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Many weeks before Marshawn Lynch should have been handed the ball to bring the Seattle Seahawks their second straight Super Bowl win, I handed him the ball to help me win a fantasy football championship - and he promptly threw up all over it.
A tummy ache. Marshawn Lynch has a fucking tummy ache. This is how my fantasy football season ends?
That is what I was thinking at a little after 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 21. I had managed to navigate my ESPN fantasy league team Irish Car Bombs to a 10-4 regular-season record in a very competitive 12-team league. My ticket to the playoffs was not even punched until the final minutes of my last regular-season game, when it became clear I was going to win a close match-up against a team I'd lost to earlier in the season.
When Lynch didn't start that Sunday nighter against the Arizona Cardinals, amid reports he was vomiting just before kickoff, I figured my title chances were screwed. I was already fearful the Cardinals defense would slow him down. Now, it looked like he wasn't even going to play.
But he did. At first, it still seemed like he wasn't going to be much help, but he somehow overcame his tummy ache and had a typically huge night, including a ridiculous 80-yard TD run during which it seemed like the Cardinals defenders were assuming he would eventually just take a knee from exhaustion. Just like that, he went from goat to potential savior.
But, of course, Lynch was not a one-man fantasy team. Here's the rest of my starting lineup for my fantasy championship week, along with their point totals:
* QB Russell Wilson: 36 pts
* RB Marshawn Lynch: 27 pts
* RB Shane Vereen: 4.5
* RB/WR Josh Gordon: 6
* Dez Bryant: 15.5
* WR Jarvis Landry: 6
* TE Heath Miller: 9.5
* K Conor Barth: 4
* DEF Patriots: 7
The final score was 115-77. That sounds lopsided, but the other guy had A.J. Green, CIN, and Emmanuel Sanders, DEN, going into Monday night, and all I had left was Barth, so during that stretch of better than a half-hour when I thought Lynch was sidelined, I was guessing my final tally would be no higher than about 75 points. All of this blinded me to a fact I only realized recently: As it turned out, I didn't even need Lynch's 27 points. Russell Wilson was my true savior (he'd appreciate that choice of metaphor more than Lynch, by the way).
In any case, I'd like to claim I won that final match-up with the lineup I had set in stone from Week 1, and that I only used the guys I was brilliant enough to draft, without any waiver-wire swaps. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I made 16 waiver-wire moves during the season, which may not sound like as many as you see in some leagues, but in this league each waiver-wire swap, right from the beginning of the season, carried a $5 fee. Here's a little more detail on how the stars became so aligned, despite my fussing with them:
QB: Mr. Goody Two Shoes was probably the most pleasant surprise of my fantasy season. I drafted him in the fourth round, earlier than I had planned. I ended up not warming to him until late in the season, and actually used a different QB - Teddy Bridgewater - during two weeks of the regular season, one of which I won, the other of which convinced me to drop Bridgewater and start Wilson for good. About one-third of his 306.5 fantasy points were collected in just three weeks, but fortunately for me, championship week was one of them.
RB-1: Lynch was my first-round pick, though he almost wasn't. I knew going in I might be in a position to land him, but was also thinking that in a 12-team league that deep into the first round, maybe I should take a WR or QB and even Jimmy Graham, TE, NO. Say what you want about Lynch (and he'll say nothing back), but Beast Mode delivered in a bigger way than I could have hoped. With apologies to Wilson and Bryant, he gets my vote for MVP.
RB-2: I drafted Vereen much higher than I should have in Round 5, and he really had only two great weeks. He was never supposed to be my RB-2, an honor that went to Andre Ellington, my Round 3 pick, who turned in solid points every week and seemed on the verge of greatness before a season-ending injury. I used Vereen more often in the flex RB/WR slot because I stubbornly remained convinced in his PPR league value. Vereen proved to be a good emergency fill-in though.
FLEX: The flex spot was occupied during the season by everyone from Vereen to Pierre Thomas, RB, NO; Ben Tate, RB, CLE (and later MIN); Chris Johnson, RB, NYJ; Riley Cooper, WR, PHI; and a few others. Don't even get me started on Gordon. I picked him up off the waiver wire halfway through his suspension, convinced it would be the genius move that would help me into the playoffs. He had exactly one good week - a week when I ended up not really needing him. Yet, I continued to start him because how could I not? This was Josh Gordon we're talking about. That was my thinking anyway, and the thinking of many fantasy experts. Ultimately, I was lucky he didn't cost me the championship.
WR-1: Bryant was my most consistent high-scoring player. He scored 278 points overall on the season (3.5 fewer than Lynch), never scored fewer than seven fantasy points in any week (and that came in Week 1), scored in double digits 12 out of 16 weeks, and scored 20 or more points seven times. He and Lynch were to only two players I went wire-to-wire with, starting them every week, but even Lynch had a couple sub-par efforts. Despite Bryant's sideline hijinks and potential to alienate even his own teammates, he was fantasy gold.
WR-2: My WR-2 slot was as much a revolving door as my RB-2 slot. I started with Reggie Wayne, IND, who I thought might have a great comeback year, but turned out to be inconsistent, even in a prolific passing offense, not to mention often injured. DeAndre Hopkins, HOU, who I drafted on the possibility Wayne wouldn't perform, gave me a handful of fantastic weeks until his team suffered a major power outage at QB. I stumbled onto Landry late in the season as his targets and catches sharply increased, and decided I had to go with him for the final, thinking at least his absolute bottom contribution in a PPR league was better than Hopkins' high risk/potential high reward. I was right about Landry getting a lot of catches - he got eight that final week - but tallied an infuriatingly low 31 yards.
TE: I did draft Miller, but as my back-up TE to starter Jordan Cameron, CLE. Miller came in handy early on when Cameron was injured, but I should have used him more, as Cameron proved to be unreliable with a sputtering offense, while Miller, between short-yardage TD passes and pure reception points, at least consistently provided value. My most embarrassing waiver-wire sequence was dropping Cameron, picking up Kyle Rudolph, MIN, who scored a total of nine points for me over two weeks, then picking up Cameron again off the waiver pile. The whole time I had Miller. Ironically, when I started Miller that final week, he was outscored by Cameron, who lucked into an 80-yard TD pass while sitting on my bench.
K: I spent most of the season with Blair Walsh, MIN, after taking him in the final round of the draft (a habit of mine I will only break if I feel particularly underwhelmed by my early-round selections). Walsh averaged 7.8 points per week, which certainly helped, but I dropped him for his Week 10 bye and had a couple other kickers on staff until I decided to go with Barth on the likelihood that with Denver, he could do no worse than three or four extra points and a field goal every week. He didn't help much championship week in a Monday Night Football match-up, but by then I was pretty sure I wouldn't need him.
DEF: I'm pretty proud of drafting New England because I waited on drafting a defense specifically to choose a young squad I thought might deliver turnover points (I used the same logic later in the season to pick up the Minnesota defense as my backup). The Pats did have some bad defensive games, especially early on, but they were great when playing at home.
So there you have it. I've always tried in this column not to brand myself as an expert, and not to brag on any success I might be having because offering fantasy sports advice is a precarious business. I'm not a player or a coach, and ultimately I'll never have absolutely all the information I need to make the most educated opinion. Like everyone else, I do the best I can, but in the end, I'm going to need an awful lot of luck. This time around, I got it. We'll see next year if it sticks.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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