We’re just over halfway through the NFL season, but Weeks 15 and 16 — the Fantasy Football playoffs, in most respectable leagues — are right around the corner. Maybe you’ve already secured a playoff spot. If so, you can quit reading and bragging. (For now.) Maybe you’re so far out of contention that you’ve taken to spending Sundays winterizing your home or (gasp!) watching the games without analyzing each and every player’s stats. (Congrats, by the way.)
More likely, however, is that you’re still somewhere in the thick of it all: you’ve had your share of ups and downs this season, but your squad now stands squarely in contention for a playoff berth, if only you could put up a strong showing in the remaining weeks. Sort of like the Dallas Cowboys or New York Jets. Or any AFC West team of your choice.
What many Fantasy owners fail to realize, though, is that Week 11 is the week that can make or break your season. Why? You’ve still got four weeks left to prove your worth and showcase your managerial acumen. Also, the combination of the NFL’s final bye week with the onslaught of injuries to many marquee players allows each fantasy squad something rare, that will only become more and more fleeting as the season wears on: opportunity.
For instance, on my primary team (a dynasty/keeper/smack-talking league), I have Jamaal Charles occupying the sole IR spot, where he’s seemingly been for as long as I can remember. While Kenny Britt showed flashes of brilliance early on, post-ACL he’s occupied a regular bench spot and left me short-handed while I anxiously look forward to his (surely stellar) 2012 campaign. Despite these two (major) early season setbacks, I still ran out ahead of the pack and enjoyed an undefeated record through the first half of the fantasy regular season. (Thank you, Calvin Johnson!)
But then Darren McFadden got injured. Ahmad Bradshaw, too. And Hakeem Nicks, on and off. My early season confidence shaken, out of necessity (and self deprecation) I decided to rename my team “The Downward Spiral,” just in the hopes I may ultimately be reverse-jinx myself and be proven wrong. (Even Ryan Broyles must have somehow sensed that I hoped to draft him next year.)
Long story short: my squad’s gone from dominating Sundays like this year’s Packers, to getting walked all over like the 2008 Lions. Or the 2009 Lions. Or basically any non-current Lions team since Barry Sanders. (Arguments from Bears fans notwithstanding.) Anyway, it’s that bad.
So at this point in the season, my goal is merely to stop the bleeding. With just a 2-2 record during the final weeks I should be able to skate into the playoffs, where all bets are off. (Not literally, of course.) At 1-3, it’ll be too close to call. 0-4? Might as well begin pondering LaMichael James’ best-case scenario. (Current thought: the New York Jets.)
The point is, Week 11 is perhaps the most important week for team management during the fantasy regular season. I would entertain arguments for Week 14, as well, where the week’s games can truly be do or die. But by Week 14 there are usually only two, possibly three teams vying for the last playoff spot. And they’re all running at full strength, anyway. No time for planning ahead, and no margin for error. In Week 11, though, nearly everyone still has a shot. Streaks can begin, streaks can end.
That 5-5 team (who at 1-4 you had completely written off) can make a push and end up with a #2 seed. (Not unlike a typical San Diego Chargers squad.) Or that 7-3 team can go on a skid and find themselves on the outside looking in. (Not unlike this year’s Chargers.)
If you’re in desperation mode and need a win from a depleted roster, what do you do? Assuming the waiver wire is picked clean from the usual suspects, there are a a few desperation plays that could reap benefits:
1. Sell your Texans, Saints, and Steelers.
These teams have Week 11 byes. (As do the Colts, of course, though this option presupposes that another manager will actually want to trade for one of your players on a bye. If you can find a team in your league who will trade for any Colt, quickly–and quietly–take it before they realize what they’ve done.)
Players of particular interest and value here are top-tier, premium fantasy commodities. Guys like Arian Foster, Drew Brees, Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Johnson.
In any other week, would you flip Drew Brees for Matthew Stafford? Josh Freeman? Tim Tebow? Um … not likely. But this week? You need to give it some serious consideration, because if they can sweeten the pot with a mid-tier (read: active) position player that fills an immediate need, you may have no better option.
Andre Johnson is perfect for this. Who knows what his status will be come Week 12? Hamstrings can and do get tweaked all the time. If he’s active, you’ve almost got to start him. But if he goes, only to then shut it down after a few hits and hard cuts, you’re cooked. Sure, there may be no more dangerous weapon than Johnson. But if you need both immediate production and continued reliability, he’s not someone you can count on. Or can continue to wait on. You simply don’t have that kind of time.
But the manager who’s sitting pretty, comfortably up in first place? (Again, no bragging.) They’d surely love to stash a spare Johnson on the bench for a few weeks before deploying him safely in the playoffs. In getting that opportunity, they’d likely give up a lesser WR1, perhaps a solid WR2 and another usable asset: Say, Jordy Nelson and Jabar Gaffney, perhaps? No, it isn’t sexy, and in any other circumstance you’d be nuts to even consider it, but it’s the kind of deal that just may work–and help.
In addition to the top-tier guys, Marques Colston, Daren Sproles, Antonio Brown, Ben Tate, and Owen Daniels should also net you a piece that can fill a hole this week, and then can continue to produce at just a slight discount through Week 16.
Or, you can try swapping for those guys. Think a Brown owner would swap him and another piece for Wallace? In addition to Tate, what else do you think Foster can get you? Crazy as it seems, it’s a scheme that just might work.
Same thing goes for the Pittsburgh DEF. Dumping the Steelers won’t likely net you two usable pieces, but it’s the type of name brand that will surely attract attention. Fill a need, and then simply go to the waiver wire and stream the best defense available
2. Trade Down and Double Up
The general trade proposition for your bye week guys can just as well apply to almost any of your top-flight studs, if not even more so. RBs, WRs, QBs, doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a top-10 asset at a position, shop him around for best deal you can get. At this point in the season, top teams are looking to stock up on top-tier starting talent for Weeks 15 and 16. That’s it. But if you need wins in Weeks 11-14 just to get there, it’s time to unload and blow it up. If you can nab two top-30 assets to both replace the loss and fill another need, you’ve come out ahead.
This is tough pill to swallow for most managers, and is always a bit of a gut-check. It’s never easy to part with the guy you coveted, drafted in the first or second round, and then rode on the back of throughout the season up to this point. But manager, this is no time for pride. Your studs have gotten you this far. They’ve served their purpose. To get any further, they’re going to need to get offed. Backs like Frank Gore, Ryan Mathews, Steven Jackson, even Fred Jackson, can all be dumped for value.
Injured fantasy stars primed for a late season comeback, like Darren McFadden, are perfect lures. Run-DMC in exchange for, say, Daniel Thomas and Roy Helu? It’s a crazy gamble, no doubt. But channel your inner Kenny Rodgers, owners. There are worse options.
3. The Hail Mary: Waiver Wire Longshots
If you can’t get usable fill-in pieces from a trade, you may have to sit back, cross your fingers and hope for a miracle. That miracle? The waiver wire Hail Mary.
We’re all assuming that your league’s waiver wire has been thoroughly picked over, with no obvious candidates readily available. So we’re looking deep — DEEP! — and only considering the top two options at the QB, RB and WR positions, owned in less than 10% of Yahoo! leagues. Odds are, the guys we’re looking at here aren’t going to put up huge Sunday stat lines week in and week out. But in the most dire scenarios, the odds are already stacked against you but you’ve still got to make a play. These are guys that have proven that when push comes to shove they can make a play. Here’s hoping that when they do, you’re reaping the benefits and connecting on your own Hail Mary.
1. Tarvaris Jackson
Sure, since returning from injury Jackson has overthrown more passes to open receivers than just about any QB in the league. (Only because Tebow doesn’t actually pass the football, but nevertheless.) He’s owned in only 8% of leagues, and with upcoming dates with the Eagles and Redskins, as well as two games in the next four against the Rams, Jackson’s chances are there. He just needs to settle into a rhythm with his receivers and take advantage of it. Seattle’s season has been disappointing thus far, by any measure. If Jackson hopes to demonstrate to Coach Carroll that he deserves to be the QB of the future, he not only has to put some points on the board and deliver a few more Ws but he has to demonstrate that he has the ability to lead the Seahawks and deliver in crunch time: Hitting the wide open Sidney Rice and Ben Obomanu would be a start.
2. Matt Moore
His ‘breakout game’ against the Chiefs (Moore was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week, which if you didn’t see the game would otherwise seem ‘offensive’) might have been a bit of an aberration (both for him and the Dolphins; not the Chiefs, sadly,) so I wouldn’t expect those types of results again. But with three home games (Buffalo, Oakland, and Philly) and an away date with Dallas left, Moore has a chance to put 225+ yards and two TDs per contest. He’s finally begun to find Anthony Fasano, and check downs to Reggie Bush have a certain Brees-Sproles quality. With a go-to target like Brandon Marshall, who can be effective all over the field, both as a possession receiver, deep threat, and red zone funnel,
1. D.J. Ware.
At its best, the Giants backfield is a three-headed monster. With Bradshaw ailing, the heavy lifting has fallen upon the shoulders of Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs seems up for the challenge, but Ware is going to get his fair share of the carries moving forward. The undrafted back got nine rushes against the stout 49ers, and didn’t do much with the opportunities he had, but that was against San Fran, remember. That number seems primed to increase against the Eagles, Saints, Packers, and Cowboys in the next four. Each of those games has shoot-out potential, and Ware has the pass-catching skills to stay relevant on passing downs (which may be every down, if Eli Manning had his druthers.) Jacobs is likely to get most of the goal line carries, but Ware should have the opportunity to find the end zone moving forward. (And yes, I realize he has no TDs this year … yet.) Cumulative projections for Weeks 11-14 are on the order of 280 rushing yards, 210 receiving yards, and 2-3 scores. Certainly worthy of a desperation play, if you find yourself in the need.
2. John Kuhn
Here’s the theory: The Packers are good. Okay, so that’s not much of a theory. Perhaps more of a universally-accepted football maxim of the 2010s, say. Either way, the Packers have basically cemented home field advantage throughout the playoffs and there seems to be little anyone can do to slow down their juggernaut offense. Are the Packers dead-set on pushing forward toward a ’72 Dolphins-esque season? It doesn’t appear so. They definitely have the talent to go undefeated, but Mike McCarthy has bigger ambitions: Keeping his team healthy for another Super Bowl run is at the top of the list. Sure, last year they lost Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley and brought the Lombardi trophy back to the land of Lombardi. This year, though, they have the luxury of stepping off the throttle a bit and still coasting into the playoffs (and maybe still ending it 16-0.)
All this leaves Kuhn in a somewhat peculiar situation. He might see a bit of an uptick in carries as the season continues, but his ceiling is still no more than 50 yards a game, at the most. Remedy, he’s but a small cog in this machine, and is at best third on the RB depth chart. Kuhn’s potential upside is this: he’s the epitome of a touchdown vulture. Or, he has the potential to be, at least. The one-two punch of James Starks and Grant may have swallowed up most of the carries this season, but they’ve little to show for it. Combined, they’ve gone for 1 score. One.
To complicate matters in the running game, of course, Aaron Rodgers is a pretty ridiculous quarterback. He likes to pass. He occasionally likes to run. And he’s pretty good at both, too, leading an offense better than anyone has in years, and spreading the wealth with ease. With Rodgers at the helm, it’s not uncommon to see most red zone and goal line targets simply lobbed over the top to Finley or zipped into the corner where any number of the Pack’s top-rate receiving corp is likely waiting with open arms. His incredible passing aside, Rodgers has also been the go-to on goal lines carries. (He has two rushing TDs, good for double the overall total of Starks/Grant.) With a bulldozer like Kuhn at the ready, though, how long can McCarthy keep unnecessarily calling the sneak?
More conservative play calling will begin to creep into the Pack’s repertoire, and Kuhn will likely be the beneficiary. By the time the fantsy playoffs start, count Kuhn good for at least three more TDs. Remember, the Pack score an estimated 17 touchdowns per week, it seems. (Number estimated.) Kuhn has two in the last three games, and that’s surely just the beginning.
1. Damian Williams
When Kenny Britt went down, Nate Washington seemed like a must-add. The shifty, speedy Washington has occasionally made Matt Hasselbeck look the the Hasselbeck of yore. Operating primarily out of the slot, the volume and opportunity were there, but the stats have failed to pile up. With Chris Johnson finally starting to produce on the ground, however, the Titans offense has opened up in the last two weeks. While that hasn’t translated to bigger numbers for Washington, Damian Williams has taken full advantage. CJ sans 2K may not have the same impact moving forward as we’ve become accustomed, but his skill set out of the backfield in all facets of the game gets the attention of linebackers and safeties on almost every play. Now that he’s producing, the play-action should demand the attention of the secondary, leaving single coverage on Williams.
He’s no Britt, but Williams has talent. He’s hauled in four scores over the last six games, and topped 100 yards for the first time last week against Carolina. No longer a mere possession receiver, Williams has begun to develop a rapport with his QB and is getting looks on deep routes down the sideline.
While he may not go for 100 and a score each of the next four weeks, 400 yards and 4 TDs is not completely out of the question for Williams, either. Conservatively, you can expect about 5 receptions and 80 yards per game. But never count out the 40+ yard routes into the end zone.
Consecutive match-ups against Atlanta, Tampa, Buffalo and New Orleans should set the stage for the Titans’, and Williams’, coming out party.
2. Harry Douglas
Douglas is no longer the well-kept secret he was a few weeks go. Overshadowed by the uber-talented Roddy White and rookie extraordinaire Julio Jones, Douglas’ 8 catch, 133 yard showcase against New Orleans was a clinic. He had previously spent the season primarily on the field for three receivers sets, but when Jones left injured, Douglas made the most of the opportunity. On the Falcons’ final drive, Douglas somehow was able to break past coverage and sneak deep into the secondary, right in the middle of the field, wide open. Repeatedly.
Defenses will continue to focus their attention on White and Tony Gonzales, especially in the red zone. This gives Douglas some big sleeper potential. With Jones potentially out with a hamstring injury (how often will we have to say that?), Douglas looks to be in line for a significant increase in his snap count. That should surely lead to an uptick in targets, as well, and with targets comes fantasy points.
Douglas is sure to be one of this week’s top waiver adds, and his 4% ownership is going to increase significantly. Get your hands on him while you can.
Good luck, owners. May an unexpected Week 11 triumph beget a win streak that carries you well into the playoffs. Or at the very least, may it provide your league-mates some fodder for off-season ridicule. There’s a thin line between success and failure in this game, but neither should go unnoticed.