Getting A Late Start
By Jeff Pasquino
August 18th, 2010

So much time is spent by fantasy football players on the preparation for the coming season - who to draft, what positions to emphasize, who will break out this year and who will bust - and all of that is great preparation for their league's draft day. That is a great way to prepare for their draft, but quite often fantasy players overlook critical parts of winning fantasy leagues during the NFL schedule. I am referring to in season roster and team management, a big part of fantasy football that gets de-emphasized this time of year. With so much at stake for your team during a draft, isn't it a good idea to at least think a little about what your draft approach will mean to your team once the NFL kicks off their schedule?

Here is one scenario that I have seen far too often for most every fantasy player: A key starting player is banged up in the middle of the year and questions swirl in the media about his health. The coach has his weekly press conference after the game only to say that your fantasy team's lifeblood is "day to day". As the week wears on you hope for better news, but everything leads towards the dreaded "Game Time Decision" status for your main man, making life miserable for you right up until Sunday.

Now that Sunday is here, you still do not know if your star is going to play. To make matters worse, he is not playing in the first set of games (1PM Eastern), which makes getting information about his status even harder to get. All the NFL pre-game shows are fixated on the early games as players trickle onto the fields and warm up for kickoffs. The 4PM starts and the later games are hardly mentioned. The only good news for you is that your league allows you to make roster moves right up until kickoff for each game, so you have the ability to swap out your preferred guy for someone on the bench.

Now, do you have a viable sub on your team that is playing at 4PM or later? That is to say, do you have a backup plan?

Wouldn't you think that it would be a good idea to at least know who is playing later games this year just in case this situation pops up? I can almost guarantee you that it will at some point, because over the course of 16 games it nearly always does.

What I have done is to break down the 2010 NFL Schedule in a particular way. I have grouped each team's games into kickoff times - from Thursday night games all the way to Monday Night Football. By doing this I hope to identify several teams that have at least 50% of their games at 4PM Eastern or later. By doing this we can help to identify key backup players for a fantasy roster that can serve this critical purpose - avoiding a zero in a fantasy lineup.

Table 1 breaks down the 16 games for all 32 NFL clubs based upon game time kickoffs:

Div
Team
Bye
Thur
Sat
SunEarly
SunLate
SunNight
MNF
Late
AFCE
Buffalo
6
16
0
Miami
5
1
11
2
1
1
4
New England
5
1
7
4
2
2
8
NY Jets
7
1
7
4
1
3
8
AFCN
Baltimore
8
1
12
1
2
3
Cincinnati
6
1
13
1
1
2
Cleveland
8
16
Pittsburgh
5
1
10
1
3
1
5
AFCS
Houston
7
1
10
3
2
5
Indianapolis
7
1
5
6
3
1
10
Jacksonville
9
12
3
1
4
Tennessee
9
1
12
2
1
3
AFCW
Denver
9
5
10
1
11
Kansas City
4
11
4
1
5
Oakland
10
4
12
12
San Diego
10
1
2
9
2
2
13
NFCE
Dallas
4
1
1
6
4
3
1
8
NY Giants
8
9
3
3
1
7
Philadelphia
8
1
7
4
3
1
8
Washington
9
10
3
2
1
6
NFCN
Chicago
8
1
12
1
2
3
Detroit
7
1
15
0
Green Bay
10
10
2
3
1
6
Minnesota
4
1
10
2
1
2
5
NFCS
Atlanta
8
1
12
2
1
3
Carolina
6
1
14
1
1
New Orleans
10
2
8
3
1
2
6
Tampa Bay
4
14
2
2
NFCW
Arizona
6
1
4
10
1
11
Seattle
5
3
13
13
San Francisco
9
1
6
6
1
2
9
St. Louis
9
7
9
9
Totals
20
2
300
124
32
34
190

Table 1: 2010 NFL Schedule Broken Down By Kickoff Times

West Coast Bias

Looking over Table 1 gives some interesting information. Both the AFC West and the NFC West have several teams that have eight or more late kickoffs, which makes sense once you look at a map of the United States. Three California teams lead the way here (San Francisco, San Diego and Oakland) while Denver, Arizona and Seattle are close enough to warrant late starts for home games. The St. Louis Rams also have over half of their schedule starting late thanks to so many trips out west. Only the Chiefs in the AFC West do not continue that trend thanks mostly due to their Central Time Zone home location.

Not much of that is surprising, but what does jump out at me are the other five franchises that have eight or more late starts. These teams - New England, Dallas, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and the New York Jets - are all playoff teams from last season and many of their games will be on Sunday Night or Monday Night Football thanks to national interest in their games. That is critical information to have when you are looking for a nice backup or emergency player for your fantasy roster.

In Case Of Emergency

Once we know the teams that have favorable schedules for emergency backups, the question becomes which players to target. We certainly do not want to draft a player only due to his emergency assistance role, but if that is a tiebreaker for selecting a player then it is worth consideration. As mentioned before, stars do get banged up, and in my own experience this tends to be running backs more than any other position. Let us start by taking the list of teams with eight or more late starts and panning for viable RB3s or RB4s enough to warrant late starts for home games. Table 2 summarizes our results:

ADP
Running Back
Team
RB ADP
57
Felix Jones
Dal
RB24
64
Marion Barber
Dal
RB26
81
Ricky Williams
Mia
RB32
91
Michael Bush
Oak
RB34
97
Darren McFadden
Oak
RB37
102
Donald Brown
Ind
RB38
103
Darren Sproles
SD
RB39
104
Tim Hightower
Ari
RB40
121
Laurence Maroney
NE
RB48
145
Leon Washington
Sea
RB50
173
Correll Buckhalter
Den
RB55
181
Tashard Choice
Dal
RB58

Table 2: Suggestions For Late Start Running Backs

Looking over Table 2 we see 12 running backs from the suggested teams with late starts this year. The two backs from Dallas are grayed out because their ADP is a bit high (Round 5 or Round 6 picks) for a RB3 / emergency back - but if you pick one or both of them then they can serve that dual purpose. The other 10 backs all have ADPs suitable for RB3 and beyond (Round 7 to Round 16). Names like Michael Bush and Donald Brown are excellent RB4 candidates as they have both upside (as in they win their starting role) and that even if they do not they are still likely to see several chances a game, exactly what you would want from an emergency replacement in your lineup.

As always, questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

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