StrategySeptember 9, 2009

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D-Day – Week 1

By Eli Ricke

Wednesday is D-Day. “D” as in defense, that is. It is fairly common practice among many fantasy football owners to use the “Plug and Play” strategy with defenses, kickers, and in some cases tight ends. For those of you who do not know how this works, it is fairly simple. You only carry one defense on your team and each week you pick the best matchup available on waivers. This is not always possible in leagues with deep benches or more than 12 teams. If the league size and bench depth are appropriate, then Plug and Play has its advantages as it allows you essentially to expand your bench roster and keep one more position player to use as a backup somewhere else.

In order to make this pertinent, I will exclude the top-12 team defenses. Chances are, they are already on somebody’s roster and will remain there for the season. Instead, I will cover the mid-to-lower tier defenses, which are most likely to be available on the waiver wire and have the best matchups each week.

I will also cover IDP leagues each week and will focus mainly on whose stock is rising or falling in the world of IDP fantasy football.

So without further ado, here are your weekly picks for Plug and Play:

Plug and Play Defenses – Week 1

1. New Orleans The Saints defense finished the 2008 football season ranked 26th in the league in points allowed and were only 1 point shy of being tied for 27th. Although there are reasons to believe that the Saints defense will improve somewhat in ’09, they likely will not finish as a top-10 defense. However, they should get a good holeshot on the other defenses in the league with their Week 1 matchup. The Saints open the season at home against the Detroit Lions. These two teams met last year at Detroit and New Orleans routed the Lions 42-7. While I don’t expect the Saints to score another lopsided victory, there are some interesting things to note that add a little wrinkle to this matchup. The Lions were not shut out in any games last year despite their 0-16 record. They were only held under 10 points twice and both of those games were at home. Interestingly, Detroit’s offense scored more points on the road than they did at Ford Field (152 vs. 116). On the other hand, Detroit has not won a road game since they beat the Bears 16–7 on October 28th, 2007. All streaks must end eventually, but I’ll go out on a limb and predict this streak continues for at least one more week. Projection: 10 points allowed, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery.

2. Seattle – The Seahawks open the season at home against the St. Louis Rams. The Rams are a little nicked up at the moment and enter Week 1 with a couple of key players nursing minor injuries, if you consider a broken pinkie on the throwing hand of your starting quarterback a minor injury that is. The aforementioned injury to Marc Bulger and a foot injury to Donnie Avery shouldn’t have a significant effect on their status for the game, but they are obviously not at 100%. For Seattle, the return of Patrick Kerney to the defensive front line will certainly help. Look for the Seahawks to put more men in the box and focus exclusively on Steven Jackson. If the St. Louis passing attack can’t counter that move, then Seattle’s defense is in nice shape for a pretty good week. The Seahawks should take the lead in this game and force St. Louis to go to the air. This should lead to more opportunities for sacks and interceptions for the Seattle defensive unit. Projection: 13 points allowed, 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble.

3. Green Bay – The Packers hired Dom Capers as their new defensive coordinator for 2009. While Capers has had some success as a head coach, he has always been better known for his defensive schemes. One of his most significant contributions to the Packer defense has been to replace the 4-3 defense (first implemented in 1992) with a 3-4 defense. This is notable for several reasons. One, the Packer players have had to learn a new defensive scheme, so we should expect a drop in performance. On the other hand, their rivals in the NFC North (the Vikings, Bears and Lions) will need to prepare differently this year than they have in a long, long time when facing the Pack. Oh, did I mention that the Packers face the Bears in Week 1? Not only that, but it’s a home game for the green and gold. The Packers first team offense has been getting all of the attention this preseason but the defense has quietly made their presence known. In the first three preseason games, the first-team defense for Green Bay surrendered only 10 total points while forcing 6 turnovers, one of which they returned for a touchdown. A healthy Nick Barnett behind the front line should only help matters. If the offense for Green Bay continues to click like it did in the preseason, I expect to see more Jay Cutler and less Matt Forte in Week 1. Projection: 10 points allowed, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD.

IDP Players

Here are a couple of players to keep an eye on in Week 1. There is a distinct possibility that some of them are available on your waiver wire at this moment, but that may not be the case for long.

1. James Laurinaitis – Given that he is playing for a Rams team that went 2-14 last season, the rookie MLB for St Louis is in the perfect situation to rack up points for your fantasy team. The Rams may improve that record, but the early indications are that they will likely be the whipping boys of the NFC West. Opposing teams will go to the ground to try and run out the clock once they take a lead on St Louis. This should equate to more tackle opportunities for the rookie linebacker.

2. E.J. Henderson – You might be surprised to know that E.J. holds the NCAA record for most solo tackles in a season (135) and that he averaged 12.5 tackles per game in his college career. He had an NFL career best 94 solo tackles in 2007 and was well on his way to over 100 solo tackles in 2008 (28 tackles in 4 games) before suffering a foot injury which ended his season. So far this preseason he looks as if he has not lost a step and, barring injury of course, I expect him to easily break 100 tackles in ‘09.

3. Patrick Kerney - After a career best 49 solo tackles and 14.5 sacks in 2007, Kerney started off 2008 on the same pace. Unfortunately, like E.J., his season was also ended early due to injury. If he can get through 2009 without catching the injury bug again he should put up solid numbers as an IDP defensive lineman.

4. Shawn Merriman – The sports media is buzzing at the moment with the allegations of assault against Merriman, but that’s not what we’re interested in here. Merriman’s history is tainted with a positive test for steroids, however he has been a solid IDP player in the past. He does have 39.5 sacks in the three full seasons that he played, the last two of which were after serving his suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. It will be interesting to see how the current situation plays out, but if Merriman suits up and plays at the level he has in the past he could put up very good numbers for your IDP fantasy squad.

Eli Ricke knows absolutely nothing about Fantasy Football that everyone else doesn’t already know. All of his success in Fantasy Football can be attributed entirely to dumb luck. He has been playing Fantasy Football since 1999 and is a habitual liar. You will occasionally run across him in the cafe forums under the name 204BC, a name that has no particular meaning whatsoever. He just made it up, the same thing he does with most of the advice he gives.
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