Dealing with uncertainty

Last week, I told you that this has been the most stressful, frustrating and anxiety-driven fantasy football season I’ve ever experienced. And it’s only getting worse. The excitement of the fantasy football playoffs lasted but a fleeting moment as everyone’s attention has been dragged toward tracking the vast number of COVID-19 cases that have been reported throughout the NFL.

Suffice it to say, fantasy managers are scrambling. To understand how bad it is, consider that the 40 touchdowns scored in Sunday’s games were the fewest in a 10-game slate since November 27, 1994. Only nine of the 20 teams playing on Sunday scored even 20 points. Three offensive powerhouses, the Buccaneers, Bengals and Cardinals, combined for 27 points between them.

To make matters worse, many key players who were active in week 15 suffered injuries. The team hit hardest was Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers’ struggles against the Saints are well documented, but what happened to them on Sunday night is unbelievable. Tom Brady was shut out for the first time since 2006, as he lost his three best offensive skill-position players in the same game.

The loss of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin (who will miss the rest of the season), or Leonard Fournette would have been tough enough. But to lose them all in the same game, while also still missing Antonio Brown, was a tidal wave of bad luck they couldn’t overcome. Fortunately for the Super Bowl Champions, Evans and Fournette, who suffered hamstring injuries, should return this season.

But the news isn’t as good for their fantasy managers. While Godwin suffered a season-ending torn ACL, Mike Evans is the only one who has a chance to play next week. Meanwhile, Fournette is in danger of missing the rest of the fantasy season. Hamstring injuries are tricky, and there’s no guarantee when he’ll be back. Ronald Jones was a hot waiver wire pickup heading into this week’s action.    

While every skill position has been hit hard in 2021, no position has been hit harder than running back. Christian McCaffrey, the No. 1 overall draft pick, played in seven games before being shut down for the season after week 12. Derrick Henry, drafted in the top five, was the best back in fantasy until he was injured in week 8. He should return sometime, but not in time to help fantasy managers.  

On Monday, it was announced that the No. 2 running back in fantasy was in danger of missing the rest of the fantasy season after being placed on the reserve/COVID-10 list. That would be none other than Austin Ekeler. Justin Jackson will surely be a popular roster add this week, after he carried the ball 13 times for 86 yards and caught his lone target for 13 yards for the Chargers Thursday night. 

What this means to you is that if you’re in the semifinals of your league playoffs, the waiver wire is thin. Whether fellow fantasy managers are being proactive and building up their bench depth or your league is both deep and competitive, there are few helpful names out there. But keep in mind that all managers are in the same boat (with some luckier than others with injuries and COVID cases).

With so much riding on fantasy playoffs matchups, managers should maximize roster spots. That doesn’t mean simply filling every spot with an active player, but rather, in the current COVID-19 environment, making sure every spot is utilized in a way that maximizes your ability to make lineup decisions at every game-block lock time. I can’t stress enough how important this is to your success.

Let me give you an example. Terry McLaurin is a starter on my home league team, regardless of who the Washington Football Team is playing, or what cornerback is assigned to cover him that week. If I am going to lose my quarterfinals matchup, I’m going down with Scary Terry in my starting lineup. Then the news broke Friday that The Football Team’s game had been moved to Tuesday.

This posed a problem because all of the other NFL games will have been played by then with the exception of the Seattle Seahawks/Los Angeles Rams game. McLaurin, who was still in concussion protocol then, was listed as questionable. If he was ruled out in a game-time position, I might not have a decent alternative on the waiver wire. So, I added Van Jefferson, Jr. to my roster.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have considered Jefferson for a roster spot. It’s not that he’s been bad. He’s averaged 16.4 fantasy points in the last three games. But he’s no better than the third receiving option for Matthew Stafford against a Seahawks defense that’s given up no receiving touchdowns and the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts over the last five weeks.    

The decision to add Jefferson was a supply-and-demand problem. If I had waited until Tuesday, it was likely that Jefferson would have been gone.  As it turned out, I was able wait up until the 6 p.m. CST kickoff on Tuesday to lock that lineup spot. I finally decided to start McLaurin, but I had a choice.   

Even without the COVID madness, it’s a good idea to have options for a player with a questionable designation that has a late start that week. But in these present times, with the virus and where each matchup is “win or go home,” it’s critical. You must be prepared for anything, so take action right now. Prepare for week 16 but also look ahead to week 17 and add players that might help you.

Step one is to cut a player now that is unlikely to start for you this week, or next. At this point in the season, there is no reason to hang on to those players. Step two is to add someone at the same position at the same start time (or later). Please note that league rules vary. In Yahoo leagues, you can drop a bench player even if his game has already been played. However, this is not true in ESPN leagues.  

I recommend that you always move your questionable player with a late start time to the flex position. This is what I did with McLaurin. In this way, I could start a wide receiver, running back, or tight end in place of him. Always avail yourself of the opportunity to put your last-playing player of the week in your flex spot, maximizing your ability to move in replacements as late news breaks.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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