Extra roster moves can aid a late push to the playoffs

The Baltimore Sun

The sweet agony of fantasy football will peak over the next 12 days.

The NFL will hold games on a whopping six different dates between Thanksgiving and Dec. 4. And many of us have fantasy teams that could either slide into or plummet out of a playoff spot during that span.

So I'll eschew any whimsy today and get down to the nitty-gritty of planning for these vital weeks.

A lot of fantasy football strategy comes down to a simple philosophical conundrum: Do you always stick with the guys who got your team into contention or do you try to play the matchups?

I'm a baseball guy first, so my gut usually tells me to roll with the stars and bet that talent will rise above week-to-week circumstances. But the more football I play, the more I believe that's an inadequate approach to key weeks such as these. This isn't baseball where you have a bad week but can overcome it the next. In football, you win this week and next or you fold your tent until September.

So it's vital that before today's games, you run down every spot in your starting lineup and ask: Will this guy help me this week or might I be able to squeeze an extra point from a player on my bench or the waiver wire?

We're supposed to ask ourselves those questions every week, and the best players do. But I think most of us hit a week or two where we gloss over the matchups and re-submit our standard lineups on autopilot. Don't do that today or next Thursday. If there's a defense on the waiver wire that might afford you a point more than your regular unit, make the switch. If you're not sure about the health of a wide receiver, don't just start him and keep your fingers crossed. Learn as much as you can about the injury and make an educated decision.

Several recent injuries have created intrigue. If you lost Donovan McNabb for the season last weekend, you have my sympathy. But there's not a whole lot you can do to fill that hole at this juncture. I hope you drafted or picked up a strong No. 2, such as Jon Kitna or Tony Romo. But I know the waiver pickings in my leagues are slim at this point.

LaMont Jordan owners are in the same boat, though he had already been such a disappointment that his season-ender may not feel like such a blow.

The more interesting cases are receiver Marques Colston and running back Kevin Jones, who suffered ankle injuries last week. I expect both guys to play, but I would lean against starting either if you have reasonable alternatives. Those are simply not positions where guys can afford to be a step slow on cuts.

For evidence of that, look to Seattle where Shaun Alexander returned last week for the Seahawks but did not look like the guy who scored 28 touchdowns in 2005. I know that if you drafted Alexander first or second overall and have been suffering through his injury, it's tempting to shove him back into your starting lineup. But resist the urge until he shows the old burst and shiftiness.

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck presents an even trickier situation. He's scheduled to return from a knee injury Monday night and though I would normally advise caution, he'll be taking aim at a porous Green Bay Packers secondary. He's not an automatic start. For example, I have him in a league where I also own Philip Rivers, and Rivers will get the nod. But don't write off Hasselbeck as an option. I'd probably start him over David Carr, Rex Grossman, Steve McNair or Ben Roethlisberger.

Quarterback has remained a fascinating position throughout this season, with projected backups often outshining Tom Brady and Carson Palmer. For this week, if you're wondering about Romo, Kitna, Drew Brees or Jake Delhomme, don't. They all face good matchups and should be solid fantasy starters.

At running back, I'm considering the unthinkable - benching Tiki Barber. I love Tiki. He's one of the three or four best running backs in the NFL and probably a Hall of Famer. But I own him in a league that favors touchdowns over yardage. Brandon Jacobs is a great punch-it-in back and it's become clear that unless Barber breaks a long one, he's not going to the end zone for the New York Giants. So he's giving me five and six points a week while LaDainian Tomlinson (who's having a fantasy season for the ages, by the way) and Larry Johnson are giving their owners 15 to 25. I probably won't sit Barber, because he's a better bet than Dominic Rhodes, but that's an example of the sort of unorthodox option you might want to contemplate.

At wide receiver, I think Javon Walker against the Kansas City Chiefs and Joey Galloway against the Dallas Cowboys will offer their owners some nice post-turkey treats this evening. And I expect Andre Johnson to have a big game against the New York Jets on Sunday, even though he has a bruised thigh.

On defense, the Cincinnati Bengals should handle the Cleveland Browns and thus be a viable fantasy start. And that covers it until next week. So good luck and enjoy the feasting, even if your team is leaving you lean and hungry.


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