We're all a bunch of downers. As fantasy football players, we're used to doomsday forecasts. We spend the first overall pick on Adrian Peterson, then spend every game watching him through our fingers, enjoying the scores, but terrified of the blown ACL or torn Achilles that could come with no warning. In fantasy baseball, you lose your first-round pick, there are enough games, enough positions, enough players, that you could come back. In football, though, an early bust can destroy an entire season.
But it's not just then. We all expect the worst. In my primary league, Jess started 5-1, and is now 6-4. But with seven wins being a fairly safe bet for a playoff spot, he's in good shape. And yet, Jess is so sure he's going to miss the playoffs that he literally bet me $10 on the chances this week. Literally, if he makes the playoffs, he has to give me a ten-dollar bill.
Nate held a 25-point lead on BHays entering Monday night, needing to only avoid huge days out of Vincent Jackson and/or Brian Hartline to get to 6-4, and still spent all Monday at work explaining in mind-blowing detail how he would inevitably lose (he didn't).
As I've written, I started this season 1-6. Things were bad. After a few trades and some improved health, I'm now 4-6. As I said above, seven wins in 13 weeks will usually be enough to get someone into the playoffs. So I am basically down to my last loss before my season ends. I was positive my brother -- with Peyton Manning, with Matt Forte -- was going to wipe the floor with me this week. It didn't happen. So what have I been telling everyone for the last day and a half? That I'm going to win in Week 11, and I'm going to win in Week 12. I'm going to get to 6-6, and I'm going to get my hopes up and be eying playoff matchups. And then, and only then, when I've bought in on my comeback and finally believe that I might win, will the fantasy gods enact their plan, and I will lose in Week 13. I won't lose the next couple weeks, because where's the fun in that? Losing team loses. But if I wait to lose until I'm .500, until I have hope, that's the true pain of fantasy.
But what this means is we're all trolling the wire. Is Bilal Powell worth owning over Donald Brown? Should I drop Coby Fleener for Delanie Walker? Fantasy football players are the ultimate "grass is greener" people, as everyone who is not on your roster always looks beautiful.
So here's The Ticker, my own guide to what you'll see in your waiver wire this week. There are 18 players in six categories. I'm buying and not buying players. (Unheralded player has big week; is it real?) I'm selling and not selling players. (Big name is awful; is he done?) There is the Futures Market. (Maybe he's bad for now, but should I invest?) And there are Hedges. (Wait, is he going to be worth a lot if the starter gets an ouchie?) Other than the selling categories (because, you know, big names), everyone here is owned in 50 percent or fewer of Yahoo! leagues, as of Sunday night.
I can only assume you're doing the same as we are, being a downer, frantically scrolling through the wire. If you aren't, I hope you enjoy your sanity. Mine left long ago.
Stocks I'm buying
New York Giants defense/special teams (27 percent owned in Yahoo! fantasy leagues)
Through six weeks of the season, the Giants' defense had negative-five points. Total. That's insane. But that came against Dallas, Denver, Carolina, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. So. ... tough road for a defense to face, that. In the three games since, they've faced Minnesota, Philadelphia again, and Oakland, and have 45 points. The only team averaging more points per outing in the last four weeks is Carolina, and they're ridiculous. Yeah, it's been an easier road, and the Giants do have some tough offenses yet ahead of them. I'm not saying they're a Kansas City or a Seattle. But they've gone from "unusable" to at least worthy of mild consideration. If you're desperate, maybe they can keep this up.
Trent Richardson is still owned in 95 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He's still started in 59 percent. I don't get it. If you want to own him, if you think there's still upside, sure, okay, whatever. I'm not sure I could drop him, myself. But if you're still starting Richardson, you're just not trying that hard. Do you realize he has 19 fantasy points in his last five games? I'm not even sure how that's possible for a starting running back. Meanwhile, Brown is averaging almost six yards a carry and has more receiving yards than his more-famous teammate. They've been moving toward a timeshare as it has become more and more evident that Richardson is awful. If the awfulness continues - and, at this point, shouldn't we expect it to? - Brown might become the Colts' top guy.
I've been marveling at this for four days now. It was one of the most amazing expert things ever. On last Thursday's ESPN Fantasy Focus podcast, this exchange happened between Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz:
Berry: I think that if you are tight end desperate, I think that John Carlson could be interesting.
Ravitz: John Carlson?
Berry: John Carlson could be interesting here.
Ravitz: He's still in the league?
Berry: He is still in the league, and he is the starting tight end of your Minnesota Vikings.
Entering Thursday's game, Carlson had 104 receiving yards since the start of last season, and Matthew Berry decides to talk him up right before he goes for 98 and a score. Now, it made some sense, of course - Kyle Rudolph was out, and Christian Ponder loves to throw to tight ends - but still. Dude hyped a guy his co-host didn't even know still existed. But as long as Rudolph is out, those reasons Carlson was interesting will continue to exist. He might be back on the map. Just a little, but he might be there.
Stocks I'm not buying
Andre Brown, RB, NYG (48 percent)
In his time being productive for the Giants last season, Brown averaged barely nine carries a game. He was productive in that time, with eight touchdowns in the eight games he had a carry. It's pretty clear that Brown has talent. But it's also clear he's on the brittle side of things. He missed his rookie year with an Achilles injury. He missed the end of last year with a broken leg. He missed the beginning of this year with a broken leg. And then, in his first game back, Brown had 30 carries, plus three targets in the passing game. The guy never had more than 23 touches in a game. I get that the Giants really have no other viable running-back options and their playoff chances are on life support. And as long as Brown is healthy, I do think he'll be productive. But would you put money on him being their healthy starter the rest of the way? I wouldn't.
Tavon Austin, WR, STL (43 percent)
Austin had an enormous game Sunday; there's no question about that. But - correct me if I'm wrong here, and I might be, but I don't think so - while that punt return was amazing to watch, it was an awful football play, right? Wasn't that ball going to bounce into the end zone? Austin was taking a huge risk returning it. It worked out, but I wouldn't want to encourage that. As for his play on offense, it's great that he had an 81-yard score and a 57-yard score. Unfortunately, those were Austin's only two catches. He was only targeted one other time. Entering Sunday - 138 yards, two scores - Austin had 207 yards and two touchdowns all season. There's no reason to think this was anything other than an admittedly fast receiver and some blown coverages. Trust me on this, I've had him on my roster all season. Including Sunday. On my bench.
Mark Ingram, RB, NO (13 percent)
Speaking of things that don't make any sense ... Ingram had 50 yards all season before 160 and a touchdown Sunday. Of course, he only had 15 of those yards before halftime. He didn't start really accumulating until the Saints were beating the Cowboys 28-10. This when Darren Sproles was getting over an injury, and Pierre Thomas is fast approaching a career-high in touches. When the game's in hand, why not give the ball to the perky little benchwarmer, the guy who is bad but tries really hard? Sunday, Ingram was like the Saints' Rudy. Good for him, but don't expect it to happen again.
Stocks I'm selling
Seriously, all of them. I'm selling Morten Andersen and Jamal Anderson. Matt Ryan has been miserable for a few weeks. Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson are looking longingly up at miserable. Roddy White is back on the field, and people keep starting him, thinking he's Roddy White. If you're a White owner (hi, me), keep him on your bench until he has a big game first. Sure, you'll miss a big White game. But you'll also miss things like his one-catch, 20-yard outing Sunday. Tony Gonzalez has had an awful season outside of his Week 4-5 explosion. Harry Douglas has been pretty good, but when Harry damn Douglas is your team's best fantasy option, get the heck out. Geez, Falcons. A pox on all your houses.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI (99 percent)
It's hard to argue that Fitzgerald isn't still amazingly talented. But he has only one hundred-yard game this season, and he's at 88 in his last three games combined. He's drawing max coverage from the opposition, Carson Palmer is playing poorly if I'm being generous, and the Cardinals, after a nice schedule the next few weeks, face a Tennessee-Seattle-San Francisco gauntlet in the fantasy playoffs. If you're a Fitzgerald owner, get out while there's still time.
Stevie Johnson, WR, BUF (79 percent)
I picked Johnson for this space before I remembered the groin injury that might have him sidelined this week. So I'm selling him even more in the wake of that. But even without it, Johnson hasn't had more than 72 yards since Week 3. He has one score since Week 2. He's had various injuries all season. I'd start, I don't know, 55-percent-owned Aaron Dobson over Johnson, or 40-percent-owned Kenny Stills. I just can't imagine starting Johnson in any but the deepest leagues.
Stocks I'm not selling
Forte's lowest yards-from-scrimmage total in a game this season before Sunday: 91. Forte's yards-from-scrimmage total Sunday: 49. The Lions seemed to make a point to stop Forte in Sunday's game, leading to a hundred-plus yards for both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. While the Lions rode that strategy to victory, teams aren't going to let those receivers run wild like that. Forte is going to be fine.
Eric Decker, WR, DEN (98 percent)
Nine touchdowns this season for Demaryius Thomas. Nine for Wes Welker. Nine for Julius Thomas. Eight for Knowshon Moreno. Only three for Eric Decker. He's the least fantasy valuable of the five, sure, I'll grant that, but I don't think he's behind the others by this much. None of the Broncos' big names has gone three straight games this season without a touchdown, and here's something I bet will surprise people: Decker has the highest yards-per-catch average of the group. I'd still start Decker in all leagues, and I put good money down he gets a touchdown next week, assuming Peyton Manning is healthy.
Andrew Luck, QB, IND (96 percent)
In his worst game of the season by far (in real football) Sunday, Luck still set a season-high in passing yards, because the Colts were trying to catch up. He's had double-digit fantasy points in every game of the season, save that awful Monday game against San Diego with no touchdowns. Three rushing touchdowns, 14 passing touchdowns. There's a top tier of quarterbacks that includes Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, and probably still Tony Romo. After that, I would probably take Luck next, with only Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady genuine considerations for that next spot.
Shane Vereen, RB, NE (48 percent)
I spend a while on my Sunday nights clicking through rosters, checking ownership percentages, brainstorming how that week's Ticker will look. I was glancing at the Patriots' roster, and Vereen crossed my mind. "No way," I said. "The cutoff is 50-percent ownership, and he's going to be way more owned than that." I checked anyway. What the hell, guys? Why is Shane Vereen available in more than half the leagues out there? I'm not saying he's going to come back and be Jamaal Charles or Adrian Peterson, but he's more likely to have value than Willis McGahee, than Maurice Jones-Drew, than Ray Rice. He should be owned in basically every league, just on the off chance his 159-yard performance in Week 1 before his injury is the Vereen we get back, which could be this week.
Dennis Pitta, TE, BAL (2 percent)
Pitta was thought to be lost for the season after dislocating his hip in preseason, but the Ravens left the option open by placing him on the injured reserve with designation to return. Now, the tight end is "closer than ever" to returning, according to John Harbaugh, and - ignoring the "that's how time works" nature of that quote - he is closer than ever to returning to a team that could really use him. The Ravens have gotten minimal production out of tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson, and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce haven't done much, either. Pitta was expected to be a key cog in this offense entering the season; if he makes it back, there's no reason he won't be that key cog down the stretch. If you're struggling at tight end, Pitta might be a nice flyer.
Jake Ballard, TE, ARI (0 percent)
Speaking of flyers, Ballard is the deepest one in the world. Two years ago, Ballard had a strong rookie season, with 604 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. After missing last season with a torn ACL, I really thought he was going to be a big part of the Patriots' "Gronk isn't back yet" offense this season, but that didn't happen. Now with the Cardinals, Ballard made his season debut Sunday, catching one pass for 15 yards. It's not like Rob Housler has done ... anything, ever, at all, before his touchdown Sunday. For me, Ballard is already the most talented tight end on Arizona's roster, and he's already a possible TE2, with possible TE1 potential down the stretch.
Dennis Johnson, RB, HOU (21 percent)
By my count, in his career, of 76 possible games, Arian Foster has been listed on the injury report in 28 of them. Meanwhile, in 60 possible games for Ben Tate, he's been on there 48 times. That is a wholly incomplete group of numbers, with all sorts of context needed, but the short takeaway is that, if everyone thought Tate was a crucial handcuff to Foster in the preseason, why would we not think Johnson is a crucial handcuff to Tate now? Tate is already injured now. Johnson might not be anything special, but there is at least a reasonable chance he is the only guy in Houston. If we decided guys like Brandon Jacobs, Peyton Hillis, and Michael Cox might be worth owning earlier in the season, Dennis Johnson is worth owning now.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, TEN (2 percent)
Everyone and their brother had high hopes for Jake Locker entering Sunday, with a game against the Jaguars leading to a beautiful down-the-stretch schedule of games against Indianapolis (twice), Oakland, Denver, Arizona, Jacksonville, and Houston. Now, Fitzpatrick inherits that schedule, and that is coming off a game against the Jaguars when he was actually decent - two passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown, and no interceptions. Fitzpatrick struggled in his first two starts of the season, with four picks in two games, but he got those starts against the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks. That's just mean. "Hey, new pitcher, welcome to the big leagues, you'll be facing Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in Coors Field." With that late schedule, my bet is Fitzpatrick earns himself a starting NFL quarterback job in 2014.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, SEA (2 percent)
After no catches, no targets, no nothings in Week 8 against the Rams, Kearse has scored in back-to-back games, with 118 yards in those two outings. He now has four scores on the season, despite only 13 catches. This is the same point I made in last week's Ticker about Doug Baldwin, but it's still true: I am looking forward to Percy Harvin's return as much as anyone out there, but what are we counting on? Maybe he's the Harvin everyone is waiting for, and maybe he stays healthy. But those are enormous maybes. Kearse isn't likely to get the touches or yards of Golden Tate or Doug Baldwin, but they keep getting Kearse open for deep scores, and that could have value in super-deep leagues.