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The season has flown by and this is it, the final regular season week for most fantasy football leagues. I hope that you are either locked in for your playoffs or are playing to get in this week. If you are not in the playoffs this year, take advantage of the FFChamps membership and make sure you get ready for 2013. I am in three leagues and headed to the playoffs in two of them. In the league that I am not, it is a 10-team league and I had the 10th pick and made the major mistake of not following FFChamps 4th Commandment: Thou Shall Wait on they Quarterback. I took Cam Newton at 10 and the rest is history.
The past few weeks I dished out some advice and thoughts and this week I am going to title this the "I told you so column," not to soothe my own fantasy football ego but rather to point out that there are some basic strategies in fantasy football preached at FFChamps that you must adhere to in order to win.
Stated here almost every week is FFChamps 7th Commandment: Thou Must Draft Key Players' Back-Ups, or, if for some reason you were unable to draft that player, trade for them in-season. A few weeks ago I discussed my trade for Bryce Brown and Rashad Jennings to back up McCoy and MJD. I made this trade before the injuries to my stud starters. This week, in a must-win first place game for my team, I plugged in Bryce Brown for McCoy, my only real good option at RB, and he won me my game, running for 178 yards and 2 TDs. In Atlanta, as I predicted, Michael Turner is wearing down and Jaquizz Rodgers is emerging. This week, Mikel Leshoure is listed as questionable and Joique Bell, who has been explosive in the fourth quarter of several Lions games, is on most leagues' waiver wires as of the writing of this column. If you have Leshoure, you MUST go get Bell. In New York, the Giants have lost Andre Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw is oft injured and needs someone to carry some of the load. David Wilson was a preseason sensation but got into Tom Coughlin's doghouse early for a costly fumble. Wilson is now going to play. Coughlin was quoted as saying "It's his time," and he is explosive enough to win you a game down the playoff stretch. I probably would not start him unless you don't have a more reliable choice but I would definitely have him on my roster, especially if you have Bradshaw. Wilson is also on most waiver wires this morning. Lastly, Matt Forte is hurt and Michael Bush is one of the best backup running backs in football. If you handcuffed Forte with Bush, play him. He will do fine and he does get into the end zone.
Speaking of MJD, I'm not sure if he is going to return this season, especially with the Jaguars out of contention but, my guess is he wants to play, especially with the status of his contract. The decision will be, what do those of us, myself included, do with him if he does come back? FFChamps 10th Commandment is Thou Shall Start Your Studs, something I have harped on regularly. MJD is a stud and has a very favorable rest of the season schedule. However, does one throw him in right away? My answer is that it depends on who else you have at RB. I have Alfred Morris and for the moment, Bryce Brown. If MJD were to play this week, I would sit him and play Morris and Brown until Brown proves otherwise; he has been so explosive each time he has touched the pigskin this season. If you have someone like Vic Ballard at RB 2, or at Flex, then MJD is a no-brainer. As soon as it is confirmed he is the primary RB for Jacksonville, you start him unless you have a stud or borderline stud in his place.
!Speaking of studs, as I predicted over several weeks, Calvin Johnson has caught up statistically from a very slow start. He is now a top 1-3 WR on every fantasy football stat board in the country, depending on the league's scoring system. I do have concerns about Megatron and other Lions, as well as Eagles, and Chargers players. These teams came into the season with Super Bowl expectations and all three are virtually eliminated from a shot at even making the playoffs. Their coaches are all likely to be fired and, in some cases, have made some of the worst coaching mistakes in recent memory to cost the teams key games. Megatron has been banged up all season and while he appears to be healed, I am concerned that any injury could lead to him sitting out, which is a fantasy football disaster at this time of the year. The Eagles have already thrown in the towel on Mike Vick and reading between the lines, Shady McCoy may be done for the season. I am less concerned about Bryce Brown as he is a rookie working for a payday. I hope Calvin continues to play and play well but it is worth keeping an eye on, although with trading deadlines passed, there is not much one can do strategically at this point. Regardless, when these studs play, of course you also play them.
Another "I told you so" week in and out has been to pay attention to the Strength of Schedule, and the FFChamps.com Strength of Schedule tool, which is awesome. For weeks, I have pointed out that Carolina has an incredibly favorable schedule down the stretch and this week, Cam Newton put up a monster fantasy football performance. Is it because he suddenly turned the corner and returned to last year's form or because he beat up on an awful Philadelphia pass defense? My 11 year old son Bret won his game this week because his opponent started Aaron Rodgers over Cam Newton. That decision is one any of us would have made as well, as Rodgers is a stud and Newton is not this season, but it is only worth noting because Newton faces KC, San Diego, and Oakland in three of the next four weeks, all incredibly strong matchups. This should also help Steve Smith and Greg Olsen. Smith has been a fantasy football mistake this season, but with weak opponents, and still being the most targeted Carolina WR, he has time for redemption and is worth playing unless you have a clear better choice. As reiterated last week, Denver, Indy, Cleveland and Carolina have favorable defensive matchups in the coming weeks. The bottom line is, great players have great games against weak teams and usually have sub par games against great defenses, and, borderline starters, whom with injuries you may need to win a playoff game, have a much better chance of scoring well in fantasy football vs. weaker defenses.
Denver, which is a great offense, the kind you absolutely want to have some starters from, pulled a fast one on fantasy owners this past weekend. With underrated and always fantasy-reliable running back Willis McGahee on injured reserve, the Broncos openly said that rookie Ronnie Hillman would become their go-to running back. He then proceeded to receive 3 carries for 9 yards, ceding the ball to Knowshown "no show" Moreno, who racked up 85 yards on 20 carries. Historically, when Moreno plays and is healthy, especially in the latter part of the season, he is a fantasy football sleeper, scoring both in the running and passing game. He is a very effective red zone running back. The concern I have is John Fox the Broncos head coach. Just when you pick up Moreno on waivers and start him, especially if you had McGahee, he will play Hillman and Moreno will sit most of the game. He has proven that he is not going to succumb to fantasy football fans and is unpredictable with his team's game plan. If you need to start one of these backs, I would start Moreno knowing you run this risk, until proven otherwise.
Fantasy Football championship games are almost always in Week 16. The reason this evolved over the years is teams started to sit their star players Week 17 if their playoff fate was determined. The Colts were notorious for resting Peyton Manning. Some coaches, like Bill Belichick, don't subscribe to that and play players all the way through, stating "football players play football." While there is a pro and con argument to each approach, from a fantasy football perspective, it is black and white: Your player plays or doesn't and you are screwed. Hence, the move to a 16-week season for fantasy football players nationwide. This year it is possible that a couple of teams have their fate determined by NFL Week 16. The 49ers could have home field wrapped up by then. While Jim Harbaugh tends to play his players, someone like Frank Gore, who always tires towards the end of the season, certainly might get some rest for the 'Niners playoff drive. The Patriots will have clinched the AFC East by Week 16 and possibly not have a chance for a bye. While Belichick plays a 17 week schedule full speed, it is possible that Rob Gronkowski is not rushed back from his broken forearm even if he could play, or Stevan Ridley and Wes Welker get reduced carries or plays. I do expect that they will play Tom Brady each and every game. More than likely, both of these teams go with their best lineups for Week 16 but it does bear watching.
Two weeks ago I wrote that the Patriots defense would rebound with one or two pick-6's vs. Andrew Luck and I got lucky and looked smart as they actually did just that. Last week, they added two defensive fantasy football scores against the Jets. Yes, they got better with the addition of Aqib Talib but they now have to play on the road at Miami and home against Houston and San Francisco. These teams are not the Jets and Houston should expose the Patriots pass defense the same way some earlier teams did this season. Their young defense was a great play the past two weeks and still could be turning the corner but you need to be aware of their schedule. I would not be surprised if Brian Hartline has a strong fantasy football week vs. the Patriots this weekend.
Each week I list five players I'd love to have and five players I am worried about. I have received several comments and tweets about this portion of the column. One that has been stated a few times is to not spend time naming the previous week's players on the love to have/worried to have list. Effective this week, I will no longer recap the previous week's players and instead, keep a player on the list again if I believe it is important.
- Cecil Shorts, the man no one has been able to believe in. He has been stuck on waiver wires week in week out despite being a beast for the Jaguars. This week he plays Buffalo and with Chad Henne at QB, should score yet again.
- Denver wide receivers and tight ends, including Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokely, Tight Ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen, and pass-catching running back Knowshown Moreno.
- Brandon Marshall, who has been a top 3 fantasy football WR this season and now has Jay Cutler back and faces a Seattle secondary that will likely be without its two best defensive backs, both facing NFL suspensions.
- Victor Cruz, who was again quiet in a Giants win vs. the Packers but is too valuable and too good to not have a few huge games.
- A bonus player worth watching but who falls short of the love to make this list at the moment is Cardinals running back Beanie Wells. He looked really good in his return from a toe injury.
This week's five players I am worried about are:
- Mike Wallace (again), who has been demoted and publicly called out by Coach Mike Tomlin. This alone is not the reason as I do believe Mike Wallace is a top 7 fantasy football WR, but, considering that they play at Baltimore and his QB is third string journeyman Charlie Batch, Wallace stays on the list until Big Ben returns.
- Josh Freeman, who has been excellent on an offense I have repeatedly stated I love but will be up against a Denver defense that is starting to play championship football and a hostile stadium. The Bucs will likely lean on next year top 1-2 fantasy football draft pick Doug Martin rather than the passing game in the Colorado cold and altitude.
- All San Diego Chargers, who have quit on perennial worst coach of the year candidate Norv Turner, and faces a Bengals team playing solid football.
- Marshawn Lynch, who heads into Chicago to face a Bears defense that is suddenly injured and maybe missing potential defensive player of the year Charles Tillman but still should stifle the Seattle offense in Chicago in December.
- Ahmad Bradshaw, who will likely lose carries to David Wilson assuming Wilson shines like I expect him to now that he will be given the opportunity to get the ball.
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