Fantasy Football Intelligence: The Three Sunrises

The vast majority of fantasy leagues have only 2-3 weeks left in the regular season. In the words of Bill Parcells, “You are what you are.” Waking up this morning you are in one of three places:

1. You have a solid record. You are almost assuredly in the playoffs. Life is pretty good. You are trying to nail down a bye, maybe some regular season first place money, and you are looking at playoff matchups for your players.

2. You are battling for a playoff spot. You need to win each week until you clinch. You can’t afford to look past the next week or the opponent in front of you.

3. Your season is over. It didn’t work out. Whether you had bad luck with injuries or matchups, or if your draft was poor, you are playing for pride, or maybe to avoid a costly or embarrassing last place penalty.

If you are in group #3, your responsibility is to stay competitive and be sure to start full lineups each week. It is the right thing to do for the rest of the league and for your own reputation as a fantasy player. Others are playing for standing or money and you need to do your part to maintain the integrity of the league. Keep paying attention to the games because it will help you next year. It may not be as much fun, but it is the right thing to do.

Groups 1 and 2 have similar, but not identical interests. The moment your position is secure (clinch a bye, or clinch playoffs but not a bye), begin focusing on the playoff weeks. Do you have your defenses lined up? Make sure your RB2, WR3, FLEX, etc. have neutral to plus matchups. You are still starting Nick Chubb against Baltimore in week 16, probably OBJ begrudgingly too. Cooper Kupp is still starting in San Francisco, though I’d be a little nervous about Todd Gurley.

But do you have a better option than Jake Allen or Devin Singletary in Foxboro? The Jets visit Baltimore on Thursday night in week 15. I wouldn’t feel good about Le’Veon Bell.

You’ll continue to roll with most of your stars that got you there, but playoff games can be decided on the fringes of your lineup. To quote David St. Hubbins, “There is a fine line between clever and stupid.” If you are sitting Joe Mixon vs. New England in week 15, make sure it is for a RB that you expect to see 20+ touches or a WR with 10+ targets. In the playoff weeks, we will identify the peripheral players we expect to perform better or worse than they have over the season.

For the group 2 folks who need to win to get in, use every weapon in your arsenal. The trade deadline has passed in Yahoo standard leagues, but the ESPN deadline is this Wednesday. Did you draft a good TE and then draft Darren Waller as his backup the way my friend, WTPL/The Pulse’s Ken Cail did? You should have already found an O.J. Howard, Evan Engram or George Kittle owner and made a deal, but if you haven’t yet, go find the Austin Hooper owner in your league and find a starting position on your roster that you can upgrade. You’ve got 24-48 hours left. Tick tock. In general, if you are in group 2 at this point, worry less about depth and make sure you are getting the strongest possible starting lineup that you can each week. That may mean cutting someone who could be helpful down the line, but if you are on the bubble, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

In that vein, this is the last week of byes. With the Chiefs, Cardinals, Viking and Chargers off, and with injuries mounting, it will be an active week on waivers with many key starters not playing or hurt.

Key players off or likely/possibly out with an injury in week 12:

QB:

Bye: Mahomes, Rivers, Murray, Cousins

Injury: Stafford

Replacements (<75% owned): Carr (@NYJ), Mayfield (vs. MIA), , Tannehill (vs. JAX) Brissett, (@HOU), Darnold (vs. OAK), Jones (@CHI)

Note: Darnold and Jones carry considerably more risk, but more upside than Tannehill and Brissett.

RB:

Bye: D. Williams (also injured), Gordon, Ekeler, D. Johnson, Cook

Injury: Mack, Breida, J. Howard, Conner

Replacements (<75% owned): Samuels (@CIN), Cohen (vs. NYG), J. Williams-GB (@SF), Edwards (@LAR), Barber (@ATL), J. Williams-IND (@HOU), Guice (vs. DET), Scarborough (@WAS)

* – Samuels’ prospects hinge on whether or not Conner plays.

WR:

Bye: Hill (also injured), Watkins, K. Allen, M. Williams, Kirk, Fitzgerald, Diggs, Thielen (also injured)

Injury: Hilton, Smith-Schuster, Sanders (re-aggravated rib injury this week), A. Tate

Replacements (<75% owned): M. Brown (@LAR), D. Samuel (vs. AZ), D. Parker (@CLE), Fuller (if healthy) (vs. IND), Crowder (vs. OAK), Slayton (@CHI), Washington (@CIN)

TE:

Bye: Kelce, Henry, Rudolph

Injury: Hooper

Replacements (<75% owned): Fells (vs. IND), Hollister (@PHI), Hockenson (@WAS), McDonald (@CIN), Doyle (@HOU)

Defense – The following are under 75% owned and may be worth a start in week 12.

Atlanta (vs. TB)

Cleveland (vs. MIA)

Tennessee (vs. JAX)

Not a lot of pickings for those that didn’t plan ahead. This is probably because good managers are beginning to stack defenses for the playoffs where possible.