As we near the end of February fantasy sports fans everywhere start to feel the itch that comes with the slightly warmer temperatures. That’s because no matter what that silly groundhog saw earlier on in month, pitchers and catchers have already reported to camps and spring baseball will soon be played. An exciting time for any baseball fan no doubt but to the serious fantasy player now is the time to gear up the off-season research and start watching for signs of the next budding star, or evidence of the next falling one. Below is a list of things to watch for over the next month before you enter your baseball draft that will help put you ahead of the game.
CHECK INJURY STATUS
Every year there is a list of former fantasy studs or sleepers that is coming back from injury or had some sort of “minor” surgery to clean knees, elbows, or shoulders out with the assumption that they will be back and healthy. These things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to and keeping up with lists of players that are having set backs is vital to making the right choices draft day. Most of your huge stars (A-Rods, Manny’s and Mauers) will be covered on any of the major sports news websites or TV stations with regularity and accuracy. Finding out about the players who fly under the radar (the players that really win championships) takes a little more work. From my experience the best way to truly read up on some important players with nagging injuries is that player’s home cities news paper. With the internet streaming pretty much every major cities news covered online for free it would be foolish not to read weekly or even daily updates about Ben Sheets in Oakland or Rickie Weeks in Milwaukee.
COMPILE YOUR OWN RANKINGS AND LISTS
There are several quality publications out there committed to helping you draft your next championship team, but relying on one or two and using them as your only guide is a mistake. It can take some players a couple of years to get used to the scoring, draft style, roster sizes, positions, and other subtle differences your league has from the traditional style fantasy baseball. It would be foolish to think one chart or rankings list will be universal to helping you make a quality baseball roster. Making your own rankings sheets and lists will help you get a feel for what you look for in a fantasy player. It also will reveal certain trends or flaws some players have that will help you accurately predict parts of seasons. Also, reviewing all the stats and numbers for the majority of players will create your own little library of baseball knowledge and statistics, by the time the regular season is set to begin you will be surprised by how much you have learned.
KNOW YOUR LEAGUES SCORING AND SETUP INSIDE AND OUT
This could be the most underrated aspect of off-season preparations a fantasy player will go through before the draft day. Knowing the rules and scoring and being able to take advantage of those things can make the difference between a playoff fantasy team and an also-ran. Look for ways you can exploit your league scoring. This mostly applies to league with non-traditional scoring systems that often times includes stat categories added on top of the usual 5×5 scoring systems. Look for things that are rewarded twice such as Walks and OPS if they are included. Or downgrade categories or players that don’t factor in as much. Stolen base specialists become less important in a league that adds hitting categories because the players that lead this category tend to be more one-dimensional, conversely players that rank well in lots of non traditional categories become more valuable or in some cases a better Free Agent pickup. Also make note of your leagues minimum games eligibility. Often times players must have played at least 10-15 games at a position to be qualified to play there, If that number is low, say one or five, some players would have added value at weaker positions (ex. Pablo Sandoval played 3 games a catcher last year, his value is much higher as a catcher than it is as a 3rd baseman). Read through the leagues entire settings and rules before you even make you lists and rankings noting important places where you think you can gain an advantage.
Part One of Two
DREW BREES – Anyone watching Atlanta the past 4 weeks should be able to see how bad that pass defense really is. Brees will turn in one of his best weeks of the year. 300 + yards and at least 3 TDs should help carry your team to the playoffs, or at least keep one of your friends out of them.
KURT WARNER – The 49ers have played a solid run D all season so look for the Cardinals to stick to what they do best, throwing the football. Warner did injury his hip last week so double check the injury updates as the week progresses but the Cardinals expect Warner to start and fantasy owners can expect big numbers. 309-2 TDs
CHRIS JOHNSON – It’s almost embarrassing to have to put Johnson on the list this week. By this time everyone knows the kind of year CJ is having and a game against the Rams at home could be epic as he races towards Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. A ridiculous 200 + yards are very possible this week.
RASHARD MENDENHALL – Cleveland doesn’t do a lot of the things right on the defensive side of the ball, but defending the run could be what they do worst. Pittsburgh needs a statement game and should look to get back to what they are known for which is a lockdown D, and a smash-mouth run game. 125 yards and one or two scores are likely.
MARQUES COLSTON – Like his teammate above Colston is blessed with a wonderful matchup in week 14 just in time for fantasy owners going into the final week before the playoffs. While it is very likely that Brees will have success throwing to anyone of his passing targets, there will be plenty of points to go around. Colston will score this week and hope he can put together his 2nd 100 yard game in three weeks.
VINCENT JACKSON – Jackson has been pretty useless to owners since his blistering start to the season. Not reaching 60 yards receiving or the end zone in his last four games. Fear not owners, the Dallas secondary can be beat for yards and scores and Jackson stands to improve greatly this week. Look for 90 yards and a TD this week.
TONY GONZALEZ – T-Gonz had a solid 89 yards the last time Atlanta played the Saints. His reception totals quietly went up after Ryan went down with his injury. Look for that to continue as Hotlanta will be playing from behind early in this one. 100 yards and 1 TD.
TOM BRADY – While labeling Brady a full blown “dud” this week might be a stretch, don’t expect huge numbers from him this week. Carolina’s pass defense has been exceptional this season and Brady hasn’t been himself lately. I see this game being closer than most people think and not very high scoring; the weather could also be an issue this week. I saw one publication had Brady as their top ranked QB this week and I actually started laughing. I’m not saying start whoever your number 2 QB is, but project modestly.
JAY CUTLER – The last time the Bears and Packers met Cutler was flipping passes up left and right and the results were an awful 4 Interceptions in a Bears loss. Since that time the Packers secondary has gotten better. Don’t expect many points out of the Bears in general, if you have a solid second choice this is the week for that play.
FRANK GORE – Since Alex Smith emergence as a legit passing threat, the 49ers have been forced to air the ball out. Gore’s carries and rushing average have plummeted. Unless you play in a PPR league or Gore has a favorable matchup, be careful where and when you start him. Against Arizona this week is not one of those times.
CEDRIC BENSON – Minnesota has one of the top rushing Defenses in the NFL. Add to that Benson injuries and Larry Johnson stealing some carries, it doesn’t look like a good weekend to rely on Benson to carry your fantasy team.
ANTONIO BRYANT – Bryant has been coming on the last couple of weeks and is starting to look like a viable option at WR once again. The problem comes this week as he faces a very solid defense in the NYJ and a Pro-Bowl corner in Darrelle Revis. Don’t expect much out of Bryant or the Bucs this week, but don’t forget about him either.
GREG OLSEN – Even if Olsen had not just been shut down for 2 catches for 1 yard last week I would strongly advise against starting Olsen at TE in week 14. The Packers only allowed him one catch in their week one matchup and DPOY front runner Charles Woodson has been asked to handle most teams’ most dangerous target, which is still Olsen. With a warm Woodson blanket covering him all day Sunday don’t expect Olsen to do much of anything.
JOE FLACCO – Everyone knows how bad the Detroit secondary has been this year. The Ravens and Flacco should be looking for a confidence boost after a subpar offensive performance against the Packers Monday night. I see no reason why Flacco and Co. can’t hang 30 plus on Detroit, look for the Ravens QB to be in on most of those points.
QUINTON GANTHER – In a move that should please fantasy owners, HC Jim Zorn announced early this week the Ganther would start @Oak this week. This eliminated the chance that Ganther and Cartwright would be serving in the dreaded split carries situation and opened a nice window for a great RB matchup versus the Raiders awful run defense. Ganther is a must add in all leagues and just may produce a top 15 RB performance this week.
CHRIS BROWN/RYAN MOATS – Steve Slaton was placed on the IR this week ending his season but creating opportunity for Brown and Moats. Seattle has played terrible on the road this year. Look for Houston to keep the pressure off Matt Schuab’s injured Shoulder and control the clock with Brown and Moats. Brown likely will receive most if not all the goal-line carries but moats should be the receiving and yards threat particularly late if Houston can build a lead early.
BRAYLON EDWARDS – Don’t expect a ton of yards from Edwards this week as NYJ will certainly keep the ball on the ground this week, but Tampa Bay has yielded 24 passing touchdowns this year and Edwards has shown should be the top red zone threat for the Jets this week.
HEATH MILLER – Quiet as of late look for an improved effort from Miller this week. Pittsburgh’s offense should be clicking on all cylinders Thursday against the Browns as they look to get on track. Miller had 80 yards and a touchdown the last time the two met.
overall stats: 14-12-2 ATS 18-11 SU
Time for a big week of picks to get the numbers up!! Packers get my play of the week playing at Chicago. Always a heated matchup Green Bay just brings too many good things with them and Chicago couldn’t be playing much worse. With no ground game to speak of the Bears will ask Jay Cutler to air it out often and the results will not be good. Upset game is Cincinnati playing at Minnesota. Look for them at worst to cover the spread as Cincy gets after Favre and Palmer picks apart a beat up Vikings Defense.
|Pittsburgh @ Cleveland – PIT -10||PIT||PIT|
|New Orleans @ Atlanta – NO -10.5||NO||NO|
|Detroit @ Baltimore – BAL -13||BAL||BAL|
|Green Bay @ Chicago – GB -3||GB||GB|
|Seattle @ Houston – HOU -6||HOU||SEA|
|Denver @ Indianapolis – IND -7||IND||DEN|
|Miami @ Jacksonville – JAX – 3||MIA||MIA|
|Buffalo @ Kansas City – BUF -1||BUF||BUF|
|Cincinnati @ Minnesota – MIN -7||CIN||CIN|
|Carolina @ New England – NE -14||NE||CAR|
|NY Jets @ Tampa Bay – NYJ -5||NYJ||NYJ|
|St Louis @ Tennessee – TEN -13||TEN||TEN|
|Washington @ Oakland – WAS -1||WAS||WAS|
|San Diego @ Dallas – DAL -3||DAL||DAL|
|Philadelphia @ NY Giants – NYG -1||PHI||PHI|
|Arizona @ San Francisco – ARI -3.5||ARI||ARI|
I have to start this post off with a little rant aimed at the Oakland Raiders. After watching them chase Miles Austin around the field Thursday afternoon, I kept asking myself where Nnamdi Asomugha was?? Austin was obviously too much for anyone else in the Raiders secondary and all I ever hear out of Oakland is how this guy is the best cover corner in the game. Green Bay showed teams how to take away a teams top threat and his name was Charles Woodson. He blanketed Calvin Johnson all over the field, and the result? An absurd amount of targets towards CJ that translated into 2 receptions for 10 yards. At a certain point you would think the Raiders brass would have said, man it seems like that Austin guy is killing us, and rotate their only true cover man over to him. Roy Williams was shut down to the tune of 2 rec for 15 yards but so what? Lots of teams have done that, wasting Asomugha on the slow-footed Williams was a waste.
On the plus side, The Packers moved the ball with ease through the air as they rolled to a lopsided victory at Detroit. Obviously fantasy owners would like to see the packers score more point when in the redzone (with the exception of Mason Crosby owners), but that seems to be the packers trend this year, lots and lots of yards and mistakes (sacks, penalties) that lead to field goals instead of TD’s. Donald Driver was the biggest winner Thursday and it unfortunately looks like it will be hard to predict which Packers stud will have the big game each week. Don’t Be discouraged by Donald Lee’s big offensive game if you own Jermicheal Finley. Lee still had trouble Thursday making catches (hands look rock hard each week) and Finley still was a finger tip away from a touchdown himself. Against better competition Finley will still be Rodgers more prefered target all over the field.
The Denver-New York Giants game was a fantasy snoozer outside of the kicking game. The Giants couldn’t move the ball (a reoccurring theme with NFC East teams playing out west) and the Broncos settled for 4 Fgs in their 26-6 rout of Eli Manning’s Giants. Knowshon Moreno bounced back from his goal-line fumble the week before to post a solid line and a touchdown carry from the 1 yard line. HC Josh McDaniels showed some faith in his rookie and that should give owners the confidence to start Moreno with a good matchup in the future. He still is giving up some carries in that backfield but the Broncos are going to be a run first offense and Moreno can do some damage with 15-18 carries a game.
ROCK CARTWRIGHT RB WAS – 3 STARS
With Clinton Portis still iffy each week, and primary backup Ladell Betts now out for the season, Cartwright stands to move into the spotlight as the main ball carrier in Washington. Without knowing how long Portis will be out (concussions can be hard to predict) it’s difficult to project long term value here. As of right now if you own Portis, Cartwright is a must add, if not and you have extra room on the roster he might be worth a look each week. An updated injury report is required each week as well as a peak at who the Redskins play. One bonus though, Rock did catch 7 passes and gained 140 total yards last week in his fill in role against a solid Cowboys defense. That kind of dual production should not be ignored, particularly in a PPR league. Consider Cartwright a decent start against the Eagles this week if Portis is out and hope the Redskins can actually score a touchdown or two this week.
ANTONIO BRYANT WR TB – 3 STARS
Bryant came back from his knee injury again in week 11 and posted moderate 3 catch 40 yard numbers in Tampa’s 38-7 loss against the Saints. While not eye popping numbers, he was second on the team with 6 targets, and that number should only go up the more reps he and rookie Josh Freeman have together. Bryant made my “sleepers” list this week and may be in line for some increased fantasy numbers down the stretch. Play the matchups with Bryant as his numbers will depend on Freeman’s ability to effectively move the ball. A fantasy team thin at WR should not be afraid to take a shot in week 12 with Bryant.
MATT LINEART QB ARI – 2 STARS
Kurt Warner was knocked hard on his head last week and is questionable as of Tuesday to play against the Titans this week. While others are talking Lineart up as a respectable replacement this week, I’m taking a more cautious approach. Tennessee’s pass defense has been improving of late and I find it hard to believe that Lineart will be able to consistently move the ball despite all his targets. His numbers were ok in his second half relief role against the Rams (who almost came back), but he was clearly asked not to make mistakes and throw shorter safer passes. If you have no other options and Warner does not start you may be forced to play Lineart but don’t expect much this week and hope Warner is able to come back soon.
JERMICHEAL FINLEY TE GB – 4 STARS
In case you missed it, Finley returned in week 11 to the tune of 10 targets, 7 catches and 54 yards. The Packers have been raving about what Finley brings to their offense and he has shown, when healthy, he’s capable of putting up some good numbers. Aaron Rodgers has said he likes the matchup with Finley regardless of who is covering his TE and that gives him the confidence to throw to him in almost any situation. Look for Finley to emerge as a top 10 fantasy TE the rest of the season.
|Week 12 Picks||Straigh Up||ATS|
|Green Bay @ Detroit- GB -11||GB||GB|
|Oakland @Dallas- DAL -14||DAL||DAL|
|Giants @ Denver- NYG -6.5||NYG||DEN|
|Tampa Bay @ Atlanta- ATL -12||ATL||TB|
|Miami @ Buffalo- MIA -3||MIA||MIA|
|Cleveland @ Cincinnati- CIN -14||CIN||CIN|
|Indianapolis @ Houston- IND -4||IND||HOU|
|Carolina @ Jets- NYJ -3||CAR||CAR|
|Washington @ Philadelphia- PHI -9||PHI||WASH|
|Seattle @ St Louis- SEA -3||STL||STL|
|Kansa City @ San Diego- SD -14||SD||KC|
|Jacksonville @ San Fransico- SF -3||SF||SF|
|Chicago @ Minnesota- MIN -11||MIN||MIN|
|Arizona @ Tennessee- TEN -3||ARI||ARI|
|Pittsburgh @ Baltimore – NL||BAL||BAL|
|New England @ New Orleans – NO -3||NE||NE|
AARON RODGERS – Rodgers travels on a short week to a Detroit team that surrendered 4 Touchdowns to Brady Quinn. Enough said.
PHILLIP RIVERS – Rivers gets Kansas City at home, a team he hit up for 268 yards and 3 TDs in week 7. I expect even better numbers this week. Enjoy.
LARRY FITZGERALD – Tennessee is not equipped to handle Fitz and they have given up a league leading 23 touchdown passes through week 10. He’s always a must start but this week he should be enough to carry most teams.
VINCENTE JACKSON – Jackson and Rivers hooked up for 142 yards (season high) last time the Chargers played the Chiefs. Expect Rivers to hook up early and often with his favorite red zone target.
GREG JENNINGS – Look for Jennings to build off his week 11 success. I expect a second straight 100 yard week and a score or two against the awful Lions secondary.
RICKY WILLIAMS – With Ronnie Brown done for the season and a game against the Buffalo Bills soft run defense have Ricky Williams looking like fantasy gold for week 12 and beyond.
ADRIAN PETERSON – Always a must start but AP gets the struggling Bears defense at home. Look for Peterson to tear up this division rival he averaged 126 rushing yards and 1.5 touchdowns against last year.
VERNON DAVIS – Davis and new starting QB Alex Smith have clearly connected on the field and Jacksonville’s secondary has given up lots of points and lots of yards, both good for Smith’s top receiver.
MARK SANCHEZ – With Carolina’s run defense giving up yards and touchdowns lately, the Jets look to hand the ball to Thomas Jones and Shonne Green in bunches to keep the mistake prone Sanchez from handing the ball to the Panthers.
CALVIN JOHNSON – Look for the Packers to put pro bowl corner Charles Woodson on the Lions most dangerous player. With Woodson playing at the top of his game, Johnson will have to work hard to get very little.
MILES AUSTIN – Dallas has struggled to move the ball in the last two games, and Tony Romo has been spreading the football around during that time. Oakland has been good about not allowing passing touchdowns as well as limiting yards against teams’ receivers.
MATT FORTE – Forte has been a huge disappointment so far this year and that won’t change this week. At this point he should have to work just to be in your everyday lineup. If you’re in a PPR league and have no other options he might be worth a look but Minnesota is 4th in the NFL in yards per game allowed and have surrendered only 3 rushing touchdowns all year.
MARSHAWN LYNCH – Questionable with a shoulder injury, Lynch is already a shaky start. Add that to the fact that the Bills play a solid run defense in Miami and you have a fantasy dud in week 12.
DUSTIN KELLER – With Mark Sanchez up and down season it’s hard to know what to expect out of any of his targets. Keller has shown some potential this year but don’t look for much this week against an unfavorable Carolina matchup.
JOSH FREEMAN – Freeman looked shaky last week for the first time since he burst onto the scene with a 3 touchdown performance against the Packers. This week though, he attacks an Atlanta secondary that ranks near the bottom in yards per game and touchdown given up. Atlanta should win this game but Freeman could be good for a couple of touchdowns and a bunch of yards.
FELIX JONES – If your stretched thin at RB this week Jones could be a good start. Oakland run defense is soft and has been susceptible to the big play, and there’s not many in the league with Jones’ big play potential.
JAMAAL CHARLES – Charles has been solid since replacing Larry Johnson after his suspension. Last week owners who had the guts to start him against a stout Steelers run defense were rewarded with a receiving touchdown and some hard earned yards (Charles also took a KO to the house). This week he has a better matchup against San Diego and look for the Chiefs to keep this game a little closer with Charles getting used as a rusher and receiver.
ANTONIO BRYANT – Bryant returned to action last week and modestly had 3 receptions for 40 yards as rookie Josh Freeman struggled with his accuracy. Bryant can expect a few more targets as Tampa Bay’s most reliable receiver while the Buc’s try and keep up with a very capable Falcons offense.
MICHEAL CRABTREE – After a big second half against the Packers the 49ers would be foolish to at least not play some of the game in a similar shotgun style offense against the Jaguars. The pass defense is not a good and Alex Smith seems to be coming into himself these days.
JERMICHEAL FINLEY – Its hard to put too many weapons from one team on these lists, but the Packers are playing a Lions team that gave up 37 points to the Browns! Finley lead the team in receptions in his first week back and has clearly become a safety blanket of sorts for Rodgers. With lots of red zone opportunities to go around this week, Finley will get his looks and could be in for a big day.