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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Gridiron Challenge: Week 7 preview

By Jim McCormick
Special to

"You play to win the game." -- Herm Edwards

Yet in order to win the game, you must first know how to navigate the rules. I've detailed some of the caveats that exist in the Gridiron Challenge in previous columns, but haven't delved into them so far this season. That said, I've broken down some of the more unique elements of the game for you to consider as you manage your portfolio.

Defensive rewards: In what has long been a little-known wrinkle of the rulebook, you are awarded five points if the team defense you select in a given week wins their matchup that week. So if you were to have invested in the Pittsburgh Steelers this past week against the Cleveland Browns, you not only accrued the numbers from turnovers and sacks, but an additional fiver from the team's actual victory.

The presence of this bonus potentially removes some of the value from a defense that seems in line to produce nice numbers, but not necessarily in a very likely position to win. Let's consider the Seattle Seahawks' defense this week; facing a rookie quarterback on a struggling offense is enticing, but it's not a "lock," per se, that they would net the actual victory in what could have the makings of a close divisional battle. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints beating the Cleveland Browns this week seems more likely, even if you might not expect as many sacks and turnovers to emerge. The point being is that you should seek out the defenses that are not only apt to compile the commonly rewarded statistics, but also likely to collect a victory. The pronounced parity of the league certainly makes this a tougher task, but one that could pay dividends for savvy investors.

Renegotiate: Another little-known element of this game is the ability to renegotiate the salary of a player whose value has dipped below the price you originally paid for his services. Below is the verbatim breakdown from the rulebook, which by the way, includes an awesomely outdated Issac Bruce reference:

If one or more player or team's salary value (price which you paid for them) is displayed higher than their market value (current price to attain) you can renegotiate your team's salaries by clicking on the "Renegotiate Values" link below your entry name on the Clubhouse page. Renegotiating your team's salaries won't affect players whose values have risen, only those players who can now be locked in at a lower salary.

Example: You paid $5.7 million to attain Issac Bruce and notice that his current market value has dropped to $5.4 million. To save the $0.3 million, simply click on your entry's "Renegotiate Values" link. This way you can have more salary space to claim a player at another position.

I recently renegotiated my investment in Philip Rivers, who had taken a hit in market price after a disastrous visit to St. Louis this past weekend. Not only does this make Rivers a sounder commodity to own, it rebalances my budget and allows me to recoup the 0.2 that I had lost. As Biggie would say, "If you don't know, now you know."

Bull Market

Investments that should bear out as the season progresses

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears (6.0 price tag): While it might seem puzzling to endorse a signal-caller who has issues with both ball security and staying upright, thanks to a porous line that has him on pace to incur 62 sacks this year, this week's current matchup against the Washington Redskins' 31st-ranked pass defense (allowing 298.2 yards per game) compels me to consider him as a valid play. The sacks will likely continue to pile up, but so will the yards and the scores, and that's all that really counts for our purposes.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seattle Seahawks (5.6 price tag): It's tough to expect great production from this cagey vet, but if there were ever a savory matchup in which to invest, it's this week's meeting with an Arizona Cardinals defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive metric. With some semblance of a running game developing, as well as some emerging young targets, this could be quite a renaissance performance for Hasselbeck.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens (6.2 price tag): Rice represents the ideal blend of elite potential and deflated pricing. He makes for a compelling investment as he faces the league's most generous rush defense in the Buffalo Bills, a team allowing 182.4 yards per contest. Forgive his underwhelming production to date, as this is a weekly game with immediate implications, and simply enjoy a breakout game from this Rutgers product.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns (5.9 price tag): The league's other Peyton has been a revelation in a feature role this season as he combines part Mike Alstott and a helping of Christian Okoye to make for a compelling feature back. While his bruising, pile-moving style is his trademark, he's also proved to be a capable receiver and with a rookie quarterback at the helm, it's likely that he'll be extremely busy against an exploitable New Orleans Saints front seven.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (5.8 price tag): A nearly untenable quarterback situation and thus disappointing production have seen Fitzgerald's market price dip down to historic lows for such a reputable commodity. Given the bye week to get on track with his rookie signal-caller and an inviting matchup with the Seattle Seahawks' 30th-ranked secondary, this is a perfect time to buy in at the bottom of his pricing.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants (5.7 price tag): A weak outing against the Detroit Lions this past week incited a considerable drop in Nicks' ownership and market price. Let the market dramatically react to a singular poor performance while you reap the rewards of his considerable talents.

New Orleans defense (5.2 price tag): Pursuing the five-point reward for a win is one factor here, but we should also consider how adaptable and effective the Saints' defense has proved at times this season. A meeting with a rookie quarterback who will likely be forced to pass often as a means to keep pace with the Saints' re-emerging offense is simply inviting to investors.

Weekly Wonders

Players who face favorable matchups and come at a discount but aren't trustworthy on a weekly basis

Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings (5.8 price tag): The lingering elbow issue seems to be a legitimate limitation on Favre's ability to push the ball downfield, but even with this ailment I'd assume that he can muster a good outing against his former team. Consider this endorsement one that's fueled by simply trusting Favre's flair for capturing the moment as well as taking into account the injury-ravaged Green Bay defense.

Chris Ivory, RB, New Orleans (5.3 price tag): This is purely a speculative endorsement that hinges on the status of starting tailback Pierre Thomas. If Thomas were to miss yet another week, or even be declared very limited, then I would back Ivory as a sound investment given his recent production clip and this week's middling opponent. Keep an eye on this scenario, as Ivory's impact could be significant to your portfolio if he were again to have a majority stake in the work.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (5.8 price tag): Coming off a monster outing, Maclin makes for a prime pickup as his price point remains competitive and appears to be the team's top option with burner DeSean Jackson injured. When acquiring Maclin, however, be aware that he's due for a bye week in Week 8, making this a one-week purchase.

Jim's Week 7 Lineup

My team, "I'm a Man, I'm Forte," has scored 739 points, good for the 94th percentile.

You'll notice that in this current lineup I still have Antonio Gates on the roster. This very well might change as more information emerges about his status. You might also notice how I didn't endorse a specific tight end this week; this is due largely to the parity that can be found at the position. From Tony Moeaki to Heath Miller, value is easily found on the market at this position.

QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: 22 year-to-date points; 6.0 (locked price)/ 6.4 (market price)
QB: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: 128 points; 7.1/7.1
RB: Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants: 80 points; 5.6/5.8
RB: Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns: 82 points; 5.9/5.9
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: 40 points; 5.8/5.8
WR: Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys: 59 points; 5.8/5.8
TE: Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers: 88 points; 4.9/6.0
K: Joe Nedney, San Francisco 49ers; 25 points; 3.0/3.0
DEF: New Orleans Saints: 59 points; 5.2/5.2

Jim McCormick is fantasy football analyst for, as well as the producer of the Washington Post's "Behind the Helmet" series and Sirius XM's Fantasy Sports Channel. You can reach him with your questions and comments on Twitter @JMcCormickESPN