Collinsworth Invitational: How to fight as an underdog
(Pro Football Focus gave subscribers the opportunity to win a team in the Cris Collinsworth Fantasy Football Invitational, playing alongside celebrities such as Warren Sapp, Jenny McCarthy and of course Cris himself. As the lucky winner of that contest, I will be writing a weekly piece that provides a view into what it’s like playing in a celebrity league and how I will use the PFF tools to give me an edge.)
Last week when I reported in on the Collinsworth Invitational, I had just gone through an aborted trade with my league mate Gary Vaynerchuk. In that proposed trade, I was sending LeGarrette Blount to Gary in exchange for Marvin Jones. When the article published on Saturday morning, I was feeling pretty good about the “failed” trade. After all, Blount had just put up 105 yards and two touchdowns in what originally looked like a tough Thursday night game against the Houston Texans.
But then Sunday rolled around.
In Sunday’s game, Jones was going against the Green Bay Packers. All season long, there has been talk that the Packers have a funnel defense. In particular, they have the league-leading rush defense, one that has only allowed 128 yards (the last-place team, New Orleans, has allowed 448 rushing yards). But on the flip side, the Packers have the 28th-worst passing defense, allowing 922 yards this season.
The result, as we all know now, was Jones putting up six receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns. My “failed” trade really does look like just a failure now.
On to the next one
As we enter Week 4 of the Collinsworth Invitational, it’s time to look forward instead of dwelling on past “what-ifs.” I pulled off the win in Week 3, bringing me to 2-1 on the season. But Week 4 brings a tough battle against former NFL quarterback Greg McElroy and his undefeated squad, which has the highest projected score for the week and a 17-point projected advantage on my team. This advantage should not come as a surprise since two of my starters (Jordan Matthews and Ryan Mathews) are on bye and Dez Bryant now apparently has an injury. The Bryant news was particularly hard to take since I already lost Keenan Allen to injury. Who says that wide receivers are more durable?
So with an uphill battle for the week, I decided to turn to the weekly PFF Stats to see if I could gain an advantage in setting my line-up instead:
- Blount needs to run the other way: To have a chance this week, I need a “Blount game” from the Patriots. But that won’t happen if they are running at Kyle Williams. According to PFF, “Bills DL Kyle Williams has seven run stops this season, the most for 3-4 defensive ends.” I’m still a believer in Blount this week, but I hope they are looking at the PFF grades as they plan their runs.
- I might need to bench Eli Manning this week: Manning is my most commonly owned QB in fantasy. Going against the Vikings on Monday night this week, there might be reason to look elsewhere. After all, PFF points out that “When Vikings CB Terence Newman has been thrown at, he’s allowed an NFL passer rating of 33.2 — lowest for cornerbacks who have been thrown at 15 or more times.” Not a good sign for the Giants WRs. Luckily, the next stat I read gave me inspiration to take advantage of this stat. (Below, I’ve included a snapshot of Manning’s matchup from PFF’s DFS Pro tool, which is obviously DFS-specific, but the general matchup appraisal still applies.)
- Rivers needs to only throw the ball all game: Greg has Melvin Gordon as his flex running back this week. But as PFF points out, “when Chargers WR Travis Benjamin has been targeted, Philip Rivers has an NFL passer rating of 147.7 — the highest mark for a single receiver this season.” I need Rivers to read this stat and completely abandon the run in order to keep up with Drew Brees this week. And luckily, Rivers is sitting on the waiver wire after being dropped last week so I am going to pick him up, while benching Eli per the point above.
Sometimes in fantasy football you are going to be staring at a big hole that you have to come back from. In those situations, one of the only options is to think about the potential game script and create scenarios where your advantage becomes your opponent’s disadvantage. For instance, with my addition of Rivers, I am betting for a game flow that favors the Chargers’ passing game instead of the running game that Greg is supporting. I doubled down on that philosophy by adding Josh Lambo as my kicker, hoping that instead of Melvin Gordon punching in a touchdown from the 5-yard line, San Diego would instead kick a field goal. These plays are about creating leverage and a scenario where if things fall a certain way, I can overcome that 17-point projected deficit.