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The Burrowfly Effect

I apologize for the headline, but the effects are real.

You’ve heard of the Butterfly Effect, which suggests that any small change can have life-altering ramifications due to the interconnectivity and complexity of the world we live in. So a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can create a disaster in another part, or a tiny change in your daily routine can alter the course of your life, due to the subtle changes that occur as a result.

In fantasy football, Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury affects managers who selected him, but it impacts all other managers as well. Every one of them. Whether you have Burrow, or any Bengals at all, you should be prepared for what's next.

It’s a shame, because Burrow had been on a roll, with multiple touchdowns in five straight games, and 300+ yards in three of them. After a very slow start, the team was back in rhythm and helping fantasy teams. Now that’s changed. Everyone is affected, from the obvious to not-so-obvious managers who are looking for a winning streak to end the fantasy regular season.

Managers who were starting Joe Burrow suffer the biggest impact. Not only did they absorb a dud of a game, but they won’t have him the rest of the year. Fantasy trade deadlines have either passed or are so close, it will be just about impossible to swing a trade. There’s nothing to do here except rely on depth or hope there’s something usable on the waiver wire. The quarterback spot is going to take a hit, and you have to hope the rest of the team can overcome it.

If you’re starting Ja’Marr Chase, your situation isn’t much better. Aside from a short, late touchdown where Jake Browning stared at him the entire time, Chase didn’t catch a single pass from the team’s new starter. It helped save his fantasy day, but what about the rest of the year? In the most optimistic scenario, he becomes Garrett Wilson: A reliable, solid starter with a higher floor but low ceiling. I mean, that’s what he was before this past weekend, anyway. He’s been someone to start, but not someone who puts a fantasy team on his back and carries them to victory. And unfortunately, many teams need Chase to be able to do that.

And that’s the best possible outcome. He could become un-startable, or so erratic you’ll never know if he should be in a lineup or not. You might find yourself in a situation where you can’t cut him, but you won’t know if you can start him. And with overall wide receiver depth being better than quarterback, you might very well have someone on your bench that will outperform Chase every week. Those extra variables are not what you need with a few weeks left in the regular season.

At least managers with Burrow know they can’t start him, and will move on. Chase is a different story. It will be a challenge for them moving forward.

Those who were waiting on Tee Higgins to return might not have bothered at all. Will Higgins or Tyler Boyd belong on rosters? When would you have the confidence to start them? Roster spots are valuable commodities at this point in the year. Few teams can afford to fill them with guys who might be able to contribute, depending on how the quarterback looks in the next week or so.

You might think that Joe Mixon either maintains his value or becomes better, since the running game will be even more important. But let’s look at the Jets again as a comparison. Few people question Breece Hall’s talent, but is his production better without Aaron Rodgers than it would have been with him? He has two 100-yard games to his credit (including the game Rodgers got hurt), and he hasn’t run for more than 50 yards in five straight games. The receptions certainly help in PPR leagues, but he hasn’t really been the producer people expected when they took him.

Mixon has been a bit better than Hall (he also catches a few passes each game) but he has zero 100-yard rushing games. Now that the defenses will key on stopping him, can we expect him to be better, or as good? Mixon might be another case where you might feel compelled to start him, and just accept fewer points, until he proves that he isn’t even worth a spot in your lineup.

Evan McPherson isn’t going to kick for a high-powered offense anymore. There’s probably something better on your waiver wire.

The Bengals defense is likely to be in more close games (if the offense can keep up) or get put in negative game scripts. Hard to imagine them being able to pin their ears back and harass a team that’s way behind. I’m not saying the Bengals were the top defense anyway, but they had value and were worthy of consideration. I doubt that’s the case now.

Those are all negatives, but there is a positive. Looking at the Bengals’ schedule there are probably defenses facing them that are on your waiver wire. Those defenses are now worth considering, and can provide a boost to teams that need a few extra points. There’s opportunity there; take advantage of it.

As always, I might be wrong. Maybe Browning is the next Kurt Warner, who took over for an injured Trent Green to dominate fantasy teams hundreds of years ago (maybe more recently than that, but it feels that way). Or maybe he becomes like Josh Dobbs, a solid replacement who preserves some value in the team's skill players. Maybe Browning is worth a roster spot himself. But realistically, I’m not expecting anything close to that. I think Cincinnati’s season is essentially over, and any minor injury to their best players will cause them to miss several games, or the rest of the year. Why risk your best guys on a lost season? Let them heal up and get back on the field with Burrow in 2024. In any case, I think it’s clear that every fantasy team has a stake in recognizing and managing the fallout from this injury. Whether Burrow was your starter or not, good luck this week.

How much does Joe Burrow’s injury impact your team, and what are you planning to do about it? Can you still make trades, and would you consider one? Share your thoughts below.

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