- Rick Paulas
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Last week, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. One of my teams had the unfortunate occurrence of having most of my elite players unavailable, nursing their wounds on a bye week. Instead of my usual starting lineup of Peyton Manning, Lawrence Maroney, Brandon Jacobs and Reggie Wayne, I had to scan the waiver wire for replacements, eventually settling on Jake Delhomme, Le'Ron McClain, Tim Hightower and Robert Meachum. An ideal situation it was not, but as Chief Grady says in Super Troopers, "Desperation is a stinky cologne."
With my Massive Bye Week out of the way, I thought I'd take this opportunity to let you in on what I learned this past week. (Lesson #1: Don't play against Brett Favre when he throws six TDs. That one's free.) Seeing as each league is an entirely different can of worms, I tried to keep the advice wide-reaching. Also, please feel free to substitute the words "drink heavily" in the middle of (or in place of) the following advice: if your week was anything like mine, you're going to need it.
Just as the default follow-up question to any fantasy baseball-related query is "Do they play in Colorado?" the football equivalent has become "Are they playing the Broncos?" For whatever reason, this year's version of the Flyin' Mike Shanahans seem to be taking their defensive cues from Steve Nash; they're currently 2nd-to-last in defending the pass, giving up a whopping 276 yards a game through the air. And don't look for this to go down anytime soon. Their opponents will more often than not be playing from behind since the Broncos are averaging a league-high 33.2 points a game, forcing them to pass. Think of it as a corollary to the Kitna Rule, which states that Jon Kitna is a quality fantasy player because his team is awful. Note: if that QB happens to already be on a roster, why not give Ol' Neckbeard Orton a try? He should easily be available in any league, and the Bears seem to finally trust him. A little.
Since RBs are more sought after than stock in Campbell's Soup these days, you're going to have to suck it up, cross your fingers, close your eyes and aim for the enormous specimens of man known as "Touchdown Vultures." Claim someone like Michael Pittman (4 TDs in only 23 carries), Tim Hightower (3 TDs on 29 carries) or the massive T.J. Duckett (3 TDs on 21 carries) and just hope their respective offenses sputter near the one-inch line. (Bonus: did you know Duckett played QB in high school at roughly the same size? Sick.) If those guys are already claimed, take the fullback with the most intimidating grimace on his profile photo.
As we approach the quarter-mark of the season, quality receivers are tough to find. The sleepers at the beginning of the year are either firmly on a roster after proving themselves worthy of the hype (Lee Evans, on pace for 1328 yards) or in need of extra hibernation on the waivers and not worth picking up (Ted Ginn, Jr., only 75 yards so far). But there are still some high risk-high reward possibilities out there. Every season, a few rookies seemingly come out of nowhere to make an immediate impact; maybe they've just been focused on learning the playbook thus far. If you're desperate, roll the dice on someone like Redskins WR Devin Thomas, a first round pick in an offense suddenly firing on all cylinders. Or the Bills' James Hardy, who the team drafted specifically because his 6-5 height is an asset in the red zone. And if you like rookie gusto—and honestly, who doesn't?—give the Rams' Donnie Avery a try. Last week he made, and followed through, on a touchdown guarantee. Good to see rookies making guarantees! No? Nevermind.
The main thing to keep in mind when talking about the beefier catch-receivers is the fact that, once you get away from the top tier, it's a bit of a crap shoot—emphasis on crap. Luckily, that allows us a moment to play armchair psychologist. For obvious reasons, young quarterbacks tend to rely on their tight ends more than veteran signal callers; they're more apt to play it safe and check down until they get comfortable. This means that someone like the Raiders' Zach Miller (who caught a 63-yard TD from youngster JaMarcus Russell last week) is ideal. Other possibilities include the Patriots' Ben Watson, whose knee should be healthier after last week's bye, or the Packers' Donald Lee, especially if Aaron Rodgers' shoulder problems force Matt Flynn into action.
Three simple steps to bye week kicking success: (1) find out who's playing in a dome, (2) get baptized into every religion, and (3) pray to every deity available. That's really all you can do. The only real advice I'll offer is to suggest that you drop any kicker you have on a bye to make room for the new one. Having two kickers on your squad, at any time of the year, just looks funny.
This is the position that's easiest to field by using a week-to-week strategy, focusing solely on matchups. That said, pay extra attention to teams going up against the AFC North, a division that currently boasts four of the bottom eight teams in yards per game.
Player On My Team of the Week: Titans defensive end Albert Haynesworth, in what will possibly be the only time a defensive player is mentioned here. Mr. Painsworth had himself a day against the Vikings, accumulating six tackles along with two sacks. That kind of production led to eight points in my league's scoring system, the equivalent of a bonus 20-yard TD. Oh, Albert.
How to Heckle One Of My Players of the Week: "Hey Vernon Davis, remember how, years ago, people thought you were the next 'freak of nature' to come along and completely change the way tight ends were used? Maybe they meant you were going to revolutionize the position by never catching a pass!"
Steven Seagal Badass Move of the Week: Greg LeNoir of Islamorada, Florida, who showed "nature's most efficient killing machine" who's the real master of the world after he dove into the ocean to save his dog from certain death by repeatedly punching a 5-foot shark with his bare hands.
Buy High: General crime stats in Cincinnati, after the Bengals decided to end their half-assed effort of "cleaning up their image" by following up their Chris Henry resigning by signing mad drunk boater Cedric Benson, who can't even excuse his police record with the claim that he's talented.
Sell Low: The re-emergence of Steve Bartman. The guess here is that he'll remain in the shadows, hoping someone else will be around to take the blame for the inevitable Cubs meltdown.
Rick Paulas is a weekly contributor to ESPNtheMag.com, and maintains a personal site at RickPaulas.com.
How to set your team when you're battered by the bye.