This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
Heading into the three-week, $100K NFFC playoff, I had a loaded team. My running backs were Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara (it's full PPR), my receivers, A.J. Green, Brandin Cooks and Golden Tate and my tight ends Jimmy Graham and Hunter Henry. I had two choices to make. One was whether to use my Week 13 lineup where I benched Jimmy Graham, started Henry and used Jamaal Williams in the flex, or to sit Williams for a second TE in the flex. The other was whether to use my usual QB Jared Goff or DeShone Kizer (More on that below.)
Usually Williams, a feature back who catches passes, would be a no brainer, especially in a game where his team was favored by three and a half points. But Aaron Jones, who had been the team's starter before getting hurt, had gotten back into action the previous week, scoring the game-winning 20-yard TD on his lone carry in overtime. Clearly Jones was healthy again and, another week removed from his injury, had the potential for a bigger role. But in my mind, Williams was likely to be the clear starter because he had been playing well, and Jones - who also had looked good before he got hurt - was also a rookie with no real claim to the job, i.e., this was no returning star veteran who had held the job for years.
But a couple days before the game I saw a tweet citing a Packers' beat writer who apparently believed that when both backs were healthy, Jones would be the main guy. I responded to it asking whether that was something he heard from Mike McCarthy or just his opinion. He didn't respond*. I took that to mean it was his opinion only and discounted it as such.
Beat writers know far more about the teams they cover than we ever will, but that doesn't mean they're better at evaluating what's likely to happen in the future. Many don't play fantasy, and they have little skin in the game with respect to the conclusions they draw. They're good for unearthing facts, but it's usually a mistake to outsource your judgment to them.
But this was not an easy call to begin with as both TEs are pretty valuable in full PPR, and while I didn't give a lot of weight to the writer's opinion, it did sow a small doubt. Moreover, a tough lineup decision is a kind of stress, and I think unconsciously, I let it sway me, in part, to resolve my uncertainty. Because not only was Williams' role a headache, but if I used him, I'd have had to choose between the two TEs.
* The beat writer, Rob Demovsky, actually did respond generally, saying he no longer held that view in light of Williams' recent improved play, but I didn't see that tweet until I looked for it yesterday because I don't follow him, and he didn't respond specifically to my question, so it didn't show up in my mentions. This is my fault, not his.
In the end, Williams scored 30 points, and Graham scored zero. Between that, Kamara's injury and Cooks' dud, I'm pretty much drawing dead with two weeks left to play.
Of course, I can't say for sure what I would have done had I not seen the tweet. Maybe I would have panicked at the last second about the potential Williams/Jones split and put Graham into the flex anyway. But it's a reminder to be careful what information you're taking in, and if you do get exposed, to think as critically as possible about it. There's enormous temptation to rely on insiders' judgment and opinions when we're uncertain, and they have credentials and access. But credentials and access are separate from judgment, and you're usually better off not knowing and doing your best in the face of uncertainty than looking for insiders' advice.
Kizer vs. Not Kizer
The second decision was less consequential, but I also got it wrong. My main QB was Goff, home against the Eagles, but once Josh Gordon was set to be reinstated, I picked up Kizer just in case Gordon was the real deal. After all, Corey Coleman had just come back too, David Njoku looks like a player and Kizer can run. Goff is good, but he's hardly matchup proof, and you need multiple options over three weeks anyway (see Wentz, Carson.)
My initial instinct was Kizer should do well against the Packers, and Goff *might* do well against the Eagles, but that it was a tougher defense than he had typically faced. I put Kizer into the lineup early in the week, but saw the Vegas totals and implied O/Us - which had the Rams at about 24 and the Browns 18, a massive difference. I switched Goff back in.
Everyone I asked (and I knew it was a mistake to ask, but did it anyway) thought Goff was a no brainer. After Kamara's dud, differentiating my team became more important (plenty of playoff teams had Goff, but probably none were starting Kizer), and I thought about it more. How many times has doing the unlikely thing with the bigger payout come back to bite me? Don't the best DFS players simply go with the best odds and not overthink it?
But maybe my memory of doing something "crazy" and getting burned is distorted. If picking the worse team in survivor for pot odds purposes gets you bounced two years in a row, you start to feel you should have gone chalk, even if the payoff was greater than the added risk. When you take the lower probability option in hope of the bigger payout, you go in knowing that, measured straight up in wins and losses, those decisions over time will be bad. But wins and losses are the wrong measuring stick. It's how much did you win or lose that matters more. But it's hard to comprehend that on a visceral level when we're constantly grading ourselves as "right" or "wrong" and have difficulty in tallying the degrees of each.
On the other hand, it's easy to justify ridiculous gambles and their predictable consequences by convincing yourself you had the correct "pot odds" play, and it just didn't work out. "I was getting 8:1 on my open-ended straight, so I called. I just didn't get there." But fantasy football isn't poker. We'll never know what the true odds were, and it's dangerous to pretend we do. The best we can do is look at the Vegas totals - which are market-based and skin-in-the-game driven - but that doesn't mean they're right. We're on our own in assessing the probabilities of a given outcome, and it's dangerous to pretend you had some kind of rigorous, mathematical read on your longshot plays.
In the end, I thought Kizer with Gordon was close to even money with Goff, and he'd certainly be far less used in contest that doesn't reward merely being above average. I should have used him, and I was aghast when he racked up two TDs and 170-plus yards in the first half. Mercifully, he cratered in the second half and only outscored Goff by 4-5 points.
Odell Beckham posted a video on Instragram, comparing his fiery outbursts to Tom Brady's. And I have to say, it's a fairly persuasive case, though I never needed to be persuaded because as a Giants fan, and a human being with more than a quarter of a brain, I'm well aware of Beckham's transcendent abilities and obvious drive to be great.
But noteveryone saw it that way. Leaving aside the most obvious difference between Beckham and Brady - not because it isn't a factor, but because it's not the most interesting one - you see people taken aback that a player who's been to only one playoff game would dare compare himself to an all-time great. But that misses the point on two levels.
Showing similar fire for which Beckham is excoriated by the moronic media and Brady praised, exposes a double standard. People who are considered "winners" get away with all kinds of behavior that others don't. This has the same root as the Eli Manning benching outcry because Manning and Brady are "made guys". Beckham - at least in some people's eyes - is not. If fiery, expressive, not-so-civil behavior is tolerated as a side effect of the drive to be great, then it should be tolerated in both players. If Beckham is such a scourge, then so is Brady. That's one point.
The other is Brady is great, but has Bill Belichick as his coach, Josh McDaniels as his play caller and played with Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski, as well as Pro Bowl offensive linemen and some excellent defenses. Beckham has the rotting carcass of Eli Manning, who never went to bat for him when the media threw Beckham - the only thing keeping Manning in the league the last two years - under the bus. Beckham also has had Ben McAdoo calling the plays since his rookie season. Despite those hurricane-force headwinds, he posted arguably the greatest first three seasons for a WR in NFL history before getting hurt this year. Only a player with an unbelievable work ethic and drive could achieve such a feat. In that respect he and Brady are indeed similar.
I got a hilarious Tweet this week from a guy whose league decided to deposit the entry fees in bitcoin:
— Skinny McKinney (@PhantasiaPhun) December 7, 2017
Assuming they collected in late-August/early-September, when the going rate was around $4,000, the total purse has more than quadrupled. You thought you were in a $250 league, and now it's $1000. That guy who picked up and dropped three TEs to block you? He's a dead man.
Geno Smith LOL
I wrote extensively about the Giants nutless monkey handling of the Eli Manning benching, but one thing I did not touch on was the blanket assumption that even if Eli's done, there was no reason for him to lose his streak when the alternative is Geno Smith. Or more succinctly, "Geno Smith, LOL."
But do we know for sure Smith has no NFL future? Smith was a 2013 second-round pick by the Jets. He posted just slightly under league average (6.9) YPA his first two seasons (30 starts) while playing for the Rex Ryan Jets. His top receivers were Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson and Stephen Hill in Year 1 and Eric Decker, Percy Harvin's carcass and Jace Amaro in Year 2. Smith also rushed for 704 yards and seven TDs over that span. The knock on him is he threw 21 picks as a rookie and 13 in his second year. All told, he had 25 TDs and 34 picks on a terrible team with mostly bad receivers while playing from behind. He was set to start in 2015, but got punched in the jaw in the preseason, and Ryan Fitzpatrick took the job and never looked back.
Let's compare Smith to another QB who also made his debut in 2013. From 2013-2016, this QB played in 26 games, managed a 6.7 YPA with 163 rushing yards and two rushing TDs. He threw 24 TDs and 20 picks and played for team with a good defense. His receivers included DeAndre Hopkins.
On its face, I think it's close. Smith was more reckless with the ball, but much more mobile and did better on a per-play basis with worse receivers. Moreover, while Smith was a second rounder, this player, Case Keenum, was undrafted.
I know, it's unfair to judge Keenum when 10 of his starts came on the Jeff Fisher Rams who were able to make last year's No. 1 overall pick look like a bust too. It's not like he had offensive mastermind Rex Ryan running the show.
Bottom line, Smith was at least as good a prospect as Keenum heading into 2017, and like Keenum, he's a long shot to succeed. But the notion that giving him a shot elicits "LOL" to justify starting a player who has had every chance and failed for five years is ridiculous. The Giants should be using their last three games to see what they have. They won't, of course, because their owner is a nutless monkey who pandered to the most status-revering elements of the fan base.
Week 14 Observations
• The Ravens still have not allowed a 300- or 400-yard passer this year. They do have a 500-yarder in Ben Roethlisberger, though. Roethlisberger had a solid 7.7 YPA, but it was the 66 attempts that got him there. Still, 66 attempts at 7.7 with no picks is pretty good, though he had only two TD passes.
• When there are 500-yard passers, there are big receiving games. Antonio Brown had an 18-11-213 mark, Jesse James 12-10-97 and Le'Veon Bell 10-9-77. Martavis Bryant's 10-6-33 line is disappointing in context.
• Brown has 627 yards over his last four games and 1,509 for the year in 13 games. Prorated over a full season, that's 1,857, which would be good for third all time. Brown and Bell, who had 125 YFS and three TDs, remain the league's top-two fantasy players.
• The Ravens offense woke up last week and stayed woke. Joe Flacco had 7.7 YPA, 269 yards and two more TDs vs. one pick, though he spread the ball around. Mike Wallace led the team with a 5-3-72 line, and Jeremy Maclin had a terrible 11-3-27 showing.
•Alex Collins was the Ravens' offensive star with 166 YFS and a TD. Buck Allen scored twice, but had only 57 YFS.
•Russell Wilson is playing on another plane. He threw three picks, but got 8.7 YPA against the league's top pass defense. Moreover, he brought the Seahawks back from a 17-point deficit and might have come away with a win but for a missed call on a blatant hold during the team's final drive. Wilson also ran for 50 yards. There's no defense that can hang with him for 60 minutes.
•Jimmy Graham killed teams with his 2-0-0 line. I actually thought because the Jaguars outside cover men were so good, Graham might get more work.
•Mike Davis ran well (15-for-66) but didn't make an impact in the passing game.
• It's crazy the Seahawks have stuck with Blair Walsh. It's like that year the Phillies kept Brad Lidge as their closer when he had a 7.21 ERA.
•Blake Bortles played a great game – 9.9 YPA, 268 yards, two TDs, no sacks and no turnovers.
•Leonard Fournette was solid, with 24 carries, 101 yards, a TD and four catches. He also sealed the game with a first-down run.
•Carson Wentz played another good game with four more TD passes and some unreal escapes, but he's out for the year with a torn ACL. Nick Foles might be quarterbacking the NFC's current No. 1 seed. (Remember peak (2013) Foles put up far better numbers than present-day Wentz!)
• Three Eagles receivers had 11 targets (Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor.) Jeffrey scored the TD, Smith led the team with 100 receiving yards and Agholor had the most catches (8.) Trey Burton, filling in for the injured Zach Ertz, had a 6-5-71-2 line.
•Jay Ajayi finally saw the bulk of the workload on the ground – 15 carries for 78 yards – but he's rarely used as a pass catcher, and who gets the ball at the goal line is anyone's guess. That said with Foles under center, the Eagles might finally be forced to run more generally and use Ajayi, their best back, as much as possible.
•Jared Goff had a solid 199 yards on 7.7 YPA, two TDs with no picks and only two sacks against a tough defense. He did lose a key fumble on a sack where he held the ball too long.
• If Bell and Brown are the top two fantasy players, Todd Gurley is No. 3. He had two rushing TDs, three catches, 135 yards from scrimmage and averaged 7.4 YPC against the league's No. 1 ranked run defense.
•Greg Zuerlein carried teams this year, but was relegated to kicking five PATs.
• The Chargers are a top-7 NFL team right now. The only reason the Redskins got to 13 was backup QB Kellen Clemens threw a pick six late.
•Philip Rivers was at the top of his game again – 10.3 YPA, two TDs, no picks, two sacks. Keenan Allen led the team with eight targets and posted his fourth straight 100-yard game. Tyrell Williams had a 75-yard TD and 132 total yards on four targets and Hunter Henry went 6-4-50-1.
•Melvin Gordon struggled for 78 yards on 22 carries, but scored a TD and caught one pass.
• In what phase of the game are the Titans above average? Possibly none.
•Marcus Mariota isn't right. He took another three sacks, threw two picks and posted just 5.1 YPA against the Cardinals. His receivers obviously didn't do much, and while Derrick Henry scored a short TD, he and DeMarco Murray combined for 67 YFS.
•Josh McCown broke his hand, is out for the year, and the Jets were shut out. Robby Anderson led the team with 27 receiving yards, and Bilal Powell led with 35 on the ground. Bryce Petty will start in Week 15.
• Jimmy G is a G. He passed for 334 yards (10.1 YPA), one TD and one pick en route to the team's second straight road win. Carlos Hyde went 14 for 78 and a TD, but he failed to catch his only target. Garoppolo isn't looking to check down like C.J. Beathard, and Hyde's passing-game usage is suffering.
•Marquise Goodwin went 12-6-106 and could be a difference maker in the fantasy playoffs due to the QB upgrade.
•Tom Savage was hit hard and had what looked like a small seizure before being sent back into the game. Eventually he was removed for the more effective T.J. Yates. Savage is now in the concussion protocol, but it's hard to see him getting his job back after Yates threw for 185 yards and two scores.
•DeAndre Hopkins had another big game – 16-11-149-2, while making ridiculous sideline catches, irrespective of the quarterback. He's up to 155-88-1233-11 on the year, numbers that prorate to 191-108-1,518-14 over 16 games. Lamar Miller was disappointing as usual.
•Cam Newton had a bad game by the numbers – 5.5. YPA, one TD, one pick, two sacks – but he made an incredible throw under pressure for the team's lone TD pass and also won the game on a 62-yard scramble.
•Jonathan Stewart had 16 carries for 103 yards and three TDs, probably on your bench. He benefitted from an untouched 60-yard scamper early.
•Devin Funchess (7-3-59-1) was largely held in check until Newton scrambled and found him in the end zone. Greg Olsen played most of the game, but failed to record a catch on his only target. You'd have to be desperate to use him in Week 15.
•Adam Thielen had another big game – 13-6-105-1, but dropped one TD and juggled another that was ruled incomplete (I didn't think it was a bobble, but a repositioning of the ball with control, but the replay officials saw it differently.) Stefon Diggs went 10-6-64.
•Theo Riddick had six catches for 64 yards on 10 targets and also led the team with 10 carries and two rushing scores. He has a nice PPR floor even without the goal-line carries.
•Chris Godwin led the team in receiving with a 6-5-68 line. Mike Evans had only five targets and 25 yards receiving. DeSean Jackson led with seven targets but went a modest 4-for-41, and O.J. Howard had a 6-4-54-1 line. Cameron Brate caught his only target for 11 yards.
•Jameis Winston was sloppy – two picks, three sacks and a fumble. It's amazing how differently we'd grade the first two picks of the 2015 draft vs. the 2016 one from last year to now.
• Why did the Giants fire the coach and GM now rather than at the end of the year, simply so Eli Manning's useless carcass could throw checkdowns for four more games? In addition to getting a meager 5.0 YPA at home against a weak defense, Manning threw two picks and missed a wide open receiver on at least one occasion. Even his lone TD throw was low, causing TE Rhett Ellison to make a tougher catch than was necessary.
• Bryant went 5-3-73-1, but the Cowboys didn't use him much after he broke a slant for a long TD. Smith caught all five of his targets for 113 yards and a score and had another 47 yards and a TD on the ground. Zeke Elliott is out one more week, so it'll be interesting to see how Smith and Alfred Morris (19-for-62) are used against the Raiders.
•Derek Carr salvaged a terrible game in garbage time, but the Chiefs were a weak pass defense to begin with and were missing their top cover corner. It didn't help that Amari Cooper re-injured his ankle early, but Carr (5.1 YPA, one TD, two INT, three sacks) has been Eli Manning-esque this year.
•Marshawn Lynch ran well again and scored, but saw only seven carries due to game flow. Lynch still looks good, but with that defense and QB, the setup is not usually favorable to him.
•Alex Smith was solid in real life, but drops and reversed TDs cost him fantasy-wise. Kareem Hunt showed up at long last with 116 rushing yards and a score. Still, Hunt had only three catches for 22 yards, as the Chiefs are not making it a priority to use him in the passing game.
•Travis Kelce had a modest seven catches for 74 yards on 13 targets, though a costly drop at the five and overturned calls cost him a couple TDs. Tyreek Hill went 6-4-75 and Albert Wilson got involved with 7-5-72.
• No one blows the cover like the Browns. They were getting 3.5, but had to cough up the TD rather than the FG in overtime, even though a FG would have won it for the Packers.
• For some reason, Kizer stopped targeting Josh Gordon (6-3-69-1) in the second half, and the Browns scored only seven more points all game. Kizer finished with 7.6 YPA, but threw a back-breaking pick in overtime.
•Jamaal Williams had 15 carries for 49 yards and and a score and also caught all seven targets for 69 yards and another TD. Aaron Jones had four carries for minus two yards and no targets. It looks like Williams is still the starter.
•Brett Hundley had a modest real-life game – 5.8 YPA – but he threw three TDs, passed for 265 yards and rushed for 31 yards. Davante Adams was the other beneficiary with a 14-10-84-2 line, including the game-winner in overtime.
• How bad are the Bengals? Andy Dalton got 4.9 YPA and threw a pick, while A.J. Green had only five catches for 64 yards on 12 targets and lost a fumble. Only Gio Bernard – 11 carries for 62 yard and six catches for 68 yards – did anything of note.
•Jordan Howard ran roughshod over the Bengals with 23 carries for 147 yards and two scores. Tarik Cohen went 12-for-80, and Kendall Wrong caught 10-of-11 target for 107 yards. Even Mitchell Trubisky looked good with 8.5 YPA, one TD and no picks. Trubisky also ran for a touchdown.
• The Colts-Bills was a hilarious game. Not only because of the snow, but because the Bills punted the ball to the Colts with four minutes left in overtime, and the Colts punted it back (on 4th-and-6) with two minutes left. The Colts were 3-9 and playing for the tie!
Moreover, Chuck Pagano didn't try to advance the ball at the end of regulation, instead settling for a 43-yard FG attempt, right after Adam Vinatieri had made a PAT with a kick that barely hooked in through the uprights! Ben McAdoo was a horrible coach, but Pagano makes him look like Isaac Newton.
•LeSean McCoy went 32-156-1, and his TD was the game winner. There were also 13 punts in the game.
•Tom Brady had his worst game in recent memory with 5.4 YPA, one TD, two picks and two sacks. The passes he did complete were dink and dunk. With Cooks getting muscled at the line, and Rob Gronkowski suspended, Brady had nowhere to go with the ball except checkdowns to Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. Cooks had just one catch, on the final drive, for 38 yards.
•Kenyan Drake had a huge game – 114 yard rushing and five catches for 79 yards. He led the team is both rushing and receiving. It's odd the team had Jay Ajayi and him, yet was a terrible at running for most of the year. It's also odd Drake only got the job because Damian Williams got hurt.
•Jarvis Landry scored twice and caught all eight of his targets for 46 yards. He's a dink and dunk specialist, but he's getting in the end zone this year (eight TDs.) DeVante Parker caught four of his six targets for 40 yards. He's back on the radar, but too little, too late.
•Jay Cutler played a great game. He had a modest 6.9 YPA, but three TDs and no picks. He also made a few good throws under pressure and few mistakes.
• Maybe Xavien Howard (two picks, shut down Cooks) is really good. In addition to the household names (Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib, Josh Norman), there have been some new elite corners arriving on the scene (Casey Hayward, Jaylen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore) this year, and Howard (the seventh pick in the 2016 second round draft) is looking the part the last three games.
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