A broken left collarbone for Aaron Rodgers is reminding fantasy owners that star quarterbacks still dictate fantasy fortunes, despite weekly drama focused on running backs and wide receivers.
Yes, injuries to players like C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice and Doug Martin have had big impacts to their fantasy owners, as have misfortunes to wide receivers Julio Jones, Reggie Wayne and Randall Cobb. But Rodgers' injury — though apparently not season-ending at the moment — will affect more fantasy-relevant players than any other single injury so far this year.
Take it from Las Vegas casinos, which moved their consensus line on Sunday's Eagles-Packers game by 7½ points based solely on Rodgers not playing. Instead of being 10-point favorites, the Packers became 2½-point favorites once Rodgers was ruled out, and the total for the game went down seven points to 47, according to gambling expert R.J. Bell of Pregame.com.
Fantasy owners of Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin may want to stay optimistic and not overreact, but Sin City doesn't usually change its expectations this much this quickly. Upcoming matchups that once looked juicy against Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Minnesota and Detroit simply aren't as attractive now.
Sports books can reveal a lot to fantasy players about how they should expect games to play out, even pinning games down to a final score if you want to do the math.
And Bell says Rodgers is one of only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL who can move the line by a touchdown by themselves. When non-quarterback superstars get hurt, gambling lines tend to shift less than 3 points.
"Other than quarterbacks, there's only about 2 dozen players in the entire NFL that move the line (at all)," says Bell, who discussed Vegas shifts on injuries in a Grantland column earlier this year (http://es.pn/17mFZWD).
Fantasy players often overreact to unexpected developments, demanding more from opposing defenses after a running back gets hurt or believing backups will serve as directly equal replacements to injured players.
But when a player like Rodgers goes down, it's hard to overestimate the severity of the fantasy loss.
IT GETS EASIER
Across many leagues, fantasy players are starting to position themselves for the stretch run toward the playoffs by seeking out bench players or spot starters with easy schedules the rest of the way. The logic is simple: Players who have been serviceable or perhaps underachieved so far might reach higher potential against lesser teams. It goes the other way, too — some experts are recommending trading away a Kansas City defense that still must face Denver twice, along with San Diego and Washington.
Here are some players worth a look simply because of their schedule, whether you need them to start or not.
QB: Jake Locker, Tennessee. Locker showed some promise before disappointing with 10 points in standard scoring leagues in Week 9 against St. Louis, putting up 326 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco before the Titans' Week 9 bye. Now, he gets to face two of the worst passing defenses in the next three weeks against Jacksonville and Oakland. He also gets two matchups in four weeks against the unintimidating (to quarterbacks) Colts.
RB: Andre Brown, New York Giants. Sure, it's a leap of faith with Brown returning from injury. But is it that tough a leap if you're desperate to replace a hurt or underperforming rusher? Brown will play in his first game this year on Sunday against Oakland, then faces Green Bay, Dallas, Washington and San Diego.
WR: Donnie Avery, Kansas City. After a bye this week, Kansas City faces all teams ranked among the bottom seven in defending wide receivers through Week 15, then Indianapolis in the championship in most fantasy leagues.
TE: Coby Fleener, Indianapolis. St. Louis has matched up surprisingly well against tight ends this year, but Tennessee and Arizona have not. That takes Fleener through Week 13.
RINGER TIME: MIKE CLAY
It's imperative in fantasy football that things add up. But that's precisely why Mike Clay shifted from fantasy player to fantasy analyst.
The managing editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy said he wanted to reorganize draft day projections, which sometimes listed quarterbacks as throwing for 3,000 yards while predicting that team's receivers would combine for 4,500 receiving yards.
"They didn't add up," said Clay, who uses next-level statistics from Pro Football Focus to make predictions about whether players are underachieving or getting lucky.
Numbers like depth of targets, which measures how deep quarterbacks are throwing the ball to receivers, and opportunity-adjusted touchdowns, which move away from problematic red zone statistics that count carries the same whether they're taken from the 19-yard line or the 1.
"I understand where the red zone data has values — you just have to weigh the opportunities," Clay said.
Clay says the numbers tell him that Cincinnati's Marvin Jones will likely take a step back, while Hakeem Nicks may finally see some touchdowns soon (he has no catches in his last 14 end zone targets).
Clay says going deeper into teams and projections allows fantasy players to shine more light on which players to speculate on rather than just picking from tiered lists. The key is always getting the best players, he said, but that doesn't mean simply looking at which players finish the year best and hoping they're on your team.
"You have to look at your process and not necessarily the result," Clay said.
Fell two points short of upsetting a 7-1 league leader after entering Monday confident with Rodgers in my lineup. Confidence isn't the right word, though, this team fell to 1-8 for the year. Injuries are the easy excuse, but I also didn't adjust well this year to the league's touchdown-heavy scoring.
Still went 3-2 for the week, with three teams (two firmly) in the playoffs if the season ended now.
Replacing Rodgers with Terrelle Pryor or someone else, but I won't be joining the 1 percent of FleaFlicker players who apparently think it's worthwhile to own Brett Favre.
Not even in a three quarterback league.
Oskar Garcia is a news editor in Honolulu who spends way too much time on fantasy sports with too little to show for it. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/oskargarcia
Eds: Fantasy Grind is a weekly look at the incremental wins and frustrations that come with playing fantasy football. Each week, we'll highlight players and strategy, and learn from experts in the fantasy world. By the end of Week 16 or 17, hopefully you'll win a title and some decent bragging rights. But honestly, who knows? You don't, we don't _ and it's all part of the fun.