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Three Ways to Avoid Thursday Night Fantasy Football Disaster

Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown

Thursday Night Football could be an exercise in pain tolerance for fantasy owners.

How much patience can you exercise? How many near misses can you handle? Thursday night fantasy debacles, as I’ve discussed again and again in this space, leave a 72-hour hangover, leaving our heads swimming in fake football regret.

The numbers stare back at us from our rosters – that hideous little zero – or from the depths of our bench – that potentially gorgeous 20-spot you should’ve, would’ve, could’ve plugged into your lineup.

Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown

Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown runs with the ball during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is all amplified in the fantasy playoffs, which, for many obsessive like you and me, start this week, with this Thursday night game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals. The players we use – and don’t use – in this game will make us feel decent or miserable about our chances of semifinal victory over the next few days.

More than any time of the make-believe football year, now is the time to put a little faith in your gut. You’ve spent a shameful number of hours researching fantasy news and strategies over these past five months. That’s the stuff, believe it or not, that builds a foundation of solid decision making, helping you stray from mechanically following the rankings of some dolt (me) who may or may not know more than you.

Trust yourself tonight. Make a call, stick with it, and like a blackjack pro who hits on 16 and gets the hideous face of playing card royalty, don’t regret it.

Stay as patient as you possibly can tonight, and know that you’ll have redemption on Sunday if things go awry.

Bryce Brown, RB, Eagles – The Twitter Machines exploded with questions about Brown’s playability on Wednesday afternoon, when it was first reported that Giants’ running back Ahmad Bradshaw suffered a knee sprain against the Saints last week, opening the door for dynamic rookie runner, David Wilson.

A side note on Wilson: Greg Cosell, talent evaluation savant and an invaluable resource for serious fantasy owners, said during his Week 15 podcast that Wilson would likely take early-down duties for the Giants, should Bradshaw miss this week’s game against Atlanta. New York’s coaching staff did not use Wilson on obvious passing downs against New Orleans in Week 14; Cosell said this shows a clear lack of trust in Wilson’s ability to pass block for Eli Manning. Put simply, Wilson might not be the PPR wunderkind you expect him to be. Not yet, at least.

Fantasy owners identified Brown as a high-end RB2 who could conceivably be benched in favor of Wilson, the fastest man on any football field. Brown, who piled up 53 fantasy points in Weeks 12 and 13, laid an egg in Tampa last week. Here’s the caveat: No one runs on the Bucs (except for Adrian Peterson. I’m only counting human running backs here).

This is no time to cast aside Brown as a two-week fluke. The guy has real skill – unbelievable short-area burst, powerful legs that run through would-be tacklers, and long speed to burn. I’ve ranked him 11th this week among running backs because I don’t think there’s any reason to believe Brown will tank against Cincinnati.

The Bengals pose a moderate challenge for opposing runners, allowing 16 fantasy points per game to backs. Running backs have only cracked the century mark five times against the Bengals this year. The front four’s strength, however, is in rushing the passer. It’s reasonable to expect the Eagles to take advantage of the Bengals’ ultra-aggressive up-field attack on Nick Foles by giving the ball to Brown in space. Even if he’s caught behind the line, or bounced outside on a designed inside run, Brown has the kind of difference-making skill that can compensate.

I would rank Wilson one, maybe two spots ahead of Brown if Bradshaw were magically declared doubtful or out by Thursday night’s kickoff. It’s likely you’re not going to have that luxury though, and I don’t think Brown should be left to rot on your bench.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles – Nine receptions, 104 yards, and a dramatic game-winning score tend to grab fantasy footballers’ attention, and rightfully so.

Maclin got open early and often against Tampa’s Swiss cheese secondary. Foles, at times, was laser focused on his No. 1 wide receiver, throwing to Maclin even in tight coverage. I understand that Maclin might appear to be a legit fantasy option in your playoff semifinals.

He’s not.

Here are Maclin’s fantasy point totals since Foles took over the Eagles’ starting gig: 15, 0, 5, 3, 16. That fifteen spot, it should be noted, was thanks to an epically blown coverage against Dallas in Week 10 that led to a 44-yard touchdown. Maclin has been held to five fantasy points or fewer in no less than seven games this season, putting him firmly among the biggest fake football busts of 2012.

Maclin’s Week 14 outburst, more than anything, shows that almost any pass catcher gets a significant value bump against Tampa’s nightmarish secondary. Against the Bengals, who will likely put aged cornerback Terrence Newman on Maclin, I don’t see Philly’s top receiver as anything more than a top-30 play.

He’s viable in deep leagues, perhaps, but I think you can do a lot better in Week 15.

Cincinnati Bengals defense – The temptation is to play it safe, to roll with a great defense facing an offensive juggernaut. Risk aversion comes from the recesses of your lizard brain – the part of you that preaches survival at all costs, sending out its message without you even knowing.

Tell your lizard brain to shut the hell up.

The Bengals lead the NFL with 41 sacks, led by the relentless Geno Atkins, and they’re facing off against an offensive line that has looked decent of late, but has proven an absolute sieve during swaths of the 2012 season. The Bucs’ front four, not known for their quarterback rushing prowess, got to Foles six times in Week 14. Unless the Eagles use a max-protect scheme throughout tonight’s game, I don’t see how the Bengals will record fewer than six sacks.

Defenses require more gut instinct than any other position in fantasy. Please make your own decision here; if you simply cannot bring yourself to bench the Bears or 49ers, then leave the Bengals on your bench, or on the waiver wire, and plug in your elite defense.

Read more about the Bengals’ defense here, and visit my Week 15 rankings here.

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