Your team is, as they say, “in the mix” at 4-4. Only five or six weeks remain until the fantasy postseason, and you want to do everything in your power to make sure your team doesn’t miss the playoffs. While fantasy football is essentially 60% luck, there are several steps you can take to be proactive so that you’ll still be in contention for your league title come Week 14:
1. SCOUR THE WAIVER WIRE – Not that everybody doesn’t already do this, but at this stage in the season, you need to form contingency plans in case one of your studs gets hurt. If you lack depth at a particular position, then focus on grabbing the best available talent in the free agent pool at that position with the easiest upcoming schedule so that you’ll be able to make an informed decision. HINT: Go to your free agent pool, and use the sort functions to tell which free agents have scored the most points in your league’s scoring system. This is typically done by clicking on the words “Fantasy Points” once you’re on the page that lists free agents. You’ll notice that the players are rearranged with the most prolific scorers at the top, going top to bottom. But don’t just grab the players with the most points. You should look at their injury status, upcoming schedule, and whether there are any injury issues with this player’s teammates. For example, if you’re thinking about picking up Terrell Owens, who was dropped in many leagues, you should also take note that his schedule looks somewhat favorable down the stretch. Furthermore, Buffalo’s starting QB Trent Edwards is coming back from his concussion, and this could mean a return to decent production for T.O (or, he just might be washed up). Between injury history, anticipated inclement weather at certain stadiums, and the overall play of certain teams as the season winds down (HINT: avoid ALL Browns!), you should have enough information at your fingertips to make an informed, if not the right, decision on who’s best for your fantasy team down the stretch.
2. THINK TWO, SOMETIMES THREE WEEKS AHEAD – If you have six WRs, five RB, or three TEs, and one of those players is someone you wouldn’t start unless you have a slew of bye/injury issues, then there is probably a chance that this player would sit in the free agent pool and go unclaimed by another team. But you know who won’t go unclaimed? A defense who is scheduled to play the Rams/Brown/Lions/Yuccaneers at home in two weeks! Before kickoff on Sunday morning, before every free agent goes back on waivers, you need to look 2-3 weeks ahead, dump your WR6/RB5/TE3, and grab the team defense that plays well at home with the tastiest matchup against a league doormat. This will keep you ahead of the curve, as your league maters will also start looking more towards future matchups as opposed to the quality of team defenses they start. Example: you have Denver defense, but Seattle D at home against Detroit Week 9 may be a better fantasy start than Broncos Defense playing against the Steelers on Monday Night.
3. ASSESS WHO MAKES A GOOD TRADE PARTNER – Chances are the trade deadline in your league is drawing nigh, and there are other teams in your league looking to make that one trade which will help put them in the playoff picture. Fantasy team owners are more willing to make a trade at this stage in the season since they know who on their team is panning out as opposed to whom they can safely declare a bust. For example, someone may have been reluctant to trade for a RB right after the draft, but now that Larry Johnson is no longer their RB2/RB3, they are actively looking to acquire a RB to replace L.J. Meanwhile, you have four quality RBs, but need a WR3 since you just dropped Terrell Owens out of frustration. Since you can address each other’s needs with one trade, then this dynamic makes you two good trade partners.
4. GET FACE/PHONE TIME, THEN SELL HIGH – In this cold, impersonal age of technology we live in, getting someone to agree to a trade can be quite the challenge if all they do is check their email, see the players offered, and click “Reject Trade.” Even counter-offers can be frowned upon when your trade partner doesn’t know a whole lot about the player you’re offering. Solution: If you play in a league where your competition is in the same geographical location as you, then ask to meet them for a drink. Nothing creates a handshake more quickly than alcohol-infused trade talk. Once you two are engaged in Rounds 2 or 3 of your libations, then start educating your counterpart on the benefits of owning the player you’re trying to trade him/her. Stress a lack of injuries, how that player is or has the potential to be the most productive player on their team, and seal the deal by listing the cupcake fantasy playoff schedule down the road. The mere mention of fantasy playoffs gives your partner the notion that s/he may very well be in the playoff hunt (even if s/he’s 3-5), and in order for that person to flourish in the postseason, they will need your RB3 much more than their WR3 down the stretch. Note: If your trade counterpart lives out of town, then the best you can hope for is to get him/her on the phone (or video conference) so that you can feed off each other’s energy. Instant Message or chat on a computer does NOT allow for this energy exchange, and the walls of communication are still there. The same goes with texting trade offers to your counterpart. It’s much easier to say “no” to an email, text, or instant message as opposed to someone making a hard sell in person or on the phone.
5. ANALYZE WHICH STARTERS ARE ON THEIR LAST LEGS, THEN ACQUIRE BACKUPS – Let’s say you’re thin at RB or QB, and you need a RB3/QB3 to add to your team for depth purposes. It’s not easy to find a starting RB or QB in the free agent pool at this stage, but just because free agents aren’t currently starting, that doesn’t mean they won’t start at some point. Some good portents of lost playing time are: ineffectiveness (20 rushes for 38 yards in a game), a high draft pick waiting in the wings that ownership is calling for more playing for in a lost season (e.g. QB Vince Young), ball security issues (just ask blindsided Steve Slaton owners), truculence in the locker room with teammates and coaching (Larry Johnson), or excessive mileage on the engine (Clinton Portis).
6. ANALYZE WHICH NFL TEAMS HAVE GIVEN UP ON THEIR SEASON, AND ACT ACCORDINGLY – Just because a team is bad, this doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily given up on their season. The Rams and Chiefs might be the two of the worst teams in the NFL, but the cities, fan base, and respective coaching staffs have enough pride and leadership so that they’ll always compete, even in December when they’ve already accumulate double-digit losses. Other inferior teams have already started looking toward next year, and have essentially mailed in the rest of the 2009 season. This year’s candidates to assume this type of mentality include: Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Tennessee (head coach Jeff Fisher probably can’t wait to escape the clutches of meddlesome owner Bud Adams), and possibly Washington. If you own players on these teams, you may want to think twice before starting them (except Chris Johnson) unless the matchup is positively delicious.
7. BUY A LOTTERY TICKET – If you play in a deep 2-QB league where there are ZERO starting QBs available in the free agent pool, sometimes you need to make speculative picks and hope that luck is on your side. Injuries are a part of football, and the right injury at the right time can benefit your team tremendously. A “lottery ticket” is essentially a free agent pickup of a backup on a high-powered offense who would see a tremendous boost in value and production if the starter playing ahead of him were to suffer a significant injury. My most famous lottery ticket acquisition occurred when I used a 11th round pick on Larry Johnson in my 2005 draft. When then-starting RB Priest Holmes got hurt, paving the way for the era of LJ’s dominance, my team went from mere contender to the front-runner to win the league (I lost my fantasy Super Bowl that year). Some lottery tickets in this 2009 season include: Arizona QB Matt Leinart (how much more pounding can Kurt Warner’s body take?), Houston QB Rex Grossman (Schaub has carried the ‘injury-prone’ label his entire career), and Minnesota RB Chester Taylor (still plenty of tread on his tires, and the Vikings have an awesome offensive line coupled with a balanced offensive attack which keeps defenses honest), to name a few. If you’re choosing between your WR6 who almost never cracks your starting lineup, or a player who could have an instant impact on your ability to score more points, then this should seem like a no-brainer.
8. TIME TO GET CUTTHROAT – Look at next week’s opponent’s starting lineup. Do they have holes in their lineup? Do they not have a starting QB this week? If this is the case, be proactive and pluck whoever your opponent needs out of the free agent pool to field a complete and competitive team. Don’t be afraid to use your waiver pick if you’re in a must-win situation. There aren’t as many can’t-miss free agents to grab as opposed to earlier in the year, when it was more judicious to hang onto a high waiver pick. Just last week, I saw my opponent needed a defense to pick up, as his was on bye. I dropped my TE2 and current defense, and picked up Arizona as well as Chicago D only because I knew that those two defenses (playing at home against Carolina and Cleveland, respectively) were the ones my opponent would be targeting for acquisition.
9. BELIEVE (but don’t upset the Fantasy Gods) – Not that I’m suggesting you go out and read “The Secret”, but there is something to be said for the power of positive thinking. The unlikeliest upsets have taken place in this beloved sport, and the beauty of fantasy football is that luck can be the sweetest variable to help an underdog reach the postseason. Just because you’re not in first place now doesn’t mean you can’t leapfrog several teams to get back into playoff contention. Now, there is a difference between believing in your fantasy squad, and mocking the shortcomings of other people’s teams. While I lack sufficient data to support this, experience has suggested that the Fantasy Gods (yes, they exist – you’ll just have to trust me) only seem to listen when you arrogantly disparage your opponent’s team. Long story short: Keep it classy when you lose, and stay magnanimous when you win. Your defeated opponent is dejected enough about losing without you rubbing it in his/her face.