Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Oct 2014

Scramble for the Ball: Midseason Check-Up

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: It is now the fantasy midseason, and your team could probably use a checkup, in terms of how to balance the need to keep high-performing players, the search for players who can help you, and management of bye weeks.

Mike: That's not a terrible idea. Of course, the real problem is that one of my teams is built around Adrian Peterson, soooo...

Tom: That almost feels like my Ray Rice pick last year, except I had the option of hanging on to a belief Rice would finally turn it around the next week.

Mike: I'm being a bit melodramatic. That team has Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray and Lamar Miller. But still, losing Peterson was a massive blow.

Tom: I also don't mean to equate Rice having a terrible 2013 season, in both real and fantasy terms, with Peterson's criminal involvement.

Mike: I don't think any sane person was drawing that comparison.

Tom: This is the internet, Mike. Also, Murray and Forte are one-two in non-PPR points among running backs. Do you have to start three, or are you in a flex league?

Mike: Flex league, with one W/R/T slot. I've also lost Victor Cruz from that team, which is a pretty hefty blow. Then again, I still have Jordy Nelson, Percy Harvin and Keenan Allen.

Tom: OK, losing your first-round pick and another high pick is something that you can feel bad about. Wait, is this an eight-team league?

Mike: Yes.

Tom: Oh, well, that explains things.

Mike: Like how I have an all-star team? Yeah. It's mostly frustrating because I'm last in the league largely due to a ridiculous points against. So an injury on top of some pretty rotten luck is demoralizing.

Tom: And typical fantasy league scoring and standings do almost nothing to incent players with bad teams to care much.

Mike: I'm not remotely out of it, yet. But it's a steep hill to climb, and it's mostly relying on the group of players I've already been relying on with little success, however justifiable my faith may be.

Tom: I'm currently in first place in my league and second in total points, so my rank isn't completely undeserved. For once, my putting all my eggs in a single non-highly-drafted quarterback has paid out, as Philip Rivers is second in points in the league.

I have two problem areas. The first is running back. I came out of the draft with Murray, Rashad Jennings, Carlos Hyde, and Jeremy Hill -- two starters I liked and two backups in good situations. Now Jennings is out, and with byes coming up I have a balancing act. Do I stick with Hill or Hyde, depending on matchup, as my other starting running back, or do I try to find somebody who will play more of a guaranteed role?

The other problem area is wide receiver, where I took Brandon Marshall, currently WR16, right after Murray.

Mike: To be fair, Marshall's current ranking is somewhat depressed by his early-season injury

Tom: True, but I could have had Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, or your Mr. Nelson. My other wideouts are Marques Colston, DeAndre Hopkins, and Mike Wallace. Hopkins and Wallace have produced at a level similar to Marshall, though Hopkins kept piling on the bench points. I also drew Jarrett Boykin and Cody Latimer lottery tickets late in the draft, and have already bailed on those.

Mike: That is a tough call, honestly. Assuming you have to choose two of those receivers.

Tom: We start three receivers. I'd been sticking with Colston over Hopkins, partly due to inertia, mostly due to quarterback. I'm also now holding a Davante Adams lottery ticket, which meh. I was hoping receiver would be solid. Now I'm just thinking I'll be OK getting by.

The running back roster shuffle is what's bothering me. Do I abandon one of Hill/Hyde (more likely Hyde) in favor of a better RB1 option, or do I just manage my roster around those two players who will probably not do much for my team?

Mike: Honestly, I would see if you could sell high on Hopkins and maybe another piece for a solid RB2. But I'm a massive Houston pessimist.

Tom: I don't love him or the Texans offense either. But who does? I'm also concerned by what Bill O'Brien might do after his "for who? for what?" act on last week's late-game fumble. I'm probably too cautious, so I won't do anything and will just manage around it and hope my players do enough to win.

Mike: That's a luxury you can afford when you're sitting in first.

Tom: And if they aren't, I just hope I can catch breaks like my opponent having Joe Flacco, Andre Holmes, and Branden Oliver all on his bench last week.

Mike: That sounds like a sustainable strategy!

Lessons Learned

Tom: Is the air of invicibility off of C-Link Field with the Cowboys' win? Or will this be like the Cardinals' win there last year, forgotten as soon as the Seahawks win another game at home by a good margin, because they're still a really good team and really good teams playing at home will still do that?

Mike: I think the air of invincibility was based mostly on last year's historic performance. Great teams do still lose like that, but to expect Seattle to bulldoze everyone is asking for too much.

Tom: The other question I have about how much we learned from that game is whether it says more about Seattle's offense or their defense. They scored 23 points. Three of them came on their seven possessions that started on their own side of the field. Vince covered Percy Harvin's ineffective performance in Audibles. They failed to crack the 50-play barrier, just like in their loss to San Diego.

Mike: As a Harvin owner, I echo his concern and add in a massive sadface. It is worrying, considering how abysmal Dallas's defense is, that Seattle couldn't do more on offense. I think the problem with writing Seattle's demise is that Marshawn Lynch is still awesome.

Tom: Yes, but does Darrell Bevell recognize that? Two losses, Lynch hasn't gotten much volume in either one as the Seahawks haven't run many plays in either one.

Mike: I think at some point Pete Carroll is going to make him realize that.

Tom: Lynch's lack of use mostly made sense against San Diego, which was kind of weird and facing a deficit. Against Dallas, Bevell called plays like he was Ken Whisenhunt, gleefully abandoning the run after a single failure.

Mike: Granted, I have no access to Carroll's mind grapes, but 10 carries for Marshawn Lynch in any game where the teams aren't trading touchdown passes every other play is just insane.

I have similar feelings about Seattle's loss as I do to Baltimore's big win. Albeit in the opposite direction.

Tom: How so?

Mike: They both feel like momentary blips. Seattle will play better, will give Lynch more carries and have an effective offense again. Baltimore will not get to play Tampa Bay every week. Or any other week, for that matter.

Tom: Until their Super Bowl matchup, you mean.

Mike: It reminds me of last week's New England-Cincinnati game, where a great game following weeks of struggles prompted the commentators to declare that New England had figured everything out.

Tom: I don't actually think anybody other than DVOA is using that to say Baltimore is one of the best teams in the league. I think people are just accepting Baltimore is a good team. They are, for example, just 11th in Peter King's Fine Fifteen, and 12th, unchanged, in ESPN.com's Power Rankings. Those two lists are about as representative of conventional wisdom as any of them, I would say.

Mike: Perhaps.

Tom: I think the lesson is Seattle is a really good team with some flaws right now. If they don't fix those flaws, they can lose against a quality opponent, even at home. Welcome to the NFL.

Mike: I'm still not a believer in the Ravens' offense, however, and I'm reading a lot about how they've fixed things after their terrible Week 6 performance, in similar vein to how dysfunctional Seattle's offense is and New England's entire team was, as of two weeks ago.

Tom: Yeah, I wouldn't go that far. They have Joe Flacco, who feels like about the highest-variance quarterback in the NFL.

Mike: I think that there is little within the season that a team can do to fix those flaws, however. You can scheme a little, you can drill and do a lot of study, but on some level all teams are bound by the personnel they're fielding. Some are more variable in quality than others, but there are no magic beans, to use one of this site's favorite phrases.

Tom: Mm, magic beans.

Mike: I suppose my lesson is that we need to watch out about jumping to conclusions, even after Week 1. Seattle will still be near the top of the league. New England will still be a very vulnerable contender. Baltimore's offense will still be mediocre. Their talented coaches will do everything in their power to make great performances the norm, but great performances, like poor performances, are just one week of data. Everyone loves to grab for the storyline of the quick reversal of fortune, but unless you're the New York Football Giants, such a thing doesn't really exist.

Loser League Update

Full Loser League results for this week and the season to date can be found on the Loser League results page. Scramble each week highlights the least valuable Losers.

Quarterback: If your offense line could not block the opposing defensive line, you had a good shot of showing up here. Loser League-ineligible Teddy Bridgewater was the low scorer this week with 4 points. Among eligibles, Eli Manning's 7 points was the lowest.

Running backs: The aforementioned Carlos Hyde could not finding running room against even a heretofore porous Rams run defense. Matching the least valuable back in the league this past week at 1 point was Chris Ivory.

Wide receivers: For the second week in a row, "J.Brown" is atop the Loser League standings at wide receiver. Last week, it was the Cardinals' John Brown. This week, it is Pittsburgh's Justin Brown. Mr. Harvin joins him in the elite group of players who had failed to crack 10 yards and therefore earned 0 points.

Kicker: A more complicated version of fantasy scoring would pay more respect to Josh Scobee than Loser League, which offsets his two made extra points with the blocked 55-yard field goal he attempted at the end of Sunday's game against the Titans and perhaps assign more blame to Allen Hurns, who ran out of bounds on his own before he needed to, or Gus Bradley, who (defensibly) chose to kick on third down with :12 to play instead of running another play. Getting to 0 more conventionally was Josh Brown, when Tom Coughlin did not even let him attempt a pity shutout-ruining kick with :12 left in the Sunday night affair against the Eagles.

Awards!

Keep Chopping Wood: Your Scramble writers considered a number of candidate for this week's KCW. After lengthy deliberation, the Official Scramble Tiebreaker was invoked, and the award went to the funniest failure of the week. DeAndre Hopkins was the winner, not for the way he disappeared from the Texans gameplan in favor of Andre Johnson after failing to make an early contested catch, but for his act of self-preservation in not attempting to recover a game-ending fumble.

Mike Martz Award: While your Scramble writers do not agree with what Darrel Bevell did, that misdeed pales compared to the timeouts Joe Philbin favored the Green Bay Packers with late in their comeback win over the Dolphins. One was reasonable but for its result. The Packers had gone out of bounds to stop the clock and were at the goalline. If only Miami had done something to change their defense instead of again giving Green Bay the Andrew Quarless-Philip Wheeler matchup they had shown before the timeout. The other came before Green Bay's crucial fourth down conversion, after a sack, at a time when the Packers appeared discombobulated. As a Dolphins source told Almando Salguero, it was a decision "beyond comprehension."

Lock of the Week

Tom: Congratulations, Mike.

Mike: Thank you!

Tom: The Broncos were all set to beat the Jets by just a touchdown. Then, on a desperation drive at the end of the game, Geno Smith found Aqib Talib, who found the end zone, and the Broncos covered. You got your first win.

Mike: Yeah, that isn't the most heartening sequence of events.

Tom: You are now 1-4, while I am 2-3 after Andy Dalton finally played a regular season game at home like he was on the road or it was a postseason game.

Mike: I should know better than to hitch my fortunes to multi-score lines.

Tom: Hey, at least you did win. I very nearly picked the Ravens last week, but no. As a reminder, all lines this year are courtesy of Pinnacle Sports and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without reference to the FO Premium Picks.

Mike: The Ravens at -7 this week feels like a trap. Even at home. Also seeming like a trap is Bengals +3 at Colts. A much more intriguing trap, however. The Colts are devoted to Trent Richardson, the running back even I have given up on. Their running game is terrible, so Cincinnati's league-worst rushing defense won't be quite the liability you'd expect. On the other hand, the Bengals' front seven is an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, and have the speed and discipline to corral Andrew Luck quite effectively, I'd wager.

Tom: I think you're out-thinking yourself. The Colts have relied on Richardson just to the extent they can this year, as opposed to the extent they want to.

Mike: Perhaps I am. They're still near the bottom in rushing DVOA, so the Bengals' only glaring weakness isn't quite so pronounced this week.

Tom: Schematically, the Bengals' issue, as we saw against the Patriots, is the linebackers, and I think the Colts have the players to take advantage of that. Plus, it meshes well with Pep Hamilton's love of shallow routes.

Mike: I think you're reading too much into one terrible game. But even so, let's assume that Andrew Luck can Tom Brady it up all day without any significant miscues or pressure. I think that's unlikely, but let's assume. Then you have a shootout, and Cincinnati has a top-five passing offense and an excellent running attack to go after the second-worst rushing defense in the league.

Tom: I'm not going to defend Indianapolis's defense at all.

Mike: These teams are not evenly matched, which is where the line is set. Cincinnati Bengals +3 at Indianapolis Colts.

Tom: One game stands out, especially with a favorable matchup. The Minnesota Vikings couldn't protect Teddy Bridgewater at all against Detroit's fantastic front four. Now they're facing another of the league's best front fours, this time on the road. Is there any reason to expect them to be more successful at Buffalo than they were at home against the Lions?

Mike: Minnesota can actually run the ball?

Tom: Buffalo is currently No. 2 in rush defense DVOA, ahead of the Lions. I don't see it happening this week either.

Mike: Detroit also has a much better passing defense. I can't believe I wrote that about the Lions vis a vis anyone.

Tom: The DAVE differential is also 25%. Once you add in the home-field edge, the line should be a point or two higher than it is right now. The secondary doesn't matter if you don't have time to throw.

Mike: Really, you're talking about the best defensive team in the league (again, the Lions, somehow) versus a team that is merely one of the best. Sure, Buffalo has a pass rush nearly as good as Detroit's, but you can't get to the quarterback every single play. And you'll have to, because Buffalo's offense is cover-your-eyes awful.

Tom: The Vikings called games conservatively in Bridgewater's first start. I don't see them being much more aggressive this week. If Minnesota had a good defense, I'd agree with you. But they're mediocre by both my eyes and DVOA (22nd, 5.3%). Buffalo Bills -5.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings.

Send questions to Scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 15 Oct 2014

8 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2014, 5:25pm by dbostedo

Comments

1
by LyleNM :: Wed, 10/15/2014 - 4:11pm

Peterson, Forte, Murray and Miller? Must be nice to always make the playoffs since you apparently play in a 4 team league.

2
by Steve in WI :: Wed, 10/15/2014 - 6:02pm

Even after reading the explanation that it's an 8 team league, I'm impressed. I'm in a 6 team "just for fun" league w/family, and I couldn't manage to draft a crop of RBs like that (plus Jordy Nelson and Victor Cruz!)

I managed to draft Peterson with the 4th pick in a 14-team league, so forgive me if I can't spare much pity for a guy who still has 3 solid RBs even without Peterson. :) I made it worse by waiting too long to draft my second RB; the result is that I'm scouring the waiver wire every week hoping for a guy who can just get me 7-8 points in the RB spot. On the bright side, at least I took Rivers as my QB in that league.

3
by Lance :: Thu, 10/16/2014 - 6:32am

"It's mostly frustrating because I'm last in the league largely due to a ridiculous points against."

This is why I gave up playing fantasy. For 3 or 4 years, I would be sitting in the top half of points for, but last or near last in a 10-team league in points against. It seemed like in almost every game, the team I played inevitably had the highest-pointing score of the week and I'd end up with an L despite having a productive effort. In ca. 10 years of playing (1991-1995, and again from 2000 to like 2006), I made the play-offs once, or maybe twice. Sometimes I was just bad, but more often I was just unlucky.

I don't have the time or energy to play anymore, but I honestly don't miss it.

4
by Mike B. In Va :: Thu, 10/16/2014 - 9:27am

A couple of seasons like this also made me give up playing in money leagues. In the '90s, people who were dedicated, read a lot on the 'net and smart with the waiver wire could work a mediocre team into a winner, or win a league with matchups. Now, that information is available to everyone, and other than your two teams per league that can't draft, it's essentially random. I missed the playoffs for a 2nd year in a row last year despite having the 3rd-highest PF in the league, because I had the highest PA.

I'm in two "fun leagues" this year, and I'm actually enjoying it again.

5
by Lance :: Thu, 10/16/2014 - 11:04am

The 90's were interesting in that way. I was commish and on Monday I'd have to stop and get a USA Today on my way to class, and would spend my free time going over all the box scores to tally the points. Then that evening I'd call everyone (who had email?) to tell them their scores and what was left for the MNF.

All the football magazines and articles focused on the game; no one cared about fantasy. But yes, now magazines and websites are devoted to it, and you are right-- it's hard to find an edge as the reward for lots of research no longer pays off.

8
by dbostedo :: Thu, 10/16/2014 - 5:25pm

Our league has money prizes both for the playoff results (based on head to head record) and for total points. The total points prize runs including the playoffs, so even teams that get knocked out need to keep playing if they're in the hunt for total points money.

6
by Briguy :: Thu, 10/16/2014 - 11:29am

Is it time to give up on Keenan Allen? The way my league is set up, I could replace him with a 2nd TE: Vernon Davis or Travis Kelce (Delanie Walker has been starting TE for me). Would either be a good move?

7
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/16/2014 - 1:56pm

I wouldn't do it for Kelce, whose fantasy value up to this point has mostly been the function of touchdowns.

Allen hasn't been putting up numbers the last couple weeks, but he's still getting targeted-6 this past week, 7 the week before. I think it's clear at this point he won't see the volume jump some people were looking for from him over last year, and he'll be a week-to-week player.

Davis, I think you could make the argument for him over Allen, especially since he's more of a red zone target and volume this past week was similar. I probably wouldn't do it, because I'd rather have a Philip Rivers share than a Colin Kaepernick share, but they're close enough that if you want to make the move I won't tell you not to do it.