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Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Best of the Blogs: End of bye weeks brings brand new game

By Brendan Roberts
ESPN.com

It's not just any ol' week. Bye weeks. Over.

Strategy changes with the completion of the bye weeks and, for many of you, it changes based on where you're at in your league's standings. It's time to adjust your approach and think more about maximizing your starting roster and less about just having depth.

I revert to my baseball roots to explain this. I once had a baseball scout explain to me that baseball franchises view their organizational depth chart only from a major league perspective. As in, if you don't have the pure talent to play in the major leagues, you virtually don't matter, regardless of how well you're doing in the minors. Teams are looking at maximizing the major league roster, not making good minor league teams, which is why you see good performers often let go in favor of underperforming but talented youngsters. Sure, every minor leaguer has at least a shot at making the bigs, or else they wouldn't be there. But the team is more focused on upside and ceiling than potential short-term production. Sounds basic, but too many fans overlook this.

Darren Sproles
At this point in the season, it's best to have high-upside guys like Darren Sproles on the bench as insurance, rather than some middling starters.
The same is true when it comes to fantasy football rosters following the bye weeks. You're looking at upside and ceiling and not short-term production. Because you're not shuffling players in to replace a bye-week tight end, defense, kicker or flex option, you can afford to add high-upside players to your roster. For instance, Darren Sproles, who is owned in just 39 percent of leagues, might now be more valuable to you than, say, Greg Camarillo (49 percent). You know what you're going to get in Camarillo, you know his upside, and now that you have a full allotment of receivers, you know when you would start him. Meanwhile, if LaDainian Tomlinson's toe sets him down for a game in the second half, Sproles has big-time single-game upside, and you'd likely start him in a heartbeat if you knew he were starting.

With that, here are a few elementary tips to consider while honing your rosters for Weeks 11-17, including how you react to news that happens during the week:

Think upside: Just went over this one, but to be more specific, when you hear news reports of, say, a star option in a good offense who is hurting, his backup should be highly sought after immediately. For instance, there are doubts as to whether Clinton Portis will play this week, making Ladell Betts (or Shaun Alexander, if Betts is out too) immediately more valuable than some of your fringe backs and receivers. Same goes with such backup running backs as Correll Buckhalter, Jerious Norwood and Felix Jones. You know if these guys are forced to play a lot, they should play well.

Backup tight ends, defenses, kickers: You don't need 'em. And if you happen to, the pickings on the waiver wire should be plentiful. If you want to stream in defenses and kickers, fine, but be sure you leave only one roster spot for each position.

Think playoff weeks -- or run-at-the-playoff weeks: Those likely headed for the playoffs should angle more specifically toward those latter games of the season. Meanwhile, those still needing a lot of work to make the playoffs, it's time to sell out to make it. You have to be in it before you can win it. If that means selling the farm to get there, do so. Go for it. The goal is to win, not just finish .500.

Do you really need a backup quarterback? If you have a surefire starter, you probably don't. To me, backup quarterbacks are heavily predicated on matchups. If your starter goes down, you can cycle starters based on matchups, easy as that. Think week to week, not for the long run

Trade depth to maximize your active roster: Do you really need five similar wide receivers for three spots? Look for someone who has a weak third and fourth option and offer him a two-for-one deal to improve your active squad. Beware, however, that several owners in your league will be looking to do the same. Even better, use a big game or recent news to help you make those deals. For instance, there has been some buzz about Mark Bradley this week; maybe he fits in a two-for-one to get, say, T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

With that, let's get to the best of the blog news this week:

Portis 50-50 for Cowboys game | Read full blog entry

"Redskins running back Clinton Portis missed Monday's practice with a bone bruise on his femur and a sprained knee. It's nothing new for Portis to miss practice, but it does sound like his injuries are worse than we originally thought. ... In the past, Portis has been able to miss a week of practice and still play in the game. I'd be surprised if he practices at all this week, but I think he'll play against Dallas. The Redskins struggled in the running game against the Steelers, in part because left tackle Chris Samuels was playing with a sore knee. Samuels has had time to recuperate and that will have a big impact on the offense. The Redskins have had much of their success running to the left side. Against the Steelers they ran primarily to the right side, and the results were awful. Portis is one of the toughest backs in the game. I'd be shocked if he misses the game. In Dallas, Felix Jones and Jason Witten both sat out practice Monday. Jones declared himself "100 percent," which is odd since he didn't practice." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: Unfortunately, willpower and an important game can't always get an injured star on the field, and if it does, there's no assurance that he'll play up to his capability. The latest reports from Washington, courtesy of the Washington Post, are that Portis has a second-degree MCL sprain, which tends to be a three-to-four-week injury. Not good. If I get word by, say, Wednesday that Portis will play, which I'm not expecting to happen, then I start him. But my gut tells me this 50-50 is more like a 25-75 (in favor of him not playing), and if I must choose between Portis and a Thursday night option such as Thomas Jones or maybe even BenJarvus Green-Ellis (if Sammy Morris doesn't play), or Laveranues Coles or Wes Welker in a flex spot, then I go the safe route and sit Portis. In fact, I'm worried the Redskins might sit him down a few weeks, but I don't have any factual proof of it, and we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Either way, I'm a worried Portis owner. ... As for the Cowboys players, Jones isn't a fantasy start even if he is back on the field, and I've been advising owners to sit Witten on the road against the Redskins' eighth-ranked pass defense if they have anything resembling a start-worthy option. Sit Portis and Witten? What's this world coming to?

Parker back for Week 11 | Read full blog entry

"The Steelers received good news with the likely return Sunday of starting tailback Willie Parker (shoulder). Parker's health and rust may limit some of his effectiveness, but at least he provides a home-run threat opposing defenses have to respect. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (if he starts) shouldn't have to throw 42 times this week against the Chargers with a bad shoulder." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: Would I start Willie this week in a standard format? Yes I would. Rust can affect him only so much, and if Parker has taught me anything, including this season, it's that he deserves to start as long as he's in the lineup.

Morris limited in practice, Jordan unable to go | Read full blog entry

"Because the Patriots staged a walk-through Tuesday afternoon, it's difficult to determine exactly what the initial injury report means for Thursday night's game against the Jets. Patriots running back Sammy Morris, coming back from a knee injury, was listed under 'limited participation.' That's better than running back LaMont Jordan, who didn't participate at all due to his nagging calf problem." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: It appears Jordan will be out, and were I to guess now, I'd bet Morris plays, but only as part of committee. Yuck! The Pats face the league's fifth-ranked rush defense in the Jets, and if Morris plays, I wouldn't start any Patriots back.

Mason might be out | Read full blog entry

"The status of Ravens receiver Derrick Mason (shoulder) is uncertain for Sunday's game against the Giants. The Ravens will need all their weapons this week. But receiver Mark Clayton has played well lately, which is a good sign if Mason cannot go." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: And Clayton might be a sleeper flex play this week if Mason can't go. Can't say I immediately considered that before reading this.

Cadillac 'running' again | Read full blog entry

"The Bucs have activated running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams to the 53-man roster. As expected the Bucs let veteran running back Michael Bennett go to create a roster spot for Williams. It's very doubtful Williams will step right into his former feature back role. But, with Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn banged up, Williams could get some playing time Sunday against Minnesota." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: If it weren't for Warrick Dunn. ... That's not the first time we've written that, but going back to "high-upside players," Cadillac probably would fit that pickup qualification if Dunn weren't the backup option. Of course, there's no saying Cadillac is ready for much work and would do well either, but having Graham and Dunn in front of him should keep you from picking him up, at least until you see what he can do.

Ravens lose two DBs | Read full blog entry

"The Ravens put both cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) and safety Dawan Landry (neck) on injured reserve, ending their 2008 season. This is unfortunate news for both players. McAlister got off to a fast start this season before slowing down and getting hurt. Landry worked extremely hard in the offseason and looked primed for a breakout year. But neither could avoid the injury bug." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: And suddenly that Ravens pass defense doesn't look so tough. Do note, however, that a big part of the Ravens' pass D is their pass rush and linebackers, and that's still just fine, as far as I know. If anything, this means more of the targets could go to receivers than tight ends and backs.

Broncos linebackers hurting, too | Read full blog entry

"There isn't a team in the NFL dealing with as many injuries as the Broncos. The Broncos have lost three running backs in the past week and all three of their starting linebackers are hurt. Boss Bailey is out for the season and D.J. Williams and Nate Webster will likely miss two or three more games. Star cornerback Champ Bailey will likely miss at least one more game. Undrafted rookie Josh Bell and veteran Karl Paymah could play in Bailey's place. Denver is banged up." -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: Paging Mr. Ryan. Paging Mr. Matt Ryan. You're wanted in fantasy lineups.

Lions lose both starting defensive ends | Read full blog entry

"Detroit likely will be without their starting defensive ends, Dewayne White (calf) and Jared DeVries (hand surgery) for Sunday's game at Carolina, coach Rod Marinelli said Monday." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Sheesh, as if you needed another reason to start Jake Delhomme, DeAngelo Williams and Co.

Romo is back, but ... | Read full blog entry

"I think [Tony Romo] is still experiencing some pain when he makes some of his throws and deep-outs. But once the adrenaline gets going, he'll be able to play through it. It's not affecting his rhythm. The Cowboys are capable of going up there and putting together a good show." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: Lot of questions about Romo this week in my chat. Would I start him? Yes, I would. If it were just about the matchup, the rustiness, the road game, then no, I wouldn't. But Romo has strong receivers to throw to and is at the helm of one of the league's best offenses when things are going well. So when we talk about upside, Romo definitely has it, this week and beyond. You'd hate to leave that upside on your bench unless you have a similarly strong option. As an aside, though, many folks asked whether I'd start him over a hot Matt Ryan, who's at home against the Broncos. There's plenty of upside there, too, but no, I wouldn't.

Slaton's lessened workload was by design | Read full blog entry

"Through eight games, Houston rookie running back Steve Slaton was averaging 18.8 touches a game and ranked 15th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 719. But in Sunday's loss to Baltimore, he was a non-factor with six touches for 24 yards. Coach Gary Kubiak said the reduced work for Slaton was by design, saying Slaton didn't look good in practice and appeared to need some rest. In the Oct. 5 home loss to Indianapolis, Slaton was a key piece of the offense with the second-biggest ground game (16 carries for 93 yards) of his first year. To pull an upset at Lucas Oil Stadium, odds are the Texans will need another effort like that." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: Lessened workload? Heck, the game was against running-back-killer Baltimore! Seems to me like the best time to lighten the kid's workload. I'm going to chalk it up as nothing more than the matchup, and I recommend starting Slaton this week in all league setups.

Edwards affected by concussion? | Read full blog entry

"Trent Edwards suffered that concussion in Arizona and hasn't been the same since. He's getting happy feet in the pocket, getting sacked, fumbling, throwing interceptions ... and the offensive line hasn't been up to snuff this season. [The Bills] took advantage of a weak schedule the first [several] weeks of the season, and now they're facing some formidable competition, and they're not up to it." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: I'd have to agree. I caught some film of Sunday's Bills-Pats game, and I saw a quarterback (Edwards) who looked nervous about taking another big hit, and it didn't help that there were regularly plenty of "hitters" nearby. I'm throwing Edwards back on the free-agent wire as part of my strategy above (about backup quarterbacks), and assuming roster spots are valuable on your team, I suggest you do the same.

Lloyd's injury baffling | Read full blog entry

"Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times has an interesting column Wednesday about the extended recovery time for Bears receiver Brandon Lloyd, who sprained his knee Sept. 28 and has missed five games -- over a course of six weeks -- for what was originally deemed a 2-4 week injury. When a player misses more time than expected, it's usually because the injury was worse than the team let on. Most players have non-guaranteed contracts and fear job loss if they don't return as quickly as possible. But Mulligan writes that the Bears essentially punished Lloyd for taking too much time. Lloyd said several weeks ago that he didn't want to return until he was 100 percent healed -- a rarity for an NFL player -- and the implication is that the Bears lost faith in him." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Outta sight, outta mind. Lloyd should get back on the field soon, but the Bears seemed to have moved on just fine without him. Even when he does return, he'll have Rex Grossman at quarterback, which scares me, or possibly have Kyle Orton, who has become adept at spreading the ball around. I haven't seen enough here to warrant picking up Lloyd.

LT still doesn't look sharp | Read full blog entry

"LaDainian Tomlinson had some interesting things to say about San Diego's lacking run attack. Tomlinson, who said he is now completely healthy after dealing with a turf toe injury since Week 1, had 78 yards on 22 carries against Kansas City. It didn't appear that Tomlinson had much burst in the game. Read Tomlinson's comments and it is clear something is bothering him. Reading between the lines, it seems like Tomlinson thinks something could be done to improve the run game. The struggling Chargers surely need to figure out what it is because a sluggish running game is one of their several problems headed into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh." -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: Just when I thought LT was ready to bust out, he underperforms against the Chiefs. No way I sit him or trade him, but I have doubts as to whether he'll even produce like a No. 1 back in certain matchups, including this week at Pittsburgh. Seems to me Mr. Williamson has those doubts, too.

Will we see 'vintage Favre' on Thursday? | Read full blog entry

"Brett Favre the past couple weeks has played a supporting role in the Jets' offense. The phrase 'game manager' has been used to describe Favre's main function. But NFL Network analysts Cris Collinsworth and Steve Mariucci don't think the new role will take. ... Collinsworth noted the Jets' running game behind Thomas Jones and their defense's stinginess has curtailed the need for risky moments, but said we're 'still seeing the ticking bomb that is Brett Favre. It's going to go off -- in good ways and bad ways.'" -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: I agree; Favre is what he is, and it's not a "game manager." Unfortunately, he's also not, in my opinion, a guy who can post huge games against tough defenses, at least not with the run being so important to the Jets. Trent Edwards and Jay Cutler both struggled at Foxborough in recent weeks, and I can see the same thing happening to Favre. He may have a big play or two, but lots of pressure from the Pats will force him into a pick or two. In fact, I wouldn't rank Favre in my top 12 this week. Just sayin'.

Quinn's pocket presence sets him apart | Read full blog entry

"The most impressive thing we saw from Brady Quinn this past Thursday was his pocket presence against Denver. Quinn dropped back and threw the football 35 times and wasn't sacked once because he has great feel for the rush and mobility inside the pocket. This allows Quinn to hold onto the ball a split-second longer for receivers to get open, which happened several times against Denver last week. It's also an element that flat-footed quarterback Derek Anderson didn't have. Anderson's lack of mobility forced him to make very quick decision that sometimes led to poor throws and interceptions. Also, the Browns' offense looked more crisp when tight end Kellen Winslow is the primary target instead of receiver Braylon Edwards. Edwards was by far Anderson's favorite receiver, but he kept letting Anderson down with drop after drop and that, in part, eventually spelled doom for the former starting quarterback. Quinn, on the other hand, prefers to check down to his tight ends and running backs, and it led to 10 catches, for 111 yards and two touchdowns for Winslow, whose hands are far more reliable." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: Like I said in my chat yesterday, I predict Winslow will be the top tight end fantasy producer from Weeks 10-17 (or even Weeks 11-17, if you don't include last week's gem). He's due, he's a supremely talented receiver, and he has a quarterback now throwing to him more often. As for Quinn, I'm not sold yet. The Broncos have made a number of quarterbacks look good this season. This week's game at Buffalo will give us a much better feel for what to expect, but I won't be starting him in the meantime.

Rodgers' lack of practice work hurting his performances? | Read full blog entry

"Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy told Fox Sports Radio that he thinks Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has struggled in part due to a lack of practice time caused by his sprained right shoulder." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Lack of practice time is just one of many reasons I don't expect much from Rodgers over the next six weeks of the season. First of all, the Packers' schedule isn't exactly cake. There are a few cake matchups on it, but they also will play the Bears twice, the Jaguars on the road, not to mention the Panthers. Secondly, I worry about Rodgers simply wearing down. "Quarterback/Brett Favre replacement in Green Bay" is a lot to put on a young passer. The mental exhaustion began way back in training camp, I presume, and the physical exhaustion could arrive soon, considering he came into this season having racked up a mere 31 pass attempts. And finally, the shoulder itself. It likely won't be healed until after it gets some actual rest this offseason. Rodgers has been a nice story, but be careful entrusting your playoff hopes solely on him at your quarterback spot.

Closer look at Arizona's offense | Read full blog entry

"Injuries at tight end explain Arizona's sudden problems converting short-yardage situations, according to [Cardinals coach Ken] Whisenhunt. The team hopes to have all four tight ends available against the Seahawks in Week 11. ... The 49ers rolled coverages to Larry Fitzgerald, creating opportunities for Steve Breaston and others. ... Arizona is 'scratching the surface' of its running plays for Anquan Boldin. The team wanted to make sure Boldin was fully healthy before giving him the ball on inside handoffs. We might expect more such plays in the future." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: Good stuff. To sum it up: Hightower should be fine now that he has his full complement of blockers healthy. Breaston should remain strong, Fitzy might be hurt if more defenses do the same, and Boldin should get more run plays. Adjust accordingly.

Shockey a bust so far | Read full blog entry

" When Jeremy Shockey was traded from the Giants to the Saints back in July, I wrote an item talking about what a good deal it was for New Orleans. I seriously thought Shockey might be the missing link and so did a lot of people. But this deal's not looking so good these days. The Saints are 4-5 and Shockey has 24 catches for 223 yards and no touchdowns. He also had a sideline exchange with quarterback Drew Brees in Atlanta on Sunday. The Saints have tried to downplay the significance of what Brees and Shockey were talking about, but, if you can read lips and saw the clip, you'd know it wasn't pleasant. Shockey went through troubled times with the Giants and took lots of heat for, perhaps, being a little self-centered. The fresh start in New Orleans, theoretically, was supposed to solve all that. But Shockey, along with defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs, is fast becoming a main target for a fan base that's understandably frustrated and disappointed with what's happened this season." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: Honestly, I don't know what to do with Shockey. He still has a lot of talent, is in a pass-first offense and has some cushy matchups ahead. How 'bout this: We give him one final week against Kansas City to see what he can do. If he doesn't produce against the Chiefs, it's time to pull the plug.

Harrison still the same threat? | Read full blog entry

"Marvin Harrison is still the same threat, according to Tony Dungy and Bill Polian, says Phil Richards." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: I'm sure many of you have seen it by now, Harrison dropping two potential touchdown passes. Harrison dropping any passes, much less potential scores, is shocking enough, and it's reason to believe he's just not the same player, regardless of what Dungy and Polian say. Unfortunately, they're the two guys who matter most, and it sounds like Harrison will continue to start for the Colts. That makes both him and No. 3 receiver Anthony Gonzalez flex options, at best, including this week versus Houston.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.