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Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Professional Grade: An 11th-hour deal

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Tick, tock … Tick, tock … BONG! (and repeat 11 more times).

And so, the trade deadline -- at least in standard ESPN leagues -- came and went this Wednesday, noon ET. Hopefully you got your last-minute deals in!

I know I did. Scrambling to deal off my tight-end depth was my midweek project in the GMC Professional Grade League. For those who might not remember, I acquired an extra tight end, Jeremy Shockey, from Nando Di Fino (3-8, 10th, beat Scott Engel, 84-73, in Week 11) as part of a larger deal we swung between Weeks 8 and 9, giving me a tough choice to make each week between Shockey and Tony Gonzalez. Dealing one off was a priority. Who needs two starter-caliber tight ends? As I always say, never, ever waste roster spots, so spinning one of them off was my goal.

On Wednesday, with 20 minutes to go until the deadline, I found my trading partner: Matthew Berry (7-3-1, 2nd) who beat me for the second time this season, 114-89, in Week 11. From his seat on a plane, Berry wrapped up our negotiations that began the night before around the midnight hour, completing the league's final deal:

Gonzalez for Anquan Boldin.

"I did the deal because I have the wide receiver depth to do so and wanted to improve my one weak area," said Berry. "Plus, Boldin's hip is still a bit of a concern.

Granted, by making the deal, I've significantly improved Berry's chances of winning it all. Tight end was one of two weak spots for him -- team defense is arguably the other -- and he's the "lucky" owner of Tom Brady. (I put quotes around "lucky" if only because his drafting Brady meant he saw something in him, yet obviously he couldn't have expected this.) To this point, Berry had suffered through Todd Heap's hamstring troubles, needing to scrounge through the waiver wire to find one-week subs like Donald Lee (Week 5) Eric Johnson (Week 7), Kyle Brady (Week 8) and Leonard Pope (Week 11).

Still, while Berry stands a better chance at winning it all, it's not as if this changes his chances of getting to our playoffs; he's already clinched one division and at least a No. 2 seed. And in the playoffs themselves, experienced owners know how unpredictable the results can be, so I'm hardly worried about what Gonzalez might do for Berry in Weeks 14-17. If I qualify and then face him, I can fret about that then.

On my end, adding Boldin adds more depth at wide receiver, with fellow Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald plus D.J. Hackett, Marvin Harrison (on whom I'm really not counting the rest of the year) and Roy Williams my other options. Add that to two starter-caliber quarterbacks, and three starter-caliber running backs, and there's enough there to exploit matchups. Oh, did I mention how much I like Arizona's remaining schedule (versus 49ers, versus Browns, at Seahawks, at Saints, versus Falcons, versus Rams)?

Call it a hunch, but something tells me Howie Schwab (8-3, 1st, beat Nate Ravitz, 96-73, in Week 11) might not be too pleased with me next time we speak. Schwab is the only other team to have clinched a playoff spot, though he has yet to lock up his division. Still, with the playoffs officially in his future, he's got one plan for December: Take Berry down.

"[My playoff] opponent means little except for Berry," Schwab said. "I should have beat him in Week 1 and I beat him last year. I would like to take him in the playoffs."

A Berry-Schwab finals showdown, incidentally, would be filled with Patriots-related story lines. While Berry owns Brady, Schwab puts his playoff stock in the hands of Brady's No. 1 target, Randy Moss. Berry, by the way, owns Wes Welker.

The Playoff Picture

  • Ken Daube (6-5, 3rd, lost to Eric Karabell, 106-76), currently locked into the No. 3 playoff seed, has some serious concerns about his chances at actually qualifying. With a tough schedule that features Schwab in Week 12 and Ravitz (4-5-2, 5th, lost to Schwab, 96-73, in Week 11) in Week 13, Daube has his work cut out for him.

    "I don't feel all too comfortable with my prospects for winning either of my next two games," he said. "I wish I could trust Steve Smith or David Patten but both do nothing but burn me whenever I start them."

    Daube mentions his one glimmer of hope, though: Jamal Lewis and his fabulous remaining schedule (versus Texans, at Cardinals, at Jets, versus Bills, at Bengals, versus 49ers). I'm in agreement with him; if Daube is to stick in the playoff picture, he'll need more performances from Lewis like his Week 11 (18 fantasy points). I bet he's up to the challenge.

  • With his win over Daube in Week 11, Karabell (6-5, 4th) is now in the driver's seat in terms of playoff positioning. With wins in six of his last eight games, and upcoming matchups with sub-.500 teams (Christopher Harris and Di Fino), Karabell stands a good chance at earning at least a No. 4 seed. For those of you quick to bail on an 0-3 team to start the season, let Karabell's example demonstrate how comebacks do happen!

    "[My team] still isn't scoring many points, but any team with a good quarterback and LaDainian Tomlinson can compete, I guess," Karabell said, neglecting to mention he owns two good quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Tony Romo.

    Incredibly, Karabell sports the third-lowest scoring team in the league (886 points), and has been outscored for the year by 102 points. Ah, good fortune. Still, of his Week 12 dilemmas, his toughest is having to use the Patriots' defense, which hosts his Eagles.

    "I always separate fantasy and reality," he said. "I know the Eagles are going to get trounced by the Patriots, and won't give a second thought to leaving the Patriots' defense in there. I'll still root for the Eagles in real life anyway to cover the 45-point spread."

  • Ravitz is seemingly losing faith in his squad's chances of sneaking in as a No. 3-4 seed, taking a tough loss to Schwab in Week 11. He's hardly set to throw in the towel, though. In Week 12, he's hunting for matchups as far as defenses go, and wasn't willing to share the identity of his waiver claim spot starter, as it wasn't set to be processed until after press time. (My bet: It's the Chiefs or Cardinals.)

    "Frankly, the toughest call for me may be benching a wide receiver between Chad Johnson, Hines Ward and Joey Galloway," Ravitz said. "[I'm] leaning toward benching Ward with Galloway facing the injury-ravaged Washington secondary."

    Tough Calls: Deep Selections

  • Engel (4-6-1, 9th, lost to Di Fino, 84-73, in Week 11) isn't yet ready to concede his contender status, though he admits that Shaun Alexander's issues early in the year, then Adrian Peterson's knee injury, put him in the distant long-shot category among playoff hopefuls. Interestingly enough, Engel has been rather fortunate on the waiver wire in terms of fill-in running backs, though, landing Ryan Grant, Maurice Morris and Kolby Smith within the past month. In Week 12, all of them are likely NFL starters.

    "I may finally get to use Kolby Smith this week," Engel said after hearing news that Larry Johnson is out for Week 12, while backup Priest Holmes has been forced to retire. "I had him stashed away and Ryan Grant is iffy."

    At quarterback, faced with a tricky decision each week between Derek Anderson, third for the year in terms of fantasy points at his position (176), and Ben Roethlisberger, ranked fourth (172), Engel picked "Big Ben," noting the matchups appeal.

    "C'mon, [the Steelers] face the Dolphins," said Engel. "I would love to see Miami go winless and here is another step."

  • Di Fino kicked off his "spoiler" run in Week 11 with a win against Engel, and with matchups against playoff contenders Ravitz and Karabell next on the docket, he's certainly having fun trying to cause his share of headaches. Di Fino sports four productive wide receivers -- Dwayne Bowe, Plaxico Burress, Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens -- and for Week 12, he called Bowe his "backup" plan in case Burress can't play. Di Fino had a bold forecast for his matchup with Ravitz, though:

    "I feel like I will tie Ravitz, just because it seems appropriate, but I would love to play spoiler against both [Ravitz and Engel]," Di Fino said, "if for no other reason than I have very little else to look forward to as the season winds down."

  • Harris (5-6, 8th, beat Stephania Bell, 87-62, in Week 11) could be a sleeper to sneak into the postseason, riding a red-hot Vince Young and coming off a key win against a fellow contender. In his rankings, Harris had Young 10th among quarterbacks, and having watched the sophomore's Monday night performance, he's a believer that it was Young's injured quadriceps that spawned all those poor early-week efforts.

    Harris' toughest call of all: Selvin Young, a potential starter in Week 12 depending on Travis Henry's status; Henry is awaiting word on a possible yearlong suspension.

    "I wish I knew for sure about Travis Henry," Harris said. "It's sounding more and more like the NFL won't have a ruling on his suspension before Sunday's game in Chicago, and that's a 4 p.m. start, so it'll be mighty hard for me to justify having Selvin in there unless we can get definitive word that Henry's knee isn't going to let him play on Sunday morning."

    Wait, I Gotta Set a Lineup, Too?

    Having lost to Berry in Week 11, I'm now tied for the fifth seed, one game out of a playoff spot. Now, it's come to this: I battle Bell, a fellow 5-6 team, in a win-or-go-home matchup. It's an elimination game for both of us, so the stakes couldn't be higher.

    Bell (5-6, 7th, lost to Harris, 87-62, in Week 11) is coming off back-to-back-to-back losses, in which she averaged 67 points, and she hardly sounded confident. With such weak, unproductive alternatives on the waiver wire, and an ailing Brandon Jacobs on her injury-ravaged roster, Bell had no choice but to hope Reuben Droughns steps up as the Giants' workhorse runner in Week 12. He joined DeShaun Foster, whom I traded her a few weeks back, as her two starting running backs.

    "I dare not smack talk because I have been on a bit of a losing streak lately," Bell said. "The only thing I will continue to celebrate is my midseason victory over Berry -- one of the few times he has suffered defeat this year."

    Man, is it just me, or is Berry suddenly sporting a target in this league? I have to think Brady owners in most leagues find themselves in that position.

    On my end, red-hot Matt Hasselbeck, he of the five consecutive multitouchdown passing efforts and three straight games with at least 17 fantasy points, is pretty much locked in at quarterback ahead of the struggling Eli Manning. Wide receiver, though, is the tough call, what with Boldin now on board. It's a strategy most generally don't employ, but I'm putting both Boldin and Fitzgerald in the same lineup, noting their exceptional histories against the 49ers. In their past five meetings, Fitzgerald has three 100-yard receiving efforts, and Boldin has scored in four of their past six meetings, three of those 100-yarders. Pair those two up with the red-hot Hackett and that's a pretty strong starting three.

    Still, Bell offered a subtle prediction for the week with her parting words. Hmmm … Her true feelings, or a hope to put the kibosh on me?

    "May the best (man) win this weekend," said Bell. "Happy Thanksgiving!"

    Happy Thanksgiving indeed, and best of luck to all in your Week 12 matchups!

    Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.