The first quarter of the fantasy season is in the books, and if you feel a bit like the San Francisco 49ers, that's okay.
After all, their owner believes his winless team is still going to win its division. And so can you.
Or at least make the playoffs, which in the fantasy game is all that matters.
The key: Getting the ball rolling in the right direction before halftime.
Fortunately for you, most NFL teams are at least a bit in disarray as we speak. This should allow you to adjust to their ongoing changes, outsmart your fast-starting opponents and get back in the game.
Making positive strides in the second quarter means getting back to the basics: intelligent lineup decisions, astute waiver-wire claims and, most important, fleecing at least one rival in a trade.
Understanding the impact the schedule will have on the fantasy game in the next four weeks is critical. Here is where it's leading those who are paying attention.
Steal him/deal him
Thomas Jones, Chiefs. No team plays a more fantasy-friendly schedule from now until Veterans Day than the Chiefs. In fact, being that Kansas City will face the four worst pass defenses in my rankings, you couldn't have a bigger welcome mat thrown in front of you. So why deal for a running back when the Chiefs figure to throw a lot? Because Jones is at his best when the Chiefs can compete, and that's exactly what they'll do in at least three of the games (Jaguars, Bills, Raiders).
Fred Jackson, Bills. Jackson got the start in the first game of the post-Lynch era and actually posted decent numbers (12 carries, 73 yards). That had to get someone's attention. Let's hope so, anyway. The Bills couldn't even beat the Jaguars at home. Soon it'll be snowing, the team will be throwing even more against vastly superior teams (the Ravens are first up after this week's bye) and the fans will be calling for C.J. Spiller.
Deal him (hey, maybe you can get Jones straight up).
Ryan Torain, Redskins. He is the anti-Jackson, a guy who disappointed his fantasy owner in his first start last week. He has to be headed back to the fantasy bench, if not the waiver wire, this week. That lowers the price on a Mike Shanahan running back who faces all below-average run defenses (Colts, Bears, Lions) in the next three weeks.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. There are so many productive tight ends this season (Marcedes Lewis and Dustin Keller have combined for 10 touchdowns already), any excuse to swap one for help at a more talent-challenged position is welcome. So why jettison the generally reliable Gonzalez? Because he has name recognition and it'll be almost Thanksgiving before he sees another below-average pass defense.
Anquan Boldin, Ravens. Sound the alarm. The first-year Raven hasn't scored in two weeks and was inexplicably held to one catch by the Broncos last week. Something must be wrong. You've got to love it when your rival thinks like that. Few teams have faced a tougher collection of pass defenses so far, and now here come the Patriots and Bills, who have gotten torched by just about everyone this season.
Tom Brady, Patriots. Okay, so how are you supposed to talk someone into giving up Boldin? I've found that mentioning a Hall of Fame quarterback usually gives a conversation momentum. Brady not only faces the toughest passing schedule of anyone in the next four weeks (the Ravens, Chargers, Vikings and Browns all rate in my top eight), but he'll have to do it with an underneath receiver coming off major knee surgery as his only quality target. Uh, that's not encouraging.
Deal him (for Boldin and Torain?).
Santonio Holmes, Jets. Holmes is another guy who got his first exposure to the 2010 fantasy spotlight last week, debuting after a season-opening suspension. He was predictably mediocre (three catches, 41 yards) against a quality Vikings pass defense. It was hardly the kind of performance that would prompt his fantasy owner to play him again, or hang up on a trade offer for him. But I like the fact he got targeted nine times and now goes up against two of the league's worst pass defenses (Broncos, Lions) in his next three games.
Chad Ochocinco, Bengals. When the temperamental wideout green-lighted the acquisition of Terrell Owens, the last thing he expected was that he'd go four consecutive weeks with his next touchdown celebration on ice. Alas, Owens has turned out to be the better receiver, relegating Ochocinco to cheerleader status as both endure a quickly hardening schedule (two of the top four pass defenses - the Falcons and Steelers - in their next three games).
Play him/sit him
Matt Cassel, Chiefs. If you took my advice and went with a struggling Eli Manning against the Texans last week, you have to now realize: Sometimes the quality of the defense trumps the quality of the quarterback. Applying that principle to the Texans' opponent this week, you're pointed toward Cassel. Risky? Yes. But you just have to trust the Texans.
Peyton Hillis, Browns. One of the best feelings in the fantasy game is being the genius who "discovered" somebody. That's you if you were the one who plucked the bullish Hillis off the waiver wire last month. But you want to know what's a real party-pooper? Forcing your prize possession into the lineup against the league's best defense with a quad injury.
Nate Washington, Titans.Kenny Britt was a popular catch on the waiver wire this week on the heels of his big game against the Cowboys. But let's be honest, it was more of a big catch (a 52-yarder) than a big game. You absolutely, positively must have a receiver going against the weak Jaguars pass defense this week. I say: Washington is the much safer choice.
Brandon Tate, Patriots. With the Patriots having already scheduled a Deion Branch reunion, the pressure's on Tate to come up big this week in order to retain first dibs on Randy Moss' old starting spot. Just because the pressure's on doesn't mean the inexperienced wideout will shine, especially with the Ravens' sensational pass defense providing the resistance.
Buster Davis, Chargers. Got the seemingly irreplaceable Steve Johnson on a bye this week? Looking to shock your opponent much as Johnson did for you last week? Yep, Buster's your guy. Davis has emerged as the Chargers' second-best wideout and this week he faces a Rams pass defense that has been mediocre at staying with wide receivers -- yet great at slowing tight ends (bad news for Antonio Gates). It's bold, but that's my middle name.
Play him (or opt for the Bears' Earl Bennett if you are less of a risk-taker).
Danny Amendola, Rams. Here's a No. 3 wideout who has done well as the Rams' No. 2 man with Laurent Robinson out of the lineup. Now that early-season star Mark Clayton also is hurt, Amendola moves into the No. 1 slot. That's rarely a good thing for a No. 3-type talent. Facing the third-best pass defense (San Diego) only magnifies the problem.