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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 78
Fantasy Gold Or Fool’s Gold?

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!

Whether you’re riding high at 4-0 or in the cellar at 0-4, these next 2-3 weeks are important to determine whether your squad is built on a solid foundation or resting precariously on a house of cards. In most cases, four to six weeks should be enough to discern the fantasy gold from the fool’s gold. Within the next 2-3 weeks FFToday will be running the initial 2006 results through the Crank Score Calculator, but at this point yours truly will attempt to combine stats with common sense to evaluate which opposing teams have aided the inflation or deflation of a player values. Which opposing teams does the Gut Check believe are making players look better or worse than advertised and why is this the case?

FF Today’s Fantasy Stat Pages are a great starting point for this evaluation. Mike MacGregor has updated the pages to display a differential between how many points a defense allows (or offense scores) by position and the average defensive allowance (or offensive production) for the rest of the NFL teams. How to use this valuable information to your advantage? The Gut Check is going to take this data for a test drive by running the data for three backs with stats that don’t reflect their performance potential, stats that inflate their potential unnecessarily and some mixed nuts (the kind of players that have mixed results from week to week that drive owners nuts).

Mixed Nuts

Kevin Jones—As mentioned in Tuesday’s 20/20 Hindsight column, Jones has a very drastic dichotomy of good/bad performances. Let’s see if the data in Mike’s Fantasy Stats Pages provide some useful information to predict the rest of Jones’ season. The Lions’ starter vaulted himself to the #12th spot in fantasy points per game for RBs after two excellent weeks of production against the Packers and Rams. Here’s how the RB position (mainly Jones) performed against the NFL Average for the position.

Lions RB Comparison to NFL Average
  DET Avg  NFL Avg. Dif.
Last 3 Weeks 29.3 22.9 27.90%
Last 5 Weeks 25.6 22.7 12.80%
Season 25.6 22.7 12.80%
The Detroit Lions score significantly more fantasy points on average at the Running Back position than the NFL average (last 5 weeks)

On the surface this looks promising, but should one examine the frame of reference a bit closer. Are the Rams and Packers run defenses really that good? At the same time Jones had to face Seattle and Chicago in the first two games. Seattle’s run defense differential is a –9.7%, which is considered a ‘Neutral matchup.’ The differential would be even lower if not for Thomas Jones’ big effort on Sunday night. Speaking of Chicago, the Bears run defense differential is an impressive –27.8%. In other words, backs versus Chicago score 27.8% fewer points than the average RB against the other NFL defenses.

The Gut Check presumed the Rams were a bad run defense, but their 12.3% differential indicates, backs only do slightly better than average against them. Jones did better than Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, and the Bells of Denver. Green Bay’s differential is a horrible 33%, but Jones and the Saints’ Deuce McAllister had huge games while Chicago and Philly had sub par outings.

Based on this information, the Gut Check believes Kevin Jones isn’t going to be a bust this year, but his current spot as the 12th-best RB in FFpts/Gm might be his highpoint of the season. Definitely start Jones as a #2 RB, but don’t give away the rest of your RB stable because you think you found a centerpiece for your fantasy lineup.

Fantasy Fool’s Gold

Ronnie Brown—Brown is the 9th-ranked RB in traditional scoring setups, but over 36% of his points came from one game, a two-touchdown effort against Pittsburgh where he had 15 carries for 30 yards. Interestingly Pittsburgh was the toughest defense Brown faced in terms of run defense differential:

Pittsburgh's Run Defense Comparison to NFL Average
  PIT Avg  NFL Avg. Dif.
Last 3 Weeks 12.1 18.0 -32.80%
Last 5 Weeks 14.1 17.9 -21.20%
Season 14.1 17.9 -21.20%
Playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers represents a negative matchup for opposing Running Backs relative to the NFL average (last 5 weeks)

As the Gut Check discussed last week, touchdowns make a huge difference in fantasy production. These two touchdowns from short yardage disguised a sub par outing from a yardage standpoint. Unfortunately for Brown, his less than impressive performances against much weaker defenses expose the weak offense that negatively impacts his production.

Tennessee's Run Defense Comparison to NFL Average
  TEN Avg  NFL Avg. Dif.
Last 3 Weeks 30.2 18.0 67.80%
Last 5 Weeks 26.2 17.9 46.40%
Season 26.2 17.9 46.40%
Playing against the Tennessee Titans represents a positive matchup for opposing Running Backs relative to the NFL average (last 5 weeks).

Houston's Run Defense Comparison to NFL Average
  HOU Avg  NFL Avg. Dif.
Last 3 Weeks 32.8 18.0 82.2%
Last 5 Weeks 31.0 17.9 73.2%
Season 31.0 17.9 73.2%
Playing against the Houston Texans represents a positive matchup for opposing Running Backs relative to the NFL average (last 5 weeks).

Brown’s points versus Tennessee and Houston were a paltry 10 and 11.1, respectively. Not a good sign for a back that just finished the easiest portion of his schedule against the run. The Gut Check isn’t questioning Brown’s talent—the offensive line and quarterback play is the problem—but the second year back’s opportunities in the red zone dwindle with a suspect passing game. All four games were close contests, so it’s not as if the run was taken away due to the game situation. The Gut Check finds this information disconcerting for Brown owners. If the passing game doesn’t improve soon, Ronnie Brown’s production won’t get much better.

Hidden Fantasy Gems

Joseph Addai—The stat performances for Addai really say it all. When the rookie back receives more than 10 touches his numbers are impressive. When he sees 10 or fewer, Addai has paltry totals.

  Rushing Receiving  
Week Starter Opp Result Att Yard Avg TD Target Rec Yard Avg TD FFPts
1 N at NYG W 26-21 7 26 3.7 0 3 3 22 7.3 0 4.8
2 N HOU W 43-24 16 82 5.1 0 2 2 22 11 1 13.4
3 N JAC W 21-14 3 15 5 0 5 3 13 4.3 0 2.8
4 N at NYJ W 31-28 20 84 4.2 1 4 3 15 5 0 15.9

The Giants have a neutral run differential score and the Jags are an impressive –19% in the same category, but it’s not as if Indianapolis gave Addai enough chances to establish a rhythm. The Giants game was Addai’s first NFL opportunity and the Jaguars contest was one where the Colts were behind early and Jacksonville looked so adept at driving down the field on their defense, Indianapolis abandoned the run.

When you view the Jaguars stats versus the run thus far, you can see teams that stuck with the run found success.

 Julius Jones DAL 1 W 24-17 (h) 17 72 1 2 1 39 0 17.1
 Marion Barber DAL 1 W 24-17 (h) 3 13 0 4 2 13 0 2.6
 Verron Haynes PIT 2 W 9-0 (h) 2 6 0 6 5 26 0 3.2
 Willie Parker PIT 2 W 9-0 (h) 11 20 0 3 3 6 0 2.6
 Dominic Rhodes IND 3 L 14-21 (a) 14 48 0 1 0 0 0 4.8
 Joseph Addai IND 3 L 14-21 (a) 3 15 0 5 3 13 0 2.8
 Clinton Portis WAS 4 L 30-36 (a) 27 112 1 4 2 28 0 20.0
 Ladell Betts WAS 4 L 30-36 (a) 11 37 0 1 1 4 0 4.1
 Mike Sellers WAS 4 L 30-36 (a) 0 0 0 1 1 6 0 0.6
 Last 3 Weeks (2 to 4) 68 238 1 21 15 83 0 38.1
 Last 5 Weeks (1 to 4) 88 323 2 27 18 135 0 57.8
 Season 88 323 2 27 18 135 0 57.8

Dallas and Washington ran the ball more than 15 times and the resulting totals were vastly better than those teams that abandoned the run despite the fact the contest was still close!

Mark Twain once said, “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” Because the NFL season is far from over very little is fact from a statistical viewpoint. Yet given enough stats, you can find some common sense among all the numbers—or if the Gut Check is wrong about these three players, delude yourself with numbers…

Week 4 League Updates

Fantasy Auctioneer Experts Invitational: The Gut Check is 3-1 after a 3-point loss where he came into Monday night with Donald Driver and Reggie Brown, but on the wrong side of a 14-point deficit. Both players had disappointing outings that culminated with injury and yours truly fell short of what appeared to be a likely comeback victory. Although the Gut Check said he’d start McNair, he changed his mind and went with Carr. This was a good move, but the decision to go with Fred Taylor over Maurice Jones-Drew cost him. This week, the Gut Check dropped Keenan McCardell and took a flier on the Bucs Michael Clayton. Neither receiver is off to a good start, but the Gut Check believes the rookie Gradkowski might lean on the short to intermediate passing game and Clayton will be the likely recipient of more targets.

Projected Starting Lineup: McNair, Jackson, Cadillac, Reggie Brown*, Donald Driver*, Horn, Heap, Stover, and the Ravens Defense. *If one can’t suit up, Michael Clayton will be the sub.

Ironman 3 Dynasty League (40-man rosters with IDP): Yours truly (team name Out To Lunch) fell to 2-2 after Brian Westbrook was a late scratch. The Gut Check made some updates to his secondary last week benefited from his additions of Glenn Earl, and Charles Woodson, but the fact his one-back lineup (others on bye) turned into an empty backfield (the late insertion of Ryan Moats garnered minimal points) contributed to a 2-point loss.

Projected Starting Lineup: Leftwich, Westbrook, Cadillac, Berrian, Fitzgerald, Gabriel, McMichael, Lindell (if Viniatieri isn’t ready), Rod Coleman, Kyle Vanden Bosch, James Hall, Derrick Johnson, Channing Crowder, Mike Vrabel, Karlos Dansby, Walt Harris, Charles Woodson, Sammy Knight, and Sean Jones.

SOFA Fantasy Auction League: The Gut Check lost his bid for sole possession of first place when he ran into a buzz saw called Larry Johnson, Steve Smith, Isaac Bruce, and Mike Furrey…yes Mike Furrey. Yours truly is 2-2, but he gets Amani Toomer and Cadillac back from the bye week. He’ll also be going with Chad Pennington as his starter now that there’s little doubt Kurt Warner will be Matt Leinart’s caddy for the rest of the way.

Projected Starting Lineup: Pennington; LT; Cadillac; Driver; Toomer, Wayne; Watson; Akers; Bucs Defense.

MADFAD (Dynasty Contract League w/IDP and Fluctuating Player Values): This is played on CBS, so the Gut Check can’t provide a link. His team fell to 2-2 after meeting another buzz saw performance from his opponent. Throw in the late scratch of Westbrook, two high-scoring defensive players on bye, and Stallworth’s hammy and you see the expectations were low for week 4. Maroney is beginning to look like an enticing option, but Gore and Westbrook will start if ready. This league goes off the power point system determined by head-to-head record, total points, and breakdown record. The Gut Check was 8th out of 10th in week one; 5th out of 10th in weeks two and three; but dropped back to 7th after a dreadful performance.

Projected Starting Lineup: Leftwich, Westbrook, Gore (or Dillon, Drew, or Maroney), C. Johnson, Moss/Gabriel (not sure, likely Gabriel), Galloway, Shockey, Bulluck, Vilma, Feeley, Vanden Bosch, Umenyiora, Polamalu, and A. Wilson.

Local League (Traditional re-draft and scoring): Another CBS league, the Gut Check is back to 2-2 with another big week and a fully loaded lineup. He is now only 2 points off the total points lead. Thomas Jones would have been a better start over Reggie Bush, but at this point yours truly has to decide among Bush, Jones, and Addai as his #2 RB. He was also able to land Charlie Frye off waivers as a backup now that Warner has been benched.

Projected Lineup: Favre, LJ, Bush, Joey Galloway, Marvin Harrison, Greg Jennings, Marques Colston, Todd Heap, Stover, and Ravens defense.

FFTOC: The Gut Check is 90th out of 618 entries thus far and has a minute, 0.12-point of an edge in the division standings. He’s still adjusting his lineup, but Lamont Jordan looks like a decent play this week before the iron door of fantasy purgatory swings shut for the rest of the season.

Fantasy Football Handbook Expert Mock: The Gut Check has moved up to 6th out of 12th in the total points league after big performances from McNabb and Jordan. Yours truly didn’t realize this league scores off the best player performances from roster, so he’s not even going to project a lineup. You can select the link for the roster to see the Gut Check’s options that he chose in late May…