Last Week's Question: What alternatives
do head-to-head leagues have to the traditional single-elimination
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
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
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
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
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
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
#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
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.