Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Posted Sep. 10 at 08:14 AM
As promised, this is the first column I've posted after a Thursday night cheat game but before the remainder of Kickoff Weekend. Below you'll find both reaction to the cheat game itself and notes on how my thinking has (and hasn't) changed since I ran down the individual positions over the past several weeks.
THE CHEAT GAME
Every year the opener helps me more than one-sixteenth of a week's games should. Maybe that's because there are always decent or better teams involved (and thus teams with at least a few roster candidates between them), or maybe it's just dumb luck. This year I say it's luck.
Most years we get an excellent cheapo play out of the cheat game. Not in 2010. Visanthe Shiancoe must of course be active for you in Week 1 (especially in categories games), but he's slightly more expensive than both of the tight ends I'd planned on starting in most weeks: Jermichael Finley and Jermaine Gresham. So owning and using Shiancoe actually costs me a few bucks. The only defensible salary-saving addition is Pierre Thomas (in points games only), and he's just a one-week rental; I'd hesitate ever to use him again. Just impossible to know when his good games -- or, in Thursday's case, good halves -- are coming.
Instead, Cheat Game 2010 was notable for salary-saving subtractions. Drew Brees isn't remotely playable at last night's numbers. Adrian Peterson could be played but you want a lot more from him than 87 rushing yards (4.6 per attempt) without a touchdown, so all in all Thursday was a big money-saver and Week 1 should be that much easier as a result.
NOTE: In case you missed it, I did a live blog of the game at Twitter. Pretty much an exact mix of fantasy-relevant observations in real time ("Favre has surprisingly OK numbers, but he's really hurting for a wide receiver. Only TE Shiancoe, RB Peterson, RB Young with 2+ catches") and my sense of humor ("2nd & 30. Favre contemplating retirement"). I'll be doing the same thing Sunday night, so follow along -- and participate -- at twitter.com/FantasyIndexJE.
Before we review my position reviews, some words about the slightly different structure of these games this year:
With 16 new player purchases available (up from 12), challenge novices will have more of a chance to catch up to us as the season unfolds. You see a huge number of clueless rosters in Week 1, but some owners burn through half a dozen or more purchases immediately, and their rosters stop looking clueless by Week 2. Not usually a problem for us -- having so many extra purchases at our disposal is a colossal advantage -- but 16 purchases provide a lot more forgiveness for this sin than 12 did.
So Week 1 feels more important to me in 2010 than in years past. I'm more concerned with starting quickly than ever before -- which means that I'll probably be more conservative than usual (at least in categories games) at the positions where we only get three players: quarterback and kicker. I love Kevin Kolb and everything, but I'll love him a lot more in Week 2 (at DET) than in Week 1 (vs. GB).
Get your initial rosters right.
How things have and haven't changed since I ran down the positions the first time:
In Fanball's Football Challenge, I keep changing my mind about which players are the best bets in each of several tiers. So my focus has shifted to getting the tiers right, and from there I'm treating the players in each one as roughly equal to each other. If you happen to prefer Peyton Manning to Drew Brees, by all means, play your preference. These are the tiers, and while it isn't quite true that I'll own one player from each, that wouldn't be the worst way to go:
Drew Brees ($4100)
Peyton Manning ($3770)
Brees is out, and I probably can't even afford Peyton in Week 1. I'm not sure we need either, but I'm not sure we don't, either.
Philip Rivers ($3460)
Tony Romo ($3230)
Matt Schaub ($3160)
I like Schaub least of the three, but he certainly faces the fewest questions coming into the season. Rivers (minus Vincent Jackson) could in theory face the same wide receiver issues we saw with Brett Favre last night (minus Sidney Rice). And if the preseason meant anything, Romo could spend a lot of time on his back in the early part of the regular season.
Aaron Rodgers ($2970)
Tom Brady ($2860)
I will own both Rodgers and Brady and recommend that you do, too -- unless we hear that Brady is suffering unexpected effects from Thursday morning's car crash.
Jay Cutler ($2360)
Eli Manning ($2160)
The biggest change in my approach over the last few weeks is that I probably won't carry either of these guys. With Cutler, I've decided to own Johnny Knox and use him in Week 1, and I'm trying to heed the gut that tells me not to own more than one Bear. With Eli, I've decided I like a couple of cheaper players just slightly better, in no small part because they are cheaper.
Joe Flacco ($1950)
Matt Ryan ($1870)
Carson Palmer ($1780)
Another change in my approach: I may carry two of these guys. Hopefully this isn't just Flacco's preseason playing tricks on me again.
Kevin Kolb ($1530)
Matthew Stafford ($1460)
As sharp as Stafford looked in the preseason, I have a hard time separating these two at this point. To me that means that owning both would be smart, because I do really like Kolb despite the Eagles' preseason struggles (Kolb himself looked sharp the two times I saw him). Problem: Owning both might mean owning seven quarterbacks instead of six, which could be done given that I'll only start with nine running backs, but a taxi squad that goes QB, QB, QB, QB, RB, RB, RB, WR, TE, K is not exactly a thing of beauty.
Still mulling a lot of this over. I wish I could just show you my final roster, but I can't imagine I'll have my last decisions made until minutes before the deadline.
No change, but a reminder:
The running backs who turn out to be great players very often have great first games in the league. I can certainly see that coming from Ryan Mathews against a soft Kansas City defense, and from Jahvid Best against a Chicago team that looks to be in complete shambles. But I won't own Best, looking ahead to Weeks 2-4, and I will own C.J. Spiller, whose massive talent dwarfs any matchup concerns for now.
But one note: Reader Mark Maloney wrote after my last column that he's planning to play the Jets' and 49ers' defenses together until at least Week 7. I wrote that I thought that would make him easier to beat. This is a debate I've had with a few of you over the years, so let's try to settle it now -- while there's still time to do something about it.
Here's why playing two relatively expensive defenses doesn't work:
Assume that Mark indeed owns the Jets ($2330 in Fanball's points games), and I counter with the Dolphins ($1210). Now assume that he gets the best possible season from NYJ, and I get the worst possible from MIA.
The Jets go 12-4 (team wins are worth 3 points each), pitch two shutouts (worth 15 points each), hold six other opponents to 10 points or fewer (worth 10 points each) and another six to 20 points or fewer (worth 5 points each). All of this is too much to expect, says me, but assume this is how it happens -- Gang Green allows more than 20 points just twice all season.
The Dolphins go 6-10 and hold no opponent to 10 or fewer. The only times they allow 20 or fewer are in their wins. A disastrous, perhaps impossibly bad year.
Mark and I mostly agree that the other events that score fantasy points for defensive and special teams units happen at random, but assume the Jets net two more return touchdowns (worth 6 points each) than the Fins do.
All told, the Jets earn 36 points for their wins and 120 points for limiting opponents' scoring.
The Dolphins earn 18 and 30.
The whole difference -- adding 12 points for the extra returns we gave the Jets -- is 120 points. Over 16 games. That's 7.5 points per week (not counting byes) in the most impossible-seeming best case. And that costs you $1120 in salary.
Now ask yourself if you think I can beat you by 7.5 points per week at other positions with an extra $1120 to spend. And if you answer no, please, stop reading this column and start writing it instead.
This is why defense has no place in these games, at least as they are presently structured. Owning really good ones can be foolish. That's a big reason why the Football Challenge is a better game than the points games, and why it will mean more to me when I win the Football Challenge than when I win any of the points games.
You read that correctly: when, not if. This is the time of year for that kind of thinking. Good luck in Week 1. Let's kick some ass.
Posted by Carlos Jackson | Sep. 10 at 01:22 PM
So Justin you think Brady is a better play then Rome? I am planning on putting Manning on the roster. Right now I am looking at Qb's Rodgers, Kolb, Manning, Stafford, and Romo. But if you think Brady will be better then Romo. Tell me how come. I was Thinking that Romo was better because you put the two head-to-head Romo comes out looking better.
Posted by Carlos Jackson | Sep. 10 at 01:42 PM
I was thinking about going with Harrison for the first two games (TB & KC). Do you think Harrison will be good for the long run or I should get Spiller and not look at Harrison at all.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 10 at 04:12 PM
Carlos: I think Brady is very likely to be better than Romo early in the year. The Cowboys' line is a mess, and that looked like a huge problem through the preseason. Note that Brady threw for very nearly 300 yards per game at home last year, and that the Pats are home twice in the first three weeks. (Ian points out in Fantasy Index Weekly - which, again, you MUST subscribe to - that CIN's pass defense numbers from 2009 are artificially good because of the hugely disproportionate rushing numbers the Jets posted when the Bengals essentially forfeited in Week 17.) Give the Cowboys a month to straighten things out and I might like Romo better, but for now (especially saving a few bucks) I do prefer Brady. On the running backs, unless I'm either blind or stupid Spiller is a great player. That isn't necessarily enough behind BUF's miserable excuse for a line, but I'll bet on great most times out of ten. I do like Harrison for Weeks 1 and 2, but (a) liking him could prove futile if the Browns go with a committee that includes a lot of Josh Cribbs' Wildcatting; and (b) I'm not at all sure I'll like him once they start playing defenses that weren't bottom-two last year. I have one RB slot left to settle, and for now it's going to Benson or Harrison or someone else in the same range (Best?) or cheaper (Hightower for Week 1 only?). That's one of my likely last-minute decisions - but Spiller is already in my lineup, so I'm done deciding between him and Harrison.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 11 at 05:38 AM
What's your thought on having both Kolb and Stafford but only having 6 QBs total? The guys I have right now are Peyton, Rodgers, Brady, Flacco, and the before mentioned two. I can't really fit Peyton in week 1, so maybe it doesn't make sense to roster him unless one plans to start him? I keep going back and forth on Cutler. The yards should be there and if he gets hurt, big deal, just drop him. But I remember it took the Lions a year to really adapt to Martz and there will probably be a curve here too. Also not entirely sold on Flacco so if I did switch to Cutler I'd probably keep Joe off for now.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 06:46 AM
Chris: I like the Kolb / Stafford shuffle, although I'd rather wait and see on both, so that's where I'm bogging down. Open with both on the taxi? And which guys active? Rodgers for sure, but then I'm stumped. Can't really afford Peyton. Not certain about Brady - the only car accident I ever had was similar and left me sore for a week, and I wasn't trying to play an NFL game during that week. Really hate Cutler, both in general and against almost any defense (I do love going against DET's secondary, but something tells me Suh will take Cutler's head off in the first quarter, perhaps literally). Bottom line: Your Week 1 is as good as mine. I don't disagree with carrying Flacco and Kolb and Stafford as three of six - but doesn't that mean starting Stafford in Week 1? After he threw for 214 yards per game on the road as a rookie (granted: with his best game at CHI)? I dunno. Makes me nervous, but then so do all of the alternatives.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 11 at 01:26 PM
Justin - O.K. you're making sense on the D/ST thing. Still don't think I'll go Mia - but ATL and/or Wash are in play. Full disclosure, I'm starting with Rodgers/Schaub/Palmer (Brady/Kolb) for QB's, going to wait on Flacco and/or Stafford. Was thinking real hard about Shiancoe, but I just don't think that's a big enough total (13 pts?) to screw up my plan at TE. Little nervous with Harvin but passing game will come around eventually. One thing for sure - BB is on the outs according to my observations and the local media. Chilly getting skewered by national and local media for game planning away from AP in that 2nd half. I would assume that they're going to make a point to get him 30 touches against MIA next week. Thanks for the insight as always - enjoy your game Tweets and music references. I'm thinking Gap Band...
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 01:46 PM
Mark: It never ceases to amaze me how out of touch the league is on its music picks. I guess they do better with Kickoff Weekend - I mean, people listen to The Black Eyed Peas and Taylor Swift and DMB, whatever I think of any of them (hint: same opinion as to all three) - but the Super Bowl is unrelentingly atrocious. A bloated Who? With Steve Winwood opening the telecast? In 2010? I guess the problem is that they're mostly catering to middle-aged men who have money, and there's not a great correlation between that demographic and decent taste in music. Then again, the middle-aged guys with the real money ARE AT THE SUPER BOWL. Shouldn't the TV audience get something better? Especially this year - they should have brought back Janet and Timberlake, only to do Michael's songs. Every person on earth would have tuned in for one reason or another. OK. Football. I am going MIA for sure; not sure which crappy unit will take the taxi slot. You hit on the exact mix of QBs I think I've settled on in points (including that I'm starting with five, not six), so we're good there. On Shiancoe, 13.6 points from a TE are nothing to sneeze at. Then again, I could make the same argument for using the NO defense, and I won't do that. As always, I head into tomorrow with at least a few questions yet unanswered. Will post the final lineups as soon as I have them, but, again, I'll probably push right up against the deadlines. Also: Please don't kill me if the Jets pitch a shutout Monday. I don't see it happening, but now that I've gone off about this you just never know. Best of luck with your last few decisions.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 11 at 02:09 PM
DMB has always been incomprehensible to me. My wife loves him. Taylor Swift makes sense I guess if your target audience is 15-20 year old females, so yeah, perfect. Tom Petty - I almost peed myself but gotta agree.... Good Luck.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 02:57 PM
DMB isn't even the best DMB working today. That'd be Dead Man's Bones, a tiny band fronted by Ryan Gosling (indeed, Ryan Gosling) that debuted about a year ago. Read about it here if you like - http://www.johnbernardburke.com/2010/01/no-we-will-not-destroy-you.html - but WARNING: I may have used a few naughty words. Also, not my fault if the links are dead. Good luck to you, too.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 11 at 03:26 PM
Think I've made a team that won't leave me with buyers remorse by this time tomorrow night. I am still struck by the amount of value players at RB and WR, so I decided to start three studs at QB for this first week and leave Kolb and Stafford on the bench to let that situation shake out a bit. Then one of them will free up some salary if need be in the upcoming weeks. Had to use Jerome Harrison, but it makes an obvious drop at least if he doesn't pan out..or Shonn Greene can replace him nicely. Thanks for the columns.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 04:01 PM
Chris: Don't thank me yet; I'll be here all season. I'm going with Harrison myself in the Football Challenge, on the theory that he'll either be great or won't kill me for two weeks. Needed the extra salary. In points, I'm probably just going with Pierre Thomas as a safe salary-saver.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 12 at 02:54 AM
Very pleased with where I wound up. Rosters coming in the next two comments. Good luck to all in Week 1; remember to follow along tonight as I live blog the Dallas-Washington game at twitter.com/FantasyIndexJE.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 12 at 03:04 AM
$35K FANTASY FOOTBALL: Rodgers Schaub Palmer (Brady Kolb) / Ch.Johnson Gore Thomas Hightower Mathews Foster (Peterson Rice Turner Greene) / A.Johnson Austin Smith(NYG) Gaffney Floyd Knox (White Maclin) / Shiancoe Finley (Celek) / Nedney Cundiff Buehler (Hartley) / SF MIA (OAK)
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 12 at 03:10 AM
FOOTBALL CHALLENGE: P.Manning Rodgers Palmer (Brady Kolb Stafford) / Ch.Johnson Gore Harrison Mathews Spiller Foster (Peterson Turner Greene) / A.Johnson Ca.Johnson Austin Maclin Knox Naanee (White Nicks) / Shiancoe Finley (Gates) / Rackers Cundiff Buehler (Hartley)
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 12 at 06:09 AM
Score one for the cheapo defense. Actually, score 18 including the safety. Unfortunately, the 18 points come with a sobering reminder that the worst line in the league + the worst QBs in the league = no ROY for Spiller. If you weren't forced to watch it, believe me when I tell you the Bills just played one of the worst games in NFL history. I wouldn't fire Gailey yet, but I would designate all three QBs as inactive in Week 2 and just go 100% Wildcat.
Posted by Carlos Jackson | Sep. 12 at 09:36 AM
Man Justin I have just about the same team you have. Should have listen to you about Kolb. I have Benson and not Spiller with the same bench players for RB's. I know you couldn't pass up Shiancoe so I have him to but not Gates I stayed with Gresham instead. WR's I have 4 of the 6. You have AJ and Naanee. I started with Nicks and Floyd. Kickers the same three. Look like your team is going to be up there this year. Good Luck. Oh by the way what is your team name and league. Thanks for the work you do for us. Hope to see you at the top.
Posted by Carlos Jackson | Sep. 12 at 09:37 AM
I was talking about the FC game. Sorry
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 12 at 09:53 AM
Carlos: FC is Weather Report 2 in league 101. I always name my teams after songs; Weather Report 2 (The Fall) is my favorite new song of 2010 so far. (I'd tell you to give it a listen, but The Fall are mostly hated as near as I can tell.) Since Benson beat Spiller and Nicks beat A.J. - and it wasn't close in either case, obviously - you should be fine despite Kolb, and I may be looking up at you instead of the other way around. Hope to see you at the top, too, but of course I don't want to see anyone but myself at the very top. I love all of my readers, but, you know.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 12 at 09:55 AM
The points team is All I Want, by the way, in league 51. All I Want (LCD Soundsystem) is my second-favorite new song of 2010, and you should all be able to appreciate that one.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 13 at 02:40 AM
Man so much for Stafford and potentially Kolb. At least I picked up Palmer last minute but did not start him. Also had Schaub. One has to figure the Texans won't run all the time from here on out, and Foster may open things up for Schaub. No Peyton :(
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 13 at 05:09 AM
Chris: On the bright side, 16 purchases should allow for a few of these Kolb / Stafford hiccups along the way. I'll probably burn for a QB myself; had planned to throw Kolb in at DET no matter how he looked in Week 1, but I never figured how he looked would be completely zonked out, like he had no idea he was at a football game, just after the concussion.
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