2010 epic fail leads to fantasy football revelation and my 2011 resolution

If only fantasy football were more like making a fruitcake or doing the Hokey Pokey.

Then, perhaps, I wouldn’t feel as though I was sucker-punched by a jackhammer and still gasping for breath three weeks later. I’d be giving myself colorful Gatorade showers from a championship trophy instead of drowning in a blackened well of what-ifs and what-could-have-beens.

Why can’t developing a championship football team be more like baking? If you want to make a fruitcake just like your grandmother’s famous (or infamous) holiday staple, you simply locate the recipe and follow the directions. If only it were as simple as throwing in two cups of Peyton Manning, a pint of Arian Foster and a teaspoon of David Akers, blend in some free agent flavoring and bake for 16 weeks.

If only weekly roster moves were as predictable as the Hokey-Pokey. You’d put Marcedes Lewis in, and take Antonio Gates out, you’d put Brian Westbrook in and take the competition out. What if that was all fantasy football was all about?

But it isn’t. There is no fool-proof formula for fantasy sports dominance. Simple decisions become tainted by matchups, injuries and overthinking. Months of preparation (or longer if you’re in a dynasty or keeper league) can be jackknifed by one miscue.

That disappointment can be so, so hard to bounce back from.

And yet, many times in the darkest hour, things can become much clearer. Simplified, almost. An opportunity to not just learn from mistakes, but see things from a different perspective.

Today, just three weeks after one bone-headed roster move cost me the five points I needed to win my semifinal matchup and ultimately a championship, I finally feel a little more at peace.

That’s because I realize now that fantasy football is much simpler than we all make it out to be. The key to winning a fantasy title really boils down to one thing you need to do during the regular season.

Of course, on the surface, making the playoffs needs to be a priority. This may seem like a no-brainer. Yet, how often do we fall into the trap of looking ahead too far. Of worrying about who will be the best player in Week X before we worry about winning Week Now.

You can’t win a fantasy football championship if you never make the playoffs, and realistically, once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. Records are reset, previous mistakes forgotten quicker than Ryan Leaf’s NFL aspirations.

Making the fantasy playoffs requires doing your homework for draft day and making smart roster moves through both trades and free agency. It also requires making the right calls in weekly roster starts and sits.

But at the core of it all is being able to identify and hitch your wagon to your team’s studs.

One of the oldest adages in fantasy football is to start your stud. Regardless of matchup or other crazy situation, starting your stud is typically the safest way to grind out an important win.

For my one team, the semifinal roster was basically set in stone, except my RB2. All season, I had used Rashard Mendenhall in that role, and churned out one of my best regular seasons ever. Except, behind the scenes, Mendenhall hadn’t exactly put up stud-like numbers. After the return of Ben Roethlisberger from suspension, Mendenhall’s only game with more than 100 yards rushing (at that point in the season) came against Buffalo – not exactly a world-beater run defense. He also was nearly non-existent in the receiving game, which was disappointing in this PPR league. For that game, in Week 15 of the NFL season, Mendenhall was going to face the New York Jets defense … a stout one against opposing runners.

Meanwhile, Pierre Thomas was sitting on my bench. He was finally going to get the lion’s share of carries with Chris Ivory out of action. The matchup was savory, too, against the woeful Arizona Cardinals. Pierre has a track record of being a solid PPR option. In the final moments of deciding my roster, I ultimately went with Pierre, and wound up losing the game (and my chance at a fantasy title) by five points … and Mendenhall had outscored Thomas in that league by 13 in Week 15.

Losing was bad enough. Losing everything because of that one bone-headed move was something else entirely. Sure, Mendenhall wasn’t exactly a stud player this season, but he was fairly consistent. Pierre was coming off an extended injury on an offense more pass-oriented than anything else. The writing was on the wall, but I chose to ignore it.

So, I failed to take my own advice. I lost because of it. And in the process, I realized that pin-pointing studs and doing everything you can to get them in your starting lineup is paramount to success.

Now, identifying those studs can be trickier than it seems. At the beginning of the season, DeAngelo Williams looked like a bona-fide stud running back for this season – his last before contract talks heated up. Ryan Mathews had stud potential. So did Beanie Wells and a slew of other running backs.

Who would have expected that Peyton Hillis would vault past them all into a weekly must-start? Or that Brandon Lloyd would outscore countless receivers with a more sterling track record? Or that Michael Vick would be a top-5 fantasy QB? Especially since all three of these players were likely in your league’s free agent pool to start the season?

Sure, Arian Foster was on more fantasy radar screens than the previous three players, but he still was a fourth-round player in most every fantasy draft. If someone had offered you their Mendenhall for your Arian Foster at the beginning of the season, you probably would have jumped at the offer. If you did, you missed out on 153 extra points in PPR formats.

Of course, most hot hands don’t become season-long fantasy studs. For every Brandon Lloyd you pick up off waivers, there are dozens of Danario Alexanders and Seyi Ajirotutus who aren’t able to do much out of their one-week-wonder status.

So, the key to fantasy football, at least to one jilted owner looking back at a roller coaster season of player value changes, is to focus on evaluating players, their situations and their potential to sustain a breakout performance for more than a couple games.

And ultimately, to build a roster from these sort of players that will allow you to sit back when fantasy playoffs come around and allow the studs you’ve collected/identified throughout the draft and season carry you to fantasy prominence.

My goal for 2011 is to help our readers (and myself) better evaluate players and their potential impact. Not that we’ve here at chinstrapninjas.com have lacked in solid projections, sleeper suggestions, etc. I just want to personally amp up my work in these areas moving forward.

Have a happy offseason, and keep checking back. We have plenty of fantasy football content on the way, and fantasy baseball information will be flooding in very, very soon.

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