Caveats to be learned during playoff preparationsPosted: Friday December 13, 2002 4:18 PM
By Bob Harris, Special to CNNSI.com
As any experienced Fantasy owner will tell you, there's nothing quite like the stretch run through playoff time.
Or as I like to call it, "Fantasy Crunchtime."
Crunchtime brings with a variety of unique problems, not the least of which is the fact that a handful of top Fantasy producers aren't going to get the job done as anticipated. Whether it's due to injury, poor performance, the team's playoff situation or a combination of those issues, you'd better get ready to deal with these situations as quickly as possible.
The following list offers six players -- some obvious, others not so obvious, who for various reasons, merit careful consideration on your part before their names are chiseled into stone as a Fantasy playoff starter.
These players were selected not just to single them out as potential problems, but also to illustrate some of the "scenarios" or situations Fantasy owners need to be hyper-aware of at this time of year:
Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams: The "Injured Superstar" scenario goes something like this: Proven producer with a track record for exploding down the stretch finds himself struggling to overcome injury.
In Faulk's case, that injury is a high ankle sprain, one of the more difficult injuries for players to overcome. According to The Associated Press, his playing time might be limited for the rest of the season because of that injury.
Running behind a patchwork line, the Rams star was held to 13 yards on 10 carries and four catches for 35 yards in last Sunday's 49-10 loss at Kansas City. He hasn't started in a month, although he's tried to play the last two weeks without success.
"He's not even remotely close to 100 percent, that's why we tried to fit him in there," head coach Martz said Monday. "We've got to be very careful with Marshall. We'll be smart about that."
For the year, Faulk has 858 yards rushing and 483 receiving. His streak of four consecutive 2,000-yard seasons rushing and receiving, an NFL record, almost certainly will end.
Rookie Lamar Gordon made his fourth consecutive start against the Chiefs. He struggled with 14 yards on five carries and one reception for 11 yards.
After Faulk was held out of Thursday's practice to rest the injury, I'd have a hard time going with him this weekend and I have serious concerns about the rest of the season, too.
Let's face it: The Rams are out of the hunt; Kurt Warner has been placed on injured reserve; and the team's offensive line has to be one of the league's least effective units heading into the final three weeks.
Do yourself a favor. Forget the past and look elsewhere for help down the stretch.
Ahman Green, RB, Green Bay Packers: The "Cautious Coach" scenario. Here we have a situation in which Green, one of the league's most productive running backs, is coming off an injury for a team that's already locked up a playoff spot and believes it has a reliable backup.
It's one of the tougher scenarios because it's so unpredictable. This of course, is what makes it so potentially devastating.
As Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel beat writer Tom Silverstein noted Thursday, Green will return to action this week after a one-game absence because of a knee injury. Silverstein went on to suggest Green might have trouble running into the middle of a San Francisco defense manned by veteran tackles Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield before adding that Tony Fisher will take some of the carries regardless of Green's health.
But the real worry here isn't Green's injury or the presence of Fisher. It's head coach Mike Sherman, who has a long history of erring on the side of caution when it comes to players -- not named Brett Favre -- recovering from or somewhat slowed by injury.
Sherman claims he held Green out of last week's game to keep him stronger down the stretch, but I've got a hunch he's a heckuva lot more interested in the NFL playoffs than your Fantasy playoffs.
Aaron Brooks, QB, New Orleans Saints: The "Solid Backup" scenario. Brooks was able to get in a full workout Thursday despite the sore shoulder that forced him to the sidelines early last Sunday and there's no reason to believe he won't start against the Vikings this Sunday.
A tantalizing matchup, by golly.
But, given his strong play in relief of Brooks the last two weeks, New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Jeff Duncan recently advised readers the teamís coaching staff won't hesitate to go with veteran backup Jake Delhomme if need be.
According to The Sporting News, Delhommeís fine work off the bench has done more than solidify the confidence of his teammates and coaching staff. Itís increased his potential stock as a free agent. In fact, he might have played himself out of New Orleans. But not until spends the next three weeks making life miserable for owners wondering if Brooks shoulder can hold up for 60 minutes at a pop.
Morten Andersen, PK, Kansas City Chiefs: The "Injured Guy Not On Injury Report" scenario. According to the Kansas City Star, the Chiefs planned to look at several kickers today in case Morten Andersen's sore right knee won't let him perform some or all of his duties in Sunday's game at Denver.
Veteran Michael Husted, who kicked off for the Chiefs in three games earlier this season, will be one of the kickers in for a workout.
The left-footed Andersen has a torn meniscus in his right knee. Andersen has tried to kick with the injury, but it is becoming more of a problem. He is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery after the season. Doing so now would finish his season. So the Chiefs may sign a kicker to either kick off or handle all of the place-kicking duties.
"I'd feel better if we just bring some guys to look at just in case," head coach Dick Vermeil said.
Muck like I'd feel better not relying on a guy like Andersen with the trophy on the line.
Jon Kitna, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: The "Money Talks" scenario. I've touched on this theme fairly regularly, but there's no denying that money talks. There's also no denying the fact that money talks a little louder in some cases than others.
But when it comes to the Bengals and "Neanderthal" GM Mike Brown, money screams. That being the case, I'll remind you that Kitna needs to play in 80 percent of the Bengals' offensive snaps this season to earn a $1.625 million bonus in 2003.
The Bengals have run 849 offensive plays in 13 games, which projects to 1,045 for the entire 16-game schedule. Kitna has played 637 snaps, compared to 147 for Gus Frerotte and 65 for Akili Smith. If Kitna plays the remaining 196 projected snaps, he would finish with 833 snaps of the 1,045.
That comes out to 79.71 percent.
In a rather ominous development, the Bengals promoted Joe Germaine from the practice squad to the regular roster earlier this week, a move Cincinnati Enquirer staffer Mark Curnutte reports caused a major stir.
Curnutte went on to note: "Because the position is unsettled with the Bengals, every roster move involving a quarterback is viewed suspiciously. Some players wondered aloud if Germaine would get the playing time Bengals president Mike Brown hinted at two months ago."
It goes without saying that such a lineup change would prevent Kitna from cashing in on that bonus.
This is an extreme example. You'd be hard-pressed to find an owner as cheap as Brown or a team in as lousy an overall position as the Bengals. But the underlying theme is definitely worth taking note of. It happens. All the time.
Any Washington Redskin Skill Player: The "Future Is Now" scenario. This might be the most insidious and frustrating of all scenarios. In an article published Dec. 2, Washington Post staff writer Mark Maske noted that even Redskins weren't pretending any more in the aftermath of their Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas. They no longer were talking about crafting a miraculous late-season run to the playoffs. They knew the competitive portion of their season had ended, and they had been reduced to playing for their dignity and looking toward next season.
However, Maske was quick to add that doesn't mean the rest of the season isn't important to team officials; it means winning isn't necessarily the prime concern. That's because the Skins have a number of critical personnel decisions to make they retool their roster over the offseason. Meaning auditions for 2003 began with their Dec. 8 game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field.
As a result, head coach Steve Spurrier has made no secret of the fact he intends to give the team's youngsters some playing time, but he also said he will continue to play his veterans.
The bottom line here says the same kind of waffling that made it almost impossible for Fantasy owners to count on any of Washington's QBs or receivers throughout the season, now have the same problem with Stephen Davis, who according to NFL sources, is likely to be released for salary cap reasons this offseason -- perhaps without the team even trying to renegotiate his contract.
As Richmond Times-Dispatch staffer Paul Woody noted Thursday, Davis should be ready for a light workload; if he gets 15 carries, it will be a surprise.
There you have it kids. Remember these were only examples. You'll run across any number of more or less similar situations over the remaining three games. Learn them; recognize them; and if at all possible, avoid them like the plague and who knows? You just might wind up hauling the trophy home this year.