Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blame the NFL Owners for Injury Wave

By Al Giordano

We’ll lead with the good news: Adrian Peterson is now part of our team. Details below. But, first, our top story is about how NFL owners’ greed has led to a scary rise in player injuries in the opening weeks of this season.

In our last post we boasted two great pick-ups for our team. Both have been hit by injuries. And it’s not just us. Everybody’s getting slammed (imagine having used your first fantasy draft pick for Jamaal Charles or Arian Foster or Michael Vick… at least three teams in every fantasy league are cursing at the gods by now).

As for everybody’s favorite team, The Narcos…

WR Kenny Britt led the AFC in receiving until Sunday, when his knee buckled. Now he’s out for the season.

In Week Two, TE Aaron Hernandez sprained a ligament, and is reportedly out “for four to six weeks.”

Also in Week Two, WR Mario Manningham was concussed and was not cleared to play this past week. And RB Felix Jones separated his shoulder (still, he came back and played real well Monday night and will surely be utilized in many of our starting line ups in the weeks to come).

Related to all this is that América’s team, The Narcos, had its first losing game in Week Three. It was a squeaker of a game with, in the end, a defeat by only five points.

But here we don’t cry. We fight!

Here’s what we’ve done to retool:

Another mega-trade: Adrian Peterson is now on our roster. For the all day running back we traded Lion QB Matthew Stafford, Redskin RB Tim Hightower and Raider WR Denarius Moore. Of the three, we were only using Hightower in starting line ups anyway (and we don’t expect any Mike Shanahan RB to last the season), so we consider AP to be an outstanding upgrade. (And like RB Fred Jackson, who we traded to another team for Britt, these trades have worked out well for our trading partners, too, which we’re glad to see: It helps other owners in the league understand that we’re not out to rip folks off when we offer an exchange for mutual benefit… When The Narcos trade, both teams win.)

So now the Viking AP and the emergent Charger Ryan Matthews are our clear starting RBs. We’re real happy with them.

Cowboy Jones, Saint Mark Ingram (still waiting for him to break out), Packer Starks (the Green Bay RB situation is like a see-saw these days, one week up, one week down) and two new acquisitions – Chief Dexter McCluster (on the Yahoo fantasy platform, he can be played as RB or WR) and Texan James Casey (can be played as RB or TE) – can fill the Flex slot depending on week-to-week match-ups. 

Casey is intriguing to us. We didn’t know he existed until his breakout game this week. He can also be slotted at TE, where we also picked up Redskin Fred Davis on waivers. Davis had great Weeks One and Two, but was “meh” on Monday night, thus the flyer on Casey as the Texans move closer toward a Patriots style two-TE system (which, we think, is where all teams will soon move, bringing on a new offensive era in the NFL).

With the devastating loss of Britt (which because we traded RB Fred Jackson for him, who is presently the third top-fantasy RB in the league, hurts doubly), we picked up Seahawk Sidney Rice and Jaguar Mike Thomas on waivers, two players who may yet break out this season. We’re especially intrigued by Rice, who reappeared from injuries this week to catch ten passes for 109 yards on a Seattle team without other good receiving options. (Thomas is more of a bye-week flyer option as we watch the Jacksonville QB situation shake out.)

We also made a coaching mistake in Week Three, believing the hype on the Philadelphia Eagles “dream team” and dumping the NY Giants defense and their defender DL Jason Pierre-Paul during their Philadelphia vacation in favor of the Tennessee Titans defense and DL Panther DL Charles Johnson. Had we not done that, we would have won our Week Three contest. We’ve repented and grabbed both the Giants and Pierre-Paul off the waiver wires anew. Lucky for us, nobody else did that first.

This current roster leaves The Narcos with one glaring weakness. We have no back-up QB. And two of the better ones on the waiver wires – Jet Mark Sanchez and Raider Jason Campbell – have the same Week Eight bye as A-Rodge, so they’d be useless to us then. We’ll just sweat that out, hoping Rodgers stays healthy, for the next few weeks while looking for our best opportunity and assessing McCluster, Casey, and Thomas, in particular, to see which is cut-able – or who else gets knocked out for the season, which we fear will be an inevitable part of 2011 – when the time comes to slot in a QB2.

It’s just too likely that other players will fall to injuries, not just on our team, but on every team. Blame the NFL owners for their lockout of players, which delayed practice camp this year. There is no other explanation for the high injury rate plaguing almost every NFL team. The lack of practice meant lack of conditioning time. In particular, ligaments and legs seem to be vulnerable. And that means more RBs and WRs will be going down in coming weeks, plaguing fantasy owners, not to mention real teams and real human beings.

Anyway, here’s our current roster:

QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Adrian Peterson, Ryan Mathews, Felix Jones, James Starks, Mark Ingram
WR: Andre Johnson, A.J. Green, Mario Manningham, Sidney Rice, Mike Thomas, Dexter McCluster (also slottable as RB)
TE: Fred Davis, James Casey (also usable as RB under Yahoo rules), Aaron Hernandez (injured, but stashed for his return)
Flex: Any of the RBs or WRs above.
DEF: NY Giants
LB: Patrick Willis
DB: Kerry Rhodes
DL: Jason Pierre-Paul

Not bad. 

But Kenny… we hardly knew ye.

Update: Noticing that Raider WR Jacoby Ford looks ready to return from his hamstring injury this week, vs. a Patriots team that is giving up a lot of passing yards and scores, we've picked him up on waivers, dropping Mike Thomas. (When we grabbed - and later traded - Raider WR Denarius Moore, it was always with the anticipation that we'd bring back Ford, once healthy. Both are solid WRs who increase each other's value by drawing defender coverage from the other, but Ford is the long ball speedster of the two, we believe, despite Moore's current status as fantasy shiny object.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hernandez & Britt Join América's Team

By Al Giordano


Just a quick update to let all our fans know the good news that The Narcos have picked up Patriot TE Aaron Hernandez (the team now has two Aarons!) on waivers (dropping Jared Cook, for now) and that in a trade with the 100 Bucks o Luck team we acquired Titan WR Kenny Britt in exchange for RB Fred Jackson.

Also picked up off the waiver wire (due to strong Week One matchup): Cardinal defensive back Kerry Rhodes.

This makes our Week One starter line up:

QB Aaron Rodgers
RB DeAngelo Williams, Felix Jones, Tim Hightower (flex)
WR Andre Johnson, Mario Manningham, Kenny Britt
TE Aaron Hernandez
DEF NY Giants
LB Patrick Willis
DL Trent Cole
DB Kerry Rhodes

Projected points: 138.7
Projected points for our Week One rival, Viva Tarvaris: 124.3

Our QB is in tonight's season opener (as are two of our reserve RBs... We're eager to see how Ingram and Starks do this opening week and how the RB pecking order sorts out on those teams). May the opening game be a high scoring game.

The long (contract dispute addled) wait is about to be over. Let the NFL and Authentic League seasons begin!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Meet América’s Team: The Narcos of Fantasy Football

By Al Giordano

Saturday was draft day in the Authentic League, with ten team coaches all showing up on time and gobbling up almost every NFL player of evident value. 

Like most players, I’m happy with my draft. This can be a deceiving sensation. Just look around the table and take note: Almost everyone in every league, no matter how awful his or her draft went, seems ecstatic afterward. How often does one get to “own” some of one’s gridiron heroes, after all? 

Here in Narcos Stadium, there is some impartial backing for this feeling: According to the free Football Guys “rate your team” platform (which only ranks offensive players and the Defensive team slot, but not Individual Defense Players, or IDPs, of which teams in The Authentic League each have three), fantasy guru David Dodds’ rankings project that “with great in-season management” The Narcos have a 99 percent shot at a playoff berth in this league, while his colleagues Jason Wood and Bob Henry estimate our chances at 90 percent.

A half hour before the draft, the Yahoo computer doled out our draft positions. I had hoped more than anything that the Narcos - ¡América’s Team! ¡With an accent! - would land in the top four or five slots (there were four elite RBs I had coveted, and none of them named Arian Foster) but fate doled me the eighth position. Worse, my competitors all drafted running backs in the first round, leaving me with a choice between eighth-ranked LeSean McCoy (with Michael Vick vulturing so many red zone runs, Shady probably will end up a high end RB2 but less likely a top ten runner) or to pull the trigger and try out a strategy I’d been studying all summer: The Upside Down Draft.

Fantasy expert Matt Waldman has recommended that for those in late rounds of drafts that this strategy reaps more dividends than the old-fashioned “draft two RBs first” strategy that so many use. Running backs, after all, are the big-money point scorers of the fantasy world and in a league with a Flex position like our own, you can play three RBs every week. Waldman has done the math: While fantasy experts and websites make projections largely based on the previous years’ performances, the elite running back position has the highest turnover rate: Among top-12 RBs, there is, he calculates with data, a 64 percent change rate. That means that an average of 7.7 previous RB2s and even RB3s and sometimes a rookie or two, year to year, elevate to elite numbers, displacing the old. The trick is to figure out which are most likely to rise and haul them into one’s roster. 

So in round one I nabbed the near-consensus #1 QB, Packer Aaron Rodgers, and in the second round the near-consensus #1 WR Texan Andre Johnson fell to me (the latter might not end up number one, but he’ll certainly be in the Olympus of elite point scorers if he stays healthy), and I didn’t pick an RB ‘til the third round. By then all the “elites” – 14 of the top 14 projected backs - were gone, but lookie here at the RB army that now wears a Narcos uniform from the running back position:

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford
RB: Felix Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Mark Ingram, Ryan Mathews, Tim Hightower, Fred Jackson, James Starks
WR: Andre Johnson, Mario Manningham, Jacoby Ford, A.J. Green, Pierre Garcon
TE: Jared Cook
TD: New York Giants
LB: Patrick Willis
DL: Trent Cole
DB: Yeremiah Bell

The first four running backs are legitimate RB2s with potential RB1 upside. Panther Williams, Saint Ingram and Charger Mathews each play behind top-five run blocking offensive lines, and each are strong candidates to invade the elite tier this season: Odds are at least one of them will. 

Felix Jones, although not behind an elite line, is the last Dallas Cow-back standing after his competing teammates fell to injuries, free agency, or performed badly in the preseason. He’ll get most of the ground yardage and goal line touches while QB Tony Romo spreads out the defense with triple receiving corps threats in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Even sharing touches last year with Marion Barber, Jones grossed 1,250 yards on the ground and in the air. Now that Barber has moved on, it’s a great position for any explosive back to be in, and Jones has gained a lot of muscle this year and seems to wear it comfortably without losing his speed.

One of those four guys will likely blow up into top-ten back territory. And, as odds go, another will likely be plagued by injuries, a la Mathews 2010, another will likely be a bust, a la Williams 2010, and another likely ends up in a RB-by-committee (this could happen to Mathews, Williams and/or Ingram, but not as likely to Jones), diminishing his touches.  Truth is, these things will also happen to some of the elite tier backs drafted in the first round, making space for one or more of these guys to displace them.

The second tier of The Narcos RBs, Redskin Hightower, Buffalo Bill Jackson and Packer Starks, were more “swing for the fences” type of moves. In Washington, Coach Shanahan may burn through RBs like Spinal Tap did drummers, but he tends to get a good third-of-a-season out of the one he decides is his man before the guy gets ground down and wounded. Hightower – coming on from a strong preseason - will be an early season shocker-sleeper in the Flex position and I’ll ride him according to the match ups until he burns out. And that will buy me some time to watch how the rest of the RB corps shakes out in their own situations.

Fred Jackson is simply beating the hell out of C.J. Spiller for the touches on the Buffalo squad and last year’s exit by Marshawn Lynch to Seattle made that evident in 2010 when F-Jax put up big numbers. At 30 he’s older than most but he’s only played four pro seasons, making his legs 24 or 25 in mileage yet together with veteran smarts. Fielded in fantasy matchups against weaker run defenses, he’ll have some amazing scoring weeks.

And then there is the obscene luxury of taking Packer James Starks – I had only planned on taking six backs – but I could not help it. He was sitting there unpicked in the SIXTEENTH round, and he’s only a good game or another Ryan Grant injury away from becoming the RB1 in his bid to lead the Green Bay returning champs steamroller.

The problem, of course, with selecting seven RBs on a 19-man squad (7 of 15 offensive players) is that it leaves The Narcos weak at WR3 and at Tight End, as well as without a consensus RB1 until one or more of these guys steps up and proves he’s worthy. And god forbid what happens if injuries strike at WR, I may have to get out my magnifying glass and seek out a Domenik Hixon or a Victor Cruz on the waiver wire. Yikes!

The silver lining is that I’ve just dried up the RB pool for other teams that now are slotting WR4s in the Flex position. They’ll find out after one or two games what a losing strategy that is and my gambit is that then they will be open to trades which they will need to salvage their playoff hopes. (It also helped that at least one other team in the league, Dominic Corva’s Viva Tavaris, got RB greedy as well and now most other teams will be scrambling soon enough… There’s not a decent RB left on the waiver wire in this league.)

I also consider it somewhat of a miracle between gobbling up RBs plus an elite QB and elite WR that I nailed Matt Stafford (ninth rated QB according to my numbers-crunching) as backup quarterback (if he plays as I expect, he’ll be trade bait once somebody’s QB gets wounded, which happens pretty fast…).

Giant Mario Manningham – I was lucky to get him in round six - will be no slouch at WR2 now with Steve Smith gone to Philly and Hakeem Nicks drawing double and triple coverage. Even last year he was the 17th top WR fantasy scorer, with only upside at the threshold of the 2011 season.

I wish I felt as confident about Colt Pierre Garcon as my WR3, but I don’t, not until Peyton Manning gets healthy again and proves it, and thus am shopping for WR trades with my army of RBs-with-upside. But with Raider Jacoby Ford and Bengal rookie A.J. Green at WR4 and WR5, I should be able to tack together a decent week-to-week matchup play, or so I hope.

Titan Jared Cook at TE is The Narcos weakest link (even though certain fantasy experts, including Jeff Pasquino, who was rated best at TE projections in 2010, is touting him heavily now that the Titans have a Hasselbeck and not many WRs to which to throw), but week-to-week waiver wire pickups at TE are fairly easy, and there is a Patriot-happy coach in my league who drafted both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez who may determine that Stevan Ridley won’t do in the Flex position at least in the first part of the season and so why not trade one of those guys? And that’s what I like about this “Seven RB2 and Flex RB” roster: The Narcos have what six or seven other teams in the league are going to realize very shortly that they really, really need. And unlike some fantasy teams, we don't fear the trade; we hunt for it.

Finally, there are the Narco IDPs, one linebacker, one defensive back, and one defensive lineman. 49er Patrick Willis is by far the top LB in our league’s tackle-heavy system, and Dolphin Yeremiah Bell will be an elite DB as usual. I’m not so sure about Eagle Trent Cole (Giant Justin Tuck, Viking Jared Allen and Bear Julius Peppers fell to others before I could take them) but there are some other powerful D-linemen out there to cull from the waiver wire when and if the need arises.

As The Narcos team Defense, the Giants are a two-week fill-in strategy: They get the Redskins’ ridiculous QB situation in week one – can you say, "Sack City!" - and then the Rams on the week two Monday Night Football game (for some reason, my Jints’ D always fires it up for primetime national TV, usually wounding a QB, which is another reason why I grabbed Stafford and not the also impressive Sam Bradford in the QB2 position… stay away from QBs that NYG plays early in the season is a lesson learned from 2010). But by week three, when the Giants play the Eagles, I’ll probably have to work the waiver wire for a team defense that and most weeks afterward. The Narcos won our championship last year in part because we got good at that.

Anyway, in Week One of this season I will get to play my 2010 nemesis, league Commissioner Dominic Corva and his Viva Tarvaris team (note that the Seahawks fan didn’t actually DRAFT Tarvaris, although Jackson might do better than his starting QB Matt Schaub - #11 rated in a ten-team league - and certainly than his backup Cassel - #18 and sinking fast - before the season is done), and that’s going to be a tough fight. And if the Narcos lose it – and we might well struggle in the season opener – you’ll all underestimate us for a while.

Because in football, as in life, things do tend to go awry: and that’s when it gets interesting to rise to the challenges.

That’s when I’ll be hitting up all my readers at Narco News (and here!) up for penny-per-point pledges, based on our team’s weekly fantasy point totals, to benefit The Fund for Authentic Journalism based on the points we score each week.

Then again, we may pull it out starting in Week One. As Vince Lombardi said, “winning isn’t everything… it’s the only thing.” Football, glory, glory be, is back. And we’ll see what real-life lessons and benefits we can accrue in 2011 by watching this one-of-a-kind game called NFL football together all season long…