As I flipped back and forth between MNF and the World Series (and thought over my fantasy baseball and fantasy football seasons), I couldn’t help but compile a mental fantasy baseball vs. fantasy football monologue in my head. Most of it probably only made sense to me in that moment, but through it I realized that the same reasons that people give for fantasy football being easier than fantasy baseball are also the same reasons it can be harder. The player pool is smaller, the scoring is simpler, and it doesn’t require researching 3 levels of minor leagues to have an edge when the latest prospect gets called up. This makes things easier for you. But it also means it’s harder for you to gain an advantage by simply outworking your opponents. The “experts” are all analyzing the same players and dealing with the same random nature of football, meaning most of them will give you the same advice, and when someone does go out on a limb and get it right, it’s usually too late to take advantage of it (how many of you had already picked up Ryan Moats when Drew mentioned him weeks ago?).
The point is this: the information, to a certain degree, is limited. We’re all getting better at figuring out what information is pertinent and what isn’t, but at a certain point football can’t be broken down like baseball can. It’s not played in discrete chunks, player vs. player, that are easily represented by statistics. So the advantage to be had is in filtering out the noise and when you take risks, you take the best calculated risk the situation allows. Risk assessment. Fantasy baseball is like chess — fantasy football is like poker. You may be more skilled than your opponent and still lose. We want to provide the information that gives you the best understanding of the risks.
Let’s recap how the system works here: start with your basic ranking of players, and then consider -1 and +1 ratings to move the player to the bottom or top of their current tier. A -2 and +2 rating bumps them into the tier below or above their normal position. The team’s pass defense ranking (in passing yards allowed per game) is in parentheses.
1 PM games
Washington (2nd) @ Atlanta (31st)
The Redskins offense had a surprisingly effective pass attack against the Eagles in Week 7. Jason Campbell had a solid fantasy line (284 yards, 2 TD’s) and even managed to get the ball 6 times to Santana Moss. Campbell should still be considered a highly risky play even against a relatively poor secondary like Atlanta’s (of course, lots of secondaries look bad after a game against the Saints). He’s just as likely to get the hook at halftime as he is throw for 250+ yards. Of particular note is the loss of Chris Cooley. If you need a TE and Fred Davis wasn’t picked up because of the bye week, grab him now. Davis and Cooley combined for 10 catches, 99 yards, and a touchdown — most of it by Davis after Cooley went down. That total is a little optimistic, but Davis has the situation and talent to put up excellent numbers.
WAS: Campbell 0, Moss +1, Davis +1
SSDD. Things don’t get any easier for Matty Ice(cold) this week. The Washington defense is legit, particularly its secondary. The Redskins held Celek to 3 catches for 8 yards, so don’t expect a monster day from Tony Gonzalez, but he’s still a must play on most rosters. DeSean Jackson’s big plays against might give hope to Roddy White owners, but they get their big gains in different ways so I’m not sure White will be as successful. Jenkins continues to produce just enough to tease but not enough to warrant a pickup.
ATL: Ryan -2, White -1, Gonzalez -1
Green Bay (9th) @ Tampa Bay (15th)
The issue with Greg Jennings this year seemed to be pass protection (or lack thereof). With Rodgers constantly under pressure, the offense didn’t have the time necessary to set up downfield pass plays, instead relying on over the middle shots to Driver and the TE’s. Well, Rodgers was sacked 6 times by the Vikings defense, and he still managed to find Jennings 8 times for 88 yards and a score. Is Jennings back? I’m not sure he won’t turn in a few more stinkers, but he is definitely playable — the Packers are finding ways to get him the ball. If you’re looking for a long shot TE, check out Spencer Havner — he only caught 2 passes, but both were for touchdowns. Clearly, the red zone offense is set up for some TE targets, so take advantage. Tampa’s not even as good as their mid-pack ranking (and don’t rush the passer nearly as well as the Vikings), so start all your Packers with confidence.
GB: Rodgers +2, Jennings +2, Driver +2, Havner +2
Meh. The Bucs’ pass offense isn’t even bad in an exciting way, like the Raiders — they are boringly bad. The dullest quarterback controversy in the history of the NFL sucks almost all of the value out of this offense. Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow are talented receivers, but you are rolling the dice if you start them. Both could just as easily turn in 2 catch, 18 yard days as they could bust 100+ yards and score a couple times. Use only if you are in a bad, bad way and need all the high-risk you can fit on a roster.
TB: Joshes -2, Bryant -1, Winslow -1
Miami (12th) @ New England (5th)
I’m not sure the Patriots secondary is nearly so good as that number may indicate — they have had the good fortune of facing the Titans and Bucs offenses the previous 2 games. Of course, Miami’s pass offense might be closer to those 2 teams than they are to the units that had success like the Broncos. The Dolphins mustered just 112 yards passing last week against the Jets (and lost 60 in sack yardage). I don’t like young quarterbacks facing the Patriots (even Sanchize only threw for 163 yards and a single touchdown) — this is not the week to take a risk with Henne and the Dolphins. They just don’t throw enough to make Bess, Camarillo, Fasano, the newly promoted Hartline (goose-egg), or the newly demoted Ginn (goose egg in the passing game) worthwhile.
MIA: Henne -2, Bess -1, Camarillo -2, Fasano-2, Hartline -2, Ginn -2
This isn’t quite the creampuff matchup that the Patriots enjoyed against the Titans and Bucs, but the same principle stands — New England doesn’t have the RB depth to pound the ball, so expect 30+ passes from Brady. Welker will again be used to move the chains with occasional downfield shots to Moss. Aiken bears watching after catching a long TD in Week 7. Normally Ben Watson doesn’t get enough looks for my liking, but this is a nice matchup for him, and he often sneaks a red zone TD even when he’s not being targeted frequently.
NE: Brady +1, Welker +2, Moss +1, Watson +1, Aikin 0
Kansas City (28th) @ Jacksonville (26th)
Cassel was horrible against San Diego before the bye week, but if you’re stuck with waiver options at QB I think he’s playable here. Bowe salvaged his 11 yard day by recording a touchdown, while Bobby Wade racked up 66 yards, but Bowe’s the only one you want to be playing. If you’re stuck with Bowe on your roster, this is the week you play him — and if you can’t play him here, then go ahead and sell low on him, because the situation just isn’t going to get a lot better.
KC: Cassel +1, Bowe +2, Wade +1
What a mess. After Garrard threw 2 picks and barely completed 50% of his passes (meanwhile, MJD averaged 22 yards a carry but was only given the ball 8 times) against the Titans, the scuttlebutt is that Garrard’s decision-making is under question (oh really?) and that he may be “handcuffed” to avoid costly mistakes (you don’t say!). Garrard was already an up-and-down fantasy QB, so this may not change his value that much, but it could have devastating consequences for Mike Sims-Walker and Torry Holt. For now, cross your fingers and hope that Garrard regains the coaching staff’s trust in a tasty matchup against the Chiefs, but be prepared to sell just a little low on Sims-Walker and Holt if it’s apparent they aren’t getting the downfield targets.
JAC: Garrard -1, Sims-Walker -1, Holt -1, Thomas -1, Lewis 0
Houston (14th) @ Indianapolis (7th)
If I told you that a talented Houston player would rank at the top of his fantasy position for 8 weeks before being lost to injury, you’d have guessed Matt Schaub, right? Oh wait…I guess you could also guess Andre Johnson. Maybe Houston needs a better sports medicine department. Anyway, Owen Daniels is lost for the year, and that means potentially big value changes for 2 players. Kevin Walter goes from being the 3rd wheel to Andre Johnson’s sidekick, and Joel Dreessen gets the opportunity to fill in for Daniels. For now, assume most of that extra value goes to Walter, but keep an eye on Dreessen — a lot of the Texans’ playbook revolved around Daniels so I think he’ll get some looks. For now, Schaub’s value dips just a little, and Andre Johnson’s holds steady. Oh yeah. They’re playing Indy, who is really, really, really good at suppressing long pass plays. Did I mention Kevin Walter’s value is going up?
HOU: Schaub -1, Johnson -1, Walter +1, Jones -1, Dreessen +1, Daniels (drop)
Following our quiz motif for this game, if I told you a Colt passer had a perfect QB rating in last week’s game, would you guess…Manning? Sorgi? Whoever is the 3rd string QB? Nope, it’s Joseph Addai! The Colts had a tough time scoring against the 49ers, but that didn’t stop Manning from racking up 347 yards. Pray to the fantasy football gods that a RB doesn’t steal a passing touchdown this week. In other news, Reggie Wayne is the first WR to be targeted 20 times in a game. Until Anthony Gonzalez returns in full health, Wayne is the big play guy and the clutch 3rd-down guy, all wrapped into one. With Owen Daniels down for the count, Dallas Clark is now clearly the best fantasy TE in the game. Gonzalez isn’t expected back this week, so Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon are playable as well.
IND: Manning 0, Wayne +1, Clark 0, Collie 0, Garcon 0
Baltimore (19th) @ Cincinnati (30th)
The difference between fantasy and real football can be seen in Flacco’s last game against Denver. 175 yards and a single touchdown is barely acceptable in fantasy; in real life, he completed 80% of his passes, didn’t turn it over, and got what yardage was available from a tough Broncos D. That doesn’t help you if you started him, but it’s a good sign — even against tough opponents, he’s not likely to implode. Fortunately, that’s not a concern this week. Now that the Bengals are the 3rd worst team in passing yardage against, can we stop talking about their surprising defense? Expect Mason to top the receiving yardage again; neither Mark Clayton nor Kelley Washington are productive enough to consider playing. Heap remains a low-risk, low-reward option.
BAL: Flacco +2, Mason +2, Clayton +1, Washington +1, Heap +1
The question here is this: does one look at Baltimore’s ranking and year-to-date statistics, or does one look at the last game against a previously successful Denver offense? The Ravens used more blitzes and defensive shifts to pressure Orton instead of letting the front four go at it and hoping the secondary holds up. The smart play here is to assume that the Ravens aren’t quite the easy mark they were early in the year, but Palmer and Ochocinco are too talented to downgrade much. Unfortunately, after some nice early games, Andre Caldwell seems to have fallen back to the pack — Caldwell, Coles, and Henry are converging in value, making none of them more than spot WR3 starts.
CIN: Palmer 0, Ochocinco 0, Caldwell -1, Coles 0, Henry 0
Arizona (20th) @ Chicago (12th)
Are the Bears the team that held the Browns to 74 yards passing or the team that gave up 5 TD’s to Carson Palmer? Probably somewhere in the middle, but I wouldn’t be worried about starting your Cardinals in this game. Anquan Boldin aggravated his sprained ankle last week; even if he plays, I’d upgrade Steve Breaston just because he’s likely to be involved more than usual. If Boldin does play, keep him in your lineup — he can be productive even when hobbled.
ARI: Warner +1, Fitzgerald +1, Boldin -1, Breaston +1
Starting to worry about Jay Cutler as your starting QB? You should be (this applies to Bears fans and Cutler owners alike). The Browns are not a good pass defense, and Cutler managed just 225 yards with no TD’s and a pick against them. After leaving the Detroit game with an injury, Hester has logged 3 straight games of 80+ yards — but he also missed Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury. If Hester can’t play, upgrade Knox. Bennett seems to have been pushed to WR3 status. At this point, accept the fact that Olsen is a steady but unexciting TE.
CHI: Cutler -1, Hester 0, Knox 0/+1, Bennett 0, Olsen 0
4 PM games
Detroit (27th) @ Seattle (18th)
Stafford couldn’t put together a good game against St. Louis. You don’t want to play him here. For the sake of argument, if Calvin Johnson plays, Stafford gets a little upgrade, but it’s not enough to start him. CJ looked good in Wednesday’s practice but remains a game-time decision. Play him if he starts, but not over other top-tier WR’s. Pettigrew has yet to put together a second game so ignore him for now. Northcutt led in looks last week but Bryant Johnson made the plays. Don’t start either.
DET: Stafford -1, Calvin Johnson 0, Pettigrew -1, Northcutt -1, Bryant Johnson 0
I really thought that Dallas would put more pressure on Hasselbeck, but the Seahawks put together a nice game against the Cowboys. Clearly, this is a much better matchup and Hasselbeck, Burleson, Houshmandzadeh, and Carlson are all playable here. If you are considering starting Hasselbeck over a top-tier starter with a tougher matchup, remember that everything you’re reading about Hasselbeck is the same stuff people said about Bulger last week. It’s not a perfect parallel, since Hasselbeck has more experienced and talented receivers, but take it as fair warning. Burleson is returning punts which is a nice boost for return yardage leagues.
SEA: Hasselbeck +2, Burleson +2, Houshmandzadeh +1, Carlson +1
Carolina (1st) @ New Orleans (17th)
If the Panthers stick to their new gameplan, they’ll probably win more, but it’s going to cut into Delhomme’s production (and by extension, Steve Smith’s production). Delhomme isn’t playable until we see whether he’ll be allowed to throw the ball more than 15-20 times a game. Depending on your roster, you might be stuck playing Smith, but you’ve got to cross your fingers and hope he connects on a deep throw for a TD. Not a great situation, not a great matchup. Avoid it if you can.
CAR: Delhomme -2, Smith -1
So are you going to be the guy that didn’t learn his lesson when he benched Drew Brees against the (formerly) #1 Giants pass defense? Yes, the Panthers picked off Warner 5 times. Doesn’t matter. Brees may not have his best game of the year, but at this point it’s a fool’s wager to bet against him. Devery Henderson is separating himself from the pack as the WR2, and Colston and Shockey are must starts. Start downgrading Moore and Meachem — most weeks the ball is spread around too much for either to put together a big number.
NO: Brees 0, Colston 0, Shockey +1, Henderson +1, Moore -1, Meachem -1
Tennessee (32nd) @ San Francisco (29th)
As expected, the QB switch to Vince Young proved to be detrimental to the Titans’ WR group. Nate Washington salvaged his day with a TD, but nobody had more than 41 yards total. For the time being, expect Gage, Washington, and Britt to be nearly unplayable in all formats. Scaife might enjoy an upgrade if Young checks down more often that Collins.
TEN: Young 0, Gage -1, Washington -1, Britt -1, Scaife 0
I have to admit — I’m very interested to see what Alex Smith does this week. He managed just under 200 yards and a TD against a tough Indy secondary; it’s not hard to imagine he could easily top 200 yards with a couple TD’s this week. He’s got athletic weapons in Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree and an experienced outlet in Isaac Bruce, and his decision-making looks much, much better than his first go-round as a starter. Definitely worth stashing in 2 QB leagues. Josh Morgan seems to have gotten the worst of the Crabtree promotion, so don’t rely on him for anything right now. Last week’s game didn’t convince me that the Titans are anything but a bad pass defense, so Smith, Crabtree, and Davis all get the bad-defense upgrade.
SF: Smith +1, Crabtree +1, Davis +1, Bruce 0, Morgan -1
San Diego (6th) @ New York Giants (3rd)
Since the Saints opened the floodgates, nobody seems to be scared of the Giants’ pass defense at all. Given San Diego’s general inability to run the ball (and the strength of the Giants D-line), I expect Rivers to pass a lot in this game, using dumpoffs to Tomlinson and Gates to move the chains. Malcolm Floyd takes over the WR2 position from now-released Chris Chambers and gets an automatic +1 for the promotion, but we won’t have real gauge on his production level for a couples games. For now, assume he’ll get about the same number of looks as Chambers but converts a higher percentage of them (ideally, somewhere north of 50%).
SD: Rivers 0, Vincent Jackson 0, Gates +1, Floyd +1
While I don’t expect a Delhomme-style handcuffing, it would make sense for the Giants to pound the ball with Jacobs and Bradshaw here. Eli’s been making mistakes, the WR core is a little dinged up, and San Diego is about as bad a stopping the run as it is shutting down the passing game. Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks will have some trouble with the athletic SD corners, and while Manningham returned to practice on Wednesday, he’s been losing time to Nicks anyway. Kevin Boss had an excellent game last week, but injured his ankle — if he starts, he’s playable, but have a backup plan ready.
NYG: Manning -1, Smith -1, Nicks -1, Manningham -2, Boss -1
8 PM game
Dallas (22nd) @ Philadelphia (10th)
This is a tough matchup for Dallas — Romo, Austin, and Witten are too good to bench, but the Eagles blitz-happy attack induces mistakes and this could be difficult for a risk-taking QB like Romo. Still, there should be yards available in the passing game so don’t downgrade Romo too much other than expecting 1 or 2 INT’s. Roy Williams has been complaining publicly about his role and chemistry with Romo; there’s been no word concerning team discipline, but I’d downgrade him a bit anyway. Crayton is marginal except in return-yardage leagues. Witten owners should hope he’s over his case of the drops, because Kevin Boss demonstrated there’s room in the Philly defense for a TE to take advantage.
DAL: Romo -1, Austin 0, Williams -2, Crayton -1/0, Witten 0
The Cowboy’s pass defense is improving but Seattle proved they can still be thrown on. Celek re-established his offensive role last week, and DeSean Jackson is a WR1 whether it’s a return yardage league or not. Jeremy Maclin is getting consistent looks and I like him to tally 4-6 catches this week. There’s not much value beyond that — Avant shows up every couple of weeks, but it’s not enough to rely on.
PHI: McNabb +1, Jackson +2, Maclin +1, Celek 0
Pittsburgh (16th) @ Denver (8th)
Denver’s defense wasn’t as bad as the points total looked last week — they still held Flacco to 175 yards and a touchdown. That line happens to be identical to the line Roethlisberger put up against Minnesota in Week 7. With FWP returning to action, we may be seeing the Steelers shifting the offensive load off of Roethlisberger. He still may be successful, but that success may not translate into fantasy numbers. With that in mind (and Denver’s secondary), I think a downgrade is in order for most of the Steelers. I have a feeling Ward may find some room underneath the secondary so he’s exempt. I don’t like Wallace’s chances of busting a long one this week.
PIT: Roethlisberger -1, Holmes -1, Ward 0, Miller -1, Wallace -1
I think Orton may be forced to throw frequently as I don’t see Denver having much success running the ball on Pittsburgh. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad — lots of attempts against a good defense generally produce turnovers. Orton’s smart enough to avoid bad interceptions, but it won’t be surprising if Polamalu catches one. Royal’s been horrible at converting the targets he’s getting into catches, but it’s worth noting he got as many looks as Marshall did last week, so they are trying to get him involved in the offense. After a nice game in Week 6, Scheffler reverted back to almost worthless status (and was outgained by Daniel Graham) — dump him and roll the dice with someone else.
DEN: Orton -1, Marshall 0, Royal -1, Scheffler -1