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Lineup decisions change fantasy fortunes

There's not a much worse feeling as a fantasy football player.

You're facing a big matchup, one that may well be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. You've debated for a couple of days about which player to field as your flex and which one to bench.

Sunday comes, and you lose a heartbreaker…one you would have won if only you had played the other guy.

The reality in fantasy is that sometimes that's going to happen, no matter how much research you put into your lineup decisions.

On a lot of other occasions, however, your preparedness when it comes to lineup decisions does make a difference, and not just in the case of a debate over one spot for one week. Consistently making wise lineup decisions over the course of the entire season can be the difference between a spot in the Super Bowl playoffs and the Stupor Bowl playoffs.

Here are some keys to maximizing your team's output.

DON'T BENCH STARS: After watching what Seattle's defense did against the Panthers in Week 5 and seeing what the Seahawks did against Green Bay earlier in the season, Tom Brady owners couldn't have been thrilled with the New England quarterback's matchup last week.

But they couldn't really afford to bench Brady, either.

First of all, Brady was a first-round pick in most fantasy leagues, so owners who drafted him didn't likely invest too high a pick in a backup quarterback. Besides, with a player the caliber of Brady, the idea is to play him every single game. Come the end of the season, he will have outscored nearly every player at his position.

You might have had a gut feeling that Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman was going to outscore Brady in Week 6, and you would have been right in this case. But over time, playing such hunches is sure to lose ground.


DON'T BE AFRAID TO BENCH SO-CALLED STARS: Keep in mind that the definition of a "star" in fantasy football can be different than the NFL definition of the word.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, but some fantasy owners that had him facing the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday wouldn't have been crazy to consider an alternative if they had a good backup with a good matchup.

Manning and Brady are both NFL stars, but in the world of fantasy, Brady has more star power. Brady is always drafted significantly higher than Manning, who has rarely put up elite fantasy numbers.

Manning is a starter for most fantasy owners to be sure, but he's not a must-start like Brady. If the matchup calls for it, do what Tom Coughlin would never do and give Manning a Sunday off.

THE MATCHUP GAME: As is the case with quarterbacks, there also are kickers and defensive units that are considered elite.

Forecasting those fantasy positions, however, is a guessing game, but it's a game you shouldn't be afraid to play.

Few kickers or defenses are considered must-starts. The lone exception right now might be the Chicago Bears defense, which has given up a league-low 65 points while scoring a league-high five touchdowns. The next eight defenses are within nine points of each other in the scoring system, while the top eight kickers are within 11 points of each other.

So depending on your league's roster requirements, aggressively target defenses facing weak offenses and kickers facing weak defenses on a week-to-week basis.

Since scoring is so unpredictable, however, there's another approach you might want to consider with kickers as their bye weeks come and go. If one of the best is dropped for his bye week, consider picking him up and riding him, especially if he has a favorable fantasy playoff schedule (typically weeks 14-16) that features vulnerable opponents and good climates.

A good example would be Matt Bryant of the Falcons, currently a top-five kicker who could be a part of another shootout with the Panthers in Week 14 and will play in a dome the two weeks after that. Just keep in mind that Bryant is on his bye this week.

EMPTY FEELING: Above all else, make sure you don't get caught empty-handed come Sunday.

You can play the what-if game all day when a lineup decision doesn't work out, but you can't blame injuries, a fluke play or even the fantasy gods if you're asleep at the wheel. With bye weeks in full swing, always make sure you can field a complete lineup each week.

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