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Potential is a Double-Edged Sword in Fantasy Football

Potential, what a double edged sword you are.

You tantalize with your capabilities, but more often than not, you are unable to be fulfilled.

The definition of potential in its noun form is this, "Latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness."

Keyword, "may."

As we all know, sometimes, things just don't work out. While that success or usefulness is a definite possibility, it's not guaranteed.

With this past weekend serving as Week 9 of the NFL season, many fantasy football owners all over the nation were forced to make some difficult lineup decisions that would drastically impact their playoff chances.

With many fantasy football playoffs commencing in Week 14 — or Week 13 if you are in a larger league wise enough to avoid playing the championship game in the final week of the season — Week 9 serves as a make or break week for bubble teams hoping to make the fantasy playoffs. Any owner sitting around .500 with a 4-4 record, or just below, can truly boost his odds of making the playoffs with a win in Week 9.

A win in Week 9 can lead to a strong run that closes out the season and gives him a ticket to the big dance. A loss can shut the season down as mathematics come into play and he realizes that he needs to win every remaining game while those ahead of him in the standings must suffer epic collapses. Essentially, a win keeps him comfortably alive in the standings, whereas, a loss can make him feel like Walking Dead zombies are closing in all around and all he has is a six shooter with four remaining bullets.

With that in mind, the fantasy football conundrum comes to the forefront. Needing a win, these bubble owners must decide, "Should I play the guy with more potential, or should I play the conservative option?"

In many cases, this decision will decide the matchup. The bubble owner's upside guy, although inconsistent, may be facing a weak defense that bleeds points to his position, whereas, the conservative option may be facing a tough defense, but the owner knows that he can trust him to at least put up modest numbers.

As a bubble owner, I faced this conundrum this past weekend, and if my bitterness hasn't spilled onto the page yet, it will now. Sitting at 3-5 in my 12 team league, with two teams comfortably sitting in first place at 6-2, two teams at 5-3, and four teams at 4-4, a win would thrust me right back into the playoff mix.

Needing a win, and facing a massive 25 point deficit due to the performance of the Chargers D/ST on Thursday Night Football, I was forced to place a premium upon high upside players who had the potential to make up for that ridiculous performance that the Chargers defense laid upon the woeful Chiefs. With byes and injuries taking out some key contributors, I had to decide upon two separate plays that would definitely impact my chances of winning this matchup.

Those decisions came down to Aaron Rodgers of the Packers versus Cam Newton of the Panthers, and Malcom Floyd of the Chargers versus Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles. In each case, I chose the upside guy by starting Newton and Maclin.

Before you start shaking your head and calling me stupid, let me explain my decisions.

First, my decision to sit Rodgers. He was coming off of a subpar 12 fantasy point performance against the lowly Jaguars the prior week, and the Cardinals defense (his Week 9 opponent) hadn't allowed any quarterback all season to top 20 fantasy points — Alex Smith posted the highest total with 19 fantasy points in Week 8. In fact, the Cardinals defense had allowed just two quarterbacks to toss more two or more touchdowns all season. Allowing just 9.4 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks all season (2nd best), I feared Rodgers would put up a modest 14-18 point game. Obviously, Rodgers is great, but I needed to play someone who could absolutely blow up with something like a 30 point performance.

So, looking for a potential monster game, I chose to play Cam Newton. I had actually just claimed Newton off of waivers following Week 8 because a disillusioned owner in our league got so sick of his poor play that he just dropped him altogether — with just 29 combined fantasy points in his prior three games, it's hard to blame the decision. Newton has been quite underwhelming this season, but facing the atrocious Redskins defense, I figured he would have the better chance to deliver an astounding performance. Newton has averaged just 14.4 fantasy points per game this season, far less than Rodger's 19.3, but the Redskins defense had allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 18.4 points (ranked 29th) per game. Four quarterbacks had topped 20 points on the Redskins heading into Week 9, and I expected Newton to be the fifth — while hoping that he would actually hit 30.

With my quarterback decision clarified, let me explain my receiver choice. My flex play came down to just two options, Floyd or Maclin — I seriously had no one else due to byes and injuries.

Floyd would face the lowly Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. Other than Doug Martin's performance against the Vikings, Thursday night has yielded few outstanding fantasy performances this season. I just don't trust the shortened week as a viable option to increase the odds of a big performance. That, coupled with the fact that Floyd hadn't scored a touchdown since Week 1, heavily weighed upon my decision. Even further, the Chargers were coming off of a dismal performance against the Browns in Week 8 when they didn't even score a touchdown. Although the Chiefs have allowed an average of 22.1 points to opposing wide receivers (ranked 21st), I expected Floyd to give me something like 50 yards or so for five points. Floyd maxed out in his Week 1 performance with 12 points, so his upside was severely limited. I figured Floyd was a safe bet for five, but with my deficit, I needed something more than that.

So, I chose to play Maclin. Maclin has done a whole lot of nothing this season for a variety of reasons. He's playing on the dismal Eagles, his quarterback, Michael Vick, is a turnover machine, and he's been battling a hip injury. However, Maclin has had his impressive moments, notably his Week 6 performance against the Lions that produced 21 fantasy points as he hauled in six receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown — my league has a two point bonus for touchdowns of 50+ yards. Facing the Saints, a defense that has allowed an average of 31.8 fantasy points to opposing receivers (ranked 32nd, worst in the NFL), I envisioned Maclin giving me something in the 12-18 point range. Maclin's 21 point Week 6 and 15 point Week 1 gave me hope for a big game, and it offered a much higher upside play than Floyd's 12 point max in Week 1.

So, how did my potential versus conservative strategy play out?

Well, I lost by three and a half points in my matchup, 100-103.5. Even worse, it was my girlfriend and her 1-7 team that pretty much sealed my playoff-less fate — she relished the spoiler role. To put a cherry on top, either conservative decision would have given me the win. Rodgers finished with 26.5 fantasy points compared to Newton's 21, and Floyd finished with 10 compared to Maclin's pathetic two.

My decision to sit Rodgers was definitely my downfall. I mean, you just don't sit your studs. I got cute and sat my first round pick, and it cost me. He actually didn't have that great of a game, but he was able to put up a great line due to a blown coverage that led to a 72-yard touchdown pass to the backup tight end, Tom Crabtree. This play served as the final play of the third quarter, Rodger's final touchdown pass, and a play that gave him 9 fantasy points. Rodgers would accumulate just three more passing yards in the fourth quarter en route to his line of 218 passing yards and 33 rushing yards, but his four touchdown tosses piled up the points.

Even with that, I entered Monday night with the hope that Maclin would nurse my 15 point lead against Drew Brees and Pierre Thomas on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Maclin finished with just two receptions for 28 yards, producing two measly fantasy points. Maclin did have one opportunity for a touchdown, but Vick overthrew him on a double post and sailed the ball out of the end zone. On the other hand, Floyd hauled in four receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown — of course he would haul in his second touchdown of the season.

In the end, I really can't blame myself, but it sure does hurt. I believe that my decisions gave me the best chance to win, but the "potential" plays just didn't pan out. Maclin delivered his fourth game of single digit points, and Newton came up just short on a couple of plays that would have won it for me — namely a bomb to Steve Smith (my starting receiver) in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Coming into the weekend, I knew that both plays were high risk/high reward, and I hoped for the best.

What would you have done facing a 25 point deficit from a defense?

Anyways, for those of you who made those gutsy decisions based on potential, I salute you. If it was a success, great job, and if it was a failure, I feel your pain. Nothing is a sure thing, and if you can't place some hope in potential, then what can you place it in? Either way, you did what you thought was best for your team, and win or lose, you have to live with it.

At least we aren't actual general managers, they get fired for signing those guys with potential that never pan out. Imagine how it must feel to be the guy who believed in JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Kwame Brown — well MJ probably doesn't care — or Michael Olawakandi. If we feel lousy, they must feel like complete morons — well, other than MJ, because, you know, he doesn't care.

Whatever the case, best of luck, and if you are in a position like myself, here's to running the table and hoping for a playoff berth, and if not, at least spoiling someone else's chance.

And for those facing the potential conundrum in actual life, you know, things more important than fantasy football, always ask yourself, "Am I content with a safe outcome, something average that probably won't be spectacular, or do I want to reach for the stars and either shine bright or burn out?" However you decide, be confident and live with it.

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