Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Smiles & Frowns: Snow Day!

Mother Nature reminded us of a couple major points this past week: the weather changes everything, and NFL stars are humans.

I remember a “snow day” and a snow football game that took place in my backyard once upon a time. It looked a lot like the NFL game in Cleveland this past Sunday between the Browns and the Bills. There weren’t any 300-pound athletes, we didn’t play cover-2 defense and no one was watching; but the snow, the mud and the chilling winds—they were all the same.

The weather can be quite humbling. A group of kids on a snow day, your average athlete and even NFL stars (on your fantasy team) can only do so much in a blizzard with 30 to 40 mile-per-hour winds. The clouds rain on Tom Brady, too; Randy Moss’s hands get wet; and the wind does not redirect Eli Manning’s already inaccurate passes. The lesson to all of us then: dull your expectations when your players confront some of the blustery weather conditions that our heroes did on Sunday.

So for those of us going into the last week of the fantasy season in most leagues, let’s heed Mother Nature’s reminder. And let’s get everyone a cup of hot cocoa. With the little marshmallows.

A couple of my key decisions from this past week:

Decision #1: Tampa Bay Defense or Jacksonville Defense

Theory: Find the team in disarray and exploit them

The Scenario: Atlanta versus Tampa Bay, in Tampa Bay. Michael Vick is sentenced two almost two years in jail on the Monday preceding this past week's game. Bobby Petrino quits the next day, on the Tuesday preceding the upcoming game, leaving the rest of his 24-Million dollar contract on the table. Michael Vick. Bobby Petrino. Michael Vick. Bobby Petrino. Michael Vick. Bobby Petrino. Michael Vick. Bobby Petrino. Veterans unhappy. A traitor; a quarterback carousel; an owner betrayed. The 2007 Atlanta Falcons are in a total and unique state of disarray. Meanwhile, their opponent, Tampa Bay, had a chance to clinch the NFC South with a win.

My alternative, the Jaguars defense, has been very strong this season too, although they were headed on the road against a solid opponent in Pittsburgh. I had to go with Tampa Bay.

The Aftermath: Chris Redman got thrown to the wolves. He started at quarterback for the Falcons, playing in his 15th contest in eight NFL seasons, finishing the day 4 for 15 passing for 34 yards and two interceptions. Tampa returned one of those two interceptions for a touchdown, added two fumble recoveries, a sack and actually recorded their first kickoff return for a touchdown in franchise history (in franchise history!) en route to a 37-3 victory. They banked a lot of points. The Jaguars on the other hand won a surprisingly high-scoring contest against Pittsburgh in the snow, recording five sacks and no turnovers.

Verdict: Good call. Now this certainly wasn’t my most brilliant managerial move ever, so I won’t pat myself on the back. But this is a good place to make the underlying point: players are human. The Falcons had nothing to play for—the season is over, the coach quit, their franchise quarterback—and to many of them, a friend—just got sentenced to two years in prison. The “leaders” and veterans are angry, and rightfully so, and many of them have spoken publicly about it. The team is in total disarray.

Find these teams and players and use it to your advantage. This Bears, while a prouder and more talented team, are headed in this direction. Yes, these players are professionals and it is a job, after all, but no doubt certain teams and players are less motivated than others. Home field advantage is what it is in large part due to the fact that they have the support of their fans. The same applies. Where there is less support and less motivation, performance diminishes. Study the opponent when deciding which of your players to go with this week.

Decision #2: WR Dwayne Bowe or WR Santonio Holmes

Theory: When in doubt, avoid bad weather

The Scenario: I wanted to start Holmes. He’s a more experienced receiver on a better team, with a better quarterback in Roethlisberger. But, as mentioned above, Pittsburgh was the site of one of the winter-wonderland games.

Alternatively, Bowe is a rookie receiver with a very inexperienced second-year quarterback slinging the ball to him in Brodie Croyle (who ended up having a fine fantasy day, I should add—better than Brady’s). Rookie receivers have a tendency to wear down, too. On top of that, Kansas City was out of the playoff hunt headed into the game, while its opponent, the Titans, had their playoff lives on the line. Also, Bowe has scored only one touchdown in the past ten weeks (still one more than I have).

Holmes’ greatest asset, I think, is his speed; speed doesn’t kill in the snow. I decided to go with Bowe.

The Aftermath: Bowe caught five for 64, and Holmes finishing with four for 34 and a two-point conversion. Slight edge to Bowe.

Verdict: Conditions being equal, I would have decided to go with Holmes. But Heinz field has been a disaster this year, and I just wanted to play it safe. I usually adhere to the theory, "go with your guy”, but I think I was justified here going with Bowe. If nothing else, I learned the zip code to Pittsburgh when I looked up the weather forecast.

If you’re still alive, good luck this week!

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