Fantasy football is many things, including . . .
. . . mostly pretty fun, especially during the regular season when you can shrug off a surprising defeat, retool your team with trades, play the waiver wire like a harp and rebound.
. . . sometimes incredibly frustrating, especially in December, when a loss means you’re cooked, and one poor week from a player who has been carrying you can’t be forgiven.
. . . a rough-hewed simulacrum of what life is like, e.g., sometimes Todd Gurley comes crashing happily onto your team, and sometimes he’s on someone else’s team and tears you to shreds and takes the fourth quarter off.
. . . a pretty goofball way for me to make a living.
And now, 2017 is wrapping up, and if you’re good enough and lucky enough to be playing this weekend, here are my Week 16 ranks, and also here are some strategic thoughts and player-specific notions for your finals.
Go get it. This is why you lift all them weights.
Make lineup decisions for upside. If you’re in the finals, you’re probably playing against another pretty good team. I always advise folks not to manage via projected scores: they’re mostly nonsense. I’d plan on the other person having a good week. And so if you have a lineup decision that’s close, and you’re choosing between a player with a high ceiling and a player with a high floor, take the ceiling.
Start Ezekiel Elliott. I mentioned this in Tuesday’s column, and I’ll repeat it here: This is why we play! We play for the fun of a late-December Sunday when a transcendent player returns to the field and it’s a national TV game and you get to live and die with every carry. If you’ve waited on Zeke this long and he plays great on your bench, you’ll be sad.
Be flexible, but don’t outthink yourself. I won’t be so rigid as to say you must use the same players you used in Week 15, no matter what. If you liked Jimmy Garoppolo’s matchup against the Titans but fear the Jaguars defense Sunday, I get it. But this isn’t the moment to bench Julio Jones. Yes, I know, Kendall Wright has had a nice couple of games, but Jones could win your week by himself. When there’s a huge ranking and talent disparity among your lineup options, stick with the better player and live with the results.
Realize Aaron Rodgers isn’t walking through that door. He returned to help Green Bay make an unlikely late playoff push and nearly got a win in Carolina after an onside kick. But he’s on injured reserve for Saturday’s game against the Vikings, meaning Brett Hundley will be back under center. Plus, Davante Adams was concussed in Week 15. You’re better off not making heavy finals investments in any Packers sans Rodgers.
Don’t chase unlikely results. The Giants were big underdogs at home against Philly last week but scored a bunch of points and nearly pulled off an upset. Bryce Petty kept the Jets close all day against the Saints. Blake Bortles is sitting on seven TDs and zero INTs in his past three games. And I’ll be honest: With a couple of exceptions (Evan Engram?), I’m not crazy about using anyone from those situations in their current conditions. Bortles in particular feels like a mirage. The Jaguars are doing everything in their power to have him throw shallow crosses to wide-open receivers, and the moment Jacksonville is trailing, I fear Bortles can absolutely still go Full Bortles on you. He’s not a bet I feel good about making in a winner-take-all situation.
Fear the Bengals offense. A.J. Green must start in every league because, like Jones, he’s a superior player. (Use Mike Evans as a comparison: Everyone hated him headed into Week 15, yet those who started him Monday night were rewarded.) But if I can stay away from Joe Mixon, Gio Bernard, Andy Dalton and Tyler Kroft, I’ll do that. If the Bengals made progress on their offensive line in November, they’ve given it all back in the past couple of weeks. On Sunday, they lost both starting offensive tackles. The past two weeks have been a mess against Chicago and Minnesota, and I worry it’ll stay terrible Sunday against Detroit.
Give JuJu a chance. If you lost Antonio Brown to his calf injury, you’re in trouble; no other wideout comes close to the upside and security Brown offers. And there’s no guarantee that any single Steelers receiver will inherit all of Brown’s targets; Martavis Bryant and even Darrius Heyward-Bey could partake. But I like to judge these players based on how they look on film, and JuJu Smith-Schuster may not profile as a top-percentile athlete the way Bryant does, but even as the youngest player in the NFL, JJSS is rock solid. He runs where he’s supposed to run. He mostly catches the ball. And he’s got an on-field savvy Bryant and DHB can only dream of. I’m guessing, but it’s an educated guess: I say JuJu goes off against the Texans on Christmas night.
Embrace Zen. Too many people lose in the playoffs and decide fantasy football is evil and they hate it. Precious little that happens during the regular season is within your control as a fantasy owner, but even less is controllable when it’s down to a single week. Learn to let go. We can’t predict the future. We can’t predict which random running back will mess things up, or which quarterback will limp off, or which receiver will drop three perfectly thrown passes. The best metaphor I know for fantasy football is poker: There are guidelines, there are implied odds, there are right times to go all-in — but in the end, you can’t win if the cards don’t fall your way. It’s pretty random. If Week 16 doesn’t work out for you, it’s fine to feel a few moments of disappointment. But then realize that getting mad and flipping a coffee table over something that’s nearly as arbitrary as a coin flip is silly. You did the best you could. It’s not in your control. Breathe.
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