Gurney's Inn
November 22, 2006

Fantasy Sports

It's Crunch Time!

As we head into Week 12, it's time to make a truthful assessment of whether you have a playoff-quality team, and if you do, plan accordingly.

That means looking ahead to Weeks 15,16 and 17, the last three weeks of NFL football but the playoffs in Fantasy Football.

The difference, as savvy Fantasy Football veterans know, is that for some NFL teams that are bound for the REAL playoffs, the last few games of the regular season may be used to rest key or injured players to get them ready for the Super Bowl push.

On the other hand, some teams that have been eliminated from the Super Bowl race may use the last games of the regular season to get some experience for younger players. If teams have free agents they are going to lose, chances are their back-ups will get more playing time as well.

Last season, Indianapolis infuriated -many a fantasy player by resting their explosive offensive players for the last two weeks of the season. Guess what? The Colts are 9-1, and once again looking like they will clinch early. That means if you're riding the Peyton Manning-Reggie Wayne-Marvin Harrison train, you better have a plan. Other teams that may be resting key players include The Giants, The Bears, San Diego and New England.

One thing you can do is pick up quality back-ups from these teams now. For example, Michael Turner, the San Diego running back behind L. Tomlinson in San Diego, is an excellent play if he starts in Week 16 or 17. Jim Sorgi, Manning's backup, is an excellent quarterback who might put up big numbers. The Colts also have two excellent second tier receivers — Brandon Stokely and Terrence Wilkins. And Brandon Jacobs, who is second on the RB depth chart for the Giants behind Tiki Barber, is a monster.

Another thing you can do is trade some of your studs who play on the above teams for players whose teams will probably need to win games down the stretch to qualify for the playoffs. Bubble teams include Dallas, Atlanta, New Orleans, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Seattle and New Orleans. In other words, you sacrifice a little production now but come out ahead in the long run.

One trick I've used over the years with a lot of success is to survey the coming free agent market — guys who won't be returning to their present clubs. If the team has fallen out of the race, it won't be long until coaches start thinking about next year. That means benching the free-agent-to-be and letting his backup play. One team that fits the bill is Green Bay, whose running back, Ahman Green, will be a free agent. Possibly with that in mind, the Pack traded for Vernand Morency earlier in the season. If and when they fall out of the race, the guess here the kid will get a long look and he's a runner, though he tends to fumble.

Another way to boost your team now for the days ahead is to pick up the back-ups of players who have a history of injuries. Fred Taylor, the Jacksonville running back, is having an excellent season, but it seems he gets injured every year. His back-up, Maurice Jones-Drew, has shown signs of greatness. Finally, Michael Vick is a running quarterback, and that means an inviting target. His backup, Matt Schaub, is considered one of the best second string QBs in the game. He might be worth a roll of the dice.

Getting back to crunch time, if you are 6-5, you need to roll the table. If you are 5-6, you 're probably done — it is very difficult to make up deficits in Internet leagues, because players seem to lose interest when they drop out of the race and stop paying attention. Don't do that, and don't let other players in your league do it! If a team ahead of you is playing a team that has a couple holes in its lineup, e-mail the owner, nicely explain you are trying to make the playoffs, and ask him to please insert players where he has blanks.

HINT: you might even offer to trade him a player you don't need.

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