Commentary

Best of the Blogs: Using recent news to outsmart your opponents

Updated: October 15, 2008, 4:18 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

I like chess, but I consider myself an average player.

I grew up playing it against my brothers, my grandma and amateur classmates, and I'd win almost all the time. Frankly, I thought I was pretty good, until I got to college. Within minutes of my first game against someone on campus, I was humbled.

You see, I tried my patented early move, putting the bishop into attack position on the edge, and my friendly opponent gave me a "I know what you're trying to do you sure you really wanna do that?" Um, this definitely wasn't grandma.

The same applies to fantasy football. When you first start a league, and you know that, say, half of your league mates are first-time fantasy players, you can pull that "bishop move" -- such as trading away a slumping player and getting good value for him, or trying to sneak an injured player off your roster via trade -- and get away with it. But if you join a league with savvy owners or experienced players, they see right through it. They look at each attempt and sniff out what you're trying to pull by them. They see the bishop being put in attack position, so to speak.

And so you have to learn to "counter" their genius and use it against them in trades. You have to outsmart the smart, so to speak. Here are five basic "bishop moves," many of them knee-jerk reactions based on in-week fantasy news and happenings, that smart fantasy owners see right through:

1. Downplaying a recent injury: Your quarterback just got hurt Sunday, but the extent of his injury is not yet known, so you try to downplay it and see what an owner will give you for him. That might have worked against the guy who doesn't actually read NFL news or watch the games, but 90 percent of owners are going to figure out why you're trying so hard to deal your guy early in the week before playing the safe route and waiting for more info on his injury. You just have to hang on to the injured.

2. The free-agent pickup, then trade: "Hey, didn't you just pick up that guy?" Yeah, owners hate it when you beat them to someone on the waiver wire and then try to trade that guy to 'em.

3. Trading a player who has slumped for two or three games: Yeah, his value is low, and fantasy owners know that. The best strategy is to wait for him to have a good game, and then trade him.

4. Trading an injured player: Tony Romo is hurt, so you deal him. You think you're really going to get what you deserve for him? That's exactly the time not to deal him because fantasy owners know his value is at rock bottom.

5. Seeking bye-week replacements via trade: You might consider those guys one-week fill-ins, but an owner knows they're yours for the remainder of the season. You'd rather pay for one week and just pick up someone off the waiver wire if you have a hole to fill.

Now let's get to the news and see if we can incorporate some of these strategies throughout.

Roy Williams joins already-crowded offensive force | Read full blog entry

"From Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd: If wide receiver Roy Williams isn't already a top-tier player, he's well on his way to getting there. ... Moreover, a return to his native Texas (where he also played in college) and the jump to a contender should sweeten his attitude, which had soured in Detroit. Williams won't put up flashy numbers immediately, and maybe not at all while Terrell Owens is in Dallas. But his effect on the Cowboys' offense could be immediate. He can be very effective on the quick slants, deep posts, deep takeoffs and shallow crossing routes in coordinator Jason Garrett's scheme. Defenses that recently had gotten results out of pressing Owens at the line and rolling a safety over the top no longer can double T.O. without a second thought. The new lineup will force opponents to pick their poison: Owens, Witten or Williams." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: Williams is a fit in the Dallas system, but so are Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Marion Barber and the currently injured Felix Jones. Let's cut right to the chase: Williams' real-life value jumps because he joins a contender and is rejuvenated; he'll be getting a lot of attention this week. But his fantasy value doesn't increase, and that's what matters here. The bishop move would be to trade for him now, while the savvy move would be to use this positive news about your disappointing player to trade him away.

Cassel safe as Pats' starting QB | Read full blog entry

"Don't expect the Patriots to make a quarterback switch any time soon. On a conference call Tuesday, coach Bill Belichick tersely responded when asked if he remained confident in Matt Cassel. 'Yes,' was Belichick's full reply. Later: 'Matt is our starting quarterback,' Belichick said. 'He gives our team the best chance to win. We all have to play better and coach better than we did last week. We have to do a better job than we did against San Diego. But he's our quarterback.'" -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: And there you have it. Cassel hasn't been effective against a rather soft schedule, leading me to believe maybe Tom Brady was a much bigger reason that offense was so effective. The "amateur owner" likely is ready to give up, but I'm not. You figure Cassel will get more comfortable in the Pats' offense each week, and the team still has plenty of favorable matchups ahead. And the weapons are still there for him. You picked him up as a backup, right? So treat him that way. Sit him down and wait for him to show upside. Unless, that is, you need a starter for this week because of injuries/byes (the Pats host Denver, which isn't a bad matchup).

Colts trade for McCargo | Read full blog entry

"The Colts deserve credit for making a move to add a veteran who might be able to help them better stop the run. There were rumblings back in training camp that the Bills were looking to move John McCargo, a defensive tackle my AFC East colleague Tim Graham said developed a reputation in Buffalo for being uninterested in working to be great. McCargo was the 26th pick overall in 2006 out of North Carolina State. Indianapolis acquired him for a fourth-round pick, according to the NFL Network." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: Hey, it's an upgrade, and the Colts need help stopping the run, as they're 29th in the league against it. McCargo won't help much, but combined with, say, Bob Sanders' return in a few weeks, this unit could be fantasy start-worthy once again.

"Perfectly healthy" Kitna placed on IR | Read full blog entry

"We should start with Jon Kitna's comments to Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press. Kitna confirmed what many have thought all along: That he does have a back injury, but it's not season-ending. Kitna said he was treated as a 'cancer' because he pointed out some of the Lions' offensive flaws, that the team wouldn't let him travel to Minnesota last weekend and that he couldn't talk Rod Marinelli into letting him play. 'On Friday they said you're not going on the trip [to Minnesota] even though I was perfectly healthy on Friday, which is the norm with back spasms for me. ... Then they said they were gonna look at three possibilities. One, wait a couple weeks to see how my back responds. Two, put me on IR. Three, try and trade me." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Soap-opera stuff here, but the guess here is that the Lions were looking for any reason to bench/rid themselves of Kitna, and Kitna's "talk" with Marinelli was the scapegoat. The bigger reason Kitna is not playing now was that he's truly just an average NFL quarterback and is not the future of this offense. I think, based on things I've read in Detroit, the Lions consider Drew Stanton, and not Dan Orlovsky, to be that guy, and I'd bet he's starting before the end of the season. Deep keeper-league owners should get a look at Stanton when they can.

Bills injury updates | Read full blog entry

"Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com reports receiver and return man Roscoe Parrish will practice at full speed Wednesday, three weeks after thumb surgery. ... Buffalo News reporter Milt Northrup writes quarterback Trent Edwards should start Sunday's game against the Chargers." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: We kind of expected Edwards (concussion) back after the bye anyway, so that's no surprise. He's back practicing and everything. As for Parrish, his value comes in the form of his punt returns. He's one of the league's best there, so his return ups the value of the Bills' defense/special teams.

Walker likely to miss Week 8 | Read full blog entry

"Mike Walker was admitted to a hospital Sunday to have a knee infection treated, and he will likely miss the first game after the [Week 7] bye, writes Garry Smits [of the Florida Times-Union]." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: A little early to rule him out, but don't expect him to take advantage of a cushy matchup versus the Browns in Week 8 from your flex spot. On the plus side for the Jags, it does look as though defensive back Reggie Nelson will return in Week 8.

Johnson takes over in Dallas | Read full blog entry

"It's been nearly two years since we saw Brad Johnson start an NFL game. On the occasion of his ascendance to fill-in starter for the Dallas Cowboys, it's worth noting the last team he started for: the 2006 Minnesota Vikings. I covered that team and found Johnson's year to be one of the more surprising failures I have witnessed. On a professional level, Johnson and coach Brad Childress were not a good match -- a turn of events I never expected from two devotees of the West Coast offense. As a result, Johnson fell from the team's unquestioned starter to the third string. Johnson and Childress mutually agreed to part ways after he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes (nine) for only the third time in his 17-year career." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: The initial reaction I and most everyone else had when Johnson was named the starter (in place of Tony Romo) was simply to write him off. There again, that's the amateur prediction, and to you people, I have to ask this question: Was Romo the only reason that offense was so good? Absolutely not. Romo would hit Terrell Owens on a slant, and T.O. would go for 35 yards. Romo would connect with Jason Witten on a 5-yard out, Witten would break a tackle and turn it into 15 yards. A hitch out of the backfield to Barber ... Am I the only one who thinks Brad Johnson has value, even starting value, surrounded by the weapons he has, especially this week against the Rams? If I were a Romo owner, and I am in a few leagues, I'd have no problem plugging in Johnson in Romo's spot. He might not put up amazing stats, but he'll get his numbers throwing to receivers who currently rank third in the league in yards after catch.

Bears' defensive secondary decimated by injuries | Read full blog entry

"The Bears' secondary finished Sunday's 22-20 loss in Atlanta with two healthy cornerbacks, and coach Lovie Smith couldn't say for sure how many of those who are injured will be ready for next Sunday's game against Minnesota. The status of Charles Tillman (shoulder), Danieal Manning (hamstring) and Trumaine McBride (shoulder) seems completely up in the air; if anything, it appears Tillman will have a tough time getting on to the field. The Bears almost certainly will need to push cornerback Nathan Vasher (wrist) back on the field after a two-game absence. Vasher would join Corey Graham and Marcus Hamilton as Chicago's healthy cornerbacks." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Fortunately, the Bears host the Vikings' 16th-ranked pass offense, and not the Cardinals, Broncos or Saints. But Gus Frerotte, Bernard Berrian and maybe even Visanthe Shiancoe look a little better this week with the Bears' secondary hurting.

Jones suspension further depletes Dallas backfield | Read full blog entry

"The suspension of cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones is a blow to the Cowboys' secondary, which already is missing cornerback Terence Newman and safety Roy Williams. However, it is not a knockout punch if defensive coordinator Brian Stewart plays his cards right." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: It would be easy to look at the Cowboys' defensive backfield losses and figure them now as weak against the pass. But linemen and linebackers are part of a pass defense, too, and the Cowboys are still pretty strong in those areas. Sure, their defense is not one of the league's best with Anthony Henry and Mike Jenkins now playing key roles, but it's not going to be a unit to pick on, either.

Fitzpatrick not a good fit in Bengals offense | Read full blog entry

"Bengals backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick showed some improvement in a loss to the Jets, but it's going to be extremely difficult for them to win games with him under center. Cincinnati's offense is built around a deep-ball pocket passer. Fitzpatrick is the exact opposite. He tries to make a lot of plays with his feet and his longest completion against New York was for 16 yards." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: Good stuff there. The strategy to take here if you're a T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Chad Johnson owner is to wait until either one has that one good game and then pawn him off on name value alone. Unless Carson Palmer returns to form, of course, but it sounds as though his elbow injury could be troublesome all year. It's not likely T.J. or Ocho Cinco will perform up to his name value, but there's always someone out there who feels they will eventually.

Hasselbeck's back contributing to knee problems | Read full blog entry

"The Seahawks found out Matt Hasselbeck's back injury was contributing to his knee problems, and the quarterback will probably miss another week. Receiver Deion Branch could return from a heel injury." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: Hmm, now knowing that, maybe one week is a little generous. Tell you what: I had Hasselbeck and Kurt Warner (on a bye this week) in one league, and I had no choice but to cut the Seahawks quarterback to get another signal-caller.

Porter out of favor in Jacksonville | Read full blog entry

"Something fishy is going on with the Jaguars and Jerry Porter, speculates Cole Pepper [from WOKV.com]." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: As Pepper notes, Porter played briefly Sunday in Denver, then appeared to be benched for the rest of the day. And on Monday, coach Jack Del Rio said Porter was healthy and even said in his Monday news conference, according to The Associated Press, that "he's just not a major part of our plans right now." My guess is that Porter has been wearing out his welcome and doesn't fit in with the team. Porter tends to be a me-first player, and he has ranted a little about his situation to the local press. Considering the depth the Jaguars have at receiver, they can afford to phase him out (or never really include him). With no relief in sight, it appears you Porter owners can cut your man. Sorry, doesn't look as if that return to stardom will happen for him in Jacksonville.

Torain still a sleeper | Read full blog entry

"Michael Pittman will be the Broncos' short-term answer at tailback in light of his 109-yard rushing performance Sunday in a loss at Jacksonville. Pittman has given Denver a tough presence. Still, watch for Denver to give rookie Ryan Torain a chance to be a primary rusher when he returns, likely sometime next month." -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: In a sense, Selvin Young's injury and Andre Hall's ineffectiveness have led to an urgency for Torain to return. Although his owners, if they're savvy, probably won't sell him off on the cheap, now would be a good time for you to get him.

Peterson's fumbles concern Vikes | Read full blog entry

"Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson could become a target of defensive players if he continues fumbling, Vikings coach Brad Childress told reporters Monday." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Let's put this into perspective and not take that knee-jerk reaction. Peterson has three fumbles this season, and all three have been in his past three games. That's really not that many; Larry Johnson has just as many fumbles in far fewer carries, and Chris Perry has two more fumbles. Anyway, the perception is that Peterson has been a disappointment as a top-three overall fantasy pick, but if you feel that way, then your expectations were unfair. He's averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and he's third in the league in rushing. Now is not the time to trade Peterson to help you in other places. You want to have him when he has those one or two huge days that are near inevitable.

Peyton admits to not one but two knee surgeries | Read full blog entry

"Peyton Manning admitted to CBS' Phil Simms that his summer knee issues included not one surgery, but two. Colts coach Tony Dungy confirmed that. The rumor of a second surgery had floated around pretty heavily. Like a lot of people, I never had any luck confirming it and was never in position to ask him about it directly. Kudos to Mike Lombardi, of nationalfootballpost.com, who was first to report it, sometime ago. Kudos to Simms for getting it confirmed from Manning himself. I know those who cover the team in Indianapolis on a daily basis asked the quarterback about it and asked team officials about it repeatedly. Manning and the organization didn't lie, they evaded the question. Once when he was asked directly about it, Manning deemed it irrelevant." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: Wow. So this is water under the bridge at this point, since Manning does appear back in form, but it does explain his first-month struggles, especially his high sack total. He was struggling to move around, which impacted his game. If anything, this news makes me want to throw out the stats from his first three games before his Week 4 bye. If you do that, his numbers become 259 pass yards per game in his past two games, with five touchdowns versus one interception. And one of those games was versus the Ravens. Factoring in his season-long stats would be the bishop move here; I see big things from him going forward.

How good has Hightower been? | Read full blog entry

"Tim Hightower has averaged 3.0 yards per carry this season. No running back can keep a starting job with that type of average. Hightower isn't a starter, though, so we shouldn't measure him as one. We need to look at him situationally. Of the NFL backs with at least six carries on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, Hightower has a league-leading 10 rushes in these situations. He has converted every one of these situations." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: And that's why the Cardinals trust him in such situations, and why Hightower is so valuable in touchdown-heavy leagues. So keep him, right? Not so fast. How often will you start Hightower from here on out? The bye weeks are done after Week 10, and I'd guess -- unless injuries have decimated you -- that you have two or even three reliable yardage backs at your disposal. Hightower's touchdowns are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and his yardage numbers will be low. That makes him a tough guy to justify starting unless bye weeks or injuries warrant it. So what I'm saying is Hightower would be more valuable on another person's team if you have depth at running back, and he might net you, say, a No. 2 or 3 WR who would upgrade your roster, but not at the expense of any players in your usual starting lineup.

The Browns' offense is back! A look at some numbers | Read full blog entry

"The Browns employed a confidence-boosting game plan in a 35-14 win over the Giants to get quarterback Derek Anderson going. According to our tremendous research department, all nine of Anderson's passes in the first quarter were under 15 yards, which set up the deep ball later in the game. Anderson's longest completion was to Braylon Edwards for 79 yards on a play-action pass in the second quarter. Also, Edwards was extremely efficient in his production. He was thrown to just six times but had five catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. Edwards also broke tackles and had 81 total yards after contact, which included a slant route where he broke the tackle attempt of Giants cornerback Aaron Ross and turned it into a 49-yard reception." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: Yeah, that sounds more like Anderson and Edwards -- short passes, long gains. Obviously, it was just one week after many subpar ones, but I for one feel it's the beginning of good things to come for the Browns' passing game. If you disagree, maybe you can show off your strategic sense and look to trade the two guys, just as I talked about in No. 3 above.

Texans' D not necessarily favorable for kickers | Read full blog entry

"Place-kickers shouldn't count on any chip shots against the Texans since they've allowed a touchdown 15 of 16 times (93.8 percent) inside the red zone. The one stop came in overtime, when the Jaguars kicked a game-winning field goal. There is a huge gap between Houston and the next-worst red zone defense, Jacksonville (72.2 percent)." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: So the Texans might be favorable for your offensive players to play against, but they aren't for your kickers. In fact, they've allowed the most extra-point attempts in the NFL but are tied for the second fewest in field-goal attempts, with only seven allowed in five games.

Brees having record-setting season? | Read full blog entry

"Some very interesting numbers from the good folks in our research department on what New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has done so far. In terms of passing yardage, Brees is ahead of the pace Dan Marino was on through six games of his record-setting (5,084 yards) season in 1984. Brees has 1,993 passing yards, while Marino had 1,753 yards six games into his 1984 season." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: And it's not as if Brees has receivers like Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. Heck, he has averaged 330 yards per game without Marques Colston in the lineup and 337.7 yards per game without Colston and Jeremy Shockey. Colston is due back this week, and maybe Shockey, too. No way this train stops here.

Cottam someone to watch down the road | Read full blog entry

"Perhaps no Kansas City player will benefit more from the Chiefs not trading [Tony] Gonzalez than Brad Cottam. Sure, Cottam would have played more this season if the Chiefs traded Gonzalez before the deadline. But Cottam will have plenty of time to play down the line. He will have limited time to learn from and watch Gonzalez, the greatest receiving tight end of all time. Kansas City drafted Cottam in the third round this year to be Gonzalez's eventual replacement. The early word on Cottam has been positive and Gonzalez has been complimentary of the 6-foot-7 Tennessee product." -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: Honestly, I've barely heard of this guy, but at least I (and now you) have his name on your radar should Gonzo head elsewhere this offseason.

Dolphins adding twists to Wildcat offense | Read full blog entry

"The 'Wildcat' is a fixture in the Dolphins' offense. Many debated whether they could continue to use the ploy in which running back Ronnie Brown takes a direct shotgun snap and either runs, hands off or throws. The Dolphins added some wrinkles Sunday. Chad Pennington connected with running back Patrick Cobbs on what could be described as a reverse flea-flicker (Brown handed off to Ricky Williams for an apparent sweep, but then he flipped the ball to Pennington for the heave). Williams also took his first direct snap." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: And Cobbs ends up with two touchdowns, the second and third of his career. You see, the offense isn't focused around Brown getting more touches, as many people believe. Its purpose is to confuse defenses as to what play might be coming, and it often results in the ball getting into multiple players' hands, unlike your typical quarterback-to-running back or quarterback-to-receiver approach. The problem is you have no idea who will be the star in any given play/week. In a general sense, though, Chad Pennington's valued is lessened by it, and Brown's value increases.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.

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