Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Posted Sep. 13 at 03:38 AM
ONE WEEK IN: Seeing is not believing for good challenge players. Not yet.
I'm loving my fantasy life right about now. Posted convincing wins in both draft leagues over the weekend, got off to a fast start in the Football Challenge (teams sitting at 88-89-90 overall) and Budget Football (18 overall), even had a dream about two scandalous young ladies and a talking fire hydrant.
That was a joke, about the thing talking.
See below for my final FC roster – the three teams are identical – but know that I'm not patting myself on the back just yet. Seventeen weeks is longer than it seems, even compared to baseball and its interminable, 26-week leviathan regular season. Plenty of things – more than plenty – will go wrong over the next few months.
For one thing, unlike in baseball, you half-expect your teams to be decimated by injuries here. Maybe pitchers' injuries don't surprise you, maybe Junior Griffey's don't, but in baseball you pretty much count on ending the season with the stars you started with. Here, already, we're down Brandon Jacobs for a month or more, maybe Eli Manning (in the same backfield) for the same period. Josh Scobee made his share of challenge rosters, then hurt himself pre-gaming and will miss at least 3 weeks, maybe as many as 8.
For another thing, though, many players who manage to stay healthy will turn out to be something other than what we expected.
Try taking a peek at the NFL leader boards, where, one week in, Josh McCown is a stud QB, Chris Brown a stud RB, Antwaan Randle El a stud WR. Drew Brees and Larry Johnson and Lee Evans are nowhere to be found. There's real danger in looking at anyone after a week – anyone at all – and thinking you've seen what will happen for a whole year.
And, really, that cuts both ways.
Maybe you look at Chris Brown right now and see a genuine star, a guy who ran for 1,067 yards in just 11 games (!) in 2004 but hasn't been right physically of late, a guy whose 175-yard outburst on Sunday portends bigger things to come. I'd argue with you, but I could easily be the one of us who's wrong. One week doesn't win the argument either way.
Here's a better example: Of course you look at LaDainian Tomlinson now and see the best fantasy player in the world – of course you do – even after 17 carries and just 25 yards against the Bears. But would it be all that strange if he fell off markedly from his regular level of greatness? If one bad game became two, and two became a hugely disappointing season? I hear you telling me these numbers are meaningless, but didn't Michael Turner – younger than Tomlinson and with much, much less wear on the tires – manage 41 yards on just 10 carries against the same Chicago D?
Is there anything we know now that we didn't know previously? One week in, is there anything worth thinking (let alone writing) about?
McCown, Brown and Randle El had fluky games. I believe that for lots of reasons, and until I see another week or two of stud effort from any of them I consider the whole trio unworthy of challenge consideration. McCown may have lost his starting job already, leader boards be damned. But opinions are starting to shift as to players you should consider, too. To wit:
The Colts' defense looked incredible last Thursday – I heard one commentator describe the unit as lightning-fast – and it probably isn't. Maybe New Orleans got caught in a crummy dink-and-dunk game plan; maybe the trickle-up effect of dumping Joe Horn and installing Marques Colston as the anointed No. 1, Devery Henderson as No. 2, etc., will force more of the same. I'm already on record as being worried that Colston was a bit of a fluke in 2006, but now I'm worried about Drew Brees, too – not that he was a fluke, exactly, but that his numbers were. It's easier to be great in San Diego than New Orleans.
The silver lining to Black Thursday for the Saints? Most of you didn't own their lousy numbers, as those numbers came in the annual Thursday night cheat game, two nights before most challenges' entry deadlines. Also: Reggie Bush got 12 carries despite the blowout; he had more on just four occasions a year ago.
So worry about Brees and Colston, but that's it for now.
Worry about Donovan McNabb. He looked unusually stiff against Green Bay, not at all the fluid athlete we've watched for so many years. Seems pretty likely that there's some hurt left in that knee – maybe not as much as Daunte Culpepper had last year, trying to lug around 275 lbs., but some. The whole Philly passing game may be down as a result.
Don't worry about Steven Jackson. Which is nuts, right, with Orlando Pace done for the season? Maybe not. Check Jackson's line vs. CAR in Week 1 against his line at CAR in Week 11 last year. He did better this time, at least in terms of bulk rushing yards – that's a top-5ish defense the Panthers have when it's healthy. More importantly, check Jackson's splits from 2006. Pace missed the second half of the season with a similarly devastating injury; Jackson's numbers improved almost across the board. I'm not saying he's better off without the Big O. But this latest injury ended Pace's year, not Jackson's.
Worry about Cedric Benson, at least as often as the Bears play a great defense. He's substandard as an NFL running back; Marion Barber III, to name just one Cowboy runner (of two about whom this may be true), is clearly a better player. Chicago comes home this weekend to face Kansas City; that's a premium matchup, and I fully expect 88 yards and a TD from Benson. After that, though, I may cut him loose.
Don't worry about Randy Moss, whether you own him or not. If you do, congratulations and feel free to gloat for now. If not, though, do not buy him. You already missed the boat.
Look, maybe he is still Randy Moss. Maybe no one can cover him, and he'll go for 2 long TDs every 10 quarters. Still, I'll bet dollars to donuts right now that he doesn't lead the Pats in receptions. Tom Brady seldom forces the ball into coverage; eventually the double-teams will involve better DBs than the Jets have, and Moss will disappear, same as ever, for weeks at a time.
Don't worry about Adrian Peterson, either – not that I ever said you should. Petey's a beast among beasts in the MIN running game, and his 60-yard burst on an ordinary screen play saved Tarvaris Jackson from posting passing numbers best described as Leinartlike.
And toward that end, do, for sure, worry about Matt Leinart. Monday's nightcap was the second-worst sporting event I've ever watched, trailing only a vintage Bucs effort that Chris Berman described as "a game that set football back thirty years." Those were the Vinny Testaverde Bucs, the team I once saw take a delay-of-game penalty ... coming out of a timeout.
Frank Gore bombed only mildly as my expensive tailback of the week (and, actually, seeing as how Jackson is the only other expensive tailback on my Football Challenge roster, I guess he didn't bomb at all). Vernon Davis bombed as much as you can in just two receptions. But Leinart?
Leinart was bad and he was bad often. Receivers were covered; he'd force balls into coverage. Receivers came open; he'd hesitate just enough to let the defensive backs – or even the linebackers – recover. He was rotten. Rotten is too kind a word.
And, still, I'm planning on using him in Week 2, home against the Seahawks.
The real lesson here is that there's no healthy player I won't use on the basis of one week's putrescence. Key word: healthy.
You'll see below that I went with five QBs, ultimately, matching four I'd always promised (Palmer, Brady, Kitna, Leinart) with Eli Manning, who I used Sunday night on a hunch that came through. Make that: a hunch that came through until he did or did not separate, sprain, tear or otherwise injure his throwing shoulder. I frankly can't remember an injury that remained so mysterious two and three days after the MRI, but, whatever, Eli's hurting. That drops me down to four QBs and three real options:
- Use Palmer / Brady / Kitna to avoid Leinart at all costs, despite the facts that (a) Brady has a bad matchup vs. SD, and (b) Leinart has a decent one vs. SEA.
- Use Palmer / Kitna / Leinart, throwing caution to the wind in one sense but saving $$$ that might well be wasted on Brady.
- Buy someone new. Maybe Jay Cutler, maybe Vince Young on another hunch.
The real lesson is that your new player purchases are precious all season long, not only when you're down to your last few of them. Buying a replacement for Eli presents problems in its own right: I'd have to decide between Cutler, Young and others. I'd be burning a purchase. I'd be giving up the faith I do have in Leinart, faith cultivated over several years, in favor of one week's worth of especially hard evidence. And I'd have to pick a player to drop.
It couldn't be Leinart; years of faith has to count for something.
It couldn't be Eli; he's not hurt enough to abandon, not when he looked so much more like his brother than himself the other night.
Worst of all, it probably couldn't be Dallas Clark, who I owned to get that silly cheat game line onto my roster, boost my averages with 1 carry for 14 yards and 2 catches for 48. Drop Clark when Vernon Davis whimpered through a bad Arizona secondary the other night? Not hardly.
I guess it'd come down to Benson, who I'm planning to use this weekend, or Ahman Green, apparently caught in a timeshare with Ron Dayne.
(Aside: My brother Evan used to say that Rik Smits, the Pacers' old center, looked like he would smell awful. Dayne gets my nod as the rightful successor to Smits, just a foul-smelling-looking fellow.)
Booting Green isn't the worst idea in the world, but he's healthy, he ran well the other day and the Texans have real close-games-against-bad-defenses potential later in the year. If my choice comes down to owning Green or Vince Young, I can't honestly say I'm better off with Young. It's why I owned Green in the first place.
In another sense, it's why I owned Leinart.
I'm not saying that burning a purchase after one week should be strictly verboten. There are teams that almost have to do it. I've been e-mailing back and forth with one of my readers over the last couple of weeks; for whatever reason, he left Travis Henry off of his FC roster. That was a mistake. Honest-to-goodness mistakes should be corrected.
My problem is, even as awful as he looked, I can't say yet that Leinart was a mistake. I'm staying the course for at least another week, and I'd encourage you (albeit half-heartedly) to do the same.
Of course, given that I'm planning to write a primer on making early-season purchases next week, you may not have heard the last of Leinart in this space. Fool me twice and I start to get pissed.
Hello to burgeoning CNBC star Nicole Deese, proposition betting expert and all-around guru. I'll see the rest of you soon.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 14 at 03:21 AM
I think the SF-Arizona thing messed with a lot of heads, but I'm going to stay the course with Leinart. It won't be that hard to stuff their running game and they'll be looking downfield eventually. I'm doing Peyton/Kitna/Leinart for a while and hoping to get lucky picking spots with the stud RB's. Regretting not going with Romo; might be my first move.
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