Thanksgiving? Heh, thanks for nothing.
Maybe your little nieces and nephews aren't thinking it, but that's what's going through your mind during this weekend when America stops to count its blessings ... and trample people outside of department stores. But that comes later.
Ravens run defense indeed.
But as you work the room, making small talk with all the uncles and cousins, a pattern begins to develop. Each has his own story of Fantasy want and woe -- of the demise of Jamaal Charles and the torture of Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle that followed, of everything Reggie Wayne was supposed to be and everything he is today, of living and dying with the production of Chris Boyardee. Er, Agbayani. Oh, whatever his name is.
And about the third time you hear of someone forced to choose between Matt Leinart and Christian Ponder at quarterback, you realize your Marshawn Lynch-DeMarco Murray dilemma isn't such a big deal. None of this is.
It's a great, big beautiful world, aside from the Friday morning tramplings. You have a roof over your head, some turkey in your belly and a Fantasy Football team with the potential to go places.
Wes Welker and Mike Wallace have been quiet over the last few weeks. Meanwhile, Jabar Gaffney and Nate Washington broke out in a big way last week. I'm not sure who to start anymore. Can you help with my dilemma? -- Greg Underwood (via e-mail)
SW: Oh, I can help you with your dilemma, all right. I can help by reminding you what is and isn't a dilemma.
A dilemma is when you have to choose between two more or less equal parts. It's not when you have to choose between a top-five wide receiver and a borderline scrub who you just plucked off the waiver wire.
So what if Welker and Wallace have a combined one touchdown over the last three weeks? It's part of the usual ups and downs that every player endures over the course of a season. They're still the preferred receiving options for their respective teams. They still have the elite talent to distinguish themselves from the pack at the position. They still have the track records to make you think more is coming.
If you cut Welker or Wallace in your league, the rest of the owners might accuse you of tampering and not invite you back next year. If you cut Gaffney or Washington in your league ... well, let me check and see if they're even owned in all of mine.
I'm not suggesting Gaffney and Washington are worthless in Fantasy. The big performances could hint of more to come, however isolated they've been so far. Fringe players shift in and out of Fantasy relevance over the course of a season, so you'd always like to have a few of the hot hands on your roster. But in your case, they're there for depth, not lineup flexibility.
If you have players as high-end as Welker and Wallace, you should just keep them active and count your blessings.
SW: I at least partially agree with you, Jake. Wells and the Cardinals are visiting the Rams, who rank 32nd against the run. Easy matchup -- no arguments there. Johnson and the Titans are hosting the Buccaneers, who rank 26th against the run. Easy matchup -- no arguments there.
Mathews and the Chargers are hosting the Broncos, who have actually been fairly effective against the run. In fact, they're one of only eight teams allowing less than 4 yards per carry, so I'm not so sure the matchup works in Mathews' favor.
So what does? Well, Johnson and Wells have the bigger question marks. Johnson has shown signs of coming around lately, but he gained only 13 yards on 12 carries last week at Atlanta. Those types of performance have become far too common for him. Wells got off to a great start this season, but he's averaging 3.2 yards per carry over his last six games, quite obviously limited by a knee injury. Compared to those two, Mathews is both consistent and healthy.
Still, I'd go Johnson and Wells.
Not only do they have the better matchups, but they have the better chance of taking advantage of those matchups. If the Titans choose to run the ball, they'll run it with Johnson. If the Cardinals choose to run the ball, they'll run it with Wells. If Johnson stinks or Wells gets hurt, the plan could change, but at least going into the game, you know the plan.
Who knows what the plan is for the Chargers? Will Tolbert and Mathews split 50-50? Will they turn to Tolbert at the goal line? Will they go with Mathews on third down? They could go so many ways with it. Mathews hasn't gotten more than 13 carries in a game since Week 5, so I wouldn't rely on him for much in Fantasy, especially if the matchup suggests he'll average less than 4 yards on those 13 carries.
My league allows each team to start two quarterbacks -- one in the flex spot. I have Aaron Rodgers, who has single-handedly carried me so far. Drew Brees is available, but I have no idea what to offer for him. Here's the rest of my team: Frank Gore, Michael Bush, Santonio Holmes, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Tony Gonzalez, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Antonio Brown, Rashard Mendenhall, Andy Dalton and Fred Davis. I'm also looking to scoop up Kevin Smith. What exactly is Brees worth? -- Daniel Franco (via e-mail)
SW: He's worth whatever it takes to get him.
That sounds like the answer to a riddle, but that's not the way I mean it. My point is that in a format such as yours, a player like Brees is invaluable. If you feel like you're giving up too much for him, it's probably not enough.
I don't know exactly how the scoring works in your league, but if it's standard, meaning passing touchdowns are worth a full six points, then starting a second quarterback isn't just optional; it's mandatory. The position is without question the highest-scoring in Fantasy. So if you're starting arguably the best two at the position in a league where owners are consistently having to start players like Alex Smith or Colt McCoy -- or even Tarvaris Jackson and Rex Grossman -- how can you lose?
You'd pretty much need to have a bare bones roster everywhere else for it to be a realistic possibility. Not only do Rodgers and Brees put up elite numbers, but they spread those numbers almost evenly over the course of a season. They are their teams' offenses, and as such, they're almost incapable of putting up bad numbers. Having one is the easiest way to distance yourself from the week-to-week unpredictability of Fantasy Football. With this trade, you'd have that security twice over.
I don't know what exactly the other guy wants for Brees, but I wouldn't shy away from giving him my top two running backs -- which, in your case, appear to be Gore and Bush. If he needs a tight end, you should feel comfortable throwing Gonzalez at him as well. Why not? Davis is a perfectly adequate starter at the position.
And that should be the standard for the rest of your roster. With two elite quarterbacks going up against everyone else's riff-raff, you don't need a star-studded lineup. As long as you can get adequate production from every other position -- and you certainly would from players like Mendenhall, Green-Ellis and Smith -- you're not going to put yourself in too much of a hole.
As long as I didn't feel like my team was already stacked and on the verge of clinching the No. 1 seed, I'd pursue this deal and give it everything I had.
SW: With a better matchup, I'd feel pretty good about starting Gerhart this week. The Vikings don't have many other options to carry the ball with Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, and they don't have much of a passing game with Christian Ponder under center. But they're visiting the Falcons, who rank second against the run and haven't allowed more than 70 yards to any running back since Week 3. Safe to say Gerhart is out.
Ogbonnaya would be the easy choice coming off a 115-yard, touchdown-scoring performance against the Jaguars, but the Browns announced Wednesday that Montario Hardesty would regain the starting job if he's able to return from a calf injury this week. Of course, coach Pat Shurmur added that Ogbonnaya would still factor on offense, which likely means a split backfield. That's bad news for everyone involved. Hardesty, who has missed the last three games with the injury, thinks he should be able to play Sunday at Cincinnati. If that's the case, both he and Ogbonnaya are out.
So that leaves Manningham, who I don't entirely trust. I understand he scored a touchdown in three straight games before last week's one-catch performance, but I think the potential for him to disappear is far too high given his current role on offense. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are both clearly ahead of him in the pecking order, and the Giants don't always throw enough to sustain three wide receivers. Still, you have to believe they will Monday night at New Orleans in what figures to be a high-scoring game.
I'm not saying you should always start Manningham -- I'm hopeful one of those Browns running backs eventually emerges as a clear favorite over the other -- but this week, it's the right call.
SW: Really? Harvin a full-fledged running back? I mean, that might be a likely scenario for the Vikings team you'd find up the vine in Super Mario Brothers, but for the one that plays on Sunday, it's not even a realistic possibility.
I'm not saying Harvin will never line up in the backfield. He has already at times this season, and the Vikings say he will even more with Peterson out. But it's mostly for gadget plays -- for creative ways to get the ball in their best playmaker's hands. The Vikings aren't about to throw Harvin into the pile. He's not prepared to take those hits and wasn't even asked to take them in college. The idea is crazy, on all fronts.
Coach Leslie Frazier has already talked about how much confidence the team has in Toby Gerhart, how he simply hasn't gotten an opportunity to perform yet and blah, blah, blah. It's basically everything you'd expect a coach to say about a nobody replacing a somebody. You can buy into if you want -- against a tough Falcons defense, I'm skeptical -- but if nothing else, it signals how the Vikings plan to use their backfield with Peterson sidelined. Gerhart is the ball carrier, and Harvin is the gadget guy. Treat them accordingly.
SW: Blount is the obvious choice. He's coming off a big game at Green Bay in which he demonstrated the same bulldozer mentality that made him such a productive Fantasy option down the stretch last season. He's still more or less the only backfield option in Tampa Bay, so as long as the Buccaneers don't fall behind early -- and they shouldn't against the Titans -- Blount will get his touches. And considering the Titans rank 22nd against the run, he figures to make the most of them this week.
All things being equal, I'd still prefer McGahee to Tolbert. I understand he's coming off a miserable performance against the Jets, but he was clearly limited by a hamstring injury in that game, as was the case for him Week 10 at Kansas City. When at full strength, he's a candidate for 100 yards -- a mark he has reached four times this season. I just can't get around the fact that he's the primary ball carrier for a run-first offense while Tolbert is part of a split backfield in San Diego.
Still, split carries are better than no carries, so McGahee's health is the biggest variable here. Because the Broncos' last game was on a Thursday, he'll be extra rested for Sunday and my guess is more effective against the Chargers' 23rd-ranked run defense than he was against the Jets'. Tolbert actually has the tougher matchup of two, which only makes the call easier.
As long as McGahee doesn't suffer a setback in practice leading up to Sunday's game, he's the one you'll want active in Fantasy.
SW: I have to admit I'm excited about Smith. I realize his breakout game came against a pitiful Carolina run defense and that people in my position are supposed to "know better." But I'm not so sure Smith isn't the better running back than Best. Frankly, I'm having a hard time remembering what made Best so great in the first place.
Let's review what we know about the two players.
Best has missed four straight games with a concussion -- his second of the year -- and is no guarantee to return at all this season. He rushed for less than 60 yards in four of six games before getting injured and is averaging 3.7 yards per carry for his career. He has big-play ability for sure, but when he doesn't get that big play, he's a complete letdown in Fantasy.
Smith, meanwhile, has looked good so far and has been a relevant Fantasy contributor in the past. He has the size to be an effective between-the-tackles runner and doesn't have to rely on big plays to be a relevant contributor in Fantasy.
If you didn't know anything about who they were or where they were drafted in Fantasy -- if you only knew what I just described to you -- which of the two running backs would you prefer? That's what I thought.
Smith gives the Lions the potential for a consistent ground game, which is something their offense is sorely lacking. I'm not saying he'll be a stud every week, but he'll be a better fit than Best, who's better as a home-run threat than an every-down back. The Lions already realized as much, which is why they invested a second-round pick Mikel Leshoure, who promptly tore his Achilles' in August. It took them a while, but they finally found their Plan B in Smith, who is now their Plan A in the running game.
Make the move for him before somebody else does.