Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Between the Tackles: Thawing Out

Welcome back to another edition of "In Between the Tackles." Hopefully you enjoyed last Wednesday's article by Jordan Zucker and if you didn't get a chance to read it, I really recommend checking it out before we get down to business and talk some fantasy football.

Six weeks...that's all we've got left. If you play in a standard fantasy football league that doesn't use Week 17 games, there's a chance you only have two weeks left before playoffs. With that in mind, let's think about strategy.

Redraft Leagues: The approach here is fairly straightforward. Your team falls into one of two camps. If you're clinging to one of the last playoff spots or you're a win or two out of the race, then you need really put your focus on the next couple weeks. Below I will break down the running back position for the remainder of the season, and if you are one of those teams fighting for a spot, take the approach of the federal government and focus on the short-term solutions. It might cost you an opportunity to find that Week 16 stud, but you can't win your league if you don't make the playoffs in the first place. Take care of business before you start planning for the playoffs.

On the other hand, if you're perched in one of the top couple spots and you're just waiting on your first-round opponent to be named, then you need to take a totally different approach. Forget the high-risk pickups for the next week or two. Yes, you might fall a spot or two in the standings, but playoff seeding is totally overrated in fantasy football as long as you aren't playing the #1 team. One strategy that will be totally overlooked amongst the chaos of owners fighting to get into the playoffs is the potential for injury. Think about it, when a big-time running back goes down with an injury like Earnest Graham did this week, every owner will scramble to pickup the Warrick Dunn's of the world. Get ahead of the curve. We've made it through this year surprisingly with only a handful of major RB injuries, but I would be willing to bet there will be some big-time stars go down in the next few weeks and the fantasy landscape will be drastically different come playoff time. You probably have a solid core of good players that have brought you this far. Have a guy like Ahmad Bradshaw stashed away when Brandon Jacobs goes down two weeks from now and you'll be right in position for a championship run.

Dynasty or Keeper Leagues: These types of leagues can vary quite a bit, but if your league allows you to keep players from year to year or trade draft picks then you need to start to think about this. As a league leader, consider trading away your depth for a star to keep, or draft picks for next year. At this point in the year, most teams in your league still think they have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs and might mortgage the future for a chance to make a run. Swing a 3 for 1 deal for a guy like Adrian Peterson and you've set yourself up nicely for years to come. I must warn you not to overvalue future draft picks though. Take a look at the first round of your draft from this year and you'll realize how much has changed in such a short period of time.

Running Down a Dream

Before we get into specific players, I decided to first break down the easiest and toughest remaining schedules for running backs. For the sake of space, I didn't list each team's opponents but I've linked each team to their schedule. Keep in mind situations can change in the next few weeks, but at this point in the season I think we have a pretty firm grip on where each defense stands.

Weakest Remaining Schedules: San Diego, Indianapolis, Houston, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Miami, Chicago

Toughest Remaining Schedules: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Arizona, Washington, Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta

- Warrick Dunn is the new starting running back in Tampa Bay now that Earnest Graham has been placed on season-ending injured reserve. You'll notice Tampa falls into the weakest schedule list above, especially with the hapless Lions on tap for this week. One risk with Dunn is his lack of size, especially around the goalline. Last week, he was stuffed at the end zone repeatedly but this shouldn't deter you from adding him as soon as possible. The most logical goalline back options on the Bucs are B.J. Askew and the recently signed Noah Herron. Both have the size to become a factor in leagues that heavily favor touchdowns. Keep an eye on this next week.
- The mess of a backfield in New England continues, but Sammy Morris is your best bet going forward. The Patriots were in no-huddle comeback mode for the final three quarters last Thursday which kept Morris off the field. If you want a Patriots running back, he is still the man to own.
- Tim Hightower's great rookie season is starting to lose it's momentum. Hightower has been tiptoeing to the line in recent weeks and as a result J.J. Arrington has once again become a big part of the offense. Given that the Cardinals heavily favor the shotgun formation and Arrington is their passing back, consider adding him sooner rather than later.
- I hinted two weeks ago that DeAngelo Williams might be poised for a breakout and he came through for me. Unfortunately, you need to temper your expectations going forward with Jonathan Stewart still in the picture and Tampa Bay and New York on tap for fantasy playoffs.
- If you've been patient with LT and Joseph Addai for this long you are about to be rewarded. Both looked great last week and have excellent matchups on the horizon.
- Steve Slaton ran for an impressive 156 yards last week, but what really caught my eye was the fact that Ahman Green only had five less carries than Slaton. With an easy schedule and Slaton's tiny stature possibly becoming an injury risk, think about stashing Green away for a rainy day.
*Update: Slaton mentioned he was injured after falling on the ball on Sunday -
- Broncos RB Peyton Hillis underwent x-rays on his shoulder following Denver's win over Atlanta on Sunday, but he seems to be okay. Unfortunately, even after two touchdowns, his role in the offense going forward is anything but clear. Selvin Young should return from injury soon and Tatum Bell is a former Mike Shanahan favorite. Ahhh the wonderful consistency of owning a Denver running back.

Hail Mary

Just gonna throw this up and see what happens...

The Tennessee dream of an undefeated season comes to an end on Sunday when the Jets upset the Titans at LP Field. The Jets underrated defense is stout against the run and in a battle of Brett Favre and Kerry Collins I have to go with New York.

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