Beginner Series Section XI: Deciding Who to Start and Who to Bench
By Will Grant
May 17th, 2012

OK, you've selected your players, analyzed your strengths, grabbed a couple free agents, pulled a trade or two and now you're ready for Game 1. So you glance down at your roster and try to decide who is going to give you that all-important first win. Here are a few tips on how to ensure that your team not only notches its first win, but also keeps you in every game, even against the league champion.

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Know Your Deadlines

This is the single most important piece of information when determining your lineup from week to week. All the research and breaking news in the world won't mean much if it's too late to change your lineup. It is critical that you know when your starting lineup is frozen.

It may sound silly to state this as the most important rule, but you will be surprised at how often it is missed. During the course of the regular season, someone will forget that there's a Thursday game, or that their stud running back is off this week. By the time they realize their mistake, it will be past the deadline, and they'll start someone who is off or sit someone who they should not have.

On Wednesday of each week, grab the schedule and glance at it for a few minutes. Make note of any Thursday or Saturday games that may be scheduled that week. Also note which teams are off that week. Compare these teams with your roster players and make your changes early. As the deadline approaches, adjust your lineup as necessary.

Know Your Studs

Another simple rule that sometimes is overlooked. If you've got the No. 4 RB in the league, but they are facing the No. 1 Run Defense in the league, do you bench them for someone else? No way! Not unless you're lucky enough to have 3 stud runners on your roster. Your stud players are the guys who will be there week in and out for you. These guys always find a way to contribute. They might not chip in 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns every week, but even against the toughest defenses, these guys can have an impact. Never sit your studs unless they are injured. Period.

Know Your Matchups

The key to posting solid numbers week after week is to put the best team possible on the field. If you can correctly determine your highest scoring player at every position (100% scoring efficiency) you'll win most of your games. It sounds simple, but it's really not. After every loss, you will probably be able to look back on your roster and see a guy who would have won the game for you, if only you had started him.

The key to putting the best team on the field is to look at the opponents of all your players. Is your backup RB playing a team with a weak run defense? If so, you might slip him in as your No. 2. Is your backup quarterback playing a team with a banged up secondary? You might want to start him this week. Is your starting kicker playing outside in the rain or snow? You might want to start your backup instead. Knowing who your players are matched up against can really help maximize your scoring each week.

One very important thing needs to be mentioned again here. Never bench your stud players because your backups have an easier opponent. It is a very bad idea. Don't do it. Always start your stud players. This can't be stressed enough.

Know your Intangibles

Here are a few other things to consider when rounding out your lineup.

  • If your league allows flex positions, always start the players who average the most points each week.
  • If one of your players is on a hot streak, take a chance and move them into the starting lineup in place of your No. 2 guy.
  • If everything else is equal between two players, start the one who is not listed on the injury report. Some points are better than none.
  • As the deadline for your lineup approaches, check for breaking news about injured players. Was your starter downgraded on the injury report? Was a player injured at practice later in the week? A last minute change in the injury status of a player can leave you with a guaranteed zero from one of your starters. Avoid this if you can.
  • Follow these simple rules, and you will find that your team will be competitive week after week. Pulling out one or two close victories during the regular season can boost you into the playoffs, or give you a higher overall rank at the end of the year.

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