Maybe your fantasy football season has proceeded without a hitch, from draft day right up through last week. You’re atop your division, steamrolling towards the playoffs, with nary a cloud in the sky.
Or maybe it’s been a nightmare. Key players are dropping like flies, your favorite sleepers haven’t panned out, and you’re already spending more time tracking the “Suck For Luck” sweepstakes than your own team because it’s just too painful.
Or perhaps you’re somewhere in between, on the cusp of a playoff berth with a strong finish—and once you crash the big dance, anything is possible.
No matter what your situation, I’ve been there; in fact, in one of my eight leagues I’m probably there right now. So while we commiserate, let’s also go over some of the moves we should make in our respective leagues. Feel free to jump to the situation that most closely resembles your own.
EXPRESS LANE TO THE PLAYOFFS
Congratulations! You’re the envy of your league and have all but locked up a playoff spot. The postseason can’t get here fast enough. So… what’s your next move?
For starters, it’s definitely not standing pat. Not that you should put the horses who brought you this far out to pasture, mind you; just that you shouldn’t assume past performance guarantees future results.
If you’re truly running away with your division, go ahead and take a longer-arching view of your roster. Don’t sweat matchups right now; worry about setting your lineup for the playoffs. If you’re carrying depth that’s covered you for the bye weeks, this is a good time to turn it into upgrades. By that I mean if you have three solid backs, or two and a guy who’s filled in well and has some trade value, go ahead and deal the spare part for an upgrade at wide receiver. You don’t need to gut your team of depth, but bench points do you little good in the playoffs and why subject yourself to unnecessary lineup headaches?
Depending on your league’s waiver wire rules—for example, can you pick up a kicker during the playoffs if your guy goes down with an injury?—my ideal playoff roster is quite streamlined. Obviously you want the best possible starters; I’ll also look for a quality backup quarterback with favorable playoff matchups (more on that later) and a kicker who’ll be indoors and/or in warm-weather climates so I don’t have to concern myself with rain, wind, snow, or the dreaded sneet combo platter. I’ll grab the necessary handcuff (or cuffs) for my starting backs, trading for them if necessary.
For example, I’d part with Jackie Battle, who’s a quality starting back but could easily be a third back on a good team as he was almost certainly a waiver wire add during the season, if it meant backing up Darren McFadden with Michael Bush or Arian Foster with Ben Tate. I don’t have to grapple with a WDIS decision involving Battle, and I sleep better at night knowing that if McFadden’s foot or Foster’s hammy flare up my season isn’t necessarily down the drain.
I also look hard at my players’ schedules to see if there are any stoppers. For example, Beanie Wells faces the 49ers in Week 14; no team has allowed fewer fantasy points to running backs. Add Beanie’s knee issues to that brutal matchup and no matter how well Wells has played up to that point he’s looking at a down number in the first week of the playoffs. Of course, if you have a first-round bye secured you can hang onto Wells and hope he’s healthy enough for Cleveland in Week 15.
You’ll also want to know where Revis Island is throughout the playoffs. If you own Dwayne Bowe, Week 14 might be a stopper for you. Week 15 the Eagles get Darrelle Revis, so he may split time between DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. And in Week 16 Hakeem Nicks will most likely get the Revis treatment. This wouldn’t be a bad time to deal one of those players for a similar or even slightly lesser wideout with a more favorable fantasy playoff sked; suggestions include Steve Johnson (at Chargers, Dolphins, Broncos) or A.J. Green (Texans, at Rams, Cardinals).
Which leads into looking at the playoff schedule as a whole. Steven Jackson may be on a roll right now, but in Weeks 14, 15, and 16 he’ll play in Seattle, host the Bengals, and travel to Pittsburgh. That’s a stone wall of a schedule, so if you’ve been riding SJax to this point you should seriously look into selling.
Don’t just look for negatives; there are schedule positives out there as well. DeMarco Murray has three favorable matchups during the fantasy postseason—home dates with the Giants and Eagales and a trip to Tampa Bay to face a Bucs D that just lost their top defensive tackle. He’ll be easier to acquire than Arian Foster, who has a similar primrose path (Carolina and Indy in Weeks 15 and 16), so you may have to settle for Shonn Greene, who sandwiches a road trip to Philly between home games against the Chiefs and Giants.
At quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good target with matchups against the Dolphins and Broncos in Weeks 15 and 16, though both are in Buffalo so you’re flirting with weather issues. Matthew Stafford might cost a little more in a trade, but he brackets a road trip to Oakland with dome games against the Vikings and Chargers. Just don’t forget the Shaun Hill insurance.
Also, why not take a chance on guys who can’t help you now but could be studs in a month? Andre Johnson may not play (again) this week and has his bye in Week 11; he can probably be had for a fraction of his potential value. There aren’t any Colts who will help you, but Saints and Steelers will take Week 11 off as well; if their owner(s) are in must-win mode you can help them out… for pennies on the dollar.
WIN NOW MODE
Still mired in a week-to-week battle for a spot in the playoff field? Sadly, you don’t have the roster flexibility of either extreme because you need to field the best possible matchup every week to nail down that string of “W”s to push you into the postseason.
Trading-wise, this is akin to pushing your broken-down jalopy onto the dealer lot and attempting to negotiate a deal on a sweet new ride. But if you have to overpay, do so with currency that includes Saints, Texans, and Steelers—because they’ll do nothing to help you in Week 11 when they’re all on the bye.
Maybe that means dealing Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Schaub—but Matt Cassel (Broncos, at Patriots) or Carson Palmer (at Vikings, at Dolphins) have favorable matchups over the next month and will at least get you something in Week 11.
Rashard Mendenhall and Darren Sproles are every-week starters—except in Week 11, when you’d be better served with BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Chiefs) or Marshawn Lynch (at Rams). Law Firm actually has one of the most favorable RB schedules between now and the start of the fantasy playoffs, assuming he keeps his job. You could also go after Chris Johnson, who has potential layups against the Panthers and Buccaneers over the next month, or LeGarrette Blount, who’ll see the Titans and Panthers during that same span.
If you’ve been teetering on the brink of cutting Reggie Wayne, and JUM’s recent nudge wasn’t enough, consider that he’ll do even less for you in Week 11 when the Colts take a break to gear up for their final “Suck for Luck” push. Replace him with Michael Crabtree (Cardinals), Jonathan Baldwin (at Patriots), or Doug Baldwin (at Rams). You could also look into parting with Marques Colston or Antonio Brown, but set your sights a little higher—say, Santonio Holmes (Patriots, at Broncos) or Sidney Rice (at Rams), or take Dwayne Bowe off the hands of a front-running team based on that Week 14 matchup with Darrelle Revis; prior to that he’ll see a couple of very favorable matchups (Broncos, at Patriots) that could get you those wins you covet.
You also need to bail on walking wounded who won’t be immediate helpers. No doubt you won’t get full value for the likes of Darren McFadden, Jahvid Best, Andre Johnson, and Miles Austin… but at least you’ll get something, and that something might extend your season a few more weeks.
You’re walking a fine line here, but a roster of Drew Brees, Arian Foster, and Mike Wallace won’t do a thing for you in Week 11 and will mean even less in Week 14 if you’re on the outside of the playoff picture, face pressed against the glass looking in.
PLAYING FOR THE FUTURE
If you’re in a redraft league, bottom-feeding is no fun. Hopefully your league has some sort of weekly high score prize to play for; otherwise it’s far too easy to direct your attention elsewhere and mail in the remainder of your lost season. Resist the temptation and play out the string. You don’t need to throw good money after bad and make unnecessary pickups (if transactions cost you real money), but you do need to field a full lineup. Hopefully you won’t be back in this predicament any time soon, and at that point you’ll want other teams to put forth their best effort so as not to negatively impact your team’s playoff chances.
The rules are different for dynasty leagues. In other words, let the fire sale begin! If you have short-term assets that will do you no good next year, you owe it to yourself to see what they’ll fetch on the open market. Stockpile draft picks and young talent while parting ways with older players or potential one-hit wonders.
A far-from-comprehensive selling list might include Fred Jackson (on the wrong side of 30 for a running back), Cedric Benson (likely in his last year as the go-to guy in Cincinnati) and Michael Turner (maybe has another year of RB1 left in him, but Atlanta is clearly transitioning to a more pass-centric offense). You could also look to deal guys who are in a feature role right now but might not be next year: Nate Washington, Laurent Robinson, Brandon Lloyd (a free agent after this season).
On the flip side, this would be a good time to get upside guys like A.J. Green, Torrey Smith, Mark Ingram, and DeMarco Murray. Ingram and Antonio Brown might be easier to snag with their Week 11 byes; hey, what’s another loss to your lost season?
THE TWEETEST THING
A couple weeks back I promised a Huddle swag giveaway if my twitter account (@jtuvey) attracted 500 followers. Over the weekend that threshold was crossed, so it’s time to pay up. However, I’m limiting the giveaway to Huddle members, so the secret password is “Gagliardi.” In the next few days I’ll tweet a call for the secret password; reply to that tweet and I’ll throw those names in the proverbial hat for some Huddle swag. Bonus points if you know who or what the secret password means.