Any injury is bad, but there are some players I’ve been anxious about because their loss would be debilitating to me. Ezekiel Elliott, obviously. Melvin Gordon. Tom Brady. Even Frank Gore. These are my rock stars, and these are the reasons I’m a dominant force. Without them, I’d be in a world of trouble.
So I’ve thought about what I would do without them. I’m an old hand at streaming QBs at this point, and I have a hot performer riding my bench anyway in Mariota, so I could survive if Brady went down. I have three stellar RBs, so if one of them went down I still have two stars to play.
My problem position is wide receiver. I have a bunch of them, but I don’t have anyone really who is week-to-week reliable except A.J. Green. So an injury to one of my WRs would make me thinner where I’m already thin, but it is already a scramble to assemble that portion of my lineup. So how much worse could it be?
Much worse, apparently.
Because this happened.
On the second play of the game, no less.
My first thought went to the future. I’m in the middle of a playoff push, and then if I succeed with that I’ll be in the thick of the playoffs. A.J. Green was my best WR, by far. He’s had some off weeks, but mostly he’s been excellent, a double-digit scorer. I’m going to be hobbled if I have to be without him for a long time. Now, obviously we don’t know yet just how serious this injury is or how long it will affect him, but we know it’s his hamstring, and we know he was carted off the field. Assume it’s bad. Assume he’s out for the season – what do I do now?
My second thought went to this week’s matchup. I went into this weekend with an 11 point projected edge. Eliminate A.J. Green’s 12 point projected performance, and that edge disappears.
I’ve won without him before. I’ve won with incredibly weak WR play before. But I’d need every point out of the rest of my lineup. I’d need every single other position to do serious work to make up the ground and keep me in this thing.
Because I can’t afford to start losing now. I’m pretty solidly in the playoffs, but it’s far from a done deal. There’s a big group in my league at 5-5, just two games back of me. One or two of those guys goes on a run, I hit a rough patch and lose a game or two, and suddenly I’m on the outside looking in.
This is no time for weakness.
So how did it go?
He’s also done, while I have a player yet to go, so the margin of victory will only grow from here.
Honestly though, I keep doing the math on this because it’s hard for me to see how this victory shook out. His wide receivers beat mine, which isn’t a shock when one of mine is injured right away. (I did get my first great performance out of Julian Edelman though. There’s a man who stepped up when I needed him.)
His running backs beat mine. Let that sink in for a second. Both of his RBs went for 13 points each. Both of mine went for 12 each. Elliott had a rough off day, if you can call a double-digit showing an off day, and Frank Gore was very good and Gore-like, but somehow they still came in under what Team Freedom put up. They kept it close, but still. Damn.
I made up my ground on quarterback, as you’d expect when you compare Carson Palmer to Tom Brady. They’re both on the old end of NFL quarterbacks, but only one is playing like it. Brady did exactly what I and everyone with a working brain expected: he went Brady. He put up 280 yards and 4 touchdowns. He made San Francisco pay for what Seattle had done to him the week before. I’m so grateful that he’s leading my team.
And I made up ground on two of my three major gambles. (My fourth gamble, a new TE for the week, doesn’t play out until tonight when C.J. Fiedorowicz plays in the Monday Night Football game. I don’t need him to hit, but I still hope he does. However, considering that both of my regular TEs provided 1 point each to my bench, if C.J. comes up with even 2 he’s an upgrade.) Picking up a new kicker was a whiff. Caleb Sturgis gave me 1 measly point, while Mason Crosby put up a (still underwhelming) 5. We’ll be looking for a new streamer for Week Twelve. And apparently I can identify a streamer, because hoo boy, check out my Detroit Lions defense. I was more optimistic on Detroit than a lot of the experts I listen to, but I didn’t let that sway me, and 20 points later (!) I’m so glad I didn’t. The moral of this story is clear: if you can’t bet against Cleveland, bet against Jacksonville. I also messed around with my WRs and flex options, and I chose the right guys there. Edelman came down with a score and a 14 point day. Crowder had 16 for a strong flex showing. They were the best options my lineup had to offer, and they were the ones I used, and that’s great work by me for once.
Of course, A.J. Green was the worst WR I could have started, earning 0 points before prematurely ending his day, and maybe his season. I wish him all the best, but I have to start planning without him now, and the loss of his presence leaves a huge hole in Team BlueAndGold.
This is the injury I was both most and least prepared for. Least prepared for because I’d thought about it the least. I worried about it the least. I have plans on plans for working around a sudden wrench in my RB situation or an urgent need to start someone other than Tom Brady. I even have a spare tight end lurking on my roster to give me matchup flexibility and injury insurance. I didn’t give much thought to how I’d handle a wide receiver injury, especially to my most valuable wide receiver.
But I’m also most prepared for this, because I have a corps of wide receivers in a way that I don’t have built up for my running backs. Even for my quarterback or tight end, where I have backups on my bench and available, I don’t have no-brainer starters the same way and I’d have to be more aware of and flexible around their matchups every week. But I have four other WRs on my roster, and only two spots I have to fill each week. (We’ll go back to running three RBs next week when byes are over – no one takes Thanksgiving weekend off, and there are a couple of teams with Week Thirteen byes but not any that affect me, so that’s one problem I don’t have to face anymore – thank heavens.) I think most of them are pretty good and certainly capable of expanded roles. Crowder’s probably going to jump into Green’s spot at first, for one thing. But I have the manpower to play with here, to find what works each week. And it’s not like I wasn’t already looking at and using different combinations for the WR position week-to-week anyway. I’ll just have to do it for both slots now, which is truly unfortunate, but oh well.
I’ll wait until there’s official word to do it, but I think I’m going to end up cutting A.J. Green this week. And that’s a sad state to be in.
So it’s a bittersweet victory this week. And it’s dedicated to the man who wears the 18 in Cincinnati. Get well soon, A.J. Thanks for all you’ve done for Team BlueAndGold. Now rest up, recover well, and enjoy your sudden time at home with your newborn son. (I can think of another 18 that got unexpected extended paternity leave with his newborn son, and that turned out okay for him in the long run.) Maybe we’ll get to meet again in the 2017 season. Whether we do or not, though, I wish you all success.
But first I have to finish the 2016 season. And it’ll be harder now, but there’s no reason to think I can’t rise to the challenge.
So here we go.