There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh-baked chocolate chip pumpkin cookies wafting through the air when you’re writing a fantasy football column. You really should try it.
The first batch of cookies is almost done. I made them from scratch – myself. And while some may think it a little non-masculine for me to admit this in print, there is a lot to be learned when baking. Many of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. These mistakes will not be repeated.
For example, just one extra (or less) quarter of a teaspoon of an ingredient can totally kill a batch. And, there’s a major difference between baking powder and baking soda. Trust me.
Savvy fantasy owners know there’s likely a similarly vast difference in a Rashard Mendenhall vs. the Indianapolis Colts and a Mendenhall vs. the Baltimore Ravens. There’s a wide margin between a Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Patriots and a Fitzpatrick vs. Darrelle Revis and the Jets.
Knowing the differences and planning ahead can give your fantasy team the extra boost it needs to make a true championship run. With most leagues’ trade deadline fast approaching, don’t overlook the following players who have extremely sweet matchups down the home stretch.
First things first, though, let me share a little warning. Like a wise Mr. Miyagi sharing a one-liner life lesson to a young apprentice that will most certainly rebel anyway, let me point out one small piece of advice.
Start your studs.
Yes, the following players have some nice matchups, but I learned the hard way too many times that replacing a typically studly player who has a poor matchup with a mediocre player with a great matchup doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, it will usually backfire.
Of course, this is a lesson you’re likely to learn the hard way yourself. It is just too tempting to add a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon to the cookie batter. Too easy to reach for the baking powder instead of running to the Qwikee Mart to replace the box of baking soda your wife used up in last week’s cookie recipe.
Just be warned that when you decide to bench Eli Manning in your league championship game because he draws the Jets and instead replace him with Matt Moore against the Patriots, you should not be surprised if your cookies have the texture of a fossilized hockey puck and taste like coagulated battery acid.
Players to target before your trade deadline, based on upcoming matchups:
Chris Johnson/Javon Ringer/Matt Hasselbeck, TEN. CJ has been the biggest fantasy bust of the season, bar none. A consensus top-5 back on most every draft-day board, Johnson has struggled to produce even quasi-good numbers and even lost his main role to Ringer for a short period of time.
However, last week he showed signs of life – perhaps finally realizing just how tenuous his position was with the team each time Ringer outproduced him. Will that continue? Probably more so than you’d realize. That’s because CJ has a pretty sweet schedule the rest of the way. In fact, many could argue it is the easiest of any fantasy back.
Between now and Week 16 – the fantasy championship game in most leagues, CJ plays against Carolina, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The latter two are his fantasy playoff matchups. Nothing like the perfectly baked chocolate chip pumpkin cookie, fresh out of the oven, eh?
And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to snatch up Ringer if you can. His value dropped after disappearing last week, but he could play a huge role if CJ does revert back to the Frankenstein-like non-agility he showed earlier this season.
DeMarco Murray/Felix Jones, DAL. Murray is the featured Cowboys back now, and I’d assume that will continue regardless of when Felix comes back from injury. Those who sprung quickly on Murray when he blew up the history books a couple weeks ago will benefit even more as the season heads down the stretch run.
That is because the Cowboys draw Tampa Bay and Philadelphia in the fantasy championship weeks. Both teams struggle as much in stopping the run as Richard Simmons would from holding Albert Haynesworth back from a Taco Supreme.
Even if Felix is just a third-down back by that time, he’ll still hold value based on those matchups, especially in PPR formats.
Andy Dalton/Cedric Benson/AJ Green, CIN. The Bengals as a whole have been extremely impressive this season, and almost all Bungles will likely reap benefits as the season wraps up.
Be warned that the crew has a nasty gauntlet of games against stat crushers like the Steelers and Ravens. However, the fantasy playoffs will be more like having a pillow fight with a newborn kitten.
That’s because the Bengals draw the Rams and Cardinals the final two weeks. The Golden Girls would look like Pro Bowlers against those defenses. Just imagine what the upbeat Bengals will produce.
Jay Cutler/Earl Bennett/Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, CHI. What … no Forte? That’s right. The Bears will face some stiff challenges scattered over the next several weeks, but draw the Seahawks and Packers in what will be most everyone’s fantasy playoffs.
As woeful as the Seahawks have been, they have shown some gumption against the run. However, they can very easily be scorched through the air. The mighty Packers continue to run up big leads while their defenses allow large chunks of passing stats on a weekly basis. The Bears will be playing catchup in Week 16, and the Chicago passing game will reap the benefits.
Josh Freeman/LeGarrette Blount/Mike Williams, TB. Perhaps not as juicy of matchups as some of the others on this list, the Buccaneers can still make plenty of noise in the fantasy playoffs thanks to drawing the Cowboys and Panthers.
Both Dallas and Carolina have shown decent defense in spurts, but neither are world beaters on that side of the ball. However, both squads can score points, which will keep Tampa on its feet offensively. This likely means bigger games for Freeman and Williams than for Blount, but don’t be surprised to see LeGarrette more multi-dimensional by the end of the season with Earnest Graham on the shelf for the rest of 2011.
Which players are you targeting as the 2011 season enters the final stretch? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. I’ll check back as soon as I try one of those cookies cooling on my kitchen counter.