Matt Pitzer

Halftime Adjustments

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That Time of Year

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Sure, it's the most wonderful time of the year, though it helps your outlook on the world to have a lineup of Tom Brady, Randy Moss and LaDainian Tomlinson.

For others, it might be the most stressful time of year. Your season is down to perhaps the last game, or you're already in the first week of your playoffs. Either way, the percentage of my emails that include the subject line, "Do or die" is way up.

Nobody wants to make the wrong lineup decision, but the impact of a bad move could linger with you for a long time. (Even though winning that game back in Week 3 might have made this week's result moot.) So, as a friendly reminder service, here are some guidelines for the ulcer-inducing decisions.

Know your studs. Some guys, you just don't bench. My most egregious recent example is sitting Peyton Manning last week for Brett Favre. It made a lot of sense for a lot of reasons, but the fantasy gods disagreed. Favre threw two picks before leaving because of injury and Manning had four TDs against a good Jaguars defense. In other words, don't be worried about Tom Brady facing the Steelers' league-best pass defense.

They are who we know they are. By this point, don't expect too many surprises from established players. Just because you have managed to win despite Frank Gore, do not assume he will crank his season around quickly and help down the stretch. His 100-yard game from two weeks ago is an aberration (see below), not a new trend. Willie Parker will not suddenly start scoring a bunch of TDs and Steve Smith is not going to be a stud again barring a quarterback miracle. Trust what you've seen over 12 games.

When in doubt, take the good team. It is hard to know when or if teams quit, but this is about the time of year when it starts to happen. How will either the Rams or Bengals react if either has a bad first quarter or has a key injury? The Browns are playing hard so I'll take Joe Jurevicius over Isaac Bruce. Will the Ravens bounce back after Monday's tough loss and how willing are you to risk starting Derrick Mason on your belief they will?

Be careful with injury fill-ins. Nate Washington was not exactly a great find in place of Santonio Holmes the past two games with only three catches for 22 yards. (Granted, the weather might have had something to do with it.) The lesson is that more playing alone does not turn a guy into a star. On the other hand, somebody like Mike Furrey can expect to see plenty of work for a Lions team that can't seem to run often enough. So be careful with those picks but . . .

Don't fear unknown running backs. If Kolby Smith can run for 150 yards and Fred Jackson 82 in their first NFL starts, then the next low-profile runner to get a start is worth a look. Who knows who that will be, but say Jamal Lewis were injured. You don't think Jason Wright would be at least a No. 3 back at home against the Bills in Week 15? The low-round and undrafted running backs always seem to seize their opportunity to make an impression.

Watch the weather. Finally, those weather reports start to have some real value. You saw wind, rain and snow last week and that will continue the rest of the season. Don't overreact to modestly bad weather. The Eagles and Seahawks had a field day in that last week. But a downright mess can all but shut down offenses.

Trust your gut. At the end of it all, if you still have no idea what to do, trust your instinct. It has gotten you this far for some reason. No amount of analysis would predict Daniel Wilcox would score against the Patriots. So if you have an intuition, don't be shy about relying on it.


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Matt Pitzer writes about fantasy football for USAToday.com.
Email :Matt Pitzer



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