A difficult task

The most difficult task that I face every week with each of my fantasy teams is setting my starting lineup. If setting your lineup is easy for you, I can only conclude that you either have a team without much depth – a dangerous situation.

I have a routine that I go through each week. The fantasy football week starts Tuesday morning after the final game of the week is played on Monday. On Tuesday, I review the results from the previous week and decide on waiver claims to make.

Waivers run overnight Tuesday in the leagues I play in, and I’m always excited to see if I got the players I bid on. At this point, my roster should be set for the week. Sometimes, I will add another player, or a defense, or kicker, later in the week.

But the most important thing that I do on Wednesday is begin the arduous task of setting my starting lineup. There is a sense of urgency if a player is scheduled to play on Thursday night, as opposed to those who play on Sunday or Monday.

Let me stop here and share my deepest fear heading into a particular week. My fear is that because of a lack of due diligence, I will leave a player on the bench who goes off for 20 plus points, or start one who gives me single-digit production.

In Week 12, for instance, I almost sat Miles Sanders. The Philadelphia running back had put up two straight games of less than six fantasy points. He was playing on Monday night, and I didn’t put him in until the last minute when I sat Michael Pittman.

Starting Sanders turned out to be a good decision because he rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on his way to 29.5 fantasy points in my half-point PPR league. As it turned out, I would still have won with Pittman because he scored 15.6 FP.

Heading into Week 13, I was set on only two starters – Austin Ekeler and Amon-Ra St. Brown.  As one of the top running backs in fantasy, Ekeler will start every game he’s healthy. St. Brown is also an automatic since he’s been money for me the entire season.

With only two players on my automatic list, I had five starters to determine – a quarterback, a running back, a wide receiver, a tight end and a flex. Typically, I will put a player with an injury designation in the flex spot so that I can substitute either a running back or wideout.

Unlike my other teams, this particular team had no players with injury designations. Unless something changed later in the week, I didn’t have to worry about “questionable” players and those dreadful game-time decisions on whether a player would be active. 

First, I made a decision on quarterback. The choice was between Tom Brady and Geno Smith. Smith has been my starting quarterback for most of the season, but I picked up Brady when he was dropped during his bye week. I decided to stick with Smith.

Second, I made a decision on tight end. Cole Kmet had been a favorite target for Justin Fields but caught only two balls from Trevor Siemian in Week 12. But with Fields expected to return and Darnell Mooney lost for the season, I chose him over Gerald Everett. 

Next, came the hard part. I had six players being given serious consideration to start and only three spots to fill in my starting lineup. There were three running backs and three wide receivers to choose from, and here is a summary of my analysis:

PLAYER NO. 1 – MILES SANDERS, RB, PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles’ opponent in Week 13 was Tennessee, and they have been the third best team against running backs. Sanders has had four single-digit fantasy games this season already. Still, I couldn’t bench him after he scored almost 30 FP last week.

PLAYER NO. 2 – JEFF WILSON, RB, MIAMI

I claimed Wilson in Week 9, and he was good that week and even better in Week 10. But coming off his bye week, he only produced 11.7 FP against Houston – the best matchup for a back in fantasy. The Week 13 matchup against the 49ers scared me.

PLAYER NO. 3 – ISIAH PACHECO, RB, KANSAS CITY

Pacheco has racked up 258 rushing yards over the last three games as Kansas City’s No. 1 running back. The problem is that he’s only caught one pass in those three weeks and scored one touchdown. He has a nice floor but a relatively low ceiling.   

PLAYER NO. 4 – CHRIS OLAVE, WR, NEW ORLEANS

Olave is an amazing talent, and if he had a good quarterback, he’d be a WR1. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. Andy Dalton targeted him nine times last week against San Francisco, but Olave only caught five. The overturned 30-yard TD catch would have made his day.

PLAYER NO. 5 – MICHAEL PITTMAN, WR, INDIANAPOLIS

Pittman has at least six catches in six of the past seven games, and a favorable game script should help him against Dallas. He was targeted 11 times, but it took a TD catch to give him double-digit fantasy points. He’s only scored twice on the season.

PLAYER NO. 6 – CHRISTIAN WATSON, WR, GREEN BAY

He’s scored 19 plus half-point PPR points the past two week, and none of them have counted since he’s been on my bench. He’s also six trips to the end zone in the past three games, and the rookie has a great matchup against the Bears in Chicago.

I finally decided to start Sanders (RB2), Olave (WR2) and Watson (FLEX). This was a mixed bag with Watson scoring 22.9 FP. Sanders was saved from another subpar, single-digit game by a fourth-quarter touchdown to score 10.8 FP and Olave had 8.5 FP.   

Watson scored 22.9 FP in spite of only catching 3-of-6 passes for 48 yards. One catch was for a touchdown and he rushed 46 yards for another touchdown. The end around, which iced the game for the Packers, was his eighth TD in the last four games.       

My decision to start Smith over Brady was the right one. The Seahawks signal caller had his best game of the year – he completed 28-of-39 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns after Kenneth Walker left the game early with an ankle injury.

It really wouldn’t have mattered who I started at tight end since Kmet and Everett had similar games. Kmet caught 6-of-7 targets for 72 yards and 10.2 FP, while Everett caught 5-of-6 for 80 yards and 10.5 FP. Neither tight end got into the end zone.

Now, the whole process starts all over again in the final week of the fantasy regular season.  To make matters worse, Byemageddon has arrived, with six teams on bye. Olave, Watson, Pittman and Kmet are all on my bench because they have no game.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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