The Desert Bowl is an innovative contest pairing the biggest game of the NFL season with an exhibition-style game between the NFL’s top players this season. Building a lineup between players who may only get 1-2 quarters of action in a high-scoring game vs. a full game in a more competitive contest creates an intriguing dichotomy. Here are some targets and strategy for each position:
Quarterback seems like the position where you should almost undoubtedly pay for either Tom Brady or Russell Wilson. Quarterbacks tend to be more volume dependent and the risk of taking a QB who may only play 3-4 possessions doesn’t come close to matching the potential of either QB in the ‘Big Game’.
Russell Wilson ($7,600 vs. NE) – Wilson gets the nod as the top QB option for these games, despite my Patriots fanhood. Wilson should be able to exploit an area of weakness in New England’s defense – their pass rush. New England hasn’t recorded a sack through two postseason games and their inability to pressure the QB could lead to issues containing Wilson when he decides to scramble. Wilson led all QBs in rushing yards this season and while he doesn’t have as much upside as Brady through the air, his ability to take off and pick up chunk yardage on the ground makes him the safer option.
Tom Brady ($7,900 vs. SEA) – Brady is the other QB on the NFL’s biggest stage and given the similarity in price tags, I can’t fault you for rostering him either. The Seahawks secondary is undoubtedly talented, making Brady’s matchup slightly more difficult than that of Wilson. But both Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are banged up and Seattle struggled vs. TE’s at times this season – meaning Brady’s biggest and most talented weapon should be able to put together a solid game. There’s a lot of risk with Brady, especially if Seattle is able to wreak havoc in their pass rush but if the Pats are able to protect him he’ll have a really solid output.
I find myself going with one stud RB paired with a value back from this weekend’s game. I think the potential for a long rush in the ‘All Star Game’ (sorry, can’t use real names) is pretty good so there are a few guys there that you can take fliers on.
Marshawn Lynch ($7800 vs. NE) – Not hard to explain this pick, but the Patriots have had their share of struggles against the rush this season and Lynch is the best back going in this game. The Seahawks will need a steady diet of Lynch in order to slow down the Patriot offense and to control the ball for the majority of this game. I don’t need to break down the Lynch pick too much, if you can afford him then try to get him in your lineups.
Shane Vereen ($5000 vs. SEA) – If you want a cheaper back in the ‘Big Game’, consider Shane Vereen instead of LeGarrette Blount. The Seahawks defense is big and physical, but they might have some holes against the smaller and speedier Vereen. Vereen will need to be a safety valve for Brady in this game, helping him out when the stout coverage of the Seahawks locks his receivers down on the outside. Given the full point PPR scoring, he could be a reasonable, but cheaper option.
C.J. Anderson ($3200 vs. CRT) – Anderson finds himself on Team Irvin and for the All-Star Game I’ll likely be targeting younger players who are more likely to play larger snap counts. Veterans who have been there before don’t have the same inclination to show up and show off in this game. Anderson, a guy who came out of nowhere at the end of the year, will likely look to put on a show and he’s also a really strong pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
Justin Forsett ($3100 vs. IRV) – Forsett doesn’t fit the mold of ‘young guy who’s never had a chance to play in the All-Star game’ but he fits a different mold. Veteran who just had far and away the best season of his career after being a lifetime backup. Look for Forsett to put the cherry on his terrific season and put his full energy into this game. Like Anderson, he too can catch the ball out of the backfield and I’m going to go on a limb and guarantee he finds pay dirt on Sunday.
Approaching the wide receiver position might be the biggest challenge for this contest. Usually, I’d rather have volume of targets and opportunities and thus favor those playing in the ‘Big Game.’ But in this case, the two secondaries going on the NFL’s biggest stage are some of the best in football. Receiver points may be at a premium, thus I’ll be turning my focus to the All-Star contest for my receiving corps.
Odell Beckham Jr. ($7800 vs. CRT) – If you don’t think Michael Irvin is gonna roll the rookie, Odell Beckham Jr., out for as many snaps as humanly possible you’re crazy. ODB might be a replacement but he was the most exciting player in the NFL this season. He’s young (so resting him isn’t a concern) and he’s potentially already the most talented player going in this game. He might even be my early pick for “All-Star Game” MVP.
Golden Tate ($5800 vs. CRT) – While his former teammates play on the biggest stage, expect Tate to try and put on his own show at the All-Star Game. He’s a hyper-competitive guy who won’t take the exhibition-style contest lightly. It also helps that he has his own QB (Matt Stafford) on his team. The All-Star Game is definitely a game of playing favorites and Stafford should target Tate more often than some of the other weapons.
Julian Edelman ($7700 vs. SEA) – Edelman is the one guy I’ll look to from the ‘Big Game’ for some fantasy goodness. I think he poses a difficult threat to the physical Seahawks corners with his speed and shiftiness. He also has the upside of returning a punt for a touchdown, so potentially pairing him with New England’s defense could be a way to double-dip up the leaderboard. My best guess is that he lines up across from Richard Sherman a lot and tries to take advantage of Sherman’s arm injury and inability to tackle – giving Edelman lots of yards after the catch.
Rob Gronkowski ($8100 vs. SEA) – Picking the most expensive player on the board doesn’t require much of an explanation. The Seahawks are an extremely talented group but consider the other options available in these games. The Seahawks don’t utilize a tight end very often, although you could potentially go after someone like Luke Willson and hope he finds the end-zone. The other TE’s in the ‘All-Star’ Game had disappointing seasons. Gronk is worth the price tag in these games if you’re pairing him with Brady. I don’t think he’s a must play though by any stretch.
Luke Willson ($4800 vs. NE) – Willson has some really good games in his recent log, so there’s plenty of appeal against a Patriots defense whose linebackers will be focused on containing the other Wilson. Every defense needs to make sacrifices somewhere, and letting Willson get free might be one of those sacrifices the Patriots make. In the last four games, Luke has a 16.8 and 31.9 fantasy point effort to go along with a pair of 5 point games. You obviously want the bigger scores, but at this price you can probably live if he even gives you the 5 FPs.