Friday, October 5, 2007
Professional Grade: Week 5 showdowns
By Tristan H. Cockcroft
Confidence. It's a great trait, isn't it?
For fantasy football, though, the question is, better to be confident, have faith that your team is the championship-caliber squad you think it is, or play it safe, analyzing and refining on the assumption that even a good team can stand improvement?
Matthew Berry, our lone 4-0 owner in the GMC Professional Grade League (1st place, beat Scott Engel, 107-87, in Week 4), took the former approach, preaching confidence, particularly in his own squad.
"Things feel good up here and if I can make it through this week, I'll be looking good until Tom Brady's bye week," said Berry. "Brandon Marshall and Santonio Holmes start at wideout for me, providing nice depth with Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh out."
The flex position was Berry's toughest call; Laurence Maroney, questionable with the groin injury that cost him Week 4, would be a no-brainer if healthy. So who's Berry's potential stand-in? The Saints' Aaron Stecker, who, while a candidate to see a significant boost in carries following Deuce McAllister's season-ending injury, also represents a noticeable drop-off in point potential from Maroney.
Still, Berry isn't worried, especially taking a look at his opponent.
"I'd complain about injuries but I'm playing Stephania [Bell] this week and she's got the most banged up team ever!" said Berry. "5-0 should be within reach."
Berry stands alone atop the standings thanks to Week 4's most surprising upset; Eric Karabell (1-3, ninth), one of two winless teams entering the week, took down Ken Daube (3-1, second), one of two undefeated teams, by a score of 98-80. Not bad, Eric, considering Daube still has 45 more points than any other team for the season!
"I knew that little 0-3 team of mine, which had scored 200 points in three weeks, could shock and upend the mighty Daube 3-0 juggernaut that had scored twice as many points!" said Karabell. "I just needed
Ken had a bad week."
Now Daube faces a stiff challenge, battling Howie Schwab (3-1, third, beat Nate Ravitz, 109-59, in Week 4), tied with him for his division's lead. Interestingly, Daube's draft-day strategy put him at a disadvantage in a key week.
"During the draft, I basically decided to punt Week 5, drafting Carson Palmer, Brian Westbrook and LaMont Jordan," said Daube, forced to get creative as a result.
First, Daube picked Chad Pennington as his quarterback, hoping he can exploit a sorry Giants secondary as well as capitalize on a QB-to-WR connection with Laveranues Coles, also on his roster. It's one of those strategies either you love or you hate. I'm in Daube's camp; especially in weeks with good matchups, going QB-WR means double points, though it'll pain me as a fan to watch those two succeed on Sunday.
Next, Daube plans a Sammy Morris start, hoping Week 5 represents a second straight game missed by Maroney. Considering Morris has scored in three straight games, the first two as a backup/goal-line option, and is facing the Browns, he's not a bad bet regardless.
Finally, in more of a shot-in-the-dark move, Daube cut struggling receiver Mark Clayton to add Kenton Keith. With Joseph Addai missing back-to-back practices due to a shoulder problem, it's possible Keith could see an expanded role. Think of him as more of an Addai handcuff, but count on Daube monitoring the Colts pre-game show closely.
The Comeback Kid
Christopher Harris (1-3, 10th, beat Nando Di Fino, 96-50, in Week 4) also picked up his first win of the season, and he's still pushing hard for a comeback in light of struggles from his running back spot. Fortunately, Harris received potentially good news when he learned Friday that Broncos RB Travis Henry could be facing a year-long suspension.
"Owning Selvin Young is feeling a lot smarter today than it did a couple days ago," said Harris. "Travis Henry's looming suspension potentially sets Young up as the lead dog behind a pretty good offensive line, and a coach committed to running.
I'm anticipating Henry won't be suspended [for Week 5], because of the legal wrangling with the NFL, and Denver's on a bye in Week 6. But as of Week 7, it's very possible Selvin Young winds up a starter in my fantasy backfield."
For now, Harris stuck with the reeling Maurice Jones-Drew as his No. 2 RB. Among his alternatives, Harris offered his thoughts looking forward:
• Tatum Bell: "He was always meant to be a just-in-case if Kevin Jones wasn't going to come back, and Jones is back, and I don't trust Bell's fumble-itis."
• DeAngelo Williams: "A huge disappointment to me; he was always a fave of mine at the University of Memphis, and I really thought he'd blow past DeShaun Foster, but it hasn't happened. He really can't be started in any fantasy leagues right now."
Tough Calls: Deep Selections
• Stephania Bell (2-2, fourth, beat Tristan Cockcroft, 80-54, in Week 4) can't wait to get Brandon Jacobs back into her lineup for her matchup against league leader Berry.
"[Jacobs] has been itching to play," said Bell. "I'm glad the Giants rested him an additional week. I think he's excited to play -- and healthy. I plan to start Jacobs. Remember, Derrick Ward is still dealing with his ankle sprain, and although he played well last week, he may get some extra rest this week if Jacobs sees more action."
As a Giants fan and fellow Jacobs owner in other leagues, here's hoping Jacobs marks a positive return to the lineup. Still, with all the injuries Bell's team has absorbed, one can't help but expect her to be a little hesitant to get too excited.
"I feel like I should be knocking on wood everywhere when talking about my team!" said Bell.
• Scott Engel (1-2-1, seventh, lost to Berry, 107-87) is a loyal fan first, fantasy owner a distant second. In short, he's a man I can reason with, as I've long pledged my "fan-ship" to my on-field teams well before my fantasy teams.
"I'm a Seahawks fan, but I know Ben Roethlisberger is steady," said Engel. "I want the Seattle win first, no matter what decision I make. That's how I root -- for my team to win, and when they inevitability give up some points, it's to my fantasy players. Many people who don't play fantasy assume we care about players more than our teams. Not true. But I'm a realist. Seattle's not going to shut out the Steelers on the road, and if I get two TDs out of Roethlisberger and a Seahawks win, I'm happy."
Engel says "Big Ben" will earn his fifth consecutive start for him this week, though at press deadline, his -- and my -- sleeper QB choice remained in his lineup, something owners seeking a bye-week or injury replacement can take note.
"Matt Schaub has really impressed me," said Engel. "He is that rare type of quarterback who makes his receivers look better than they can be. Miami is going to have some problems with him, too. Most teams have killed the Dolphins on the ground, but Schaub can certainly pick the Fish apart."
A final nugget: Given the choice of the two Buccaneers RBs, Engel nabbed Earnest Graham, to date the better TD candidate than fellow timeshare candidate Michael Pittman.
"He could be the next Maurice Jones-Drew," said Engel. "He's small but he's powerful; I saw him carry six Panthers on his back last week!"
• Ravitz (1-2-1, sixth, lost to Schwab, 109-59, in Week 4), faced with precious few options at wide receiver -- Hines Ward is hurt, Chad Johnson and Ronald Curry are on bye -- offered an intriguing waiver-wire nugget: Andre Davis, fresh off a 17-point outburst against the Falcons in Week 4. Still, that came with one caveat.
"I don't want to dump Leon Washington for him unless I have no alternatives," said Ravitz.
• Schwab subbed Chris Cooley in for Heath Miller for his showdown with Daube, hoping for him to rip up the mediocre Detroit secondary. In addition to the division lead, there's more motivation here; Schwab declined a trade offer from Daube this week.
"I am looking forward to it, especially since Ken made me an offer that I found insulting, wanting me to take Darrell Jackson," said Schwab, who'd have had to part with Kevin Curtis in the deal.
"He dismissed it as fast as he read it," said Daube. "In retrospect, I'm glad he did, as DJ has the skills to be a solid No. 2, while Curtis is a hit or miss type."
• Nando Di Fino (1-3, eighth, lost to Harris, 96-50), prodded by yours truly about his struggling quarterbacks, Matt Leinart and Philip Rivers, stood up for his Week 5 starter. Oh, by the way, that starter's name isn't Leinart.
"You must have faith," said Di Fino. "I know [Rivers] has been horrible, and people have mocked Norv Turner, but he is an offensive mind, and if he can fix anything with that team, my guess would be that he'd fix the offense. Rivers has too many weapons (Tomlinson, Gates, Jackson) to not be getting better
even by accident."
Wait, I Gotta Set a Lineup Too?
Karabell seems to have hit a hot streak, and me a cold spell, not the best time for us to meet up on the schedule. Karabell's matchups entering Week 5 look pretty strong.
"Sorry, Tristan, I will not sit LT for Brandon Jackson, no matter how much you beg," said Karabell. "I will not play either Javon Walker or Santana Moss, each looking unlikely to suit up. I will not start Drew Brees over Romo! Never!"
Sadly, my persistent offers of cheesesteaks and chicken parmigiana -- favorite sandwiches of ours -- were all declined, and it seems all they did was inspire Karabell to set an even more daunting opposing lineup.
"I did switch my starting defense from the Packers back to the Patriots, but even that move could be questioned; the Packers face Brian Griese and a run-challenged team," said Karabell. "I don't think the Pats will shut out Derek Anderson's Browns, but I see a game like the Week 4 Pats-Bengals affair."
Faced with a tough call between Eli Manning and red-hot Brett Favre, I again sat Favre, hoping for Manning to light up the inexperienced Jets secondary. At running back, meanwhile, I've got two hopes: That Lovie Smith is a man of his word in granting Cedric Benson an expanded workload, and that DeShaun Foster can be as effective against the Saints as he was last year, when he ran all over them for 184 yards and 2 TDs in two games.
Karabell did fire one parting shot: "I do need a third running back on this team. Got anyone, Tristan?"
Maybe next week, Eric, maybe next week.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.