Articles by Tom Kessenich

A listing of all the articles written by Tom Kessenich for the RotoWire Blog.

Trust Your Studs In Week 16

This is The End. All of our elaborate plans have come to an end. As quickly as it began, the fantasy season will now embark upon its final act.

For many players, Week 16 is Championship Week. The long, grueling, exciting road to reach the big game in your league has finally reached its destination. There’s only one weekend left to decide your fantasy fate for this season.

As I’ve been detailing all season long, crazy things can and will happen. So you need to be prepared for the unexpected. We saw it last week. Mike Williams went from being a reliable WR3 with a great matchup to destroying his fantasy owners with a big fat zero against the Cowboys. Ryan Mathews stunned the fantasy world by going off against Baltimore’s vaunted run defense.

Those were just two of the examples. So brace yourself, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Part of the rough road to travel will feature top fantasy players in less-than-desirable matchups. What’s a fantasy owner to do when one (or more) of his key players is facing a tough matchup in such a pivotal week?

My advice is direct and to the point. Keep it simple. Now is not the time to get cute. Now is not the time to try and be a hero when it comes to reaching for something unknown in place of something that’s been proven over the course of the season.

Start Your Studs is a fantasy cliche but it’s born from truth – especially with your championship hopes on the line. Your best players have gotten you to this point. If you put your trust in them so far, now is not the time to cast a casual eye in another direction. No matter how plush the lawn may appear to be, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some top fantasy players who are facing tough matchups this week and what their owners should do.

Eli Manning vs. the Jets – You typically want to avoid the Jets’ pass defense if possible but Eli isn’t likely to shy away from challenging them. Manning certainly comes with some risk after a dismal 9.5-point outing last week, but for the season he ranks seventh among quarterbacks in the National Fantasy Football Championship and has topped 20 points 10 times, including five games of more than 30 points. He’s been ultra-reliable. That said, if I have a standout alternative like Tim Tebow or another Top 5-10 QB, I’d go in that direction. But with a talented stable of weapons in the passing game, you should stick with Manning if he’s clearly been your top QB this season.

Marshawn Lynch vs. the 49ers – This is one of the most difficult decisions of the week. Lynch has been a fantasy uber-stud, scoring in 10 consecutive games. However, running backs simply do not score touchdowns against the 49ers. No one has done it the entire season. But does that mean you should bench the sixth-best RB in fantasy this season? Not unless you have clear-cut studs to start in his place. It’s certainly safe to project 0 touchdowns for Lynch this week, but if anyone’s going to score a rushing touchdown against San Francisco, Lynch seems to be the strongest bet you’re going to find. You shouldn’t expect a banner game but as Lynch showed last week against the Bears he can still deliver for his owners despite a tough matchup. If you’re in the championship game, it’s likely Lynch is a big reason why. So start him as usual. Just don’t expect him to go off.

Steven Jackson vs. the Steelers – Jackson is a Top 15 RB in NFFC scoring but faces a real challenge this week against Pittsburgh’s stout run defense. Jackson, though, remains a solid RB2 choice because he’s so heavily involved in the offense. He had 27 touches last week against Cincinnati, including nine receptions, while finishing with 143 total yards. He’s topped 75 total yards in eight of his last 10 games. Like Lynch, it’s probably best not to project a TD for SJax this week but given his volume potential I wouldn’t shy away from him as a RB2, especially in point-per-reception leagues.

Hakeem Nicks vs. Revis Island – Word out of New York is Darrelle Revis will shadow Nicks on Saturday. Normally, that would be cause for extreme concern but as I wrote earlier I expect the Giants to take their shots at Revis this week. While Revis is still an elite cover corner, he has allowed more production than usual this season. Stevie Johnson gashed him in two games, Wes Welker hit him up for one huge pass play and Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Marshall both had solid fantasy efforts against him. If you’re stacked at WR, sitting Nicks is an option. But chances are, your replacement may have a slightly higher floor but a far lower ceiling. If the targets are there – and I believe they will be – Nicks will be no worse than a solid WR2 this week.

A.J. Green vs. the Cardinals – Green will see a lot of talented rookie Patrick Peterson on Saturday and Peterson’s play has been a big reason why Arizona’s pass defense has allowed less than average of one touchdown per game the past five weeks. On top of that, Green is battling a shoulder injury. But unless you have amazing depth at wide receiver, I would not bench Green as long as he plays on Saturday. He’s WR11 in average points per game in the NFFC and has had double figure points in every game but one this season, including eight games of 15 or more. That’s not someone you should sit against anyone. With the Bengals fighting for a playoff spot, they badly need Green offensively. If he plays, you start him. End of story.

TK’s HOT PICKS

Here are five sleeper picks for Week 16:

QB: Matt Moore (Mia.) – Moore has topped 19 points in the NFFC in four of his last five games and gets the tastiest matchup of the week against New England. The Miami offense is revived, has balance with Reggie Bush and that gives Moore Top 10 upside this week.

RB: Khalil Bell (Chi.) – Bell was one of my under-the-radar RBs to watch last week and he delivered a strong 19.3 points off the bench in the loss to Seattle. Marion Barber may remain the technical “starter,” but Bell is the more productive option and he’s a good bet to get 15-plus touches at Lambeau Field on Christmas night. He’s a fine RB3 with RB2 upside in PPR leagues.

WR: Santana Moss (Wash.) – Moss is sharing targets with Jabar Gaffney but there will be more than enough production to go around for both on Saturday against the woeful Vikings. Minnesota’s pass defense is deplorable, making Moss a high-end WR3 option in all formats.

TE: Greg Olsen (Car.) – Was a fantasy letdown in Week 15 but the matchup on Saturday against the putrid Bucs couldn’t be better. Tampa Bay is failing in every aspect of the game and Carolina should have no difficulty moving the ball offensively. Olsen has low-end TE1 upside in larger leagues this week.

D: Carolina – As stated above, the Panthers get a great matchup this week against Tampa Bay. Carolina stifled a superior Houston offense (even with T.J. Yates) last week and should fare well at home against Captain Checkdown (Josh Freeman) on Christmas Eve.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.

Surprising Running Back Stars For Remainder Of The Season

Celluloid heroes often emerge in the most unexpected forms. Think Marge Gunderson in “Fargo,” Jeff Goldblum in “Independence Day” or Jar Jar Binks in “The Phantom Menace.”

OK, that’s just mean. No one should be forced to ever remember that.

The point is in the movies it’s never a surprise when the hero turns out to be someone you least expect to push themselves prominently front and center. It’s no different in fantasy football. We all have designs on our superstars carrying us to championship glory, but oftentimes the players who emerge as the most valuable are ones we never would have anticipated producing so well.

Consider the running back position this season, for example. That position remains vital in fantasy football but it has put fantasy owners to the test as the position has been hammered by injuries.

Hard.

All you need to do is look at the Top 10 running backs in average points per game in the National Fantasy Football Championship to see the carnage this season has caused. Of those 10 backs, six have suffered serious injuries, two (Fred Jackson and Jahvid Best) have been lost for the season and two more (Darren McFadden and Matt Forte) are likely done as well.

What does this all mean? It means fantasy owners have had to get creative … real creative … at arguably the most important position in their lineup.

Last week, for example, Ryan Grant, Marion Barber and Toby Gerhart all finished as Top 10 RBs in the NFFC. Grant and Barber will likely be solid starting options again this week although Gerhart will head back to the bench if Adrian Peterson returns from his ankle injury as expected.

What we saw last week was likely just a precursor to what fantasy owners can expect at the position the rest of the season. Subscribing to the adage that it’s not how you start but how you finish, here are some running backs who could emerge from the shadows to play key roles in deciding fantasy titles the next few weeks:

Kevin Smith (Det.) – This call comes with considerable risk because Smith has been dealing with an ankle injury since Thanksgiving. But he has been terrific when he’s been able to play and he could return for the Lions this week against the Raiders. If he can stay healthy, he could be a Top 5-10 RB in point-per-reception leagues. He’s a high-risk/high-reward option, but there’s no denying his upside.

Felix Jones (Dal.) – Jones returns to the starting lineup in Dallas with impressive rookie DeMarco Murray the latest RB casualty. Jones has three great matchups the rest of the way (vs. Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and the Giants). He’s never been a durable back, but if he can stay healthy he has Top 15 upside in all formats.

Kendall Hunter (SF) – Hunter really hasn’t done much with an increased role in the 49ers’ backfield. He’s only topped 40 yards rushing once this season and has only scored twice. San Francisco, though, is clearly intent on preserving Frank Gore for the playoffs so Hunter is a good bet to get double-digit touches from here on out. He’s just a RB3 while San Francisco is playing for a first-round playoff bye but if your season includes Week 17, he could be a monster against the Rams.

Kahlil Bell (Chi.) – Bell will back up Barber as long as Forte is out and showed last week that he has some RB3 value in PPR leagues. He rushed for only 40 yards but more importantly, he caught five passes in the loss to Denver. The Bears may need to lean even more heavily on the short-passing game with Caleb Hanie under center, so Bell’s value will remain steady. It will increase significantly should anything happen to Barber.

Chris Ivory (NO) – Ivory will continue to replace Mark Ingram as long as Ingram is sidelined with his turf toe injury. I don’t expect Ingram to return this week and given the nature of the injury, it would not be a surprise if he was out until the playoffs. Ivory is a distant third in fantasy value behind Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas as long as New Orleans is playing for a first-round playoff bye. But if the Saints know their playoff fate in Week 17, Ivory could be in line for 20+ touches. If your league plays Week 17 Ivory is a good RB to have stashed away on your bench in case he gets an opportunity on the final Sunday of the season to be The Man in the New Orleans backfield.

TK’s HOT PICKS

Here are five sleeper picks for Week 15:

QB: Tim Tebow (Den.) – Tebow has been rock solid since taking over as Denver’s starter, ranking 11th in the NFFC among quarterbacks. He has a dream matchup this week against the Patriots’ woeful defense and has Top 5 upside. Don’t be surprised if Tebow joins the likes of Rodgers, Brees and Brady as a stud QB on Sunday.

RB: Beanie Wells (Ari.) – Hopefully, you sat Beanie last week with his brutal matchup against the 49ers. Things look MUCH better in Week 15 against a Cleveland run defense that has allowed 151 yards per game the last five weeks. Start Wells with confidence.

WR: James Jones (GB) – Greg Jennings’ knee injury opens the door for Jones to assume a larger role in the vaunted Packers’ passing game. He’s always capable of a huge game and there’s plenty of potential for him to deliver against the Chiefs on Sunday.

TE: Jake Ballard (NYG) – Ballard continues to get it done for Eli Manning with 10 receptions in his last three games. This week, he faces a Washington pass defense that has struggled badly against TEs of late. Ballard has Top 10 upside in a plus matchup.

D: Seattle – The Seahawks continue to be a late-season fantasy find. They delivered last week against the Rams and face the awful Caleb Hanie on Sunday. Seattle is looking great again as a sleeper defense.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.

Gronkowski, Graham Reaching New Heights For The TE Position

Once upon a time the tight end position was something most owners targeted toward the later rounds of their fantasy football drafts. While some owners pursued Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez in the early rounds, many other owners preferred to wait and land someone like Chris Cooley several rounds later and still receive a high level of fantasy production.

Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are out to change all that.

These two young, supremely gifted tight ends are setting the NFL – and fantasy football – on fire this season. Both are putting up the type of seasons typically seen by superstar wide receivers, not top-level tight ends. Given their youth and respective talent, both could become sure-fire fantasy studs who are drafted far earlier than tight ends have ever been selected before.

And if you have one of them this season, your quest for a fantasy title is in great hands.

Gronkowski is averaging 20.1 points per game in the National Fantasy Football Championship after the first 13 weeks of the season while Graham is delivering a healthy 18.9 per game. By means of comparison, only one wide receiver (Wes Welker) is averaging more points per game than Gronkowski and only two (Welker and Calvin Johnson) are averaging more than Graham.

Let’s take it even further. Only two running backs (Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy) have a higher point per game average than Gronkowski. Only three (Foster, McCoy and Ray Rice) are currently averaging more than Graham.

Johnson, Foster, McCoy and Rice were all first-round picks in the NFFC this season and are the foundation pieces for many teams still aiming for their league titles. Gronkowski and Graham are providing similar production at a position typically not known for delivering something so significant.

Gates and Gonzalez set the standard for how elite fantasy tight ends have been judged in recent seasons. But as great as both of them have been (Gonzalez is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and Gates could be as well), neither delivered at the level Gronkowski and Graham have produced so far this season.

Gates’ best season came in 2005 when he caught 89 passes for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns. That produced 259.1 points in point-per reception leagues. Gonzalez’s best season came in 2004 when he posted 102-1,258-7 for 269.8 points.

How does that compare to what this season’s dynamic duo are delivering? Gronkowski already has 242 points in the NFFC while Graham has 227.6. By season’s end, both should have easily surpassed the best fantasy seasons put up by the two tight ends everyone would acknowledge have been this generation’s best at the position.

Gonzalez’s 102 receptions in 2004 is the all-time record for tight ends in a season. Graham leads the NFC with 75 and is on pace to challenge that mark. He is also on pace to finish with with 1,395 receiving yards. That would best the current record for tight ends, held by Kellen Winslow Sr. (1,290 in 1980).

While Gronkowski’s fantasy output has been superior, Graham has been slightly more consistent. Gronkowski has been held under eight fantasy points in two games this season while Graham has dipped below that level just once. Gronkowski has feasted more in terms of touchdowns (he has 13 to Graham’s nine) while Graham has been the more reliable option for receptions (he has 75 to Gronkowski’s 65) and yardage (he has 1,046 to Gronkowski’s 928).

There’s no reason to think either player will suffer a decline in production anytime soon considering both are working with two of the game’s elite quarterbacks in Tom Brady (Gronkowski) and Drew Brees (Graham). In fact, both players appear to be gearing up for a big fantasy finish.

Graham has caught at least five passes and delivered at least 75 yards receiving in each of his last four games with the Saints pursuing San Francisco for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race. Meanwhile in New England, Gronkowski has scored in five consecutive games and has caught two TDs in three of the last four to help the Patriots stay on course for the possible No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Which tight end carries more value may ultimately be splitting hairs considering both are delivering high-end WR1-type production this season. In fact, given the volatility of the wide receiver position this season, you could make a strong case that Gronkowski and Graham are the most valuable receiving options in all of fantasy, even ahead of Welker and Megatron.

Welker, for example, was held to a two-reception game in Week 11 while Johnson has failed to top 15 points in any of his last four games and hasn’t reached 100 yards receiving since Week 8. Both are obviously still standout WR1 options but when it comes to high-end consistency, neither have been as good as Gronkowski or Graham of late.

When you begin to list the fantasy studs who are likely going to be major impact players the rest of the season, the names Rodgers, Foster, McCoy and Rice come quickly to mind. But be sure to include the names Gronkowski and Graham too. Not only have both become fantasy superstars but they will likely play prominent roles in championship runs from here on out as the season winds to a close.

TK’s Hot Picks

Here are five sleeper picks for Week 14:

QB: Carson Palmer (Oak.) – The Raiders are scuffling but Palmer has been putting up solid fantasy numbers, topping 270 yards in three of the past four games. This week, he faces Green Bay’s 31st-ranked pass defense. He’ll throw it plenty trying to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the volume makes him a fine sleeper pick.

RB: C.J. Spiller (Buf.) – He’s putting up fine numbers since replacing Fred Jackson and this week faces a San Diego defense that hasn’t looked good for nearly two months. Spiller will get plenty of touches and deliver quality RB2 production.

WR: Nate Burleson (Det.) – Burleson has quietly regained WR3 stature in PPR leagues with 25 receptions in his last four games. Minnesota’s pass defense has major issues on the back end and the Lions should throw it a lot as usual, making Burleson a fine sleeper WR.

TE: Kellen Winslow (TB) – It would help the Bucs if Josh Freeman returns but even with Josh Johnson at QB, this is a favorable matchup against a Jacksonville defense that is struggling to defend tight ends. Winslow is looking good as a low-end TE starter this week.

D: Seattle – The Rams may be without starting QB Sam Bradford and backup A.J. Feeley. The Seahawks’ D will feast Monday Night in a game that could be over at halftime.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.

Should Aaron Rodgers Be The No. 1 Fantasy Pick In 2012?

He’s having a season most quarterbacks can only dream about. Not only is he putting up Madden Game-esque numbers, but his team is attempting to make history. He’s playing the position as well as anyone has ever played it before. He is beloved by his team’s fans and already is the proud owner of one Super Bowl championship.

When it comes to the 2012 NFL season, few players can match Aaron Rodgers.

From a fantasy perspective, it’s likely many (and perhaps most) Rodgers owners are in a strong position for a playoff berth. His consistent level of production has been off the charts since the season began and shows no signs of slowing down.

All of that begs the question – should Aaron Rodgers be fantasy football’s No. 1 overall pick in 2012?

Given how good Rodgers is and how potent the Packers’ offense projects to remain going forward, it’s quite possible many fantasy owners will target the Green Bay quarterback with the first pick in their 2012 drafts.

The numbers definitely justify that belief. Rodgers is currently averaging 36.1 points per game in the National Fantasy Football Championship (which awards six points per touchdown pass). That is a little more than four points per game more than Drew Brees, currently ranked second, and 3.5 points per game higher than what Michael Vick averaged as the No. 1 per game scoring QB in the NFFC last season.

I lobbied hard for Rodgers being a Top 6-10 pick in the preseason but few NFFC owners appeared to be listening as his Average Draft Position was 14.13. In retrospect, he clearly should have gone much higher and likely will go higher in 2012. There definitely are strong reasons to view him in as a potential No. 1 pick.

Rodgers has topped 4,000 yards passing in two of his three seasons as a starter and will likely do so again this year. Since becoming a starter he has missed only one game due to injury so he’s been very durable. Rodgers has thrown at least 28 touchdown passes every year he’s been a starter and is on pace for a staggering 48 this season. He’s also the only quarterback this season who has thrown at least two touchdowns in every game.

His home-road splits have also been extremely impressive. Check them out:

HOME

Completion|PERCENT|: 72.3|PERCENT|

Yards: 1,585

TDs: 17

Ints: 3

ROAD

Completion |PERCENT|: 71.4

Yards: 1,890

TDs: 16

INTs: 1

Want some more jaw-dropping numbers? His worst fantasy game in the NFFC this season came on Thanksgiving when he scored 27.25 points against the Lions. By means of comparison Brees has had four games worse than that. Tom Brady has had six.

All three are elite QBs, but Rodgers’ floor is considerably higher. He’s been the one fantasy player who’s proven to be bulletproof. Unlike Superman, he has no Kryptonite. Every week, he puts up stud-like numbers, regardless of the opposition. There isn’t another player at any other position who you can say that about – especially this season, which has seen a high level of chaos on a weekly basis.

Of course, just because Rodgers has been an uber-stud this season doesn’t guarantee he’ll put up similar production in 2012. But when you consider his talent plus the talent and youth around him in the passing game (only Donald Driver, who may retire after this season, is older than 28 among the top wide receivers and tight ends) and Mike McCarthy’s expertise as a play caller, Rodgers not only looms as an incredibly productive fantasy option, but one of the safest you’re going to find.

I believe the first round is all about getting elite production with minimal risk. No player in fantasy offers that combination in stronger fashion than Aaron Rodgers. Certainly, a lot can and will change between now and the start of the 2012 season. But for those looking ahead to the top pick in fantasy drafts, Rodgers is more than simply being worthy of consideration. He may be the best player you are going to get with that selection.

TK’s HOT PICKS

Here are five sleeper picks for Week 13:

QB: Matt Moore (Mia.) – He’s had three games of QB1 production in his last four and faces an Oakland pass defense that has allowed plenty of fantasy production of late. He’s a strong sleeper pick this week.

RB: Mark Ingram (NO) – Ingram’s healthy again and appears poised for a strong finish. The Lions will likely be without Ndamukong Suh, their best interior defender. That makes Ingram a worthy RB3 choice on Sunday night.

WR: Michael Crabtree (SF) – Alex Smith is still holding him back but Crabtree has quietly been a rock-solid WR3 in PPR leagues. This week, he faces an injury-ravaged Rams’ secondary he torched for 122 yards and a TD late last season, giving Crabtree WR2 upside.

TE: Jacob Tamme (Ind.) – He came up small last week but the Colts will likely have to throw it a ton against New England and Tamme clicked very well with Dan Orlovsky in Week 10. If you need to dig deep, Tamme won’t fall short two games in a row. I promise.

SD: San Diego – The Chargers’ defense has been pathetic for nearly two months now but you can’t ask for a better matchup this week. Jacksonville’s offense (other than Maurice Jones-Drew) stinks and Blaine Gabbert is the worst starting QB in the league. They’re impossible to trust but on paper, this is an outstanding matchup.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.

How To Navigate The Treacherous Wide Receiver Waters

I’m an educated man. College degree. I watch the Discovery Channel, avoid reality TV and am good at Words With Friends. I like to believe I’m a reasonably intelligent individual.
But there’s one thing I cannot seem to get a grasp on lately. It’s a simple question but one that has tormented me throughout this NFL season. For all of my reasonable intelligence, the answer continues to elude me and the question continues to haunt me.
Why has the wide receiver position been so unreliable in fantasy leagues this year?
Earlier this week, I joked on the National Fantasy Football Championship Message Boards that I was going to adopt the Diane Chambers method for picking starting wide receivers. I’ll go with favorite colors or whether one team’s mascot could beat up another. For example, Nate Burleson over Damian Williams was clearly the way to go last week because a Lion can eat a Titan. And in retrospect, you definitely should have started Riley Cooper over Vincent Brown because Cooper has better hair.
I was kidding. Well kind of.
This has been the most unpredictable season I’ve come across in a long time when it comes to finding reliable wide receivers. So few can be trusted consistently and just when you think a new one is emerging, he soils the bed, and ruins your fantasy week.
Going into Week 11, for example, Denarius Moore, Damian Williams and Vincent Brown were three of the hottest Waiver Wire additions in fantasy leagues. All three were producing and were emerging as productive fantasy options. The result in Week 11? Three combined receptions and zero touchdowns. Meanwhile, guys like Cooper and Kyle Williams were enjoying big days for the handful of owners brave enough to start them.
For many fantasy owners, it was back to the drawing board at the wide receiver position.
With 11 weeks of the season in the books, it’s safe to say the wide receiver position has been a crap shoot. Don’t believe me? Here is the list of wide receivers I would consider safe to start on a weekly basis:
Calvin Johnson
Andre Johnson (when healthy)
Greg Jennings
Steve Smith
Wes Welker
Mike Wallace 
Larry Fitzgerald 
A.J. Green (when healthy)
Brandon Lloyd
Marques Colston
Jordy Nelson (a rising WR1)
Victor Cruz (one dud in his last seven games)
That’s it. That’s 12 wide receivers who I believe you can consistently start at this point of the season without fear of a massive letdown. Of course, as we saw with Greg Jennings and Wes Welker in Week 11, even stud players can come up small without warning. That’s how crazy this season has been.
There are a number of other receivers such as Roddy White, Miles Austin, Vincent Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Dez Bryant who have WR1 potential each week as well. However, all of them have come up small at various times this season for a variety of reasons, enhancing their risk factor. Still, I’d feel confident starting any of them as long as they are healthy.
Even taking those other receivers into account that still leaves a lot of guesswork for fantasy owners to grapple with at the position each week. If you’re in a league that requires three wide receivers and/or a flex spot that means there are a lot of roster spots being used by receivers each week who could very easily flame out.
As Denarius Moore owners can certainly attest after his Week 11 epic fail.
So what’s a fantasy owner to do to try and navigate these treacherous waters? Well if you have one of the 12 receivers listed above you’re off to a good start. If you have two or more you’re in great shape. If you don’t qualify for either one that’s when the work begins.
The obvious move is to target receivers on pass-happy teams. That’s why someone like Lance Moore is always a worthy WR3 option – especially in PPR leagues. The Saints will throw it a lot, Moore has a strong role in the offense and Drew Brees trusts him. He won’t get it done every week but he’ll rarely hurt you and he has a high ceiling. So when he does go off your team is the richer for it.
You should also continue to target top receivers with favorable matchups. Dwayne Bowe was looking shaky without Matt Cassel on Monday night, but he came through because he’s still his team’s No. 1 receiver and he was facing New England’s highly suspect secondary. So the matchup was in his favor and he got it done. 
Lastly, and here’s where I’m breaking away from my usual methodology, is I think you need to gamble and roll the dice on a potential breakout player if you do not have a consistently productive receiving corps. Typically, I don’t like rolling the dice on an unproven player and hoping lighting strikes. But given how impossible this season has been to project with wide receivers, I’m more willing to gamble than ever before.
I’m not going to go in blind, but if an unknown player is in a good spot on a pass-heavy team with a favorable matchup, it’s worth it to take a shot and see if he pans out. That’s what made Vincent Brown such a great sleeper pick in Week 10 and why Cooper was a worthy gamble in Week 11. Both were starting on pass-first teams in matchups that favored good production. Again, it may not always work (Brown was in the exact same situation in Week 11 and flopped) but the payoff could be immense if you are able to catch lightning in a bottle that particular week.
If you’re scrambling to make the playoffs in your league, it’s time to be aggressive. If that means throwing caution to the wind and going for broke at the wide receiver position, make it happen. Sure there’s risk involved but given how unpredictable this season has gone, a well-placed gamble could result in this week’s Riley Cooper.
TK’s HOT PICKS
Here are five sleeper picks for Week 12:
QB: Josh Freeman (TB) – Freeman has been a disappointment this season but he has topped 260 yards passing in four of his last five games. The Titans’ pass defense has struggled in recent weeks and if Freeman can stay on the same page with Mike Williams, this is a matchup he can exploit on Sunday.

RB: Jonathan Stewart (Car.) – Stewart has been a decent RB3 in PPR leagues. This week, he faces the Colts and their terrible run defense. He’ll share time as usual with DeAngelo Williams but the matchup will result in quality fantasy production for JStew. 
WR: Early Doucet (Ari.) – He’s been money as a WR3 in PPR leagues for the past several games and this week he gets to face the leaky St. Louis secondary. He’s a fine sleeper pick in all formats.
TE: Jacob Tamme (Ind.) – Tamme is expected to start again for the injured Dallas Clark. He caught 6-75-0 in his first start two weeks ago and will be a trusted outlet for Indy’s passing game on Sunday. 
D: Seattle – The Seahawks are quietly playing improved football and their defense has been coming through for fantasy owners. A matchup at home against the scuffling Redskins will help them deliver again.
Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.

Can Fantasy Owners Trust Matt Leinart?

Fantasy football owners are no different than NFL general managers and head coaches in many respects. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to place a healthy amount of trust in someone who has failed us countless times before. We all want the security of knowing the players we start are going to deliver the type of production we need with a minimum amount of risk attached.

Of course, that isn’t always the case. There are times our backs are against the wall and we are asked to place our trust in players we don’t entirely trust.

Enter Matt Leinart.

With Matt Schaub likely done for the year with a foot injury, the Houston Texans have turned the reigns of their potent offense over to Leinart. You remember Leinart, don’t you? He was the 10th pick in the 2006 draft but gained more notoriety in Arizona for posing in hot tubs with college babes then he for anything he did as a quarterback on the football field.

After being banished from Arizona before last season, Leinart found a home as the backup to Schaub in Houston. He did not play last season and has not attempted a pass this year. But now the job is his and the Texans need him to deliver since they are the front-runners to win the AFC South and are hoping to secure home field advantage in the playoffs as well.

The Texans have no choice but to hope Leinart can step up and deliver. But can fantasy owners trust him? That’s the question.

Schaub was a proven Top 10 fantasy quarterback. He was ninth in quarterback scoring in the National Fantasy Football Championship last season and ranked eighth this year. Given Leinart’s previous failures, it would be unwise to expect him to match the level of production Schaub previously provided. He lacks Schaub’s veteran savvy and physical skills, especially in terms of effectively running play-action passes, a staple of the Houston offense given its standout rushing attack.

However, there are many highly-respected NFL people who believe Leinart is going to do better than many anticipate. Steve Young has been impressed with the work Leinart has put in since coming to Houston and believes he will rise to the challenge. Peter King also believes Leinart has turned a corner and will benefit from working with Houston head coach Gary Kubiak, respected around the league for his quarterback development.

Leinart certainly isn’t lacking for talent to work with on offense. The Texans boast the NFL’s third-best running game behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate. They also will be getting Andre Johnson back after their Week 11 bye and when healthy, Johnson is arguably the premier wide receiver in the game. Owen Daniels is also one of the league’s top tight ends. Their offense has balance and the ability to run the ball effectively means Leinart will not be asked to carry the team on his back.

It’s clear Leinart is being put in a great situation. But he was in a great situation in Arizona too where he had both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to throw to and still failed miserably.

And that is one of the key reasons why Leinart is so hard to trust now.

But if you’re looking for some reasons to believe in Leinart there are a few you can hang your hat on. First is the talent around him. Second, the Texans will lessen the load on him by relying even more heavily on their standout ground game. Third, they run a West Coast Offensive system which appears to fit his skill set. Lastly, the Houston coaching staff has been impressed with how hard Leinart has worked and how effective he played in the preseason.

If you’re looking for a reasonable comparison from a fantasy perspective, Alex Smith immediately comes to mind. Smith is a game manager for the 49ers and has done a good job in that role, leading San Francisco to an 8-1 record. From a fantasy perspective, it hasn’t equated to huge numbers, though, as Smith ranks just 19th in the NFFC in quarterback scoring.

It’s best for fantasy owners if they don’t expect much more than that from Leinart, who also will be asked to be more of a game manager than a prolific passer. What upside he possesses can be directly traced to Johnson. A healthy Andre Johnson will make plays all over the field if Leinart can get him the ball consistently. Should that occur, it’s possible Leinart’s fantasy value could creep closer to the Top 15 among quarterbacks as opposed to nesting closer to the back end of the Top 20.

I pulled the trigger on Leinart this week in my top league, adding him as my Schaub replacement. I added him over Sam Bradford, who I love but hasn’t gotten untracked so far this season, and Andy Dalton, who has been very consistent but lacks a high fantasy ceiling. I’m not entirely sold on Leinart by any means but I like his situation and I’m willing to gamble the combination of the talent around him and the coaching he will be given will enable him to be no worse than a solid QB2.

There’s plenty of risk involved but at this point of the season it’s unlikely you’re going to find many safe quarterback options on the Waiver Wire. Matt Leinart has plenty of fantasy warts, but there’s no denying he’s being put in a strong position to succeed.

I don’t completely trust him but I’m willing to roll the dice, especially if the matchup is favorable (and Houston has some good matchups the rest of the way). If you do the same, the reward may end up surprising you.

TK’s HOT PICKS

Here are five sleeper picks for Week 11:

QB: Matt Moore (Mia.) – He’s playing well of late and Buffalo’s defense has struggled, especially in terms of rushing the quarterback. Moore’s not a bad reach if you need some bye-week help.

RB: Dexter McCluster (KC) – McCluster was very active last week, especially when Tyler Palko took over. If the Chiefs are playing from behind again Monday night, he could be on the field plenty, making him a viable RB3 reach in PPR leagues.

WR: Vincent Brown (SD) – He’s expected to start again for the injured Malcom Floyd and he’s been very impressive the past two games. The Chargers will throw it plenty as usual and he’s already gained Philip Rivers’ trust. He’s a high-upside WR3.

TE: Dennis Pitta (Bal.) – Pitta is the No. 2 TE in Baltimore behind Ed Dickson but he’s caught 15 passes the past three games. If you need to dig deep in larger PPR leagues he’s a worthy choice.

D: New England – The Patriots finally showed up defensively last week and get to face first-time starter Tyler Palko on Monday night. Kansas City is having offensive line issues and the Patriots should feast in this one.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.

How To Salvage Your Fantasy Season

If you drafted Aaron Rodgers and Wes Welker early and snared Fred Jackson and Darren Sproles late, chances are you’ve been enjoying your fantasy football season immensely so far. Life is good and you spend your weekends gobbling up points like children’s candy on Halloween.

Not everyone has had that kind of good fortune this season, however.

For some, the season hasn’t gone as planned. Philip Rivers hasn’t been a Top 5 quarterback. DeSean Jackson has been maddingly inconsistent and Chris Johnson … well it’s probably best if we just don’t talk about him. But your season doesn’t have to be over even if it hasn’t been a smooth ride thus far. The clock is ticking but it hasn’t struck midnight yet and that means you still have a fighting chance to turn things around and start enjoying your fantasy season.

This week, I want to go over a few tips I believe can aid you in your quest to regain fantasy prominence and, hopefully, dominance.

Play To Win NOW – Sounds obvious but my point is you’re not in a position where you can analyze Strength of Schedule for the playoff weeks. Your focus needs to be on this week and this week only. It’s great if you think Mike Williams will still break out at some point this season. If he does, that’s terrific but your attention needs to be on finding players who are going to be productive this week and Williams offers little upside right now. It doesn’t matter who those players are either. If they’re producing and have a high fantasy ceiling get them in your lineup. In other words, it’s not crazy to consider starting Brandon Lloyd over Larry Fitzgerald this week considering how good Lloyd has been lately and considering Fitz is once again mired in a bad QB situation and faces a troublesome matchup. Names don’t matter at this point of the season. Only production counts.

Use Your Depth – It’s wonderful if you have Frank Gore, Steven Jackson and Fred Jackson at running back. Congratulations on outstanding work in your draft. However, you should look to trade one of those players to address a need elsewhere. Depth is a luxury you cannot afford if your team has holes at another position. It’s time to use that good depth to strengthen your team. The same holds true if you have a top backup running back who isn’t a handcuff. It’s great to have Ben Tate on your roster given his potential should Arian Foster gets hurt. But Tate holds more value to the Foster owner than he does for you so use that to your advantage. Try and work a trade with that owner to entice him with a player he needs to add better talent to your starting lineup. Don’t jeopardize your starting lineup by having a wealth of talent and/or potential on your bench. You need the points.

Work The Waiver Wire – I’ve spent the entire season on the National Fantasy Football Championship message boards talking about how this has become a week-to-week game. That’s especially true for those owners whose teams are struggling. Being aggressive and taking shots on the Waiver Wire is the best way to try and maximize production – even if it’s just for a one-week flyer. Earl Bennett has never gotten it done consistently in the past, but he’s hot right now so go after him and see if it will work out. If it doesn’t, look in  another direction next week. Laurent Robinson’s value will only be high as long as Miles Austin is out but right now it’s soaring and he makes for a great Waiver Wire target who can help you win now. Josh Cribbs has scored in each of the last two games so it’s not crazy to consider starting him in a deep league. You never know who could be a fantasy savior at this point of the season but you won’t find out if you’re not willing to roll the dice.

Mine For Gold With Kickers And Defenses –  These positions are often afterthoughts for fantasy owners but not for your struggling team. You need all the points you can muster so don’t hesitate to go week-to-week and play the matchups here. If you don’t have David Akers and the Ravens’ defense, find someone who can deliver each week with quality matchups and plug them into your lineup. This week, for example, Shaun Suisham and the Rams’ defense are two spot start options who could deliver nicely. You may dump them next week but like I said before that shouldn’t be your concern. It’s all about this week and this week only.

Lastly, Don’t Give Up – Here’s another one that sounds obvious but often isn’t. It’s a crazy game we play and you never know when the tide is going to turn. Even if things look bleak now, continue to fight to try and salvage your season. You could get on the type of run that will have you talking about this season for years to come. At the very least, you can play spoiler and enjoy the satisfaction of knocking someone’s team out of playoff contention.       

TK’s HOT PICKS

Here are five sleeper picks for Week 10:

QB: Christian Ponder (Min.) – Ponder made his first career start against the Packers in Week 7 and threw for 219 yards and two TDs. Green Bay’s pass defense hasn’t gotten any better since then and Ponder will likely have to throw a lot to try and keep up with Aaron Rodgers.

RB: Reggie Bush (Mia.) – Bush has topped 90 yards rushing with seven receptions the past two games. This week, he faces a Washington run defense that allows more than 122 yards per game. He’s rolling, so start him as your RB2.

WR: Laurent Robinson (Dal.) – He’s replacing the injured Miles Austin and has been a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys this season. Buffalo’s pass defense ranks 21st in the league and Robinson will be very active on Sunday.

TE: Visanthe Shiancoe (Min.) – He caught a TD pass in the first meeting with Green  Bay and has 12 receptions in his last three games. He’s starting to come on and is a viable sleeper pick this week.

D: St. Louis – The Browns don’t turn the ball over often, but they struggle to score points and St. Louis’ pass rush has showed renewed vigor the last two weeks. The Rams are a good spot start if your primary defense has a tricky matchup this week.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.