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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 146
A Pre-Playoff Examination (and Autopsy Report for 2009)

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!

I joined seven leagues this year and with the regular season over my combined record is 53-36-1. Six of my teams made the playoffs and three of them won their division. The only team staying home is my squad in the FFToday Staff League and the team I GM with Mike MacGregor was the #2 seed, but we were upset in the opening round on Sunday. This week I will profile each of my playoff teams as a way of unearthing potential playoff studs, duds, and sleepers as well as examining my fantasy strategies that were good, bad, and ugly for 2008 with the hope of learning something I can use for the playoffs this month and drafting in 2009. One of the things that should become apparent right away is that tight divisional races will mean there will be fewer establish players seeing the bench in weeks 15 and 16.

From the Top

League: Fantasy Auctioneer Invitational Expert League
Record: 9-4 (division winner)
Draft Strategy: Pay high early for studs I wanted and hope I land huge bargains late. I used this strategy for three seasons and won this league in 2005 and 2006, and failed to make the playoffs in 2007.

 Fantasy Auctioneer Invitational Expert League
Player YTD Pts Rk Bye Acquired? Starts Comments
Favre, Brett NYJ QB 192 11 5 Draft 12 An auction bargain just six points away from the 8th spot.
Flacco, Joe BAL QB 177 14 2 Free Agent - Wk 10 0 He’s outperformed Favre a few times.
Charles, Jamaal KCC RB 38 N/A 6 Free Agent - Wk 2 1 I started him week nine versus the Jets - big mistake when I had Ward.
Johnson, Larry KCC RB 90 32 6 Draft 7 I thought I got a bargain on draft day, butů
Peterson, Adrian MIN RB 184 4 8 Draft 12 Worth every auction dollar.
Rhodes, Dominic IND RB 83 35 4 Free Agent - Wk 7 2 He did ok week seven, but week eight was a lifesaver.
Rice, Ray BAL RB 58 49 2 Free Agent - Wk 8 2 Another bye week saver I used in week nine (vs. CLE)
Ward, Derrick NYG RB 103 23 4 Draft 1 He had 100 yards the only time started him (vs. CLE).
Clayton, Mark BAL WR 78 33 2 Free Agent - Wk 10 0 A great talent with up and down production worth grabbing.
Fitzgerald, Larry ARI WR 151 2 7 Draft 12 My second stud-priced player.
Hill, Jason SFO WR 27 N/A 9 Free Agent-Wk 11 0 Luxury pick with breakout potential late in the season.
Jackson, Vincent SDC WR 99 22 9 Draft 12 Example of a huge bargain unearthed late.
Owens, Terrell DAL WR 122 7 10 Draft 12 Had a rough mid-season stretch w/o Romo, but coming on strong.
Smith, Steve NYG WR 42 N/A 4 Free Agent - Wk 7 0 Solid depth with potential for weeks 15-16.
Walker, Mike JAC WR 15 N/A 7 Free Agent - Wk 6 0 Another luxury pick up.
Olsen, Greg CHI TE 43 22 8 Free Agent - Wk 5 8 Until three weeks ago, he was a waiver wire bargain.
Kasay, John CAR PK 100 16 9 Free Agent - Wk 10 4 Strong play coinciding with team’s improved play.
Titans, Tennessee TEN Def 102 8 6 Draft 12 Started great, easy late schedule could give me a closing kick.

The Good: Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Terrell Owens have been a solid core for this squad and they have kept me in just about every game. Vincent Jackson has often performed like my best receiver and he was a late-round selection on the cheap that became a solid, No. 2 fantasy WR. I was able to snag LJ for $30 and he was the reason I liked my chances as soon as the draft was over. But as we know, LJ’s demotion and suspension really threw me for a curve fortunately the waiver wire was a rich source of players to keep this team afloat. Although 23rd ranked Derrick Ward was only a $1 at the end of my draft, it was difficult to tell whether he would continue to get significant carries at the time I lost LJ so acquiring Ray Rice and Dominic Rhodes turned out to be strong moves. The fact I acquired solid back ups with starter-level production in Joe Flacco, Mark Clayton, and for a while, Dominic Rhodes and Ray Rice speaks a lot to the ability to build a quality team after the draft. This is especially the case for a shallow roster auction league such as this one and it supports my strategy to pay big for a core of 3-4 established studs and surround them with bargains.

The Bad: I ignored the tight end position and opted for Vernon Davis as an upside pick (and only TE). Then I waited too long to pick a suitable replacement. Greg Olsen was pretty good for a while, but if the waiver period is over in this league I’ll have to hope his month-long slump ends in time for the games that count the most. I had John Carney for a week, but dropped him after the Cleveland game, thinking Lawrence Tynes would be back. As I mention a lot, I’m not a huge proponent of spending inordinate amounts of time on tight ends, kickers, and defenses and for the way this team has performed, I don’t have much to complain about as a result.

The Ugly: Brett Favre. He’s been all over the place and for a league that docks points for turnovers, his stat line can look ugly when I’m checking the score in the first quarter. Hanging onto Mike Walker after the Pittsburgh game has been ugly. I missed out on more than a few strong receivers I could have available if Owens, Fitzgerald, or Jackson get hurt or benched.

Playoff Studs: Peterson, Fitzgerald, and Owens should continue to play in the coming weeks because their respective teams haven’t sewn anything up. This is potentially great news, especially for Peterson, who faces the Lions, Cardinals, and Falcons. Fitzgerald is nearly as enticing with the Rams, Vikings, and Patriots on the docket. Although Arizona is virtually a lock to win the division, they are still competing to host a home field game and the next two weeks will still be must-wins, because the 49ers are still mathematically capable of taking the NFC West away from them. The Cowboys will need everything they can get out of T.O., because they not only still have a chance to win the division, but they also are just as capable of missing the playoffs altogether if the Cowboys falter and the ‘Skins and Eagles go on a roll.

Playoff Duds: I’m worried about Brett Favre. He has a great schedule, but his week 15 match up versus the elements in Buffalo could be dicey. The alternative is Joe Flacco facing the Steelers – I’ll have to take my chances with Favre.

Playoff Sleepers: Derrick Ward. If the Giants clinch the NFC East and home field advantage before week 15, it’s certain Tom Coughlin will give Brandon Jacobs a rest and it will be the Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw shoe. My only fear is with the depth New York has, Coughlin could easily bench Ward after a quarter or two and use Bradshaw and Rueben Droughns. Yes, I just invoked Rueben Droughns, he’s just that kind of player that could make or break a championship game.

League: SOFA Auction Fantasy Football League
Record: 9-3-1 (division winner and first-round bye)
Draft Strategy I won this auction league in my first season (2006) and bombed the following year. As mentioned above, I’m often a proponent of paying high for a few studs early, and unearthing huge bargains late, but this league has most of the same owners I competed with a few days earlier in the Fantasy Auctioneer Invitational Expert League I just discussed. It made more sense to alter my draft strategy and spread my money around on players I felt were considered just below elite status, but with a chance to reach that level of play in 2008. Another important difference with this league is the flex option of a third back or fourth receiver/second tight end.

Player YTD Pts Rk Bye Acquired? Starts Comments
Brees, Drew NOS QB 250.9 1 9 Draft 12 I touted him since June as a better bargain than the elite QBs.
Manning, Eli NYG QB 188.06 10 4 Draft 1 Not a bad bye week option, don’t you think?
Betts, Ladell WAS RB 44 N/A 10 Free Agent - Wk 13 0
Lynch, Marshawn BUF RB 204.8 9 6 Draft 12 I heard complaints about him a month ago, crickets today.
Norwood, Jerious ATL RB 112.3 35 7 Free Agent - Wk 9 1 His best week against the Saints happened to be when I used him.
Portis, Clinton WAS RB (Q) 206.5 6 10 Draft 12
Ward, Derrick NYG RB 148.1 18 4 Draft 0 Huge bargain.
Williams, DeAngelo CAR RB 205 8 9 Draft 10 This was a make/break pick.
Williams, Ricky MIA RB 109.5 36 4 Draft 4 I continued to ignore Derrick Ward for Williams, dumb move.
Bryant, Antonio TBB WR 150.8 25 10 Draft 6 A bargain bin steal that solidified my WR corps.
Cotchery, Jerricho NYJ WR (P) 152 24 5 Draft 12 Solid
Galloway, Joey TBB WR 25.4 N/A 10 Draft 2 I kept him out of fear they’d bench Bryant. Now he’s valued depth.
Hill, Jason SFO WR 47.8 N/A 9 Draft 0 I drafted him, dropped him, and reaquired as stretch run surprise.
Jennings, Greg GBP WR 213.7 4 8 Draft 12 After Brees, the best player on my team.
Walker, Mike JAC WR 31.6 N/A 7 Free Agent - Wk 6 1 I’m stubborn.
Olsen, Greg CHI TE 85.8 15 8 Free Agent - Wk 5 8 Same deal as the team I discussed above - Vernon Davis Syndrome.
Carney, John NYG PK 114 1 4 Free Agent - Wk 5 3 Has come and gone twice on my team.
Dolphins, MIA DEF 94 15 4 Free Agent - Wk 13 1 My 3rd or 4th defense. Last week: 8 points.

The Good: My running backs. Although this was an auction league, I felt like a lucky owner drafting at the turn of a round with Portis and Lynch as my first two acquisitions. DeAngelo Williams was one of my Preseason All-Gut Check Team nominees and he panned out handsomely as my flex back – so much so, I haven’t even used Derrick Ward (notice the fact I drafted him in both of these leagues at the $1 bargain bin) although it’s a possibility I might if I go far in the playoffs. What’s great about the spread-out-the-talent strategy is when you hit on the right players you have few holes you have to fill through the waiver wire. In this case, I only had to focus on my three favorite waiver wire positions: kicker, tight end, and defense.

The Bad: Vernon Davis Syndrome (see the first analysis from the FAEIL team).

The Ugly: Tying a team in a league that scores its performance to the hundredth of a point. Seriously, how often have you had the same score down to the yard?

Playoff Studs: It will be the passing game that will need to take it up a notch if this team is going to go deep in the post season. Brees should continue to throw at will versus Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit. The tough part will be figuring out will be getting the love. My money is still on Moore, but with Colston benefiting from Moore’s play. He’s had two decent games in a row and I think he’ll stay hot – especially with Reggie Bush back and that knock-off-the-rust game under his belt. Greg Jennings faces Houston, Jacksonville, and Chicago, which is good news because all of these teams are vulnerable to the big play and Jennings is versatile enough to score via the bomb or the quick slant. Antonio Bryant is clearly the first option for Jeff Garcia and he gets the gifts of the Panthers, Falcons, and Chargers. These are all huge games for the Bucs, who will be duking it out for a playoff spot and possibly the division title and these type of games are often high-scoring affairs. Bryant should come up big. The Jets’ match ups aren’t as good, but Jerricho Cotchery is in a great situation and he appears to be rounding back to form after playing through a nagging injury since mid-October.

Playoff Duds: it will be the ground game that will face the stiffest challenges. Clinton Portis gets tested with date against Baltimore. Portis, Santana Moss, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed, the UM alumni in this game, will be geeked up to face each other as interdivision, cross-town rivals. I think Portis is talented enough for a big week, but as long as he’s healthy enough to go I’m expecting a better effort than last week’s Giants effort. Fortunately, I have a bye, so I get to use Portis against Cincinnati’s defense. Marshawn Lynch will face the improved Dolphins defense and the Jets looking to rebound from the embarrassing effort versus Denver. The potential reward is a date with Denver in week 16 – the problem is the Bills could be far behind in that game. Then there’s DeAngelo Williams whose fantasy playoff schedule has the Bucs and Giants as bookends – not encouraging, because he’s been a relative dud against stronger defensive units this year. Again, I get to skip the Bucs affair, but the Giants will be a test. The Packers were considered one of those units, but after the past two weeks, something has changed for the worse.

Playoff Sleepers: The players who might save me if I choose to take the chance on playing match ups rather than establish studs will be Derrick Ward, Ricky Williams, and Jerious Norwood. We talked about Ward earlier; Williams has the benefit of facing Buffalo, San Francisco, and Kansas City in that order. With the Dolphins in contention, they’ll be pulling out all the stops and Williams will be a huge factor against young, athletic defenses that are prone to abandoning their assignments. Although Norwood faces Tampa, he does get another crack at the Saints this weekend and a Vikings front four that will be toothless without the Williams DTs. Expect the Falcons to attempt to build on the success they had with Norwood burning New Orleans a few weeks ago. He’s naturally a mismatch for the Saints defense, so I expect more of the same when the Falcons travel to the Big Easy.

A Fighting Chance

League: Ironman Dynasty League
Record: 7-6
Draft Strategy This team is better than its record; I made poor lineup decisions that cost me five victories. My rookie drafts have been fruitful and netted me decent players. Due to the fact this is a 40-man roster with individual defensive players, I’ll spare you the complete roster breakdown. This year my rookie draft netted me Dustin Keller and a bunch of players I expect to come to the forefront within 2-3 years. I traded away picks and Cadillac Williams for Kevin Smith so he can back up my tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Brian Westbrook.

The Good: Larry Fitzgerald, Dwayne Bowe, and Bernard Berrian are a solid trio of receivers and Matt Jones has been a surprisingly effective spot-time player. Bo Scaife and Dustin Keller are both in the top 10 at their position despite not being projected to start entering training camp. On defense I have two, top-ten linebackers Patrick Wiliis and Karlos Dansby and a total of four in the corps producing in the top 25.

The Bad: Trent Edwards is still developing and the last month not withstanding, David Garrard’s production took a step backward this year. My cornerbacks have been pedestrian at best.

The Ugly: Picking the right runners and passers for my starting lineup has been the killer for me this year. Kyle Vanden Bosch could have been the difference in at least three of the five games I lost if he were healthy. I continually dropped cornerbacks who had good weeks after letting them go for what turned out to be a lesser performer.

Playoff Studs: Larry Fitzgerald (see earlier segment).

Playoff Duds: Although I expect Westbrook to be a strong start versus Cleveland, I’m not counting on him to be great against the Giants or Redskins in weeks 14 and 16. Like DeAngelo Williams, Westbrook has been a fair-weathered, fantasy stud in 2008. I already mentioned that Brandon Jacobs worries me because of the increasing possibility he’ll be used more sparingly on championship weekend if the Giants clinch the division and home field advantage.

Playoff Sleeper: Bernard Berrian has a nice trio of match ups, including the Lions, Cardinals, and Falcons. The Vikings tend to play up or down to their competition so I think Berrian will be needed in every game, especially the last two.

League: Local League
Record: 7-6
Draft Strategy This is typical re-draft league where we start four receivers and two backs with a deep roster. I went heavy on backs and receivers, late on two value-pick QBs, and did my standard one bourbon (TE), one shot (K), and one beer (DEF) near the end.

 Local League
Player Bye Rnk Pts Acquired Comments
Delhomme, Jake QB CAR 9 19 183.9 Draft Part of an ill-conceived QBBC
Peterson, Adrian RB MIN 8 2 221.8 Draft Not bad for the #1 pick.
Turner, Michael RB ATL 7 1 222.7 Draft Great for a third round pick.
Bruce, Isaac WR SF 9 24 106.3 Draft Began great, sucked in the middle, but coming around.
Holmes, Santonio WR PIT 6 39 78.4 Draft Coming around after disappointing most of the year.
Houshmandzadeh, T.J. WR CIN 10 17 115.6 Draft Epitomizes my picks at the position - inconsistent.
Johnson, Calvin WR DET 4 5 157.1 Draft A dream. If I had two more of him, I’d dominate.
Keller, Dustin TE NYJ 5 7 64.8 Free Agent I’ve been starting him over Cooley lately.
Carney, John K NYG 4 1 114 Free Agent It’s been Prater early, Akers midseason, now Carney.
Titans DST 6 6 67.5 Draft Good late schedule.
Campbell, Jason QB WAS 10 18 186.5 Draft My first experimentation with QBBC was a failure.
Stewart, Jonathan RB CAR 9 33 99.3 Draft He came through during the bye weeks.
Williams, Ricky RB MIA 4 37 91.1 Draft A decent back up.
Avery, Donnie WR STL 5 37 81.2 Free Agent I never started him at the best time.
Bess, Davone WR MIA 4 72 43.4 Free Agent New acquisition.
Gage, Justin WR TEN 6 42 74.1 Free Agent Recent acquisition.
Hill, Jason WR SF 9 60 29.2 Free Agent Depth
Muhammad, Muhsin WR CAR 9 32 93.9 Draft He helped me until Steve Smith returned.
Smith, Steve WR NYG 4 61 48.4 Free Agent Depth
Cooley, Chris TE WAS 10 4 77.1 Trade I rarely make deals, but this was a no-brainer.

The Good: The league management site says my receivers are the second best in the league and my RB combo of Peterson and Turner has kept me in the top-four in team scoring. I traded Chris Perry early in the year for Chris Cooley to make up for my third case of Vernon Davis Syndrome.

The Bad: Beyond Calvin Johnson, my receiving corps has been wildly inconsistent and I have done a bad job of picking the right combination beyond starting Calvin Johnson every week.

The Ugly: Quarterback by Committee – the term gives me heartburn just thinking saying it. This is by far the worst performing set of quarterbacks I have ever selected in a re-draft league. I didn’t plan to use a QBBC, but I was always a pick late on the three I wanted most: Brees, Roethlisberger, and McNabb. Both quarterbacks are just missing out on some deep scoring opportunities – especially Delhomme. If he can pick up the pace, I have a fighting chance.

Playoff Studs: Calvin Johnson. With Minnesota, Indianapolis, and New Orleans ahead of him, he should at least give any playoff squad a fighting chance.

Playoff Duds: Michael Turner faces Tampa Bay in what will be the semifinals for most leagues. That doesn’t bode well for this team. Turner may be the top guy in this league and I’m hopeful that Matt Ryan will have learned enough to take the pressure off the Falcons’ bell cow back in this game, but I’m not counting on it. Making the right decision on Turner will paramount to your success. If you can advance to the finals, a chance to face the depleted front four of the Vikings will be a nice reward.

Playoff Sleepers: If Carson Palmer were available, Houshmandzadeh would be the difference for my squad. Without Palmer, the match ups of Washington, Indy, and Cleveland aren’t as appetizing. He’s difficult to bench, especially for the last two weeks. Isaac Bruce’s week 16 match up against his former team in St. Louis should give him extra motivation. Bruce is also legendary for his huge games at the end of the year. He’s averaged over 17.5 points in the last two week 16 match ups. I think this will be one of those years. Is there a scientific basis for this? No. Do you care? I

Still Alive, but an Uphill Battle All the Way

Record: 6-7
Draft Strategy This is a league with several writers from two sites participating. It has a full IDP component and what I like the most is there are no kickers. I drafted as many backs and linebackers I thought presented value. I took chances at DB, DT, and DE because I felt I would have a chance to find value on the waiver wire. The draft was late enough in the preseason to make Brett Favre a worthwhile mid-to-late round investment.

Player Rank YTD Pts Bye Acquired Comments
Favre, Brett NYJ QB 10 181.72 5 Draft His risk taking doesn’t work as well in this league.
Dunn, Warrick TBB RB 27 103.4 10 Free Agent - Wk 6 Depth in case of injury.
Peterson, Adrian MIN RB 5 185.5 8 Draft I had the first picků
Taylor, Chester MIN RB N/A 85.56 8 Draft Insurance I haven’t had to use.
Turner, Michael ATL RB 2 196.9 7 Draft My 2nd RB picked, and my best producer
Williams, DeAngelo CAR RB 4 187 9 Draft My 3rd RB who after last week is edging AD
Berrian, Bernard MIN WR 14 112 8 Draft Bargain
Colston, Marques NOS WR 60 48.8 9 Draft Hopefully he pays dividends in the playoffs
Galloway, Joey TBB WR N/A 13.4 10 Free Agent - Wk 9 Should have dropped him a while ago.
Hill, Jason SFO WR N/A 28.8 9 Free Agent - Wk 11 Jason Hill Syndrome.
Ward, Hines PIT WR 15 111.9 6 Draft Old Reliable.
Keller, Dustin NYJ TE 8 64 5 Free Agent - Wk 4 MacGregor’s trash was my treasure.
Jenkins, Kris NYJ DT 10 67 5 Free Agent - Wk 10 I rotate off the waiver wire.
Denney, Ryan BUF DE 16 77.4 6 Free Agent - Wk 13 I think I’ll keep him.
Parker, Juqua PHI DE 10 89 7 Free Agent - Wk 7 Midseason acquisition.
White, Dewayne DET DE 13 85 4 Free Agent - Wk 7 Waiting for him to return to health.
Fletcher, London WAS LB 17 128 10 Draft Steady
Hayes, Gerald ARI LB 55 89.5 7 Draft Bye week option.
Peterson, Julian SEA LB 24 122.5 4 Draft Up and down player capable of huge games.
Urlacher, Brian CHI LB 27 116.5 8 Draft Coming on late.
Woodley, LaMarr PIT LB 13 136 6 Free Agent - Wk 2 Slipping a bit lately.
Finnegan, Cortland TEN CB 4 135.5 6 Draft Pro Bowl and All-Fantasy stud.
Revis, Darrelle NYJ CB 16 106 5 Free Agent - Wk 6 Nice bye week depth.
Dawkins, Brian PHI S 12 110.5 7 Free Agent - Wk 6 Solid
Polamalu, Troy PIT S 10 116 6 Draft Stepping up.
Williams, Brian JAC S 20 101.5 7 Free Agent - Wk 3 Depth.

The Good: Michael Turner, Adrian Peterson, and DeAngelo Williams as my RB rotation. Cortland Finnegan as my late round CB and I was able to wait forever to get him and a secondary featuring Troy Polamalu and Brian Dawkins.

The Bad: I can only start two RBs out of the three I have. Marques Colston’s injury put a severe dent in my WR corps and Brett Favre was too up and down in a league that scored for turnovers.

The Ugly: Waiting forever for Joey Galloway to return and never produce.

Playoff Studs: I think Colston is going to repeat the late-season tear of 2007 with his match up against the Falcons, Lions, and Bears. Brian Urlacher seems to be playing more like his old self lately and I’m expecting him and London Fletcher to make a late push.

Playoff Duds: None.

Playoff Sleepers: Hines Ward. He’s a great weapon over the middle and the Cowboys, Ravens, and Titans are most vulnerable in the passing game in the middle of their defense.

Mystery Meat?

Last week, the mystery player was none other than Drew Brees – probably the most accurate deep ball thrower in football today. Let’s do another. Here's what three scouts had to say about a 207-lb., prospect that ran a 4.38-40 and succeeded a Heisman Trophy Winner with a dazzling 1681-yard season as a junior. Two of these scouts had a good read on him. One had a taste of Dr. Shoals for dinner:

Scout One: "Speed kills. With his quickness out of a break he's going to have linebackers stumbling and falling all over themselves. He will undress them."

Scout Two: "I'm mixed on him. Some people say he's not instinctive and not a shake guy. (Expletive), he only has to make some kind of move and if you lean the wrong way he's gone. Great, great speed and he plays fast. Maybe when he matures he'll be your every down guy. Not now."

Scout Three: "He's a spot player that might give you a big play. He should have stayed in school and worked on catching the ball."

Personally, I think Scout Two’s comments sound a bit like Darren McFadden. See if you can guess this guy as well as you did with Brees.