And while you’re kicking yourself for not drafting these guys in the first place

Here’s a look from Sports Data Hub at the top fantasy performers at each position as of the beginning of December. [Update: Link no longer available]

We all wish we could go back to the draft and change something, whether we want to draft Miles Austin or not draft Matt Forte, but looking at the cold, raw numbers after almost an entire fantasy football season shows us many of our mistakes (and in bar graph form, which makes it slightly less depressing).

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

The big surprise at quarterback this year for me was Brett Favre, who not only joined the ranks late but also became a fantasy stud down the stretch. He may be fading now, but he still established himself among the top at the position for another year. As much as I loathe him, I’ll give him credit for that.

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, bottomed out more than expected. Clearly, the receiver situation in Chicago isn’t to his liking, and he’s not comfortable in that offense just yet.

Time will tell whether the team takes a new direction by getting a new offensive coordinator or makes a move to acquire a top talent at wide receiver like Anquan Boldin. The only problem with the latter solution is all the picks they gave away to get Cutler in the last offseason.

Cutler’s performance against the Vikings on Monday Night Football could be a good sign that they’re getting on track for 2010.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson was an iffy top running back prospect to start the year. Some took the chance and were greatly rewarded. Others warned that LenDale White would still steal all his scoring opportunities. It’s clear he’s become a fantasy force, one who will continue to be highly drafted. He’s probably the No. 1 overall pick in your draft next season.

But the big surprise was Ray Rice (even though I predicted he’d be good, I didn’t know he’d be this good). He jumped from a murky Baltimore running back situation to become one of the top backs in fantasy, and he’ll probably stay among the elite with Willis McGahee on his way out.

Ricky Williams and Thomas Jones certainly have more staying power than any of us realized. They’re still getting it done, even at their advanced age. Williams owes his scoring chances early in the year to Ronnie Brown, who made the Wildcat a legitimate threat at the goal line throughout his reign of terror until he was injured.

It’ll be interesting to see what Miami and New York do in the offseason. Ronnie Brown is likely to assume the starting duties again once he is healthy, but New York could part ways with Jones if they so choose, opting instead to ride Leon Washington and rookie pounder Shonn Greene.

In recent weeks, they’ve given Greene more than his usual number of carries to see what they have behind Jones for next season.

Wide Receivers

DeSean Jackson came up in the world in a big way as McNabb’s favorite target this season. Is it finally safe to start a Philadelphia receiver? It seems that way for 2010.

The hot names to add to the list of the elite are Miles Austin and Sidney Rice. Both were touted for their physical attributes and explosive talents, but neither had lived up to expectations, falling victim to injury or being buried on the depth chart the past two seasons.

Rice broke out this season as the Vikings’ biggest threat in the passing game, and he’ll only get better, regardless of who comes in to quarterback Minnesota once Favre finally leaves — but will that EVER happen?

Austin should continue to be one of Tony Romo’s favorite, most trusted targets, and that’s extremely valuable with a quarterback as determined to make a play as Romo is every down.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis, we hardly knew ye. He did it. He finally did it. All it took was a new coach and a new offense geared around his ability to separate from mismatches. Well done, sir.

Brent Celek also proved that the Eagles had really been missing L.J. Smith’s contributions in recent years when injury and ineffectiveness kept Smith from playing the part. Celek’s role at tight end in the Philadelphia offense only adds to the stockpile of weapons at Andy Reid’s disposal.

Kickers

Ha, just kidding. Nothing’s drastically shifted here, but there was a lot of musical chairs being played around the league as certain kickers lost their leg and teams were forced to make a change.

This year has been a surprising one once again, at least for me. A lot of players that we’d looked forward to seeing finally made a show of themselves. It’s safe to say I wish all my leagues were keeper leagues. The young talent we’ve seen this year should be a factor in fantasy football for years to come.

So now, armed with the knowledge of what’s altered the fantasy landscape this season, what can we say? Better luck next year?

Foolish Thoughts on 2009 Season: So why didn’t we all draft Chris Johnson?

It’s insanity. That’s what fantasy football is when it comes to the playoffs. Jonathan Stewart and Jerome Harrison become huge fantasy steals in the final two games, and studs that you’ve depending on all season like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers clam up and shut down early, even in blowout wins. At least Chris Johnson has continued to be magical every week.

I forget how bizarre it really becomes until it’s this time of year again.

Now Harrison will likely compel some fantasy footballers to draft him as an RB3 or maybe even an RB2 next season. Jamaal Charles could be right up there with him. We can only hope that neither is next year’s Steve Slaton or Pierre Thomas, hot in the playoffs but average or inconsistent the following season when given the full responsibility and trust of fantasy owners.

In Charles’ case, I think he’s got a real chance to thrive in the Kansas City offense as long as the current coaching staff stays intact. He’s a great receiving back, and even if the Chiefs decide that they need to bring in a bigger runner to take some of the carries and compliment Charles in the offseason — LenDale White is available, or so I hear — Charles should get plenty of chances to put up big numbers as part of the explosive offense Todd Haley is trying to create.

Out of the five fantasy football leagues I played in this season, I made the playoffs in three and had the chance to play for three championships this week. Of those, I won two and lost one by just a single point (as long as current calculations hold up) after Peterson racked up those two short-yardage touchdowns last night. It was incredibly frustrating, but I can’t be completely unhappy with the results. Even losing that one championship game out of three, this year has been my best season so far.

And next season, I want to focus even more on the leagues that were truly competitive. I’ve reduced the number of leagues I played in over the past two seasons. This year, I was down to five, and next season, I’ll probably take it down another league or two until I find the sweet spot for managing leagues, writing fantasy football analysis, and enjoying the game.

Here are some questions you can answer in the comments below: How many leagues do you play in? Do you find it more fun to play in a small number of leagues or as many as possible? These are the decisions I always debate this time of year.

I think I’m one of the few fantasy football fans out there, especially among fantasy football bloggers, who cares more about their real team winning (in my case, the Cowboys) than their fantasy team. It excited me to no end when the Cowboys shutout the Redskins last night and secured a playoff spot.

I wasn’t nearly as pumped when my fantasy football teams made the playoffs. Satisfied? Yes, but excited? Not off-the-wall excited. That said, it wasn’t a close call for any of them either. I knew weeks in advance that I was bound for the playoffs.

I’d hope we’re all fans of the game and the action-packed saga that is the NFL. If not for it, we wouldn’t have fantasy football.

So even if you lost your league, even if you got shot down in the championship game, even if your league dues were wasted as soon as you drafted Brian Westbrook and Matt Forte, I hope you’ll sit down and watch a few more games next week and deep into the playoffs.

Playoff football is a treat that only comes around once each year, much like the holiday season that just passed. Our presents? The Super Bowl, one of the most extravagant and exciting sporting events in all the land.

If you truly want to win in fantasy football, I think you first have to love the game because you have to understand how to translate what you watch and get excited about on the field into what works on your fantasy roster. So sit down, crack open a cold one (or a nice, frosty beverage of a less alcoholic persuasion if that’s your thing), and enjoy some football over the next month.

Of course, it’d be nice to know you’re all doing it with a championship trophy on your mantel, like me, but if you didn’t win, there’s no shame in cheering your fantasy studs on to a Super Bowl as you start to prep for next season.

And don’t feel like the fantasy season has to end. I’ll still be posting to Fantasy Football Fools because we have to start looking ahead to 2010 and because I still have some prizes to give to you, my dear readers. If you need help with Week 17 decisions (for those terrible, terrible leagues that go into the dreaded final week of the regular season), drop me a line on Twitter or in the comments.

Thanks again for reading Fantasy Football Fools this season and being part of the foolish community. Stay tuned for more over the coming days. Even if you didn’t win your championship, you deserve to take home some prizes.

The Team That Knocked You Out of the Playoffs in Week 14

The playoffs are truly fickle. Just like your high school girlfriend (well, if you had a girlfriend), they tire of you after about two weeks.

If you lost in Week 14, you can probably identify a few names on your new hate list, updated daily while you rub lipstick on your face and cry, from the “Team of the Week” that the FF Geek Blog assembled.

At least they were big name guys. It’s not like you wouldn’t see Ray Rice or Chris Johnson coming. Well, you might not see Chris Johnson coming, but that’s only because he breaks the speed of light every now and then on his way to the end zone.

Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson, and DeSean Jackson have all been phenomenal this season, and Dallas Clark is a fixture of the Indianapolis Colts’ offense. No unknowns there.

True to their form of yesteryear, the Titans won off their kicking game (Rob Bironas) and defense. That’s easy to do when you play St. Louis and have to sub Kerry Collins in for Vince Young mid “wrecking shop.”

No, the only two potential “surprises” that I can identify are Eli Manning and Ryan Grant. Grant because he has never quite regained the hype he had at the end of 2007 when he complemented Brett Favre deep into the playoffs, and Eli Manning because… well, he’s the dopey Manning brother we all love to hate, right? He’s not supposed to be the one pulling out all the stops in the passing game.

In truth, the defense of the week was San Francisco’s opportunistic performance against the Arizona Cardinals Monday night, but that was after the FF Geeks put together their list. The Cardinals couldn’t hold onto the ball at all on the MNF stage. Something tells me that Arizona will no longer serve popcorn or any other butter products in the locker room.

But you have a good right to be mad if you lost to Quinton Ganther or Devin Aromashodu. They truly came out of nowhere in the final weeks of the season — and by nowhere, I mean the depths of the depth chart.

Ganther, a name that sounds about as horrible as you want it to be, was the “next name on the list” for the Redskins. He wasn’t even on the roster at the beginning of the season. Now, he probably ate your babies in Week 14 if one of your opponents took a chance on starting him. Two touchdowns in just his first NFL start? That burns. It really does. But remember, it was the Raiders.

Devin Aromashodu is not, as I learned today, a samurai warrior destined to roam the hills and valleys of the Windy City battling the power of scent. He is, in fact, the “other Devin” on the Bears roster.

And yes, I lied about not knowing who Aromashodu was for the sake of using that joke. I have no boundaries. I’m like Richie Incognito.

The “other Devin” is a big target the Bears haven’t been able to use thus far this season, but it looks like he might be worth keeping on the field. Against the Packers, Aromashodu racked up 76 yards and a touchdown. Just the kind of performance a desperation playoff opponent would have loved to supply, but it’s hardly likely that anyone in your league did it.

Ganther, though, we can all hate freely.

Along with these good days, there were a couple of notable bad performances: Aaron Rodgers and Randy Moss.

I was lucky enough to have a bye for the team on which I own them both — whew — but if you weren’t as lucky, you might not be in the playoff hunt any longer.

This week, I have to believe that both will get on track. Rodgers faces the Steelers spirit-less secondary, and Randy Moss gets the Bills. As long as the weather is not “kind of frightful” in Buffalo, I think there’s a good chance we see more of the Randy we’ve been used to in Patriot blue.

Week 14 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: You Know Where This is Going

I thought we’d do things a little differently this week. By this point, I expect that most of you know who you are starting and sitting during these critical weeks of the fantasy playoffs. As such, I don’t think you’ll need as much help deciding which players to start and sit.

Trust is as important a factor as any, and you have to go with your trustworthy guys.

So rather than give you a few players with good games and a few players with bad games this week, we’d be better served just talking about what you can expect from those studs this week and what chances are worth taking for the playoffs.

For starters, the Fourth & 1 Debate fantasy football roundtable covered a few players who, while under the radar most of the season, could make a big splash in the fantasy playoffs. My pick is San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, but you’ll have to go and read the full debate to see my reasoning. It’s good. Promise.

And it’s especially good if you need a sub for Peyton Manning in Week 16, when he is likely to sit out the second half, denying you those fantasy points you need in the championship.

Fanhouse lays out a very strategic plan to attack the playoffs, and a nice set of players to help you do so. I agree with most of their adds, but don’t jump all over the young guns they recommend. Sure, they look good now, but will they really be trustworthy enough to start? I doubt it. Fantasy Joe’s Mike Gilbert doubts waiver wire studs Devin Thomas and Louis Murphy, too.

So if you need the depth or just want to keep them out of the hands of your opponent, go get ’em. Otherwise, keep your most trusted fantasy cogs close at hand and on your roster.

As FF Toolbox points out, Joe Flacco gets the Lions, Mike Wallace may get a chance to start against the Browns tonight (Joy!), and Kevin Boss faces the tight-end-friendly Philadelphia Eagles defense. On the other hand, dark days look to continue for Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. I wouldn’t want to trust DeAngelo Williams if he plays this week either after what Michael Turner did to fantasy owners in his first game back (He immediately got hurt again, as if you didn’t know).

Fantasy Football Xtreme’s Smitty cautions against Kevin Smith and Steven Jackson, and I would agree. As great as Jackson’s been on a bad, horrible, terrible, and atrocious St. Louis Rams (did I mention they were bad?), he may hit the wall this week with Kyle Boller at quarterback against the Titans.

Not a lot of surprises from Fantasy Joe in their start or sit recommendations this week. Among the names, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice look poised and ready to do some damage. I’m sure many of their fantasy owners would appreciate it in the first rounds of the playoffs, me included.

Also noted, Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson would seem like good starts if it weren’t for Matt Cassel’s struggles and Jackson’s recent cooling off period. I’d hate to have to rely on them, but you may be forced to start them.

Unlike Fantasy Joe, I’m not as afraid of Donovan McNabb against the Giants. He may be able to put two good games together against them this year, especially if he gets top target DeSean Jackson back this week.

By the way, in one of my leagues, the owner of Chris Johnson didn’t make the playoffs… in a 10-team league in which six, and let me say that twice, SIX teams made the cut. Do you realize how bad you have to be to not make the playoffs with Chris Johnson? Bad. So very, very bad. Rams bad.

Davone Bess and Chris Brown are two intriguing names in the sleeper pool. I’d pass on starting them over someone who got you to the playoffs, but they aren’t bad flex plays this week. Brown more so than Bess. Fanhouse likes Bess as well.

The FF Geek Blog predicts some struggle for the Land Baron and some promising returns on Jamaal Charles as he goes in against Buffalo, but my favorite note thus far was their take on Antonio Bryant’s bad situation this week: “Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers vs NYJ — Darrelle Revis.” That pretty much says it all.

In keeping with the theme of starting the guys who got you there, ESPN’s rankings look pretty familiar. Fanhouse doesn’t stray from the path of the studly either.

If you’re current options are a little sketchy, Fantasy Joe recommends trying the Titans and Cardinals defenses over the Steelers this week, but I can’t fully support the Cardinals defense as an option when they are facing my pick to be an explosive fantasy force this week, Alex Smith. I’m just glad I have the Saints D/ST to set and forget.

Song to Ease Your Pain While Setting Lineups

Now, since I know you can’t set your rosters without musical accompaniment, I give you your very own “Choose Your Own Adventure” of songs to set your roster to this week.

If you’re awesome: Three Days Grace – Animal I Have Become

Rage? Yes. Awesomeness? Completely. Playoff-worthy? Most definitely.

But if you’re hurting and little worried about your game this week, I offer the more melodious but still awesome:  Kings of Leon – Use Somebody

If only your stud players were still showing up. Will that one waiver wire claim you picked up this week save your team? Alex Smith? Jamaal Charles? Only time will tell. Good luck with that one.

And with that, I leave you to your games this week. Best of luck to those of you in the playoffs, and sorry to hear about those of you who are not. If you have any questions, you know what to do. Hit us up in the comments or get in touch.

Week 8 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: L.T. is a zombie

At some point, we have to stop framing recommendations to start LaDainian Tomlinson with stats from his past performances. “For his career, L.T. averages 100+ yards and bazillion touchdowns against (fill in the blank).”

No crap. L.T. was a dominant fantasy force up until last season, but how much suck did L.T. average just last year? Or over the whole of his career? I’d say he’s averaging a fair amount of suckage right now, and that doesn’t fit in with the pretty little stat book on him. I’m pretty sure he didn’t average zero touchdowns against the Chiefs going into Week 7, but how many tries did he have only to fail? That, my friends, is not a back I want to start.

L.T. is out of luck and out of gas, and the guy who generated all those “stats” that are being quoted at you is dead and buried. In proper Halloween form, he’s bumbling around like a zombie out there for the Chargers.

Luckily, he gets the Raiders this week, which is fitting since Al Davis is practically a zombie himself.

I always have a hard time finding a Halloween costume. Mostly because I’m gigantic. The little costumes you can buy at the store don’t fit me. I just look like the big kid who stretched out his costume. It’s completely lame.

Two years ago, I was Shredder — yes, the baddie from Ninja Turtles. I modified a child-size gladiator costume with some tin foil and added a purple shirt and brown pants to the mix.

Perfect? No, of course not. It was terrible, but it worked for what I needed. I had four females walking around as the karate turtles, so no problems if I have a blasphemy of a Shredder costume.

But that night, while roaming to the next bar, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with a 12-year-old kid wearing a full bodysuit of purple cloth, accented by dark metal shoulder blades and cuffs.

His ninja skills were far superior. Not to mention, he had a whole platoon of Foot Clan lackeys behind him. He was shorter than all of his foot soldiers, but I have never felt so small…

So, hopefully, I can come up with a costume this year that doesn’t lead me to embarrassment. I can’t roll with Shredder again. Ever. But you can roll with these guys this week.

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Chris Wells, RB, Cardinals vs. Panthers
To continue our trend of going out on a limb with my “start of the week,” even though the Giants’ Steve Smith burned me a little last week, I’m taking Beanie Wells. A strong week against the Giants’ run defense leads Beanie into one of the softest matchups of the year. The Panthers are tenth in points allowed to running backs, and Jake Delhomme should have some sort of McNabb-puke-esque panic attack the second he steps out on the field against the team that made him what he is today, worthless.

Many screen caps will be made of Delhomme’s faces in this one. I can already predict that.

As scary as it is to trust a rookie who scored his first touchdown just last week, Beanie makes a very nice flex start. I might even give him RB2 status in a tough bye week. Looking ahead, that fantasy playoff schedule ain’t too shabby either.

Braylon Edwards, WR, Jets vs. Dolphins
Two rookie cornerbacks are starting? Yes, please! Even dropsies couldn’t ruin that fun, and Edwards handled himself pretty well in his last appearance against Miami. The return of Jerricho Cotchery should liven up this passing game for the Jets, and as long as Sanchez isn’t too busy eating hot dogs, I expect him to get Edwards involved once again. Show ’em what you showed “friend of LeBron,” Edwards!

Matt Forte, RB, Bears vs. Browns
If you own him, you’re starting him. That’s not a difficult decision. At least this week you can feel a little less self-loathing for drafting him. This is, of course, all dependent on him doing something of value against the Browns terrible run defense, but all the odds are in his favor.

Forte is a guy I really like, even though I was only able to draft him in one of my leagues. In the second half of the season, the weather should turn colder, and I could see Cutler handing it off quite a bit more. A superstar week against the Browns would go a long way in starting Forte’s return to relevance.

Donnie Avery, WR, Rams vs. Lions
If you don’t start him this week, when are you going to start him? Matchups don’t get better than this one unless you’re playing the Titans. Avery is the only Rams receiver of note other than an up-and-coming Danny Amendola. Bulger should, if he has anything left to give, find him in this one for at least one touchdown.

If Avery doesn’t show up here, I think astronauts will be able to hear the click of the “drop this player” button from space.

Lee Evans, WR, Bills vs. Texans
Ryan Fitzpatrick is locked in on Evans, and Evans has come back to life. Against the Texans, he should take advantage of that connection for a touchdown. You can feel safe starting Evans again, but T.O.? That’s still a no fly zone.

Zach Miller, TE, Raiders vs. Chargers
Always start your tight end against the Chargers. It may not work for Sean Ryan, but hey, is he really a tight end or just an extra offensive lineman that sometimes catches a touchdown pass from Matt Cassel?

I hate trusting a Raider, but Miller has been the only man in this offense that JaMarcus Russell can hit consistently. Miller’s not a terrible start this week.

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers vs. Cardinals
In theory, this week would be a good one for DeAngelo. The Panthers are struggling to find a passing game, and Jake Delhomme is scarred for life after throwing enough picks to play out an NFL draft against Arizona in the playoffs.

You’d think they’d lean on the run, but the Cardinals have excelled at stopping the run this year. They’re tops at it. They’ll take DeAngelo and Jonathan Stewart out of this game as quickly as possible, putting this game in Delhomme’s hands.

And before you think about it, he won’t succeed.

Andre Johnson, WR, Texans vs. Bills
Before I say anything, the disclaimer on this sit recommendation is that you must have someone with a better matchup. Don’t just pull in any old player to sub for the mighty, mighty A.J. That said, I don’t think the numbers are a lie when it comes to the Bills’ defense.

Andre Johnson already has a bruised lung to worry about. I can only imagine how much that stings, but the Texans (and A.J.) are saying that he will play this weekend against Buffalo. That’s a good sign for his toughness but a bad one for his fantasy owners. An unhealthy A.J. is hard to put your faith in during these critical weeks of the season.

Buffalo’s rookie safety has become an interception machine. I’m sure he’ll be keeping a close eye on Johnson this week. I could see Schaub having a great day, but I think it will come with the assistance of Owen Daniels, not so much Andre Johnson.

If you can sub out your stud wide receiver, do it. If you can’t, cross your fingers and hope for a significant yardage total.

Alex Smith, QB, 49ers vs. Colts
I know you got him off waivers this week, but the Colts murder all quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning. When you practice against Pey Pey, no one can measure up.

I do have a lot of confidence in Smith’s chances down the stretch, and I’m rooting for the guy. Just don’t root for him this week.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks vs. Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas defense regained their pass-rushing prowess last week and took Matt Ryan down a notch. Against the Seahawks’ banged-up failure of an offensive line, we could see Hasselbeck leaving this one early again.

The Dallas secondary has been inconsistent to start the year, so there’s sleeper potential in the Seahawks’ passing game. But I’d put my faith in someone else at quarterback given the choice.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Bills vs. Texans
The Texans run defense is better than advertised. Just ask Cedric Benson. Even if Lynch finds room to run, the Bills will be forced to pass all day when the Texans get a big lead.

The numbers on the Texans’ run defense will point towards starting Lynch here, and in a better offense than the Bills’, I might agree. But with the Bills’ struggles and Houston’s recent success at stopping the run, I think the numbers are misleading. Assuming you’re not forced into starting Lynch due to bye weeks, go with another option.

Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins vs. Jets
His look-what-I-can-still-do game against the Saints was impressive, but I don’t think that’s the Ricky you’ll get on a regular basis. The Jets are angry — very, very angry — about the embarrassment they suffered against the Dolphins just a few weeks ago. Rex Ryan will have them revved up and ready to kill. I wouldn’t rely on the No. 2 in the Wildcat to win it for you this week.

Ricky can only do well if a new wrinkle is added to the Wildcat to surprise the Jets. The Dolphins have been pretty good at creating those wrinkles thus far, but the creativity has to run out eventually.

Snoozer Sleeper Pick of the Week

Vince Young, QB, Titans vs. Jaguars
It wasn’t too long ago that Vince Young was a shot in the arm for an 0-5 Titans team. They’re in a tougher situation now, but the player is the same. As long as Vince can carry the locker room baggage, he’ll carry this team into better record — not hard to do with zero wins in the books.

Who wants to try to stop both Chris Johnson and Young in the same backfield? Not I. The Jaguars feel the same way. Don’t bet the farm, but if you had to take a flier on a quarterback this week to fill in for Tom Brady or Big Ben, not a bad choice. I still like sleepers like Marc Bulger a little more, but I’m a Young believer.

Song to Ease Your Pain While You Set Your Lineups

“This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Is it just me or does the monster under the stars look like Larry Johnson? He looks like a guy that would average 2 yards per carry. And that clown with the tear-away face is the spitting image of LenDale White circa 2008.

Don’t trust me? Try these on for size: Matthew Berry’s Week 8 Love/Hate (now featuring scary, sexy nurses), Fantasy Football Goat, Fantasy Football Xtreme, The FF Geek Blog and FF Toolbox’s starts and sits.

How to Get Your 0-5 Team to 1-5

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes teams don’t work out. You draft Darren McFadden higher than you should have — grumble grumble. You put the hopes of your fantasy team on a sleeper like Matt Cassel, who hasn’t panned out yet.

Maybe your team is putting up mad amounts of points, but you just happen to be playing the highest scoring team every week. Lady Luck must hate you. If that’s the case, maybe you don’t need to do anything with your team in order for them to rock the rest of the season.

But some of you out there, you’re 0-5 or maybe 1-4, and it’s time to get tough. You’re a little far from the playoff picture, but all is not lost. You just need to reshape your team.

Last week, we discussed what to do if you were 1-3 or 2-2 in your league in the Week 5 Fourth & 1 debate, a fantasy football roundtable that I’ve been participating in every week. Last week’s debate was hosted by Fantasy Pros 911.

In addition to the excellent tips there on how to rebuild your roster and not panic too much, The Hazean gave some fantabulous advice on where to turn if you were 0-3. Most of that still applies.

Sadly, 0-5 or 1-4 is an even bigger beast. You need to make something happen, and it needs to happen fast.

So how do you save your fantasy hopes?

1. Drop any sleeper pick that hasn’t broken out yet.

I don’t care if he went to high school with you, married you or otherwise impressed you in the preseason. If the points aren’t on the board, you need to get them off your team.

You don’t have the time to wait around anymore. If he’s that great, you can fight for him on the waiver wire when he breaks out.

2. Shop your best player and take the best offer you get.

Yes, Chris Johnson is amazing. He could go off in any game, but if he isn’t enough to carry your team, he’s no use to you. I’ve seen many a team struggle through the season with a stud at running back or quarterback and refusing to trade even if it would allow them to have a more balanced team.

Take one stud and turn him into two lesser studs. If you get another owner to buy high on your studs while you buy low on a few of his that are performing nicely, you instantly get a better squad.

3. Replace your flukes with more responsible choices

Hines Ward isn’t flashy, but he gets yardage. DeSean Jackson could just as easily get you zero as he could 27. You need reliable starters from this point, so don’t be afraid to let your more daring team members serve you as trade bait.

If you start three wide receivers, you just want your WR3 to be a lock for 8-10 points every week. That’s all you need to stay consistent. If you can get a WR2 who puts up 10-15, that’ll serve to replace the Jeremy Maclin, Miles Austin or DeSean Jackson who was winning and losing battles for you on a weekly basis.

It’s always good to get the guys who you know will get carries (Jamal Lewis) or catches (Muhsin Muhammed) involved, even if they aren’t going to win you a game. Hopefully, you have enough strength at each position that putting up an average amount of points each week from here on out will get you a win…as long as you’re lucky.

Trust me, at this point, all you can hope for is lucky.

4. Practice voodoo.

Maybe you can curse your way into a championship?

Okay, not likely, but you might be able to will a bad game onto your opponent’s studs each week. Just stare at his or her players anytime they are in the game and root for a fumble or two. If you get really close to the TV, it will probably work better, and you’ll be so fun at all the pregame parties.

5. Work the waiver wire like you mean it.

I publish a waiver wire post every week. There’s always a player or two who jumps in value for two to three weeks or for the rest of the season. You need to have them all on your team. Always get better. Always work harder than the next guy.

You must own the waiver wire. You have the next two weeks to find players who haven’t been claimed yet and watch for the ones who break out. Maybe, just maybe, a stud like the 2007 incarnation of Ryan Grant will emerge from the pack to save your playoff hopes.

If not, there’s always the Sunday afternoon matinee, right?

Week 6 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: A Week Without Peyton Manning

I once heard that Peyton Manning can hear us think our own thoughts. In the huddle, he thinks so hard that the middle linebacker opposing him get headaches.

Headaches lead to fear; fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; and hate leads to Manning’s audible at the line that allows his laser-sighted, rocket arm to put one in the end zone…

But why are we even talking about that guy? He’s out this week. How will we survive? Now on to the Week 6 hotties…

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots vs. Titans
It’s crazy, I know, to think that any of you wouldn’t be starting Tom Brady, but consider this your reminder that he’s going to get everything right this week — no missing Randy Moss in the end zone, no short throws at Wes Welker’s feet. This week, the Patriots face the Tennessee Titans, currently starting two nice old ladies and a talking garbage can in the secondary.

Brady should destroy all hope that the Titans could win a game before the bye week, and if he doesn’t, well, we can all slam our heads into an NFL-sized helmet…or a wall…that works for some people…

Alas, this is just me wishing that I had ever been cool enough to deserve the nickname “Beer Truck.” What does that even mean? Does that mean you drink a lot of beer or that you are always carrying beer? Like that tailgater that’s always walking around and never finds the party…?

On second thought, that nickname doesn’t sound so cool.

Also hotter than normal this week:

Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals vs. Texans: Great googily-moogily. Benson is booming through defenses like boat parties in Cincinnati. I don’t understand it. They have Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, but the star of this offense is Benson bus. This guy is bruising, and he currently leads the league in rushing. He should continue to do so after four quarters against the Houston Texans, Australian for terrible.

That’s true by the way. I do speak Australian.

Willie Parker, RB, Steelers vs. Browns: I actually like Rashard Mendenhall, too, but you have to remember that Willie once had “Fast” before his name. That said, Mendy’s earned his touches after playing some great football in Parker’s absence. If the offensive line blocks anywhere close to the way they did for Mendenhall against the Chargers, both Mendenhall and Parker could be hitting some out of the park. Well, just as long as Mendenhall doesn’t have swine flu. The Browns are bad, stains on underpants bad.

Braylon Edwards, WR, Jets vs. Bills: Jerricho Cotchery will be out nursing his hamstring this week, and in his stead, Edwards is going to destroy the Bills just like he destroyed the Dolphins on Monday night. I’m not sure who he stole the hands he’s using from, but Randy Moss might just want to make sure everything’s still attached down there. Maybe all Edwards needed was some of those brighter Broadway lights. Thomas Jones shouldn’t disappoint against the shameful Buffalo run defense either.

Ray Rice, RB, Ravens vs. Vikings: I know the matchup doesn’t look good on paper, but call me a glass half-full. Rice plays a part in the passing game, and he could easily put up yardage and another receiving score against the Vikings if the Ravens get it together. I’m listing him here not to tell you to start him over a stud with a better matchup but simply to declare my undying belief that Ray Rice was the best pick I made in my drafts this year. He’s a good start on any given Sunday.

All your Packers vs. Lions: Sure, easy call, but sometimes people don’t think straight. It drives me mad to read comments from people who refuse to play their matchups in these situations because they have some crazy idea in their head. Okay, okay, I often have crazy ideas in my head, but not as bad as some people. This game is a lay-up, and we may already know who’s catching the Packers first pass when the offense takes the field Sunday.

Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers vs. Bucs: It’s Tampa. What do you want from me? I don’t love the guy, but I could stand starting him in a bind this week.

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers vs. Broncos
Oh, the mighty have fallen, and they fell so hard it created a vortex of suck on their way down. I don’t really care that the Chargers are coming off of a bye. The Broncos just shut down the Patriots and proved they were worth the praise they’ve been getting, and Josh McDaniels is going to fist pump all over the Chargers.

Mike Nolan’s revitalizing his career by making game plans that just frustrate the holy hell out of other teams, and he should have no trouble making sure the slightly less effective running back of the Chargers stays that way.

It’s also pretty likely that the Broncos run the ball like crazy down through the Chargers defensive line considering how well that worked for the Steelers a few weeks ago. Since losing their nose tackle, San Diego’s been starting a matador in the middle of their line, and he’s waving everyone through. There might even be hope for Larry Johnson to score on this defensive line, so there’s something to look forward to next week. An early lead for the Broncos will force the Chargers to pass and LaDainian all nice and agitated on the sidelines.

Who else should you not touch in any way considered fantasy football-like this week? Well, I’ll tell you…

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs vs. Redskins: The Redskins, while miserable as ever on offense, have been rather stout on defense. They’re in the top 10 among points allowed to a receiver. The only way he earns his paycheck in this one is if he scores a touchdown, which I wouldn’t rule out.

Julius Jones, RB, Seahawks vs. Cardinals: Believe it or not, the Cardinals have been great against the run this year. This game will largely be fought through the air like the best episodes of SWAT Cats. Whatever happened to that show? And more importantly, how and why did cats ever want to fly? They don’t like it. I’ve seen it on the YouTubes.

Eli Manning, QB, Giants vs. Saints: There’s just too much pointing to the Giants wanting to keep this one conservative, which means they’ll limit Manning early. Eli’s a little banged up. The Saints are coming off a bye with two weeks to prepare. The game is in New Orleans. Drew Brees, Drew Brees and, oh, Drew Brees. While I think it could soon get out of hand for the Giants, forcing the lesser Manning into throwing situations, that’s when the Saints defense has been the most deadly. New Orleans is third best in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. I assume you have a better matchup.

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans vs. Patriots: It’s a bold move. I know. But unless things break just right for Johnson — wait, Sunday isn’t opposite day, is it? — the Titans will be playing from behind against the Patriots. They haven’t involved Johnson in the passing game when trailing enough for me to sign off on him this week. You’ll probably still have to start him because the opportunity is there, and he is one of the most explosive backs in the league. But doesn’t it make you feel better to know that I’m hating myself for having to start him as well? Let’s hope for a touchdown. It worked with Braylon Edwards.

Chris Cooley, TE, Redskins vs. Chiefs: No one likes a tight end that has to spend all his time blocking.

Sleeper of the Week

Cadillac Williams, RB, Bucs vs. Panthers
Caddy should do some dirty things to the Panthers defense this week if Tampa Bay can keep pace long enough to utilize the running game. Josh Johnson’s keeping this offense effective through a terrible run of losses. Derrick Ward’s injury gave Caddy just enough room to take a lead in the RBBC, and Cadillac should prove his worthy of the starting job by getting a touchdown against the poor Panthers rushing defense.

Heaven forbid that the Bucs actually keep the lead in this one and allow Caddy to run all over the Panthers defense all day.

Song to Ease Your Pain While Setting Your Lineups

You’ll Get Bit… Ya BIT! – DJ Steve Porter Community Remix

I hear Community is a very funny show, but I’ve only gotten a chance to watch it a handful of times. Watching this remix video makes me want to set aside some more time for it…and surprisingly, learn more Spanish words. My high school education is limiting my budding rap potential. Ya BIT!

Want more?

Get more for what ails your lineup at The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, Fantasy Football Goat, FF Toolbox’s starts and sits, Matthew Berry’s love/hate (this week, with facts!), ESPN’s rankings (sometimes a better take than their projections) and Fantasy Joe.

As always, comments are yours. I make no promises about answering comments before Sunday this week because on Saturday, Oklahoma comes to town to take on my Longhorns. Lives could be ruined this weekend. Lives.

Foolish Thoughts: Darren McFadden is dead to me, make the Brett Favre stop and other tales of horror

Darren McFadden is the biggest fantasy football tease in America. If Keith Olbermann were still doing his “Worst Person in the NFL” segment, it would be Run DMC. McFadden is the flirt that no one ever dates, and the bane of many a fantasy football team.

Draft him his rookie season? Oh, yeah, about that Justin Fargas fella, he’ll still get most of the carries while McFadden tiptoes around on his turf toe injury.

Draft him in 2009 after all the talk about the Raiders making him a multidimensional threat, receiving and running, capable of bending space and time to his will? Well, you get goose eggs every week and fumbles that cancel out any fantasy points he may happen to score.

He’s terrible, but it’s not all his fault. It’s Oakland. Right now, nothing can rise out of the fantasy pit that is the black hole of California.

JaMarcus Russell and his inability to hit a receiver is killing the fantasy value of all the Raiders. He looked impressive enough to start the season against the Chargers, but since that loss, he’s fallen off a cliff.

Russell is a murderer of dreams. Every time he throws the ball, an angel loses its wings and slaps Al Davis back to life. I’d say that a puppy dies every time Russell catches a snap, but let’s not get into the Michael Vick drama.

Instead, let’s focus on the good things. At least the Raiders have a talented backfield with McFadden and Michael Bush…if ever the defense would be threatened enough by the Oakland passing game not to stack up eight or more men in the box.

For now, Darren McFadden should be benched in all leagues until further notice. He made sure of that by getting hurt. He should miss the next two to four weeks while recovering from surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee.

While I might hold onto him a few more weeks, it’s safe to consider dropping him in all but deep leagues. The Raiders face the Giants, Jets and Eagles over the next three weeks, which gives them plenty of time to become even more miserable or develop some sign of life in the passing game.

The smart bet is on the miserable side of things.

Wish I could find that pic of Philip Rivers with grass in his helmet
I heard several people on either side of the fence of my “pass” on Philip Rivers in my preseason “pick or pass” for quarterbacks, but I stand behind my statements that he will not live up to his draft stock this season.

Last year was an extraordinary one for him stat-wise, and you should not expect him to repeat. He didn’t look good against the Steelers until the final quarter, and he’s been alternating between decent 20+ fantasy point weeks and mediocre point totals in the teens.

Don’t expect him to be able to expose a defense with that many big plays in his games moving forward.

Mark Sanchez de-poised
It took four weeks, but the rookie who couldn’t be cracked finally lost his poise this week against the New Orleans Saints.

Now, rather than his poise that had stolen the headlines for weeks, all anyone can talk about are his turnovers.

Yes, on the season Mark Sanchez has five interceptions and five fumbles with three of those picks coming in Sunday’s game, but thus far, the Jets have been able to overcome his mistakes with solid defense.

Against the Saints, his turnovers cost them by giving away 14 points.

Despite his lack of poise (for once), Sanchez remains the rookie quarterback to own this season, especially now that Matthew Stafford is day-to-day with a knee injury.

He’s no Matt Ryan, but he’ll do if you need a backup.

Titans not so Titan-y
Four games into the season, the Titans are winless, and they’re looking worse in every contest. I can’t say that I’m not rooting for Kerry Collins to be replaced, but that said, he’s not the problem.

The Titans defense isn’t what it used to be, and the only explosive player on offense is Chris Johnson.

They’ll have to get Johnson more involved in the passing game if they’re going to be behind in games all season, but right now, he’s still a must-start fantasy stud.

In Other News…

  • Tom Brady felt like the real thing again in his fourth appearance, and the Randy Moss connection is still good to go. Me likey. Welcome back, Patriots.
  • In I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it news, the Cowboys aren’t looking too promising if they keep getting the play calling they did Sunday. Tony Romo owners around the nation agree. He’ll be boom or bust all season.
  • Jay Cutler is the next Tom Brady? No, really? I didn’t get that memo, but he is playing very well in his new uniform.
  • The Indianapolis Colts are looking just fine with Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. Both could have decent fantasy value moving forward, and Collie got his first NFL touchdown on Sunday.
  • Is anyone tired of hearing Brett Favre’s name tonight yet?

Foolish Thoughts: Wherefore art thou Patriots?

These Patriots are clearly not the same team that we expected to see back on the field with Brady’s return.

When New England traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders, it proved one thing: Bill Belichick will do anything for a first round draft pick. Draft picks are like crack to him. Belichick cannot refuse. If you gave him enough first round picks, he’d probably give away Tom Brady and his own kidney. Maybe two kidneys.

While that 2011 pick looks delicious right now, the Patriots defense does not. Belichick couldn’t have planned on losing Jerod Mayo in the first game of the season, but he certainly knew that the defense would suffer without Mike Vrabel, traded to Kansas City, and Richard Seymour. The new blood on defense hasn’t found their rhythm yet this season, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez capitalized on their failings in Week 2.

Belichick seems to have an uncanny ability to find spare parts and plug them in as exact clones of the starters he has in place — *cough* Julian Edelman *cough* — but the team as a whole can’t get back to 2007 form.

Tom Brady hasn’t been getting the same zip on his passes, and the Jets’ Darrelle Revis was an absolute stud against Randy Moss, much like he was against Andre Johnson in Week 1. It might be time to sit your stud wide receiver when he faces the Jets.

Should you abandon your Patriots? No, of course not. As long as they aren’t playing the Jets defense, the Patriots offense should still create fantasy stars.

But if you drafted the New England defense with the expectation that they would enjoy a healthy dose of turnovers once Brady forced opponents into a throwing match, you might need to look for a second option.

Speaking of teams playing out of character
In the midst of the Titans-Texans score-a-thon, it was obvious to everyone watching that Chris Johnson is the Titan’s offense. The Titans rode the wave of that undefeated streak last year off the play of their excellent defense, which has lost the ability to generate a pass rush without Albert Haynesworth and exposed some holes in the secondary.

Maybe Kerry Collins is the problem. Maybe his time has come, or maybe I just give Vince Young too much credit. Without a doubt, the Titans are going to need some creativity on offense.

Maybe they can just direct snap to Chris Johnson and call it a day. My fantasy team would be completely cool with that. Completely.

One rib shy of the rack
Matt Hasselbeck took a big hit that knocked him out of his game this week, but it looks like he’ll be okay. It was just a broken rib, and it’s not like he has a history of injury or anything… Oh, wait, this could be a problem.

Discharged
The Chargers defense lost Shawne Merriman again at the end of yesterday’s game against the Ravens to a groin strain, but the bigger blow was the loss of Jamal Williams this week. Without him in the middle of the defense, the Chargers might run into some trouble.

Are things coming together in a perfect storm for Philip Rivers owners? He just might have to carry the Chargers for a few weeks.

The Wildcat comes to special teams
Maybe that’s why they list Sage Rosenfels as the third quarterback, eh? Sneaky Brad Childress…

Have you seen the Green Bay bomber?
Greg Jennings, where did you go? He checked out of the Bengals game Casper-style, but I don’t think Aaron Rodgers will let that happen again if the Packers want to keep that offense on the right track.

Breaking ankles
With this week’s sprained ankle for Brian Westbrook and last week’s sprained ankle for L.T., we could be looking at a season of Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy pretty soon. Waiver wire accordingly.

At the closing Bell
Mike Bell may have lost his hold on the running back job in New Orleans by spraining his own MCL Sunday. It was too good to be true, but we’ll have to wait until the final diagnosis to see if Bell was just a two-week waiver wire savior.

Pierre Thomas owners certainly wouldn’t mind Bell being removed from the competition.

Even after two weeks of play, we’re still not quite sure who some of these teams are. Are the Jags the worst team in football? Are the 49ers really going to smashmouth their way to an NFC West title? Is Cadillac Williams a member of the undead, come back to own the running game in Tampa Bay? I guess we’ll see.

As always, the comments are yours.

Week 1 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: The “Are we there yet?” Edition

The kickoff cometh! In just a few hours, the NFL will return to that magic box in my living room and all will be right with the world. In the meantime, it’s time to make sure you’ve got your best fantasy football roster forward.

Much like our waiver wire recommendations have been shortened up to get with the times, I’ve taken the liberty of consolidating our start or sit feature, Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders, into a more compact version of its 2008 self. I’m focusing on just a handful of players that you may be on the fence about starting each week.

If you have questions about other players on your roster or whether you should give these alternatives the nod over your current starter, submit your questions in the comments. Our shortened features should open the comments up for more discussion, more Q&A and, of course, more cowbell.

Now back to this week’s good-looking starters…

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs
I might as well put my fantasy money where my roster spot mouth is. I have Rice on plenty of my teams this season, and rather than wait to see what you have in him this year, I’m all about jumping him into your starting lineup immediately. Kansas City won’t know what hit them.

Last season, the Ravens could run over any team in the NFL, and I expect them to do the same in this matchup. While LeRon McClain and Willis McGahee could be lurking in the wings to steal some touchdowns, the Chiefs’ defense should give Rice at least a handful of opportunities to break a big play.

Others receiving votes:

  • Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: Another sleeper with plenty to like this week in Palmer’s return
  • Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: The Chargers had a weakness for tight ends last season
  • Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: I just doubt the Broncos defense this much
  • Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: He’s the guy for Buffalo until Lynch returns. How good can New England’s defense be after losing all those veterans?
  • Almost every Saint you can find vs. Detroit Lions: It’s a party, and all the fantasy players are invited

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard to sit your first-round running back right after drafting him, but Johnson should be limited this week in the Titans’ debut against the defending Super Bowl champs. I like my running backs to have a shot at the end zone, especially a guy like “Every Coach’s Dream.” LenDale White should steal any short-yardage chances, and I don’t expect there to be many breakdowns in the Steelers’ defense.

The Super Bowl champs are rarely upset in their opening game, and I am sure the Steelers will control the clock. Unless you are lacking in the running back department — or you just like torturing yourself — try someone who has a bit more upside this week. Play Chris Johnson only if your alternative is Larry Johnson or Jamal Lewis.

Others receiving votes:

  • Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans: Much like Johnson, Holmes should be bottled up in a low-scoring contest
  • Jamal Lewis, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings: Very little chance he shows any more signs of life in this one…
  • Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans vs. New York Jets: Glad you’re back to full health, now dodge Jets for four quarters! Schaub’s risky this week.
  • All your Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens: Until Matt Cassel is 100 percent, the Chiefs can only play at 25 percent. No likey.

For more start or sit recommendations this week, read up at FootballDocs, Fantasy Football Xtreme, Fantasy Football Oasis (one of the more detailed out there), Fantasy Football Goat, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and Fanhouse’s Week 1 Wake-Up Call.

Also, don’t forget to enter for your chance to win free Dominator Service from Top Fantasy Football by commenting on yesterday’s post.

As always, the comments are yours.