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21 Things

The greatest motivator: Fear of humiliation

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Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice

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Posted Sept. 15, 2011 @ 8:37 p.m. ET
By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. A number of years ago I picked every NFL game against the spread for the "Handicapper's Corner" section in the print edition of Pro Football Weekly, and I stunk. I consider myself a semi-competent handicapper, and in trying to figure out why I was so consistently terrible in picking games, I had a minor epiphany.

The print edition of PFW is finalized late on Sunday night, and Handicapper's Corner selections are made in the evening, with that day's results fresh in the minds of editors. After watching a team get pummeled earlier in the day, I found it hard to pick it to cover the following week, even if it was getting a generous dollop of points. On the flip side, I tended to pick favorites whom I'd just seen play well, spread be damned.

Football, more than most other sports, is a game of emotion, and what I usually failed to account for in my selections was the motivational power of humiliation and the disincentive that comes with self-satisfaction. A team that's humiliated one week will often come out of the tunnel breathing fire the next, eager to earn redemption. A team fresh from a convincing victory will often come out sluggishly the following week, the torpor possibly resulting from lack of hunger and urgency.

Think about the degree to which fear of humiliation motivates you in your daily life, compelling you to act in accordance with societal norms, to perform tasks well and perform them on time.

A few years after my handicapping debacle at PFW, I put a theory to the test in a friend's handicapping pool. I looked for games in which a team coming off a loss was facing a team coming off a convincing win. I'd pick the team coming off a loss — and usually get a generous number of points to boot. I won my friend's handicapping pool that year by a comfortable margin.

What does this have to do with fantasy football? Well, I think this theory — call it The Theory of Football Elasticity — can occasionally be applied to the management of a fantasy team. Let's use a couple of quarterbacks as an example.

Matt Schaub performed capably last week in a blowout victory, his numbers tamped down somewhat by the fact that the Texans were beating the holy hell out of the Colts by halftime. This week, Schaub faces a Miami defense that was just shredded for 500-plus passing yards by Tom Brady and the Patriots. Miami's secondary couldn't have played much worse. This appears to be a favorable matchup for Schaub. But the Dolphins' secondary is actually pretty decent (assuming its members aren't cramping up the way they were for the latter part of last week's game). The Dolphins will be playing a second consecutive home game, and they're undoubtedly eager to wash the taste of humiliation out of their mouths.

Matt Ryan played poorly last week in the Falcons' lopsided loss to the Bears. He threw no TD passes and committed a couple of sloppy turnovers. He managed to throw for 319 yards despite being under a heavy pass rush all day, but he did no damage downfield and accumulated all those yards only because Atlanta trailed by a wide margin for most of the game. This week, Ryan returns home to face the Eagles and their vaunted set of cornerbacks (plus a couple of highly paid pass rushers). The Falcons-Eagles game marks the return of Michael Vick to Atlanta, and that city still has a sizable pocket of Vick supporters. Ryan surely knows that if he were to be badly outplayed by Vick, the heretofore unwavering support of Falcons fans will start to dissipate.

For this week's games, I rate Ryan a little higher than I normally would in my weekly rankings (13th at the QB position) because I think fear of humiliation will inspire him to play reasonably well — and this is coming from someone who thinks Ryan is the NFL's most overrated quarterback. I also placed Schaub a little lower in my weekly positional rankings than I normally would (11th), since the Dolphins' defense is likely to be bent on revenge, and because the Texans might be feeling fat and happy after whipping the Colts.

That does it for this week's installment of Psychology 101. Next week we'll examine what a Rorschach test can tell you about your placekicker.

 

2. Sans Peyton Manning, the Colts' passing offense is basically non-functional. Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark lose a ton of value, and Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie might not even be worth owning anymore, depending on the parameters of your league. You're understandably frustrated if you own any of these guys, particularly if you're in a league that held its draft before Manning's status was clarified. If you feel the need to lash out, I invite you to direct your anger at Colts president Bill Polian and his son Chris, the team's GM.

The Colts have been tempting fate with their backup quarterbacks for years, and the decision not to pay higher premiums for Peyton Manning insurance has finally bitten them in the derriere. No quarterback is indestructible, even if it seemed that way with Manning. When Brett Favre was going strong in Green Bay, the Packers still made a diligent effort to find competent backups. Aaron Rodgers, Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell and Aaron Brooks all served as backups to Favre. Manning's backups? How about Curtis Painter, Jim Sorgi, Brock Huard and Steve Walsh? Any resemblance between those gentlemen and an actual NFL quarterback is purely coincidental. And when it became clear to the Polians that Manning wasn't close to returning to action, they rang up Kerry Collins, a backup-level oldster who'd recently announced his retirement and had his tee times booked through November.

The Colts have been playing with fire for a long time. It's a pity for Colts fans that the season appears to be a total loss after one week. It's also a pity for the owners of Wayne, Clark, Garcon and Collie.

 

3. Here's an indication of how far Reggie Wayne's value has fallen: I just traded him straight up for Cedric Benson in one league. And believe me, I've been withholding my Cedric Benson Fan Club membership dues for years.

 

4. Not to dwell on the Colts' woes, but have you seen the number on their game this week? Indianapolis is a 2.5-point home underdog to Cleveland. And this is with the Browns coming off a home loss to the Bengals. Wow.

 

5. Once drafts and auctions are over, many of us seek ways to demonstrate our tactical genius, and so we fall into the trap of overmanagement. In Week One, this trap was set in particularly devilish fashion, with Ray Rice scheduled to face the fearsome Pittsburgh run defense, and Tony Romo up against the Jets and their lockdown corners. Some owners sought to escape what they considered to be matchup hell and benched these studs.

Whoops.

Rice, held to a measly 84 rushing yards in three games against the Steelers last season (two regular-season games plus a conference playoff semifinal), ran for 107 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns in last week's opener against Pittsburgh. On Sunday night, Romo defied a daunting matchup with the Jets, throwing for 342 yards and two TDs. As for his late-game heroics ... um, never mind. Point is, for most of the game Romo made Revis Island seem like more of a relaxing retreat (think: Aruba) than a hellish purgatory (think: Manhattan).

I came close, really close, to benching Romo for Kyle Orton before finally coming to my senses. The temptation to overmanage is strong, especially in the early weeks of the season. Fight it, my friends. Benching your studs due to ominous matchups is usually a bad move.

 

6. So Tom Brady completes 32 passes for 517 yards, and Chad Mucho-Stinko catches one pass for 14 yards. Anyone else get the feeling Chad might be out of a roster spot by the time the Patriots hit their Week Seven bye?

 

7. Sam Bradford is going to need more help from his pass catchers than he got in the Rams' opener, when several on-target passes were dropped. Bradford's two favorite receivers won't be available for a while. Mark Clayton is on the PUP list, and Danny Amendola dislocated his elbow last week. The most optimistic projections have Amendola coming back in a month, but a range of 8-10 weeks might be more realistic.

Who's going to step up? Brandon Gibson, one of the few Rams receivers to play decently last week, is going to be part of the picture. His talents aren't alluring, but he seems to make the most of what he has, and he's the safest bet among the Rams receivers to average 60 yards per game or so until the cavalry arrives later on. I've trumpeted Danario Alexander's upside, even though his knees are spaghetti. If the Rams offer assurances that he's going to get playing time in a given week, he's worth a spot in your team's lineup. Rookie Greg Salas, who was a reception machine for the University of Hawaii, will be auditioned for the Amendola role and bears watching. As for Mike Sims-Walker, who knows at this point? He could go off for 150 yards and a couple of TDs against the Giants this week, or he could be cut once the Rams start getting their wounded wideouts back. The guy is a complete mystery.

But the one guy who's REALLY worth your attention is rookie TE Lance Kendricks, who's coming off a rough pro debut that included a bad drop on a potential touchdown. But Kendricks is the receiver who gives Bradford the greatest mismatch potential — the rook is too fast for most linebackers, too strong for most defensive backs. This might be the last time Kendricks can be obtained for a reasonable price, so if you're in the market for a tight end with vast upside, act now.

 

8. The Browns' offense will have better days than the one they had last Sunday against the Bengals. And when they do, it's time to sell, sell, sell your Clevelanders. Have you seen the Browns' schedule? It's cushy all the way through November, but then it turns nasty, with the Browns playing four of the last five regular-season games against the Ravens and Steelers. Don't leave yourself in a position where you have to rely on Peyton Hillis in the playoffs.

 

9. After uber-athletic rookie QB Cam Newton's wildly successful debut, one imagines that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is at least having thoughts about making a move at QB and giving uber-athletic rookie QB Colin Kaepernick a try. Hey, we've all seen the Alex Smith Show, and we know it isn't getting any better.

 

10. With Newton making such an impressive debut and Steve Smith looking like an impact fantasy performer once again, Brandon LaFell's quietly competent performance in Week One is being overlooked. LaFell, still available in the vast majority of fantasy leagues, caught four passes for 70 yards against the Cardinals and was targeted five times. Those aren't exactly mind-blowing numbers, but now that it appears the Carolina passing game won't be as anemic as we expected, LaFell could be relevant. If he turns in another respectable outing this week against the Packers and their top-drawer defensive backfield, it's probably an indicator that this will be at least a mini-breakthrough season for LaFell.

 

11. People are writing off James Jones WAY too quickly after his one-catch, one-yard game in the Packers' opener. Not saying he's going to be a 1,000-yard guy, but he's going to have some good weeks.

 

12. Arian Foster appears ready to return from his hamstring injury, and all indications are that he'll be given a full workload. But I own Ben Tate in one league, and I'm not going to kick him to the curb even if Foster looks terrific in Week Two. I want to wait at least 2-3 weeks to see if Foster's hamstring issues pop up again. (Whoops, sorry, Foster owners ... "pop" probably isn't a word you want to see associated with your guy's hammy.) And even if Foster remains in good health for a while, owners in deeper leagues might want to hold Tate for possible use in favorable matchups — say, for instance, in Week 16, which is championship week in most leagues, and which also happens to be the next time the Texans face the Colts.

 

13. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I'm a "Survivor" junkie, and I'm geeked up about the new season. Producer Mark Burnett's idea (or maybe one of his lackeys had the idea) to bring back a pair of compelling players from previous seasons to compete with a group of new competitors has worked out brilliantly and added an interesting layer to the game.

Just in case Mr. Burnett is an avid fantasy football player (unlikely, since he's Australian) and stumbles upon this column, I'm going to pitch another idea: Rather than having an all-American cast, as has been the case every season since the show debuted, why not assemble a group of English-speaking competitors from all different countries? The social dynamic of a United Nations-style twist would be fascinating.

Of course, at this point, Burnett could assemble an all-hillbilly cast and I'd still watch.

 

14. Not sure why the Redskins are starting Jabar Gaffney ahead of Anthony Armstrong. It probably has something to do with the Redskins not wanting to start another sub-6-foot receiver opposite Santana Moss (Armstrong is 5-11, Gaffney is 6-2). Gaffney has had nine NFL seasons to prove that he's nothing more than a complementary receiver. It's a stretch to make him your No. 3 receiver, let alone your No. 2. Armstrong has far more big-play ability, and with Rex Grossman and John Beck as their top two quarterbacks, the 'Skins need a playmaker opposite Moss more than they need a possession guy.

 

15. After getting only 10 carries against the Bears last week, Michael Turner might resemble a rodeo bull coming out of the chute when the Falcons get the ball for the first time Sunday night against the Eagles. Playing the part of rodeo clowns: the Eagles' linebackers. That's a shaky unit, and we saw evidence of it last week, when the Rams piled up 154 rushing yards against Philly despite losing Steven Jackson early on. St. Louis averaged 5.9 yards per carry in that game, and even if you take away Jackson's long TD run at the start of the game, the per-carry average is still above 4.0.

 

16. The fans in Denver aren't the ones calling the shots, but if the Broncos' season goes into the tank — and let's face facts: it's just a matter of time — Tim Tebow is going to get another audition at quarterback. Once he does, there's going to be a sizable gap between fantasy value and actual value. There will be bad throws and mistakes, but he's also going to run around and make the occasional big play. He might even be good enough to start for you, depending on what you have at QB. If you're weak at that position and don't have a solution close at hand, wait a couple of weeks and then grab Tebow out of the free-agent pool. No matter what the Broncos' brass is saying in public, Tebow's time is coming.

 

17. Even with Marques Colston out for a while, I'd be extremely wary of playing Devery Henderson. His Week One numbers were nice, but there will be weeks when he flat-out vanishes.

 

18. It might not be long before the Jets give either Joe McKnight or rookie Bilal Powell a shot at replacing Shonn Greene. Greene did nothing against the Cowboys last week, and I'm not sure the blocking was the problem. LaDainian Tomlinson still has gas in the tank, but not enough for any sort of long-distance journey. The Jets need someone else to help carry the load, and Greene isn't getting it done.

 

19. I feel bad for Nate Kaeding, who sustained a season-ending injury on the opening kickoff of the Vikings-Chargers game. But at the same time, I know that a lot of the people who took the first dip in the kicker pool selected Kaeding in their drafts. If you broke the seal on kickers with Kaeding, it serves you right, doesn't it?

 

20. Come to think of it, I was the first guy to take a kicker in one of my drafts, and Kaeding was my choice. Karma just went upside my head.

 

21. My recently retired mother-in-law moved to town this week and will be living less than a mile away. I say "will be" because her car and her stuff is being shipped from Southern California via Tennessee (don't ask) and won't arrive until next week, so she's staying with us until then. Her relocation is kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, it'll be nice to have round-the-clock baby-sitting service if we need it, and my wife and I can actually go to restaurants where the placemats don't double as coloring books. On the other hand, my mother-in-law is going to be around a lot. She's never spent an NFL Sunday at our house, so I suspect the following conversation is going to take place between my mother-in-law and my wife on Sunday afternoon, out of my earshot ...

MOTHER-IN-LAW: "Is that all he's going to do all day, just sit there on the couch watching football? And he only gets up to make a sandwich or get another beer?"

WIFE: "Yeah, pretty much."

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