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20/20 Hindsight - Week 1

As we all know Hindsight is 20/20. This weekly column is devoted to learning from common mistakes and serves as FFToday's "Fantasy Football Confessional."

Would've, Could've, Should've. It's the mournful morning mantra of the losing fantasy football owner. The purpose of 20/20 Hindsight is to profile common errors in starting lineup decisions from the previous week with the hope of discovering helpful lessons for the coming weeks. We'll report back on these theories as the season progresses and see if they have any merit.

But first let's establish some ground rules on determining starters. If I were to use a systematic method to determine lineup choices between two players, here are the criteria I would use to create a basic profile:

Determining Starters
 Criteria  Player A  Player B
Playing at home? No Yes
Statistically worse passing defense? No Yes
Statistically worse rushing defense run? No Yes
Best weather conditions? No Yes
Previous high performance against opposing team? Yes Yes
Healthy? Yes No
Total 2 5

Taking every precaution to research one's lineup choices against a set of criteria is excellent preparation, but as I learned the hard way, it does an owner no good if he isn't bold with the decision his research yields. This is where owners tend to invent emotional reasons for starting players that the criteria are against because the result seems too risky to accept.

So what happens if you run into a situation where the players you are evaluating have an even score on the criteria scale? Establish some tiebreakers. It's obvious these fantasy experts that do "Start'em/Sit'em" articles have some tiebreakers. Here are some of mine:

QB Tiebreakers
  • Most potential to run
  • Least turnovers (fumbles & ints combined)
  • Yards per completion
  • Yards per catch of top 3 receivers (RB/TE-included)

WR/TE Tiebreakers
  • Number of receptions
  • Yards per catch
  • Most potential to get rushing yardage
  • Target (number of times thrown to)
  • Least turnovers of QB (fumbles & ints combined)

RB Tiebreakers
  • Most potential to gain points from passing game
  • Least # of fumbles
  • Yards per carry
  • Health of offensive line

Nothing is 100% foolproof, but having even a basic system helps you do your homework. It also gives you better odds of making the correct decision and an easier time justifying your choices. Otherwise, you are letting fear dictate your choices rather than the information you've collected, and this is true "paralysis by analysis." Trust me, if I did the research and found out that I should have stuck with my original game plan from draft day, there are quite a few seasons where I wouldn't have lost my playoff games by five points or less.

Here are the common "Would've, Could've, Should've" situations heard around the water cooler after week one.

Would've (From The Who Would Have Known File):

Benching Kevan Barlow was the right thing to do. This is a back that was facing a Falcon's team in 2003 that ranked 31st in rushing touchdowns allowed, and allowed 144.3 yards per game on the ground. In retrospect, facing a new Atlanta defensive scheme proved fatal for many fantasy owners this week. In fact, facing a new defensive scheme that employed aggressive blitzing also hurt owners that thought they might get some decent work out of Charlie Garner against Greg William's Redskin defense-a unit that allowed only one fewer td (20) on the ground than Atlanta and gave up an unseemly 138 rushing yards per contest. Although Duce Staley had a decent rushing total, it was more a result of the Steelers' decision to go retro in their offensive philosophy (24 carries) than the Raider's defense (3.8 yard per carry average and 3.2 ypc overall), which proved to be much more aggressive than last year.

Barlow, Staley, and Garner aren't studs, but these were players drafted as viable #2 RBs for many owners in leagues with twelve or greater owners. Due to their past production, these veterans would also be considered safer bets than more unproven backs. Turns out that…

Starting an RB against the Buccaneers and the Patriots would have been a good idea. As opposed to Atlanta and Washington, these two defenses were two of the better defenses against the run and were among the stingiest in the rushing touchdown department. But losing Warren Sapp and Ted Washington, respectively really opened things up for Edgerrin James, Domanic Rhodes, and Clinton Portis in week one.

Lesson Learned: Keep up with off-season changes on the defensive side of the ball. If the defensive scheme becomes more aggressive, don't face them with your running game in the opener unless you have no choice (a stud or lack of depth). The corollary? If the scheme basically stays the same but the key personnel is lost don't be afraid to put that RB into your lineup. This is something I wish I would have known when I started Kevan Barlow in my FFTOC tournament this weekend. I'll keep this in mind for the next couple of weeks as teams establish their identity. This is something I would have known if I bothered to read a bit more into certain off-season changes.

Could've (From The Who Could Have Known File):

Charles Rogers would break his collarbone…AGAIN? He was having such a promising preseason. The addition of skill players around Rogers had him tagged as a likely breakout candidate. If he stays healthy in 2005, it will take him three years to gain the same amount of game experience as most rookies. Fortunately, Rogers' legs weren't the problem.

Lesson Learned: Not sure there is one-Rogers looked good and adding him as the #3 or #4 WR in your starting lineup for week one wasn't a bad decision, just an unlucky one.

Should've (From The I Knew I Should've File):

Start Quentin Griffin: The Kansas City Chiefs allowed the third-most yards per game on the ground in the NFL last season. Although Gunther Cunningham was brought back, there were zero personnel changes. That means this unit that allowed 5.2 yards per carry 146.5 yards on the ground per contest, and 18 rushing touchdowns main strategy for improvement is "optimism." Sure that's harsh, but it's hard to believe that Dick Vermeil's previous defensive coordinator didn't know anything about formations, shedding blocks, staying disciplined, and tackling. This means that anything positive Cunningham will bring is going to translate onto the field later rather than sooner.

Griffin faced a similarly porous unit versus the run late last year in Indianapolis (19 tds allowed, 123.8 ypg, and 4.5 ypc) and turned this into his statement game that allowed the Broncos to even consider the idea that they didn't need Clinton Portis. Plus, Griffin turned in a 21-carry, 74-yard effort playing on a unit that started Jarious Jackson against a 10th-ranked Green Bay defense in order to stay fresh for the playoffs. And remember this game still meant something to the Packers.

Sometimes we analyze the wrong things that coaches say to the media. It was easy to look at Griffin and believe that Mike Shanahan was just blowing smoke when he said Griffin would be the every down back when Garrison Hearst and second round pick Tatum Bell were waiting in the wings. Judging from Griffin's preseason performances it was clear he was getting the first shot as the every down back. Until he proves otherwise, Griffin is at least a solid #2 RB.

Benched Jamal Lewis if I had other decent choices: It should be enough that we should have known that Cleveland was focusing on stopping Lewis for their entire off-season. As much as the Ravens steamrolled the Browns in their two meetings last season, this is the NFL and as maligned as the Browns' defense has been in terms of underachieving, pride is still a huge factor. Now, if this game were at the end of the season and it didn't have any implications for Cleveland then I'd go with Lewis. But this is the opener and even perennially underachieving units with questionable coaching will be motivated to stop a player that they knew they'd be facing months ago!

There's nothing meaty about that analysis to deter us from starting the NFL's leading rusher but are Jonathan Ogden and Mike Flynn big enough reasons? Both were still in the training room. As Eric Allen's analysis of the game mentioned on Cleveland was able to handle Lewis with just seven men in the box.

Lesson Learned: In most cases, a runner is as good as his line. These are two backs that faced defenses known for giving it up on the ground and did little to change their scheme or personnel from the previous year. The difference? The Broncos' starting offensive line was healthy. Personally, I was fortunate to come to my senses and Bench Jamal Lewis for Marshall Faulk in my FFTOC tournament, but I saw many that didn't.

Should've Known File-Part II

Tom Brady was a must start versus Indy and McNair will be a good start: The Colts were missing two starting corners and the Patriots offense were 8th the NFL as a passing unit. Think about how high cornerbacks are getting drafted lately and one realizes this is a position where the need is currently at a premium. Although Steve McNair had 73 yards passing against Miami, look for the Titans to have a good passing day against a still-injured Indy secondary that is now also missing safety Mike Doss.

Rich Gannon was a good start versus Pittsburgh and Kyle Boller will not be a good start: The Steelers still have cornerback issues and Rich Gannon-as The Gut Check has been saying all this time-is well, still Rich Gannon (305 yards and 2 tds). On the surface this idea should also apply to Atlanta, a team with a poor pass defense and injured secondary but remember the scheme is different and the opposing quarterback in week one (Tim Rattay/Ken Dorsey) are fairly green as NFL signal callers. Look for Kyle Boller to make the Steelers' defense look better in week two. In contrast, look for Marc Bulger and St. Louis do a better job against the Falcons.

To those of you that made the right choice with these players, I offer you my congratulations. To those of you that didn't, it's true what they say:

Hindsight's a …