Consistency. That is a true mark of a championship fantasy football team. How many times have you noticed that the top overall point leader in your league is not the team sitting at #1? It happens all the time… but why? Because of a lack of consistency. One week, Dallas Cowboys WR Terrell Owens has 45 yards receiving and three TD's, giving you 22 fantasy points (Week 6). Another week, Owens posts only 45 yards with no TD's like in Week 5 when Philadelphia shut him down. In two weeks, that's an 18 point swing in most standard-scoring fantasy leagues… and that's not going to win you that coveted fantasy title.
To create consistency on your fantasy team, the focus must be in your backfield. The running back position is probably the most consistent in football. The paradigm has shifted over the past few years with some teams adopting a two-back system, similar to the standard in college football (think the Colts' Rhodes/Addai combo, or the Bush/McAllister tandem used by the Saints). So, it's imperative that your fantasy running backs be clear-cut starters who see a majority of the touches for their respective teams. More times than none in a two-back system, if one of the RB's starts to get hot over the course of a game, he'll take away more and more carries from his counterpart. So, really it's a gamble each week when you start a RB in a situation like this.
However, it's not good enough to say that you have two clear-cut starters in your fantasy lineup… that's only half the battle. You need to look at the performance of these backs on a weekly basis. I'll emphasize the point again: "consistency wins championships in fantasy football!" Your team needs to be built around those reliable running backs that will grind out 60-100 yards each game with a TD. Now, every good player has his off day, no matter what position. However, how many times do you hear a head coach say, "We need to establish the running game this week"? Or how about when a team tries to control the clock, and consistently feeds their premier back the ball? To put it in perspective, Arizona Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin leads the league in receptions with 40 thru Week 6. Currently, there are 41 running backs that have carried the ball 40+ times this season. The point here is that the more a player touches the ball, the more chances he has to pick up big yardage and score.
There is a reason to why so much emphasis is put on obtaining a solid starting RB in your fantasy draft. Of course, the draft has come and gone, but there may be still be some fantasy backs out there that you can target to help create stability in your fantasy lineup. Let's take a look at a few "lower-level" backs that have put up solid fantasy points week in and week out. The term "lower-level" is used when describing these backs not because of lack of performance, but rather because these guys sometimes get lost in the mix among fantasy's big names. Nevertheless, these are the players that put in work each week, and will keep your fantasy team on track for the playoffs:
Willie Parker (PIT)
Parker has rushed for 50+ rushing yards with a TD in 3 of 5 games this year, with 115 yards in a contest when he didn't find the end zone.
Julius Jones (DAL)
Jones consistently puts up great number. He has had 70+ rushing yards in every game this year, with three consecutive 100+ yard games (first NFL running back to do that since Emmitt Smith in 1999).
Warrick Dunn (ATL)
Although Dunn doesn't put up touchdown totals like some other premier backs in the league, he has posted three 130+ rushing yards so far in 2006.
Now, looking at some of the fantasy point leaders at the running back position, we can clearly notice some inconsistency. For example, San Francisco's Frank Gore ranks in the Top 8 running backs in most fantasy leagues using standard scoring. However, he has had three games in which he rushed for 60 yards or less without a TD. Detroit's Kevin Jones is in the same boat… ranking in the Top 10, he's had three weeks of 40 or less rushing yards and no TD's. It's hard to establish yourself as part of fantasy football's elite with peaks and valleys in scoring like this.
Many times, backs like Parker, J. Jones and Dunn fly under the radar… call them "silent assassins" when it comes to fantasy football. So, you may still be able to make some sort of deal to obtain a back similar to those mentioned above. Consistent players are just kind of "there", meaning do you really ever sit around with your buddies talking about how Julius Jones put together another 80 yard performance with a TD? Probably not. Instead, you talk about how that number one pick this year really paid off when Raiders RB LaMont Jordan rushed for nearly 130 yards and a TD, as he did in Week 4. This should tell you that the key here to obtaining a back that will provide consistency to your squad is striking when the time is right. Coming off a big game, it may be easier for you to trade one of your "busts" like Jordan in a packaged deal for someone like Julius Jones.
Remember, the fantasy trading deadline is right around the corner. You need to make moves now if you're looking for a player that will help you put up solid fantasy points week in and week out. Everything comes back to the main point that this column has been trying to emphasize every week… your focus in fantasy football is to make the playoffs. Building a team with consistency can only aid in reaching that goal. Of course, anything can happen in the playoffs, but you have to be in it to win it.
PATRIOTS FANTASY REPORT
Coming off of a Week 6 bye, the Patriots square-up against the Buffalo Bills this Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. In this match-up, the fantasy player to keep your eye on is QB Tom Brady. Ok, ok… I know what you're thinking. Yes, it will be cold and windy in Orchard Park, NY this weekend (forecasts predict a chance of showers with lows in the 40's). No, these might not be the best conditions for a passing game. However, we're not talking about your run-of-the-mill quarterback here. This is Tom Brady… a quarterback that thrives in poor conditions. In his career as a starter in New England, Brady has had his highest passer rating in temperatures 40 degrees or lower (89.4). His TD/INT ratio is 2.15 in cold weather, eclipsing his overall career ratio of 1.9. Wind shouldn't be a factor either in New England's passing attack, as Brady has passed for over 7,700 yards in conditions classified as "windy" during his five-year tenure as the Pats' starting QB.
Thru the 2005 NFL season, there are three teams that Tom Brady has competed against 10 times in his career (Buffalo, Miami and NY Jets). Of these three teams, Brady has played his best against the Bills. Now, let's forget about Opening Day 2006 when Brady struggled a bit against an aggressive Bills defense (163 yards passing, 2 TD's, an interception and a lost fumble). Instead, let's focus on the numbers because numbers don't lie. Of the three teams previously mentioned, Brady has had his highest QB rating (91.5), most passing yards (2,341) and most TD's (19) against Buffalo. When playing at Buffalo, Brady's career record is 4-1 (his only loss coming in 2003), with his overall record against the Bills being 10-1. Since stepping on the field in 2001, Brady and the New England Patriots have owned the Bills. Talk about favorable match-ups!
Now, let's turn our attention to the Buffalo Bills defense. Currently, they rank in the bottom half of the league in passing yards allowed per game (205.3), as well as points allowed per game (20.8). The second and third levels of the defense don't look very much like what Brady and the Pats faced in Week 1. LB Takeo Spikes has missed four games and will be a game-time decision come this Sunday. CB Nate Clements is battling a quad injury, and S Troy Vincent is not even a Bill anymore. It is also worth mentioning that the Bills start two rookie safeties in Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson... they're good, but the lack of experience can lead to big plays for opposing offenses.
With Brady preparing to go off this Sunday, we can't overlook the targets he'll be throwing to. Keep a close eye on WR Doug Gabriel and TE Ben Watson in this week's game against the Bills. Gabriel has looked good in two of his three games as a Patriot, posting 10+ fantasy points against Denver and Cincinnati (using standard fantasy scoring). Brady and Gabriel appear to have good chemistry together, and things should fair well against a depleted and inexperienced Buffalo secondary. And if conditions aren't favorable for Brady to throw the long ball, you can be sure that he'll be dumping the ball off to Ben Watson on a consistent basis. Leading the team in receiving yards (211), Watson is averaging 13.2 yards per reception and looking for his first TD in 2006.
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