Pat Fitzmaurice is addicted to competitive cooking shows ("Top Chef," "Chopped," Hell's Kitchen," etc.), and he also loves to eat. Since he isn't much of a cook, he's channeling his chef obsession into Fitz's Four-Course Fantasy Feast, a regular column featuring an appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert. Bon appétit.
Appetizer: Cheese and crackers, summer sausage, veggie platter
Before we roll up our sleeves and attack this hearty pre-feast platter, let us pause and give thanks for the bounty of fantasy football, which keeps us so wildly entertained even in our most trying seasons. Let us also give thanks for the NFL, the greatest of all professional sports leagues, which we'll miss terribly next fall if labor-management Armageddon comes to pass.
Please allow me to offer thanks for some other blessings:
I'm thankful for the competitors in all of my fantasy football leagues — a wonderful bunch of friends and characters whose company I enjoy tremendously.
I'm thankful for the NFL Network, which keeps me informed and entertained throughout the year. If I could only watch one TV channel for the rest of my life, this would probably be the one.
I'm thankful for DirecTV, with its NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL Short Cuts. Enough said.
I'm thankful for Antonio Gates, who almost single-handedly kept one of my teams above .500 until the rest of my squad was finally able to chip in once Gates got hurt.
I'm thankful for Matt Ryan, who has given two of my teams admirable consistency at the QB position.
I'm thankful for Roddy White, a true superstar who does nice things for his fantasy teams week after week.
I'm thankful for my wife and children, who make me almost as happy as Roddy White does. But seriously, thank you, Heidi, Callie and Ben, for giving me endless joy and for dealing with an unhinged husband and father every Sunday during the NFL season.
I'm thankful for Jamaal Charles, an electrifying player who's been my MVP in a league where Charles' lights-out yardage totals trump his lack of touchdowns.
I'm thankful for Mike Wallace and his penchant for providing the big play whenever my team seems to need one.
I'm thankful for Dan Carpenter and his titanium foot.
I'm thankful for the Buccaneers' Mike Williams, the best preseason call I've made in a couple of years.
And finally, I'm thankful for you, dear readers. Thanks for being here, and thanks for all the nice notes you've dropped into my in-box over the course of the season.
Salad: Jell-O salad
Ah, the Jell-O salad. It's not just a classic Thanksgiving dish; it's a big shimmering slab of Americana. You have to appreciate any salad that wobbles.
And while we're on the subject of wobbly things, let's talk briefly about how the Giants' offense will deal with the absence of Hakeem Nicks for the next several weeks.
Nicks has compartment syndrome in his right leg, and it's expected to keep him out until at least Week 15, possibly longer. The Giants could more easily survive the temporary loss of Nicks if their No. 2 receiver, Steve Smith, were healthy, but Smith is expected to be out until at least Week 13 with a pectoral injury.
The good news for Eli Manning & Associates is that the Giants' schedule is littered with iffy pass defenses over the next few weeks. Next up are home games against the Jaguars and Redskins, who rank 28th and 29th, (dis)respectfully, against the pass. Then comes a Week 14 road trip to Minnesota, where the Vikings may be in winter hibernation by then. Minnesota ranks 15th against the pass, but if you watched the Vikings-Packers game last week, you know that it's possible to do good business against the Vikings' DBs.
Thing is, Manning tends to forces passes even when he has a full complement of receivers. Now he's down to one pretty good receiver (Mario Manningham) and a couple of guys who were out of the league just a few weeks ago (Derek Hagan and Michael Clayton), with good reason. Manning has thrown 16 interceptions this season, and he's been picked off eight times in his last four games. If you're in a league that penalizes interceptions, beware: It's hard to see Manning as any less of a turnover liability when he has so many receivers hurt. The only good news on that front is that the Giants may try to run the ball a lot more while Nicks and Smith are out, but that would obviously hurt Manning owners in other ways.
Manningham probably gains some short-term fantasy value, but I'd be reluctant to overstate the boost he'll get. He's going to get more defensive attention, and he hasn't had to be a No. 1 receiver since his days at the University of Michigan (although he handled it pretty well in Ann Arbor). I can't recommend either Hagan or Clayton. They're not NFL-caliber receivers, and while one of them might stumble into a touchdown or two, neither is a good investment. But I do like the prospects of TE Kevin Boss for the next few weeks. The Giants will have no choice but to get him more involved in the passing game.
The guy who could really get a fantasy boost from all of this is Brandon Jacobs. He's moving back into the starting lineup, ostensibly because of Ahmad Bradshaw's fumbling problem. But it's also a signal that the Giants want to re-ignite the power running game that used to serve them so well now that their WR corps has taken a huge hit. And even though Bradshaw is being benched, I think he still maintains most of his fantasy value. The Giants need his speed and pass-catching ability and can't afford to let him collect dust on the sideline.
Entrée: Turkey with all the trimmings
The perfectly cooked turkey? It's golden-brown on the outside, the meat is moist, and it doesn't need any gravy, just a little bit of salt. The perfectly disappointing fantasy football turkey? You draft him highly or pay a premium for him at auction, he lets you down week after week, and he teases you by leading you to believe that changes to his personal ecosystem will coax out his dormant ability.
Hello, Randy Moss. Welcome to Thanksgiving dinner. How are your giblets?
Moss is the turkey of the year — a bigger turkey than any of the frozen Butterballs you'll find at the grocery store. The frozen form of Moss has left a great many of his fantasy owners out in the cold this year.
Back in August and early September — fantasy draft season — Moss was the consensus No. 2 receiver behind Andre Johnson. (I ranked him several spots lower than that, but never mind.)
It's hard to survive the sort of hit you take when you spend such a high pick on a player who lays the sort of egg that Moss has dropped this season. You'd actually have been better off with a highly drafted superstar who sustained a season-ending injury in Week One (e.g., Tom Brady in 2008). Then you could at least go about the business of finding a replacement, and it would still be possible to put a productive player into that spot. Many Moss owners have just kept throwing that moody mope into their lineups every week, hoping Moss will snap out of his trance and start using his Hall of Fame talent.
You're a turkey, Randy Moss. There isn't a platter or a gravy boat big enough for you.
Some other notable turkeys of the 2010 season:
Vincent Jackson — Just when he'd established himself as one of the better receivers in the league, a league-imposed suspension and a contract snit wiped out nearly an entire season in what should be the prime of his career. His return could still help some fantasy owners, but for many it's too late.
Shonn Greene — One touchdown? It's hard to believe that Greene was a top-10 running back on some preseason draft boards. And just when the Jets were starting to put more faith in him, he lost a critical fumble last week, jump-starting a Houston comeback in a game the Jets barely won, thanks to a last-minute miracle.
Mike Sims-Walker — In honor of Sims-Walker, Webster's New World Dictionary now hyphenates the word "in-consistency."
Laurence Maroney — When this guy was a freshman at the University of Minnesota, I thought he had a chance to someday wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Maroney isn't quite a Moss-level waste of talent, but he's not that far off.
Chad Henne — The Dolphins added Brandon Marshall in the offseason. Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano are all capable pass catchers. Miami has two solid running backs, and OLT Jake Long is one of the best blind-side protectors in the business. This season hasn't just been a flop for Henne, it's been a belly flop off the 10-meter platform.
Ryan Mathews — I realize he's been hurt, but what a colossal rookie disappointment.
Cowboys' running backs — Dallas ranks 29th in rushing and is tied for last in rushing TDs with three. Marion Barber looks like he's done, Felix Jones has been disappointing, and Tashard Choice can't find his way out of the doghouse.
Brett Favre — An ignominious end to a Hall of Fame career. Time to hit the bricks, Brett.
Jay Cutler — An interception waiting to happen. (But at least he has a sunny personality.)
Marshawn Lynch — "Beast mode," eh? In six games with the Seahawks, he's surpassed 50 rushing yards only once. You'll find fiercer beasts lapping up milk out of a saucer.
Beanie Wells — I'd offer a longer comment on him, but I just sprained two of my typing fingers.
Dessert: Pumpkin pie a la mode
Oh, man, I'm stuffed. I couldn't possibly ... well, OK, maybe just a little slice. Sure, I'll take some ice cream with that.
One final thought to conclude this feast:
Every year at about this time, I like to look at the rosters of the best teams in my leagues and see which players they tend to have in common. When I went through this little exercise earlier in the week, two names kept popping up repeatedly on the rosters of top-drawer teams: Darren McFadden and Dwayne Bowe.
A checklist for fantasy football success would include these items:
Hit on your top picks. It's hard to win a championship when your first- and second-rounders don't at least live up to their lofty draft position.
Avoid busts. It's nearly impossible to recover from a Randy Moss-caliber disaster.
Unearth hidden gems: Some of my competitors didn't know anything about Tampa Bay's Mike Williams when I drafted him. He's been a rock-solid starter for me. I was also lucky enough to hit on Keiland Williams in the late stages of a 22-round draft. He's playing an important role for me down the home stretch. Hitting on just one or two sleeper picks can pay off big-time.
Manage your roster shrewdly: Improve your talent level via trades and waiver claims, and make good lineup decisions.
Get lucky. You can't control Lady Luck, but injuries can kill a fantasy team, and so can the misfortune of leading your league in the points-against category.
But getting back to McFadden and Bowe, I think those two represent perhaps the most important item on the to-do list for successful fantasy teams: Find the quantum-leapers.
On most preseason draft boards, Bowe fell somewhere between No. 25 and No. 40 at wide receiver, and McFadden was in about the same range at running back. Now they're both top-10 at their positions, possibly even top-five. Both guys had flashed star ability in the past. Bowe's potential was evident when he was a rookie in 2007, and McFadden has a Heisman Trophy on display in his den. Both were coming off disappointing, injury-marred 2009 campaigns.
Remember these guys for 2011, and make note of players with similar profiles. At this time next season, we could be praising fantasy owners shrewd enough to have drafted Beanie Wells, Shonn Greene or Mike Sims-Walker, all of whom appear on the turkey list above, but all of whom fit the Bowe-McFadden success profile.
Hey, stranger things have happened.