Congratulations! If you're reading this, you've very likely advanced to your fantasy league's semifinals. I’m sure this is a grueling, stressful time for you, but don’t forget to cherish the moment. While most of your fellow owners are already knee-deep in the offseason, you're guaranteed at least one more week of roster tinkering, trash-tweeting, and cursing out the grown men running across your TV screen. To enjoy such luxuries beyond this weekend, though, you’ll have to avoid the myriad pitfalls lurking in the shadows of Week 15. That’s no small task, but it’s one that can be made a gazillion times easier by reading the next 1,500 words. Good luck!
1. QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: Did Luck end his slump in Week 14, portending a return to form during the season's final stretch? Or were the 32 fantasy points he posted against the Bengals simply the result of two quarters of garbage time? We could tie ourselves in knots trying to figure this out, but right now, it doesn't matter: Luck has a delectable matchup with Texans interim head coach/noted slump-buster Wade Phillips looming this week, and Phillips might as well be a drug quarterbacks take to boost their fantasy value.
Happy Halloween! While you’re out trick-or-treating, I’ll be inside watching Bengals-Dolphins, mourning Giovani Bernard’s sad failure to launch. I thought we’d be talking about him as a fantasy stud by now, but Marvin Lewis remains stubbornly committed to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Lewis, bless his heart, probably still uses the Zune he bought in 2006. Some flowers were never meant to bloom, I guess. To cheer you up, here is a picture of Bill Belichick and his wife:
Anyway, there's a lot to cover this week, and I can’t bear to think about Bernard’s untapped potential any longer, so let’s dive right into the Week 9 preview. Oh, and pray for Bill’s wife while you’re at it.
As we near the halfway point of the 2013 NFL season, the teams and lineups we expected to see trotted out on the field this season are now shells of their former selves. The Falcons are already down seven starters from the guys they would have expected to be in the starting 22 in July. Of the 32 quarterbacks who were expected to start on the opening day of training camp, 12 have been benched or suffered an injury that has caused them or will cause them to miss time. If you can start the same guys who you were expecting to suit up over the summer, you're the exception, not the rule.
Every team has some veterans that they can plug in as competent backups, but every team also has a few spots where they're absolutely, positively screwed if their starter was to go down with an injury or suffer a dramatic decline in his performance. Others have found a diamond in the rough who has come out of nowhere to emerge as a viable starter at their position. In either scenario, there are now players on virtually every team who have risen out of professional obscurity to get meaningful NFL reps.
"Hey, basketball's back. The Hawks played tonight."
A friend said this to me, but I didn't look up to see who it was. I was sitting on the floor of a bar, hat partially over face, watching texts from lifelong friends fly in, most echoing the same sentiment: "What did we do to deserve this?" It's the only thing left to think at this point. It can't just be the athletes who are at fault. Somehow, the real fans — the diehards who are sprinkled about throughout the transplant-riddled Southern metropolis — have begun to believe this is simply our fate. The "selling our soul for the '96 Olympics" theory? That's one. There are others. But ultimately, no one knows.
Still on the floor, I searched for the Hawks score just to look for something positive and found the answer that I expected.
In case you were busy representing the University of Southern California in its quest to replace Lane Kiffin, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Juan Uribe hit the go-ahead home run and Brian Wilson earned the win as the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a spot in the NLCS with a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. "I called those guys before the game to wish them well," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of Uribe and Wilson, with whom he won the 2010 World Series. "And then I said, 'The queen strikes at midnight.'" When asked why, Bochy said, "Well as it turned out, nothing happened. Which is very frustrating given the massive cash outlay our team made on those two before they left." Bochy then cocked his head to the side and appeared to enter a strange trance before adding robotically, "That said, I can't recommend hiring Tom the Hypnotist enough. Did you know he can be reached at 1-866-HYPNOTOM for all your hypnosis needs?"
Jets quarterback Geno Smith led his team on a game-winning drive and sent the Atlanta Falcons to their third straight loss, 30-28, at the Georgia Dome. The Jets now sit at 3-2 while the Falcons are 1-4, proving that gambling on NFL football before the season is a good idea because it's easy to predict what will happen.
In case you were busy putting in a speculative application to Oklahoma State, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The New England defense forced four turnovers en route to an ugly 13-10 win over the New York Jets. Both offenses struggled with young receiving corps, leading Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to say after the game, "I haven't seen that many drops since the last time I went to a Skrillex concert," to a stone-faced press corps. After an awkward beat, he added, "'Cause of the drops, is this thing on? Anyway, I can't wait to see the film on this one. I imagine I'll be a big-eared elephant, and I'll be playing the board game Operation. Eh? It'll be Operation Dumbo Drop. Seriously guys, nothing?" Brady then exploded, yelling, "Someone pick up something I'm throwing out here!" before tossing the microphone to rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who proceeded to drop it.
The penultimate tournament of the FexEx Cup season is shaping up to be a classic, as Brandt Snedeker sits atop a star-studded leaderboard after firing an opening-round 63 at the BMW Championship. "It's fitting that I'm leading," Snedeker said after the round, "as I consider myself the ultimate driving machine." When reminded that he ranks 142nd in driving distance on the tour, Snedeker said, "Well, I'm the penultimate driving machine." When asked if he knew what "penultimate" meant, Snedeker sprinted to his Audi and immediately drove it into a tree.
The case for the Jets: Last week New England barely beat Buffalo, a team that's currently GETTING three points at home in Week 2 against Ron Rivera and Mike Shula the Pats are missing their three best receivers from last year's team, as well as their best receiver from this year's team and their best all-around running back the Pats have a no. 1 receiver this week who was targeted 14 times in Week 1 and somehow caught only four passes there's a chance Rex Ryan just says "fuck it" and blitzes Tom Brady every single down until he's carried off the field the overwhelming possibility of one of those ghastly, low-scoring, totally disjointed Thursday-night games with a deader-than-dead crowd and a frustrated Mike Mayock saying things like "These offenses just can't get into any rhythm" and "Both of these teams look SO sluggish to me" (playing into the Jets' hands) Geno Smith doing a couple of Good Geno Smith things the frightening possibility of a SportsCenter anchor at 1 a.m. saying, "Who would have thought the NEW YORK JETS would be 2-0 and leading the AFC East right now????"
In case you were busy building something with your hands, ensconced in the majesty of nature, allowing the last rays of summer sun to shine down upon your shirtless back, like a nerd, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
In a Sunday night NFC East battle, the Dallas Cowboys forced six turnovers en route to a 36-31 win over the New York Giants. Eli Manning was dejected after the game, saying, "I haven't had that many turnovers since Peyton was like, 'Eli, eat all of mom's turnovers before Archie gets back from work. He'll think it's so funny.'" Eli shook his head, and added sadly, "He didn't. Old man didn't even notice. No one ever notices Eli. No one'll ever care about Eli."
In the last scheduled meeting between two longtime rivals, Michigan outlasted the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, 41-30, in Ann Arbor. "I mean, I never like losing, but it's not like they're really our rival," said Notre Dame fan Ashley O'Connell through a tightly clenched jaw. "I mean it's not like USC, or, um, Stanford; how are the Wolverines possibly our rival?" O'Connell went on to ask as she unconsciously gnawed on her already mangled thumbnail. "Really though, we have no rivals, so any loss is meaningless." O'Connell, satisfied with this line of reasoning, allowed herself a smile for the first time in 24 hours, as blood streamed out of both her ears.
In case you were busy getting so jacked for football that you passed out at 1:30, here's what you missed in sports last night:
Peyton Manning was at his best, throwing for an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns in the Broncos' 49-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens. "Yeah, but who has the biggest yacht?" asked monocle-and–top hat–wearing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed an NFL-record $120.6 million contract in the offseason, while snacking out of a bucket of caviar. Flacco then blinked, allowing his monocle to fall to the ground, where it shattered. "Aww, crap, that was my dress monocle," whined Flacco, while bending over, which caused the top hat on his head to fall into a puddle of mud. "Gadzooks, my top hat," exclaimed Flacco before confessing, "guys, I don't even like caviar. And my yacht's hardly even a yacht. It's really just a big boat. Money isn't everything; why didn't anyone tell me?"
Stanislas Wawrinka dominated a woeful Andy Murray in a surprising 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 straight-set win over the tournament's reigning champion. A disheveled Murray, whose second serve was occasionally topping out at only 75 mph, asked after the match, "Does this mean I didn't win Wimbledon?" When told that of course it didn't, Murray smiled broadly, and added, "I thought not," before cranking up Van Halen's "Panama" on an old Sony boom box.
In case you were busy being ready for some football, some Wednesday-night football, Wednesday-night football that is never going to come, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner back Darrelle Revis has said he's "happy to spill the beans," in advance of the Bucs' matchup with his former team, the New York Jets. "It was a nice offer," said Bucs head coach Greg Schiano, "but it's just beans." When asked to clarify Schiano added, "Seriously, their whole playbook is just a box of supposedly magic beans. Apparently they traded their old defensive playbook, which was quite good, with some sort of evil space wizard wearing a sleeveless hooded cloak, and ended up with a box of beans." Schiano, a New Jersey native shrugged and said, "I wouldn't believe it, but, you know Jets."
An all-Italian quarterfinal at the U.S. Open yielded the day's biggest upset as Flavia Pennetta beat out no. 10 seed Roberta Vinci, 6-4, 6-1. Vinci was sanguine despite her loss, saying, "I have no regrets, I came, I saw, I Vinci." Meanwhile, despite advancing to her first career Grand Slam singles semifinal, Pennetta was less pleased with her tournament experience, saying, "I have many regrets; I came, I saw, I was detained at LaGuardia Airport after an idiotic mix-up involving former CIA director Leon Panetta. I did not conquer."
In case you were busy facing the ramifications of stealing plants off a wall, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
In a battle of the AL's top teams, Tigers starter Doug Fister spun a gem and Detroit got some late offense to top John Lackey and the Boston Red Sox 3-0 at Fenway Park. The Tigers now sit only half a game behind the Red Sox for the best record in the league, despite playing without the services of reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera for three straight games. "If he's so valuable then why are they winning without him?," asked ESPN Radio Detroit 1090 caller Ekim Salmon in a poorly wrought British accent, before adding, "now I don't want to go against the current here, but you'd have to be gone fishing to miss the greatness of that chap down in Anaheim." When asked if he was Mike Trout using a poorly wrought British accent, Salmon replied without an accent, "No no. No no. Definitely not. But I do have to go now."
Roger Federer fell in the fourth round of the U.S. Open for the first time in 10 years, losing to Spaniard Tommy Robredo 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4. "Time," whispered the ghost of Pete Sampras into Federer's ear after the match, "time. It comes for us all. And it is insatiable in its appetite for our talents and — wait a second. What do you mean "ghost"? I'm not dead." Sampras then flashed back through his entire career only to discover that he had died shortly after being struck in the head by a serve off the racket of Goran Ivanisevic in 1990, and had been dead through all of his major championships. I mean, if you look back on his career, it's pretty obvious; the unchanging boyish good looks, the use of the Wilson Pro Staff Original, which went unchanged since 1983, his wife, who was killed by a meat hook after her sister did something the previous summer. I mean, come on, we all should have seen this coming.
In case you were busy spending your weekend working for the weekend, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
It took a three-hitter from Jake Peavy to finish the job, but the Los Angeles Dodgers finally dropped a series for the first time since June after losing the rubber match of their interleague tilt with the Boston Red Sox, 8-1. "Now seeing Jake Peavy here at Chavez Ravine as a member of our league is one thing," said irritated Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda. "We let him in here all the time when he was down in San Diego. But this? This is an affront to nature. Peavy traipsing into our home, as a member of the miserable American League family? Why I never."
After a pitching duel between Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb left matters unresolved, an 11th-inning sacrifice fly from Curtis Granderson proved to be the difference-maker in a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays as the Yankees avoided a three-game sweep. "But the guy won't make the ultimate sacrifice," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said as he looked over his "thought wall," which contained a number of news stories about the Yankees, large numbers, and cutouts of indecipherable symbols, connected with different colored string. "Look, it all adds up; Curtis Granderson is 32 years old and is set to be a free agent next year. Free-agent outfielders are historically overpaid on the open market. I don't want to pay Curtis Granderson a lot of money, but I need him to play baseball for the Yankees because otherwise all we'll have is the rotting corpse of Vernon Wells." Cashman then pointed at a number of New York Post headlines referring to Wells thus, before continuing. "It all adds up! If Curtis Granderson pays the New York Yankees $63 million and seven of these hypercubes you can see here for the privilege of continuing to wear pinstripes next year, I can guarantee we'll be under the luxury tax and also in the World Series." Cashman then grabbed the lapels of his assistant and said, "He'll do it right? Right? Right? Tell me he'll do it. Please, I need this. Won't you look old Dollar Man in the eyes and tell me it'll all work out?"
In case you were busy brainwashing your current star quarterback so he won't talk with your former star quarterback lest things get awkward, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their stunning run, pairing an Andre Ethier game-tying ninth-inning home run with 12th-inning heroics from Yasiel Puig to top the New York Mets 5-4. "We're unstoppable," yelled veteran second baseman Mark Ellis as he walked home from the stadium after the game with three of his teammates. Just then, in the distance, he heard the sound of a train whistle. Ellis ran onto the tracks. "Come on, Marky," A.J. Ellis called to his teammate from the safety of the road, but Mark said back to him, "No, uh-uh. I'm gonna dodge it." A.J. called again to his teammate, "Come on, get off the tracks, you're crazy," but Mark stood his ground and said, "Train dodger. Dig it." Suddenly the locomotive came into view, and A.J. yelled, "Get off the tracks, you want to get yourself killed?" as an increasingly uncomfortable Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu stood silently by him. Mark then mimed swinging a bat at the train, but as it barreled closer A.J. grabbed him firm and dragged him out of danger. A.J. screamed at his namesake "You want to kill yourself? Is that what you want, goddamnit?" But Mark stared him straight in the eye and said, "The way we're playing, we could have dodged it." This would be only one incident in the most meaningful summer of these young men's lives. Teammates come in and out of your life, but you never have any friends like the ones you do when you're in a pennant race. Jesus, does anyone?
Despite the seemingly endless string of heroics taking place at Chavez Ravine, the Arizona Diamondbacks are doing their best to keep the NL West division race alive, walking off for the third consecutive night behind two key hits from Aaron Hill in a 5-4 14-inning win over the Baltimore Orioles. "We've found a winning formula, we just have to hit walk-offs every night where we otherwise wouldn't win," Hill said after the game. "Think about it: If we can't lose when we're losing, and we can't lose when we're winning, we can't lose. Which means we can't lose. Think about it. It's so simple."
In case you were busy letting down the thousands of people who retweeted you by not getting yourself arrested at a public event, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Despite being suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball for violating the league's drug policy, Alex Rodriguez's appeal of the suspension allowed him to play his first game of the season, in which he went 1-for-4 in the Yankees' 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. "Tough game, but it's good to be out there with all my friends, fighting the good fight," Rodriguez said as he sat desperately alone both physically and spiritually at the team's postgame press conference. "I'm at home when I'm with my teammates, and while I've made some mistakes, we all agree that the punishment I'm facing is unfair. Right guys?" Rodriguez then nodded confidently while saying, "Sure thing, Alex. With you to the end," in a falsetto out of the corner of his mouth. Rodriguez then pulled out an acoustic guitar, and yelled, "OK boys, all together now," before launching into an off-key rendition of "This Land Is Your Land."
In more positive baseball news, Jeremy Guthrie threw a shutout while Kansas City's offense exploded in a 13-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. Guthrie, despite the win, was fuming after the game, saying, "'This Land Is Your Land'? Seriously? Son of a bitch besmirches the game, and now he besmirches my family's good name? He better hope he's suspended before the next time we face the Yanks."
In case you were out enjoying a theatrical production of Moby-Dick in Space, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter returned from the DL in New York's 8-4 win over Kansas City, but his return might prove short-lived as he was forced to leave the game early with a quad injury. "Don't say a word," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman yelled to a backhoe parked outside of Yankee Stadium as he awaited the results of Jeter's MRI. "Do you think you're a big man, sitting there, laughing at me? Laughing at us? Laughing at the goddamned Yankees way? Do you? A big man, huh. A big ol' snorting man. Are you even a man? What do you got under the hood there? Boy parts or girl? And don't tell me gender's a fucking construct. I know what fucking constructs are. I built this ramshackle piece of shit team; I know what constructs are." Cashman then angrily threw the lobster bib he was wearing as a shirt to the ground. "You're a fucking machine, man. That's what you are. You didn't give birth to me. You don't get to tell me what to do. Unless " Cashman then paused, asking, "Mom? Are you my mother?"
Matt Moore struck out 10 for the Tampa Bay Rays en route to his 13th win in a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins. "Playing the Twins is never easy for me," Moore explained after the game, "ever since I stayed with my parents at this hotel in Colorado as a kid. We were supposed to take care of the place through the winter, but then things got weird. There were these two girls that were always asking me to come play with them. I guess that isn't that weird, but it gave me the willies. I mean, why weren't they in school? Come to think of it, why wasn't I in school? My parents really dropped the ball on that one."