Week Four in the NFL season always marks a turning point in fantasy football season. Managers who got lucky at first or who had a good draft but fail to follow through on the upkeep start to weed themselves out of the playoff hunt. Similarly, savvy waiver wire watchers can take an otherwise mediocre team and really start to make a run. Why now? Well, for one, injuries have really started to play a factor. Last year at this time we already had a number of season-ending injuries to early-round draft picks. This year, however, we’re seeing top guys out for several weeks, or sitting out of practice with nagging injuries, begging the questions, will he or won’t he play? If he plays, how effective will he be? If he’s not playing, how long do I let him occupy a spot on my bench?
To add to that frustration, Week Four is when bye week strategy starts to set in. Between injuries and bye weeks, each team’s depth (or lack thereof) becomes apparent, and teams can’t always rely on their “brand name” starters. Carefully predicting “sleeper” picks, then, is what separates the (wo)men from the boys. However, it’s important to not be too short-sighted with your weekly lineup. Dropping an injured stud or even a mid-tier performer on a bye week just to pick up the experts’ flavor of the week is usually not a good idea. Sometimes you have to lose some to win some. I’m in an ugly version of one of those situations this week.
So here’s the deal (and I warned you, it’s ugly.) This week in my Priority #1 league, I’m up against one of my favorite rivals, “Robert Pattinson” (formerly, “Moustache.”) Now, Rob P. is an avid football fan and has great weekly insight on who will perform well, but he’s a serious risk-taker when it comes to his draft. This risk taking has worked out for him in the past, but this year, not so much. Rob P. stands in 12th place (of 14 teams) at 1-2, whereas I’m in first place at 3-0 and leading the league in total points. Any other Sunday I’d say it’s an easy match up, but this week it looks like my team is going to beat itself.
I’m on solid ground with my quarterback. In fact, a little bit too solid, as I am choosing between RGIII and Drew Brees—a choice I don’t like to make, as I will inevitably choose incorrectly. Right now I’m going with RGIII, though I don’t feel confident about it. The Packers’ defense looked good again against Seattle (ahem, robbed interception…), and though Russell Wilson is no Drew Brees, the Saints offense has not been as crisp as it has in the past (ahem, as I predicted would be the case). On the other hand, the Bucs defense is schizophrenic–#1 against the rush but #31 against the pass. So what does that mean for a option-based QB, who gets more fantasy points on the ground than in the air?
I also have Jamaal Charles heading up the running game on my squad. Despite two quiet weeks, it’s hard not to feel good about starting him after last week’s gangbuster performance. He’s not going to go near that this week (especially against a lukewarm San Diego defense), but he should have a solid enough week.
Beyond Jamaal Charles, I’ve been starting Reggie Bush and CJ Spiller at RB, which has obviously worked out great until last week. Both suffered injuries that took them out of their games, but fortunately don’t appear to be as serious as originally thought. Both have practiced this week, though neither are 100%, and Bush actually announced that he would be playing in Sunday’s game. But to what level of effectiveness? He faces a solid Arizona D-line and had a TD poached by Daniel Thomas last week, even when he was still healthy. Not the best option.
Similarly, Spiller has been practicing this week, though is less likely to play. To make matters more uncertain, Fred Jackson (who surely wants to get back on the field soon, lest Spiller solidify himself even more) has been mumbling about returning this week against the rival Patriots. Soooo…. Spiller, who may or may not play but likely not, and may or may not still be at injury risk may or may not be splitting time going forward with Jackson who also may or may not be fully recovered. Straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Lastly, my RB4 is Jacquizz Rodgers, who’s not altogether out of the starting line-up discussion himself. Rodgers had 67 all-purpose yards (including 5 receptions) and a TD last week, which is not too shabby, and he’s facing a favorable match up this weekend against Carolina. He’s inserting himself as more than just a change-of-pace back, and I still strongly believe the wheels could come off Michael Turner any week now. Reggie B. may be in my starting line up for now, but I could conceivably see Rodgers out scoring him, which gives me an itchy trigger finger.
Wow, I am sure walking a thin line with my receivers. I drafted Antonio Brown and Pierre Garcon as my starters (Brown’s on a bye and Garcon is questionable thanks to a mysterious foot injury.) I also drafted Brandon LaFell (who I like, but who doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence after last week) and Mike Williams (who I was bullish on in preseason, but recently dropped.) Yes, I dropped Williams, despite him having an EXTREMELY favorable match up against Washington this weekend, because I think Andrew Hawkins of the Bengals is a better long-term play for the season, and I was worried about one of my competitors picking him up. Garcon, of course, would have to have a late game, so I’m stuck starting LaFell as my WR1, and then waiting to hear about Garcon’s status before I choose between gimpy Garcon or Hawkins as my WR2. Excuse me, sorry, that was just me vomiting in my mouth a little.
The Even Uglier:
Since, as you can see, I’m barely scraping by to put together starters, how am I also supposed to fill a flex position? My choices are Rodgers or Hawkins (assuming Garcon can play) or my TE2, Brett Celek. Why do you have a TE2, you might ask? Well, the TE I started this week, who I just picked up of waivers last week, is Dennis Pitta, who I thought had a shot of being my Week Four MVP, but instead ended up with a big, fat donut on Thursday night. Oy.
Despite being stuck in such an ugly bind, I know this is one of those weeks that could separate my team from the playoff pack or not. So I’ll stay patient on my injuries, not make any drastic free agency moves, and I’ll work with what I’ve got. Hopefully the right combination of planning game-time-decision flexibility along with some instinctive decision making will help me pull this out. If not, at 3-0, I can concede one loss. A lot just comes down to luck.
(For those interested in keeping track, here’s Rob Pattinson’s line up: Michael Vick, Stevie Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson and Ahmad Bradshaw. His TE, K and D/ST are still to be set for the week (thanks to injuries and byes on his side as well.) Keep your fingers crossed for me!