As I watched the Chargers’ offense finally come to life on Monday night—thanks to Vincent Jackson for getting me the touchdown I needed for a Week 13 tie and a narrow squeak into the playoffs in one league; a pox on V-Jax and Antonio Gates for falling three and five yards, respectively, shy of the yardage necessary for one more mickeyfreakin’ point to secure a tie in another league and get me into the playoffs… but I digress.
Anyway, as I watched the Chargers’ offense finally come to life on Monday night, I pondered how they might finally able to do so behind an offensive line that was missing its regular left side and lost starting center Nick Hardwich early on. The answer, of course, was a Jacksonville defense that entered the game down its top three cornerbacks and top pass rusher Aaron Kampmann, then lost defensive end John Chick in the first half.
You have your hands full keeping track of which so-called “skill” position players are and aren’t playing on a weekly basis, but there’s plenty going on beyond the quarterback/running back/wide receiver injuries that can affect your fantasy outcomes. Since we’re at crunch time and every other angle of analysis has been exhausted, I thought there might be some nuggets here you can put to use during your playoff run.
• The Rams have put 11 cornerbacks on injured reserve this season. No team can withstand that many injuries at one position, let alone one that entered the season with Ronald Bartell and Bradley Fletcher as their starters. Only one of the three corners currently on their roster, Justin King, was even on their roster at the start of the season. That means plenty of wide open spaces for Golden Tate to run through this week, Johnny Knox to exploit in Week 15, and any Pittsburgh wideout with a pulse to gash in Championship Week.
• How can Dan Orlovsky put up 353 and 2 on the Patriots? New England’s secondary has been gutted by injury. Even carrying 10 d-backs to open the season the Patriots have churned the roster; from that group of 10 only two starters (Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung), two second-teamers (Kyle Arrington and Sergio Brown) and two third-stringers (Antwaun Molden and James Ihedigbo) remain. That’s how Pierre Garçon got open for two garbage-time touchdowns last week and bodes well for the prospects of Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney this week, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker next week, and Brandon Marshall and Davonne Bess in Week 16.
• Carolina’s stonewalling of LeGarrette Blount in Week 13 was perhaps the most surprising—and, to those banking on a big day from Blount, confounding—development. Despite Blount’s struggles, don’t be afraid to go back to the well against the Panthers with your running backs the rest of the way; Carolina put starting defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain on injured reserve this week, leaving Andre Neblett and Frank Kearse as the only interior defensive linemen on the active roster. That’s welcome news not only for Michael Turner and Arian Foster but also Jason Snelling and Ben Tate. The real key: will you trust Blount in the Week 16 rematch?
The difference between pretenders and contenders is highlighted in how the Ravens and Patriots addressed injuries along their respective offensive lines.
When Baltimore kicked Jared Gaither to the curb, they picked up former Pro Bowl tackle Bryant McKinnie off the scrap heap and hoped to properly motivate the former University of Miami standout by placing him in the same locker room as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. While McKinnie hasn’t played at a Pro Bowl level, he’s been at least serviceable. And when Matt Birk went down with an injury in Week 13, the Ravens plugged in another ex-Pro Bowler, former Cowboy Andre Gurode. Again, they didn’t get Pro Bowl production but they got more than a pylon or a warm body.
The Patriots have found themselves in similar situations throughout the season, but like the Ravens they’ve been prepared; nothing wrong with plugging in former Pro Bowler Brian Waters at guard or first-round pick Nate Solder at tackle when injury hits.
Let’s contrast that with, say, the Rams, who have lost both starting tackles this season. Their solutions: plug in journeyman Adam Goldberg on the left side and shuffle everyone over a spot on the right, kicking guard Harvey Dahl to tackle and center Jason Brown to guard to insert fellow journeyman Tony Wragge at center. Is it any wonder why Ray Rice and Tom Brady keep on truckin’ while Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson struggle?
STRENGTH AND HONOR
This time of year there is perhaps no greater tool on this website than the amazing Strength of Schedule feature.
When given the opportunity to pimp The Huddle during one of my radio gigs I’ll often throw out the SOS feature, and almost unfailingly I’ll hear from either the hosts or a listener later in the week or the next time I’m on about how helpful the feature is.
Hopefully I’m preaching to the choir here, but I realize you’re being pulled many different directions at this time of year so I’ll toss out a gentle nudge back towards the SOS feature. Looking for a tight end to replace Fred Davis this week? Find out instantly who has the most favorable matchup—based on year-to-date numbers, or as I prefer to do, based on the last month or so of results. In this case, Kevin Boss, Ed Dickson, and Lance Kendricks are viable options.
Has your team, like mine, been ravaged at the quarterback position on a weekly basis? I have one team that has lost a quarterback a week for the last month, to the point that last week I was reduced to starting Caleb Hanie; didn’t prevent me from winning the division and a first-round bye, though. But if I were playing and Mike Vick and Josh Freeman were still on the shelf I could use the SOS feature to help identify Matt Hasselbeck, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or even Blaine Gabbert (home against the Bucs) or Joe Webb (if Christian Ponder’s hip injury keeps him on the sidelines) as potential plug-in plays.
Some fantasy footballers put a ton of stock in strength of schedule; others, not so much. But when it’s one-and-done time you have to be aware of what your fantasy lineup’s opponents have been allowing. The SOS feature does the crunching for you and lets you figure out what sample size and time frame to use for the figuring. Combine the SOS feature with your own eye test and you’ll be that much more on top of key lineup decisions at this critical time of year.
A BYE WEEK IS NOT A WEEK OFF
Hopefully you’ve secured a first-round bye in your playoffs; that’s one less chance of some fluky result derailing your championship train.
But the bye doesn’t mean you should take the week off. In fact, rather than tap the brakes it’s time to hit the accelerator. You don’t have to sweat out this week’s matchups, so with only two games (assuming no Week 17 title game) to consider you can streamline your roster based on that limited set of matchups.
While everyone else is focused on Week 14’s matchups, you can look ahead. Felix Jones against the Giants this week might not be an attractive option, but if you have the roster space you can afford to stash him and see just how much he’s carving into DeMarco Murray’s workload. If it’s a significant amount, you can bring him out against the Bucs in Week 15 without having to beat the rush to the waiver wire next week. The Jets, Broncos, and Rams all have horrible Week 14 matchups for wideouts—and the three most favorable matchups for wideouts in Week 15. Overreactionaries might go so far as to kick Plaxico Burress or Eric Decker or Brandon Lloyd to the curb based on their anticipated lack of contributions in must-win Week 14; you can scoop them up and wait for their more favorable Week 15 matchups.
You’ve come too far to coast home now. Stay on top of the waiver wire this week so you remain ahead of the game when you’re back in play next week.
The unfortunate reality of fantasy football is that some of you may be eliminated from further fun. If you’re in a dynasty league, however, you may still be able to stock your roster with potential 2012 helpers—or at minimum get some game film on them now so you’re not dependent on coachspeak and preseason stats come next year’s draft.
One guy to keep an eye on is Jacksonville wideout Cecil Shorts. Sure, I’ve got a soft spot for the former D-3 standout, but he has both the talent and the opportunity to make some fantasy noise. His touchdown grab on Monday night might have opened some eyes, though, so you may need to act quickly. Blaine Gabbert is desperately seeking a go-to guy in that passing game and with that TD grab Shorts flashed the ability to become one. Even if the Jags use a first-round pick on Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd next April, that only fills one spot in the receiving corps. Shorts could easily wind up as Jacksonville’s WR2 or slot guy, and if Gabbert starts playing less like a rookie and more like a first-round pick would stand to benefit.
THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR
So how are my teams doing, you might ask? Okay, you probably wouldn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway.
Despite the bitter pill of falling one point shy of a playoff spot in my own league, where I’ve won five titles in its 22-year existence, all is not lost as five of my eight teams are still alive. Two teams have byes, including my division-winning Sirius XM Experts League squad and my beloved Mattress Police in the BotH’s own Weapons of DMD League. My Huddle Ladder club needs to win and get some help to make the Hall of Fame’s final four, while my dynasty league entry (Frieda’s Boss) and my touchdown-only league team (Roidboyz) both squeaked in as #6 seeds and must now run the table on the road to claim crowns.
Hey, after guiding multiple top seeds into last year’s postseason only to go one-for-the-playoffs—and by that I mean one stinkin’ first-round win, a win that was promptly followed by a second-round loss—I’m perfectly happy playing the role of underdog. The losses might not be as painful, and the wins are sure to be sweeter.
And “sweeter” rhymes with “Tweeter”, which is what I try to become each weekend to answer any and all conundrums you may have. Hey, they don’t even have to be fantasy-football related; my trove of knowledge is vast. For holiday specials you can’t go wrong with classics like Charlie Brown and Rudolph, Nerf guns make a great gift for kids of all ages, and if the recipient wouldn’t appreciate the new Black Keys disc in their stocking I don’t think I want to hang with ‘em anyway.
If that doesn’t cover it, hit me at @jtuvey and I’ll see what else I can do.