The Power of Handcuffs

There’s nothing that can quite spark a conversation around this time of year like fantasy football. People yell and complain about how their bench outscored their starters, how Arian Foster went off for 41 points against them, and how they dropped Austin Collie on Friday, only for their opponent to pick him up and ultimately beat their team.

But all complaining and terrible storytelling will get you is zero sympathy in many people’s hearts (oftentimes including myself). We’ve all had that happen to us, and changing the names doesn’t make for a more interesting story. So how do you avoid stories involving Mr. Foster and Collie? Know your stuff! This week’s fantasy insight on handcuffs will get you back on the winning track.

The secret to finding sleeper runningbacks is handcuffs. Basically, the backup to a star runningback can go from unplayable to must-plays. We saw that this week when Ryan Grant went on IR and Brandon Jackson went from being owned in one in every thousand leagues to being owned in nearly 90% of leagues. Typically, the best runningbacks have great offensive lines, so they can be somewhere from 70-80% as productive as their teammate. Here are my four favorite handcuffs, their percent owned in ESPN leagues, and brief descriptions:

Bernard Scott – 44.9% – The most talented of the group, currently getting the most carries.
Rashad Jennings – 26.5% – MJD nearly had knee surgery, could be getting major carries with one hit.
Toby Gerhart – 6.4% – Heisman contender last year at Stanford, backs up perennially injured Adrian Peterson
Javon Ringer – 4.9% – Dominant at MSU, looked great last week vs. Oakland. CJ2K could be worn down with so many carries soon.

If you own Cedric Benson, MJD, AD, or CJ2K (Benson needs a cool initials nickname now), you need to pick up your handcuff since they’ll be far more valuable if your player goes down then the average backup, say, Chester Taylor. Handcuffs can also be valuable to teams who don’t have one of those runningbacks, since they can be double-digit per week scorers at best, while the Chester Taylors of the world will max out around 8 points per week.

Not all elite runningbacks have clear-cut-handcuffs. For instance, Rashard Mendenhall has three potential backups (vet Mewelde Moore, rookie Jonathan Dwyer, and goal line back Isaac Redmond), Atlanta’s backup isn’t certain between Jerious Noorwood and Jason Snelling, and Steven Jackson’s backup Kenneth Darby is not good; neither is St. Louis’ line.

Grab these guys soon, before they become hot commodities like Brandon Jackson. Scott, Jennings, Gerhart, and Ringer could combine for just 40 points combined the rest of the season, but they also could erupt into triple digit points. I’ll guarantee you this: you’ll have a not more potential on your bench with those four handcuffs then Chester Taylor and Leon Washington.

Now its time for my Week 2 picks, of course, with home teams in CAPS.

FALCONS (-6.5) over Cardinals
As bad as the Falcons did last week, the Cardinals looked worse. Derek Anderson could not connect with Larry Fitzgerald and completed barely over half of his passes. Beanie Wells isn’t healthy and Early Doucet is out. The Falcons came off a tough overtime loss in Pittsburgh, so they will dig a humongous hole for themselves if they lose their home opener and fall to 0-2. Giving up a touchdown is hard to do, but I’ll take a highly motivated Falcons team at home.

Ravens (-1.5) over BENGALS
Baltimore is fresh off of an emotional victory at New York on Monday night, but the Bengals lost to the Patriots, including falling behind by 28 at one point. The Ravens, however, have a much better defense then Cincy. If they can take Cedric Benson out of the game, Ray Lewis and Crew will force Carson Palmer to make the big play. Personally, I don’t think Palmer can step up it, so I’ll take the suddenly pass-competent birds.

Chiefs (+1.5) over BROWNS
The Browns are so bad that we’re questioning whether or not they’ll be worse with their starting quarterback out. Jake Delhomme is doubtful, so it looks like Seneca Wallace will be stepping in. Believe it or not, the Browns lost their game versus the Bucs because Delhomme threw 2 picks. The Chiefs do have a short week, but they have competent runningbacks and experienced receivers. Especially since I’m getting points, its Chiefs all the way.

COWBOYS (-8.5) over Bears
Dominant teams need to blow out at least three to four games per year. This has to be one of those games for the Cowboys. Tony Romo has just too many weapons at his disposal to not pick apart a well-below average Bears pass defense. As a side note, its terrible that Calvin Johnson’ touchdown catch wasn’t actually a catch. A rule is a rule, but a dumb one needs to be changed.

How can you not be excited to see Michael Vick's first start since '06? Any way you slice it, he's 10-15 times better then Shaun Hill.

How can you not be excited to see Michael Vick's first start since '06? Any way you slice it, he's 10-15 times better then Shaun Hill.

Eagles (-3.5) over LIONS
What a ridiculous line. Kevin Kolb played terribly until his concussion, and Michael Vick filled in exceptionally. Although the Lions played like they deserved to win, but they were playing the Bears. The Eagles clearly have one of the most explosive offenses in the league with Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek. Put that up against a slightly poor defense and an offense without their franchise QB, and I’ll take the Eagles by a lot. Is this the Bojangles Lock of the Wee? You bet your biscuits!

PACKERS (-13.5) over Bills
Let’s be honest here, this just feels like a 35-10 blowout. The Packers have an elite offense and the Bills — well — have a defense (that’s about the nicest way I can describe their defense). The good news for Buffalo fans is that C.J. Spiller looked good last week…..wait a minute…

Steelers (+5.5) over TITANS
Tennessee won impressively last week, but they did play the Raiders. Against a quality opponent, the Steelers shut down Atlanta in overtime to claim a 15-9 victory. This game comes down to which young quarterback can step up the most: Vince Young or Dennis Dixon. VY has looked better over the last year, but Pittsburgh ultimately has one thing Tennessee doesn’t: Troy Polamalu and his $1 million hair. This game will be decided by a field goal, so I’ll take Pittsburgh and the points.

VIKINGS (-3.5) over Dolphins
The Vikings had very little shot last week against the defending champs (Super Bowl champs have won the last 10 season openers), but will stand a much better shot at victory in their home opener. Miami squeaked out a victory against hapless Buffalo, and heading to the Metrodome is no small order. Since Green Bay looks even better then advertised, Minnesota can’t afford to fall 2 games behind them.

PANTHERS (-2.5) over Bucs
These two stats will tell you all you need to know about the Panthers versus the Bucs: the last time the two division rivals faced off, Josh Freeman had five interceptions, and the Panthers averaged 212 yards on the ground in the two matchups last season.

Seahawks (+3.5) over BRONCOS
Seattle and Denver are two of the most average teams in the NFL. They both have uninspiring quarterbacks, exciting young runningbacks, and very new coaches. I don’t take anything out of the 25 point pounding the ‘Hawks laid on San Fran, since the Niners clearly weren’t ready to play against a hyped up Seahawks team. In the end, both teams are excessively average, so I’ll take the hotter team with the points.

Rams (+4.5) over RAIDERS
How can there possibly be two worse matchups in any week then Chiefs/Browns and Rams/Raiders? The fact that someone is going to have to watch both games for a newspaper or TV station is horrifying. Anyways, I’m never giving points with the Raiders, who only have 4 wins in their last 18 home games.

PATRIOTS (+1.5) over Jets
I’d have to guess that Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and the Patriots would love nothing more then to put the Jets in an 0-2 hole to start the season. The offense is finally clicking like it is 2007, and this team is out to prove the world it is the best of the best. Mark Sanchez looks nervous for New York, and Shonn Greene and Braylon Edwards have not shown up at all. I think Moss has a big day, especially since Darrelle Revis called his a “slouch”, and Brady loves to show up people who talk smack about his teammates.

CHARGERS (-7.5) over Jaguars
Is there a worse stadium to go into the Arrowhead Stadium on a Monday night? San Diego historically starts slower then Albert Haynesworth in a conditioning test, so an early season loss in an emotional game for the other team is acceptable. Now that they’re home against the perpetually average Jags, they’ll open their season with a bang.

Texans (-2.5) over REDSKINS
The Redskins got their big win of the year out of the way, now it’s time for them to go back to being 6-10.

COLTS (-5.5) over Giants
Do you really think Peyton is going to be shown up by his little brother at home on Sunday Night Football? Really?

Saints (-4.5) over NINERS
This game is tough to pick. Usually, home teams play much better on primetime, and San Fran can’t play much worse then they did last week. However, they’re playing against the Saints, so I’d have to imagine they’ll be in a shootout, and I can’t see Alex Smith out-scoring Drew Brees. The silver lining for the 49ers? They can still win the division going 7-9.

Last Week: 8-8

Season: 8-8

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 1-0

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