Here were are. Fantasy football championship week. Hopefully, you're still playing for something (if you're not, I'm not sure why you're reading this). And, hopefully, the NFL team you root for is still in the thick of the playoff race.
And, hopefully, unlike me, that's not going to be a huge conflict of interest for you.
You see, I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan (try not to hold it against me, Carroll County) and I'm in a tricky dilemna because in the two fantasy football championships I'm playing in, I'm facing a combined three Steelers.
While I'm not opposed to drafting players from my favorite team — I own Antonio Brown in the Carroll County Times league — I have a tendency to downgrade them a bit in fantasy, sometimes to my detriment, because I want to make sure I'm not blinded by team-colored glasses.
In other words, I thought Le'Veon Bell was going to be pretty great heading into this year, and I had a chance to draft him in my home league, but avoided it, somewhat worried my fan optimism was blinding me from reality. Turns out, it wasn't, but that's neither here nor there.
Now, I'm going to find myself cheering hard for the Steelers to lock up a playoff spot today while hoping Bell and Ben Roethlisberger — both starting for my opponent in my home league — don't have big days, while also rooting for Brown in the CCT league and hoping Pittsburgh kicker Shawn Suisham doesn't convert too many field goal attempts, since he's on my opponent's team in that league.
Maybe the Steelers defense can turn back the clock and score a couple of defensive and special teams TDs to win the game while the offense has an off day. Well, except for Brown. Hopefully, he grabs 12 passes (it's a PPR) but doesn't get in the endzone ... or if he does, maybe it comes on a trick play where Roethlisberger doesn't throw it -- just as long as it isn't Bell or Suisham that does!
And this is the Fan-tasy football dilema.
DeMar-Go or DeMar-No?
Speaking of dilemas, those who rode Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray to the fantasy football finals are in quite the pickle this week. The NFL's leading rusher had left hand surgery earlier in the week, but he's been practicing, leaving some optimism that he'll play in a juicy match-up against the Colts shoddy run defense.
As of Saturday morning, it sounded like he is going to start — the Cowboys were actually going to leave the decision up to him, according to Adam Schefter. The injury was to his non-dominant (non-ball carrying) hand, meaning running the ball shouldn't be a problem.
But while Murray isn't have a prolific season catching the ball like Bell or Matt Forte, he's still fourth among RBs in receptions with 54. I wouldn't count on him catching a lot of passes if he has to heavily wrap his left hand to protect it, and that means he will probably come off the field in obvious passing situations (pass blocking would also be difficult).
Obviously, the best case scenario for Murray owners is that he plays and gets as much work as usual. With the Cowboys needing a victory to keep pace for the NFC East crown and a playoff berth, it's not completely unrealistic for Murray to get a lot of work. However, I think we have to expect somewhere closer to 15-19 total touches, about 10 less than usual.
Bottom line, if Murray is active and starting, play him. If not, I hope you handcuffed Randle or have lucked into a couple of guys playing after 4 p.m., because you'll probably have to wait until about 3:30 to hear for certain Murray's status.
Marshawn Lynch (even with a tough match-up in Arizona) and C.J. Anderson are must-starts in the Sunday and Monday night games, respectively, and I think Bengals rookie runner Jeremy Hill (Monday vs. Denver) is getting close to that territory, too. If I somehow had those three and Murray, which isn't inconceivable (and may explain why you are in the championship game), I'd start them all and leave Murray on the bench regardless.
Other late-game backs you might have that you could start if Murray sits are Tre Mason (vs Giants, 4:05), Fred Jackson (vs. Raiders), Latavius Murray (vs. Bills), Dan Herron (vs. Cowboys) and, if you're in a PPR, Gio Bernard (vs. Broncos on Monday night), in that order. I'd prefer Randle the handcuff over all but Mason and Jackson, I think.
Andre Williams, Trent Richardson and Kerwynn Williams cannot be trusted in this big of a spot.
Strong match-ups for early game running backs
Sticking with the DeMarco Murray situation, there are quite a few backs in the early games with great match-ups that, if you just don't have the options to wait on Murray, you could play and feel OK about.
Le'Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy and Arian Foster are all must-starts, as they have been all season, with good to great match-ups.
Matt Forte has a tough match-up against the league's No. 1 defense, the Detroit Lions, and also has Jimmy Clausen starting for the first time at QB, so there is some unknown there. I'm still playing Forte (literally, I have him on both of my championship game teams) because he's usually able to do enough in the passing game and that's where RBs can make their hay against the Lions. (Forte caught 6 for 52 vs. Detroit in their last outing, Shane Vereen had 8 for 48 against them and last week Matt Asiata caught 7 for 50. That's at least 11 points in a PPR.) If you're a Forte owner, hope that Clausen checks down quite a bit.
Justin Forsett has been a revelation most of the year, but he struggled mightly against Jacksonville at home last week. The Texans are strong against the run, but I think Forsett will still find success. He started his career with Houston under now Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, so if you believe in revenge games, this might be one of them.
Mark Ingram, like Forsett, has greatly outplayed his draft day value this year, and likely Forsett, has struggled lately, even in conceivably good match-ups. Still, at home against the sieve-like Atlanta Falcons, he makes a good start.
Joique Bell has been one of the best fantasy backs in the league lately, especially since Reggie Bush has seemingly proven to be washed up and Bell is getting most of the touches. He destroyed the Bears on Thanksgiving and should do so again today.
Jonathan Stewart has been a nice volume back the past few weeks with DeAngelo Williams sidelined. He should get the bulk of the carries to himself again today versus a Cleveland defense that is pretty suspect against the run.
Steven Jackson didn't do much last week, but the Saints have been torched by opposing running backs lately. Not a preferable start in championship week, as he offers little upside, but you could do much worse.
Doug Martin in your starting lineup is the equivilant of a hail mary. He had 99 total yards last week, but most of it (64 yards) came on the first of his 15 touches.
I can't bring myself to start anyone in the New England backfield, or anyone in the Jets backfield. It's just too hard to prediction which ones are going to get enough touches to be productive.
Big play receivers could sit
It seems highly unlikely that Falcons WR Julio Jones would play for the second straight week -- he'll be a game-time decision -- and it's a shame because for the second-straight week, he's got a great match-up that you'd love to exploit.
Hopefully, Julio owners "handcuffed" him with Harry Douglas last week, who also makes a great start if Julio sits, and might even be a decent one if Jones plays.
My biggest concern about Jones is, unlike an injured RB, teams oftentimes run out elite WRs at decobys, because defenses still have to respect them. We saw this earlier in the year with Calvin Johnson. The Falcons are fighting for their playoff lives, if they lose to division rival New Orleans today, they are eliminated from playoff contention.
I think Jones is going to play, which is the worst case scenario for owners with him and Douglas. If you start Julio and he's either a decoy or re-aggravates his injury early, there's a decent chance you get a goose egg. But he's so good that you hate to sit him and watch him explode like he did the last two times he took the field.
Again, this is a situation I'm in, and unless I get some really good news on Julio (feels great, looked sharper running his routes in pregame warm-ups) I think I might roll with Douglas, regardless.
T.Y. Hilton of the Colts is 50-50, but here's a case where I think the Colts can afford to sit him. Because it's a late game, and like with Murray, your options for a replacement might be limited, I think I'd just go ahead and anticipate Hilton sitting. Indianapolis is pretty much locked into the 3 or 4 seed in the AFC playoffs, so this isn't must win or anything. They also have an intriguing replacement in Donte Moncrief, who has had a few big games this season and keeps earning more and more playing time. He's a sleeper for this week.
Julian Edelman, a bonafide PPR stud, has a concussion and is likely to sit. At least you'll know early, witha 1 p.m. gametime. If he plays, roll with him in a very winnable match-up against the Jets. Brandon LaFell, who is probably locked in as a high-end WR3 regardless, might actually get a boost if he sits.
Marques Colston, since the injury to Brandin Cooks, has a touchdown in 3 of his last 4. I like him against Atlanta as a WR3.
Bears WR Marquess Wilson didn't catch of a lot of passes, but he did hit paydirt last week. He's likely been working with backup-turned-starter Jimmy Clausen in practice all season, so maybe there is chemistry there? I don't think it's worth the chance. Alshon Jeffrey is too talented not to play, but Clausen is an unpredictable X-factor in how he will affect the value of the entire offense against a really good defense.
I'm not benching Josh Gordon (Within reason. You probably drafted him as a WR2 or WR3 flier, and hopefully that's how you've been treating him). As terrible as Johnny Manziel was, Flash Gordon was still his primary target, leading pass catcher and leading receiver. Johnny Football can't get any worse this week, can he?
I think the top 8 fantasy quarterbacks or so should be pretty obvious this week, it's the same guys who have been at or near the top of the leaderboard all year.
However, as I look across my own leagues, most of the teams playing for titles aren't using a lot of these guys. I'm, as I write this Saturday morning, am contemplating starting Ryan Tannehill (vs. Minnesota) or Philip Rivers (who played last night against the 49ers, well after this column was finished). My opponent actually made it despite starting Manziel last week and today is going with Joe Flacco.
That says alot about the need to draft a quarterback early, which I plan to write about a bit more in-depth next week.
Of the "fringe" quarterbacks starting today or Monday night, they are all pretty much in the same boat. I don't feel great about starting any of them, but I don't think any of them will sink your team either.
There is one guy I do want to touch on, and that's Alex Smith. He's had a couple nice weeks (more the result of catch-and-runs by his RBs and TEs than anything he's done) and as been a popular sleeper this week. Personally, I think he stinks, but so does the Steelers secondary, who will be without Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu. I understand why someone would start him, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Steelers give up that elusive KC wide receiver touchdown this week. Still, his ceiling and floor are about the same as guys like Tannehill, Andy Dalton and Kyle Orton.
One guy I'm absolutely staying away from? Eli Manning. The Rams pass rush is going to destroy him.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
Like quarterbacks, I think at this point, you know what you have at the tight end position. Touchdowns have been king at the position this year, and unfortunately, they aren't especially predictive. I know this seems like a cop out, but you probably don't have a lot of hard TE lineup questions in championship week, even if you're a streamer. You know who has worked for you this year and you're not going to play some hack like Luke Willson just because he's got an OK matchup, right?
The biggest question someone might have is what to do about Julius Thomas? After running roughshod over defenses to start the year -- remember when it was just "too easy?" — he's been active returning from an injury and doing next to nothing as the Broncos have moved to more of a power-running attack. Still, he's such a red zone threat that you can't sit him. Peyton will find him eventually. There's still no tight end I'd rather play outside of Gronk and Jimmy Graham in my championship game.
If you picked up Baltimore last week to stream against Jacksonville, hopefully you hung onto them. Houston is likely going to play Case Keenam, who they signed off the street last week, and he might be without DeAndre Hopkins. Andre Johnson is back, but he's been a shell of his former self. Arian Foster is the biggest threat here, and I expect him to carry the Texans offense, but the Ravens will tee off with a lead in the second half. This could get ugly.
The St. Louis Rams defense didn't fare very well last Thursday, despite the Arizona Cardinals quarterback woes. No matter, they are at home against Eli Manning, who still enjoys getting sacked and throwing passes to the other team. Odell Beckham can only do so much damage.
Think the Green Bay Packers might be a little miffed after getting upset in Buffalo last week? They'll take it out on the Tampa Bay Bucs. This is gonna get ugly.