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To Bench or not to Bench

As we close in on the fantasy playoffs in a couple weeks, owners will be faced with some tough, potentially agonizing questions on whether they should bench an underperforming superstar or let him play. These are the kind of decisions that can haunt owners for the rest of the offseason. The kind of decisions that will keep owners up at night in March and April, the “Dead Zone” of the year, in regards to fantasy football.

There are many competing philosophies that owners have in regards to benching their studs. First, there’s the “Always start your studs, no matter what” philosophy. The opposite line of thinking on this is the “Play the Matchups” philosophy. Both strategies have their pluses and minuses, but if forced to go with one of them, I would probably pick the “Always start your studs” philosophy but with a number of caveats.

We all know that there are certain players you never bench. We’re talking about your Adrian Petersons and Calvin Johnsons of the world. If you bench one of these guys in the playoffs and you end up losing … let’s face it, you probably shouldn’t have been in the playoffs to begin with. These are the kind of players that got you to the Big Dance and the Fantasy gods will seek swift vengeance upon you for benching them. We’ve all made this kind of mistake at one point or another. I don’t fancy myself as a particularly religious person but I do believe in the Wrath of the Fantasy gods.

On the other hand, the vast majority of players in fantasy football do not fall within the “Never Bench” category. This leaves owners with huge, life changing decisions to make during the playoffs, which traditionally occur from Week 14-16. I’ve compiled a list of fantasy studs who owners might want to consider riding the pine during the postseason. Of course, these stars can only be benched if owners have a better option on their bench, which many owners might not have.

Matt Schaub

Considering Schaub was drafted as a Top 5 quarterback in most leagues, the fact that he’s actually a Top 15 quarterback makes him the biggest bust at the quarterback position this season. Through 10 games, Schaub has had only four good games, worthy of his draft position, and in only three out of those four games did he pass for more than 300 yards. He’s never been able to adapt to Arian Foster becoming the focal point of the offense. In past years, when Schaub got great seasons out of Dominick Davis and Steve Slaton, he was still able to put up great numbers, when he was healthy.

Looking at Schaub’s playoff schedule, he has the opportunity to burn a lot of owners, who might put their faith in him. He starts off the playoffs in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, a team whose defense isn’t as ferocious as it used to be, but it’s still a team owners dread seeing on the schedule. Schaub hasn’t played good enough for owners to start him regardless of the matchup.

The last time the Texans played the Ravens in 2008, the Texans got massacred 41-13. Schaub didn’t play that game due to injury, but you can get an idea that the Texans might not match up well with the Ravens. The rest of Schaub’s playoff schedule is a little friendlier, playing the Tennessee Titans and the Denver Broncos, but owners might be advised to consider benching Schaub for the first week of the playoffs.

Chad
Ochocinco

The arrival of Terrell Owens to the Bengals has made Ochocinco little more than a No. 3 receiver. He’s had the occasional good game, every now and then, but he certainly has been anything but consistent. We’re talking about a receiver who is not even in the Top 20 in standard scoring leagues.

Ochocinco actually had his worst game of the season when he was held to one catch for 15 yards against the Steelers earlier this year. Guess who Ochocinco plays in the opening round of the fantasy playoffs this year? He’s playing Pittsburgh, which is a giant red flag for owners to find a better option. After he puts up a pitiful performance against the Steelers, Ochoinco will play the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers, two teams who have underrated defenses that have gotten the job done this year.

Owners would be wise to scour the waiver wire to find a better option than Ochocinco during the playoffs. He still has a big name in fantasy football circles but that doesn’t mean he’s an automatic start, by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, Owens has had a tremendous year, and he’s the only player on the Bengals that’s a lockdown starter. No one else.

Jay Cutler/Matt Forte

When it comes to the playoffs, no one might have a worse fantasy schedule than the Bears. From Week 14-16, they play the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets. The Patriots’ secondary, while giving up a lot of yards, has been improving and is constantly getting a lot of interceptions, two against Peyton Manning last Sunday and two yesterday against the Detroit Lions. Cutler has been an interception machine this season and the Patriots will easily take advantage of that.

Cutler had a relatively good game against the Vikings earlier this season, throwing for three touchdowns and two interceptions. The real concern here is the Jets, one of the best defensive teams in the NFL. Both the Patriots and the Jets have the opportunity of causing Cutler to have another meltdown game like he did against the Redskins, where he threw 28 interceptions.

When Cutler fails, the rest of the Bears’ fantasy players fail as well, specifically the wildly inconsistent Forte. Forte will be facing tough run defenses in the Vikings and Jets, and the Bears might be down by too many points against the Patriots for him to flourish. Here and there, both Cutler and Forte have good games this season, but neither player can be counted on in the playoffs, where one false move can end an owner’s season.

Percy Harvin

Harvin is another player, who has had an up-and-down season. In the fantasy playoffs, he plays three of the best defenses in the league: the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. Brett Favre is the second-biggest bust when it comes to fantasy quarterbacks this year. The prognosis isn’t looking good for Harvin to contribute to owner’s dreams of a championship. While it’s possible that a healthy Sidney Rice will be able to take some coverage off of Harvin, it’s not a safe bet for owners to make.

Harvin continues to be plagued by injuries as well, so it’s very possible that he might get hurt again by any of the three tough defenses he’ll face from Week 14-16. The Vikings, in general, haven’t been a safe play all season long. There’s no reason to think that they’ll suddenly turn things around in the playoffs.

Final Analysis

Owners facing difficult decisions should know the difference between a real stud and one who was a stud in fantasy magazines last summer but hasn’t produced during actual games. There is a place for being risky and there’s a place for taking chances, but owners need to know when to pick their spots. Starting someone just because of their name is a “strategy” that will lead many owners to an early exit from the playoffs.

Good Hunting!

Ed Bonfanti

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