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Dear Mr. Fantasy: The perils of second-guessing

Senior Fantasy Writer
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"This is it. Don't get scared now."

Words to live by. Words the average Fantasy owner would need to hear right now. Words once uttered by Kevin McCallister, BB gun in hand, his back against the wall, both literally and figuratively. Given his predicament, his resolve in that moment, with the crooks at his doorstep, inspired me in a way I haven't been inspired before or since.

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Until Thursday, when you adjusted your lineup for the early game between the Cowboys and Giants and then walked away, determined not to second-guess it even once before Sunday.

It's defiant. It's decisive. It's daring. It's ... not at all what you intended to do, is it?

In that case, it's disappointing. But, hey, at least you've come to the right place.

I need a flex starter for Week 1. Should I go with Peyton Hillis, Ben Tate, Justin Blackmon or Greg Olsen? -- @TeddyRobinson17 (via Twitter)

SW: My gut reaction, knowing my preference for running backs over wide receivers or tight ends in the flex spot and my belief that Tate is more of a backup than a change-of-pace option to Arian Foster, is to go with Hillis, who I suspect will split carries almost evenly with Jamaal Charles. But if I went by my gut all the time, this column would be a heck of a lot shorter and less informative. Let's look at the matchups, shall we?

We'll knock out the easy ones first. Olsen is facing the Buccaneers, who were on the lower end of the league in pass defense last year. They may or may not be a little better this year, but the bottom line is even against the most porous pass defense, Olsen is good for no more than about 60 yards. Blackmon, meanwhile, is facing the Vikings -- again, a pretty good matchup -- but he'll be playing his first career game with an equally inexperienced quarterback who deserves much of the blame for the Jaguars being the worst passing team in the league last year. Even if Blaine Gabbert and company showed improvement this preseason under the tutelage of Mike Mularkey, why take the leap of faith if you don't have to? Let Blackmon prove it in the regular season first.

So ... Hillis and Tate. On the one hand, I think my gut reaction is sound. The Chiefs are playing the Falcons, who ranked sixth against the run last year, but that's partially because they struggled against the pass at times, leaving the opposition with little incentive to run. With Matt Cassel under center, the Chiefs won't have that luxury, which means Hillis will get his opportunities to pound out yardage, perhaps even at the goal line.

But the Texans are playing the Dolphins, who are arguably the worst team in the league. Where they ranked against the run last year doesn't make a difference to me. They're destined to give up plenty of points in this one. The Texans believe in their running game. They'll lean on it heavily if they jump out to an early lead. And if that lead swells to a big enough number that they can turn to their second stringer for the majority of the carries, they will. It's the most prudent course of action, and it's a model they followed time and time again last year. How else would Tate have had the chance to accumulate 942 rushing yards?

In other words, this is the type of matchup that actually makes Tate the upside play in Fantasy. Hillis is a fine one, but in a split backfield, his upside is limited from week to week. It's basically touchdown or bust. Starting a true backup like Tate is a bit of a gamble since it relies on a series of assumptions, the first of which is the Texans winning big, but I think the logic is sound enough that I'd roll the dice.

In a standard league, I've been offered BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Marshall for Fred Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. I have Andre Johnson and Percy Harvin at wide receiver and Chris Johnson and Doug Martin at running back. Take the deal? -- @chriscaylor (via Twitter)

SW: As a general rule, sacrificing your second-best running back to upgrade your second-best wide receiver is a no-go, and I don't see why this situation would be any different. Even if you were convinced Martin was the bee's knees -- the kind of running back you could start every week, regardless of matchups, or perhaps even the second coming of Ray Rice, as his coach has suggested -- you'd have to be just as convinced of Marshall's superiority over Maclin to justify the loss of running back depth. Personally, I'm not sure they're all that different.

Yes, I'd rather have Marshall. I see the upside in him reuniting with Jay Cutler and recognize that he has less competition for catches than Maclin, who's starting opposite DeSean Jackson. But even in a best-case scenario, Marshall isn't exactly Calvin Johnson. During those glory years in Denver, where he played for an offensive-minded coach in Mike Shanahan and had Cutler throwing him the ball, Marshall wasn't piling up 1,400 yards or double-digit touchdowns. Granted, he's a safe bet for 1,100-1,200 yards and 7-8 touchdowns, which makes his floor higher than Maclin's. But if you're willing to look beyond the slightly elevated risk for Maclin, you'll see that those numbers are the most-likely scenario for him as well, which places the two in the same tier among wide receivers. And even if you happen to hit the worst-case scenario for Maclin, you have a more than adequate fallback option in Harvin.

Let's say you have such an aversion to risk that you still see it as an upgrade worth pursuing. That's fair. But at what cost? Jackson, lest you forget, was basically Arian Foster before he fractured his fibula in Week 11. OK, so on a per-game basis, his production was actually closer to Maurice Jones-Drew's, but you get the idea: stud city. Granted, part of the reason was because he was one of the few running backs carrying a full load, which may no longer be the case now that C.J. Spiller has had a chance to establish himself, but most of it was because he was just plain good, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 11.3 yards per catch. A combination of concerns -- mostly his health, age and role alongside Spiller -- allowed him to slip as far as he did on Draft Day, but they're all a bit overblown. I suspect he'll come closer to overtaking Johnson than slipping behind Martin in your pecking order of running backs.

Wouldn't you want to hold on to a player like that just in case Martin doesn't pan out as hoped? Or to play matchups? Or for bye weeks? I'll tell you this much: As far as the waiver wire goes, you're more likely to strike gold at wide receiver than running back early in the year, so if you are overloaded, it's at the right position.

And don't try to defend this deal by saying, "Well, I'm getting Green-Ellis back." He's a plodder. Granted, a steady 3-4 yards adds up with enough carries, but the Bengals offense isn't built to provide its running back with that sort of workload. It's the reason Cedric Benson was an underwhelming Fantasy option last year.

I missed out on a big-name tight end. Which of these players are most likely to break out: Greg Olsen, Martellus Bennett or Jared Cook? -- @somsensneighbor (via Twitter)

SW: I like Cook the best of that group and by a fairly substantial margin. I see the upside in Olsen, but I saw it in him last year, when Cam Newton was a rookie and presumably more likely to lean on him. And what happened there? I also see the upside in Bennett, despite his lack of track record to date, but even going back to the days of Jeremy Shockey, the Giants haven't made their tight end much of a priority.

So why am I so enthusiastic about Cook? Partially because coach Mike Munchak is enthusiastic, saying back in March that Cook was someone the Titans "started to recognize" at the end of last year and that he'll "be a great weapon for us." Partially because I've witnessed it myself, having seen him turn a short catch into an 80-yard score in Week 4 last year and beat double coverage for a 55-yard score in Week 16.

With that kind of big-play ability, he's basically a wide receiver playing the tight end position. You know who we were saying that about at this time last year? Jimmy Graham. Rob Gronkowski. Aaron Hernandez. Yeah, it worked out pretty well for them.

Maybe throwing around those comparisons at this point in the season is a bit overzealous. Cook was a raw player coming out of college, and if his blocking becomes too much of a liability, the Titans will shy from him. But if he's able to stay in the lineup, his ability to stretch the field at a position normally reserved for underneath safety valves could pay huge dividends in Fantasy. If you're hoping to compete with the big boys at the position, he's exactly the kind of low-cost player you want.

I play in a 14-team points-per-reception league that awards a five-point bonus for players who exceed 100 yards. Would you give up Torrey Smith and Jermaine Gresham for Steve Smith and Coby Fleener? -- John Horvay (via e-mail)

SW: A five-point bonus is huge. It's basically an extra touchdown -- and for a player who's already having a big game. In such a format, I'd go all out for the players in the best position to crack the century mark. A steady 80 yards is nice, but nice doesn't win championships.

So what type of player fits the bill? For starters, he has to play in a pass-heavy offense, and ideally, he'd be the one true receiving threat in that offense. That's a tough combination to find. To a degree, the receiving threats make the offense.

But not in Carolina, where Cam Newton accumulated the 10th-most passing yards last year by throwing to a bunch of scrubs. Oh, and Steve Smith.

Smith had six 100-yard games last year -- more than Roddy White, Jordy Nelson or Hakeem Nicks. His propensity for 100-yard games basically moves him up a whole tier in this format. He's still a bit riskier than those three given his 33 years of age, but his importance to Newton and the Panthers offense isn't changing.

Besides, you're not really comparing him to those three. You're comparing him to Torrey Smith, who despite his knack for the big play, still plays in a run-first offense and still starts opposite the equally talented (if slowly declining) Anquan Boldin. A good day for him would be 75 yards, not 100, and that wouldn't amount to much in this league.

Of course, you already knew Steve Smith was more valuable than Torrey Smith -- that's true for any format -- so the bigger question here is whether the upgrade is worth sacrificing Gresham. Forget about Fleener. He was invisible this preseason and doesn't appear ready to contribute at this level. Fleener wouldn't be starting for you in place of Gresham. Whoever you got off the waiver wire would.

You're giving up something in Gresham for sure. He's a popular pick for a breakout season, and I wouldn't dispute that possibility. But in this format, I don't see him getting enough 100-yard games to set him apart. I'm not sure he'll get any, in fact. For one thing, Andy Dalton doesn't strike me as a 4,000-yard passer at this stage of his career, which immediately puts the Bengals passing game in the bottom half of the league. And on the rare occasion Dalton does throw for a bunch of yards, most of them will go to stud receiver A.J. Green. Gresham will put up consistent yardage and probably catch a few touchdown passes, but big yardage isn't in the cards for him.

Don't let him be the reason you pass on a player ideally suited for your format.

In a standard 12-team league, I have Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco at quarterback; LeSean McCoy, Ahmad Bradshaw and Cedric Benson at running back; Greg Jennings, Jeremy Maclin, Reggie Wayne and Michael Crabtree at wide receiver; and Antonio Gates and Jared Cook at tight end. What do you think? -- Tyler Bell (via Facebook)

SW: I think if Roethlisberger pans out for you, you'll have a contending team whose only real weakness is a lack of running back depth. Say what you want about the lack of alternatives in Green Bay, but Benson won't be the answer for you if and when Bradshaw goes down.

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But again, that's one flaw, and a timely waiver claim could easily remedy it. The bigger issue here is Roethlisberger. Entering the season, 11 quarterbacks stood out as being worthy of starting in all Fantasy leagues: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. Roethlisberger was excluded for a reason.

For starters, he wasn't a high-end option last year. Oh sure, the cumulative numbers look fine, but at a time when 5,000 yards is the new standard for quarterbacks, a 4,000-yard season has to be nearly flawless to make a substantial impact. Roethlisberger's was as up-and-down as it gets -- a testament to the Steelers' preference for winning on defense.

Five of his 21 touchdown passes came in the same game last year, which worked out great for the owner who started him then but caused nothing but heartache in the weeks spent waiting around for him to do it again.

In these modern times, a good Fantasy quarterback has to contribute 250 yards and two touchdowns every single week. Roethlisberger met that standard in only three of his 15 games last season.

So what of this season? Who's to say he's condemned to repeat those same numbers? Look, we've seen him contribute 30 touchdowns before, so maybe it'll all work out for you. But considering he's transitioning to a new offense -- one he has been slow to embrace -- and beginning the year with his top wide receiver at less than top form following a lengthy holdout, I'm thinking he's more likely to take another step back this year.

If I was in your position, I'd be crossing my fingers on Roethlisberger and keeping an eye out for a trade possibility.

I'm already starting Demarco Murray and Ray Rice. I need to start two wide receivers and a flex. My options are Brandon Marshall, Percy Harvin, Torrey Smith, Marques Colston, Donald Brown and Shonn Greene. Who would you choose? -- Ronnie Miley (via Facebook)

SW: The two wide receivers should be obvious. You drafted Marshall and Colston as your starters, and since their matchups against the Colts and Saints pose no real threat to their productivity, you shouldn't start second-guessing yourself now.

I suppose Harvin isn't too far behind in the pecking order, especially given his favorable matchup against the Jaguars, but consider who's throwing him the ball. With Christian Ponder, the potential for disaster is much greater than with Jay Cutler and Drew Brees. If you know you're destined to get good production from Marshall and Colston anyway, why take the unnecessary gamble?

Now, for the flex spot, the gamble might be worthwhile. Granted, I usually prefer running backs to wide receivers in the flex spot, but both Brown and Greene have their drawbacks.

For Brown, who I think is poised for a breakout year with no Joseph Addai to slow him down in Indianapolis, the biggest issue this week is the matchup. The Colts are at Chicago, which is historically good at stopping the run. The Bears ranked fifth against the ground game last season. Plus, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck might struggle on the road in his first career start, causing the entire Colts offense to stagnate. It's nothing to worry about long-term, but for this week, it's a concern.

Greene, on the other hand, seemingly has a favorable matchup against a Buffalo defense that ranked 28th against the run last year, allowing 4.8 yards per carry. But the Bills took great measures to improve their defensive line in the offseason, adding ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson via free agency and regaining tackle Kevin Williams from injury, and showed significant improvement against the run this preseason. Maybe that doesn't count for much, but given the likelihood of backup quarterback Tim Tebow stealing all of Greene's carries at the goal line, it's enough to make me hesitate. If Greene is unable to break off a big run or two against the Bills' revamped defense -- which seems unlikely anyway given his lack of breakaway speed -- then he might have a relatively quiet 70-to-75-yard day.

I'm not saying Brown and Greene are bad starts, per se, but seeing as Harvin has an ideal matchup, I think he stands the best chance of making a significant contribution for your Fantasy team.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Facebook . You can also follow Scott via Twitter @CBSScottWhite .

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