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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

The Washington Incognitos
Q & A: Week 16

Last Week's Question: What alternatives do head-to-head leagues have to the traditional single-elimination playoff tournament?

In my column for Week 15, I did a bit of moaning about how well my fantasy team in my primary league would have performed in the Week 14 playoffs if I hadn't been eliminated in Week 13 thanks to a gangbuster performance by Alshon Jeffery on my opponent's squad. I mentioned a few of the players who were doing well for me (including Jamaal Charles and Nick Foles). Week 15 stung even more than Week 14. In a league in which 125 points usually wins a head-to-head matchup, my squad put up 211. Jamaal Charles was on fire, but it was the coldest kind of fire for me, the kind that was prematurely extinguished by an early exit from the postseason.

In my bitterness, I asked readers to tell me about playoff formats in head-to-head fantasy leagues that don't rely on the traditional single-elimination tournament. I want to thank everyone who wrote in for allowing me to fantasize about alternative realities in which I would still be marching steadily towards a championship.

Not everyone sees the single-elimination tournament as a problem, but those who do have taken a number of surprisingly different approaches to solving it. Most leagues tinker with the structure of the playoffs, but Jason's league simply adds a heavy dose of credits earned in the regular season to the tournament format:

My league offers playoff "bonus points" based on per game averages from the regular season.

For example, if my team scored 1900 points over 13 regular season games for 146 points a week and I'm playing a team that scored 1750 over 13 regular season games for 135 points a week, I get an 11-point advantage heading into the playoff matchup.

It's similar to home-field advantage except it doesn't matter who the higher seed is. The team with the higher per game average always gets a little boost.

What happens is that it doesn't do enough to completely take away the inherent fun of head-to-head matchups in the playoffs, but it also rewards the truly dominant teams during the season. If your team has scored 2000 more points than everyone else, it's really going to take a truly epic performance (or meltdown) to get beat. Similarly, if there is a normal gap of only a couple of points during the season, the bonus points don't do too much to sway the matchup.

I try to remain as impartial as possible when assessing suggestions from readers, but I have to say that Jason's approach sounds really appealing to me. If the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Seattle this year (as seems likely), then we will see a good team enjoying every opportunity to exploit home-field advantage. If the Seahawks are at home, does that mean it's impossible for the Carolina Panthers to beat them? Certainly not, but Seattle would definitely have more of an advantage as the home team than as the visitor in that contest. And (assuming the season plays out as seems most likely) the Seahawks will have earned that advantage by playing consistently at a high level throughout the regular season. I see the approach that Jason advocates as mimicking the NFL's transition from the regular season to the playoffs very effectively.

Other leagues that see the single-elimination tournament as too imbalanced and quirky tend to focus on changing the structure of the postseason. Mark's league, for example, is trying a round robin approach this year:

We are experimenting with a new playoff format for head-to-head this year. Instead of single elimination, we are holding a 3-game round robin with the four teams that made the playoffs. Best 3-game record wins the championship. Tie breakers are head-to-head winner for 2-way tie and total playoff points for a 3-way tie. This keeps all playoff teams interested for 3 weeks and lessens the impact of one player having a monster game in the first round.

My favorite part of Mark's response is when he talks about lessening the impact of one player having a monster game in the first round. He probably thinks he is talking about a general principle, but I know that long clause is really just code for "Alshon Jeffery." (Sorry, I'm scarred for life. I fear I will never let this one go.)

Instead of awarding bonus points to teams based on their performance in the regular season, Mike's league splits up the purse so that the teams that do best in the regular season finish in the money regardless of how well or poorly they do in the playoffs:

In one big money league, we award 50% of the prize money to both the regular season and playoffs. So if you finish 14-0 in first place, you get a nice chunk of change even if you get bumped off in the first round. My argument has always been it takes more to win the regular season. The playoffs becomes a crap shoot. Regular season winner deserves money!

Mike goes on to talk about a second league in which all teams compete in battle royal format each week of the regular season and into the playoffs. Mike's second league sounds a lot like Adam's league (although Adam's league focuses on double-headers throughout the season and doesn't resort to the battle royal approach until the playoffs begin):

The unfairness of single elimination playoffs has been a bone of contention in our league for many years (this is our 18th season), and we've endlessly brainstormed and debated the merits of every system we can think of in an attempt to come up with something better.

The overall gist of our arguments can be boiled down to this: A total points league is the fairest way to decide a champion, while the head-to-head format is the most exciting. With that said, neither system is all that palatable to us, so we tried to come up with something that evens out the luck a bit but still maintains the excitement.

First, we play double headers every week of the regular season. That balances out the "schedule luck" somewhat, and it means the cream tends to rise to the top by the end of the year. There can still be some "lucky" bubble teams that sneak into the playoffs, but since we made the change we've never seen an elite team end up on the outside looking in. As a side effect, we've also found this format to be more fun, as we have a second game to be excited about when the first one is a lost cause.

As for the playoffs, we came up with this: The top four teams play a two-week total points battle royal in week 14 and 15, with the top two teams advancing to the championship game in week 16 (like many leagues, we don't use week 17 due to the fact that teams often sit their starters).

We felt it was important to retain the single-elimination championship week, as it makes for a thrilling finish and maintains maximum excitement. But in the first playoff round the two week format means a team can't just get lucky (or unlucky) with one good or bad game, while the battle royal format also eliminates the possibility of simply being run over by a hot opponent.

It's certainly far from perfect, but we enjoy it and it's a definite improvement over the single-elimination format. It reduces some of the luck, and it still gives us the fun and excitement of a championship game.

To be clear, I don't consider myself an opponent of the single-elimination tournament. I'm just especially bitter about it this year. If I know myself, that bitterness will pass, and I'll get excited about my primary league again (including its single-elimination tournament) in 2014. I wouldn't recommend lobbying for a change in the playoff format in your league just because you happen to be down in the dumps about your own exit from the playoffs. However, if your head-to-head league is committed to rewarding the teams that perform at the highest levels on the most consistent basis, then it's probably worth your while to discuss one or more of the four options outlined above. My thanks to everyone who wrote in.

This Week's Question: What's the cleverest name change you can suggest for the Washington Redskins?

I'm going to change my approach to my Week 17 column because it rarely receives much attention. The fantasy season is over for most leagues before that column even gets written, and no matter what kinds of questions I ask in Week 17, I end up having to ask them again the following year to generate a significant amount of feedback.

So I'm changing things up this year. I'll be closing the column out with an open letter to Dan Snyder about the tiresome controversy surrounding the name of his team. If you have a name change for the Redskins that you would like to propose, I'll be happy to share it.

I'll get you started with the proposal that emerged in a conversation with my in-laws when I had Thanksgiving dinner with them. We were watching football (of course), and the whole Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito brouhaha came up in conversation. My father-in-law wanted to know what my own father (who is now a retired college football coach) thought about the Incognito affair, so I quoted what Dad told me when we talked about it: "I'm so glad Miami nipped that situation in the bud--before that shocking kind of language could make its way to other NFL locker rooms."

In case you're wondering, college football coaches have been known to use sarcasm from time to time.

My brother-in-law laughed after I quoted my father and said, "It seems like Incognito is a bully, but so is everyone else. People who have no idea what locker room culture is like are ganging up on him in this nationwide knee-jerk reaction."

"You want to talk about a nationwide knee-jerk reaction?" my mother-in-law jumped in. "How about the Redskins having to change their name?" She's a lifelong Dallas fan, and the idea of not having two yearly matchups between "Cowboys and Indians" is distressing to her.

"Maybe they should change their name to the Washington Incognitos," my wife joked, "because even if their name is insensitive, no one wants to give them a chance to explain themselves. Everybody's just piling on."

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of the Washington Incognitos--not because of any tortured analogy to Richie Incognito, but because of how much fun it would be to see an NFL franchise putting on a disguise in order to preserve its identity. I imagined Dan Snyder in a secret meeting with his fanbase saying, "To get the rest of the world off our backs, we're going incognito. But underneath our new name and uniform, we're still the Redskins!"

You're welcome to send me whatever thoughts you like about why you think Snyder should or shouldn't change the name of the Redskins, but if I focus on any reader responses at all, it will probably be the funny ones.

Survivor Picks - Week 16 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Disclaimer: Last week I chose Jacksonville over the Buffalo Bills at home and fell flat on my face. If you asked me again whom I would have chosen, four out of five times I would choose the Jags. That said, this is the part of the season where teams that have performed well rest their best players (or, in the case of the Denver Broncos, their whole team) as they "cruise" into the playoffs. So be careful with those locks of the week if you are still in it. Most pools I have heard from have a winner by now.

#3: San Diego over Oakland (11-4: KC, NEP, MN, NO, SF, DEN, MIA, GB, SEA, IND, NYG, HOU, DAL, BAL, AZ)

The Chargers went into Mile High and pulled off the totally unexpected victory against the AFC-leading Denver Broncos. This week they come home to host the Oakland Raiders, who are on a four-game losing streak. This week, barring a major let down, Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen will exploit the 30th-ranked passing defense and keep their playoff hopes alive into Week 17 for the first time since 2009.

#2: Cincinnati over Minnesota (11-4: DEN, PHL, SF, IND, STL, HOU, GB, SEA, DAL, NYG, SD, DET, JAX, KC, CAR)

Cincinnati welcomes a Vikings team that hasn't given up despite having been eliminated from playoff contention. Last week, a ragtag Vikings team beat Chip Kelly's NFC East-leading Eagles. The Vikings face a much stiffer challenge this week against a Bengals team ranked 6th in the NFL in overall defense. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton should get a reprieve from his naysayers as he and A.J. Green hook up early and often against the second-worst defense in the NFL. The Vikings are an enigma, but this week they revert to the kind of team they really are: average at best. The Bengals understand that this is a VERY winnable game and will take care of business at home.

#1: Detroit over NY Giants (11-4: IND, OAK, SEA, DEN, ATL, CHI, SD, SF, CAR, TEN, HOU, NO, NE, AZ, JAX)

How the "mighty" have fallen! A Super Bowl-winning NY Giants team from two years ago reached a new low last week, being shut out at home against the Seattle Seahawks 23-0. Eli Manning looked lost in the pocket as he ran for his life and shrugged off five interceptions. This loss wasn't limited to Manning, but without the line that he was used to for seven years, Eli Manning has looked "ordinary" in a season during which many expected him to bounce back from an uneven 2012. In a shootout against Matthew Stafford and a Lions team so close to the playoffs that they can taste it, even Eli's last-minute heroics won't keep the Giants from exposing themselves as a club that has already packed it in for the season.

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.