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Week 15

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I solicited feedback concerning female participation in fantasy leagues. I want to start with Stacey’s response because she addresses the situation of female FFers from a variety of perspectives:

I'm one of those lone female owners, and wanted to share a bit of my experience. First, I'm happy to report that in my 11-man-plus-me league, my team (That's What She Said) is in 2nd place, and I lead the league in points. I've clinched a playoff spot, and I'm having a blast.

I'm new to FF. When I got married 2 years ago, I didn't even know how downs worked, but understood that part of embracing my man was embracing his sport, as he's played in multiple leagues for about 10 years. My first league was in 2007 with some other couples. They used an autopick draft, and it wasn't very competitive. (And, of course, I didn't know what the hell I was doing). It was marginally fun at best, but it was a good way to get familiar [with the basic principles of FF]. In the offseason, I threw myself into understanding the game more: positions, players, teams, divisions, all of it. I even had flash cards. This year, I joined a league that did a live draft, and I spend a lot of time researching each week before I set my team. I know what I'm doing now. It shows. I am in 2nd place after having lost Brady, so I feel pretty good.

To answer your question about the double standard (a guy with a long no-playoff streak would be fine, but a woman with a long drought would be ridiculed):

Yeah you're right, but I can only guess. As a woman, I'm not sure I can get into a more competitive league. My husband's main league is extremely competitive, and I would kill to get into it -- they do an in-person live auction draft, and I've yelled and cursed at the television alongside most of the guys during games. When they talk about losing a few owners next year, I throw my name out there, but they laugh it off like I'm joking. My younger brother, who is newer to football than I am, is considered with all seriousness. Rawr.

Were I to be a part of the league, I think most of the guys would be fine, but a few would honestly struggle. It's kind of like FF is their gentleman's club away from wives and babies. They suggest a wives' league -- the only problem being that their wives hate football. I'm not sure how much to push. It's a long-standing league, and I don't want to ruin anyone's fun. On the other hand -- would a girl in the league really make that much difference?

I'm trying to be patient and prove myself. I'll kick some ass and make it to the playoffs this next few years, and then -- we'll see.

Stacey makes far too many excellent points in her response for me to address each of them, but I do want to hit three highlights. First, “That’s What She Said” is a brilliant choice for a team name for a female owner. Second, you obviously did your homework before the draft and for each week’s lineup if you are in second place after losing Brady. I know plenty of male players who just give up when their first or second pick goes down for the season in Week 1 or Week 2. I confess that in my second year of playing fantasy, I was such a male player. Third, I think there may be more to your point about fantasy football as a “gentleman’s club” than most of us are willing to admit.

I have been involved in plenty of all-male leagues, and for some reason the face-to-face drafts that occur in these leagues always remind me of a frat party. I can’t provide any statistical support for this assertion, but my sense is that at least 5% of the men who play fantasy football do so because they are looking for something along the lines of a fraternity or boy’s club. If just two of the guys in the league you are looking to join fit that bill, then I suspect that there really is no way (short of sprouting a penis) for you to prove yourself worthy of joining the league.

There are probably a number of female FFers who share the frustration that you feel concerning how much easier it is for males with limited FF experience to get into exclusive leagues than females with successful track records. To answer your question about whether having “a girl in the league really make[s] that much difference,” my experience is that having women in fantasy leagues makes no difference at all in terms of how competitive the league is, but it does have an effect on league personality. That difference is an improvement in my estimate, but there are some men—and they are entitled to their opinion—who think that female owners spoil the boy’s club thrill of fantasy leagues.

Since my mantra on this website has always been, “Let a thousand leagues bloom,” I will say plainly that men who want their leagues to remain all-male are within their rights to do so. My only caveat would be that if you want to keep women out of your club because you need a refuge from estrogen, be honest with yourself about your objectives. Don’t pretend that you don’t want women in fantasy football because they aren’t competitive. Professional football may be an exclusively male sport, but fantasy football is a purely intellectual activity. If male anatomy has anything to do with the ability to analyze football, then Tony Kornheiser should have more insightful things to say on Monday Night Football than Suzy Kolber and Michelle Tafoya. Honestly, apart from a few misguided executives at ESPN, is there anyone on the planet who would rather listen to Kornheiser than Kolber or Tafoya?

I received additional feedback from Kim, a female owner with more than a decade of experience in running her own fantasy league. Kim has contributed numerous responses to this column over the years, and she may be interested to know that when she first started writing to me, it was easier for me to assume that she was a man named Kim (since I have known one such person) than that a female was as knowledgeable about fantasy as she is. Mea culpa, Kim.

You had to expect to hear from me when you posted this question. At any rate, I'm in 6 different fantasy leagues this year. One is a 16-team league, and I share a team with a guy. I am the only woman in this league. It looks like we'll make the playoffs this year which is quite a feat since last year (when he was on his own) he only won one game and because of it we were assigned the first overall pick and couldn't trade it. (It's no prize to draft first in a 16-team league.) In three of the other leagues, I think I am likely the only woman; these are free leagues through either ESPN or CBS Sportsline. I expect to make the playoffs in all 3. I'm also in another free CBS Sportsline league that is all-female, and I would judge it to be the most competitive, top to bottom, of all of the leagues I am in this year. I do not know any of the women in the league; we all just joined since it was advertised as being women-only and for those really into FF. I've locked up a playoff spot in this league as well. Lastly, there's the league that I started and have been the commissioner of for the past 11 years. Currently, there are 5 men and 5 women though previous to the past few years it was typically 7 men and 3 women. Last year, 4 women and 1 man made the playoffs. This year it is 2 women and 3 men. I would say, as a whole, the men are more dedicated players than the women though I have made the playoffs all 11 years, have won the league 6 times and have finished 2nd 4 times. It's an interesting topic. I'm glad that you've taken it up and will be anxious to hear the results of your informal polling.

The funny thing about Kim’s response is that she is so active and so successful in fantasy that I no longer know what to make of my own informal polling. As we will see in the responses below, lots of women are bound for the playoffs in various leagues this year. However, for all I know, most of these women could turn out to be Kim!

Since Kim is interested in what other readers had to say, let’s get on to their responses:

Three years ago, our league had a guy ditch literally at draft time. Lacking any other options, we got four significant others who were planning on a girls' night out to co-manage a team. They had crap luck the first two seasons, losing very competent QB and RB picks to season-long injuries both years, but they are in the playoffs this year (12-team league with 5 teams making playoffs). [Letting the ladies join us was a] brilliant, brilliant idea. Now there is way less complaining about watching football or checking fantasy sites. Of course, our league is pretty low on trash talk, which I am guessing helps make this work. – Michael

As for your question, I’ve been in a league with a buddy of mine that used to run it for his Insurance Agency but ended up inviting a few friends eventually. One year we had a guy “no-show” for the draft, so a girlfriend of one of the team owners offered to take his place. If memory serves me correctly, this was the year that Shaun Alexander took over for Ricky Watters in Seattle . As the season went along, she lost Watters to injury, and my friend “felt sorry for the girl” and traded her Alexander for next to nothing and she rode him (figuratively of course) to the title. I’ve never forgiven my friend (a groomsman in my wedding) for it – I lost to her in the title game. – David

I’m in the 5th year of managing a 14-team league with a range of co-workers, friends, and family. We send the Top 6 into the playoffs with seeds #1 and #2 receiving first-round byes in Wk 14. Each year my wife and her friend have co-managed a team, and this marks their third entry into the playoffs. They haven’t made it past the first round, but they have at least had a chance. I would say these girls are intermediate in terms of their football knowledge, but one of their biggest problems when it comes to building their team on draft day and via the wire, is that as each girl has a set of rules in their mind about picking players on certain teams due to long standing dislikes, and beyond that one girl is a FSU grad and will fight to not pickup someone who played at Florida or Miami.

2008 – #5 seed
2007 – failed to qualify
2006 – #6 seed
2005 – #4 seed
2004 – failed to qualify – Mike

I play in two fantasy leagues, one with 8 teams, the other with 16. The league with 8 has two women, and the league with 16 has three. My wife plays in both leagues. The league with 16 is in its fifth season. This season marks the 3rd she has made the playoffs of the four seasons she has played. In fact, when the commish of that league threw a tantrum and quit, she considered taking over until somebody else beat her to the punch and offered to do it. It has added another dimension to our marriage and gives us something to talk about other than the bills or what we're going to do for dinner. It definitely has helped us decide what to watch on Sundays (except for which game to watch), and I don't get in trouble for leaving the TV on the NFL network or ESPN during the week while waiting for player news! – Kyle

This week you asked about women? I have 2 women in this league and the both missed the playoffs (9th and 12th place). I don't think they have any genetic disadvantage...

In my mind, it all comes down to two reasons, and they have nothing to do with gender.

1. Time and Effort: In our league, the people who put in the research and stay on top of things are the ones that stay near the top of the league each year. The people who are just casual FF owners just can't compete with us die-hard fanatics.

2. LUCK: If you have several starting studs go out with season ending injuries, there is not much you can do in a 12 team league where 75% of the backup QB's and 95% of the backup RB's are already on rosters. – David

Hi Mike, I play in 4 leagues, 2 have at least one female player this year.

I’ve played in a league with my sister and a female cousin for 10 years now. They are both very competitive.

In another league, we had our first female player join this year. As I understand it, this is her first fantasy football experience ever. She is currently the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs and NOT afraid to rub it in our faces. – Michael

The primary lesson that we learn from my informal poll is that most men who play fantasy football are named Michael or David. Perhaps the more important lesson, however, is that women win some and lose some. They pay the same price as male FFers for injuries. Lady Luck, as the second David points out, pays no attention to gender.

When I started playing FF, I went out of my way to draft Raiders because Oakland was my team. It took me a few years to realize that Tim Brown didn’t earn extra points for looking really cool in black and silver, but I had to rethink my team loyalty in order to become more competitive in the world of fantasy. Mike’s story about the female FSU grad who avoids drafting players from Florida and Miami reminds me of my own stubborn commitment to Oakland. That female owner will either outgrow her stubbornness or she won’t, but I doubt that her sex will have anything to do with her development as an owner.

My thanks to everyone who responded to last week’s question. There is part of me that would like to see FFToday run a league with 50% male and 50% female ownership in order to make women feel more at home in the world of fantasy football, but I can’t help thinking that it would just be a waste of time. What would such a league really prove? How would one go about selecting the participants? If Mike Krueger agreed to represent maledom in such a league, who would his female analogue be? I’ll be happy to take any suggestions that readers might have to Krueger, but I am having a hard time making the case for such a league in my own mind—much less to my colleagues at FFToday.

This Week’s Question

How can we put Week 17 to use?

I ask this question every year, and every year readers manage to surprise me with their creative responses. We have covered the reasons for playing championship games in Week 17. (The best one appears to be that it makes the fantasy season last as long as possible.) We have covered the reasons against playing championship games in Week 17. (The best one is that star players on teams that have locked up home-field advantage tend to see limited action.) We have also touched on the idea of a two-week championship game (in Weeks 16 and 17). Dan wrote to me this week with an interesting idea for handling Week 17. Please let me know if you have alternative suggestions or ways for improving his idea.

I had an idea I posed to our commissioner that maybe next year we could propose a new playoff system, which would conclude with the ultimate test of FFB skills of drafting, analyzing teams, and playing the matchups. It would be a head-to-head matchup as expected; however the night prior to the first NFL game of Week 17, the 2 owners [who make it to the championship] will draft from scratch 8 starters (and no backups) for their championship team roster. First pick goes to the owner with the best record or total points scored if tie, etc., then they proceed from there.

I thought this would be a great way to test people’s skills on evaluating talent and matchups. The competing owners would have to assess the risk factors of picking players on NFL teams with locks and home field advantage in the playoffs, or bottom dwellers subbing in their rookies and 4th stringers. There are lots of reasons we normally DON”T use Week 17, but obviously by redrafting, the owners could overcome those disadvantages.

Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Sorry guys, but this is the last week of law school finals, so my analysis will be brief once again. I promise I will make it up to you – in fact, for any of you still alive come week 16 and 17, if you email me with the teams still available to you, and ask nicely, I will write personalized recommendations with in-depth analysis back to you for those two weeks. Let that be my thank you to all of you for being loyal readers throughout the season.

Last Week’s Bust: None

Trap Game: Cincinnati over Washington
Be careful about this game – it looks great on paper, but it might not pan out as expected. The Bengals are hosting a Redskins team this week that will bring with it a less-than-healthy Clinton Portis, a struggling offense, and a defense absolutely riddled with injuries. The team has been playing without heart for the past couple of weeks. They supposedly were going to come out fired up against the Giants two weeks ago (with the Sean Taylor ceremony), and played an ugly game against a team now proven to be very beatable. Then they played the Ravens this past week and looked completely demoralized.

In the last 5 games, the Skins have topped 10 points just once, in a lackluster win against Seattle, 20-17. Admittedly, the other 4 teams were the Giants, Steelers, Cowboys, and Ravens. However, Washington also has a habit of playing down to bad teams (see the games against Seattle and Detroit, two contests in which they trailed at the half). One more loss would knock the Skins out of playoff contention. They lack the talent and the will to make a push these last 3 games, and the Bengals might just put them out of their misery this week.

Pick 3: New York Jets over Buffalo
It’s not easy to pick the Jets with confidence, especially after they looked pathetic this past week against San Francisco, and just as bad the week before against Denver. That said, they are now tied with New England and Miami for the division lead, and it’s now or never for them. Can you think of a better now-or-never man than Brett Favre? The Jets will come into this division matchup fired up and ready to go—and will pound a floundering Bills squad.

The Bills are done, cooked, dead meat. J.P. Losman cannot run the offense, and though Marshawn Lynch is famous for his “beast mode,” we’ve seen the beast only once this year. It theoretically came out against an awful Cleveland rush defense, and beat them for 177 yards and a score. Since then, he has been mediocre at best. Add defensive woes to Buffalo’s offensive stuggles, and you have a team that just cannot win against quality opponents.

Pick 2: Indianapolis over Detroit
(TENNESSEE, dallas, CHICAGO, new york giants, TAMPA BAY, san francisco, Jacksonville, CAROLINA, philadelphia, WASHINGTON, new york jets, NEW ENGLAND)
There simply is nothing to be said here. Detroit almost did it last week against Minnesota (as predicted right here), even with both Williamses shoring up the defensive line. However, this week, Daunte Culpepper might not be able to play, and to compare the Vikings offense to the Colts offense would be a travesty. Detroit could not stop Tarvaris Jackson (the man benched earlier this season for 37-year-old journeyman Gus Frerotte) from marching down the field. How do they expect to stop a blazing hot Colts team?

Ok, maybe blazing hot is a bit of an exaggeration, but they have won their last 6 games, beating New England and Pittsburgh (my favorite to come out of the AFC) in the process. Joey Addai has struggled mightily all season, but as a result Dominic Rhodes has gotten more opportunities and has performed admirably. Peyton Manning is playing a whole lot more like the old Peyton, and even the defense has been shutting down all but the best of offenses (yes, Houston counts as one of the best offenses). Detroit’s offense is a lot less like Houston’s (27 points against Indy) than it is like Cincinnati’s (3 points against Indy). Indy should win big.

Pick 1: Philadelphia over Cleveland
I never learn. I got burned the last time I picked Philadelphia to beat an underperforming AFC North opponent. This also has some of the makings of a let-down game, given what the Eagles did to the Giants last week (yes, it pains to even mention it). However, in contrast to the Redskins (as discussed above), the Eagles have heart. I hate Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook just as much as any other loyal Giants fan, but damn do those guys have heart. At 7-5-1, the Eagles probably need to win all 3 of their games to get into the playoffs, and if they drop one, it most certainly will not be against the lowly Browns, led by Ken Dorsey, the man who couldn’t beat out Charlie Frye for a backup gig. Ouch.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but these are the only two teams to beat the Giants all year long. Strange that it will likely be a blowout.

And a last aside, remember my rant about the Eagles not getting Westbrook the ball in their tie with the Bengals? Well, someone was listening, and that someone was Marty Mornhinweg, the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. In the last two weeks, the Eagles have beaten the only two teams in the NFC to clinch their division, and in those two games Westbrook has 64 touches for 333 yards and 6TDs. Coincidence? I think not.

For responses to this week's fantasy question please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.