It amazes me that so many NFL coaches don't understand that using probability statistics can be a positive for your team. Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy can now be added to that list. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had an 8 percent chance of winning their Monday night game against the Chicago Bears if they would have allowed Matt Forte to score on his first-down run with 1:44 remaining compared with the 2 percent chance they had by permitting the Bears to attempt a field goal from that close range with virtually no time left.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick understands probability and has for a while. Sure, he got lambasted for going for it on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots' 28-yard line against the Indianapolis Colts last season because that call, although mathematically correct, did not work. Of course, those same pundits don't offer their opinion on whether Belichick made the right call by attempting to get into field goal range with just 1:21 left on the clock during Super Bowl XXXVI. At the time, the Patriots were being led by a second-year quarterback and had no timeouts remaining; even former NFL analyst and coach John Madden second-guessed Belichick at the time by saying the Patriots should play for overtime.
What Belichick understands and what every person looking to win a fantasy football championship should try to comprehend is that it doesn't matter how ugly it looks, your sole goal is to ensure that your team has the greatest chance to win in any given week. With that in mind, here is this week's look into behind-the-scene metrics that you can use to determine the validity of your players' values.
Targets per game through Week 3
Notable numbers from Week 3's games:
Austin Collie (16 targets, 12 receptions): Collie has supplanted Pierre Garcon as the other Colts receiver that you want to own. His 16 targets this week was an obvious increase from the first two weeks, but he received a solid number of targets in both of those games as well.
Jabar Gaffney (14 targets, 12 receptions) and Brandon Lloyd (10 targets, 6 receptions): The Denver Broncos' passing game of 2010 appears to be just as fantasy-frustrating as their running attack was under Mike Shanahan. Gaffney, Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal all have the potential to score double digits in any week, but unless one of them steps up soon, none of them will be worthy of starting each week.
Frank Gore (13 targets, 9 receptions): Gore is averaging almost 10 targets per game. In point-per-reception leagues his value is overinflated, as it is unrealistic to expect him to continue with such a high rate. Sell now before it's too late.
Hakeem Nicks (11 targets, 7 receptions): Nicks was a popular pick to break through this year, and he's showing why. Those of you in dynasty leagues should try to get him now; otherwise you might never have an opportunity to see him on your roster.
Jermichael Finley (9 targets, 9 receptions): Through three games, Finley has caught 81 percent of the balls thrown to him. Although that sounds as though he should be Aaron Rodgers' security blanket, Finley's teammate Donald Driver has caught 78 percent of his targets. That being said, Finley looks like a sure bet to finish as a top-five tight end and could very well challenge for the top spot.
Big plays and up close
Last week I wrote, "Forget about Shonn Greene's fumbling issues during Week 1, the real threat to Greene is a healthy Tomlinson." Apparently, the New York Jets agree. Against the Miami Dolphins, LaDainian Tomlinson was given three chances to pound the rock inside the opponent's 10-yard line (I-10) compared to Greene's one chance. The fact that Tomlinson converted one of those three chances into six points further decreases Greene's value going forward. The fact that Tomlinson also broke three of his runs for more than 10 yards won't hurt, either.
Although Arian Foster failed on all three of his I-10 attempts, his five runs that went for more than 10 yards will further solidify his role as the primary back. Those of you holding out hope on Steve Slaton should find better options on the waiver wire.
Peyton Hillis averaged 6.5 yards per carry on his 22 carries against the proud defense of the Baltimore Ravens. With three runs of more than 10 yards and his success inside the 10, he's shown that he is ready to be the featured back for the Cleveland Browns. Jerome Harrison is still worth a roster-stash spot in deeper leagues in case of a Hillis injury, but it should be crystal-clear that Hillis is the back you want.
Four of Jamaal Charles' 12 carries went for more than 10 yards. Thomas Jones remains an obvious fantasy-blocker for Charles' owners, but you have to think it's only a matter of time before the Kansas City Chiefs start to slant the carries split in favor of Charles. Until then, you have the opportunity to buy low, but be warned that window will close eventually.
For all the attention that their passing game gets, the New England Patriots had three separate runners break for rushes of more than 10 yards. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who looks to be grabbing the reins as the Patriots' primary back, broke two such runs. Two of "Hard Knocks" favorite Danny Woodhead's three chances went for more than 10 yards, and rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez displayed some real athleticism during his 13-yard end-around romp. New England consistently finishes among the top rushing teams even if it doesn't have a clear No. 1 back. With limited depth, keep this in mind if one more back goes down, as the opportunity for fantasy goodness will present itself.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is here.