So last year it's late August and I'm sitting at home watching some old episodes of "The Office" that I have stored on my Tivo (the DVR is quite possibly the greatest invention since television) and my cell phone starts ringing.
On the other end of the phone was a member of the Texans organization asking if I would like to participate in NFL.com's new fantasy football game called Home Team Challenge. I was already committed to three leagues and I was writing a weekly fantasy football column for the Houston Chronicle so keeping up with yet another league didn't sound too appealing.
However, the guy informs me that there was no draft and it wouldn't take up much of my time. A fantasy league without a draft or auction didn't sound very fun but I decided to be a good sport and just grind my way through it so I wouldn't have to do it the next year.
I can now say with complete honesty that Home Team Challenge was much more fun than I expected and I've been spreading the word about it to friends since last year. Now THIS is a true challenge for all of you wannabe fantasy football geniuses.
For one thing, fantasy drafts (as most are constructed) really limit your ability to put to use all of your positional ratings that you work on before the season since you are limited in when you can select. Instead, the Home Team Challenge allows you to basically work under a salary cap (300 units) and then put together the best team you can while staying under the cap.
Did I mention that you get to create a new team each week? That's right. Each week players are assigned a total point value for that week and I can tell you for a fact that you will benefit greatly if you are a fantasy freak - like I am - and you keep up with the latest info on which players are ascending and which lesser known players face favorable match-ups.
Here is an example. I've been high on Willie Parker since 2004 and when he started the season as the first team back behind that dominant line I decided to take a shot with putting him in my starting lineup since he had a point value of less than 10 units assigned to him that week. By using such a small piece of my cap on one of my running backs, I was able to spend more on an expensive quarterback that week (Peyton Manning).
Parker ran for 161 yards with a touchdown that week which was a huge boost for me but it also meant that Willie Parker's value would be higher the next week, but I stayed with him (sorry Texans) and even in the hot black jersey on a 100-degree day he ran for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Managing the 300 point cap while analyzing the match-ups and calculating who gives you the best combination of value and overall statistical performance is what makes the Home Team Challenge addictive. Let's take a look at some early season values that might help you get a jump on the competition.
Ronnie Brown-RB-Miami:Brown started slowly last season and then picked up the pace before cooling off again over the last five games of the season. However, with Ricky Williams gone and with Brown more comfortable this year, I'm expecting him to have a much better season and get off to a much better start.
Matt Jones-WR-Jacksonville: Many times you'll load up on your team and realize you have very few points left to fill out the rest of your team and that is where an inexpensive starter like Matt Jones can help. Jones will make good strides this season as he acclimates himself to the wide receiver position and he figures to be a good option around the goal line.
Chris Simms-QB-Tampa Bay: I've never been a huge fan of Simms, (I was more of an Applewhite guy I guess you could say) but it's going to be hard for Simms not to have some statistical success with weapons like Cadillac Williams, Alex Smith at tight end and the combination of Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway at wide receiver.
Scott Vines-WR-Detroit: Mike Martz is the new offensive coordinator in Detroit and his new QB is Jon Kitna. While Kitna isn't a Pro Bowl caliber QB, he did throw for over 3,500 yards in his last season as a starter. Vines will get plenty of opportunities and with his great size and his great hands, I think he'll surprise many fans with his output this season.
Jon Kitna-QB-Detroit: He should be a decent value at least for a couple of weeks but if he starts hot (see above) then he won't be the same value he should be to start the season.