Every week we'll break down the movers, shakers, winners and losers in fantasy football, and keep an eye out for the players you should be eyeing for your fantasy rosters.
We've reached the quarter-mark of the NFL season, where the wheat starts separating from the chaff in the standings and in fantasy leagues. And with bye weeks now going full-swing (Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay are off this week), proper strategy and deployment of your players becomes even more important.
Bye Week Tip: The 3x12 Rule
We here at MFFF adhere to this simple rule when it comes to bye weeks: if you have one or two starters unavailable on any given week, try to find replacements even if you're only picking a free agent up for one week. If, however, you have 3 or more holes in your lineup for a given week, and there are more than 12 teams in your league, we suggest biting the bullet and rolling with who you have -- it's not worth depleting your roster depth to try to win one week. The one exception to this rule, of course, is if you're in a must-win game to get into or win in the fantasy playoffs.
Before we get to our burning question of the week -- namely, is there anything that can save New York Jets' spiralling season and Rex Ryan's job? -- let's go over our usual debrief of last week's action.
The Week 4 Debrief:
Our picks last week: 1 for 4. San Diego RB Jackie Battle did his part with 81 yards of total offense and 2 TDs against the Chiefs, but our other three fantasy breakout picks for the week were, shall we say, a bit off. On a day in which QB Brandon Weeden threw for 320 yards, Cleveland WR Josh Gordon had exactly one catch for 16 yards. NY Giants RB Andre Brown followed up a 100-yard game with a paltry five carries for 17 yards as he was buried in the lineup behind Ahmad Bradshaw. And just as it seemed as if he would shore up Detroit's running game, RB Mikel LeShoure was held to a paltry 26 yards, with a lost fumble the stinky raspberry on top.
Good team = good fantasy team? Or vice versa? The teams with the best records so far (Atlanta, Houston, Arizona) look like they're here to stay, while those at the bottom (Cleveland, New Orleans, Oakland, Kansas City, Tennessee, Jacksonville) look pretty hopeless. Does this info help you if you need to pick up some fresh players for fantasy? Surprisingly, not much. Usually you'd think that no one's job on a bad team is safe, but all the teams at the bottom this year have entrenched QBs, RBs and WRs, so you won't find too many unknown players stepping in unless someone gets hurt. On the other hand, no surprising players have stepped up for Atlanta, Houston and Arizona, and they have no reason to change what's working, so you won't find breakout candidates here, either.
Buffalo, Dallas, New York Jets, Seattle, Washington = Pretenders? These teams are all 2-2, and all have gone 2-2 in most unspectacular fashion. Four of these five teams endured devastating losses last weekend, and the fifth (Washington) barely won a game that should have been well in hand. Four of the teams (Buffalo, Dallas, New York, Washington) are wracked with injury woes, while the fifth (Seattle) has yet to discover an offense in a division dominated by defense (the NFC West). In short, if you have fantasy players on these teams, you may be tempted to trade or waive them before their value drops further.
Denver, New England, Green Bay, New York Giants = Contenders? These teams are 2-2 as well -- so why aren't they included in the "Pretenders" list? Denver gets to play in a weak AFC West, and QB Peyton Manning is rounding nicely into form. New England has struggled but now gets to reap the benefits of an easy schedule. Likewise, Green Bay struggled against defensive juggernauts in weeks 1-3 but look to be getting back on track offensively. And while the Giants are licking their wounds after a tough Sunday night loss to the Eagles, they have been an explosive October team during Tom Coughlin's tenure as head coach (16-4 in October since 2007), and with injured players coming back in the next few weeks, we should see a surge. Overall, MFFF predicts the arrow pointing up on players for these teams, so look for any leftover gems in your fantasy league.
Miami offense = viable? It was a week of near-shockers, as undefeated Atlanta and Arizona nearly got upset by inferior teams, but the biggest surprise was the Miami offense versus Arizona, as rookie QB Ryan Tannehill exploded for over 400 passing yards. And don't look now, but WR Brian Hartline leads the league with 455 receiving yards. Miami head coach Joe Philbin wasn't the most exciting presence on HBO's "Hard Knocks" training camp show over the summer, but it's clear the man knows how to coach offense, and with some easier teams coming up on their schedule (the Colts, the Jets, the Rams), it's a good time to take a chance on some Miami offensive players, including Tannehill, Hartline and WR Davone Bess.
Saving Rex Ryan
Okay, maybe it doesn't rank with storming Omaha Beach in terms of difficulty, but Jets head man Rex Ryan certainly has his work cut out for him after a 34-0 shellacking at the hands of the 49ers left the Jets dazed and rudderless. Let's count the many obstacles Mr. Ryan currently faces in saving what seems to be a lost season.
1. Sanchez/Tebow = Help! We won't delve too deeply into the "who should start at QB for the Jets" conundrum -- we'll leave that to just about every other sportswriter on the planet. But look at these stats: 813 yards, 49.2 completion percentage, 5 TDs, 4 INTs. That's Mark Sanchez's stats for this year, barely over 200 yards and 1 TD per game. Take away game 1, in which he had 3 TDs, and the outlook is even bleaker. And before you nominate Tim Tebow as the saviour of the Jets season, let's look at his stats from last year: in just over 11 starts, he averaged about 217 yards per game (that includes both passing and rushing). He did score 18 TDs, which is a better clip than what Sanchez has achieved so far, but he had a viable running game and some decent WRs in Denver to lean on, which leads to...
2. Jets = M*A*S*H Unit. TE Dustin Keller. WR Santonio Holmes. WR Stephen Hill. FB John Connor. That's nearly all your skill players on offense, folks, and they've all been or are going out with injuries -- and we haven't even mentioned that the Jets' best player, CB Darelle Revis, is gone for the year with an ACL injury. Even if the Jets make a change at QB, their best option to receive those passes right now is WR Jeremy Kerley, who is the very definition of a feast-or-famine player (12 yards receiving last week).
3. Schedule = Brutal. The Patriots twice, the resurgent Cardinals, the Texans, the Chargers -- these are some of the teams coming up on New York's schedule, not to mention rematches with Miami, who almost won their first meeting Week 3, and the Bills, who be licking their chops to get their passing game going against a Jets team minus Revis. Best-case scenario at this point looks like 8-8, which won't cut it for playoff contention.
Our prescription for Rex Ryan? Hunker down, accept heavy casualties this season, and wait for reinforcements to arrive in 2013 in the form of new draft picks, new free agents, and most probably a new philosophy on offense. With all the accumulated injuries, Ryan will likely get a mulligan for this season and one last shot to make good next year. The current team is designed for a ground-and-pound attack but doesn't have the offensive line or runners to do either. In today's NFL, you make hay by throwing the ball, and the Jets have a long way to go personnel and playbook-wise to be proficient in that department.
Week 5 Fantasy Picks
RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: After sitting out the first three weeks with an injury, Mendenhall is ready to step in and give the Steelers a bit more balance on offense. Time of possession will be crucial, as the Steelers defense is looking weaker than it has in a while.
RB Jackie Battle, Chargers: Yep, we're going to ride the hot hand again this week. Battle is going up against a very suspect Saints defense and should get opportunities for short-range touchdowns.
WR Davone Bess, Dolphins: The Bengals' pass D has been shaky this season, and with sudden superstar Brian Hartline being targeted opposite him, he'll have a chance to get some easy catches over the middle.
RB Brandon Bolden, Patriots: A bit of a gamble, as he's clearly the #2 runner behind Stevan Ridley, but he's going up against an inconsistent Denver defense and his bruising style is well-suited for goal-line carries.
QB Michael Vick, Eagles: Remember Michael Vick? He was a turnover machine in his first three games, but he played consistent, error-free ball against the Giants, and this week he'll take on a Steelers team that ranks among the league's worst in pass D.
Best Offensive Matchup of the Week:
San Diego at New Orleans: The Saints may be out of the division race already, but they're not going to stop throwing the ball and putting up points, and they're not going to stop the Chargers, either. Both of these teams are in line to put up some sparkling offensive stats.
Best Defensive Matchup of the Week:
Houston at the New York Jets: This is about as close to a slam dunk as it gets. A reeling Jets team, coming off a shutout at the hands of one of the best defenses in the league, going up against one of the best defenses in the league this week? We only pray that Mark Sanchez makes it through this one alive.
Got a specific question or need advice on fantasy football this week? Sound off in the comments section below.