Commentary

Best of the Blogs: It's OK to 'play not to lose'

Updated: December 8, 2008, 12:36 AM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

"Play to win, rather than playing not to lose."

What does that old saying really mean, anyway? I mean, don't we fantasy owners always "play to win the game," as Herm Edwards would put it, and how is that different from playing not to lose? We maximize our rosters and start our best options. That's a given, right?

Clinton Portis
Geoff Burke/US PresswireAlthough Clinton Portis faces a tough matchup against the Ravens this week, it probably wouldn't be wise to bench him.
I guess if you read between the lines, it could mean that you make lineup selections conservatively rather than starting the highest-upside players. But you know what? I'm OK with playing conservatively in the fantasy playoffs. The highest-upside players also can be seen as the highest-downside players, and in most cases, I'd rather take a sure 12-14 points from my No. 2 back than rather than the guy who might score 17, but also might score 7. For instance, even though we've projected these guys differently, I'd start Clinton Portis (at Baltimore) or Joseph Addai rather than Derrick Ward this week.

There are no exceptions. Even if you're facing a powerhouse team and see no way you can win, you still should start your best, or safest, options. Let's face it: If this juggernaut team scores like it can, you're toast anyway. You need your opponent to have an average or worse day and a few of his studs to slip up, and you want to be right there to capitalize. In other words, if he's projected to score 115 points but somehow scores 85, you want to be the tortoise to his hare and have your rock-solid 93 points in the queue. There's nothing like seeing the favorite stumble its way to 85 points, and you limp in with 67 points because your high-upside players played more like high-downside players.

How does this pertain to the newsy "Best of the Blogs" column? Because the fantasy analysis "trade" will hit you hard and heavy this week with news of increased playing time for backups, or certain matchups that just have to be exploited, or stats that make a sleeper a "can't-miss." It's fantasy playoffs time for many of you, and I can tell you, at least here at ESPN Fantasy, we're not taking that lightly. It's not just any other week. But you need to keep things in perspective.

Merril Hoge will talk about a mismatch in the running game that will make an average back a great back. Matthew Berry will toss out a well-calculated sleeper option. You'll see news of key injuries -- or the suspensions of the Williams boys -- that should change a defensive front. Or you'll hear recitations of key stats, including how good a defense Tony Romo must go against this week. It's good information; these reporters and analysts are doing their jobs. But benching reliability for upside because of this is not prudent. I mean, if you can't decide between two guys, and Hoge's note helps you decide on one, great! Or if Berry's sleeper option is available on the waiver wire and you just happen to have a hole in your lineup, great!

But don't overreact to the news of this clutch week because losing with reliable options on your bench can make for an even longer offseason than just losing. And in case you haven't noticed, nobody cares about your excuses for losing.

Burress suspended | Read full blog entry

"The New York Giants have finally had enough of star receiver Plaxico Burress -- at least for the rest of the season. The organization suspended Burress for the final four games of the regular season and put him on the reserve non-football injury list. ... It's very likely that Burress has played his last down with the Giants. No matter how benevolent they sound right now, Burress has worn out his welcome in this organization. He's an immensely talented player who has no respect for authority. ... I still think the Giants can make it to the Super Bowl without Burress, but we're probably underestimating the impact his absence will make on the team during the playoffs. Domenik Hixon has emerged as a talented special teams player and improving receiver, but we'll see how he does when a defense gives him a lot more attention." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: Burress is done for the season; you can go ahead and cut him. But let's not go so far as to think he's done for good. I see him playing next year -- in New York or elsewhere -- and playing well. He now has a good eight-plus months to get his mind (and body) right, and if the nine-year veteran has any sense about what he's up against here, he'll do it. And he's still immensely talented when his head is on straight. I'm just saying not to discount him.

But Mosley's take on Hixon is more relevant and interesting right now than the Burress news. As in, everywhere I see fantasy owners and experts going all ga-ga over Hixon. Heck, I'm probably among that group, but should we be nuts about him? There's a reason half of us have never even heard of the guy before this season. He was the fifth receiver on the Giants, his second team in as many seasons, in 2007, and he came into the season with just one catch in those two seasons. We take Hixon because we expect Burress, but they just aren't the same talents. And the Giants have a run-first offense. Keep that in mind before you bench a decent flex-play option this week.

Ware, Barber updates | Read full blog entry

"Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News addresses health concerns for DeMarcus Ware and Marion Barber." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: Ware is getting treatment on his sprained knee and might take it easy in practice this week, but he expects to play. Barber might wear a plate on the bottom of his foot to protect his dislocated toe, is limping slightly and might held out of practice this week as a precaution, but he also expects to play this week. And as long as they are in the Cowboys' lineup, they should be in yours. Great players such as these two have a way of performing well despite injuries.

Schaub ready to return this week | Read full blog entry

"Matt Schaub is ready to resume work as the Texans' starting quarterback, says [the Houston Chronicle's] John McClain." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: According to McClain, Schaub will start against the Packers, barring a setback. And just when I was getting to like Sage Rosenfels. ... For what it's worth, I don't like Schaub's chances in a potential bad-weather game on the road against the league's fifth-best pass defense.

Peterson was limping | Read full blog entry

"Should we be worried about Adrian Peterson's health? Twice on Sunday night, Peterson limped to the sideline with an unidentified injury. He returned to the game both times and finished with 28 carries, but he now has rushed 270 times this season -- the second-most in the NFL. There are still four games left to play, in addition to any playoff appearance, and the Vikings will need to monitor Peterson's workload more closely over the stretch." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: An interesting note, and I, too, noticed Peterson wincing on the sidelines and checking out his leg. Very bothersome, but you'll be starting Peterson whether he receives 28 carries or eight carries.

Welker still dinged | Read full blog entry

"There hasn't been much news from New England about that hit on Wes Welker. We won't know until later in the week what Welker's status will be." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: As Graham said himself, it's shocking that the Pats are mum on Welker's status. In fact, we don't even know what Welker hurt on that big hit from Pittsburgh's Ryan Clark. But we do know his owners should be tracking this closely and should expect to start him as he plays at Seattle in Week 14 unless they hear otherwise.

Vikes lose three linemen? | Read full blog entry

"Get this: Minnesota actually lost three defensive linemen on Tuesday. In addition to the suspensions of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, which might be subject to a legal injunction, the Vikings won't have reserve defensive end Brian Robison for at least one week. ... Quick. Name the defensive tackles on Minnesota's roster (without Kevin Williams or Pat Williams). Give up? OK, here goes: Fred Evans, Ellis Wyms and Letroy Guion." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: If you saw the Vikes play Sunday night, you already know the loss of the Williams boys is a huge hit to the league's No. 2 run defense. That said, we probably won't see much impact this week versus the Lions (if either or both the Williams boys actually do sit). Adrian Peterson and the Vikes' running game likely will be all the defense the Vikes need to stop that running game.

Mathis done for the season | Read full blog entry

"Rashean Mathis didn't finish the game in Houston because of a knee injury." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: Mathis has since been placed on season-ending injured reserve with a sprained MCL, leaving NFL journeyman Drayton Florence in the starting gig. On a related note: Man, what a crappy defense. Look at that starting personnel and tell me the Jags still have an elite unit. They don't. I wouldn't go out of my way to target them, but this is no longer a defense I fear, Mathis or not. I definitely like Kyle Orton at home a little more this week.

Andrews not ready to return | Read full blog entry

"Shawn Andrews is back with the Eagles, but it might be a while before he's back in the lineup." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: Andrews has been out since Sept. 15 because of a back injury and eventual surgery, and although it hasn't been reported much, the Eagles have missed their two-time Pro Bowl guard. Donovan McNabb has been seeing a lot of pressure coming from the right side ... and he soon might see even more because Andrews' backup, Max Jean-Gilles, broke his right ankle against the Cardinals on Thursday. The team is left with distant backup Nick Cole at right guard against the mighty Giants and a defense that ranks fourth in the league in sacks. McNabb had a nice bounce-back game last week, but expecting the same performance from him isn't realistic, especially now that we know this. The previous time the Giants' linemen faced a distant backup against Philly, it didn't turn out so pretty. Winston Justice, anyone?

Seahawks facing injuries on offensive line | Read full blog entry

"Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sizes up the Seahawks' injury situation before checking in with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: Basically, starting center Chris Spencer is in danger of missing the remainder of the season because of a back problem, left guard Mike Wahle is in danger of missing a third game because of a shoulder problem, and even Pro Bowl left tackle has a leg injury that prevents him from practicing, but he'll start in Week 14. And just think, the Seahawks rank 31st in the league in total yards now. Sounds like things will get even uglier.

More injuries for Colts' D | Read full blog entry

"Injuries continue to pile up for the Colts. Linebacker Gary Brackett looks to be out at least a week and defensive tackle Keyunta Dawson will be gone longer than that, writes [the Indianapolis Star's] Phil Richards. Indy is hopeful Bob Sanders will play Sunday against Cincinnati, according to [the Terre Haute Tribune-Star's] Tom James." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: At least it appears that Sanders will be back, but if he gets hurt again, the team is really in trouble past the defensive line. The Colts have been bothered by defensive injuries this season, including the loss of Marlin Jackson. The Colts' D has held its own in recent weeks, but it's not a unit I fear, by any means. Then again, I doubt the Bengals can take advantage too much.

Atlanta's Jackson still could be suspended | Read full blog entry

"The Falcons just sent out a short press release in which they acknowledge a suspension for defensive tackle Grady Jackson remains a possibility. Six other players around the league were suspended Tuesday for using a banned substance." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: Jackson is an aging defensive lineman, but he's still a key part of that Falcons defense, and losing him would be a serious hit to the Falcons' run defense. Just keep that in mind should word come down.

Furrey placed on IR | Read full blog entry

"Lions receiver Mike Furrey (concussion) told several media outlets he was 'disappointed and upset' to be placed on injured reserve this week. Furrey insisted he would be ready to play soon and is the second Lions player, along with quarterback Jon Kitna, to indicate he was shelved for the season with a relatively mild injury. ... The Lions signed free agent receiver Keary Colbert." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Quick, name five of Detroit's 11 offensive starters. Many of you couldn't do that. What a horrible team.

Browns sign Gradkowski | Read full blog entry

"The Browns placed quarterback Derek Anderson on injured reserve and signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Bruce Gradkowski to a two-year contract. Two years? I think Anderson should read the tea leaves here." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: As in, it's unlikely we'll see Anderson in a Browns uniform next season. There, there, that news shouldn't be so surprising.

LT hits road bump | Read full blog entry

"The Chargers' running game is floundering. Star running back LaDainian Tomlinson had just 24 rushing yards on 14 carries against Atlanta. It is not all Tomlinson's fault. He is not getting very good protection. The Chargers' run blocking has been sporadic all season but has really struggled lately. Tomlinson is still on pace for 1,000 yards despite the fact that he ran for 24 yards last week, which was his second-lowest outing in his eight-season career." -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: I still believe in him, and so should you. He'll tear up the Raiders on Thursday at home, just you watch.

Jauron admits he should have used Lynch more | Read full blog entry

"In his Monday news conference, Bills head coach declared he wanted Marshawn Lynch to run the ball more in the fourth quarter of Sunday's indigestible 10-3 loss to the 49ers. Lynch ran 16 times for 134 yards, but offensive coordinator Turk Schonert gave him only one carry in the fourth quarter. Perhaps even more baffling is that Lynch, known as one of the NFL's hardest runners, had three carries in Buffalo's four trips to the red zone and just one attempt inside San Francisco's 10-yard line despite the Bills playing half the game with backup quarterback J.P. Losman. Left tackle Jason Peters acknowledged that Jauron 'took it on his shoulders to admit that he should have ran it more, and we know we should have ran it more in the red zone.'" -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: And that's why I believe we'll see plenty of Lynch this week against the Dolphins, both in the red zone and otherwise. It was only because of the porous Niners D that he had such a great day despite receiving fewer carries. He'll need the extra carries against the league's 11th-ranked run defense to have the same success.

Hillis banged up | Read full blog entry

"Here's Mike Shanahan, on what FB Peyton Hillis injured during [Sunday's] game: 'I think he was hurt all over. Hips, shoulders, I think he was just sore. I don't think it is anything that is real serious, but he is quite sore today.'" -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: We have Hillis projected to score well this week, but this definitely is something to watch. If Selvin Young is healthy and the Broncos jump out to an early lead over the Chiefs, Denver could decide to sit Hillis and rest him for the stretch run. I guess I'm just saying, going back to the lead section atop this column, that you should be careful not to overrate Hillis just because of his matchup. Be realistic about his upside this week and don't start him instead of a proven performer.

Garcia healthy again | Read full blog entry

"Part of the reason quarterback Jeff Garcia has been so good in recent weeks is that he has his mobility back. Garcia was limited by injuries early on, but his return to health has allowed him to use his scrambling ability, which always was a big part of his game. Garcia did a nice job of avoiding pressure at times [Sunday] and turned some of those situations into big plays. According to ESPN Stats & Analysis, Garcia scrambled five times for 44 yards (an 8.8-yard average). More importantly, four of those scrambles resulted in first downs. Garcia finished with seven rushes for 42 yards, but that included a kneeldown at the end of each half." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: Garcia is Kerry Collins with better scrambling ability. That makes him semiattractive if the matchup is right and you don't have an upper-tier QB option. This week's matchup versus the Panthers shouldn't be considered favorable, though.

Lindell still a good kicker | Read full blog entry

" The Bills wouldn't have won had Rian Lindell made both of the field goals he missed Sunday. But his failed attempt from 20 yards out, essentially an extra point, set a stomach-churning tone in Sunday's 10-3 loss to the 49ers in Ralph Wilson Stadium. ... Lindell also missed a 40-yard attempt late in the fourth quarter. How sickening was Lindell's afternoon? On the surface, maybe it isn't, but consider what Elias Sports Bureau has discovered: Heading into the game, Lindell had made 56 consecutive field goals of 40 yards or shorter, an NFL record." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: I had not seen that statistic previously, and I must admit I'm more apt to call Lindell's game a fluke now after reading it. I still worry about the weather (and offense) in Buffalo, but it obviously hasn't affected Lindell, who has kicked there since 2003. I still consider him a solid kicker option.

Pennington having "Pennington-like" effect on Fins | Read full blog entry

"Through the first 12 games of a season, no team in NFL history has turned over the ball less frequently than the 2008 Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have an NFL-low 10 giveaways. Chad Pennington has thrown six interceptions, and they've lost four fumbles. Only three other teams had 10 turnovers through 12 games: the 1992 Kansas City Chiefs, 2004 New York Jets (also with Pennington as quarterback) and 2007 New England Patriots." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: NFL quarterbacks tend to hate the "caretaker" label, but it certainly applies to Pennington. He has stabilized an emerging offense and avoided the turnovers, making him the depiction of a "safe play," including this week in Buffalo. Another stat to back that up (to use at your discretion): The Dolphins are considered a "run-first" offense, but they rank eighth in the league in passing and 13th in rushing. Pennington might not be a bad play this week.

Not much hope for Edge | Read full blog entry

"Darren Urban of azcardinals.com isn't expecting to see more Edgerrin James in the Cardinals' ground game anytime soon. His source is a good one: head coach Ken Whisenhunt." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: Ouch. Not much we can add here, other than that it's time to drop Edge if you haven't already.

McAllister done with the Saints? | Read full blog entry

"Let's face the facts. Long before the possibility of the suspension came on the horizon, McAllister already was facing a reduced role. He barely was used at the start of the season. The man who used to be the heart and soul of New Orleans' running game saw his carries get taken away by Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas and even Aaron Stecker before he got hurt. McAllister has played only a minimal role all season and it's hard to imagine him being in the Saints' plans for the future. McAllister is going to turn 30 in a few weeks and he's had two major knee injuries." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: He likely is done with the Saints, but something tells me we haven't seen the last of McAllister. Unless it's injury-related -- in this case, it's not -- it'd be tough for a player with almost 6,000 career rushing yards and 53 total touchdowns to go out like this. I wouldn't be surprised if he turns into a poor man's Jerome Bettis elsewhere next year.

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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