- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
People seem surprised when I tell them how I separate the reality of football from fantasy football, from fans to family to TV anchors. I don't really see a choice. Some fantasy owners won't activate a player if he's facing their favorite team, or decide to use someone because they'll get to watch him. Huh? And others, as we've dealt with a bit all season in terms of strategy, will go out of their way to play Eli Manning if their opponent is using Plaxico Burress, seeking to offset the points, but I think mainly so it's less painful when you don't get to enjoy the big plays Burress will make as well.
I'll let you in on a little secret: Rooting for your players, or against others, does not affect the actual game.
I know, I know, writing this is the equivalent to saying Santa Claus isn't real -- as if that were, you know, the case -- but NFL players are going to do what they're going to do, no matter how much you plead and beg for better, or worse numbers. This is why you can't let personal feelings get involved in lineup decisions. You can't control the numbers, just your choices.
So it is that a few of my lineup decisions this week involve Dallas Cowboys. Personally, I think the Cowboys will have a lot of fun at home Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, a flawed team that seems good at staying close in games, but not winning them. I don't expect that to be the case this week. I expect a blowout, just as I do in snowy New England, when the unbeaten team routs the horrible team that got them so angry in the first place. Whether I want the Patriots to win or not has nothing to do with the fantasy decisions that need to be made.
In the GMC Professional Grade League with fantasy colleagues, my 7-6 team managed to find its way into the postseason. I kept Tony Romo and Drew Brees around all year, for a few reasons. First, having each of them gives you options. I don't recall using Brees more than once or twice, but it's always nice to have a choice. Two, I thought Brees would rebound after a bad September, which he did. Why would I want to help another team out with its quarterback problem, unless I really got something I needed? The worst way to lose in the playoffs is when a player you owned beats you. And third, what if one of them gets hurt, or slumps in December? It does happen, you know.
I think Romo is a better play than Brees. I can make the case he isn't, of course, but I think we'd all agree both guys are good fantasy plays. However, I know quite a few Eagles fans who would think I crossed the line using Romo over Brees, knowing who the opponent is, but I didn't think about it even once. All things being equal, my favorite team being the opponent is not one of the tiebreakers! Weather would be, or an injury for one of the players, but not something as innocuous as fan loyalty.
I'll also be using Jason Witten, Marion Barber III and Patrick Crayton in playoff matchups this week because, well, they're all good options! It's not like the Eagles are very good, you know. And even when they were in the past, I'd still make decisions based on what I thought would happen.
This sounds obvious, but to some it's not: fantasy football owners can't control anything but what they do with their own players in terms of activating, dealing, dumping or signing. We can't make them play well. When one looks at who the opponent is using in their active lineups, it taints your decision making. So the other guy has Burress active, as he should. Burress is clearly a top-20 wide receiver, and for the first two months of the season he was actually in the top-2. Why would that make you use Manning? He's been nowhere near the top-10 for quarterbacks the past few months, delivering one below average statistical performance after another, and the only reason he's currently ranked No. 12 for the season is because he's been healthy enough to play every game. He's accrued enough average points to vault him above others. Quite a few of the quarterbacks with fewer season points than Manning have been better options much of the season, including Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers and Jeff Garcia.
I can't possibly know which team you root for, or how you do your lineups, but the questions we get, the feedback we see, does show that plenty of fantasy owners think about things like this. Sure, I want the Eagles to beat the Cowboys, but to sit Romo or Terrell Owens and hope my favorite team wins and I get a fantasy victory, well, those things aren't mutually exclusive.
Let's get right to the feedback and answer your questions.
Sean (Michigan): "Eric, I need your help for my semifinal matchup in my touchdown-heavy league. I need three guys to start among Chester Taylor, Donald Driver, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Jerricho Cotchery. I have and am starting Adrian Peterson, but is it foolish to start both Minnesota running backs? Thank you so much!"
Eric: I know some who will say it is silly to start both Vikings running backs, and for some of the reasons listed above in this column. If you pick one of them, you'll simply root against the other one and hope you made the right choice. The goal is to get the most points you can, and since I ranked Taylor among the top-20 running backs, I obviously believe he's a decent play. It doesn't matter if you're already using Peterson, if Taylor is your next best option, use him! Why can't both running backs be effective? As for this team, I'd go with both Minnesota backs and Atlanta's White. Driver doesn't score, or do much else for fantasy lately, Cotchery will be playing the league's best team in the snow, and I'd choose a Minnesota running back and Atlanta's No. 1 receiver over Gonzalez.
Travis (Milwaukee): "Hi Eric, I'm in a fantasy football league with 12 teams. Six make the playoffs. I was the No. 2 seed and had a first-round bye. The teams that played this week just happened to tie. We have no tiebreaker rules in place. The commish suggested we either play a three-way game this week between all of us or push everything back one week later and play into Week 17. I believe that playing two teams is unfair. What are your thoughts on this situation? Games start Thursday so I really need some feedback. Thanks."
Eric: Well, this is clearly not a good situation, and it's why we tell people to set all rules before the season, so something like this never happens. I see two reasonable options here, though I'm sure there are more. Pushing the games back a week is one of them, though I would hate to be your team and end up losing. That doesn't seem fair. What if you score a ton of points the next two weeks, but not in Week 17? Your league obviously decided to avoid Week 17 for a reason, and while most of my leagues do include the final week of the season, I do understand why other leagues do not. The other option I like is to use the most likely tiebreaker that leagues used, which I think is points scored. If it was a roto league, season points scored would be the a lot more critical than in head to head. I would prefer head-to-head matchups decide things, but since this is not what we use in ESPN standard leagues, I guess it would be second. Have a league vote and try to decide the winner from Week 14, and keep all other teams on their playoff schedule. They shouldn't be penalized.
Matt (Madison, Wisc.): "Hey Karabell, after Sunday's action, I read about three times from three different writers something like 'Take away Chester Taylor's 84-yard run and he only rushed for 17 yards on just seven carries.' I don't think I read it from you, but I was wondering if you could shed some light on what this is supposed to mean, besides the obvious. No fantasy leagues I've ever heard of take away a running backs' longest run and just use the rest of the stats. People lost or won lots of games because of that long run. I understand that if a backup RB that nobody's ever heard of comes in and breaks a long one, you could discount that looking ahead to the next few weeks as far as starting that player. But Chester Taylor? He gets plenty of carries in an excellent run offense, and has broken plenty of long runs the past two years. Why would you 'take away' the best run he has? That's partly why some players are good and some aren't. This makes absolutely no sense to me, and I will continue to start Taylor. Thanks for the rant and good job as always."
Eric: Excellent question, glad you asked it, and yes, I have noted things like this in the past in reference to running backs who were having a pretty bad day, but one long play made the stats look better. We're not trying to diminish the overall accomplishment, or suggest that it shouldn't count toward a fantasy total. The yards and touchdowns, if applicable, obviously do count. This is, however, a way for us to properly analyze a performance. Taylor did not have a good day Sunday, nor did Adrian Peterson. Taylor did break a long play, and it made his stats look terrific. It counts, but certainly we'd view a performance like Aaron Stecker from Monday differently. He carried 20 times for 100 yards, with his longest play going for 17 yards. Stecker looked very good, for the most part, and by watching the game it's easier to analyze what he did. How he ran did make me rank him better this week as opposed to if he had a Jerious Norwood type game, in which one play skews the overall results. With Taylor, I, like you, will play him anyway, but for lesser players, it matters.
Keep sending those comments by clicking here. I read all the comments, whether they are thoughts on the blog, mistakes you found, topics for new ones, whatever, and I post a few e-mails in each blog. Thanks for reading. Enjoy your Thursday.