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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Are questionable FF trades more likely to be approved in the wake of the Trent Richardson move?
Q & A: Week 10

Last Week's Question: I didn't ask about Nick Foles, but that didn't keep me from getting an earful.

You guys are mean.

In my column for Week 9, I discussed my own quarterback quandary in my primary league en route to sharing Joe's "alternative to head-to-head scoring" (in which a reader named Joe proposed using the weekly average score as the magic number to beat in leagues that want to take some of the luck out of head-to-head fantasy matchups).

Instead of commenting on Joe's proposal, most readers chose to fasten on a passing remark I made about Nick Foles. All I said was that I didn't trust him after his performance against Dallas.

Thanks to that poorly timed confession, I'm suddenly getting emails from a bunch of people who want to taunt me for having failed to foresee Foles' 7-TD performance against Oakland.


Just think back to Week 7, when Foles squared off against the terribad Cowboy defense. Some people find God in their old age, but Monte Kiffin (Dallas' aging defensive coordinator) has apparently found Gandhi instead, and he appears to be convinced that passive resistance is a viable football strategy.

Analysts charitably refer to Kiffin's defense (ranked next-to-last in the NFL in terms of yardage allowed) as a 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme. But that's not really what it is. It's more like a prayer circle or a sit-in--with defenders staring soul-searchingly into the eyes of their opponents and asking, "Do you really want to hurt me? Do you really want to make me cry?"

This approach doesn't work on many offenses. The woeful Giants scored more points against Dallas in Week 1 (31) than in their next three games combined (30). Celebrated "game manager" Alex Smith had his second-best game of the season (including 57 yards rushing) against Dallas in Week 2. Philip Rivers (who is having a much better year than Alex Smith) also had his second-best game of the season against the Cowboys (with over 400 yards passing) in Week 4. More recently, Christian Ponder (who is having a much worse year than Alex Smith) is yet another QB who had his second-best game of the season against Dallas. The Cowboy defense is generous to good QBs (Rivers), bad QBs (Ponder), and mediocre QBs (Smith) alike.

So why weren't the Cowboys generous to Foles? I didn't even really try to figure that one out because by Week 9, starting QBs for the Eagles were getting into the habit of not finishing games. When I wrote that I didn't trust Foles, I meant not only that I didn't know how he would perform against Oakland, but that I wasn't sure whether he would last four quarters. Little did I anticipate that he would end up riding the pine early simply because he had already put the game out of reach.

So yes, after Foles' disappointing performance vs. Dallas, I made the mistake of not starting him vs. Oakland. But I made the worse mistake of announcing this fact, in advance, on the internet. And apparently the internet is primarily populated by Nelson-like figures who love to point at blunders and say, "Ha-ha!"

The useful feedback that I received to Joe's proposal was pretty well drowned out by notes from the folks who wanted to castigate me for leaving Foles on my bench. (The castigations would have stung more if I had lost my fantasy match-up, but I didn't need Foles' 7 TDs to overcome my opponent, which brings us, in a round-about way, back to Joe's concern about luck in H2H leagues that reward owners not for being the best that they can be but simply for doing a little better than whoever they happen to be matched up against any given week.)

Of course, it's entirely possible that my Foles blunder drew more attention than my question about the weekly average score because most leagues out there aren't doing anything special with that particular statistic.

Fortunately, however, I received one very thoughtful response to Joe's proposal concerning the weekly average score. It comes from a reader named Jeff, who shares Joe's frustration with the "luck factor":

What's so bothersome about H2H is that it is an arbitrary risk / chance. The risk of poor player performance in a week or of an injury is inherent in the NFL, and thus in fantasy games. But the [luck of the schedule is not inherent;] it is artificially imposed on top of our results.

I like Joe's idea. Maybe just state it simply as, "Each week the top half of fantasy teams by total points get a win. There aren't any head-to-head match-ups." I think that's what he's saying.

The disadvantage of Joe's idea is that finishing at the [very] top has no additional return vs. just [landing in] the top half each week. Some would get bored in that position, including me, with nothing to "do."

My best idea previously to reading that was to play among the 4 teams as a division, with 1st place that week getting 3 points, 2nd place 2, 3rd place 1, and 4th place none. It's just a different way to sit between the 2 extreme options. My league has 2 divisions of 4, but it would scale fine to larger leagues.

What I liked about my idea besides removing the luck of the schedule is that you compete against all the other teams in the division, so there's more excitement in every NFL game, especially Mondays, for everyone who cares still at all about the results.

I really like merging the 2 ideas... Top half of teams get points each week, with 3 points for 1st, 2 for top quartile other than 1st, and 1 for remainder of the top half. It can handle any size leagues. (If fewer than 5 teams in the league, drop the awarding of 3 points.) Then there will be reasonable battles to make the playoffs as well as reasonable battles to win the regular season and thus home field or bracket advantage in the playoffs, and zombie teams still have minimized impact on everybody else.

It's conceptually simpler than the all-play model, so it's more comfortable.

I'm always grateful when readers like Jeff take the time to engage the comments of other readers of the column fairly and open-mindedly, so it's my pleasure to include notes like this one.

However, I know that many readers are perfectly happy with their H2H leagues and do not feel that the "luck factor" inherent in the schedule is much of a problem. Sure, it's a matter of luck to face a "zombie" team after its owner has given up instead of when s/he was still actively managing it. But we do see a similar kind of luck cropping up in the NFL. If the Redskins wanted to complain about the "luck" of the NFL schedule, they might argue that that they had to play against Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers was healthy and that two of their divisional rivals (Philly and New York) are getting an unfair advantage by playing against the Packers in the weeks when Rodgers will be MIA. We might all agree that the Eagles (as compared to the Skins) are lucky to be going against a Packer team that looks like a shell of its former self, but no one is proposing rule changes to the NFL as a consequence of this development.

I fundamentally agree with the premise (shared by Jeff and Joe) that luck plays a larger role in H2H leagues than in leagues in which points are tallied over the course of the season or those in which all teams play each other every week. But H2H leagues remain popular because they are FUN.

As far as fun is concerned, the part of Jeff's response that stands out to me is his fifth paragraph, in which he points out that the model he is proposing would keep everybody in the league invested in the Monday night game. I primarily play in H2H leagues, and I know from experience that I care more about the Monday night game if any of the key players are on my team (or my opponent's team). Part of the fun of fantasy football is that it gives us a stake in all of the games played every week, and scoring models such as the one Jeff proposes would make the Monday night game relevant to me every week. Even if none of my players are involved, I'm still going to be competing (in one way or another) with someone who has a stake in the game.

This is all a long way of saying that even if you find fault with H2H scoring systems on the basis of fairness, any alternatives you might want to offer will still need to stress fun (and not just some objective, statistical notion of equity), and I'm always relieved to hear from readers like Jeff, who don't lose sight of that fact as they advance their own arguments.

This Week's Question: Has the Trent Richardson trade made it more difficult for commissioners to veto transactions that appear to be one-sided?

A commissioner named Cliff is in a bind:

In my league, vetoing lopsided trades is part of the commissioner's job.

Only I guess my idea of lopsided isn't as clear as it used to be. When Cleveland dealt Richardson to Indy for what's likely to be a low-end first round pick, everybody in my league thought Cleveland was just giving up on the season. We all joked that it was the kind of trade I would have vetoed if I had been in Goodell's shoes.

And I would have!

But then the Browns started to look more competitive without Richardson. And he hasn't exactly lit things up in Indy. It's starting to look like it wasn't such a lopsided deal after all.

So now whenever a trade gets proposed, someone posts something on the message board to this effect: "Or will the commish think this is as lopsided as the Richardson trade?"

Which kind of paints me into a corner.

It doesn't matter that they all agreed with me about the Richardson deal at the time. All that matters is [that I'm the one] who has to veto trades.

This is why I wish we could just have a league vote on trades, but we tried that, and it didn't work. Almost all trades ended up getting shot down. That's why we decided to put it on the commissioner's shoulders.

Are other commissioners having this sort of problem vetoing trades this season? Surely I wasn't the only one who thought the Richardson deal was bad for Cleveland when the news broke.

I'm sure a lot of commissioners out there were just as convinced as Cliff was that the Richardson trade was bad for Cleveland. With any luck, they just happen to be in leagues that don't require commissioners to review and approve trades.

I realize that a lot of leagues do prefer a commissioner veto to a league vote when it comes to trades, so I can see why this is a problem. But maybe the key is to focus on whether trades appear to be "collusive" rather than "lopsided."

Some folks (I may have been one of them) suspected that Cleveland's decision to deal Richardson was just a move by the coaching staff to buy another year of "rebuilding" time. That thinking may have been wrongheaded, but no one imagined that Cleveland was sneakily attempting to load Indy's roster with talent so that the Colts could win the NFL championship and split the Lombardi Trophy with them under the table.

I haven't heard from anyone else about the Richardson deal causing problems with trades, but if anyone out there has experienced anything relevant to Cliff's situation, I hope to hear from them.

Survivor Picks - Week 10 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: Indianapolis over St. Louis (7-2: KC, NEP, MN, NO, SF, DEN, MIA, GB, SEA):
The Colts find themselves atop the AFC Central at the midpoint of the 2013 season and may just cruise to a division championship. Both of these teams have had some injuries, but the Rams were definitely hurt more with the loss of Sam Bradford. Kellen Clemens played well last week against the Titans in his first start since his days with the NY Jets, but this week he faces a Colts defense that yields the 7th fewest points per game (less than 20). Meanwhile Andrew Luck hasn't missed a beat without Reggie Wayne in the lineup and now faces a Rams defense that has already been burned for an 81-yard touchdown through the air. Look for the Colts to continue to air it out often this week and then have Trent Richardson run out the clock

#2: NY Giants over Oakland (7-2: DEN, PHL, SF, IND, STL, HOU, GB, SEA, DAL):
The 2-6 NY Giants welcome an Oakland Raiders defense that gave up seven passing touchdowns to Nick Foles in last week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles (all before the end of the 3rd quarter). While Eli Manning and his receivers haven't looked to be on the same page during the first half of the season, the Raiders are exactly what the Giants need to continue their climb out of the cellar and back in to the playoff hunt in the NFC East. These Giants are far from finished for the season and could find themselves with some very meaningful games against Dallas in the coming weeks. So if you trust Tom Coughlin and his staff, then take the home team as your out-on-a-limb survival pick for Week 10.

#1: Tennessee over Jacksonville (8-1: IND, OAK, SEA, DEN, ATL, CHI, SD, SF, CAR):
Hmmm . . . the dreaded divisional rivalry game as your Survival pick. You've made it to week 10 avoiding the Saints' debacle at the Meadowlands last week and the Falcons' loss to those same Jets earlier in the season. This week, the Jaguars visit the Titans without Justin Blackmon and now will have an even harder time trying to eclipse their league worst 10.8 points per game. The Titans don't exactly scare any defenses with an offense that is 24th in overall yards from scrimmage, but CJ2K and Jake Locker should be able to post enough points in this contest to avoid the emotional letdown that comes with focusing on next week's opponent (the Colts) instead of taking care of business each week. Take the Titans but don't give the points as this game will be closer than the spread.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999. As a landlocked Oklahoman who longs for the sound of ocean waves, he also writes about ocean colonization under the pen name Studio Dongo. The latest installment in his science fiction series can be found here.