If you're like maybe half of the Fantasy Football-playing world, you enter Week 5 with a record of 2-2.
Right back where you started. Kind of makes you rethink your priorities, doesn't it?
But progress isn't always measured in wins and losses. I know that sounds like something a lame duck coach would tell a hostile media after a miserable 3-13 campaign, but at the start of a Fantasy Football season, when nobody really knows which of their players they can trust, I've found it to be true.
That's not to say you wouldn't have given yourself a pretty nice cushion by starting 4-0 or dug yourself into a frightening hole by starting 0-4, but chances are unless you didn't know what you were doing on Draft Day or made a brazenly lopsided trade somewhere along the line, you owe your start, however it's gone, to pure, dumb luck.
I say that not to belittle anyone's achievement but to encourage those of us who have yet to separate ourselves from the pack. I say "us" because all but one of my teams are 2-2. I say "yet" because I couldn't be more OK with it.
The reason? The first four weeks are a crapshoot. With so many unexpected performances happening all at once, distinguishing the legitimate from the aberrational becomes as much of a challenge as the draft itself. And it influences your lineup decisions. Do you start this guy because of what he has done, this guy because of what he's supposed to be doing or this guy because of what he could do with that matchup? If you're like me, you have so many players you could consider starting and so many different criteria for starting them that all you can do is take your best guess.
The thing about guesses is they're often wrong. And if they're wrong enough at the wrong time, you lose.
Ever had your bench outscore your starting lineup? Yep, we've all been there.
Eventually, everything begins to make sense again. Players settle into patterns, and expectations are adjusted accordingly. Lineup decisions become easier, and even though they don't always work out -- a certain amount of randomness is to be expected every week -- you can be confident in your judgment and trust it to pay off next time. I think I've just now reached that point with some of my teams.
By now, I should know Jordan Cameron is a must-start regardless of where I drafted him in relation to Jared Cook. By now, I should know Philip Rivers gets priority over Russell Wilson. By now, I should know just about any wide receiver I might roster is a better choice for my flex spot than Maurice Jones-Drew. Whether or not Cameron, Rivers and that third wide receiver -- we'll call him Kenbrell Thompkins -- have the worst games of their life next time out is irrelevant. They've already proven something to me. I'm no longer just guessing with them, and in the long run, the results should reflect it.
But of course, that won't be true for everybody. Not every 2-2 team can win the league or even make the playoffs. Not every 2-2 team is as good as every 4-0 team. But some are. Particularly at this stage of the season, the record doesn't tell the whole story.
So instead of bemoaning your fate and resigning to mediocrity, the best thing you can do at 2-2 (or even 1-3, really) is to assess why your record is what it is. If you owe a loss to Eli Manning's miserable Week 3 performance and have since decided he's probably not your best bet at quarterback from week to week, you should like the direction your team is headed. Then again, if you owe a win to Danny Woodhead's unexpected two touchdowns in Week 4, you might still have some work to do. And if you can't figure out who you owe any of your wins or losses to because everyone on your team has been equally good and bad for different stretches this season, well, you're in the most enviable position of all, provided you know what to do with it.
If success comes through the natural elimination of choices, which is sort of the picture I just painted, then a surplus of talent can actually work against you. True, a little depth is useful for handling bye weeks and such, but I prefer having too little to too much. Depth is best used not for playing matchups, but as trade bait. If you can put together an attractive enough package of lesser talents to land a greater one -- the kind you couldn't bring yourself to bench, regardless of matchups -- you not only eliminate the potential for choices, but the need for them.
Granted, Fantasy owners have been trying to pull off 2-for-1 deals since the dawn of the Internet. Among seasoned players, it's easier said than done and has become so trite that some might even call it offensive. But that's for offers made in the interest of fairness. Load up the two-fer (or even three-fer) side of the deal enough that the other guy can't possibly turn it down, and hey, maybe he won't.
In case it's not clear, I'm talking about intentionally losing deals, in the most academic sense.
If you haven't checked out colleague Dave Richard's Fantasy Trade Value Chart , you should. It's pretty amazing. How he manages to get the arithmetic to work out so perfectly is ... intimidating, to be perfectly honest. I can't even look him in the eye anymore.
But the danger in a one-size-fits-all sort of guide -- and I'm sure he'd tell you the same thing -- is that it can stifle outside-the-box thinking, becoming the end-all, be-all of trade evaluation. While in theory, Lamar Miller and Julian Edelman should equal DeMarco Murray, if the Murray owner isn't convinced, the deal isn't happening, leaving you with an overloaded bench and no idea who to start. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to get the deal done, pairing Miller with someone a little more established like Marques Colston. Maybe you planned to ride Colston the rest of the way, but if the deal would end your dilemma at running back, couldn't you live with Edelman instead?
In the process of writing this column, I actually pulled off my first trade of the season, swapping Andre Johnson and Knowshon Moreno for Doug Martin. Well, why not? I understand Martin's value isn't at its highest right now, given the state of the Buccaneers' offense, but that's part of what made the deal viable for the other guy. Martin is a sure 20 carries every week and a good enough receiver to emerge as rookie quarterback Mike Glennon's security blanket underneath. Plus, he's just too talented to keep averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
But regardless of who he is and what he has around him, the bottom line is all those carries make Martin too valuable to sit in Fantasy. For a wide receiver with an extensive injury history and persistent touchdown issues and a part-time back -- granted, one of the better part-time backs, but one I still wouldn't be able to trust every week -- he's exactly the type of player I was hoping to get.
Here's the thing, though: I would have been willing to give up more, perhaps even throwing in Darren McFadden if negotiations went that far. Boy, would that have blown up the trade chart. I had the depth to accommodate it, though. It would have been worth it to me to lock in a stable lineup instead of continuing the guessing game every week.
And that's how you win over seasoned Fantasy owners in an all-too-often stagnant trade market. Be bold. Send them an offer that will really knock their socks off. Just be sure you're the one getting the player you trust to be the best the rest of the way.
If it means gutting your bench, so be it. Remember, the waiver wire is still in play. New players are emerging every week. Chances are between now and whenever you need a bye-week replacement, you'll have found someone competent to use, at least in a standard 10- or 12-team league. You don't need to have the rest of your season planned out today. As long as you have the next week taken care of, trade with confidence.
Naturally, if you're not in a position of enviable depth and don't like the direction your 2-2 team is headed, you might want to be on the other end that deal, getting back Johnson, Moreno and McFadden so that you no longer have to start Golden Tate as your second wide receiver or Jacquizz Rodgers as your second running back. If adding a player fills a hole, you're solving a dilemma, not creating one.
A stable lineup -- that's the goal. Once you find yours, that 2-2 start will seem like ancient history.