With just two pit stops remaining on the road to the fantasy playoffs, it's time to fine-tune the engine.
Unfortunately, with the trade route no longer an option in most leagues, the best way to maximize output is to focus on putting the right guys in your lineup. Yep, it's time to turn off the auto-pilot.
Getting your best team on the field in this critical final fortnight of the fantasy regular season isn't easy. The weather is turning. Players are banged up. Some guys would just flat-out would rather be home in Mississippi than playing out the string of a disappointing season.
So what's a fantasy owner to do?
Well, let's start with something NOT to do. Don't just grab your biggest names and slap them onto the lineup card. Doing that too often has gotten you into a chasing position while others have zoomed ahead thanks to some strategic moves. It's time for you to grab the schedule, the standings and the weather map and study. It's not rocket science.
Here are some of the tough decisions you might have this week, and how I'd deal with each.
Play him/Sit him
Start Sam Bradford over Joe Flacco. The Broncos are plummeting down the charts in pass defense, surrendering monster numbers almost every week. Bradford, coming off a decent effort (233 yards, two touchdowns) against a far superior pass defense (Falcons), should add to the Broncos' woes, especially with a receiving corps that's healthier than it has been all season. Meanwhile, Flacco is up against a defense that's much stronger against the pass than the run. Playing at home, look for a lot of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Others I'd start Bradford over: Jon Kitna, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler.
Start Randy Moss over Terrell Owens. Having watched him catch one pass in two games with the Titans, you're probably wondering why you hung onto Moss and didn't take any of those trade offers. Well, this is why: The Texans offer zero resistance in the passing game, and nobody enjoys zero resistance more than Moss. What about Rusty Smith starting at quarterback for the Titans? Hey, he threw a touchdown pass to Moss last week that got called back. That's encouraging, right? What's not encouraging is any match-up against Jets standout cornerback Darrelle Revis. Just ask Andre Johnson. He managed to shake Revis for all of four catches for 32 yards last week. Expect about the same from Owens on Thursday night. If that's the case, wouldn't you rather take your chances with Moss? Others I'd start Moss over: Dez Bryant, Mike Williams (Buccaneers) and Braylon Edwards.
Start Ronnie Brown over Darren McFadden. Yeah, I know. Brown's buried so deep on your bench, you've forgotten where to find him. Well, take the time to do so. The Dolphins, with ball-toting quarterback Tyler Thigpen at the controls, should be in ball-control mode all day against one of the league's weakest run defenses. Brown, who has faced one of the toughest schedules in fantasy history, finally catches a break. The Dolphins, in a must-win game against a vastly inferior opponent, will be focusing on McFadden because the Raiders have little else to offer. Think about it, do you really want to risk your fantasy fortunes on the back of arguably the league's worst offense? Others I'd start Brown over: Fred Jackson, Cedric Benson, Brandon Jackson, Mike Goodson, Beanie Wells and Donald Brown.
Start Heath Miller over Brent Celek. Miller has been consistently mediocre, which has to make you a bit uneasy trusting him with your season on the line. But think about it this way: You're not necessarily banking on Miller to do more than he's been doing; you're banking on the Bills defense to do exactly what it has been doing. No team has come close to allowing as much fantasy production to tight ends as the Bills. So, expecting Miller's best effort of the season really isn't asking much. Celek also has been consistent of late ... consistently unproductive. If you've been kicking yourself over keeping him in the lineup, now's the time to make the change. Why? Because things aren't about to change. The rise of Michael Vick has certainly come at the expense Kevin Kolb's favorite target. There's no reason to expect any different this week against a quality Bears defense. Others I'd start Miller over: Kellen Winslow, Aaron Hernandez and John Carlson.
Start Joe Nedney over Ryan Longwell. The ideal match-up for a kicker at this time of the season consist of (1) an offense that has trouble getting into the end zone, (2) a defense that has trouble forcing punts and (3) a game played either indoors or in warm weather. Well, the 49ers-Cardinals duel in the desert certainly qualifies. Longwell, on the other hand, probably wishes he were in Phoenix this weekend. Or basically anywhere other than where the troubled Vikings are located. That, by the way, will be Washington, D.C., one of those cold-weather sites to fear at this time of year. Others I'd start Nedney over: David Akers, Dan Carpenter, Billy Cundiff and Nick Folk.
Dave Del Grande, aka Mr. Fantasy, offers free advice about your fantasy football team via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org