Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Smiles & Frowns: What the Heck Was I Thinking?!

Rankings are just rankings.

What should happen often does not.

That's why they play the games.

Managing a fantasy team is about making decisions. All that any of us have to guide those decisions—from the novices to the experts—is statistics, trends, injury and weather reports, history, and so forth. After rereading that last sentence, I suppose that is quite a bit of information. But, the point is, aside from reading posts on the league message board pointing out my friends' character flaws, the real fun of managing a team is making choices.

And they're not always good ones. But you have to learn from the bad ones and give yourself plenty of credit for the good ones. I have won my share of leagues and made plenty of blunders leaving myself to wonder, "What the heck was I thinking?!"

With that in mind, I'm going to use this space to explain the theory and logic that guided my own roster decisions from the previous week, and discuss how they played out.

Decision #1: Running Back— Kenny Watson or Maurice Morris

Theory: When your opponent's team is clearly better than yours, take risks.

The Scenario: I was a victim of the bye this week, losing Welker, Brady and the underwhelming Thomas Jones. I had to plug in J.P. Losman and Joe Jurevicius to fill two of the voids, facing up against one of the league's best teams.

Now, after watching Ray Lewis' post-game, locker-side rant following Pittsburgh's 38-7 spanking of Baltimore, I was legitimately scared—scared of Ray Lewis, and scared of using anyone from Baltimore's next opponent: Cincinnati. So there is part of the case against Kenny Watson, as well as the risk that Rudi Johnson would take a bigger cut of Watson's carries.

On the flipside, Shaun Alexander would be a game-time decision on Monday, so if I wanted to roll the dice on backup Morris, I would risk getting stuck with a backup. But Morris has proved to be a capable receiver out of the backfield and the upside was there. As for Watson, he's been averaging 4.4 yards per carry after 98 carries to go with 25 receptions. Not bad. But, with Brady out, a powerful opponent, and Ray Lewis extremely upset, I decided to go with Morris and the upside.

The Aftermath: Alexander was a scratch and Morris got all of Seattle's carries, rushing for 87 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Morris added three catches for 16 yards. Rudi Johnson got the bulk of Cincinnati’s carries and left little for Watson.

Verdict: Good call. My team was overmatched, I still got crushed and dropped to 7-3, but I picked up the extra points.

Decision #2: Running Back— Jamal Lewis or Maurice Morris

Theory: If you are evenly matched with your opponent (or even a slight underdog), don't get cute.

The Scenario: I'm using Morris in a different scenario here to illustrate how it often makes sense to sit a guy in one league that you may want to start in another. Everything is relative.

I do not like having Jamal Lewis on my team. He was one of those "I had to take him because he was still on the board when I was up" picks. Yes, he scored four touchdowns last week, but don't overlook the fact that he averaged less than two yards per carry on 20 carries in that effort. This is not the same Jamal Lewis that ran for 500 yards in two games against the Browns in 2003. Now, he plays for the Brownskies! Worse, the Browns had to make a road trip to Pittsburgh to face the top rush defense in the league.

Still, I felt obliged to start Jamal Lewis over Maurice Morris. At the time Lewis was set to start, Shaun Alexander's status was still uncertain, and I didn't want to be stuck with a backup RB in Morris and leave Lewis and "the points" on the bench. I didn't expect much from Lewis, but I felt I had to go with the starting running back when I had a decent chance against my opponent.

The Aftermath: Lewis stunk and Morris started, putting up 12 more fantasy points than Lewis under that league's settings, and I banged my head against the wall several times.

Verdict: I still think I made the right call. Yet, I still banged my head against the wall.

Decision #3: Defense— Jacksonville or Baltimore

Theory: Names don't win games—pull the plug

The Scenario: The decision to sit Baltimore defense this year is getting easier and easier each week. Yes, Baltimore was probably one of the top three defenses off the board in your league draft. But Baltimore came into this Sunday off a performance where they allowed five touchdown passes to Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

With the Raven's secondary at half-strength and LB Terrell Suggs and DE Trevor Pryce banged up a bit, it was becoming hard to justify starting the Ravens. Meanwhile, Jacksonville was headed on the road to Tennessee against a struggling Vince Young.

Back to the point—names don't win championships. Take the counterexample from last year: Mike Furrey. Furrey finished with an NFC leading 98 receptions in 2006 and over one thousand yards. He came from nowhere and played for the then lowly Lions. But he got the job done. Furrey does not sound like the name of a leading NFL receiver, or even an NFL receiver period.

The Aftermath: I started Jacksonville, and they allowed only thirteen points, adding three turnovers and four sacks. Baltimore? Three sacks, no turnovers and seven field goals allowed.

Verdict: Awesome.
Brett Smiley, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Syracuse Law, is the newest Deputy Justice at SportsJudge.com . His column, Smiles & Frowns, appears on Tuesday afternoons at SportsJudge Blog.

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