Now that every team in the league has had its mandated week off, you might assume that the focus of our matchups column would change again. During the past seven weeks, we've put a special emphasis on identifying options on the waiver wire with particularly tasty matchups -- players such as Mike Thomas (who had 99 receiving yards even before that famous Hail Mary) a week ago. Most owners will spend the final four weeks of the regular season with relatively static rosters, starting the same core group of players. It's easy to make a case to start Thomas in a slot opened by a bye; making a case to start Thomas over someone like Larry Fitzgerald is trickier, even if it's the correct move.
So, of course, you want to get a competitive advantage. How do you do that? Zig when the rest of your league zags. Just because the bye weeks are over doesn't mean that there are not useful options available for free every week; in fact, as teams neglect the wire with their full rosters, you may have even better opportunities to grab players with a midlevel waiver priority.
The player pool gets wider as these players come back, but that doesn't make the matchup for a wide receiver against the Texans or a running back against the Buccaneers any more difficult. If anything, the fact that we know more about those defenses now than we did before the bye weeks means that we can be even more confident about our estimates of how much better or worse a player will do when he plays those teams. If you look back at Week 11 a year ago, freely available talent like Mario Manningham, Mohamed Massaquoi and Bernard Scott all took advantage of easy matchups to put up starter-caliber numbers.
So while we might pay a little more attention to the more established players in fantasy lineups in this space from here on out, there's still going to be an emphasis on finding the best matchups available each week. A terrible defense can make any offensive player into a fantasy starter, if even for just one week. Keep that in mind, and you'll have a leg up on whoever in your league doesn't believe it to be true. And if you're looking for the next Mike Thomas? Well, we've got a handful of candidates who may very well be available in your league.