Whether you're 4-0, 0-4 or somewhere in the middle, there's always a roster tweak to be made. At this point, the strengths and weaknesses of every team in your league should be pretty clear. The teams toward the bottom of the standings are likely getting desperate, and even those in the middle or at the top could use that one last guy to get them over the top. In other words, the next couple weeks are ripe for trading. A few weeks ago, I rolled out my Manifesto for Bench Management. This time around, we don't have time for a manifesto. We need to get out there and deal in time for kickoff on Sunday. Let's call this one the Beller Primer for Trade Success (not endorsed by David Kahn).
1. After Week 4, it's not early anymore: I know, the rhyme scheme isn't exactly Shakespearean, but it should help you remember a basic fact. It seems like just yesterday we were talking about how the San Francisco 49ers would roll through the NFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs were certain to be a doormat and Ray Rice was just a step or two behind Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew on draft boards. But do you realize how long ago the NFL season started? Back then, Omar Minaya still had a job and the San Diego Padres were still in first place. Get with the times, man. With apologies to Dennis Green, not all players are who we thought they were. While there are a handful of struggling players I'm targeting in trades (detailed below), we've seen a large enough sample to formulate new realities for every player in the league. Don't let what you thought was true in the summer cloud what you've seen this fall.
2. A sky without stars doesn't shine: This touches a little on something Jay Clemons said last week, but it warrants repeating. Do not trade your stars unless you get one in return. Even though a rash of injuries and bye weeks may tempt you into dealing a star player for depth, you can only do that in the direst of circumstances. Depth is necessary, but fantasy football remains a star-driven game.
3. Beware the two-for-one: I haven't done a scientific study or anything, but if a two-for-one deal is going down, I want to be the guy getting the "one" 95 percent of the time. More often than not, two-for-ones are rip-offs with window dressing. In a way, it goes in tandem with rule No. 2. The solo player in a two-for-one is almost always going to be a superstar, and the pair of guys going back the other way purportedly will make up the difference and then some, while spreading out that production at multiple positions. This is the type of trade you can only afford to make if your team has been ravaged by injuries or you had the worst draft or auction in modern history. The only exception is when dealing from a position like quarterback or tight end, where you only start one guy per week. A small downgrade there, especially considering the slimmer standard deviation in performance, is worth upgrading or adding depth at another position. On the flip side, I love proposing two-for-ones. Look for a team in a desperate situation and try to take advantage.
4. Don't let bye weeks bully you: Most owners will face a week in which two or three of their regular starters on byes. With six teams apiece getting a rest in Weeks 8 and 9, starting lineups can get pretty dicey. The good news? It's just one week. Anything can happen in one week. You want proof? Brandon Lloyd had 11 catches and 115 yards last Sunday. Ryan Torain ran for 70 yards and a score. The lesson? Just because one-third of your regular lineup is on a bye doesn't guarantee a loss. If you make astute pickups and plan ahead by using the waiver wire, you'll be just fine. Never sacrifice a player who will make a difference for you across multiple weeks just to shore up your lineup for one Sunday.
I wouldn't be laying out my rules for trading if I weren't thinking of deals I myself could make. Here are some players I'm targeting.
Eli Manning -- The numbers don't look impressive, but Eli is getting a respectable 7.6 YPA, and a number of his interceptions have come on tipped balls that his receivers should have caught. Still, he has one of the best trios of receivers in the league, and now that Ahmad Bradshaw is getting the bulk of the snaps at running back, he has an outlet that can take a screen pass all the way. He gets the porous Texans pass defense this week followed by the Lions next week, so the window to buy low in Eli may be closed soon.
Ray Rice -- There's no doubt that Rice has been one of the most disappointing fantasy players this year. But the Ravens have played the Steelers and Jets, who rank second and third in rush defense by DVOA, with both teams about 33 percent better than league average against the run. Baltimore's other two opponents this season, the Bengals and Browns, both rank in the top half of the league in yards per carry against. Rice has a much softer schedule coming up, including the league-worst Bills.
Ryan Mathews -- The fact that there's still a large degree of risk with Mathews (ankle, Mike Tolbert doing his best fly-in-the-ointment impression) should only reduce the price. He may have been playing the Cardinals, but he looked explosive last week, and only needed nine carries to rack up 55 yards and a touchdown. When you inquire, make sure you mention Tolbert's presence as an impediment to fantasy stardom for the rookie.
DeAngelo Williams -- He probably brought some of his owners in off the ledge with his 86-yard, one-touchdown performance last week, but he hasn't been the top back everyone expected. Just like teammate Steve Smith, circumstances beyond his control are largely responsible. With Jimmy Clausen under center, the Panthers are likely to lean on the run even more than they usually do. Carolina hosts Chicago this week, and the Bears had completely shut down the run before Ahmad Bradshaw tore them apart last week. You may be able to wait one week and let Williams' price bottom out before pouncing on him.
Randy Moss -- We've got way more on Moss below, but he sports one of the more bizarre stat lines this season. Even though he has four touchdowns, his lack of receptions (nine?!?) and targets (22) is alarming. Now Brett Favre's top target in Minnesota, you're going to have to pony up to get him, but it's not hard to see a huge breakout on the horizon.
Mike Wallace -- It seems like I talk about this guy every week, with good reason. Both of Wallace's touchdowns this season may have come on fortuitous bounces, but that doesn't change the fact that he had the defense beat. Now that Ben Roethlisberger is back, Wallace finally gets someone who can hit him with the deep ball. He has just nine receptions and 211 yards on the season, so he might be pretty easy to pry loose. I see him as a top-20 receiver for the remainder of the year.
Steve Smith (NYG) -- After spending a pretty high draft pick on Smith and seeing Eli Manning rack up 1,005 yards, Smith's owners are probably frustrated to see him with 211 yards (hey, same as Wallace!) and no touchdowns. The fact remains that the Giants passing game can be explosive, and Smith is Manning's favorite target between the 20s. I prefer him to Marques Colston going forward.
Before I set off the next huge Internet rumor, I want to get one thing straight. Gordon Bombay isn't making a comeback. I know, I'd love to see it, too, but that knee just won't hold up. No, the Minnesota Miracle to which I'm referring is the return of Randy Moss. I'd slightly upgrade him for two reasons. First, he'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Second, Favre is willing to take more downfield shots than Tom Brady. Everyone in Minnesota gets a bump, as adding Moss takes pressure off the run game and attention away from everyone else. If and when Sidney Rice comes back, this offense could be scary-good.
Back in New England, the big loser in the deal is Brady, who loses one of the league's elite receivers. Even when he isn't catching passes, Moss' mere presence is a complete game-changer for any defense. Brady will lean on Wes Welker, Brandon Tate and his tight ends with Moss gone, but don't trade one of the best receivers to ever play in the league and just absorb the loss. Tate is one the Patriot whose stock rises with this move, as he'll likely step into the starting role alongside Welker and has the ability to stretch the field.
1. Petyon Manning vs. Chiefs2. Aaron Rodgers @ Redskins3. Drew Brees vs. Cardinals4. Eli Manning @ Texans5. Philip Rivers @ Raiders6. Joe Flacco vs. Broncos7. Matt Schaub vs. Giants8. Tony Romo vs. Titans9. Matt Ryan @ Browns10. Donovan McNabb vs. Packers11. Carson Palmer vs. Buccaneers12. Sam Bradford @ Lions13. Mark Sanchez vs. Vikings14. Kyle Orton @ Ravens15. Jay Cutler @ Panthers
1. Maurice Jones-Drew (ankle) @ Bills2. Michael Turner @ Browns3. Adrian Peterson @ Jets4. Arian Foster vs. Giants5. Ahmad Bradshaw @ Texans6. Chris Johnson @ Cowboys7. Jamaal Charles @ Colts8. Frank Gore vs. Eagles9. Steven Jackson (groin) @ Lions10. Ray Rice (knee) vs. Broncos11. DeAngelo Williams vs. Bears12. Jahvid Best (turf toe) vs. Rams13. Peyton Hillis vs. Falcons14. Joseph Addai vs. Chiefs15. Cedric Benson vs. Buccaneers16. Mike Tolbert @ Raiders17. Matt Forte @ Panther18. Ryan Mathews (ankle) @ Raiders19. Ryan Torain vs. Packers20. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Vikings21. Thomas Jones @ Colts22. LeSean McCoy (ribs) @ 49ers23. Pierre Thomas (ankle) @ Cardinals24. Fred Jackson vs. Jaguars25. Darren McFadden (hamstring) vs. Chargers26. Michael Bush vs. Chargers27. Beanie Wells vs. Saints28. Ladell Betts @ Cardinals29. Marion Barber vs. Titans30. C.J. Spiller vs. Jaguars
1. Reggie Wayne vs. Chiefs2. Miles Austin vs. Titans3. Calvin Johnson vs. Rams4. Roddy White @ Browns5. Randy Moss @ Jets6. Greg Jennings @ Redskins7. Hakeem Nicks @ Texans8. Andre Johnson (ankle) vs. Giants9. Anquan Boldin vs. Broncos10. DeSean Jackson @ 49ers11. Austin Collie vs. Chiefs12. Steve Smith (NYG) @ Texans13. Terrell Owens vs. Buccaneers14. Braylon Edwards vs. Vikings15. Marques Colston @ Cardinals16. Donald Driver @ Redskins17. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Saints18. Malcom Floyd @ Raiders19. Lance Moore @ Cardinals20. Chad Ochocinco vs. Buccaneers21. DezBryant (ribs, hip) vs. Titans22. Percy Harvin @ Jets23. Kevin Walter vs. Giants24. Santana Moss vs. Packers25. Mark Clayton @ Rams26. Santonio Holmes vs. Vikings27. Brandon Lloyd @ Ravens28. Michael Crabtree vs. Eagles29. Derrick Mason vs. Broncos30. Dwayne Bowe @ Colts
1. Antonio Gates @ Raiders2. Jermichael Finley @ Redskins3. Dustin Keller vs. Vikings4. Dallas Clark vs. Chiefs5. Kellen Winslow @ Bengals6. Vernon Davis vs. Eagles7. Tony Gonzalez @ Browns8. Tony Moeaki @ Colts9. ZachMiller vs. Chargers10. Brent Celek @ 49ers11. Greg Olsen @ Panthers12. Visanthe Shiancoe @ Jets13. Jeremy Shockey @ Cardinals14. Jermaine Gresham vs. Buccaneers15. Marcedes Lewis @ Bills
All three of our suggestions made us sweat it out last week, but the Saints, Packers and Falcons all managed to get by. If Jimmy Clausen led a last minute drive to knock me out of survivor, it would have been one of the most upsetting moments of my life. What a huge tackle by Usama Young on DeAngelo Williams to knock the Panthers out of field goal range. As for this week...
1. Indianapolis Colts (vs. Chiefs): I'd be lying if I said I'm not worried about Jamaal Charles racking up 200 yards on the ground. But after losing to the Jaguars last week, the Colts are now 2-2 on the season, including 0-2 in the division. Have the Colts ever lost a game like this in the Peyton Manning-era? I think they'll cruise.
2. Baltimore Ravens (vs. Broncos): I've said in this space time and again how the Ravens have been one of the more disappointing teams this season, but they're 3-1 and they have wins at the Jets and Steelers. We thought we'd have seen more out of their offense by now, but they get the job done. The Broncos are much better than anyone thought they'd be, and the Kyle Orton-Jay Cutler swap appears to at least be closer than what it looked at the time. Still, the Ravens are one of the best teams in the AFC and they've allowed just 5.2 YPA this season. They should handle the Broncos at home.
3. Detroit Lions (vs. Rams): The Lions?!? Yes, it's definitely risky, but there comes a time when you need to stray from the beaten path. The Lions should have beaten the Bears, and their games with the Eagles and Packers (in Green Bay) went down to the wire. The Rams are up and the Lions are down, but is there really much of a variance between the two? I don't think so, and the NFL has a way of correcting that.
Note: I originally had the Jets as my second pick of the week, but I'm not ready to judge the Vikings until I see what they're like with Moss back in the fold.