Not all decisions in fantasy football are the same. The game-time decisions, or the ones that drag into the weekend and up to the day of the game, really stink. My colleague Matthew Berry wrote in his recent column about the annoying Cowboys and how Tony Romo might be in or might be out. Well, the same type of thing affects the decisions you need to make at your flex position. Certainly I won't argue against the quarterback position being quite a bit more vital than the flex position, but when it comes to that special lineup spot in which you can play a running back or a wide receiver, or sometimes a tight end, I normally use the same type of criterion. Is it worth playing the guy?
I need to know whether the player is going to play or not, and if he will, I generally trust performance will be forthcoming. I need to have some degree of assurance he'll be out there, unless I just don't have any other options. At quarterback, if you own Romo, your backup might be Gus Frerotte or, worse yet, Tarvaris Jackson. You need to weigh the risk. At quarterback, where I'd argue you need more points to be competitive week to week, you might wait until the last minute Sunday before making your final decision. I can't say I'd wait that long on whether Kellen Winslow is going to play. At the tight end spot, sure; it's not like there are more than 10 great options in the first place. But not at flex. Justin Gage cracked the top 100 on my flex list, but he didn't get a very good ranking. If he were healthy, sure, I'd move him up and really consider him. That's the point: I need to know someone will play. With Romo, it's worth waiting until the last minute. With Gage as a flex choice, I'd probably just take my chances with Ike Hilliard and not sweat it.
I realize not everyone can be at their computers in the final minutes before Sunday's games. Incidentally, you'll be missing our three-hour chat, and I have the final hour of that. You'll also miss our award-winning Fantasy Football Now show. So, if you have plans on Sunday mornings, don't take the chance that Gage or Winslow is a sure thing. It's the flex spot; you probably have other options whom I ranked in the same range or better. Don't sweat it.
Here are some matchups of players in the same range of my flex rankings, and why I chose one over the other.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh versus Le'Ron McClain: I gave each of these players a strong ranking, I thought, and have seen during the week how others don't agree. You know, that doesn't bother me. I just don't understand how quickly people forget. These players are different, of course, and they are in situations that aren't alike. Houshmandzadeh has been Cincinnati's top fantasy player, quite easily. Second is kicker Shayne Graham, and third is injured quarterback Carson Palmer. Graham is a kicker, and a bit of a disappointing one so far, while who knows when Palmer will play again? Ryan Fitzpatrick is the guy throwing footballs to Houshmandzadeh, and that appears to be why fantasy owners are cool on the once-top-10 wide receiver. I like Houshmandzadeh, no matter who throws to him. While the yards haven't been there the past two weeks, he's still catching passes. And while Chad Ocho boy has been invisible this season, he also has been extremely quiet in career meetings with the Steelers, going seven games without scoring. The Chris Henry experience has been a dud. Houshmandzadeh, on the other hand, has been OK this season. I'd use him over Baltimore's McClain, but it's not the lopsided verdict most would expect. McClain got a very favorable ranking from me. He had one bad game -- that's it. Prior to disappearing in Week 6, the burly fullback had scored four touchdowns in four games and his worst rushing game was 51 yards. I think he will get the carries this week at Miami and do something with them. The fact that he and Houshmandzadeh were so closely ranked, and near guys like Randy Moss and DeAngelo Williams, speaks volumes.
Marvin Harrison versus Warrick Dunn: Each made the top 60 of the flex options and is coming off a standout performance. However, neither player is, shall we say, young. Harrison had looked like he was done, having scored once in four games and having not exactly piled on the yards. He then scored twice against that mighty Ravens defense, but he caught only three passes, which leads me to believe he won't be having too many multi-touchdown games anytime soon, if ever. Most players with more than one touchdown in a game should get more targets and have a better ratio of catches to touchdowns. That said, Harrison has a better chance to score than Tampa Bay's Dunn, which is why he gets the nod from me. Dunn clearly is not done, as his 115-yard effort in Week 6 helped prove, but he's scored only one touchdown all season, and I think Earnest Graham will be the more valuable running back this season for the Bucs. One could say the same about the wide receivers in Indy; I don't think there's any question Reggie Wayne will be the team's most valuable wide receiver. But in Dunn's case, I think we've seen his best. Now that Harrison's quarterback has healthier knees, apparently, I think Harrison will retain more value. Dunn still does warrant flex attention, though.
Kevin Walter versus Kevin Smith: While the Kevin who plays wide receiver for Houston is appearing on quite a few sleeper lists for Week 7, the Kevin who runs the ball for the awful Lions is right with him on the flex ranks, illustrating how mere potential touches from a running back can sway opinions. I don't think Smith is in for a big game against Walter's team. The Lions traded away a starting wide receiver and basically benched their quarterback. It's time to rebuild, and one would think Smith would get the chance to show his stuff instead of Rudi Johnson, but there has been little evidence of this happening this week. At least he shouldn't be forgotten, even if the touches are split. Walter gets the nod here against a Detroit defense that really has its hands full with a strong Houston offense. Matt Schaub has weapons everywhere, from Andre Johnson to Steve Slaton. Walter has scored as many touchdowns as Johnson and Slaton combined. OK, so that might be a misleading stat, but it is true, and Walter is coming off a 98-yard game. In this matchup of teams with a combined one win in nine games, you have to go with the wide receiver.
Derrick Ward versus Isaac Bruce: Here's a debate I was surprised to be making, but the Giants should have success running the ball on San Francisco, so much so that Brandon Jacobs and his backup can enjoy the day. Ward comes off a 101-yard effort in the stunning Monday night loss at Cleveland, although much of that came when the game was out of reach. In reality, Ward's touches were in line with the rest of his season, in the seven to 10 range. I just don't think Bruce is a sure weekly play or a better option than this reserve running back. Yes, Derek Anderson and the Browns seemed to move the ball at ease on the defending champs, but I'm not buying it. I don't think your favorite individual Browns are safe fantasy options yet, nor do the Giants have a weak defense. J.T. O'Sullivan could be in for a long day, and considering how inconsistent Bruce has been, catching more than three passes in only two games this season, I'd be wary. Sure, the Giants have a bit of a suspect secondary, but the way the 49ers protect O'Sullivan, I expect the New York pass rush to make multiple statements. Ward gets the nod.
Maurice Morris versus Rashied Davis: I guess that sound you hear is me jumping off the Julius Jones bandwagon. Well, you probably never heard me jump on it in the first place. Oh, he should have a decent game or two the rest of the way, but those 11 fantasy points in weeks 5 plus 6 aren't a great sign. Now Morris is back in the lineup, and while he didn't get many touches in Week 6, I think they're coming. You might have noticed the Seahawks are a bit of a mess. The wide receiver corps was ugly for a while and is not terribly strong now, and of course, the choice at quarterback not only this week but also next is problematic. I have to think a healthy Morris will get enough touches, especially inside the 10-yard line, to do something. Davis doesn't get the nod here, even though I do expect Kyle Orton to put up some nice numbers on the Vikings, a team far more adept at stopping the run. Orton's main target should be Devin Hester, a speed demon who shouldn't be viewed as a curiosity anymore. Hester is legit. Davis has 19 fantasy points the past two weeks with Brandon Lloyd missing, but whether Lloyd returns or not, I don't assume Davis will have a big game. Matt Forte might find it tough to run the ball on Minnesota, but let's not forget he's caught touchdown passes in two of the past four games, and he's starting to look like a young Brian Westbrook.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.