Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Cleaning up your Week 1 messes -- or not
Posted Sep. 17 at 04:45 AM
On any given Sunday. You hear less of that phrase since it became hopelessly cliché -- and Oliver Stone made a movie of the last three words -- but sometimes it pays to remember why it became cliché in the first place. The NFL is a weird league. Aberrant results happen all the time. And now we have to make our first lineup changes of the season, and our natural inclination is to do so by reacting to what just happened -- in one week, on a given Sunday.
But think about Week 1, and think big. Think less about Week 1 of the 2010 season than Week 1 of every season. Think of how Week 1 is different from Weeks 2 through 17, and why it might be especially unreliable.
The crowds are bigger, and the crowds are fresh. Fans in St. Louis are excited about Sam Bradford, not beaten down by a 1-15 record. Fans in Seattle are excited about Pete Carroll. Fans in Kansas City are excited about a remodeled stadium -- and a chance to eat and drink in the parking lot all afternoon in advance of a later-than-usual Monday Night Football start.
Teams' emotions can be overwhelming. The Saints can make the Superdome their last stop on a seven-month victory parade. The Texans can have another shot at getting over their intradivisional hump. There are always meaningless matchups -- neither Cleveland nor Tampa Bay has any special reason to get up for the other -- but plenty of players bring more than tailored suits and oversized headphones to the stadium on Kickoff Weekend.
Every team is playing together for the first time. Period. There are new faces in every sideline crowd. New systems have been installed in many cities, new plays added to the old systems elsewhere. Defenses have switched from 4-3 to 3-4. Offensive tackles have switched from the right side of the line to the left. There is no way to simulate the feel of the regular season in the exhibition season; Week 1 is more rehearsal dinner than without-a-hitch wedding.
And no team is ready for any other. Period. Film has been studied, but that film is either of the week's opponent playing games that did count in 2009 or games that did not in 2010. The film says little about the new players across the line of scrimmage, less about the new systems and plays they'll run. Preparing for Week 1 is guesswork. Preparing for Weeks 2 through 17 is just work.
There are other differences, but I think you understand me. At this point you change your challenge rosters at your own peril. You are just as likely to look back on the changes you make today and wonder what in tarnation you were thinking as to look back fondly.
On the other hand, there are some things we do know, for certain, right now. Matthew Stafford is out for several weeks, Ryan Grant for the season. Arian Foster is a lot less likely to lose his feature gig than Shonn Greene, who may already be the Jets' RB2.
I don't see a player in any challenge who made himself a must-buy in Week 1 (unless you started without Foster, in which case you weren't reading these columns closely over the last few weeks), but I do see a few messes that need cleaning up now or later.
For now, make big changes only if you are forced to do so. These are the situations that seem most forceful:
In Fanball's Football Challenge, I decided to go conservative at quarterback to try to get off to a fast start (for reasons explained in my last column), so I climbed the salary list from Tom Brady to Peyton Manning. Brady's late-week car crash just made me nervous, even as reports kept saying he was fine.
Going up to Peyton also meant coming down from Jay Cutler or Eli Manning as my No. 3 -- I was using Aaron Rodgers under any scenario -- to someone cheaper. I happened upon Carson Palmer, hoping that if Brady burned me with a big game Palmer would go off in a second-half comeback attempt (which is exactly what happened), but counting on a minimum of 230 passing yards no matter how the game played out. Palmer seemed safer than either Kevin Kolb or Matthew Stafford. Lucky me.
But unlucky me, too, because Kolb and Stafford took two of my taxi slots, which means I'm either stuck with Palmer in Week 2 or forced to burn a purchase on a similarly-priced alternative. I'll probably let things ride for a week, but our first potential mess to clean up is this one: If you're stuck with Kolb and Stafford, and without a third QB cheap enough to play in their absence, use a purchase on the one you like best.
I'd probably look to Eli first -- especially because I see the need for a second-half comeback in his immediate future -- but Cutler, Palmer and Joe Flacco make defensible replacements as well. One player I would not consider in a categories game: Michael Vick. Even if he takes Kolb's job away for good, games that count passing yards and passing average as their own scoring categories demand that you use your QB slots on better passers than Vick. Just not his format.
In some ways this feels like one of those years when we'll all own a bunch of cheap running backs and climb the salary lists at quarterback and wide receiver. But in other ways -- well, consider Week 1. Along with the stupendous Arian Foster came: Shonn Greene, fumbling twice; Jerome Harrison, carrying 9 times; Jahvid Best, finishing with 10 percent as many rushing touchdowns as rushing yards (think about that); Ryan Mathews, just OK against last year's second-worst rushing defense; and C.J. Spiller, invisible for 60 minutes.
Tim Hightower was mediocre against St. Louis, Cadillac Williams mediocre against Cleveland. The best cheap back after Foster was Matt Forte, who managed only 2.9 yards per carry against the Lions but happened to score twice on receptions. Generally speaking, 151 receiving yards do not a stud runner make.
So, right, a lot of us have messes to clean at this position. The problem is -- to extend and bastardize the metaphor -- we have no real feel for which cleaning supplies would work best.
Many challenge teams will buy Brandon Jackson this week. Brandon Jackson, with the 4.54 speed and good hands that combine to kill your receiving average in categories games. (The longest of his 69 career receptions went for 18 yards.) Brandon Jackson, who's been such a disappointment that Ryan Grant was seen as one of the running backs least likely to share carries in 2010.
Because I think lowly of Jackson, I'd rather save my purchases than move on any back for Week 2. But that'd mean showing faith in at least one (and more likely two) of Greene, Harrison and Spiller. Should I burn, it would probably be for Ahmad Bradshaw, whose 20 carries were one of the more interesting numbers of Week 1 -- although Brandon Jacobs got 12, not enough of a split to prove that Bradshaw will feature every week.
WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT ENDS, DEFENSES
I wouldn't burn a purchase here if I could possibly put healthy bodies on the field -- and you can always do that, by definition, with your team defenses.
As to the other two positions, even under the worst circumstances (like what Calvin Johnson faced when Matthew Stafford went down in Week 1), pass-catchers can happen to get their numbers (working with Shaun Hill, Johnson caught 5 passes including a touchd...).
I wouldn't burn one here, either, and this is the position that best underscores the need to be careful with our purchases in the first place. The most commonly owned kickers in the Football Challenge are Garrett Hartley (on 57.4 percent of all rosters) and David Buehler (69.0 percent). Hartley looked terrible in missing two field goals last Thursday, Buehler just as bad in missing one Sunday night. The third-most commonly owned kicker is Billy Cundiff of the Ravens -- who forced a huge number of challenge purchases when they fired Steven Hauschka midway through last season.
Guess who owns all three of Hartley, Buehler and Cundiff in both the Football Challenge and the $35K points game.
Please, remember that not even 16 purchases will be enough in the end. Even if they allowed us to make every move we wanted through Week 16, Week 17 would be a mess. It always is, and it always matters, because we are always in prize contention at the end of the season.
So err for now in the direction of wait-and-see. Get through another given Sunday before you break out the industrial cleaning supplies.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 17 at 08:03 AM
Good call. I have to find a way to fit in Brady for Palmer this week (Kolb on taxi). CJ and Rice might sit for AP and Turner - it's close for salary in the $35K game. I purposely started this game with no back ups at K, TE and D/ST, my strategy is to let guys play themselves out of positions or get hurt so i know who to drop when i need to fill a hole in few weeks. Keeps me from getting an itchy trigger finger...
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