Fourth & 1 Debate: Nine Moves to Make for the Fantasy Football Playoffs

At this point in the season, you might be more concerned with getting to the playoffs than succeeding once you get there. That’s okay. Take it one week at a time. I’ll wait…

But if you have the true heart of a champion, some good luck, and if you’ve been doing your research, you’ve probably go a nice spot on the mantel dusted and ready for this year’s fantasy football championship trophy. It’s okay if we block this photo of the in-laws, right?

In that case, it’s best to start planning for your future, and we’re not talking about your kids’ college funds or your financial plan to navigate this tough economy.

It’s even better. I give you a fantasy football roundtable of epic proportions. This week’s Fourth & 1 Debate was mine to rule, and I chose to look ahead at who might blow up or sink your battleship during Weeks 14-17.

By the way, if you have a playoff schedule that puts your championship game in Week 17, slap your commissioner, reschedule that game immediately, slap your commish again, and never, never speak of playing in Week 17 again. Week 17 isn’t NFL football. It’s just not right to win your league with Jim Sorgi. Not right at all.

This week’s Fourth & 1 Debate roundtable question:

Looking ahead at the fantasy football playoffs (Weeks 14-17), what one player would you want to own during those weeks and what one player would you want to unload before Week 14?

My answer:

Trade deadlines are approaching. Playoffs spots will be locked up soon. The chances to acquire players through “sell high” or “buy low” opportunities are few are far between. That being the case, I’ve chosen to focus on a couple of guys who might still be easily moved. You wouldn’t have to break the bank, and you might end up with a stud on your hands in Weeks 14 through 16.

First, I’d look to acquire Tim Hightower.

Kurt Warner has been fond of the check-down passes thus far this season, and Hightower has been the beneficiary. Even against tough rushing defenses, Hightower never fails to stay involved in the passing game and take advantage of short-yardage and goal line opportunities.

It’d be great to have both Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower on your roster to hedge your bets against any late-season shifts in Beanie’s favor, but I believe Hightower will remain the primary receiving back on passing plays, which the Cardinals should be running plenty of in the fantasy playoffs.

The Cardinals face San Francisco, Detroit and St. Louis in the fantasy playoffs. In Week 1 against the 49ers, Hightower ran just eight times for 15 yards, but he caught 12 passes for 121 yards. A similar performance in Week 14 wouldn’t surprise me, and, well, the Lions and Rams are what they are, great matchups for a team with a powerful offense. By the end of this season, one or both of those squads could have already given up for the year.

If you can’t get Hightower, Beanie Wells, Jamaal Charles and Jerome Harrison aren’t bad substitutions. All have a chance to succeed late in the season, and they all carry a fairly low price tag at this point. Bargain bin!

And, for those of you playing at home, I would try to unload DeAngelo Williams before the fantasy playoffs.

Williams finished the year as the No. 1 fantasy running back after a slow start, and he’s once again been inconsistent to start the year in 2009. It’s not just Jonathan Stewart stealing time and touches from him. This year, Jake Delhomme has developed a bad habit of throwing to players in other jerseys.

While Williams is come on strong the past three weeks, he should hit a slump starting in Week 11 against Miami and continuing, outside of a brief practice session against the Bucs in Week 13, into the fantasy playoffs. In Week 14, Williams faces the Patriots in New England, followed by the Vikings at home and the Giants in New York for the Giants’ last home game of the season.

If you’re a proud Williams owner, you should deal him away to the highest bidder this week or next before you get stuck in the dumps with him during the playoffs.

Smitty from Fantasy Football Xtreme says:

Every season, a grip of players step up during Weeks 14-16, while others shockingly disappoint. It’s a tough business predicting either, but I have come up with two names. I have talked a lot about running backs and wide receivers over the past few weeks, so this week I’m going to focus on quarterbacks.

One quarterback worth talking about before we even sniff Weeks 14-16 is Kurt Warner. The aging quarterback has been hit or miss this season, and he has thrown 7 interceptions over the past three games putting him at 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year. He has also fumbled the football twice over the last three weeks.

You’re probably guessing that Warner is my “unload” recommendation for Weeks 14-16, right? Wrong.

While I will admit that I have concerns about the aging quarterback staying healthy long enough to see Week 14, he has a fantastic fantasy playoff schedule. The Cardinals face the 49ers (28th) in Week 14, the Lions (29th) in Week 15 and Rams (24th) in Week 16. If healthy, Warner should have a fantastic finish to the fantasy season.

As for my top quarterback to unload before we hit Week 14, I have to go with Carson Palmer.

The Bengals passing schedule isn’t impossible, as they have two decent match-ups in Weeks 14 and 16 in the Vikings (23rd) and Chiefs (29th), but they do have a rough contest against the Chargers (6th) in Week 15. I know Palmer had a monster 5-touchdown performance before his Week 8 bye, where he completed 20-of-24 passes, but before that Week 7 outing, Palmer’s completion percentage was under 60 and he had almost as many interceptions (7) as he had touchdowns (8).

On the year, Palmer has yet to pass for over 300 yards. His Week 7 stats are making him look strong, but I’m predicting that he and the Bengals struggle down the stretch. I say unload Palmer now and take a lateral step into a quarterback with less risk.

Trade Palmer for a Ben Roethlisberger or a Matt Ryan. Both quarterbacks probably have similar perceived value, yet I like both better than Palmer down the stretch (especially in Weeks 14-16).

Junkyard Jake from Junkyard Jake says:

Glancing ahead to the fantasy playoff weeks this year, it appears that Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing game could benefit from a very favorable set of defensive matchups. During Weeks 14 through 16, the Saints face Atlanta on the road and then Dallas and Tampa Bay at home.

As if Brees needed an additional advantage, all three of these games will be in a dome. Moreover, all three of these defenses currently rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of points allowed by opposing quarterbacks.

In contrast to Brees’s favorable playoff schedule, it looks like the Bears’ Matt Forte could have a tougher time. Forte is already having a slightly disappointing season, and it doesn’t appear that he will catch a break during the fantasy playoff Weeks of 14, 15 and 16 when he is slated to face Green Bay, Baltimore and then Minnesota.

Green Bay has been allowing only 91 rush yards per game, and they have yielded just 3 rushing touchdowns so far. Forte’s Week 15 opponent, Baltimore, has allowed just 79 yards per game on the ground. Forte then faces the Vikings in Week 16, a team that touts the No. 2 run defense in the league.

Hatty from Hatty Waiver Wire Guru says:

So essentially we are looking at a buy low/sell high for the playoff run. Having the right RB for the playoffs is a huge key to victory and health is a major consideration for playoff runs.

My sell high right now would be LaDainian Tomlinson. He is coming off a two-touchdown performance, but again is a huge injury concern. You just can’t afford to go into playoffs with one of your top running backs leaving due to injury.

The running back I would work hard to obtain for the playoffs would be a running back who receives a major workload on a team making a run for the playoffs. Cedric Benson helped me to win a fantasy championship in the past and is a stellar running back to go into playoffs with.  He is not prone to injury, doesn’t play in an RBBC situation and is on a team that has a solid chance at making the playoffs.

Ryan Lester from Lester’s Legends says:

Looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, there are a couple of wide receivers that I would love to own and one that I want no part of.

The wide receivers that I love for the fantasy playoffs are Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. Aside from being two of the best wide receivers in the game, there are some other reasons that make them so valuable when fantasy owners need them the most.

First of all, neither team is running away with their division meaning they will likely go full tilt the whole season as they vie for a playoff spot. While wide receivers like Reggie Wayne and Marques Colston are in the driver’s seat of their respective divisions, Fitz and A.J. are not. It’s conceivable that Wayne and Colston get a reduced workload in your league’s championship game. You don’t have to worry about that with Fitz or A.J.

They also have favorable schedules in the fantasy playoffs. Fitz plays at San Francisco, at Detroit and finishes at home against St. Louis. Week 14 could be tough for him, but the final two games could bring the monster performances you expected out of Fitz when you drafted him.

Andre Johnson’s schedule is also a breeze. He starts off at home against Seattle, travels to St. Louis and finishes at Miami. Obviously, I don’t like his championship opponent as much as Fitz, but if he leads you to the title game, you’re in the money anyway.

On the flip side, the player I don’t want on my team come fantasy playoffs time is Carolina’s Steve Smith.

The Panthers start off on the road at New England. Weather is very much a factor in New England in December, which doesn’t bode well for members of the passing game. Next up is Minnesota at home. The pressure that Jared Allen and company put on opposing quarterbacks could make for a long day. Finally, he finishes up against the Giants on the road in the swirling winds.

Smith faces three of the best teams in the league, two in what are likely to be bad-weather games, during the fantasy playoffs. Not to mention he plays in a run-first offense. If I were a Steve Smith owner and had championship aspirations, I’d try to move him now that he’s coming off a pair of good games.

Eric Stashin of Rotoprofessor says:

One of the players I would like to own down the stretch is Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons.

Fantasy football playoffs are tough because if you have a player who is on a team that is coasting into the playoffs, you just don’t know how much they are going to play. With the Falcons, they are three games behind the division lead already, but they are primed for a dogfight to take home the wild card.

In addition, the Falcons take on the New Orleans Saints (middle of the road in rushing defense), New York Jets (sans their big run stuffer, Kris Jenkins), the Buffalo Bills (currently allowing the most rushing yards per game in the league) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (need I say anymore).

That seems like the perfect set-up for a big way to close the season. He’s one of the best backs in the league, and if you are in a position to acquire him for the stretch drive, there is no reason to hesitate.

As for players to avoid, you almost have to look at the flip side: Which team appears to be ready to coast into the playoffs as well as having a tough schedule?

The Minnesota Vikings could be that team, as they have a lead in the division and have the Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and New York Giants on the schedule over the final four weeks. Three of those four teams are likely to be in contention for a playoff spot. The easiest game (Panthers) is on the road, as is the game in Chicago, so you don’t know what will happen there.

The likelihood is that the team focuses on the run, as they’ve already shown that they will do, meaning Brett Favre and the Vikings receivers may struggle down the stretch.

Paul Greco from Fantasy Pros 911 says:

I love looking ahead. Why you ask? Well, if I’m looking ahead to Weeks 14 through 17, that means I have a shot at the playoff. Yup, I’m about to make it rain in the Greco household.

The one player that I’d like to unload, not only during the Weeks 14 through 17, but right now, is Carolina Panther’s running back DeAngelo Williams. Coming off a huge game on the ground in Week 8, right now is the time to look to unload Williams.

Starting Week 11, Williams has the toughest Strength-of-Schedule (SOS) the rest of the season. With games against the Miami Dolphins (Week 11), New York Jets (Week 12), New England Patriots (Week 14) and the Minnesota Vikings (Week 15), all four teams are currently ranked in the top 10 for rush defense.

Cedric Benson, running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, is a player you must look to add to your team now. C.B. has the easiest SOS of any running back starting Week 11.

With games against the Oakland Raiders (Week 11), Cleveland Browns (Week 12), Detroit Lions (Week 13), San Diego Chargers (Week 15) and the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 16), all five teams give up an average of 117 rushing yards a game or worse.

C.B. has shown he can carry the load for the Bengals, so why not your team? Look to make a move for CB now, and enjoy big gains the rest of the season.

Bryce McRae from KFFL says:

My pickup for the playoffs: the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kolby Smith (knee). He’s a deep sleeper, yes, but it shouldn’t cost much to get him, and he could pay huge dividends.

Starter Larry Johnson’s suspension ends after Week 9, but the team has given some thought to releasing him. At some point, they have to start looking toward the future.

Jamaal Charles, a third-round pick last year, is expected to shoulder most of the load this week. He’s more of a speedy change-of-pace back, however, and the Chiefs have utilized him as a rusher only 23 times this year. A lot of that has come out of passing downs, too.

This leads us to Smith; the third-year back has carried a full workload in the past (Weeks 12 through 16 in 2007: 100 carries for 387 yards and two scores), and he says he has confidence in his rehabilitated knee. Head coach Todd Haley says Smith is moving around well in practice, too. Smith has the bulk (5-foot-11, 219 pounds) that could help him hold up as a primary back over the speedier Charles.

Kansas City faces the Buffalo Bills (most rushing yards allowed per game to backs this year), the Cleveland Browns (third most) and the Cincinnati Bengals in Weeks 14 through 16, respectively. Cincy isn’t a great matchup, but Smith could be a beast during those two first games.

On the flip side, one player I’m looking to unload before the playoffs is the San Francisco 49ers’ Michael Crabtree. I don’t have much faith in Alex Smith behind center for the long term. I feel defenses might be able to shut down Crabtree, too, once they have more film on him and how the 49ers are using him. Remember: This is still a run-first offense.

Also, I don’t believe his value will be any higher after his first three games. Wait for him to burn the Tennessee Titans, a generous defense to this position, in Week 9 and then sell high on the former Texas Tech wideout.

The defenses Crabtree will face in the traditional playoffs weeks: the Detroit Lions (Week 14), the Arizona Cardinals (Week 15) and the Philadelphia Eagles (Week 16). Philly’s D has been one of the top against this position all season while the other two have shown improvement in the last month. Plus, Detroit’s run D has been bad enough that San Fran might opt to pound the ball.

Kurt Turner from Top-Fantasy-Football says:

Strength of schedule is key when planning for the fantasy football playoffs. Teams like Arizona, San Diego and Miami all have juicy matchups. FFToolbox.com has a nice tool you can use found here that analyzes matchups by position for you.

Here are my picks to own and unload: Kurt Warner and Roddy White.

Snatch up Kurt Warner. He should be a beast in the playoffs. Trade for him now and don’t be afraid to overpay, especially if you’re hurting at quarterback.

A guy I don’t like for the playoffs is Roddy White. White faces some tough pass defenses weeks 14, 15 and 16. If you can get Warner for White (and some change) and still have some other good options at wide receiver, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Good Luck!

That’s all for this week’s Fourth & 1 Debate. While I am largely a fan of riding hot hands into the ground rather than trading them away because of perceived slumps on the horizon, preparing for the fantasy football playoffs is a necessity.

Oh, and if you have a championship game in Week 17, slap your commish again for me.

As always, the comments are yours. Have a player you’re concerned about for the fantasy playoffs? Would you like to add more names to the hat of players to add/drop? Leave a comment to let us know.

On the Wire: Week 5 Pickups, Drops and Bye Week Filler

I wanted to make a switch this past weekend at defense to sub in the New Orleans Saints D/ST for the Green Bay Packers D/ST.

Considering they had the same bye week and with some doubt in the Saints’ newly discovered fantasy worthiness, I was slow to make that change. I thought the Packers D/ST might somehow know how to beat Brett Favre.

On Sunday, ESPN’s server login problems kept me from reconsidering. Today, looking at a 10-point loss and a big three points from Green Bay’s defense, I very much regret that decision.

But it’s a lesson. Just goes to show you that you should always be aggressive. This week, with bye weeks hitting your team now or in the near future, it’s important to clear that dead weight from your roster.

That loss is going to sting for a good while. But now, let’s get to making things better for all involved. This week’s waiver wire pickups are in priority order, but your preference may vary depending on your own team needs. If you have any trouble choosing between these pickups or debating whom to drop from your current roster, leave a question in the comments to open it up to discussion.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
As long as Willie Parker stays down and out and as long as the Steelers face defensive lines like the Chargers’ weak one, Mendenhall is showing a lot of promise. Maybe the Steelers have a running game after all? In Sunday night’s game, Mendenhall rushed at will for 165 yards with 26 receiving yards and two touchdowns against San Diego. His next two games are against Detroit and Cleveland. Go get him while you can.

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns
Now that the Browns have some kind of offense, it’s worth keeping tabs on their primary running back. James Davis is now on IR, which leaves Harrison as the best warm body behind the injured Jamal Lewis. Harrison rushed for 121 yards and caught 31 yards in the Browns loss to the Bengals. In PPR leagues, that makes for some decent bench depth. In non-PPR leagues, there’s a chance the Browns could show signs of life enough to make Harrison worthy of a play during bye weeks.

New Orleans Saints D/ST
I’ve now learned from my mistake and fully endorse this defense. At last check, they were second in the NFL in blitzing behind only the New York Jets. Add that to the play of Darren Sharper and the potential of Reggie Bush on special teams, and this unit looks to be reliable throughout 2009. If someone in your league drops them while they are on bye, make sure you are the one who picks them up by Week 6. Besides the Giants (Week 6) and Patriots (Week 12), the Saints have a schedule full of very winnable games the rest of this season.

San Francisco 49ers D/ST
The 49ers D/ST is also very legit this season and not on bye this week. Bonus!

David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
More than likely, he’s owned in your league, but in case you haven’t noticed, he’s looking like more than just a reliable bye week fill. The Jaguars can throw the ball–one year after I had to draft Garrard as part of a quarterback by committee in 2008.

Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Five catches for 70 yards and as touchdown. Sounds like he’s ready for that breakout year we’ve been expecting just as long as Brett Favre will accommodate. That late throw by Favre down the sidelines seems to suggest he won’t remain a game manager much longer.

Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Cleveland Browns
Just like his running back counterpart, Massaquoi had a pulse in the Browns game this week. His eight catches for 148 yards to Braylon Edwards zero catches may suggest that Edwards has fallen out of favor. Add to that accusations that Edwards punched a friend of LeBron James, an offense punishable by death in Cleveland, and I’m seeing stars align for Massaquoi to be the big-play threat of the Browns’ passing game. Sure, that’s not a big threat, but it’s something.

Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans
If the Titans keep digging a hole early in games, Washington should see even more targets. He’s a more elusive wide receiver than Justin Gage with the ball in his hands, and he could be a decent bye week fill against the Colts and Patriots these next two weeks.

Josh Morgan, WR, San Francisco 49ers
He came out against the Rams and should have had two scores. He’s the best receiver the 49ers have on their current roster, and the 49ers may look to throw more regularly as long as Gore remains out. All good reasons to have Morgan on your team if someone else gave up on him.

Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
Finley’s 128 yards and one touchdown performance was the breakout game we were all waiting for this season, and Donald Lee’s critical drop may have the Packers turning to Finley for an even larger role after their bye week. He’s certainly one of, if not the most promising tight end to own as a TE2 at this point in the season. Pick him up if you have the roster space or have a need at tight end. Otherwise, wait to see how he does after the bye.

Josh Johnson, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I told you that I liked this kid. Coach Raheem Morris does, too. But don’t throw him in there against the Philadelphia Eagles, coming off of a bye, this week. Let him incubate.

Derek Anderson, QB, Cleveland Browns
The Browns are alive in the hands of Anderson. As long as you can live with his mistakes, he has a nice matchup against the Bills this week.

Seneca Wallace, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Wallace could make for reliable bye-week filler against the Jaguars this week, but he’s a dangerous choice since Hasselbeck could return this week. Watch the practice reports before you go get him.

And now the ones you should just keep an eye on…

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
As the passing game comes alive, so does Lewis, but don’t jump on him unless you are desperate for him after his 76-yard, one touchdown performance this week.

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets
He didn’t get a significant number of carries on Sunday, but he saw the field. This showing wasn’t enough to say he’s taking a role in the offense, but we could see him takeover if Thomas Jones continues to decline in comparison to Leon Washington. By season’s end, it could be Greene and Washington splitting time, and that would certainly make him worth owning. He’s a stash in deeper leagues.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Denver Broncos
Hillis could be in line for more carries if Correll Buckhalter misses this week’s game with a sprained ankle. Against the Patriots, Hillis might be productive, but he’d likely split time with Knowshon Moreno and LaMont Jordan. If you’re looking to long shot, he’s not a terrible one this week.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins didn’t put the game in his hands on Sunday, but he looked promising against the Bills. His schedule gets brutal for the next three to four weeks, but look for him to show what he can offer starting in Week 9. His playoff schedule could make him a sneaky play.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
He’s not a must-have just yet, but Nicks showed why he was drafted this week with that quick stop-and-go at the goal line for his first NFL touchdown. Mario Manningham took a back seat in this one, and that might be the trend going forward. But don’t get any ideas. Steve Smith is still the No. 1 receiver in New York, and he’s a solid fantasy option for the rest of the season.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
He isn’t getting enough playing time early in games to justify owning him in most leagues, but Britt could be in line for more catches as the third receiver in the Titans offense when they face the Colts this week. Britt had 105 receiving yards this week against the Jaguars.

Guys you should already own by now: Vernon Davis, 49ers; Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars; Tashard Choice, Cowboys; Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers.

Guys you can drop if you so choose: Chris Henry, Bengals; Darren McFadden, Raiders; Michael Bush, Raiders; Zach Miller, Raiders (especially now that he’s concussed); anyone else, Raiders; James Davis, Browns (He’s on IR, silly, and should only be kept in dynasty leagues at this point.); Earnest Graham, Buccaneers; Mike Bell, Saints, Jason Campbell, Redskins.

As an addendum to this week’s On the Wire, see which players I picked as the best “buy low” and “sell high” candidates in last week’s Fourth & 1 debate roundtable, hosted by Top Fantasy Football.

For more waiver wire grabs, check out Fantasy Football Librarian’s two collections, Fanhouse, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and FF Toolbox’s deep league and standard league pickups.

As always, the comments are yours. Ask us a question. We love to answer them.