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Fantasy Football Forecast: Dirty Half-Dozen Tips

Jim Brown

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.

Remember that scene in the movie Sleepless in Seattle in which a couple of gals waxed poetic about a moving moment in some chick flick, and the guys responded by getting all weepy about Jim Brown dropping grenades down air shafts in The Dirty Dozen? Well, we get similarly moved when it comes to football -- where else can you get such concentrated doses of hope, despair, triumph, disgrace and suspense? But enough about the replacement refs. (Thanks, we're here all week.)

Speaking of Jim Brown: As any self-respecting football fan knows, Jim Brown is one of the great all-time RBs, and as any military movie fan knows, The Dirty Dozen is one of the great "men on a mission" movies. So as we embark on our mission of conquering Week 6 in fantasy, we  thought it only fitting to present you with a half-dozen's worth of tips to keep in mind as we get deeper into the season. But before that, let's have our usual recap of the previous week...

Week 5 Debrief:

1. MFFF's picks from last week: a mixed bag. While Pittsburgh RB Rashard Mendenhall had a strong return to action with a TD and 101 total yards, cementing himself as a fantasy starter moving forward, San Diego RB Jackie Battle disappeared with 10 yards on 4 carries, and should accordingly disappear from your fantasy rosters ASAP. New England RB Brandon Bolden and Miami WR Davone Bess had decent second-tier numbers, but neither cracked a big play or a big gain -- still, we like them as solid depth players moving forward. And Philadelphia QB Michael Vick reverted to  his error-prone ways with two lost fumbles, though he did get 2 passing TDs.

2. Round and round goes the QB carousel. Kansas City QB Matt Cassel, Tennessee QB Jake Locker, and Washington QB Robert Griffin III are among the signal-callers who have gone down with injuries in the past few weeks. If you need a fresh QB to spark your fantasy team, we suggest staying away from the backups on all three of these teams -- at least for this week. Washington faces a resurgent Minnesota defense, Kansas City will rely heavily on RB Jamaal Charles, and Tennessee has yet to prove they can score points on offense. Need a fill-in QB desperately? Check out our fantasy breakout pick later in this column.

3. Welcome back, Wes. We almost left New England WR Wes Welker for dead after two lackluster performances to start the season, but Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel seem to have come to their senses, and Welker has cleaned up with over 100+ receiving yards in the last three games. TE Aaron Hernandez should be back in a few weeks, but as TE Rob Gronkowski continues to struggle, we expect Welker to remain a prime target for QB Tom Brady and a good complement to the Patriots' newfound running game.

4. Sacks -- whither art thou? Everyone can agree that San Francisco is the best defense in real life and in fantasy, but amazingly, they're averaging less than two sacks a game this year. Ditto for the NY Giants, a team supposedly built on the pass rush. The Niners (and to a lesser extent the Giants) have compensated with the lack of pass rush oomph by piling up some good turnover stats. Meanwhile, teams like Houston (led by unstoppable DE J.J. Watt) and Seattle are cleaning up on the pass rush, and are also among the top Ds the league has to offer. Can you take anything away from these observations? Only that in our experience, sacks tend to be more consistent over time than turnovers, so if you have a chance to start a D with a good pass rush, you'll have a better chance at decent numbers week to week.

With that out of the way, here's your key half-dozen tips for Week 6 and beyond...

Dirty Half-dozen Tips for Fantasy:

1. Don't overreact to one good week. Packers WR James Jones and Saints WR Marques Colston  look mighty enticing, don't they? Beware -- even though they both had fantastic fantasy days last Sunday, the Packer and Saints offenses are known to spread the ball around, and one week's hero might be next week's disappearing act. Same goes for Browns WR Josh Gordon -- you might be fooled by his stat line (82 yards, 2 TDs), but one came in garabage time and another came when he was being covered one-on-one downfield by a middle linebacker. We don't anticipate that happening too often the rest of the season.

2.Systems > Players. Related to point 1 is the fact that taking part-time players from teams that are consistent in their approach and success is a better bet than rolling the dice on a fresh starter in a  bad situation. You might be tempted to pick up Arizona RBs William Powell and La'Rod Stephens-Howling in the wake of a season-ending injury to starting RB Ryan Williams, but Williams' season stats (164 yards, 2.8 per carry) suggest that you might not get much production.  The same goes for Green Bay, who lost RB Cedric Benson -- before you grab RBs James Starks or Alex Green, note that Benson was averaging under  50 yards a game, and with the Packers in near-desperation mode with a record of 2-3, they're going to put the ball in the hands of their best player, who happens to be QB Aaron Rodgers.

So what are some better value plays? Patriots RB Brandon Bolden (191 yards these past two weeks) might be a part-time player, but New England's offensive prowess means he'll get opportunities moving forward, especially since RB Stevan Ridley has been plagued with fumbling issues. Likewise, Giants wideouts Ramses Barden, Dominik Hixon and Reuben Randle have been under the radar, but each have had their moment in the sun these last three weeks with leading receiver Hakeem Nicks out with foot and knee injuries. This week against the Niners, look for Hixon and Barden to continue to see opportunities, with Randle a possible dark horse depending on Nicks' status.

3. Time to let go of some preconceptions. Now that we're five weeks in, rid yourself of any assumptions over teams and players based on appearances. For example: Cleveland is 0-5, so it stands to reason they have a horrific defense, right? Actually, no. With ten forced turnovers so far this year, plus good kick return yardage thanks to Josh Cribbs, they actually rank as a top-10 defense in most leagues. How about Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Dallas? All have big names on D, and they're all in the bottom quarter of the league in fantasy points. For an example on offense, take San Francisco QB Alex Smith, who threw for a relatively paltry 17 TDs last year, but is putting up improved numbers (and even had a 300-yard game last week) in the Niners' sneakily productive attack this year. Moral of the story: don't trust in history repeating.

Likewise, it's time to start thinking about cutting or trading big-name players who haven't produced. Packers WR Greg Jennings (injured and 79 yards through five games) and Panthers WR Steve Smith (388 yards so far this year, but a season-low 39 yards last week with struggling QB Cam Newton) were both thought to be number-one targets when the season began but are severely underperforming. As for QBs, Detroit's Matthew
Stafford and Dallas' Tony Romo are both way down in fantasy production, and both are already banged up.

The good news is that if you can correctly gauge when a big-name player (or team) is headed downhill, you should be able to work some advantageous trades in your favor.

4. Don't overthink your matchups. This is almost a counter-argument to  #3, but bear with us: Let's say you have QBs Tom Brady and Andy Dalton on your team. This week the Bengals play the reeling Browns, and the Patriots are up against a tough Seattle defense. Wouldn't it make sense to go with Dalton over Brady? On paper you'd think so, but there's a reason Brady continues to be a solid fantasy scorer. The point is that if you have a record of consistent performance on your side, it's better to roll the dice than rely on a boom-or-bust selection (and if you want to see bust, check out Dalton's numbers from last week).

5. Lock onto those targets. It's one of the more useful stats in fantasy: the number of passes targeted a receiver's way. For instance, Wes Welker has averaged 12 targets a game the last three games, and his  stats have ballooned accordingly. As long as you're a receiver worth your salt, if a QB is looking your way frequently, you're going to get  a good share of catches, even if you have an off-game or two. Just look at the shocking season of Miami WR Brian Hartline, who is among the league leaders in targets (and catches). St. Louis WR Danny Amendola, who isn't at the tip of anyone's tongue when it comes to elite receivers, received an elite number of targets (and decent stats to match) for the Rams until his gruesome injury last week. (And yes, don't pick up any Rams receivers unless you're really desperate (see tip #2).)

6. Desperate teams = fantasy points. Up until the end of the third quarter of the Denver-New England game last Sunday, you were wearing a frowny face if you owned Denver offensive players on your fantasy team. And then Denver QB Peyton Manning switched to come-from-behind mode, racked up 300+ yards and two late TDs, and suddenly everyone felt better. There's no greater fantasy elixir than being forced to play catch-up, or needing to compensate for a below-par defense (hello, Green Bay and New Orleans). Of course the downside of this philosophy is the increased chance for turnovers, but we'll take it every time over the fantasy-killing alternative of a defensive "ball-control", "keep the game close" approach.   

Fantasy Breakout Picks this week:

TE Vernon Davis, 49ers: Maybe he was in Gronkowski and the Saints' Jimmy Graham's shadows at the beginning of the season, but as the primary target for Alex Smith, Davis has been a more consistent threat week in and week out. Against a decimated Giants secondary, he should be in line for near 100 yards and a TD.

RB Joique Bell, Lions: With the star power of Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson and new starting RB Mikel LeShoure, it's easy to overlook Bell, but over the Lions' last three games, he's averaging over 70 total yards per contest, with increased production in receptions. As the Lions' most consistent pass-catching RB, Bell should give you solid production at RB2 or flex positions.

QB Carson Palmer, Raiders: The strange little secret of the Raiders' season thus far is that even though the team's performance has been lackluster, Palmer is putting up respectable fantasy numbers. This week he goes up against a Falcons pass defense that has shown a propensity for giving up yards -- even Redskin rookie second-stringer Kirk Cousins got off  some decent throws against them last week.

Offensive Matchup of the Week:

San Francisco vs. NY Giants: You wouldn't think a rematch of last year's defense-heavy NFC championship would yield the high score of the week, but the Giants' D has been shaky all year and is operating at half-speed with numerous injuries, while the Niners have cleaned up with 77 points over the past two weeks.

Defensive Matchup of the Week:

Miami vs. St. Louis: The Dolphins are flexing their muscle on D, as they stifled a sometimes-explosive Cincinnati offense last Sunday, and they have an easier task with the Rams this week, especially with Danny Amendola out.

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