Last Month's Question: Concluding the Sporadic
My column for July featured
a question from Dan that clearly touched a nerve in the FF community.
Dan wanted to add a few extra head-to-head games to the schedule
in his fantasy league, which meant that his owners would sometimes
play two games in a particular week instead of one.
Because of scheduled byes in the NFL and the fact that most fantasy
leagues crowd their own playoffs into the final weeks of the regular
NFL season, it can be difficult for commissioners to sprinkle doubleheaders
into their regular schedules without making some owners feel as
if they are being put at a disadvantage. The Houston Texans have
Week 8 off, so it is easy to imagine the frustration of an Arian
Foster owner who is scheduled to play one game in Week 7, two games
in Week 8, and one game in Week 9. "Hey," we can hear
the owner objecting, "why can't I play two games in Week 7,
when my star running back will be active? This is BS!" The
commissioner picks up the schedule to make an alteration, but the
owner of Julio Jones immediately cries, "Wait, don't move my
extra game against him to Week 7 because that is when the Falcons
When I wrote the July column, I expected the problem of scheduling
sporadic doubleheaders to prompt a handful of responses from a few
leagues with long track records of innovation and experimentation.
I was wrong. The overwhelming response to that column suggests that
sporadic doubleheaders are clearly more common in the fantasy community
than I assumed, and a number of leagues have developed a wide range
of strategies for coping with the frustration that they can cause
owners and commissioners alike.
The most representative responses I received concerning the question
from July appear in my
August column, but I wanted to include a few "outlier"
responses that did not fit in with the larger discussion. These
responses tended to focus on the root of Dan's problem. The whole
reason Dan wanted to schedule extra games in the first place was
because some schedules in head-to-head leagues are easier than other
schedules, so it can seem unfair to decide which teams advance to
the playoffs based on head-to-head records in which some teams play
a series of pushovers while others square off against one powerhouse
Many commissioners in "total points" leagues are quick
to point out that this is the chief flaw of head-to-head fantasy
leagues, but there are plenty of FFers who are committed to the
thrill of head-to-head competition even if it isn't the most mathematically
accurate way of measuring the relative strength of fantasy teams.
As Rick explains:
I commish a 12-owner auction league in its sixth
year, with 3 divisions of four teams each. We have owners who prefer
the weekly excitement of H2H, but also several whose background
consists of multiple decades of Rotisserie Baseball, so they despise
classic H2H because it is too “lucky”; they prefer the
point-tally method you described. As a compromise, we’ve devised
a system that both sides are very happy with.
We play a doubleheader every week for 13 weeks. Half the teams make
the playoffs selected in this order: the 3 division winners, 1 with
best record, then 2 highest-scoring teams. I let CBSSports.com set
the schedule, but (roughly speaking) you’ll play your division
foes 3 times and non-division just 2 times. The Roto guys are happy
because the effect of luck is minimized since there are 26 regular
season games and you are guaranteed a playoff appearance with a
good overall point total, even if you played the highest-scoring
team each week. Meanwhile, the H2H guys are satisfied because the
division winners all make it to the playoffs and it also eliminates
the dreaded situation where you go 0-1 when playing the highest-scoring
team that week even though you scored second-most. Everyone hates
Since it’s an auction league, there are no concerns about
which draft slot your division opponents are in, so the method we
use to assign divisions is based on the previous year’s total
points scored: the 4 highest-scoring teams play each other in Division
“Kings”, next 4 in “Nobles”, and the worst
4 in “Peasants”. This promotes annual rivalries for
the variously skilled players (there isn’t as much division-changing
as you might think), and it provides incentive to the poorly performing
teams to at least score enough not to end up in the Peasants division
These are some of my attempts at keeping the motivation up all through
the season – which is one of your article’s main points:
finding ways to “keep apathy away”. I don’t think
it matters how many games you play, as long as people stay mentally
involved until the end, yet still rewarding hard work and skill,
and maybe a little luck.
Alan's league also schedules doubleheaders throughout the season
to achieve a balanced schedule:
I too am a commissioner of a 10-team league.
We have always played a 14-week schedule with 2 divisions. We had
a real problem last year with our playoffs because of the exact
scenario [Dan mentioned.] If you use head-to-head as a criterion
with an unbalanced schedule, you are destined for trouble. We all
got together and are trying something completely different this
year. If you go to a 14-week schedule and use a single division
with x amount making your playoffs, it would look like this:
14-week regular season;
every team plays each team 3 times;
doubleheaders every week except week 1.
I hope this helps you. I sure hope it works for our league. We voted
on this and it was an overwhelming response to try it.
A reader named Rich wanted to point out that I oversimplified matters
by dividing the fantasy world into "head-to-head" and
"point tally" leagues. His complicated league (which has
endured for more than two decades) not only blends those two categories,
but blurs the traditional distinction between "points only"
and "performance" models as well:
In our league, [teams generate two different
scores] with the same lineup each week. The first score includes
points for yardage, TDs, receptions, sacks, interceptions, etc.
The second score is strictly for TDs, extra points, field goals,
and safeties. The second score determines who wins the head-to-head
matches. You can actually outscore a team in total but lose the
game because of the tds or kicking points.
What we found out is the best team then wins the overall total points
with a second and third also winning, but to keep everybody's interest
the head-to-head schedule lasts 13 weeks , with 2 divisions of 5.
You play everyone in your division twice and everyone in the other
division once. The first place teams receive two byes for winning
their division, and the other 4 teams in the division play for the
right to play number 1.
In Week 14, 2 plays 5 and 3 plays 4, with the winners playing each
other in Week 15. In week 16, #1 plays the winner of week 15 and
this happens in both divisions. If you don't mind playing week 17,
you have your Superbowl then, which by the way has really worked
out for us.
This eliminates the best team from basically getting nothing because
it has already won total points, but it gives a chance for everybody
late into the year. We had one championship where both 5th place
finishers played each other in the Superbowl, but the 3 best teams
overall also won for their total points. This will be our 24th season
playing fantasy football with 8 out of the 10 playing at least 20
of those years.
If one point became clear to me from the responses that I received
to July's column, it is this: Leagues that schedule doubleheaders
throughout the season (instead of having them at arbitrarily chosen
points) can easily avoid the headaches described in the beginning
of this article. The owners in Mark's league cannot complain that
the doubleheader schedule is unfair because it is the same for everyone
all season long:
Before I read your article, the thought of the
doubleheaders being sporadic had not even occurred to me. My league
is set up to have them every week of a 14-game regular season.
9 teams play in three 3-team divisions, awarding playoffs to 3 division
winners and a wild card. 9 non-division weeks and 5 all-division
weeks (wks 3, 7, 10, 13 & 14) have teams playing every non-division
opponent 3 times and every division opp 5 times.
I assume the idea could be expanded to 12, 15 or 18 team leagues,
but the balance of the interdivisional schedule might be off a bit.
My thanks to everyone who wrote in concerning the topic of scheduling
doubleheaders. I was not able to include every response, but I have
done my best to keep the discussion brief and focused while allowing
readers interested in the topic to familiarize themselves with the
widest possible range of perspectives and solutions.
Week's Question: How Much Attention Should Rookie FFers Pay to Average
I'm not asking for your pity. Okay, maybe I am.
Just try writing a column for a world-famous fantasy football website
every week of every NFL season for a decade. You try it and see
You will be swamped by requests from people you don't know--cousins
of women who used to date office workers who went to high school
with a guy that once carpooled with you during an internship. These
people will imagine that because they are so intimately connected
with you, it is your responsibility to prepare them for their first
fantasy draft. They don't know anything about football. They're
just going along with their coworkers by joining the office fantasy
league, but they don't want to embarrass themselves. And somehow
it is your responsibility to tell them what to do in their draft
so that no one will make fun of them.
Most of them think they should take a quarterback in the first round
because QBs are the most important players on the field. A few of
them--the ones who are too smart for their own good--believe that
their first pick should be the best defense in the league because
a defense is eleven whole players. "I would have to be stupid
to pick just one running back when I could have a whole defensive
squad instead, right?" they ask--excited about their unique
insight into the mysterious world of fantasy football.
The best questions are the emails that read like this: "I have
the eighth pick in the first round, the fifth pick in the second
round, and the eighth pick in the third round. Which three players
should I target first?"
I went through a period of being impatient with these questions
years ago. Now I mainly chuckle and ignore the emails. But I don't
have it in me to ignore people in face-to-face conversations. When
I go grocery shopping in August, someone is going to spot me and
make me give them advice on how to behave in their very first fantasy
draft. The problem is that the more helpful I try to be, the less
helpful I am. Most rookie FFers are not ready to understand the
distinctions between leagues that require owners to start a tight
end and leagues that lump tight ends in with receivers. They do
not want conditional advice.
Their faces cloud with impatience when I try to explain that even
though quarterbacks generate more points than running backs, the
scarcity of running backs makes the difference between a tier 1
QB and a tier 2 QB less important than the difference between a
tier 1 RB and a tier 2 RB.
"So should I take a running
back or a quarterback in the first round?" they ask.
"Well, if you're picking seventh and Aaron Rodgers is still
available and the following players are already off the board .
. ." I begin.
"It's a simple question!"
they insist. "I just want to know if I should start with a
quarterback or a running back."
It is a simple question, but the answer is rarely simple. Different
leagues have different lineup requirements, different roster depths,
different scoring formulas, different drafting tendencies by owners.
If Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both go in the first round, some
leagues will respond with a run on quarterbacks in the second round.
In other leagues, Rodgers, Brady and Drew Brees will all be taken
by the middle of round two, but the next quarterback will not be
drafted until the end of round four.
The simple truth is that it is rarely easy for me to give strangers
the advice they need. I don't know them; I don't know their league
rules; I certainly don't know the drafting tendencies of their competitors.
And so I have fallen back on a particular way of giving advice simply
because it is easy for me to explain and easy for them to understand.
The problem is that I have no idea whether the advice I am giving
is any good. I certainly don't follow it myself.
In my experience, what the average terrified rookie FFer wants is
a list of positions by round numbers. They want me to tell them
to get a running back in the first round, a receiver in the second,
a second running back in the third, a quarterback in the fourth,
a tight end in the fifth, etc. I estimate that more than 90% of
the FF rookies who come to me for advice would be delighted if I
could give them this sort of formula.
The last thing they want to hear is that I do not look to fill a
specific position in the second round. I start talking about the
relative value of the players likely to be available with pick X
of round Y, and their eyes glaze over. "Just answer the question!"
I can hear them roaring inside their own brains. "Do I take
the best RB or the best wide-out in that round?"
I cannot, in good conscience, tell a stranger to target any specific position
in any specific round of a draft. Too much of my own decision-making
process is tied to what the other drafters have done and are likely
Average draft position (ADP) is the shortcut I find myself falling
back on in these discussions. It's a quick and dirty way for FF
newcomers to understand the perceived value of a player. I do
not tell people to use certain rounds to target certain positions,
but I do advise them to print out ADP lists for consultation during
"You could conceivably draft a running back, receiver, quarterback,
or tight end in round three," I explain. "I really cannot
guess which one will be the best fit for your team at that point.
But if you have already drafted just one running back and just
one wide out in the first two rounds, then all four options are
worth considering in round three. Draw through the names of the
players on your ADP list as they are taken, and when it is your
turn, take the player from the position that seems to be in the
shortest supply near the top of your list."
As each NFL season begins, I get a lot of thank you notes from
people who follow this advice, but that does not mean I helped
anyone build a decent fantasy team. All it really means is that
the rookies who followed my advice got through their drafts without
I suspect that if my lazy ADP-based advice is any good at all,
it is only good for helping rookie FFers to dip their toes in
the fantasy football draft pool as they make their way towards
their own drafting style in their second and third seasons. One
thing that struck me about the drafts I participated in this August
was that the competitors I am most worried about are the ones
who seem to pay the least attention to ADP. Really good players
that are generally undervalued routinely get snapped up well ahead
of their ADP because attentive owners are worried about losing
them to other attentive owners. So-called "reaches"
are not always bad, as people who wanted Victor Cruz last year
Rookie FFers who do not want to look stupid may thank me for my
advice concerning ADP, but I suspect that I am not being very
helpful to those who want to win.
So I have a challenge
to the fantasy community:
In 100 words or less, what is the best advice you could give to
rookie FFers who are nervous about participating in a traditional
serpentine draft. I don't want to know the intricacies of your
drafting style. Please don't give me a bunch of ifs and maybes.
These are people who want clear directions, but they do not have
the patience or the experience to understand overly detailed analysis.
What is the best advice you can give them to help them feel a
sense of confidence about their choices and to give them a reasonable
shot at building a competitive team? Would you have them consider
ADP or ignore it entirely?
Last Man Standing - Week 1
(Picks courtesy of Matthew
Schiff--who has graciously agreed to continue sharing his
insights for 2012)
Well, it’s Week #1 and there are 32 teams tied at 0-0. Now
the real fun begins. While there are rookies around the league
touted as the next Cam Newton, it’s a pretty good bet that
those rookie quarterbacks are going to have a rough time in Week
1. With the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell
Wilson all taking over control of their teams right out of college,
the NFL will definitely not lack excitement.
Trap Game: New Orleans over Washington
This is a classic trap game. Robert Griffin III brings his talents
to the Big Easy in Week 1, and he has no fear. In the preseason
he has shown that he can make all of the necessary throws in the
NFL, including the bomb, while also having legs to escape the
rush. Unlike some other quarterbacks in the league with his skills,
he is looking to pass the ball first and let his teammates showcase
their skills. Surrounded by an offense that has been revamped
with Pierre Garcon at wide receiver and a running back by committee
that highlights Roy Helu, Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris,
this Washington team will sneak up on opponents that fail to adapt
to an unpredictable game plan. In the case of the Saints, you
can’t have more disruption. A hurricane, a scandal, a suspension
of their head coach and key defenders all tell me to AVOID this
game and wait for a better matchup before picking the Saints.
New Orleans has talent, but do you really want to risk your Survival
Pool on a team that has had so much to deal with playing against
a team that feels that they can take advantage of a Saint defense
that was only ranked 24th last year and has been their Achilles
heel over the last two seasons?
#3: Philadelphia at Cleveland (0-0, Last
Michael Vick is expected to start for the Birds, and LeSean McCoy
should be able to run for 100+ yards against a Browns defense
that was ranked 30th against the rush last year. The Eagles are
better than their 8-8 record in 2011, and an opponent like the
Browns should help them continue their unbeaten streak from the
preseason. Rookie Trent Richardson may be a game-time decision
based upon his knee, but the team has always insisted that he
will be ready for Week 1. If you have another running back though,
think about using him since the Eagles' defense was good last
year (16th against the rush) and got better in the offseason with
the additions of DeMeco Ryans from Houston, as well as Fletcher
Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry in the draft. It should
be interesting to see how Brandon Weeden handles the strong defensive
front of the Eagles in an offense that only has room to improve
over their 29th overall ranking last year.
#2: Chicago at Indianapolis (0-0, Last
In our third game with a rookie quarterback, I suggest picking
against Andrew Luck and his Colts when they march into Soldier
Field. The Chicago Bears, returning Jay Cutler from a season-ending
thumb injury as well as Matt Forte from his own knee injury, now
have a legitimate number one receiver in Brandon Marshall. The
last time Marshall and Cutler teamed up in Denver, they combined
for 1325 yards and 7 touchdowns on 101 receptions in 2007 before
Cutler was traded to Chicago. The Bears haven’t had that
type of production in a receiver since Marty Booker’s back
to back 1000+ yard seasons in 2001 and 2002. Combine that with
an Indianapolis defense that was 29th against the rush and 25th
overall last year, and this spells trouble for a rookie quarterback
playing in a visiting city who will have a hard time matching
his opponent point for point. The good news for Indy is that the
Bears did allow an average of over 254 yards per game in 2011
(4th-worst pass defense in the league), so Luck should have a
#1: Houston over Miami (0-0, Last Season
As for our number one pick for this week, you have to like Houston’s
chances against the final rookie quarterback named a starter:
Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins come to Houston to face a team that
improved on the defensive side of the ball immensely under Wade
Phillips in 2011. By the end of the season, the defense ranked
3rd against the pass and 2nd overall, allowing an average of only
285 yards per game. Combine that with an offense that is getting
its quarterback back in Matt Schaub, and the Texans should easily
win this at home. Don’t expect Reggie Bush to break loose
in this game to relieve the pressure on Tannehill as the Texans
only allowed 10 touchdowns all season on the ground in 2011.
For those of you who have not read this column before, I will
be choosing one team each week in each of the three positions.
I won’t repeat my selections in each slot, and I hope to
give you insight into the tendencies of the teams that I pick
each week. I look forward to reader feedback and hope that everyone
has a wonderful 2012 NFL Season. Best of luck to everyone.
For responses to this month's fantasy question please email