagues. He has multiple touchdown passes in six of his eight games, which is all you can ask from any quarterback, and has stellar matchups against the Lions in Week 16 and the Rams in Week 17, should your season last that long. He's your first priority.
Of course, you might not want to start him against the Eagles this week, in which case you can always turn to Orton as a stopgap. He has two straight games with two touchdown passes and faces a poor Raiders defense this week. Then again, the Broncos might prefer to win with their running game, as they did when Orton threw for only 157 yards against the Raiders in Week 3. Personally, I'd just as soon start Smith, who has succeeded against tough defenses in the past, but you can't argue against Orton as a safe start this week.
Young might actually be the steadiest of the bunch, but he doesn't have any of those stellar matchups. Plus, his leg injuries could cost him some playing time.
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