I love Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday by far. I love the food, especially the mashed potatoes. I love the football, especially now that we have three games to watch, with one rolling right into the next. I love spending the day with my family, especially my cousin, the freshly married Cory, who took a quick 1-0 lead over his wife in the "Let's Spend the Holidays with My Family," battle. Nice work Corn.
But most of all, I love the leftovers. There's nothing like going into the fridge on the Friday after Thanksgiving, grabbing the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, putting all that in between a couple pieces of bread, and having a delicious mash-up leftover sandwich. The combination of flavors in every bite just can't be beat.
In a way, it's similar to the style in which fantasy titles are won. Sure, bankable stars like Adrian Peterson and Roddy White have been great this year, but more often than not whoever ends up winning your league will have at least one key "where did he come from?" player in his lineup. And just like it takes a little of everything to make that leftover sandwich what it is, there are players at every position who went from draft-day leftover to late-season main course.
Let's take a minute to honor the fantasy leftovers being feasted on across the country.
Michael Vick -- If he was drafted in your league, it was as a late-round flier. It took an injury to Kevin Kolb to get him in the starting lineup. Not only was he a fantasy leftover, he was a real-life leftover. All he's done since then is rack up 1,608 passing yards, 375 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns while establishing himself as an MVP candidate.
Kyle Orton -- He was a leftover in a draft class in which six quarterbacks (including Alex Smith, Jason Campbell, Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter and David Greene) were picked before him. He was a leftover in the trade that sent Jay Cutler to Chicago. Odds are he was a leftover in your draft this summer. Now he's a weekly fantasy starter with 3,023 yards, good for third in the NFL, and 17 touchdowns.
Peyton Hillis -- He was a leftover in college, as Arkansas teammates Darren McFadden and Felix Jones hogged the spotlight. Josh McDaniels thought he was nothing more than a leftover in Denver, shipping him to Cleveland for Brady Quinn. After going undrafted in nearly every fantasy league in the country, Hillis burst on the scene with back-to-back 100-yard games against the Ravens and Bengals in Weeks 3 and 4. Seven weeks later, he has 1,095 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.
LaDainian Tomlinson -- Thought to be nothing more than a leftover after his days in San Diego, Tomlinson carried fantasy teams early on this year, running for 490 yards and five touchdowns in the first six weeks. You might want to put him back in the fridge after his performance over the last four weeks, though.
Brandon Lloyd -- A leftover in San Francisco, Washington and Chicago, and nowhere near anyone's draft radar this year. Lloyd has developed quite the rapport with fellow leftover Orton, although it's unclear who is the turkey and who is the stuffing. Lloyd leads the league with 1,046 receiving yards, and also has seven touchdowns.
Steve Johnson -- Johnson was a total leftover coming out of Kentucky in 2008, as he had to wait until the seventh round to hear his name called. There's no way he would have heard his name called at any drafts this summer if he were the type to skulk around other people's houses. Now he has 728 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, trailing only Dwayne Bowe and Calvin Johnson in that department.
You won't be the only one feasting on Turkey Day. Let's send it to numberFire's Nik Bonaddio for one of the players to watch on Thanksgiving, Marques Colston:
"Colston started the year off slower than a scrambling Drew Bledsoe, but he's quickly heating up as the Saints stake their claim as the NFC front-runner. Early in the season, Colston and Drew Brees seemed to be on different wavelengths, resulting in week after week of replacement-level targets and disappointing results. Through some injury-related attrition and an increased focus on the short and intermediate passing game, Colston has emerged as a true WR1 option, averaging 9.66 targets/game in the past month. The Cowboys matchup is hard to predict given how schizophrenically different Dallas has been since the ouster of Wade Phillips, but the combination of Brees' accuracy, his proclivity to throwing the ball (42 attempts/game), and the likelihood of a Kitna-fueled shootout means that Colston is a firm top10 play in all formats"
For probably about 99 percent of fantasy players, Week 13 is the last week of the regular season. Plenty of you reading this have already clinched playoff berths, and are looking ahead to the postseason. I want to take a page from Will Carroll, and offer a simple lesson for the playoff-bound owners among us.
Back in 2004, Billy Volek and Drew Bennett were doing their best impression of Young-to-Rice for the Titans. The two hooked up for 357 yards and six touchdowns in Weeks 13 and 14. An owner in my home league, let's call him Weez, rode Volek to wins in those two weeks, landing himself in the semifinals where he faced the owner of Drew Bennett.
"I think I'm gonna bench Volek," Weez told me. "Everything he does will just be canceled out by Bennett."
"I don't know about that," I told him. "You just want to think about who is going to get you the most points."
Weez ended up benching Volek, and Bennett did have a huge day, going for 160 yards and two touchdowns, of which Weez got nothing. He also got nothing out of the 332 yards and two touchdowns Volek threw that didn't go to Bennett. The move ended up costing him a spot in the championship.
While this may have been a particularly boneheaded move, it illustrates the lesson I want to impart. All too often, fantasy owners think they need to make an ingenious coaching move to win a playoff game. They get wrapped up in the heightened importance of the playoffs, and think they need to change something to move on. It's still the same game, and the guys who got you to the playoffs got you there for a reason. There's a difference between devaluing Eli Manning after the injuries to Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks and devaluing Jon Kitna because your opponent has Dez Bryant.
The guys starting on the other side of the ledger should have zero impact on your lineup. Just like you're going to hear Leslie Frazier say a million times before Sunday, you need to start the guys who give you the best chance to win. The difference between you and Frazier is that you actually mean it.
There's a certain degree of luck in fantasy football. Quite often, that degree is very high and most of the time it's unavoidable. There's nothing you can do about scoring the second-most points in the league in a week when you play the guy who scored the most. But there are some instances where you can minimize the luck involved, or turn what once was luck into a conscious decision, and you can do it just in time for the most important part of the year: the playoffs.
I'm not one for changing the rules of a league mid-season, but if Roger Goodell can do it, you can, too. Plus, this rule change would only affect the playoffs, so as long as all the playoff participants agree to it, everything is on the level.
Nearly every fantasy league bases its playoff matchups on regular season finish. In a league where six teams make the playoffs, the top two seeds get byes, the three seed plays the six seed and the four plays the five in the first round. Some leagues re-seed, allowing the top-seed to play the lowest remaining, and others keep it static, with the one seed playing the four-five winner, and the two seed playing the three-six winner. With so much luck factored into a team's regular season record, and the fluctuating state of a team based on matchups and injuries, this is essentially a random process, and often doesn't benefit the top seeds.
I'm in a league where six teams make the playoffs. After the first round, the top-seed gets to pick which of the two victorious teams from Round 1 he wants to play, with the two seed playing the remaining team. This eliminates luck from the matchup, rewards the top seed and adds a little animosity to one side of the bracket. It's win-win-win, and best of all, the top seed has no one to blame but himself if he makes the wrong choice. Admittedly, this is trickier to pull off in a league with eight playoff teams, but you can still do it in the semifinals after going with the traditional one vs. eight, two vs. seven, three vs. six and four vs. five in the quarters. I'd also tell you letting eight teams into the playoffs in a fantasy football league with 14 teams or fewer is too many to begin with. There's enough luck as it is. Let's do all we can to mitigate it.
1. Philip Rivers @ Colts2. Peyton Manning vs. Chargers3. Drew Brees @ Cowboys4. Aaron Rodgers @ Falcons5. Ben Roethlisberger @ Bills6. Kyle Orton vs. Rams7. Tom Brady @ Lions8. Matt Ryan vs. Packers9. Michael Vick @ Bears10. Matt Schaub vs. Titas12. Eli Manning vs. Jaguars13. Shaun Hill vs. Patriots14. Jon Kitna vs. Saints15. Mark Sanchez vs. Bengals
1. Adrian Peterson @ Redskins2. Chris Johnson @ Texans3. Michael Turner vs. Packers4. Rahsard Mendenhall @ Bills5. Arian Foster vs. Titans6. Frank Gore @ Cardinals7. Peyton Hillis vs. Panthers8. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Giants9. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Jaguars10. Darren McFadden vs. Dolphins11. Ray Rice vs. Buccaneers12. Steven Jackson @ Broncos13. Knowshon Moreno vs. Rams14. Jamaal Charles @ Seahawks15. LeGarrette Blount @ Ravens16. LeSean McCoy @ Bears17. Mike Tolbert @ Colts18. BenJarvus Green-Ellis @ Lions19. Fred Jackson vs. Steelers20. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Bengals21. Cedric Benson @ Jets22. Thomas Jones @ Seahawks23. Matt Forte vs. Eagles24. Ronnie Brown @ Raiders25. Chris Ivory @ Cowboys26. Donald Brown vs. Chargers27. Keiland Williams vs. Vikings28. Felix Jones vs. Saints29. Justin Forsett vs. Chiefs30. Brandon Jackson @ Falcons
1. Calvin Johnson vs. Patriots2. Greg Jennings @ Falcons3. Roddy White vs. Packers4. Miles Austin vs. Saints5. Andre Johnson vs. Titans6. Dwayne Bowe @ Seahawks7. Brandon Lloyd vs. Rams8. Reggie Wayne vs. Chargers9. Mike Wallace @ Bills10. Marques Colston @ Cowboys11. Santonio Holmes vs. Bengals12. DeSean Jackson @ Bears13. Terrell Owens @ Jets14. Dez Bryant vs. Saints15. Anquan Boldin vs. Buccaneers16. Mario Manningham vs. Jaguars17. Malcom Floyd @ Colts18. Mike Williams (TB) @ Ravens19. Percy Harvin @ Redskins20. Larry Fitzgerald vs. 49ers21. Vincent Jackson @ Colts22. Steve Johnson vs. Steelers23. Mike Williams (SEA) vs. Chiefs24. Johnny Knox vs. Eagles25. Braylon Edwards vs. Bengals26. Mike Thomas @ Giants27. Chad Ochocinco @ Jets28. Jeremy Maclin @ Bear29. Sidney Rice @ Redskins30. Wes Welker @ Lions
1. Jacob Tamme vs. Chargers2. Aaron Hernandez @ Lions3. Brandon Pettigrew vs. Patriots4. Marcedes Lewis @ Giants|5. Tony Gonzalez vs. Packers6. Jason Witten vs. Saints7. Chris Cooley vs. Vikings8. Jermaine Gresham @ Jets9. Joel Dreesen vs. Tennessee10. Greg Olsen vs. Eagles11. Jimmy Graham @ Cowboys12. Kevin Boss vs. Jaguars13. Dustin Keller vs. Bengals14. Rob Gronkowski @ Lions15. Kellen Winslow @ Ravens
Another 2-for-3 week last week, thanks to Vince Young's thumb injury/mental crack-up. I think my first two picks this week are slam dunks.
1. New York Jets (vs. Bengals): Yes, the Jets have been one of the most fortunate teams this year. But the Bengals are terrible, and Carson Palmer is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Good news for Carson, though. This game should once again allow him to show off his incredible garbage time skills.
2. Cleveland Browns (vs. Panthers): The Browns as a safe survivor pick? It's hard to believe, but it's true. The Browns have been competitive in every game except their loss to the Steelers. They have wins over the Patriots and Saints, and went to overtime with the Jets. The Panthers, meanwhile, are easily the worst team in the league. Back Cleveland with confidence.
3. Oakland Raiders (vs. Dolphins): The Dolphins' run game has been terrible all year, and the Bears completely dominated them from start to finish last week. Oakland looked bad in Pittsburgh, but it's hard to downgrade the Raiders after traveling across the country and losing an early game to a really good team that absolutely needed win coming off a drubbing by the Patriots. Oakland wins fairly easily.