The Fantasy Fool: Bye-week maneuvering best done in advance

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We got a small taste of the bye-week blues this weekend when the Steelers and Colts took their annual breaks. Next weekend, it starts hurting.

Four teams -- the Cowboys, Lions, Raiders and Buccaneers -- have Week 5 off. Over the following six weeks, four to six teams apiece will be resting their aching bodies.

Planning ahead to ensure a competitive starting lineup each week can be the difference between a postseason playoff berth and a premature end to your fantasy experience.

For example, since most owners carry only one kicker and defense on their roster, this is a great time to look ahead at the schedule to see if a pre-emptive move is in order. If your player(s) aren't performing up to your preseason expectations, why wait until their

bye week to make the switch?

When it comes to the skill positions, scanning the waiver wire a week or two in advance has similar advantages, in that you will generally have a deeper pool of free agents from which to choose.

Several top-notch runners and receivers will be out during the dreaded six-team byes in Week 7. If you don't have the bench depth to manage those openings, start shopping now. If your free-agent pool is shallow, consider seeking a trade for a solid player whose bye falls a week before your toughest week. Your fellow owner may be more willing than usual to part with him just before the bye; and by working a week or two out, you won't fall into the trap of making a desperation trade.

If you're like me, you pulled your fair share of all-nighters in college preparing for big exams and projects. That works in college, but we're talking fantasy football here. The stakes are much higher ...

FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS

To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also imporant. Here's a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else's lineup.

Catch 'em while you can

Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos. If you're looking for a tailback that could help you down the stretch run, consider Hillman. The rookie finally saw some extended action this week, and he flashed his promise as a third-down, receiving-type complement to Willis

McGahee. After Knowshon Moreno was an apparent healthy scratch Sunday, Hillman has a clear shot at the backup job.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers. Still a free agent in a surprising number of leagues, Mendenhall is set to return to the field next weekend. Given the poor production of backups Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer (Pittsburgh is the 31st-ranked rushing offense), a healthy Mendenhall should have little trouble reclaiming his workhorse role.

James Jones, WR, Packers. Jones is a hot-and-cold type of player, and it's difficult to predict which performance he will turn in on any given Sunday. After finding the end zone twice in Week 4, Jones is worth another look; if only because Greg Jennings aggravated his groin injury and could be sidelined again.

Brian Hartline, WR, Dolphins. Another boom-or-bust type, Hartline's biggest issue has been the quality of his quarterback's play. With Ryan Tannehill maturing more quickly than expected, Hartline's franchise-record 253-yard, one-score outing against a stout Arizona secondary can't be ignored. He was targeted a whopping 19 times, so PPR-leaguers should take special note.

Greg Zuerlein, K, Rams. We knew the rookie had a sledgehammer of a leg, along with deadly accuracy. Our concern was the moribund offense he was joining. It turns out, the Rams aren't quite as bad as advertised, and Zuerlein is getting plenty of opportunities to showcase his power. He blasted through field goals of 24, 48, 58 and 60 yards on Sunday, and hasn't whiffed on any of his 12 attempts thus far.

Don't be fooled

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans. With Jake Locker expected to miss multiple games thanks to his second separated shoulder, Hasselbeck steps back into his old starting role. In his 14th season, the veteran still can get the job done; but then again, he threw as many scoring passes to the Texans as he did to his teammates on Sunday. Hasselbeck's return could bode well for Kenny Britt, however. They were en fuego together last year.

Brandon Bolden, RB, Patriots. New England is rarely the place to shop for fantasy running backs, though Stevan Ridley is certainly changing that maxim. The emergence of Bolden, an undrafted rookie, against Buffalo is intriguing; but consider him only as a possible handcuff (in lieu of Shane Vereen) to Ridley and/or a desperation fill-in. Of course, Danny Woodhead is still squarely in the picture too, providing yet another reason to temper your expectations for Bolden.

Jackie Battle, RB, Chargers. Battle is the belt Norv Turner uses to punish Ryan Mathews when he fumbles. But unless (until?) Mathews is injured again, Battle doesn't merit a roster spot. He is a bona fide touchdown poacher, to be sure; but he is highly unlikely to offer consistent production. fantasy


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