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NFL Fantasy Football Lister Week 6: If you’re hungry for a hike in gains, feast on the defenseless

By Marc Hardin
NKyTribune contributor

I’ve always been intensely interested in mavericks. Not so much Mark Cuban’s basketball team in Dallas or characters played by James Garner in the old TV show and Mel Gibson in the film update. But real live mavericks who are unorthodox, independent-minded and original.

These include some personal favorites such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Emily Dickinson, George Patton, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Bjork, and bands like Parliament/Funkadelic and Van Halen. And lesser-known vindicated mavericks who at first were reviled for their crackpottery, brilliant minds such as astronomer A. E. Douglass (tree rings), inventor Robert Goddard (rocket-powered spaceships), innovator John Logie Baird (television camera) and whoever the first person was who theorized the existence of oft-denied ball lightning (I hope they figure it out so I can admire them, too).

This fascination extends to fantasy sports and fantasy football. Throughout my years playing these crazy games, I’ve run across maverick writers such as Daniel Okrent, Alex Patton and John Benson, and newer experts like Sean Koerner of The Action Network and FFChamps’ Bill Enright, who provide some of the most accurate weekly football rankings using standard scoring settings. I even learned about a familiar writer who played an early form of fantasy sports, a guy you might have heard of named Jack Kerouac, who played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention well before the advent of Rotisserie baseball.

When true geniuses like some of these appear in this world, you may know them by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against them. Jonathan Swift, a maverick writer, once said something like that.

A MODEST PROPOSAL

In my fantasy sports readings from long ago, I ran into a gonzo writer whose name I have forgotten. It’s bugged me because he had, at the time, an original idea — incorporate opposing defensive statistics into weekly fantasy analysis. The idea at first was pooh-poohed by other supposed experts before eventually becoming a standard method. I hope I figure out who it was or it’ll bug me like my last long-standing pre-Internet stumper: Who’s the former part-time Nitty Gritty Dirt band singer who sang lead on both Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” and Jefferson Starship’s “Jane”? (it’s Mickey Thomas).

Tyler Boyd, Bengals

Anyway, this unhinged writer from my post-college days in Chicago advised me to pull a reverse in one of his newsletters that I would pick up off the floor even in the entryway to Tower Records and read cover to cover at Demon Dogs, a North Side hot dog stand under elevated tracks that played only music by the band Chicago. He said pay attention to the bottom of the NFL team statistics, not the top of the individual offensive stats when evaluating the prospects of fantasy football players. I liked it because it appealed to the contrarian in me. This dude was telling me to zig when everybody else is zagging. Again, we’re talking about what is now standard practice. Back then in the nascent stages of the game, it was as new as Grunge.

Since then, I’ve always found reverse rankings helpful. And I propose that you be aware of them especially when weighing roster decisions, sizing up trade targets and navigating the byes when you need an extra scouting tool to help you unearth some outside-the-box producers during leaner weeks. It’s also right about now when you can make some safer assumptions about certain statistical trends, now that we’re getting close to having serviceable sample sizes.

BOTTOMS UP!

With five weeks of action in the books, we’ll be at or near the halfway point of NFL schedules in three more weeks. Already, some teams are starting to show their true colors on defense. In the list below, upcoming opponents are listed in parenthesis so you can see future opportunities for your team and available free agents who may be due for an eruption.

Net Passing Yards Per Game — The Bottom 12:

Tampa Bay 358 (Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Carolina)
Kansas City 343 (New England, Cincinnati, Denver, Cleveland)
New Orleans 298 (Baltimore, Minnesota, LA Rams, Cincinnati)
Pittsburgh 296 (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Carolina)
Indianapolis 283 (NY Jets, Buffalo, Oakland, Jacksonville)
Cleveland 281 (LA Chargers, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City)
Carolina 281 (Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Tampa Bay)
Minnesota 279 (Arizona, NY Jets, New Orleans, Detroit)
Atlanta 277 (Tampa Bay, NY Giants, Washington, Cleveland)
Oakland 277 (Seattle, Indianapolis, San Francisco, LA Chargers)
Philadelphia 277 (NY Giants, Carolina, Jacksonville, Dallas)
Cincinnati 277 (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, New Orleans)

A handful of these teams — perhaps the Steelers, maybe the Bengals and possibly the Vikings — will improve on defense, maybe to the point that their overall league rankings become somewhat deceptive. But many of them, especially Tampa Bay and Kansas City, will remain more or less where they are, closer to the bottom than the top. This, in theory, has the potential to create more offensive opportunities for their upcoming opponents, who enjoy better odds of lighting up the sky against high-yield defenses than stingier ones.

Andy Dalton

This would seem to portend multiple weeks of potential passing and receiving success particularly in Carolina, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Tampa Bay, who appear multiple times as upcoming opponents against bad passing defenses. Those four teams are also on the list of main offenders, promising some potentially high-yardage games in the coming weeks for possible free-agent quarterback finds such as Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton (owned in just half of leagues nationally), Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield (owned in 40 percent of leagues) and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston (owned in just 15 percent), not to mention heavily-owned Cam Newton of Carolina.

Likewise, if you get in a jam with a dearth of available receivers on your roster over the next few weeks, you might be able to get some decent yardage and/or a touchdown from some of these normally non-recommended free agents who are available in most 12-team leagues: Jarius Wright, Torrey Smith (Carolina); John Ross, Alex Erickson (Cincinnati); Antonio Calloway (Cleveland); Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries (Tampa Bay). Lightly owned pass-catching backs such as Cleveland’s Duke Johnson (50 percent) and Tampa Bay’s Jacquizz Rodgers (virtually unowned) might also deserve at least a cursory look.

UP FOR THE DOWN STROKE

Going to the ground, here are the leakiest defenses against the run with upcoming opponents in parenthesis. You don’t need a flashlight to see these bad boys.

Rushing Yards Per Game — The Bottom 12:

Detroit 145.8 (Miami, Seattle, Minnesota, Chicago)
Arizona 142.4 (Minnesota, Denver, San Francisco, Kansas City)
Denver 139.6 (LA Rams, Arizona, Kansas City, Texas)
Seattle 129 (Oakland, Detroit, LA Chargers, LA Rams)
Oakland 127.2 (Seattle, Indianapolis, San Francisco, LA Chargers)
New York Giants 124.4 (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, San Francisco)
Tennessee 123.2 (Baltimore, LA Chargers, Dallas, New England)
Atlanta 121.4 (Tampa Bay, NY Giants, Washington, Cleveland)
Kansas City 118.8 (New England, Cincinnati, Denver, Cleveland)
Cincinnati 118.2 (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, New Orleans)
Cleveland 116.6 (LA Chargers, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City)
New England 114 (Kansas City, Chicago, Buffalo, Green Bay)

Don’t miss out on a running back going up against the Lions, Cardinals and Broncos. Stay up on Dalvin Cook’s status in Minnesota because if he stays hurt, Latavius Murray has a chance to be a bop gun this month. Get down with San Francisco runners Matt Breida and Alfred Morris. Same with Kansas City’s Mr. Wiggles, Kareem Hunt. Chiefs backup back Spencer Ware, a free-agent everywhere, might hit on a big run or snag a fluke TD or two in the coming weeks. Tampa Bay’s Ronald Jones might finally have a chance to break out. Tear the roof off with Seattle’s Mike Davis. He’s available in more than 80 percent of leagues.

IF 6 WAS 9

Let’s turn the scoring rankings upside down and see which defenses are castles made of sand, with upcoming opponents in parenthesis.

Points Per Game Defense — The Bottom 15:

Tampa Bay 34.8 (Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Carolina)
Atlanta 32.6 (Tampa Bay, NY Giants, Washington, Cleveland)
Oakland 29.8 (Seattle, Indianapolis, San Francisco, LA Chargers)
San Francisco 29.2 (Green Bay, LA Rams, Arizona, Oakland)
New Orleans 28.0 (Baltimore, Minnesota, LA Rams, Cincinnati)
Indianapolis 27.6 (NY Jets, Buffalo, Oakland, Jacksonville)
Detroit 27.4 (Miami, Seattle, Minnesota, Chicago)
Pittsburgh 26.6 (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Carolina)
Denver 26.2 (LA Rams, Arizona, Kansas City, Texas)
Minnesota 26.2 (Arizona, NY Jets, New Orleans, Detroit)
Cincinnati 26.0 (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, New Orleans)
LA Chargers 26.0 (Cleveland, Tennessee, Seattle, Oakland)
Kansas City 25.8 (New England, Cincinnati, Denver, Cleveland)
New York Giants 25.6 (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, San Fran)
Houston 24.8 (Buffalo, Jacksonville, Miami, Denver)

With all the sieve-like defenses coming up, things look real good for Bengals and Browns over the next four weeks. I hope you kept believing in Cincinnati’s Tyler Boyd and Cleveland’s Carlos Hyde, not to mention Oakland’s Marshawn Lynch and Arizona’s suddenly surging David Johnson. Don’t sell on any of these players. Maybe you’ll start believing again in Andy Dalton who looks primed to feast on the defenseless. If you still don’t have Dalton and you need a QB, be bold as love and go get him.

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