Poets on Sports

Walking to Mordor: Fantasy Football Through Week 13

Image by Neal Kitterlin

After a week off from this column, I am here to report that the long slog into Mordor that has been the last two weeks of fantasy football for me is now officially over in my keeper league.  I walked to the precipice and dropped last year’s fantasy championship into the fiery pit of poor draft choices, ineffective waiver wire pick-ups, poor keeper decisions, and a failure to engineer any worthwhile trades.  It didn’t help that Colin Kaepernick was not the QB we thought he would be,* that C.J. Spiller was only the RB we thought he would be on rare occasions, or that injuries to Randall Cobb, Michael Vick, and to a much lesser extent, Owen Daniels, derailed any chance of salvaging the fiery wreckage and slipping into the playoffs.

I was very close to doing just that, which would have probably been a meaningless achievement anyway, but I made the mistake of believing Jordan Reed would play on Sunday night and wound up with a big inactive zero at tight end.**  I still had a chance on Monday night, if Marshawn Lynch could outscore Jimmy Graham by about ten points, but Lynch was a victim of Seattle’s own dominance, with Russell Wilson completing almost every pass for big gains and running free at will, and barely played the second half, ending my reign as champion with a whimper.***

It’s almost a relief not to have to focus anything on that league now.  I won only five games this year, and three of those were against the same, even more inept, opponent.  I am already considering my keepers for next year.  Cobb and Demaryius Thomas will be among them, as will Giovani Bernard, maybe Keenan Allen, maybe DeAndre Hopkins, maybe even Spiller again.  A lot can happen from then to now, which is why it’s a bit crazy and pointless to start focusing on next year already, but it’s not exactly something I can turn off.  The great thing about a keeper league for true fantasy enthusiasts is it gives you something to think, scheme, and conjecture about when there is nothing going on – it fills a fake football shaped void.

But for now that void is consumed by my 14-team league, where, after a 7-2 start, I’ve lost four straight and limped into the playoffs.  The start of those playoffs next week feels like a noose tightening around my neck, though my team hasn’t really been bad all those weeks.  Sure, there have been some injury issues and poor play to shuffle through – I’m looking at you, Hakeem Nicks and Andre Ellington.  There’s also some scary inconsistency with Vincent Jackson and Stephen Jackson and even Jimmy Graham, and the fact that the last two weeks I’ve resorted to starting, in succession, Kenbrell Thompkins and Cordarrelle Patterson at one of my WR spots.

But that’s not really what’s led to my losing streak.  If you’ve been following these all year, you’ll know that the dirty little secret of fantasy football is that, for all our planning and calculating, most of the results are based on luck.  The late scratch you don’t catch in time to adjust your line-up, the first-quarter injury, the maddening inconsistency of the wide receiver position in general, are all things beyond prediction.  But more than that, unlike actual football, you have no power to curtail or otherwise affect your opponent’s performance.  My 100+ point showing this week would have been enough to defeat most other teams in the league this week, but not enough to overcome a 41-point outburst by Eric Decker (as well as nearly 20 by Joique Bell – yes, really, Joique Bell).****

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It is never a good sign when you are entering the first week of the playoffs and still combing the waiver wires for possible pick-ups, but that’s where I am.  I will most likely be starting two very iffy wide receivers this week, but since I now have zero confidence in Hakeem Nicks doing anything but occasionally reminding people he exists and is available to play American football, those wide receivers will probably be Cordarelle Patterson and a waiver wire pick-up from an exotic, football inhospitable locale such as Jacksonville or Oakland.

Which brings me to last week, when I was in California and drove up into the mountains on Thanksgiving day.  The view was beautiful but humbling, and as I cautiously crept over the winding inclines in our rented Volkswagen Passat, I couldn’t help but think of geologic timespans, of insignificance, of the juxtaposition of snowy altitudes and desert below, the fullness of what is often thought of as empty.  This weekend I will win or I won’t, and there is nothing I can do about it, and either way I will peer over the ledge and be of the world.

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* The Colin Kaepernick experiment taught me an important lesson going forward.  Never go against your gut on a player and trust in conventional wisdom.  I had doubts about Kaepernick but ignored them, and there is nothing worse than being absolutely vindicated in your worldview by virtue of your failure to act on said worldview.  This is only compounded when you generally dislike the team with which your pick is associated.

** I did the same thing with Darren Sproles the week before, who was a late Thursday night scratch against Atlanta, all of which leads to the inescapable conclusion that I have not been as on top of my fantasy football game this year as in the past.

*** As an aside, Jimmy Graham did just enough to beat me in my keeper league, but not enough to get me the win in my 14-team league.  And that Saints performance is just too depressing to write about at length.  As a fan of both the Bears and Saints, I got a taste of being on the receiving end of both a blow-out and a close contest, and contrary to all reason, the blow-out hurt worse, even though the Bears needed it more and close games that your team basically gives away should always be more psychically painful than the occasional stinker.  It probably has something to do with the fact that I have already accepted that this year’s Bears team is going nowhere, while I still maintain (now dwindling) hopes that the Saints’ success will continue all the way to the Super Bowl.

**** Getting basically single-handedly beaten by Decker was particularly hard to swallow since I traded him away earlier in the season for Jay Cutler.  Ahhh, regrets.

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