Ever since Scrabulous was whisked off Facebook by Hasbro, I've been playing the word-finding game Scramble. Don't call it Boggle, by the way. I can't take another lawsuit robbing me of my time-wasting pursuits.
For a quick fix, I'll often play "ladder mode" where you get three minutes to find as many words as possible and then your score gets ranked among all your friends' best scores. In general, it ends up making you feel bad because even after having a good round, you find out that seven of your friends have scored 100 points more than you just did.
But that's the wrong way to look at it. They may have had one amazing round with an "ing" and an "ers" on the board that they paired up with a plethora of five-letter verbs to score like Wilt Chamberlain in a 6-foot-and-under league.
That doesn't make them a great Scrambler or Scramblista. It means they had a great game under perfect scoring conditions. Well the same thing happens all the time in fantasy football.
Casing the Joint
There may be no worse way to judge a player's fantasy value than looking at how many fantasy points they've scored overall. With only four weeks in the books, a single great game can make an average player appear brilliant, while a single bad game can bury a top-tier performer in the middle of the pack.
Michael Turner has more fantasy points than any other running back by ESPN standard scoring. However, 72 of his points came against the Lions and Chiefs, while nine total points came against the Bucs and Panthers. So is he the best fantasy back in the land, or is he the best fantasy back in the land against wretched defenses?
Chris Chambers is ranked fifth in fantasy points by a wide receiver, but more than half of his production came in one game against the Broncos, a team whose defense offers up more "olÚs" than European golf fans at the Ryder Cup. He has caught just four passes in the other three games, but two of them went for scores, so he looks like a beast.
In both cases, you're seeing games against bad teams skewing the perception of a player's value. I don't doubt that Chambers will be the top touchdown threat among San Diego's wide receiving corps, but I also don't believe he'll be a guy who you can plug and play each week like you do with Terrell Owens or Larry Fitzgerald.
Meanwhile, how hard would it be to grab Earnest Graham, who ranks 20th in terms of points scored among running backs? After all, he has averaged 106 yards rushing in the three games he's played against teams that weren't the Bears. Bucs' head coach Jon Gruden decided his team couldn't run against Chicago, so they threw more than 60 times, and Graham scored one fantasy point. Not his fault. Granted, he's excelled against New Orleans, Atlanta and Green Bay, so I'm not saying he's Superman. He's just a guy who is doing what he's supposed to against bad teams. But he faces plenty more bad teams, so don't let that one bad game skew him down in your estimation.
Look for players who have exceeded expectations against tough defenses and market your players who have been predictable one-hit wonders, and you'll end up trading for what a player will do, instead of what he's done so far.
Three I'm Stealing
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks: Here are three reasons why I believe Hasselbeck, the 21st ranked quarterback in ESPN leagues according to average fantasy points per game, is one of the best buy-low options out there. First of all, he's past his bye week. Second, he's finally on the verge of getting real NFL receivers to throw to, as both Deion Branch and Bobby Engram could suit up this week against the Giants. Those two alone should guarantee Hasselbeck throws for 200-plus yards and a score every week. Third, the Seahawks still have four games against the outrageously charitable defenses of the NFC West, plus games against the Jets and Dolphins. Throw in matchups against the Packers and Patriots, whose defenses have shown some real soft spots recently, and you're looking at a passer who has intriguing matchups in eight of the next 13 weeks. Low cost, high upside.
Earnest Graham, RB, Buccaneers: Despite all those lovely stats I mentioned above, let's also acknowledge that Graham's owners don't love the fact Warrick Dunn is getting so many touches and targets. Yeah, it's not ideal and if you're in a point-per-reception league, this recommendation carries a lot less weight since Dunn has seen twice as many passes as Graham. However, Graham has managed to be a solid second back on most squads despite the time-share and he still is touching the ball in the red zone much more often than any other offensive player on the Bucs. In fact, he's the only Tampa offensive weapon to touch the ball multiple times inside the 20-yard line in each of the team's past three games. Graham will get his yards, see the ball near the goal line, and he's about to play against the Broncos, so his value is about to spike. Now is the time to get in.
Laveranues Coles, WR, Jets: I know he's on a bye, but as I pointed out last week, I love grabbing guys who are taking the week off. Now many of you would ask, "Isn't Coles exactly the kind of guy you were telling us to sell since 28 of his 48 fantasy points on the year came in one game?" Fair question. The difference here is that Coles is a guy who was disgruntled about losing his pal, Chad Pennington, ever since the preseason. However, Coles' targets, catches, yards and fantasy points have gone up every week this season, and while there will be some dips, it's clear Brett Favre is gonna throw the ball around and he's now looking for Coles. He's a very solid No. 2 wide receiver who can be had if his owner thinks Week 4 was a total fluke.
Three I'm Dealing
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Bengals: I'm not psychic, but if I'm on the Titanic and I see the iceberg, I know enough to put on some warm clothes and stay close to the lifeboats. Carson Palmer's injured elbow is now the subject of more rumors than Brangelina. Meanwhile, his replacement, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is not ready for prime time, and the beleaguered Bengals have just signed Cedric Benson so he'll be up to speed in time for Chris Henry to return from suspension. In honor of the Jewish new year, let me simply say "Oy!" This isn't me picking on Housh as much as it's me thinking he's the only player on the Bengals who still has some trade value.
Packers Defense: I know that in many leagues it's impossible to trade a defense for anything, but when any defensive squad is averaging better than 11 points a game, there might be some interest. The issue is the Packers scored 22 against that awful Lions team in Week 2, but have averaged fewer than eight points in their other games, despite facing the Vikings and Bucs, two very average offenses. I don't want you to trade the Packers D now, because they're about to whup up on the Falcons at home. But after this week, when Green Bay has one of the top three point totals among defenses for the season, use them however you can, as trade bait or as a sweetener in a larger deal.
Pulling the Job
A week ago, I said I wouldn't do any deal to cover my bye week woes unless I liked it for the long haul too.
Well, in my 10-team home league, I did get a trade accepted because I thought it helped me for Week 4 and beyond. With three starting backs on a bye and Willie Parker out with his sprained knee, I was looking at starting Brandon Jackson and Correll Buckhalter for the week. However, Brian Westbrook's owner also owned Ryan Grant, so I saw a clear match.
After some haggling, I sent Buckhalter, Julius Jones and the Steelers defense away, and got Grant, Pierre Thomas and the Cowboys defense back. However, Thomas lost his goal-line duties to Deuce McAllister, while Grant was outscored handily by Correll Buckhalter. As a result, I suffered my first loss of the season when Baltimore's defense crumbled in the second half of Monday Night Football on ESPN (network plug requirements now filled.)
I still believe Grant will outproduce Jones going forward and give me a lethal running back corps, but for now, there's no doubt I didn't steal my league this week.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.