Keys to making sure you learn from your fantasy mistakes

Safety never takes a holiday...

Many of you enter this weekend crestfallen that you don't get to see your favorite team play any more football this season. No matter how painful the campaign was, even for you Lions fans, it couldn't hurt more than the long, painful death march that is the offseason.

Years of successful marriage have taught me a few things:

» No fight ends until you admit it's your fault.

» For some strange reason, women just aren't as excited about grilling dry-rub ribs as you are.

» And most importantly, never try to fix your wife's problems, just listen to her.

AFC wild-card outlook

Can the Colts keep winning? Can the Dolphins continue their amazing turnaround? Vic Carucci gives you the keys to AFC wild-card weekend.

So please understand that I am not trying to "fix" your pain, I am merely acknowledging it when I suggest you gather up everyone you know -- your friends, your family, and yes, even your enemies -- and take them to see "PAUL BLART: MALL COP," opening in theaters across our fine nation on Jan. 16.

Full disclosure: I helped write the movie, so yes, I have a vested interest here ... in making the most of your entertainment dollar in these difficult times!

Seriously, go see it. It's really funny, Kevin James is at the top of his game, you can take the wife and the kids, and I guarantee a good time for all.

Let the healing begin.

It's time to evaluate ... you?

Well, it didn't take long for heads to roll. The week is still relatively young, and yet we've seen everyone from an obvious candidate like Rod Marinelli to a semi-shocker like Mike Shanahan hit the bricks. It's the result of the dreaded postseason evaluation, a tradition all losing football teams use to greet the new year. Might I suggest it's time for all fantasy football owners to emulate this tradition? While the NFL explodes into the playoffs, your fantasy football seasons are officially over -- even for those of you who compete in leagues that are loopy enough to play all the way through Week 17, when half of the elite players on your roster are in danger of being "rested."

So here we stand, and while a very small number are basking in the glow of a championship season, the vast majority are smoldering balls of regret. Time to reevaluate things and sort out where you went wrong. Of course, many mistakes can be categorized as classic downfalls of beginners, but any veteran fantasy player worth his salt refuses to assume he is beyond rookie mistakes and examines how he did with the fundamentals:

1. You drafted "favorites"

My very first fantasy football draft coincided with the twilight of my favorite team's greatest era, but did that stop me from loading up on Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Co.? There is no substitute for learning a lesson the hard way, and watching my declining legends sink both the Bills and my Malecki Meat-Processing Voyageurs made me wary of drafting guys I love to this day.

No matter how hard you work to understand the entire league, you will always know "your team" on a higher level -- you see deeper, you're ahead of the curve regarding players who are poised to break out and those who are past their prime. Sadly, my tendency to heed the "Don't draft with your heart" theory and avoid Bills offensive stars has been a pretty shrewd move for the past decade.

I only wish Ralph Wilson would let me help him get a mop around as the Bills take their postseason inventory, but alas, he found reason to give more power to Tom Modrak -- the personnel guru who doesn't even live in the Buffalo area, and has had a big hand in the team's mediocre talent level dating all the way back to the Gregg Williams years. He also brought back Dick Jauron's annual pile of 7-9 mediocrity and baffling game-time decision making. Wilson hates to spend on coaching, and when you combine that with the debacle of moving the Miami game to Toronto this year, it's starting to feel like he's trying to alienate the fans as an appetizer to selling the team to the highest bidder with an eye on relocating.

Huh? Where was I?

Oh yeah, how you messed up your team...

2. You followed runs

You let the draft-day pressure get to you, and you zagged when they zagged. Probably more than once, but definitely during the inevitable Round 4/5 tight end run. Value picks are never found after eight straight players at the same position come off the board, and while we're on the subject, I have to tell you I am officially out of the tight end business. In any given year, only three of them ever give you consistently high-end production, and if you draft a tight end too high, it is a stone-cold lock to crush your team.

Other than the remarkably consistent Tony Gonzalez, there were 23 wide receivers who gained more yards than any other tight end. The position is a black hole, yet every year owners get suckered into drafting them too high. That means you, Antonio Gates owner, Jason Witten owner, Kellen Winslow owner and Chris Cooley owner.

Please make a big post-it note to yourself about this for next year.

3. You drafted old reputations vs. new realities

Now here's one I have definitely been guilty of. The theory can apply to any position on your starting roster: you took a top talent from the previous year who never repeated the success.

One-year-wonder QBs like Derek Anderson are a problem. In fantasy football terms, one-year big-number wonders like Ben Roethlisberger are also a problem.

Superstar running backs two years removed from their best season are dangerous. In my case, I fall into this trap with my tendency to draft Broncos running backs. This year, I fell into the bottomless cup of nothing that was Selvin Young more than once. Why can't I get it through my thick skull that the top three guys on the Broncos depth chart heading into the season are never the guys who deliver the numbers during the season?

To make matters worse, Young was sitting there in the same draft-day availability neighborhood as DeAngelo Williams, Matt Forte and Derrick Ward. With Shanahan gone, the sun may have finally set on this theory, but let it stand as a warning: Stop drafting like it's four years ago!

4. You missed a top-five QB

This one is simple: QB value has never been higher, and if you had Drew Brees or my personal hot pick of the preseason, Kurt Warner, you were a playoff team. Don't go into your draft without a strong opinion on the three or four QBs you can't win without.

5. You were the kind of GM you wish you could fire

You may have been too lazy about the daily grind required to research and work the waiver wire -- where champions are built! -- or you overdid it with too many wacky trades that left your team a schizo mess. Either way, this needs to be the first stop on your overhaul.

6. Your top picks flamed out

Sometimes this is just bad luck, sometimes it's the result of too much risk-taking and wishful thinking. I mean, you can't be blamed for the subpar returns you got from Marion Barber, Joseph Addai and Brian Westbrook, but tell me your Spidey-sense wasn't tingling a tad when you dropped the hammer on Larry Johnson, Willis McGahee or Laurence Maroney?

Tory Holt, Bernard Berrian and Santonio Holmes?

Marc Bulger, David Garrard and Derek Anderson?

Choose your instincts over magical thinking whenever humanly possible.

So much of fantasy football is geared around giving the fan a chance to feel smarter than the pros, but you have to take your medicine, too. You have to be a man and own up to your mistakes, and vow to get better. Is it time to fire the coach, or is it time to give him one more chance, provided he addresses his shortcomings?

Back when Chuck Knox was coaching the Bills, I tuned into the radio pregame show and heard him say, "It's time for us to realize that we are the masters of our own destiny."

I liked it. I've always been a sucker for "Be the architect of greatness" stuff, and it begins with the hard work of admitting where you went wrong.

Now get out there, join a playoff league and try to get it right this time.

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