By mid-October, the giddy optimism that permeated your fantasy football league in August and September has largely melted away. Most teams are frantically battling to remain in the playoff race, while only a select few have elevated above the rest.
Then, on the other side of the standings, a sad array of teams has already seen their seasons all but ended. It’s a familiar story: Your buddy thought it was a great plan to draft a bunch of Bengals (“They have a new coach who’s vaguely tied to Sean McVay!”), and it’s already clear this was a historically bad strategy.
Of course, if this happens to you, it’s not your fault. That’s what you say, anyway. True, unforeseen injuries are the more likely explanation for fantasy football underachievement, but the result remains the same. At the end of the day — by whatever means — you’re off to a 1-5 start.
In most leagues, this is a nearly ruinous position to be in. Regular seasons in fantasy often stretch no more than 14 weeks (at most), meaning that five losses is drawing dangerously close to playoff elimination in October. You didn’t even make it to Halloween.
Still, just know that comebacks in these positions are very possible. I’ve seen it happen, even in scenarios that didn’t involve the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. in his rookie season (though that’s what mine was built on in 2014).
And even if you aren’t able to stage a dramatic turnaround, the most important thing is to continue setting your lineup and avoid making cynical trades. No one likes that person, and they rarely get invited back to leagues the following season.
In the meantime, keep the faith. You never know; you might climb back into it. A huge part of this management process is knowing whom to play in your lineup, of course, but also whom to bench.
Here’s a look at a few players to consider keeping out of your lineup this week:
■ Philip Rivers, quarterback: Normally, the longtime Charger would be a smart inclusion in your fantasy squad. He’s not afraid to throw downfield, and that usually results in some big point totals.
But this week, Rivers is facing a competent Titans defense that has the capacity to stifle quarterbacks. Added to that, Tennessee isn’t a team that is likely to build a huge lead, which would thus provide an impetus for the Chargers to throw the ball a lot.
And even if you dismiss all of that, the biggest strike against Rivers is that his offensive line is dealing with injuries and he’s the opposite of a mobile quarterback. If you have a backup worth anything at all, play him instead this week.
■ Devonta Freeman, running back: Granted, Freeman’s status as a starting running back makes him hard to bench. So if you have no other viable option, just hope that he manages a day like he had last week (when two of his three receptions went for touchdowns).
Still, the Falcons face a Rams defense this week that — for all of its recent issues — has been stout against the run. Los Angeles is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry. Matt Ryan also has been the undeniable focal point of Atlanta’s offense, as the Falcons are first in the NFL in passing attempts while ranking 30th in rushing attempts.
Should the Rams offense find its gear, it might leave little opportunity for Freeman to compile carries.
■ Terry McLaurin, wide receiver: Though it isn’t exactly saying much that he’s been Washington’s most productive receiver, the rookie has nonetheless impressed in his NFL debut season. He has five touchdowns and double the receiving yards of Washington’s other wide receivers.
The problem is that McLaurin is facing the 49ers defense this week. In net yards per pass attempt, only the Patriots (4.1) have a lower total than San Francisco (4.4). Given Washington’s uncertainty at basically all levels of the team, it seems like a smart time to put the otherwise talented rookie on your bench.