As the season passes the halfway mark, the time for key pickups and drops eases a bit; most of the stars and performers are set, and the rookies have shown enough to guess at their usefulness.
Now, winning your week's game will focus more on picking the right matchups instead of the right free agent grabs (although you should be ready to grab anyone you like that suddenly appears on waivers).
As an example, a barely-competitive team I am aware of (and possibly running myself) has a receiver dilemma this week: Of four roster choices for three spots, do I start WR Stephen Hill (NYJ), WR Jerome Simpson (MIN), WR A.J. Green (CIN), or WR Marques Colston (NO)? Some seem obvious (start A.J. Green...duh!), while some seem sad (two of those other three are readily available in more than half of the leagues out there). These choices, however, are the difference that will affect when your season ends. Do you make the playoffs?
Start 'em This Week:
Matt Forte, RB, CHI - with Jay Cutler out for the next couple of weeks (at least), the offense will run more and more through #22. He is averaging more than 100 yds. per game from scrimmage, and the offensive line will continue to make running paths for Forte. Expect Green Bay to be very upset with their run defense after this one.
Joe Flacco, QB, BAL - the Raven QB has settled down after his 917 INT game against the Bills, (correction: he only threw five passes to the other team. We regret the error.) playing well enough against three solid defenses leading into this week's showdown with the Browns. Even though that Cleveland D is good this season, a tight game will mean plenty of throwing opportunities for Flacco, and a probable 23/35-330, 3 TD, 1 INT - type of day. Fans will feel differently on this one, but this is the week that Baltimore turns their season around on their big gun's trusty arm.
Alfred Morris, RB, WAS - Morris doesn't get the carries that others do, but he's the only starting RB in the league averaging more than five yards per attempt. San Diego's D will have its hands full on Sunday.
Eddie Lacy, RB, GB - forget all of the stats you see, even though they help Eddie's case. The starting job is now his until he can't run anymore, and Lacy's cleared 100 yards a game each of the last four weeks. He won't go crazy, but he will be solid.
Also start: RG III (QB-WAS), Russell Wilson (QB-SEA) will bounce back, Cam Newton (QB-CAR) will throw a bunch, Marshawn Lynch (RB-SEA) goes Beast mode, Darren McFadden (RB-OAK) looks ready to pop and is facing a struggling Eagles squad, and Cop Speed (aka Chris Johnson, RB-TEN) needs to run well or possibly lose his job. Start all five of the Top TE's playing this week (Jordan Cameron in CLE, Jimmy Graham in NO, Antonio Gates from the Chargers, Julius Thomas from DEN and ATL's Tony Gonzalez), but the rest of the league offers little in the way of must-start guys. Most will get their 4-5 catches for 40-60 yards and the occasional TD this week. If you have options on whether to start one or not, you may take a flyer on a lower-rated WR instead.
Zac Stacy, RB, STL - his eye-popping game against a strong Seahawks defense on Monday may tempt many of you to grab him and start him against the 3-4 Titans, but the Tennessee defense is o.k. against the run, and improving. Stacy is also nursing a low-ankle sprain. Resist the urge!
DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR - last week's first TD of the season should not provide you false hope. Nor should ATL's terrible play so far this year. DeAngelo will be as quiet this week as the last several years of a similarly-named songwriter's career. (That's D'Angelo for those playing along at home)
(Oh, and Williams has a bruised quad from last Thursday's game, and is listed as questionable. Ouch.)
Trent Richardson, RB, IND - 106 carries on the year puts Richardson amongst the league's most used runners, but his meager 333 yards ties the total of Cardinals' RB Andre Ellington...who has carried the ball only 43 times. The Colts are playing a Houston team that is desperate to stay alive in the playoff hunt, which means they will play hungry. Projection: 16 carries for 44 yards.
Also sit: Terrelle Pryor (QB-OAK) who is statistically brutal when he doesn't set an NFL record on one carry, Demaryius Thomas (WR-DEN), but only if you have two above-average options past him...he's got the dropsies recently, Alshon Jeffrey (WR-CHI) will suffer with Cutler out against G.B., Jerome Simpson (WR-MIN) and RB Giovani Bernard (RB-CIN).
Sleepers this Week:
Julian Edelman, WR-NE. Whenever a commonly-used player for Bill Belichick gets quiet for two straight weeks without going to jail or the doctor's office, the Pats' coach likes to drop them into the game plan more prominently to surprise defenses. The Steelers will want to watch his field position carefully this week.
Nate Washington, WR-TEN. This is one player who will benefit strongly from a return from injury by another player. QB Jake Locker threw for more than 325 yards and two scores last week. Expect him to look for #85 this time against the Rams.
Adrian Peterson, RB-MIN. How do you call the reigning MVP and fifth-highest yardage rusher a sleeper? Watch him go for 62, 28 and 60 yards in consecutive weeks. How do you fix it? Face the Dallas defense, and do so with a slot machine picking the starting QB for Peterson. If he sits this week, you have a tremendous team...and you will regret the choice.
Adds and Drops:
Add the following people in your league if you have a need at the position, and do it now:
WR Kenny Stills (NO), QB Jake Locker (TEN), QB Andy Dalton (CIN), WR Marvin Jones (CIN), RB Daryl Richardson (STL), RB Mike Tolbert (CAR), Defenses from Indy, Tennessee and New Orleans...plus whoever's playing against Jacksonville (oh...they're on bye. The first week they won't lose a game all season...)
Drop these people and add someone better...and do it soon!
WR Mike Williams (the Tampa edition), WR Sidney Rice (SEA - out for season), RB Joseph Randle (DAL), RB Peyotn Hillis (NYG), and QB Michael Vick (PHI). Defenses to rid yourself of include Carolina, Philly, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
Blown Call of the Week Gone By:
"The Denver DEF is horrific, and will give up 24 points to your nephew's Pop Warner squad. Get them out of here...at least until LB Von Miller gets back up to speed and stabilizes that unit."
That brutal unit allowed only 154 net passing yards, scored a TD and picked Redskins' QB's four times, all while forcing five total turnovers and winning the game by 24 points. My brilliance shines through again...
If you're the team that is 1-7 at this point, don't give up. This is the chance to take chances on random dudes and play hunches without fear of losing ground on the season. This practice is how you steal great keepers, and learn which ways of gathering info work best for you. You've already invested (your time, since we cannot endorse gambling in such a family-friendly atmosphere) in your team and league...get what you can from it. Heck, you could even play spoiler to a good team, and players remember the owners who keep their teams up during lost seasons. Most just quit putting in lineups, giving the lucky ones who have them on the schedule a free win while three guys are out on Bye Week. Don't be that guy.
Good luck, and good scoring.
By Bill Hudson (Twitter: @nosduhllib)