One of the reasons we play fantasy sports is that it's a contact-free way to experience the highs and lows of sport itself. It's a way to cheer along with the players on the field when someone on your (and their) team breaks a long run for a touchdown. When a quarterback throws an ill-timed interception, you suffer along with the player whose team is suddenly on its heels. And in one moment, everything can change.
Take, for instance, last Thursday night's game between the Bears and the Saints. On my most important team, Matt Forte is one of my two starting running backs and a vital reason why I even made it to the playoffs. I was excited about his matchup, as the Saints haven't been strong against the run all year. And then ... it happened. On the Bears FIRST PLAY FROM SCRIMMAGE, Forte gets tackled on a one-yard run ... and limps off the field. As I was listening to the game on the radio, I couldn't honestly believe what I was hearing.
In a flash, though, I knew my playoff season was hanging in the balance. Is that a bit of hyperbole? Nope. You can't have a starting running back give you a bagel in the playoffs and hope to really compete. If Thursday had turned into the "other Adrian Peterson show," I was hosed. If I'd been hoping for a 30-carry night, that was never going to happen with Forte leaving the field to get looked at in the locker room.
As it turned out, Forte did return and scored a touchdown to go with about 60 combined rushing and receiving yards, including five receptions. In most leagues, that was either a slightly underwhelming performance to about average scoring, depending on your system. And that's fine. It's the kind of outing that won't help your team win, but it's not going to be the reason you lose. Quite frankly, such "pedestrian" performances are critical to fantasy success.
We all want to catch lightning in a bottle and have DeAngelo Williams or Michael Turner score four TDs for us, each and every week. Or, better yet, Williams and Turner score eight TDs for you. (Both of those backs are in the top five for RBs so far this year, by the way. So much for draft day predictions.) Williams has basically been unstoppable since Week 6, achieving success along withJonathan Stewart, instead of splitting fantasy points between two of them. But Turner, who was drafted rounds higher than Williams in every league I know of, has had mediocre days along with amazing performances. World beater Brian Westbrook (my fantasy nemesis) goes from scoring multiple TDs in a game to almost being shut out entirely. It's hard to get consistency from a player. It might just be the single most valuable fantasy commodity around.
Take, for instance, some of your big boys who got you to the dance but now look a little gimpy. I'm talking about Brandon Jacobs, Joseph Addai and Clinton Portis. What do you do? Do you dance with the date that brung you, or go with that pretty girl staring at you from her lonely seat across the room? As always, it depends. Portis is the easiest call. You start him, despite his woes the last few weeks and the fact that he went off on coach Jim Zorn on the radio last week. All of it, plus the critical playoff implications for Washington and the porous Cincinnati defense, makes for what should be a big day for Portis. Addai and Jacobs are different. I'd sit both of them if I had better options. They're studs, to be sure, but they aren't healthy and there are other solid runners on their teams to take their carries.
So, when your guys are battling injuries, there are decisions to make, but your cards are at least on the table. Other decisions aren't exactly no-brainers.
What, for instance, to do with Jets receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery? They've both essentially disappeared since Week 9. Each of them has had one startable game since then, and it's impossible to know what you are getting. That's a pretty dicey proposition if your fantasy life depends on them. (And as an aside, I think my New Year's resolution this year will be to finally learn how to spell Laveranues without having to consult the web.) Coles is an easier decision for me. The kid stays OUT of the picture and is on the bench. He's clearly not a favored target of Favre, and although he's always a candidate for a big game, I think Cotchery has more upside. I'm really not happy if I have to start either of them.
One last note on Forte, and the rest of the Bears. They don't play again until next Monday night. That's 11 days of rest, which is great news for Forte in particular, but all these guys, including the Saints, who play on Sunday. I'm never one for drafting a team for its schedule, because that usually means making decisions about the quality of defenses they're playing against. But now, I'm thinking that if I see a player who gets that kind of break during the fantasy playoffs, it's going to bump up his value a little for me. You don't think Forte is going to be pretty refreshed and ready to go against the Packers next Monday night? If I make it through this round, it could be the kind of thing that puts my team over the edge.
Moving onto fantasy baseball, the one sport that stays fantasy relevant even during the offseason -- CC Sabathia is now a Yankee, and I've heard some folks predict as many as 25 wins for him. People, this is what we call "crazy talk." Predicting wins is like predicting the weather. You can use baseline information, tons of research, and predictive models, and it still frequently rains on your forecasted sunny day. Does Sabathia have a good chance of success in the Bronx? Of course, and I think he'll have a very good fantasy year. But if wins were easy to predict, and a direct result of great pitching, then Matt Cain would be a stud instead of a mediocre fantasy option.
Discounting those elusive wins, a potential fantasy gem might be Randy Johnson if he decides to sign with the Giants, as some have suggested. Johnson is past his prime, but when you are The Big Unit, you still might have some gas in the tank. Pitching in an extremely friendly park for hurlers, Johnson could have a great season and be available for a pretty deep discount.
Alright, I'm out of time here. If you are still in the playoffs, good luck. We all need it.