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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A - Week 11: Undervalued Defenses

Last Week's Question: How can commissioners maintain parity while sustaining rivalry?

Check out my Week 10 column for a full presentation of Kenneth's quandary. In a nutshell, Kenneth's league realigns divisions every year to make sure that one of the four worst teams from a given season will be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs the following year. The problem is that even though changing the divisional structure each season works well for keeping the league competitive, it prevents long-term divisional rivalries from developing between some owners who would like to be sure to play each other twice each season.

From my perspective, the challenge for Kenneth's league is to maintain the parity that it has already achieved while figuring out how to nurture divisional rivalries that would like a chance to grow.

In Marty's opinion, my perspective is fundamentally flawed:

Kenneth's league sounds like a welfare state to me. Do you suck at fantasy football? Well if you manage to suck super extra hard this season, we will reward you next year by giving you a bunch of equally sucky owners to play against.

This sounds like all the crybaby leagues that give the first pick in the draft to the team that finished in last place. Wow! That's what bad [FFers] need: an incentive to be even worse than they are.

We had a crappy owner tank in the last few games one season (back in the Marshall Faulk years). Everyone could tell what he was up to. He wasn't going to make the playoffs, so he was trying to lose all of the games at the end just to get Faulk the next year.

We threw him out of the league and changed our rules. Now every team that doesn't make it to the real playoffs goes into our toilet bowl tourney. The WINNER of that tourney is the one who gets to pick first. We like to reward achievement, not incompetence and laziness.

Although Marty sounds a bit heated, I understand where he is coming from. In the name of parity, commissioners can unwittingly implement rules that give owners an incentive to "tank" at the end of the season. Some people say they have seen the same thing happening in the NFL, since getting the first pick in the draft may be the most meaningful thing that teams can hope for once their seasons have become meaningless.

I have heard from various commissioners over the years who use systems similar to the one Marty describes, which is a great solution in lots of leagues. However, not all fantasy leagues hope to achieve the same thing. Some commissioners are willing to give up a little bit of competition in order to keep all their owners invested in the league from one year to the next. Kenneth's league obviously goes out of its way to strengthen the weakest teams, but Glenn's league relies on randomness in order to achieve parity:

[In our redraft league, we] randomly select the draft order every year at the owners' meeting. The last couple of years it has been shooting at balloons with the draft pick number inside. No one knows which balloon contains which number, and the last place owner from the previous year gets first shot. Gets kinda fun, but I am glad we use a BB gun instead of a .22!

Anyway, the odd number picks get put into one division, the even picks into another. This gives us parity between the divisions as far as draft pick strength, etc. Of course there are always weaker owners that just draft like crap every year and other owners who always build a great team no matter where they draft. But overall it has worked out to keep parity alive.

As far as rivalry, at least for our league in year number 8, that just kind of bubbles up due to the natural personalities and success that owners may have. [It's hard] to make people be competitive and smack talk. That's why the recruiting process for new owners is important. Get competitive, trash talking people in a league and it won't be boring.

What's that I heard? The faint voice of Charlton Heston defying me to pry Arian Foster from his cold dead hands? Glenn, I would love to attend one of your balloon-shooting parties as long as you promise not to invite Dick Cheney.

Glenn's most important point for Kenneth may be in his last sentence. In a league full of trash talkers, it wouldn't really matter which three ended up in Kenneth's division next year. Chad, however, suggests that Kenneth's league can keep the trash talkers happy without changing anything:

Just use surrogate teams. If you and Owner X like to jaw at each other, then getting into the same division isn't really much of a solution. You end up jawing at each other twice a season instead of once. Big whoop. I say you just jaw at anyone you want to any time you feel like it. If you're playing against them, tell them how much better your team is. But if you're not, just go on and on about how much of a hurting is about to be put on them by [insert this week's opponent here].

Chad makes a fair point. Smack talkers don't really need a good reason to talk smack. I can always find a reason to tell you how much I hate your QB even if we don't happen to be squaring off this week. This is a general solution to the "rivalry problem" that can probably work in most leagues. Additionally, Michael has two far more specific solutions for Kenneth's problem:

Obviously, it seems that rivalries are important enough to consider the options. Personally, it is fun when I get to play my little brother, so I support any system that allows me to play him more often.

Here is one option for a 12-team league (3 divisions of 4 teams each mean they currently play a 14-week regular season if they play divisional mates twice each year):

2 division format:
6 teams each division (keep it Champs and Chumps for this example. Top 6 in one and bottom 6 in the other).
Division winners + 2 wild cards make the playoffs.
You play every team once + 2 rivalry games that are the same every year regardless of division (13 week schedule).

Advantages: You maintain a rivalry with 1 or 2 teams throughout the years. The teams in the Chumps division still have a better chance at getting into the playoffs.

Disadvantages: If your rivalry is with 2 teams that happen to be good and in the Champ division most years, then you have a disadvantage to your divisional mates. And, there is no extra divisional scheduling (that can be built in as a random last team if you want to get to 14 weeks, or if you only want 1 rivalry team, then you can do it with 2 teams).

4 division format:
3 teams each division (Champs, Chomps*, Chimps, and Chumps. Keep it based on sectional standings from the previous season)
*Chomps for chomping at the bit? (sorry, best I could do)

You play the other 2 teams in your division twice. You play everyone else once except for 1 designated rival whom you play twice. If your rival happens to fall into your division, then you can have a random 2nd matchup designated.

Advantages: Divisional scheduling left intact. Rivalries added.

Disadvantages: No wild card team. Depending on how competitive the league is, the bottom 3 teams could have a very big advantage on making the playoffs.

Thanks Michael for the detailed response. I got a chuckle out of the "Chomps" suggestion in your second option.

The solutions here range from the specific to the general, so I hope that one of the above suggestions will be helpful to Kenneth's league (and perhaps to other commissioners pondering similar questions).

This Week's Question: Why are defenses undervalued?

Alex obviously likes the Chicago Bears, and he thinks it's time for the FF community to re-evaluate conventional wisdom concerning defenses:

Whoever takes a defense first in my league (usually me) is guaranteed to get a ton of abuse for reaching.

"It's too early!"

"You still need another receiver!"

"Oh no! Only 31 defenses left! Time to panic!"

I have to hear that nonsense every year just because I am the only one in my league who understands how valuable defenses are. But let's take a second to look at the numbers.

Top 2 QBs: Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are pretty much tied after Week 10 (with Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning breathing down their necks).

Top 2 RBs: Doug Martin and Adrian Peterson are pretty much tied after Week 10.

Top 2 WRs: A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall are pretty much tied after Week 10.

Top 2 TEs: Rob Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez are pretty much tied after Week 10.

Top 2 kickers: Matt Bryant and Lawrence Tynes are pretty much tied after Week 10 (considering that Tynes has played ten games to Bryant's nine).

Top 2 defenses: The #1 Bears are miles and miles ahead of the #2 Texans. I mean it's not even close.

So if I have Brees, Martin, Green, Gronkowski, and Bryant, I'll be neck-and-neck against a team with Rodgers, Peterson, Marshall, Gonzalez, and Tynes.

But if I have Chicago and you have Houston, I win.

Now with all of that information, can you tell me why it's a mistake to take a defense in the fifth round? The Bears should have been the number one overall pick in my opinion.

I don't know how to begin to respond to a question like this, but it's hard to see the appeal of using 20/20 hindsight for the purpose of getting ourselves lost in hypothetical mazes about overvaluing the likes of Tom Brady and undervaluing the likes of Peyton Manning.

There are at least three things that I want to say to Alex, but I am going to stay quiet for now and let readers focus on the essence of his question. Does the FF community (apart from IDP leagues) really undervalue defenses? And if so, what should we do differently going forward?

Last Man Standing - Week 11 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Last week was the epitome of the “lock” of the week almost closing out most Survival Pools around the country. The Chiefs showed that they had major heart and limited their turnovers to one. Unfortunately, that one turnover came in overtime (when every possession counts), which cost them the game. With that in mind, could New England be ripe for an upset at home against Indy?

Trap Game: New England over Indianapolis (5-5, Wash, CLE, TB, Den, ATL, SF, NYG, NO, MIA, DET):
The Patriots and Colts are no strangers to epic battles late in the season. But these Colts may look like strangers to most casual NFL fans. There is no familiar number 18 under center to lead this 6-3 team that has won four straight games. No, this team is led by Andrew Luck, the #1 pick from Stanford who has made everyone in Indianapolis think that there is life after Peyton. It will certainly take a Peytonesque performance to win in Foxborough against a Patriots defense that has been beaten deep for an average of 285 yards per game (despite keeping ground attacks to less than 96 yards per contest). This game is more likely to come down to Indy's defense than to Luck’s late game heroics since Brady and company lead the league in points and yardage from scrimmage. But with two minutes to go and the Colts with the ball, Luck could show us all that he deserved to be the top pick in the draft. Look for the Patriots in a nail bitter.

#3: Washington over Philadelphia (9-1: PHI, TB, CHI, AZ, HOU, BAL, GB, SF, SD, NE):
The Redskins are coming off the bye, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Mike Shanahan and company. As for the Eagles, they look like they need a doctor's note to excuse them from the rest of the season. This divisional game, which was expected to be a possible fight for first place when the schedule was drafted, is now an undercard game on most people’s survival pool picks in Week 11. But with the majority of the “blowout” game teams already chosen in prior weeks, the normally verboten divisional rivalry gets the nod as a potential pick. My top three reasons for choosing the Skins are 1) Robert Griffin III has played well; 2) the Redskins may have found a full time running back in Alfred Morris; and 3) the Redskins come into this game much healthier than the Eagles. Things only become more lopsided as we consider the storm clouds hanging over Philadelphia. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Andy Reid is gone as coach of the Eagles. It’s just a matter of when. Apart from his lingering inability to find a suitable replacement for Jim Johnson (the late great defensive coordinator), he has had to deal with an insurmountable number of injuries this season. With three of your five starting linemen on injured reserve, it’s very difficult to generate a rushing attack and protect your quarterback. Go with Washington.

#2: Denver over San Diego (7-3: CHI, Wash, NO, HOU, SF, PIT, MIN, NE, ATL, BAL):
If this weren’t a divisional rivalry game, it would be my number one pick. The Broncos are back in the playoff hunt for the first time in years with the real Peyton Manning barking out plays under center in Denver and not Indianapolis. But the change in scenery, not to mention altitude, seems to be suiting him just fine as his Broncos stand atop the AFC West. His new offense is second in scoring and third in passing, and the Bronco defense is in the top third in most categories. Look for Denver to emphatically put a stamp on the AFC West race in this game if Peyton has anything to say about it.

#1: Dallas over Cleveland (9-1: HOU, SF, IND, BAL, NYG, ATL, NE, CHI, GB, PIT):
The Cowboys went into Philly last week and muscled out a win in a game that could have easily seen Dallas fold up and call it a season. After that important win, the Cowboys may have found the confidence to pull out a division crown (blasphemy). Dallas has one game remaining against a team with a winning record (Pittsburgh) and a legitimate shot of ending the season 10-6 if they can run the table. Their first step would be to use their quite good defense (8th in the league) to shut down a Cleveland offense that is 26th and 29th in total points and yards respectively. While Trent Richardson might be feeling healthier than he did two or three weeks ago, look for him to run smack into the wall that knocks the wind out of most rookies around this time each year. America’s team should manage to take care of business at home.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.