Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Power Ranking Your Fantasy Options (Part 1 of 2)

I had an epiphany this past week: everyone loves (to critique) power rankings, and everyone loves (to critique) start/sit articles. Why not combine the two and throw in some gambling advice along the way?

What you see before you is the first half of the 32 NFL teams ranked in ascending order of greatness, along with a considerable amount of fantasy advice regarding the players for each team that isn’t on a bye in Week 5. So if you’re wondering how I feel about Mike Thomas this week, scroll on down to the 29th ranked Jacksonville Jaguars, and find out along the way that the Vegas lines on that game are laughable at best.

Without further ado: The Power Start/Sit Rankings If Gambling Were Legal

#32-#24: Andrew Luck Sweepstakes
St. Louis, Miami, Seattle, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Kansas City, Arizona, Denver

Seems a little early in the year to have already decided that 28% of the league is playing for draft position, but I defy you to tell me which of these 9 teams has any shot at making the playoffs.

Furthermore, aside from the Rams, could any of these teams possibly pass on Luck if they had the #1 overall draft pick? Maybe he won’t be the second coming of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but I think most people would agree he’s at least the next Philip Rivers, and that he has the potential to be the best QB in the NFL within 5 years. How do you explain to your already depressed fan base that you’re content enough with (insert terrible starting QB) that you’re going to go a different direction with the #1 pick?

Remember the episode of Family Guy where Stewie flies to LA to punch Will Ferrell in the face for making that god awful Bewitched movie? As a Chiefs fan who knows Scott Pioli’s nephew well enough to find out where the GM lives, that’s exactly what I would do on draft day if Kansas City winds up with the #1 pick and selects anyone other than Andrew Luck.

32. St. Louis Rams (0-4)
31. Miami Dolphins (0-4)

By the grace of the football gods, neither of these putrid teams are playing this week.

30. Seattle Seahawks (1-3) [@NYG]

Had they not accidentally beaten the Cardinals two weeks ago, I’m fairly confident the Seahawks would be the unanimous last place team in the league. They’re a terrible team that only gets worse when playing away from home; and considering they’re playing a 1:00 game in New York, I have to assume at least 50% of people that are still alive in a suicide pool will be picking against the Seahawks this weekend.

If you’re absolutely desperate (i.e. your starting running backs are Ray Rice and Steven Jackson and the best option on waivers is Earnest Graham), then go ahead and start Marshawn Lynch. The Giants don’t exactly have a stellar rush defense, as Beanie Wells demonstrated last Sunday, but seeing as how no one expects Seattle to even keep this game close, it wouldn’t be shocking if he only had half a dozen carries and ended up with 11 rushing yards like he did in Week 2.

As far as the pass game is concerned, you don’t need me to tell you that Jackson’s 300 yard game last week was a severe exception to the rule. Sidney Rice has re-emerged as a borderline must-start WR, and Doug Baldwin has begun to surface as a potential bye week fill-in, but at the end of the day, if you have any other options at all, Rice is the only Seahawk I would condone starting.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) [vs. Cin]

Good thing they got rid of David Garrard. There’s no way they would be doing as well as dead last in the NFL in passing yards, passing TDs, and QB rating if they hadn’t inexplicably cut him. Gabbert’s having a little more success than McCown did, but this is still a team that can’t move the ball to save its life, and this week, the Jags face one of the best defenses in the NFL thus far this season.

Regardless of the defense, you’re playing MJD, because he’ll get at least 75 rushing yards and possibly a score no matter what. And I would at least strongly consider playing Mike Thomas since he’s tied for 7th in the NFL in targets, and has more than twice as many as anyone else on the Jaguars roster. But there’s no one else on this team that I would even consider playing. I don’t care if your entire team is on a bye, there have to be better options on waivers than Gabbert, Deji Karim, Jason Hill, or Marcedes Lewis.

[Gambling Sidebar: How are the Jaguars possibly favored by 2.5 in this game, and yet the O/U is 37? If you think the Jaguars will win by 3 points, it’s going to be 10-7 or 14-10, right? I mean, they score 9.8 points per game and they’re facing a considerably above average defense. I would separately bet the Bengals and the under in this game. Operating under the assumption there’s virtually no chance in hell that the Jaguars score 21 points against Cincinnati, the worst case scenario is that either the Bengals blow the Jags out and ruin the under bet, or the Jags win a low scoring game by 3; under either of those scenarios, you’re only losing the juice. But this game reeks of a Bengals 17-7 victory to me.]

28. Indianapolis Colts (0-4) [vs. KC]

The Colts have shown some serious life in prime time each of the past two weeks, but still don’t have a win to show for it. I think they’re still going to win 5-6 games this season now that they’re starting a guy who’s been around long enough to actually know the offense. Painter might currently be one of the worst starting QBs in the league, but he’s better than Collins, and the team just looks better with him at the helm…except for those 5 plays each game where he misses his target by about 15 yards.

Against the Chiefs, I would actually be okay with starting just about anyone on the Colts, depending on your situation, of course. Personally, in one of my leagues I have Roethlisberger and Flacco, and I have every intention of picking up and starting Painter this week. The Chiefs have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL, so even though I usually hate Joseph Addai, he looks like a good bye week flex play. Garcon has obviously benefitted from the insertion of Painter, but I think Wayne and Clark are still solid options as well. I’d even feel safe starting the Colts defense against the Chiefs. I think the only Colts I wouldn’t want to play are Collie and Carter, and in both instances, it’s just a case of not being shown anything yet this season, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they showed up to make some sort of fantasy impact in this one.

27. Minnesota Vikings (0-4) [vs. Ari]

The Vikings are significantly better than 0-4. They played well enough to win all 4 of their games, none of which you can really say are terrible losses (with the possible exception of @KC, but even a depleted Chiefs team is capable of beating anyone at home.) Playing at home in a 1:00 game against an abysmal West Coast Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings are poised to take out a lot of their frustrations in blowout fashion. Aside from Toby Gerhart and McNabb-if-you-have-a-better-option, it’s safe to play any Viking on your roster; and even one that probably isn’t on your roster.

Obviously you’re playing Peterson or Harvin if you have them, and I would highly recommend deploying the 5th ranked Vikings rush defense in this one as well. At tight end, Shiancoe is starting to have some of the value we expected him to have all along, and I think he’s a solid bye week TE option if you have Witten, Dickson, or Davis/Cooley on your team.

Here’s the guy that probably isn’t on your roster, but that I wouldn’t be afraid to add if you need an active body at WR: Michael Jenkins. The Cardinals have one of the worst secondaries in the league, and this falls under the theory of “the quarterback has to throw to someone.” Jenkins has 16 receptions on 18 targets for 144 yards this season, each of which is 2nd on the team to Harvin. He also has 2 receiving TD, which is 2 more than Harvin or Berrian can claim. And speaking of Berrian, he has 2 receptions on 16 targets. At some point, McNabb will stop throwing him the ball and focus his efforts on someone who actually has hands, and I think this is the week.

26. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3) [@Ind]

Kansas City has shown some real spunk the past two weeks, but I sincerely doubt it will translate into many more wins. Maybe they shock me this week against the Colts, and maybe they win in weeks 9 and 10 at home against the Dolphins and the Broncos, but beyond that, there isn’t another winnable game on their schedule. They deserve a better fate than 4-12, but when you draw one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL and then lose your starting tight end, free safety, and running backs to torn ACLs before the season really gets a chance to start, it’s hard to expect any better.

If there’s a silver lining to the Jamaal Charles injury, it’s that Dexter McCluster has stepped onto the fantasy scene as somewhat of a poor man’s Darren Sproles. He’s got some definite potential in PPR leagues, but he’s never going to get a large enough percentage of the touches that you ever totally feel comfortable starting him, due to the definite possibility that he gets phased out of the game if he gets off to a poor start. He has yet to score a touchdown, but frankly you can say that about the majority of the Chiefs offense. If you’re debating between Mark Ingram, Devery Henderson, and Dexter McCluster, I’d say you go with McCluster this week, but I wouldn’t say he’s a must start by any means. The only must start Chief is Dwayne Bowe, and I sincerely hope that aside from those 2 guys, you don’t have a single Chief on your roster, let alone your starting line-up. Yeah, that’s right. I’m talking to you, 83.4% of leagues that don’t have Thomas Jones on the waiver wire; those 2.8 yards per carry aren’t going to get any better.

25. Arizona Cardinals (1-3) [@Min]

Thus far, the Cardinals have looked like a respectable team, as they haven’t yet lost a game by more than 4 points. But I’m not buying it. They’ve had lucky match-ups against two terrible quarterbacks and two defensive lines that probably couldn’t keep a forty year old virgin from scoring. Put them up against an average to above average D line and a just below average quarterback and I think they’ll get pummeled.

It just so happens that they’re playing one of the better defensive lines in the league and a quarterback whose demise has been slightly overplayed. And it’s a 1:00 road game. They have virtually no chance of winning this game, and even if it was a close affair, I don’t suspect Beanie Wells would be finding a lot of daylight between the tackles. He’s rapidly deteriorating into that injury prone guy who doesn’t do anything when you start him and who blows up when you put him on your bench. After a stellar start against the Giants, methinks he’ll disappoint the 90% of his owners that start him with high hopes this week. Don’t get me wrong: I’m starting Wells in my one league ahead of Tolbert and Benson (if he even plays), but I fully expect to regret that decision.

As far as the passing game is concerned, the Vikings pass D is significantly below average, so I’m expecting a monster game out of Fitzgerald. I think Doucet has some definite potential if you’re hurting for guys, and despite a losing effort, I say Kolb ends up being a better QB option than guys like Roethlisberger, Hasselbeck, Cutler, or Orton. Don’t play their defense if you have them, and I wouldn’t play either tight end unless your next best option is Zach Miller or Jeremy Shockey.

24. Denver Broncos (1-3) [vs. SD]

I almost want to believe the Broncos could wind up as that 7-9 team that finishes strong and makes everyone think they’re crafty by picking them as their sleeper team the following season; AKA the Houston Texans for the past 6 seasons. Prior to Aaron Rodgers just having an absolute field day against them, Denver’s defense was looking much improved from last season, and the Kyle Orton / Willis McGahee / Eric Decker trio of afterthoughts was doing just enough to keep them in ball games against respectable opponents. It just feels like they’re an X-Factor away from really competing, and no, I don’t mean Tim Tebow.

It’s a shame they go up against one of the best teams in the league this week. The Chargers have had arguably the best defense in the NFL for the past 21 weeks of regular season action. Considering the Broncos don’t exactly have anyone that anyone would consider a must start against an average opponent, I wouldn’t condone starting any Broncos this week. I realize that if you have Willis McGahee, it probably means you’re already hurting at running back so you have no choice but to play him, but Marshawn Lynch is the only “starting” running back that I would consider benching in favor of McGahee if given the opportunity.

#23-#16: Misleading Records
Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Carolina, Cleveland, Chicago, New York Giants, Washington, Atlanta

Each of these teams is either better or worse than their current record would indicate, but ultimately doesn’t look like a playoff caliber team at the moment.

23. Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) [@Jac]

The funny thing about the Bengals is that we all thought they would be 0-4 at this point in the season, and as a result, none of us actually believes they’re a .500 team. I would argue that the Bengals’ 2 wins are more shocking than the Bills’ 3 wins or the Lions’ 4 wins. That being said, they have what appears to be the easiest schedule in the NFL, and behind one of the best defenses and likely rookie of the year AJ Green, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if they ended the season with an 8-8 record. But even if they hang around .500 all season, I’ll never believe that they’re one of the 20 best teams.

As far as the Bengals are concerned in Fantasy, you’re playing AJ Green (every week from now on) if you have him, and Jermaine Gresham is legitimately a top 12 TE option. I also think the Bengals defense is a must-start against the lowest scoring team in the league, especially in a bye week. There isn’t anyone else on the Bengals that I could stomach having in my starting line-up this week.

Whether Benson is active or suspended, I wouldn’t want to play a Bengals running back unless I had no other choice; the 3 worst options this week are Lynch, McGahee, and Benson/Scott. The Jaguars have already shut down the likes of Chris Johnson, Greene, Tomlinson, Ingram, Stewart, and DeAngelo Williams, and I wouldn’t exactly say the Bengals rush attack is any better than that of the Titans, Jets, Saints, or Panthers.

22. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) [@Buf]

I’ll spare you the trouble of reading more about the most dissected team in recent history and jump straight to the fantasy suggestions.

The Bills have one of the worst rush defenses, but if you’re not already playing McCoy on a regular basis, I’m a little impressed that you made it this far into the article. However, I’m not touching Ronnie Brown with a ten foot pole. After that little lateral trick he played last week, I’d be surprised if Andy I Am The Walrus Reid even lets Brown set foot on the field this week.

Despite being tied with the Packers for the most interceptions, the Bills pass D isn’t any better than its rush D, so I would definitely play Vick, Jackson, and Maclin. Considering most Bills games have turned into shootouts, I would even think about starting the Eagles’ 3rd most targeted receiver, which isn’t Brent Celek, Clay Harbor, or even Steve Smith. Jason Avant has 10 receptions for 102 yards in the past two weeks, which isn’t exactly amazing, but it’s better than any 49ers or Jets receiver has done since the end of Week 2.

[Gambling Sidebar: I originally thought the Bills would be favored in this game, you know, since they’re at home and have won three times as many games as the Eagles. In retrospect, every time an NFC East team plays in one of those “if they don’t win this game, they’ll start really talking about firing the coach” games, they almost always win. I’m pretty sure the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys are a combined 52-3 in those games in the past decade. If this Dream Team were to fall to 1-4, all the blame would be placed on Reid (even though it should be placed on Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo), so it feels like one of those games they won’t lose for no other reason than because they can’t afford to lose it. Long story short: stay away from this one at all costs.]

21. Carolina Panthers (1-3) [vs. NO]

I never would have guessed that we’d be talking about the Panthers as a team that’s substantially better than their record. If it weren’t for a pair of punt return TDs by opponents, they could very well be a 3-1 team that damn near knocked off the reigning Super Bowl Champions. And this is a team that is just now starting to make some progress with a rush attack that was supposed to be their strength. They probably won’t beat the Saints this week, and looking at their schedule, they’ll be lucky to win 5 games this season, but this is a Panthers team that can play with anyone. If I were going to bet on either side of this 6.5 point line, I would absolutely be taking the Panthers.

The Saints have a fairly average defense in both the pass and rush game, so even though they’re one of the best overall teams, your fantasy guys shouldn’t have any real competitive advantage or disadvantage against them. If you were ballsy enough to grab Newton or Steve Smith on draft day, feel free to start them this week, and I would also feel safe in starting Olsen against a defense that struggles with opposing tight ends, especially now that Olsen has clearly surpassed Shockey on the TE depth chart.

I’d still be avoiding DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart this week. Neither guy has found the end zone yet, and each is only receiving about one third of the carries once you factor in Newton’s rushes. Somewhat unbelievably, Jonathan Stewart has at least some value in PPR leagues, but until one of them emerges as the feature back, or at least until one of them scores a touchdown, I wouldn’t play either.

(Did you know Mike Goodson is owned in 2.1% of leagues? WTF? How do you rationalize dedicating a roster spot to a running back with 0 rush attempts and 1 reception for 4 yards?)

20. Cleveland Browns (2-2)

It’s probably for the best that they’re on a bye, because they could be facing the worst defense in the league, and I still wouldn’t recommend starting a single Cleveland Brown.

19. Chicago Bears (2-2) [@Det]

If there was an award for MVP through the first four weeks of the season, it would have to go to Matt Forte, right? I’ll give honorable mentions to Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Darren McFadden, Wes Welker, and Calvin Johnson, but the Bears would be 0-4 and possibly scoreless without Matt Forte.

In writing this article, I made a spreadsheet with various rankings and then a list for each team of all the “primary” offensive guys, which was typically 1 QB, 2 RB, 4 WR, 1 TE, and 1 other flex guy depending on the team. Once I had those listed, I looked at who each team was playing against and marked the solid options in green and the terrible options in red. Detroit doesn’t even have an overwhelmingly good defense, and yet every single Bear except for Forte is red.

Even with Forte’s 634 all-purpose yards (which puts him 1 yard behind Wes Welker for most in the NFL) the Bears offense still ranks 26th. You can probably blame some of that on defensive touchdowns and good returns from Hester, but this is just a bad offense. In the pre-season, I thought Johnny Knox would have a breakout season because he’s always shown some promise and he’s frankly the only downfield weapon the Bears have, but even their #1 WR isn’t worth starting in fantasy leagues. Bench everyone except for Forte, and don’t be shocked if even he gets shut down by the Lions front seven. It’s nice that I get to bet on the Lions -5.5, but I wish I could bet on which quarter Jay Cutler gets knocked out of this game, because I’d put a good chunk of change on the 3rd.  

18. New York Giants (3-1) [vs. Sea]

I refuse to believe that this team is any good. I watched their first 3 games of the season in their entirety (missed the 4th because I was in the casino for the 4:00 games this past Sunday), and there’s no way they should have won any of those games; let alone two of them. I feel like every single Eli TD has come on completely blown coverage or a circus catch. Bradshaw and Jacobs are combining for all of 87 rushing yards per game. Their defense just got shredded by a running back who wasn’t even expected to play until half an hour before the game started. Can you even name their starting tight end? Seriously, if you’re not from New Jersey and you can tell me who their tight end is without looking it up, I’ll send you $20. Aside from dumb luck against a cream puff schedule, what redeeming factor does this team have so far?

Lo and behold, the G-Men face another horrendous team this weekend when the Seahawks come to town. I’m not even a sympathizer for any team in the NFC East, but it annoys me to no end that this is going to be a 4-1 team by this time next week. Go ahead and start any Giants you have against Seattle, and you might as well bet them to cover the 10 point spread while you’re at it, because there’s no way the Seahawks score 2 TD in this game.

17. Washington Redskins (3-1)

Speaking of 3-1 teams I don’t believe in. At least this one is on a bye, so I don’t have to even pretend to know what the hell Shanahan is up to with their running back situation.

16. Atlanta Falcons (2-2) [vs. GB]

The Falcons are secretly pretty bad, and I think the whole world is going to find that out this Sunday night. We were willing to forget their opening week disaster against the Bears when they came back to beat a vastly overrated Eagles team on national television. They played admirably but poorly against the Buccaneers in Week 3, and they just barely kept the Seahawks from scoring 31 points last week. The defense is terrible, Matt Ryan is taking way too many sacks, and call me crazy, but Michael Turner doesn’t seem quite right. They’re a slightly above average team with some great receiving options, but they don’t seem to have what it takes to make the playoffs this season.

As far as Week 5 is concerned, the Packers allow more passing yards than any team not located in New England, so I’m feeling pretty good about playing White, Jones, and Gonzalez. I would even promote Matt Ryan as a top 10 fantasy QB this week.

I would be wary about using Michael Turner this week though. The Packers don’t allow many rushing yards (probably a product of opponents primarily playing from behind), have only allowed one rushing TD this season, and Turner has barely even been a factor in the Falcons pass game (fewer targets than Snelling and Rodgers). There aren’t many scenarios in which you have the luxury of choosing to bench Turner, but if you did, I would.

Also, please, for the love of all that is holy, do not start the Falcons defense this week against Aaron Rodgers.

To Be Continued...

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