Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fantasy Football: Gates vs. Scheffler? [EdMcGon]

As I was getting ready for the first round playoff game in my fantasy football league last Thursday, I was reviewing the last minute news when I saw there was a strong possibility that Antonio Gates, my tight end, would not be playing (he has a minor back injury).

I was faced with the dilemna of taking a chance that Gates would play, or take a chance on my backup tight end, Tony Scheffler of the Broncos. Even though Scheffler is only a backup for the Broncos, he has had a few solid games this year, his best game coming against the Bears when he had 5 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Deciding it would be better to take a chance on Scheffler and get SOME points, rather than the potential goose egg I was looking at from Gates, I played Scheffler. I made the right choice, since he got 7 catches for 100 yards and one beautiful touchdown. Gates did play, but only got one catch for 8 yards.

(I should state that I would have won the game regardless of who I started at tight end, as I won by enough points that Scheffler's contribution was irrelevant.)

But now, like most NFL coaches who have a backup step in for an established starter and proceed to have a great game, I have a decision to make: Which of them shall I start in the championship game? Gates is still suffering from his back injury, and now it looks like Scheffler might even start for the Broncos this week. To make this decision even tougher, the Broncos play against the Chargers on Monday night, so I can't even use the "one game is earlier than the other game" as an excuse to make the decision for me.

To anyone who has (or has ever had) Gates on their fantasy team, he is arguably the best tight end in fantasy football over the last several years. However, this has not been his best season (thanks Norv Turner!). In the league I am in, he is only the second best tight end (Jason Witten of the Cowboys being the best).

But even in this off year for Gates, he still has more great games than Scheffler. Gates has four 100-yard games this year, and has scored a touchdown in 7 games (with two touchdowns in two games). Scheffler has only topped 100 yards once (obviously last week), but has scored touchdowns in four games.

However, Scheffler saw little playing time in the first four games. As his playing time has increased during the course of the season, his numbers have gotten better. When Broncos starting tight end Daniel Graham got hurt (high ankle sprain) early in last Thursday's game against the Texans, Scheffler had his best game of the season.

If that isn't enough to consider, Profootballtalk.com reported a rumor yesterday:

"...Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall got into a verbal altercation with one or more members of the coaching staff on Monday, and then stormed out of the facility.

The talk is that Marshall at one point challenged the team to "cut me."

Marshall IS the Broncos best receiver, even if he is a head case. While the team is not likely to cut him now, if ANY disciplinary action is taken against him by the team, or if Marshall decides to dog it in retaliation, Scheffler would immediately become quarterback Jay Cutler's best receiving option.

Even with Marshall playing, Scheffler still managed to catch 7 passes last week. On the other hand, Gates has to compete with Chris Chambers and Ladainian Tomlinson for catches. So when the Broncos have the ball, Scheffler will clearly get more oppurtunities than Gates.

(For the record, neither team is good against opponent's tight ends. The Broncos are the worst in the NFL, and the Chargers are 9th worst.)

But which team will control the ball more? The last time they played, which was in Denver, the Chargers won 41-3 and controlled the clock for 32:53.

In that game, Gates had 7 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Scheffler wasn't starting then, and he only caught two passes for 37 yards.

But another thing to consider is team motivation. The Broncos might want revenge for that earlier loss, even though they are eliminated from playoff contention. Add in the fact the Chargers have already clinched their division, and have no chance of getting a first round bye in the playoffs, and the Chargers have no real motivation to win the game. If Gates is still hurt, the Chargers may decide to bench him early or not even play him at all.

I fully expect the Broncos to play a much better game against the Chargers, regardless of whether they win.

As for individual motivation, Scheffler wins hands down. He is trying to win the starting tight end job for next season. Gates has nothing to prove in this meaningless game.

All things considered, I will decide who to start between the two based on the following factors (in order of priority):

1. If Daniel Graham is out, Scheffler gets the start.
2. If disciplinary action is taken by the Broncos against Brandon Marshall, then Scheffler gets the start. The Broncos would have to play Scheffler much more than they otherwise might.
3. If Gates is NOT on the Chargers final injury report, he gets the start.
4. If Gates is on the final injury report as "probable", and has participated fully in at least one practice this week, he gets the start.
5. Scheffler gets the start, due to the fact that both he and the Broncos are motivated to do well, plus the fact that Gates would be less than 100%. Add to that the fact that Scheffler has shown he can put up receiving numbers comparable to Gates, then Scheffler becomes the choice.

Wish me luck this week. I'm going to need it.

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