Mondays are always a time for blood-letting at The Shop. It seems like this time of year, the fellas are already getting tired of Christmas advertising (they ain’t seen nothin’ yet as far as that goes), and they all seem a little salty.
With division titles and playoff spots on the line, most of them come in complaining, whether they won or lost. They make these claims that they were thinking about playing guys who were so deep on their bench, they hadn’t seen sunlight all season. The problem with hearing those things is that it’s really easy to go back and look who they’ve played through the first 11 weeks of the season.
I do this on a pretty regular basis. Usually it’s the week I’m playing against a specific guy because I want to get a feel for the road before I get behind wheel. Or it can be ammunition for a trade by reminding the other guy that he hasn’t played a player I want since Week 2. If you were to do this, you would find out something interesting. Barring injuries and bye weeks, most fantasy owners are creatures of habit. They stick with “their guys.” Those who constantly pick up guys and bench their established fantasy guys on a hunch, typically test out “Wet Paint” signs (and lose there, too).
I don’t want to sound haughty or give the impression I’m the smartest guy in The Shop (despite a mountain of evidence confirming that suggestion), because I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to showing roster favoritism – even on Tier 2 type players. I have Peyton Manning this year and, when there were questions about whether he was going to play Sunday not or if I was going to have to go with my No. 2 guy (Philip Rivers). Manning could have showed up on the field with one of those canes with tennis balls on the bottom and, if he was playing, he’d be in my lineup.
Unfortunately for me, my team has been devastated by injuries, so I’ve been forced to mix and match at most positions because I’ve been a victim of the rash of injuries that have taken fantasy talents out of my lineup. My only rock has been Manning. When he goes big, so do I. When he doesn’t, I have to hustle to make points. Fortunately, he hasn’t disappointed often, despite lofty expectations every week that are typically met. But, most teams have been touched by injuries, but not crushed by them. If you look up the lineups in your own league, whether it’s against who you’re playing this week or everybody in the league, you will discover what I did years ago. Fantasy owners are obsessively loyal to “their guys.” For some, it doesn’t matter what Ray Rice or Larry Fitzgerald did for the previous, they stay in the lineup.
If you invested in a quarterback like Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton or Tony Romo, it’s almost impossible to justify taking them out of the lineup barring injury. To a lesser degree, the same holds true for guys like Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, RG3 and Russell Wilson. If you have them, odds are you play them. Just as likely, if you ever bench them, they burn you and you learn.
The list of running backs in that category isn’t as deep, but you can bet that guys like Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Shady McCoy, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles and Alfred Morris never sit unless they’re ruled out of a game.
At wide receiver, the list is elonger and includes Megatron, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson, Andre Johnson and Vincent Jackson. Unless you’re in a small league or got extremely lucky, those guys never get benched and even the next level of wideouts (Larry Fitzgerald, Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton, Pierre Garcon, Antonio Brown and Dwayne Bowe) are hard to keep out of your lineup.
The same is true at tight end, where Jimmy Graham, Gronk, Orange Julius, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Gonzo, Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron never leave the lineup even if they’ve had a bad couple of weeks.
As we get closer to the one-and-done nature of the playoffs, it may be time to take a hard look at your own lineup. How many guys do you play every week? Are you locked and loaded at your QB, one running back and wide receiver and your tight end? There’s something to be said about mixing and matching a No. 2 RB or WR into the mix, but the reality of the situation when you start playing for league money is that you’ve gotten this far with the horses that pulled your cart. As much as people complain for benching a guy like Ray Rice and he blows up with a huge day, had they stayed the course, that wouldn’t have happened.
With the playoffs on the horizon, you need to ask yourself a simple question: with your season on the line are you willing to take a flyer on a guy and bench one of your regular starters. Unless injuries are involved, more times than not showing loyalty to those players you have who got you where you’re at is the best policy, whether for better or for worse. You created this team in August or early September. To me, it’s kind of like the NCAA hoops tournament. The preseason top picks were there for a reason. They have the talent and they can get the job done. They may be a No. 5 seed after being a preseason top 10 pick, but they were there for a reason.
Confidence plays a role. I have never been confident in Knowshon Moreno, even though he’s burned me at times on someone else’s team, I don’t have confidence in him. Shockingly, I’ve always entered Pierre Thomas as a No. 2 running back on those occasions I needed to use him and he has consistently produced – as in touchdowns two of every three times I play him as a back-room dice roll. If you feel good about a player getting you points when you need them, rumble, young man, rumble. It’s your team. You can do what you want and you may as may well go into it with a swagger than a question mark.
As salty as guys are right now for having too many points on their bench and not enough in their lineups, once the playoffs begin you can dial the saline content up to 11. My professional barber’s advice? Go with the players that got you there unless they’re hurt. You played most of them all season. When you had to make the call, you went with them. The playoff season isn’t the time to start playing hunch bets and dice rolls.
- Some of the fellas in The Shop thought that the November tornadoes in the Chicago area may have been the start of the End of Days. A five-and-a-half hour game needed overtime to end, but even more shocking was the performance of Ray-Ray Rice. He had only been averaging 36 yards in game in his first eight games, but had 131 against the Bears. Unfortunately, too many owners had lost their taste for Rice and had him on their bench.
- Just when we were ready to bury the Eagles (after we ate them, because Eagles are almost as delicious as peregrine falcons), suddenly they’ve come back and won three straight. In the weak NFC East, anything above .500 makes you the favorite.
- Don’t look now, but, after a 0-6 start, the switch-flick so many expected earlier from the Giants has taken place. They have won four straight and have their next two against Dallas and Washington. Don’t look now, but the rumors of the Giants’ death may have been exaggerated.
- What I wouldn’t have given to be a fly on the wall in a Boston bar Monday night. In what was an excellent game, the officials may have trumped the replacement refs who gave Golden Tate a golden shower of praise for pushing off and catching a touchdown. Luke Kuechly gets a game ball for bum-rushing Gronk out of the end zone and somehow getting the flag picked up. Let’s crank up some Dropkick Murphys and start throwin’ punches. I’ll watch and sip my spendy brown liquor.
- Who would have thought the Cardinals would have the same record after 10 games as the 49ers? They’ve won three straight (although against Atlanta, Houston and Jacksonville – three teams with a combined five wins) and they’re in a position to control their own destiny for second place in the NFC West.
- Of all the teams that have been burned by kicking off to Percy Harvin, you would think Minnesota would know better. Nope.
- The Saints only have one player (Jimmy Graham) with more than four receiving touchdowns, but have had 10 different players with at least one receiving TD. Most teams struggle to have 10 players catch more than a handful of passes, much less score touchdowns.
THE RAZOR’S EDGE
10. My Dinner With Andre – The sideline blowup between Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson was caught on film, but this time it doesn’t sound like the sort of emotional “rah, rah” banter from Dez Bryant and Tony Romo. When Johnson was asked after the game if he wanted to play somewhere other than Houston, where he has been part of eight straight losses, what was his response? “I’m under contract.” That’s not the answer ownership, coaches or teammates wanted to hear. That’s divorce chatter right there.
9. Odds and Evens – Clyde the Bookie is taking the Jets off his board next week. Everyone in The Shop has figured out the system. It doesn’t matter who they play or where they play this season, they win one week and lose the next game. Through 10 games, the Jets are 5-5 and, when stacked, it looks like this: W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L. It may be bad news for the Ravens next week.
8. Down For the Ten(nessee) Count – Ten days ago, Titans fans were looking at the possibility of being tied for first in the AFC South at 6-4 with home wins against butt-ugly Jacksonville and Indianapolis. Ten days later, after a home loss to the winless Jags and blowing a 14-point lead over the Colts, Tennessee is at 4-6 and the season appears to be as dead as Jake Locker’s ailing foot.
7. Mickey Mouse Watch In Minny – The Vikings have started three different quarterbacks this year and each of them has basically played himself out of the job. It went from Christian Ponder to Matt Cassel to Josh Freeman and back to Ponder. After his brutal second half against Seattle, where he almost singlehandedly turned a deficit into a blowout (not lost on those who took the 15 points Clyde the Bookie was giving), it looks like Minnesota will make another switch at QB. Given their hideous closing schedule, the Vikings’ next starter that puts together a long starting streak might be Johnny Football or Teddy Bridgewater.
6. A Pre-Thanksgiving Tradition – No non-expansion NFL franchise has struggled more consistently than the Detroit Lions. Historically, they make more news in April than January. Every two or three years, they will get off to a strong start, only to fall on their face and implode. After scoring 27 points in the second quarter Sunday at Pittsburgh, Detroit had sole possession of first place in the NFC North with the chance to put more distance on the Bears and Packers. Instead, the Lions’ second half was uglier than those Pittsburgh Blind Melon video uniforms. They’re now tied for first with Chicago and have once again showed that, even if they make the playoffs, the first decent offense they play will put 40 points on them and send them back to 8-Mile for the start of long, ugly winter.
5. Antiques Road Show – The bull’s eye is always on the defending champs. That’s a given. But this Ravens team has no resemblance to the team that won the Super Bowl earlier this year. With their loss to Chicago Sunday, the Ravens are now 4-6 and 1-5 on the road. The good news is that their next three games are at home, but, when the only teams you’ve beaten are Cleveland, Houston, Miami and Cincinnati (at home in overtime after collapsing late), the only way the Ravens players will be at a playoff game this year is if they buy tickets.
4. T-Rich’s To Rags – When the Colts traded a first-round pick for Trent Richardson, some of us raised eyebrows because we thought that was a stiff price to pay for a guy who had an ugly per-carry average in Cleveland as a rookie. It turns out, it may not be the porous Cleveland O-line that was the problem. He has 96 carries for just 272 yards in eight games with Indy, hasn’t scored a touchdown in the last six games and, in the last four (a span of 35 carries), he hasn’t had a run longer than eight yards. Being replaced by a mutt like Donald Brown has those in Indy wondering if Crazy Jim Irsay should lay off of Twitter for awhile and actually watch some game film before he trades away first-round draft picks.
3. Shootin’ a Kaep In A Super Bowl Dream – When the 49ers lost two of their first three games, there were question marks surrounding their ability to repeat as NFC champs. After throwing for 412 yards in the season opener against Green Bay, the talking heads anointed Colin Kaepernick as the next Hall of Fame QB among the crop of young bucks. Since then, he has thrown for 200 or more yards just once (and 150 or less in five) and his only productive running games came against Tennessee and Jacksonville. Over the last nine games, San Fran is one game over .500. The schedule is favorable, but, if San Fran is going to the Super Bowl again, it now may have to include going on the road to New Orleans and Seattle – a double-gauntlet that nobody wants to play. Put that Kaepernick bust in Canton on hold, boys. The young man needs to do a lot of proving of himself in the next two months or the Niners will go from Super Bowl favorite to a sacrificial playoff road lamb at best.
2. The Washington Deadskins – Big things were expected from Washington after winning seven straight games last year to go from 3-6 to 10-6 and the NFC East champs. After spotting Philly 24 points Sunday and trying to come back at garbage time again, the Redskins are now 3-7 and will need a similar run-the-table type of finish. But, with a schedule that includes the 49ers, Giants (twice), Chiefs and Cowboys, it won’t come easy. Ten wins is no longer possible. Ten losses is a definite possibility.
1. Same Song, Same Dance – Last year, the Falcons lost just three games in the regular season. Through 10 games this year, Atlanta has two losing streaks of three games or more, the current streak extending to four with a loss to Tampa Bay in a game in which they trailed by 28 points before getting a couple of meaningless late touchdowns to allegedly make it less embarrassing. Any team that has seven or eight losses is struggling, but, when the plan was to woo Tony Gonzalez out of retirement for one last ride toward the Super Bowl, it remains so much worse in Atlanta.