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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Quarterback Quandary
Q & A: Week 8

How can we reduce the "luck factor" in head-to-head (H2H) leagues?

My column for Week 7 featured a description of Bob's "electoral college" scoring system, which is designed to reduce the "luck factor" inherent in most H2H leagues. If you have the second-highest score in your league every week, but just happen to be consistently pitted against the team with the highest score, you could finish the regular season with more points than anyone else and yet no wins to show for it. Bob's system is just one way of trying to level the playing field in leagues that strive for the balance of a "total points" formula without giving up the excitement of the H2H model.

I've addressed this topic in the past, so I wasn't expecting as much feedback as I received. Clearly, the "luck factor" in H2H leagues is something that commissioners keep sinking their teeth into year after year. I received a number of notes from folks rehashing scoring methods that have been detailed (in this column and elsewhere) in the past, but four responses stood out as being distinct from the kinds of hybrid models addressed by Q&A over the years. I'll start with Brett's because it's the most straightforward:

We have implemented a rule to [offset] the hard luck losses. We are a H2H league with 6 teams making the playoffs. The top two teams have byes for the first round with the remaining 4 teams facing off in round 1. Seeding is managed by W-L record, but the 6th team is chosen as the remaining team available with the highest total points regardless of record. This stemmed from a year where one team continually got brutalized from the schedule each week, but would have won a significant number of games had their schedule not been so difficult. Everyone has been on board and happy with the rule.

Bill's solution is a slight modification of Brett's proposal in that it stresses wins over points:

After several years of teams having “bad luck” and [losing playoff spots] to teams that clearly were inferior but had the luck of the schedule draw, we made the following change:

In our 10-team HTH, the top 5 teams make the playoffs based on record and standard tiebreakers. The final playoff spot is awarded to the team with the best “overall” record. Most sites keep track of your record as if you played every team every week. This overall record is likely the best indicator of a teams’ strength and consistency. We considered total points as an option but this can swing off one great week.

In fact, we currently have a team sitting at 1-5 having scored the 2nd most points, in a loss, three times already this season. Thanks to this special rule, he is 36-18 in overall record, only two games behind the 6-0 league leader and in a great position to make the playoffs.

Those who want to tackle this problem with a bit more mathematical precision may want to consider Dan's suggestion:

I think there exists a happy medium which could take much of the luck out of the picture, but continues to make the head-to-head match-ups meaningful. My solution would be to weigh the H2H record (13 games in our league) 50% and then the breakdown record (139 games in our 10-team league) at 50%. You would then base the playoffs on the highest averages of the two winning percentages. For example:

7-6 H2H Record = .538 W
81-58 Breakdown Record = .583 WP
Average WP = (.538+.583)/2 = .561

A weekly note from the commish with the playoff standings could suffice in tracking this and could also help keep up interest throughout the league. We use CBS Sports for our league and they track the breakdown records as well as the H2H. We send 1st & 2nd from each of two divisions plus two wild cards to the playoffs each year. I could see letting H2H determine 1st place and / or 2nd and this system for the rest. We currently pay out a small token at the end of each year to the team with the most points scored against for the season.

Even if Dan's general idea doesn't grab you, there's something to be said for the last point he makes about offering some kind of token compensation to the team with the most points scored against it in the regular season. A simple gesture (such as refunding the owner of that hard luck team half of his entry fee) may go a long way towards minimizing the grumbling that commissioners must endure concerning lucky/unlucky scheduling.

The most unusual proposal of all came from Andy:

We're trying something different this year [in my 14-team league].

We have a 13-week regular season where everyone plays everyone else once, but at the end of the regular season, we will award 3 extra wins, losses, or ties based solely on points scored, thus giving each team a 16-game record.

The top two teams get 3 extra wins, the next three highest scoring teams get 2 extra wins and 1 extra loss, the next four teams each get 1 win, 1 loss, and 1 tie, etc. all the way to the bottom. The net effect is that an 'unlucky' team that finished 7-6 despite being 2nd overall in points finishes 10-6, while a lucky team that finished 8-5 despite being 3rd or 4th from the bottom in scoring finishes 9-7, and the 'unlucky' team gets the playoff spot they probably deserve. I suppose this would qualify as a hybrid.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in (whether I had the space to include your remarks or not) and to Bob for raising the question.

This Week's Question: Does your league have any special provisions for quarterbacks (especially when they're injured)?

This week's question comes from Ryan, who knew he was toast the second Jay Cutler went down in Week 7:

Cutler got injured with -.9 pts. As a result I lost my matchup (albeit only by 4 pts thanks to Gore, Forte, and Reed), but it is nearly impossible to win with an injured quarterback.

I was wondering if you knew of any sort of "injured qb" rules that help teams who have a qb that gets injured during the game. Something like "If a QB is injured during the course of the game they get to have their current points or that of the lowest other starter if they played less than one quarter" or something along those lines.

The first thing I want to say to Ryan is that in one of my leagues, I lost to a team that had Jay Cutler as a starting QB. (Notably, I had Nick Foles as my only viable QB option in that league, so we both lost our signal callers to injury.)

The second thing for me to say is that I have encountered a number of different league mechanics concerning injured players. Not all of them are restricted to QBs (though I suppose any of them could be). I think the most common solution I've encountered to this problem is usually referred to as the "team QB position." This rule allows owners to draft a team quarterback (such as the Eagles quarterback, no matter who that happens to be) rather than an individual named Michael Vick or another individual named Nick Foles.

I have also encountered leagues in which the bench QB is automatically substituted for an injured starter. In such leagues, if you had Jay Cutler as your starter and Andy Dalton on your bench, then if Cutler has to leave the game at any point due to injury, Dalton's score would be substituted for Cutler's. (This mechanic comes with all sorts of wrinkles. Some commissioners will only take the bench player's score if the starter misses more than half a game. Some will take whichever score is higher regardless of how much time the starter missed, etc.)

A number of leagues handle injuries for all players (not just QBs) by awarding the owner whatever score the player had in his previous contest. If Cutler had 25 points in your league in Week 6, then he gets credit for 25 points in Week 7 if he misses a certain amount of time in that game (one quarter, one half, or, in some leagues, more than a half) in Week 6. I have only ever heard of this rule being used for the game in which the injury occurred. I don't know of any league that allows owners to start players who are listed as "Out" with the intention of receiving credit for points earned earlier in the season.

As for Ryan's claim that it is "nearly impossible" for a team to win if the QB goes out with an injury in the first quarter, I'm not sure how seriously he expects to be taken. He tells us that he came within 4 points of winning a game without Cutler, so losing a QB hardly seems like an insurmountable obstacle.

Still, I take Ryan's point that QBs are (in most scoring systems at least) responsible for a disproportionate amount of offensive productivity. Maybe they do warrant special consideration (especially where injuries are concerned).

If your league has any special rules concerning quarterbacks, quarterback injuries, or just a peculiar way of handling injured players at any position, I hope to hear from you.

Survivor Picks - Week 8 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: N.Y. Jets over Cincinnati
I only offer this up as a trap game for those who have already used ALL three selections below (since they are no-brainers). Geno Smith did a much better job against the Pats in his second game against them (in Week 7) than his first (back in Week 2). Much of his success may have stemmed from a burst of productivity by Chris Ivory, who racked up over 100 yards last week. When the Jets travel to Cincinnati, look for Rex Ryan to chew up the clock with his own running game and to shut down the Bengals' rushing attack with a defense that is ranked fifth against the run. The Jets will defy Andy Dalton to beat them through the air, and I wouldn't want to bet on whether the streaky Dalton (with a weapon as awesome as A.J. Green) will rise to the challenge or not. Steer clear of this one if you can.

#3: Green Bay at Minnesota (5-2: KC, NEP, MN, NO, SF, DEN, MIA)
The Vikings were in such a hurry to showcase Josh Freeman's lack of familiarity with the Minnesota offense that they essentially forgot about Adrian Peterson in Week 7. They will need Peterson to do much more with the Packers coming to town. Green Bay's glaring weakness right now is injury, and it looks as if Aaron Rodgers may be airing the ball out to such targets as Jarrett Boykin (WR) and Andrew Quarless (TE), two players unknown to most NFL fans. Those new faces might be cause for concern if the Packers were playing another team, but the Vikings appear to be in complete disarray. It's usually a good idea to avoid divisional games; and it's always risky to pick the visiting team, but the gap between Green Bay and Minnesota is huge enough to warrant overlooking both of those factors for this contest.

#2: Seattle at St. Louis (5-2: DEN, PHL, SF, IND, STL, HOU, GB)
If the Rams thought playing against division leader Seattle was difficult with Sam Bradford under center, just wait until Kellen Clemens lines up to take on the #2 defense in the NFL (behind Houston). It's true that the Seahawks don't travel well when going east, but this week they only go as far as the Central time zone and should be just fine against the 30th-ranked Rams offense. Look for Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to continue their winning ways against a Rams defense that has yielded the 9th most points in the league (184) and will easily overmatch a Rams defense that will be spending a lot of time on the field.

#1: San Francisco over Jacksonville (6-1: IND, OAK, SEA, DEN, ATL, CHI, SD)
Jacksonville is ranked last in total offensive points scored as well as total defensive points given up and will be facing the 3rd-ranked rushing offense in the NFL anchored by Frank Gore (who should shred a Jaguars rushing defense that has yielded an average of over 153 yards per game). Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis may have a quiet stat line this week, but it will only be because 49ers won't need any more points after the second quarter. Justin Blackmon should have over 100 yards receiving, but the only people on hand to see it will be the 'Niner fans that make the trip to Jacksonville (since the locals have largely given up on a team that has already packed it in for 2013).

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.