Monday, December 28, 2009

Week 16 column: No excuses for title-game blunders

I don’t get it.

How does someone who labored so hard for four months to get their fantasy team to the championship game then snooze through Sunday afternoon as the Rams announce that Steven Jackson would be inactive?

This happened in two of my leagues’ title contests, where Jackson was locked in early as a starter and wasn’t replaced prior to the late kickoff. Sure, it was a modest surprise given Jackson’s reputation for playing through pain. But we knew he had been missing practice throughout the week due to a lingering back injury, so wouldn’t it make sense to check in prior to kickoff to make certain he was active?

I’m sorry, but that’s a cardinal sin in fantasy football. You deserve the goose egg, and the loss, if you made such a boneheaded blunder.

Those who opted to start Peyton Manning could be forgiven, however, if only because so much uncertainty swirled around his expected playing time prior to the game. I advised benching Reggie Wayne and Manning in Friday’s Starters & Benchwarmers column, but I realize those were tough decisions to make, especially if your other options weren’t terribly exciting. At least you were warned.

On a related note, get ready for more of the same if your league inexplicably wages its championship bout in Week 17. (Suggestion for 2010: Don’t.) With nothing to play for, Colts starters will undoubtedly hit the showers after a drive or two. Expect similar non-production from most Chargers and Saints starters, and possibly even the Patriots, Bengals, Cardinals and Vikings.

That’s why I highly recommend a more enjoyable way to wrap up the fantasy season: The Free-for-All Bowl.

It’s simple. Everyone – including those who sat out the postseason – sets one final starting lineup. The top overall score wins five percent of the pot. (For non-money leagues, I suppose you could play for pride. Winning, in this case, would be much like hitting a perfect drive off the 18th tee after a lousy round of golf. It fuels hope for future success.)

We’ve played the Free-for-All Bowl in a couple of my leagues for as long as I can remember, because it’s a great way to keep everyone engaged while extracting one more competitive week out of the fantasy season. And I think we can all agree that’s a worthy objective.

If you can talk your fellow owners into staging a Free-for-All Bowl next weekend, I urge you to give it a try. Otherwise, be sure to get it on the schedule next season.


Hopefully you’ve already played, and won, your league’s championship. If you still have something on the line in Week 17 – ideally not a title matchup – there’s not much available on the waiver wire to help you. But here are some marginal free agent recommendations anyway, along with several who would look better in someone else’s lineup.

Catch 'em while you can

Donald Brown, RB, Colts. Apart from a short TD plunge, the rookie didn’t show much against a tough Jets defense in relief of Joseph Addai. But Brown flashed his talent earlier in the season, and he’ll likely get the majority of the carries next week against the NFL’s worst rush defense. Surprisingly, Addai’s understudy is available in roughly 40 percent of fantasy leagues.

Mike Bell, RB, Saints. If Pierre Thomas’ rib injury is serious enough to ground him for the finale, Bell and Reggie Bush will see a spike in carries. Bell is a tough short-yardage rusher who could rack up a TD plunge or two for those desperate for a healthy body.

Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Panthers. Now that Steve Smith is out for the duration with a broken arm, Muhammad is the last viable receiver standing in Carolina’s passing game. Though the Saints will be looking to halt their late-season skid, Matt Moore has been surprisingly effective since becoming the Panthers’ starting quarterback. He even connected with Muhammad for the receiver’s first score of the season on Sunday.

Don’t be fooled

Curtis Painter, QB, Colts. Don’t think he’ll simply step into a high-octane offense and start racking up Manning-like statistics. The rookie should get plenty of playing time next Sunday, but Indy is likely to lean on its running game in this one. Besides, prior to Sunday’s debacle against the Falcons, Buffalo’s pass defense had been among the league’s best.

Kenneth Darby, RB, Rams. Whether or not Steven Jackson plays next weekend, his backup offers little value in a matchup with the 49ers’ tough run defense.

Jabar Gaffney, WR, Broncos. He took advantage of the opportunities presented by Eddie Royal’s neck injury and Brandon Stokley’s early ejection, with seven receptions for 69 yards and a pair of TDs. But with both wideouts likely to return next week, even a favorable matchup with the Chiefs isn’t enough to justify a pickup.

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