A large part of rating players and making roster recommendations is risk management. Every player has a risk/reward ratio. Clearly, if it were possible to fill your roster with low-risk, high-reward players, that’d be the way to go. In most leagues, however, some portion of your roster is comprised of players with serious question marks. It may be health, playing time, age, coaching, team quality, or any number of combined factors. Knowing what type of player you need is critical to making an informed decision.
For example, I rarely draft a top-tier TE. I’ll wait for someone to drop further than they should, or just wait till the end of the draft and take whoever’s left in the third to last round (drafting DEF and K last). This means that several times through the season I’m reevaluating TE’s. If I feel that I’m at a disadvantage this week, I’m likely to target a higher-risk, higher-reward type of player, like Zach Miller. He’s talented, and has potential for big weeks, but is occasionally hamstrung by the play of JaMarcus Russell and the general Raider malaise. If I feel that I have a solid advantage at other positions, and I just want to minimize the change of getting burned at the TE position, I might try for someone like Todd Heap, who may not have the talent or offensive role to bust out for 100+ yards most weeks, but is likely to get at least 40-50 yards, and may throw in a bonus TD if I’m lucky.
So when you evaluate players, or interpret the advice that you receive here (or anywhere else), you have to ask yourself the question: if I start this player, is he going to sink my battleship? Jason Campbell has been a better fantasy QB than Shaun Hill, but when you take into consideration the real-life situations, is the possibility of a great fantasy start from Campbell worth the risk? The answer depends on your roster, your league, and your matchup. The trick is making that decision without the benefit of hindsight. It’s easy enough to look back and see that the Redskins were reaching the breaking point with Campbell, but I didn’t see anybody predicting a benching midgame.
On to the games!
1 PM games
Minnesota (24th) @ Pittsburgh (12th)
Check out Favre’s yard per attempt for weeks 1 through 6: 5.2, 5.7, 6.5, 8.7, 9.7, 9.6. After looking like a game manager for 2 weeks, Favre has ramped up his downfield passing. He’s a legit starter at QB right now. Pittsburgh (w/ Polamalu) will be his toughest matchup yet, but unless you have another top ten QB, you can’t sit him. Sidney Rice’s emergence as a favorite target may limit opportunities for Harvin. He’s still valuable in return yardage leagues, if his shoulder is healthy. Shiancoe continues to get redzone looks and is a must start. Pittsburgh’s relatively weak rush offense means more yardage for Roethlisberger. This is a nice matchup and I expect the Steelers to throw early and often if Mendenhall can’t find running room. Mike Wallace is playable as a WR3.
Indianapolis (9th) @ St. Louis (27th)
Consider: Peyton Manning, living legend at QB, second only to Favre in grittiness and game-loving-ness, greatest pitchman since Ron Popeil, coming off the bye week, facing one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Manning’s potential this week is affected only by his gimpy knee. The injury seems minor, however, and I’d bet he wants to at least eclipse 300 yards to keep his streak alive. It’s unclear if Anthony Gonzalez will play, but consider this the last week to rely on Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie until we see how their value is affected. Wayne and Clark’s value is the same even if Gonzalez re-enters the picture. The Ram’s only real weapon, Donnie Avery, was dinged up in least week’s game against the Jaguars. I still like his potential in the future, but not with a hip injury and not against the Colts. If Bulger could only manage 213 yards and 1 TD against Jacksonville, then he’s unplayable here.
IND: Manning +2, Wayne +2, Clark +2, Garcon +2, Collie +2, Gonzalez ?
STL: Bulger -2, Avery -2
New England (6th) @ Tampa Bay (11th)
Throw out the numbers here, and think about what’s happened. New England just held the Titans to -7 yards passing. That game is obviously going to swing their defensive stats just a little. The Patriots secondary is competent, but I’d bet on them being closer to the middle of the pack than the best in the league. Tampa Bay rates as the 11th best pass defense by pass yardage per game, but that yardage is being compiled in just 25 attempts, compared to an average of 34 attempts for the 4 teams ranked just above and below TB in pass yardage per game, and they’ve also allowed the 3rd most passing TD’s in the league. That’s a confusing sentence, but the upshot is this — the Bucs pass defense looks decent because teams are running crazy on them. The Patriots are dinged up at RB, though, and are unlikely to hand 35+ carries to Maroney and BJGE. All that to say, you can’t expect a repeat from New England’s offense, but there’s no reason to downgrade them here. TB is a bad defense, despite the ranking, and I’d expect an excellent (but not epic) day from Brady. When the NE offense is rolling, Ben Watson often gets left out of the fun. Keep an eye on him, though — with Edelman injured and Galloway released, he may take a larger role in the offense. The poor ratings for the Bucs has everything to do with Josh Johnson. He shouldn’t be starting in the NFL right now, and his play will continue to affect Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow’s reliability as fantasy producers.
Green Bay (10th) @ Cleveland (23rd)
Another lopsided matchup. A competent, talent-laden pass offense faces a battered pass defense, and a struggling pass offense with minimal weapons and questionable QB play faces a top ten pass defense with a penchant for picking off passes. If I have to tell you which team is which, you might be beyond hope. Upgrade the entire Green Bay unit, and downgrade the entire Cleveland unit (if it’s possible to downgrade them any further). Cross your fingers that Jennings finally busts one or two big plays — he’s got to eventually, right? Massaquoi rebounded with a nice game last week but he’s still a risky play. Josh Cribbs could be a great play in return yardage leagues if GB is kicking off frequently after scoring.
San Francisco (20th) @ Houston (19th)
After the Falcons beatdown, I expect the 49er’s defense to be rested and motivated…but I’m not sure it will matter. The Texans pass offense has to be considered matchup-proof until proven otherwise. Owen Daniels (and Slaton) are getting more looks from Schaub than Kevin Walter, so a mild temporary downgrade for Walter is in order. If it continues, Walter will have to be considered a matchup play only. Daniels may have trouble finding room in the middle with Patrick Willis, but don’t downgrade him too much. This is a decent matchup for San Fran to re-establish the offense, and they’ve had the bye week to integrate Crabtree into the gameplan. Downgrade Josh Morgan and upgrade Crabtree (from zero to interesting). Vernon Davis gets a mild boost as the only reliable target.
San Diego (13th) @ Kansas City (25th)
San Diego reminds me a lot of Pittsburgh. Both have reputations as strong rushing teams, but both offensive lines are middling and the results don’t match the expectations. Both feature QB’s that were handcuffed early in their careers but are entering their prime and have shown the ability to run the offense. Both defenses have demonstrated an inability to put away teams, so they have to throw a lot to stay in games. Both have plenty of talented weapons in the passing game. With SD facing the 25th passing defense, this should be a nice rebound game for Rivers. Vincent Jackson should continue his strong season, though his value is probably not as high as initially projected as Rivers spreads the ball around too much. Chambers and Floyd are not worth rostering in most leagues. Gates remains a top tier TE. I’m not sure SD’s pass defense is quite as good as it’s currently ranked, so I wouldn’t downgrade KC too heavily. The athletic SD corners may make things difficult for Cassel downfield, but I expect Bowe to have nice game. After a couple promising early games, Sean Ryan has regressed as a fantasy TE — don’t waste a spot on him.
SD: Rivers +2, Jackson +1, Chambers 0, Gates +2
KC: Cassel 0, Bowe +1, Ryan -2
4 PM games
Buffalo (4th) @ Carolina (2nd)
I’m not entirely convinced that either Buffalo or Carolina is nearly as good as their passing yards against rating. They are both at the bottom of the rush defense ratings, indicating that teams have chosen not to throw against them. In fact, the parallels are amazing. Both teams feature: talented RB tandems, big-name but unproductive WR’s, question marks at QB, horrible run defense, and statistically good pass defense. Given this situation, I don’t seem either team choosing to throw much in this game. Drew will be all over this game in the rushing article, but for passing purposes, there’s just not much value here. Stay away from both teams if possible.
New York Jets (8th) @ Oakland (16th)
Revis vs. Asomugha! Sanchez vs. Russell! OK, nevermind. The over/under on combined interceptions in this game is 17. Well, probably not that high, but it could hit double digits. Zach Miller is the only Raider you should be considering, and only if you accept the high-risk, high-reward nature of the situation. I wouldn’t bank my fantasy matchup on Russell imitating an NFL QB for 2 weeks in a row. There are more options on the Jets, but it’s hard to feel good about playing any of them right now. Cotchery did return to practice on Wednesday, so play him if you must. Does Asomugha cover Cotchery or Braylon? It’ll depend on how the Jets line up, but you have to figure it’s unlikely both WR’s will have good games, and I think Cotchery has a better chance of pulling in a few catches (though yardage will probably be limited).
NYJ: Sanchez -2, Braylon -1, Cotchery 0, Keller 0
OAK: Russell -2, Miller 0
New Orleans (15th) @ Miami (18th)
Still worried about Brees? Didn’t think so. That doesn’t mean that Brees and the Saints won’t have a game like the week 3 and 4 duds at some point this season, but benching him risks missing out on a big game. Among targets, Colston is #1 with a bullet — Brees is too willing to spread the ball among Henderson, Moore, Meachem, Shockey, and Reggie Bush to make any of them elite fantasy producers. There’s still enough value in the NO offense to make Henderson and Moore decent WR3 plays (and keep an eye on Meachem if he moves up the weekly target lists). Take note that the zero ratings for the Saints starters should not be taken as a slight; rather, I expect continued success, just not more than we’ve come to expect from them. Miami’s had a bye week after the Henne-Sanchez poise-off. The Dolphins may try to control the NO offense by holding onto the ball with Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and the Dolph-cat formation. Mild downgrade to the Miami starters, but you shouldn’t have them rated that high to begin with. Without Pennington tossing wounded ducks 8 yards downfield, Fasano’s future as a fantasy TE is limited.
Atlanta (21st) @ Dallas (26th)
Pretty nice matchup for both sides. Should be a strong play for the Falcons starters. Unfortunately, after White and Gonzalez, there’s no clear 3rd target. Monitor Jenkins to see if he’ll step into that void. Dallas had a bye week to reevaluate the passing game; I expect Romo to get Jason Witten involved, especially in the red zone. Miles Austin has passed Crayton on the depth chart, and should be a nice play in his second career start. Roy Williams returned to practice on Monday from his rib injury, so he’s playable but a little risky until we see how the injury and Miles Austin affect his offensive role. Felix Jones returns as well, so Dallas may run a bit more than usual against a weakish Atlanta run defense.
Chicago (14th) @ Cincinnati (28th)
The Bears couldn’t beat the Falcons, but Cutler demonstrated the potential of the Chicago passing game. Hester, Knox, and Bennett are all healthy, and Olsen is gradually increasing in value as he is incorporated as a red zone target. The Bengals were shredded by the Texans’ pass offense — don’t let the Cincy buzz dissuade you from starting your Bears. Chicago was able to limit Matt Ryan & Co., so don’t expect huge numbers from Cincinnati. Ochocinco is a solid play, and we had a Laveranues Coles sighting last week — just 40 yards, but a touchdown regardless. Andre Caldwell is a very good play in return yardage leagues.
8 PM game
Arizona (31st) @ New York Giants (1st)
It turned out that the Giants are not exactly the immovable object that some made them out to be (OK, I said they were dominant too). Don’t be fooled into thinking that they aren’t at least a top 10 defense though, and against any lesser pass offense they are imposing. The Cardinals are not a lesser pass offense, however, and I wouldn’t downgrade them too far. The Cardinals’ success may ride on whether the Giants can get pressure on Warner. Check Boldin’s status as gameday approaches and don’t get stuck without another option if he’s questionable for Sunday night. If he sits, upgrade Breaston a bit. The Giants should have success against Arizona’s second-to-last pass defense unit, though Eli’s foot bears watching. Assuming he plays, it should be a nice day for the Giants offense. Hakeem Nicks may eat into Manningham’s production again, and Hixon is a nice play in return yardage leagues. Boss remains a last-ditch option at TE.
Philadelphia (5th) @ Washington (3rd)
Call it the Embarassment Bowl. Last week, Washington continued their generous ways, giving the Chiefs their first win of 2009. Philadelphia gave the Raiders their second win (and the first Raider victory was over the previously-winless Chiefs). Now they get to play each other! The difference here is that the Eagles have (1) talent, (2) a gameplan, (3) a coach, and (4) a future. You know how people say Daniel Snyder runs the Redskins like a fantasy team? That’s an insult to fantasy owners everywhere (and there’s no way I’d hang out with Tom Cruise). I’m expecting the Eagles to right the ship. On paper, the Redskins look like a good pass defense, but it’s mostly because they are so bad at run defense. I wouldn’t downgrade the Eagles at all. McNabb, DeS-Jax, and Celek are all good plays. Maclin followed up his 142 yard performance in Week 5 with approximately 136 fewer yards in Week 6, but I think he’ll be a little more involved this week. Split the difference, expect 40-60 yards. Jason Campbell is expected to start despite his benching last week, but after weeks of hearing (and repeating) how he’s a bad real-life QB but a decent fantasy QB, it’s time to just say it: he’s a bad QB, period. It’s not worth the risk at this point. Cooley remains a decent play as the Eagles seem to give up big plays to TE’s, but I’d avoid any Redskin WR’s for now.