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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 138
Sending Out an S.O.S.

Rookie Scouting Portfolio The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information. This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.

Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic, he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider, or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast as you can!

Don’t Be Fooled By the Matrix

If you haven’t seen Mike MacGregor’s Strength of Schedule Matrix, you’re missing out on one of the best statistical tools you can use to determine your weekly starting lineups. But stats don’t always tell the whole story after just five weeks in the books. Here are some examples of misleading numbers.

Is Carolina a top defense against quarterbacks? They are sporting a –29.4% S.O.S rating. Only Indy and Baltimore have been better, but I’m going to expose all three teams when you see the opposition behind those numbers. Consider the quarterbacks the Panthers faced: Phillip Rivers, Kyle Orton, Matt Ryan, Gus Frerotte, and Damon Huard. Think again before you’re worried about pitting your quarterback against this unit, especially Brees (twice), Warner, Cutler, Rodgers, and Eli Manning. Heck, the way Matt Ryan looked last week, his second go-round with Carolina might be better than many expect. All five quarterbacks the Panthers face in the coming weeks are as good, if not better, than Rivers, who had 217 yards and three scores in week one.

Indianapolis faced the vaunted passing games of Chicago, Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Houston…alright maybe they were vaunted when Sid Luckman, Daunte Culpepper, Mark Brunnel, and Warren Moon were in their prime. The truth is the Colts make it so difficult for opposing offenses to resist running the ball no one has needed to chuck and duck. They are the third worst among NFL teams against the run with a whopping 46.3% S.O.S. rating. Only St. Louis (60.9%) and Kansas City (61.1%) are more welcoming to NFL runners. If Peyton Manning and company improve, opposing offenses will need to throw more to keep up. If your fantasy quarterback is the focal point of his offense, don’t pause to consider a different matchup.

Baltimore is an excellent defense and their -37.5% S.O.S. rating versus quarterbacks is excellent. But the Ravens have faced a rusty Bengals passing attack – Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh were MIA for most of the preseason – in the opener; dominated a Cleveland passing offense that has so clearly regressed, they considered benching their big-contract quarterback; and allowed Kerry Collins and Tennessee to player their type of low-scoring, win it at the end, ball game. The only impressive performance in my mind was holding Big Ben Roethlisberger to a paltry sum, but one can minimize this accomplishment when you consider his shoulder injury. Although it is still prudent to consider a better matchup, if you have an elite quarterback facing Baltimore, I wouldn’t automatically sit him.

Cleveland is deceptively good against opposing quarterbacks with a –19.9% S.O.S, but I can explain this rating away in one sentence: Other than Tony Romo, the Browns faced Ben Roethlisberger in a windstorm, Ravens rookie Joe Flacco, and Ryan Fitzpatrick as a last-minute sub for Carson Palmer. Although the Giants should be able to run on Cleveland, expect quick and easy numbers from Eli Manning this weekend.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the New York Jets look like patsies for opposing quarterbacks. Then again, consider the 472 yards Kurt Warner put on them in garbage time. You should avoid the trap of thinking New York is as easy as they look. Although it is possible the Jets could decide to implement a variation of the run and shoot with Favre and force opposing offenses into catch up mode, I wouldn’t count on the Jets S.O.S rating of 25.2% to remain this high as the season progresses.

Miami has an impressive –35.2% S.O.S. rating against the run, but they didn’t face the vintage versions of LT, Edgerrin James, or the New England Patriots. They won’t be facing any strong ground games outside of Buffalo (twice) between now and week 16, but don’t pronounce the Dolphins a juggernaut of a run defense. Teams with a decent quarterback complementing a solid, starter at RB should test the waters.

Dallas also looks tough against the run with a –25.8% S.O.S. rating, but Jamal Lewis and Ryan Grant were dealing with hamstring issues, and Brian Westbrook and the Eagles engaged the Cowboys in a shootout. Clinton Portis – the epitome of a good NFL running back – exposed the Cowboys with 121 yards on the ground. Dallas will face more tests from quality runners like Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Willie Parker, and once again Clinton Portis.

No Mirages Here

Unless Jacksonville can generate a better pass rush as rookie defensive end Quentin Groves develops, don’t count on the Jaguars transforming their 21.5% welcome wagon of an S.O.S. rating versus QBs into something more impressive. With Denver, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit on the docket I think the North Florida Cars for Trophy Wives could help these teams quarterbacks get airborne.

Detroit, St. Louis, Houston, and Kansas City have been bad defenses from nearly every angle you look. What they have in common is they can’t generate consistent offense, either. These defenses are undermanned and overworked. These are great matchups to exploit if you have to make a lineup choice based more on schedule than talent and opportunity.

Trading Houshmandzadeh?

The Cincinnati Bengals organization is out of their mind. There is only one player more valuable to this organization and it’s Carson Palmer. And if they trade T.J. Houshmandzadeh, they are effectively telling Carson Palmer to get lost, too. If there were an NFL equivalent to Mad Cow Disease, I think the Bengals front office caught it from Chad Ocho Cinco.

If you have Houshmandzadeh on your team and this trade goes down, I’m not sure it’s good news. Chris Chambers was traded to a familiar system last year and his numbers improved because he went to a better offense.

 Chris Chambers: 2007
Week Target Rec Yard Avg TD FPts
1 11 6 92 15.3 0 9.2
2 16 9 109 12.1 0 10.4
3 12 6 101 16.8 0 10.1
4 5 2 21 10.5 0 2.1
5 4 2 19 9.5 0 1.9
6 18 6 73 12.2 0 7.3
8 5 2 35 17.5 1 9.5
9 10 5 59 11.8 0 5.9
10 3 2 17 8.5 0 1.7
11 8 4 93 23.3 0 9.3
12 7 5 22 4.4 1 8.2
13 5 2 50 25 0 5
14 10 4 90 22.5 0 9
15 4 4 69 17.3 0 7.8
16 5 4 71 17.8 1 13.9
17 6 3 49 16.3 1 10.9
          Avg (1-6) 6.8
          Avg (8-17) 8.1
And it wasn’t a dramatic improvement. In fact his average targets per game dropped from 11 per game with the Dolphins to six per game with the Chargers. Most of the time, when a receiver sees fewer targets he’s less of a fantasy force, but Chambers increase in production shows the team knew how their new acquisition would fit in the offense. Evidence of this fit is seen by the increase of his yards per catch average from 12.7 to 16.4 after the trade.

The rumor is Houshmandzadeh could go to the 49ers. Although I can think of teams that would need this player’s services more – the Titans, the Dolphins, the Bears, and the Seahawks (right now) – Mike Martz may have Mike Nolan convinced that a second big-time receiver could put this offense over the top. Martz would be correct, too. Frank Gore and Isaac Bruce are doing enough to keep the 49ers in ball games, but an added dimension to force defenses to play more honest could take this unit up a notch. Houshmandzadeh is different from all the other receivers the Niners have with Battle, Johnson, Morgan, and Hill – he’s a technician more than an uber-athletic wunderkind.

But the Niners would be one of the best-case destinations for Houshmandzadeh. Another good possibility would be Philadelphia, who needs a consistent technician to pair with deep threat DeSean Jackson and use Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis as depth for multiple receiver sets. If he winds up in Tennessee, I would love it as a fan, but hate it this year as a fantasy manager with Whose Your Mama as my top receiver. Although the Bengals haven’t looked good offensively, Houshmandzadeh has remained a top-10 fantasy receiver. I don’t believe it’s likely there will be a deal. Still there are other receivers wanting out of their respective towns - Roy Williams and Anquan Boldin are prime examples – and it’s good to think about what a mid-season trade could mean for those with these players on their fantasy teams. There isn’t enough history of mid-season trades involving starting caliber receivers to give you an idea of how he’ll perform. The key will be his match with the team, familiarity with the system, and caliber of the offense.

Safest Bets and Mid-round Targets Examined

Eli Mack did a piece in July called Safest Bets. His picks were Drew Brees, Matt Hasselbeck, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates. Other than Hasselbeck and Colston, who have had their season impacted by injury, I’d say he called it right. He also deserves some credit for tabbing Phillip Rivers, Chris Chambers, and Jerricho Cotchery as quality players to target in the middle rounds of your draft, although he wasn’t as good with Rashard Mendenhall and Dallas Clark – still not bad.

The Frontier Days Are Over

I love the movie Seabiscuit. If you like stories about the unlikely teaming of personalities that overcome obstacles and redeem themselves in the process, this is the flick for you. One of the scenes involves the horse’s eventual trainer, Tom Smith, played by actor Chris Cooper. Smith, a former real-life Cowboy, is seen in the beginning roaming the west at the turn of the 20th century with only his horse, his gear, and what the land provides. It becomes apparent as you watch Smith living what has been an idyllic existence that this life of roaming free is coming to an end as he encounters more trappings of civilization taking over what was once wild.

I think a lot of veterans in the fantasy football world have been feeling the same way as Tom Smith. I know I have. I’ve been writing about the symptoms here and there for weeks now: My distaste for flipping through multiple games, readers who send spam-like e-mails for advice, and information available everywhere and anywhere you turn. When Bob Costas, who clearly hates fantasy sports, has to attempt to pander to us, it’s clear the old days have gone.

Here are some posts I read on the FF Today Board this week where I can sympathize with how the writers feel about fantasy football going from an underground hobby to a results-oriented, bottom-line, kiss-the-consumer’s-behind, big business.

From Corkey76: “I’ve been playing fantasy football since the days when we had to use [sic] USA Today on Mondays to determine the scores. Granted, I absolutely LOVE the sites with live scoring and all the info you can get nowadays on the Internet, but find myself getting more and more frustrated by fantasy football nowadays.

First off, the draft has lost its luster for me. It used to be that the more knowledgeable football fan would dominate the draft most times. Now, any dumbass can basically get on the Internet, go to a website, and get an updated ADP sheet or cheet sheet, and end up with just as good a team as mine by doing 10 minutes of research...”

I can relate to what he’s saying in a number of ways. In some respects, leagues have become more competitive because the skill gap at “gaming the system” has decreased with all the tools, info, and strategy tips available to the casual player. This is good, but the enthusiasm that comes with the game is beginning to vanish.

I found the one draft that I anticipated like it was a high holiday hasn’t felt the same for a few years now. Most of us are too busy with family and/or career to find a time to make this a fun event. Because fantasy football was still a rarity among casual fans and most weren’t a big part of the hobby, it felt like an exclusive club or underground event. I think this added to the excitement.

We were all doing something that was fun and unknown to the average person. It was probably the same for people that seriously played poker. When you can’t tell a C-list celebrity and a professional poker player apart, you know the game has lost something. Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson had character in addition to being characters. Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow, although fine players, seem more like characterizations. When ESPN broadcasts drafts featuring hip-hop artists, Nick Lachey, and announcers with great NFL knowledge but no fantasy sports skills, it can diminish the fun of the game for some.

If you fit the consumer demographic, it seems there is less time than ever to really celebrate and participate in this hobby the way we did ten years ago. Playing in leagues with greater variations to the rules can make the game more challenging, but the lack of time makes it more difficult to build a league where you get the same camaraderie that you had years ago. I wonder if the great convenience the Internet provides has in some respects contributed to this issue. Everyone is playing in multiple leagues. I see site owners competing in drafts who will handoff their team for someone else to run because they are participating in so many leagues.

Here are some simple variations of the game that I think I will have to try so I don’t burn out on the hobby:

  • Individual Defensive Player Leagues: I play in two of these leagues and have been in at least two with IDPs for five years now. It’s still an untapped frontier in this hobby. The more casual fans find this variation frustrating because they don’t know enough about the defensive side of the ball to believe success with IDP is anything more than luck.

  • No Transaction Leagues: Once you draft the player, you keep the player. If he gets hurt, you better have a decent bench player and know who they are, which leads me to this variation…

  • Unranked Leagues: You can only draft players who did not finish in the top 20 at their position in the previous year and the ranked players are off limits for that season.

Now if I could only find people within driving distance who would be interested in giving these a try, because this one point is still the key to all this – finding good leagues with committed owners.

From EDJR (responding to Corkey76): “I agree 100% with everything you say. Worst thing I have ever done was get the Sunday Ticket. It so @#$%*%! frustrating to watch my guys drop passes, overthrow players, make dumb mistakes. I miss the days of just seeing "incomplete pass" and not knowing what happened. I'm never getting the Sunday Ticket again. I had to leave the house yesterday from screaming and take the wife to early dinner. It can't be good for me to get that @#$%*%! mad over football.”

NFL Sunday Ticket is great if you want to watch a couple of games at once, but any more than two games at the same time are exhausting for me and I don’t get to enjoy the drama that unfolds. The game is gone – it’s now work and I don’t like to think I’m working on Sunday when I’m going to watch a football game. I don’t own NFL Sunday Ticket and I think if it were made available through a cable provider I still wouldn’t purchase access to it. It’s not that the Ticket is bad, its how me – and guys like EDJR – will use it. It’s in our nature to obsess over details. If you’re a diehard fantasy football manager, you’re likely the same way.

The best advice I can give is to remember this is a game, not work (well, for most of us). Just like the phone, the doorbell, the television, and the computer, it has an on-off switch. Life, on the other hand, isn’t as convenient. Fantasy football hopefully hasn’t become a poor substitute for your life.