Last Week's Question
In response to last week's question about how to settle ties
in head-to-head leagues, I received an overwhelming number of
replies. I would like to be able to say that I hope some of these
ideas will be helpful for those of you in leagues that struggle
over this issue, but my sense is that even though leagues handle
ties in all sorts of intriguing (and sometimes bizarre!) ways,
most folks seem to be quite happy with the rules their league
has adopted. Usually when I ask a question such as this, people
simply write in to tell me what their leagues do, but the replies
I received this week seemed more interested in advocating a particular
tie-breaking system than in merely describing it. In any
case, it's good to know that most leagues out there are happy
with the way they handle ties, and anyone who isn't happy should
have no trouble finding a solution that all their league-mates
can live with in what follows.
Solutions vary from giving the advantage to the higher-seeded
team to comparing selected players on the bench to tallying collective
bench scores to comparisons between more specialized categories
(such as performances from kickers and defenses). The problem
with most of the tie-breaking categories, however, is that they
allow for ties themselves. Accordingly, most leagues have three
or four meaningful tie-breakers before resorting to the dreaded
coin flip. But John's league refuses to allow the luck of a coin
flip to settle a tightly contested fantasy football game. If two
opponents tie all the way across the board in John's league, then
the contest is actually settled by a 100-yard dash! Now that's
the sort of crazy detail that keeps me writing this column, so
please keep the outrageousness coming, folks.
I appreciate the effort that so many readers put into their responses
to last week's question, but since so many of the tie-breaking
methods are virtually identical, I'm going to put together a sort
of composite paraphrase of the emails I received, proceeding from
the most popular to the most idiosyncratic answers.
Method 1: Bench Scores
A number of leagues apparently have owners select a single player
from their bench as a tie-breaker player each week. I'm a little
surprised by how popular this method is considering how drastically
scoring tends to vary from one position to another in fantasy
leagues, but apparently this approach is ordinarily implemented
by allowing FF opponents to choose any players they like, even
if the result is to put a kicker up against a quarterback. I guess
that makes sense, since fewer and fewer leagues require owners
to carry a set number of players at any position. But since QBs
are usually the highest-scoring players in fantasy leagues, I
assume that there is pressure in leagues with this tie-breaking
system to keep a roster spot open for a very solid back-up QB.
Almost everyone who wrote in concerning this method went on to
point out that if the selected bench players for both teams happened
to tie, then the score for the entire bench would be used as the
next tie-breaker. It's easy to imagine league structures in which
this would put certain teams at a decided advantage, but also
easy to imagine league structures in which this would be a perfectly
reasonable way of proceeding. This was, hands down, the most popular
method of breaking ties.
Method 2: Advantage to the Higher-seeded
Although few leagues appear to use this method as their first
tie-breaker, it was quite popular as the third or fourth resort
for settling ties. And I did hear from several people who said
that this is the only tie-breaker their leagues use in the playoffs.
The clear advantage of a system such as this is that it doesn't
allow for a tie, since the seeding order has to be set before
the playoff tournament brackets can even be set up.
Method 3: Kickers
In a number of leagues, the first tie-breaker is a matter of which
kicker scored the most pointsa reasonable approach, since so
many close games in the NFL are settled by the kicker.
Method 4: Team Defense/Special Teams
I received three responses (possibly from people in the same league)
who argue that the scores for the defenses in a tie game should
be used as the first tie-breaker. I didn't really understand why
defenses made more sense than kickers for this purpose, but obviously
it makes sense to the people who made the rule.
One potential problem that leaps out at me with regard to using
kickers or defenses as the first tie-breakers is that this system
is obviously asking for trouble in leagues with multiple conferences.
Multi-conference playoff games routinely feature one or more identical
players on the opposing teams, and it goes without saying that
Mike Vanderjagt is going to tie with himself each and every week.
Method 5: Highest Individual Performance
Although not terribly popular as the first tie-breaker, the method
of comparing the single highest scoring player on each of the
tying teams was quite popular as a second, third, or fourth tie-breaker.
I have to say I like this idea a lot for all sorts of leagues,
since it can be extended automatically to the second-highest scoring
player (and so on and so forth) should the highest-scoring players
on both teams tie.
Method 6: Home-field Advantage
In some leagues, each team plays half its games "at home"
and half "away." These leagues frequently give the home
team the advantage of an automatic tie-breaking win. That's an
interesting possibility in the regular season, but in the playoffs,
this technique appears to come to the same thing as giving the
victory to the higher-seeded team. It would be very strange to
give home-field advantage to the lower-seeded team in a game that
is modeled (at least theoretically) on the NFL, but far be it
from me to tell leagues how to manage their affairs.
Method 7: Longest Single Field Goal
While it is far more popular to compare kickers as a way of settling
ties, some leagues look not at the overall performance of the
kickers, but at the single longest field goal in a game to determine
which team won. I like this idea a lot, though I shudder to think
about the scenario in which two kickers both connect on 42-yard
field goals, but a fantasy player pulls out his Tivo footage to
show that his kicker's 42 ½-yarder edged his opponent's
Method 8: Total Yardage
A fairly rare (but sensible) method for settling ties is to tally
up the total passing, rushing, and receiving yardage that both
tying teams racked up in the course of a game. Obviously, this
can also result in a tie, but that seems an extremely remote possibility.
I was surprised I only heard from two people about this method,
as it clearly rewards one team for outperforming another in an
easily quantifiable and clearly relevant scoring category.
This Week's Question
I'll try to make this week's question fairly general even though
it stems from two very specific questions submitted by readers.
The general question is this: Are there any leagues out there
that have found a meaningful way of incorporating penalties into
their fantasy scoring. How would you go about doing something
like that if you wanted to?
For the specific queries behind this question, I'll turn to Monica
It seems crazy that my receivers don't get any points at all when
they are prevented from making a huge play because the defenders
interfere with them. This was really painful for me on Sunday
night in the Eagles game because I saw Terrell Owens get up after
an incomplete pass and clap because he drew an interference call!
He was happy about it. The Eagles were happy about it. But I had
nothing to be happy about because even though the game proceeded
as if he had made the catch, my fantasy team had nothing to show
for it. Isn't there some way around this problem?
I'm certainly not aware of any solutions, but I would be interested
to find out if other fantasy players regard this as a problem or
have figured out a way to "score" interference penalties.
The second question (which is kind of technical and won't mean much
to those who skim it) concerns two sacks that William would like
According to my research, the Eagles were credited for
a sack on one play in the 4th quarter when a defender leg-whipped
the QB down and was flagged for a penalty on the play for leg
whipping. It seems odd that the sack would count when the defender
sacked the QB due to an illegal act.
I really don't know how to answer William's question, though I will
confess that in my league's draft prior to the 2004 season, twelve
drunken men spent the better part of an hour shouting at each other
(and nearly coming to blows) about the way the NFL allows a sack
and a fumble to be recorded on the same play. I understand your
point, William. It seems to me that if the quarterback doesn't possess
the ball, he can't be sacked-and that if he is sacked, then the
play must be dead at the moment of the sack, in which case there
can be no opportunity for a fumble. But I know as a matter of established
fact that the NFL routinely records sacks and QB fumbles on the
same play. I've met a lot of people who say they can explain this
seeming contradiction to me, but they mainly just yell that the
NFL statisticians know what they're doing.
The second "sack" was recorded as time ran out in the
game. Ramsey dropped back 10 yards and fumbled the ball, which
was recovered by the Redskins. If it was a sack, then the QB was
down and there could be no fumble; if it was a fumble, then it
could be no sack.
As for the first part of your question, I haven't done the research
you've done, but if you are correct, then I find it very strange
that a sack on a play that was nullified by an accepted penalty
would actually stay on the record books. If anyone has an explanation
of this matter (or a correction of William's research), I would
like to know more.
Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)
Trap Game: St. Louis at Arizona:
On paper this game looks like a Cardinals beating, but the Cardinals
are a very effective running team and their defense is not that
bad. Chris Chandler has not been great over the last two weeks,
and this divisional game has upset written all over it.
#3: Washington over San Francisco (7-6
Dennis Erickson has been given permission to speak with Ole Miss
about the head coaching job there. It is too bad, but he will be
the scapegoat for what everyone knew was going to be a salary cap
nightmare that was created many years before his arrival. Unfortunately,
he just could not take a team of unproven players and match them
up against the rest of the NFL. This week they will face one of
the toughest defenses in the league and it won't matter if Maurice
Hicks or Kevin Barlow is in the backfield. Washington is playing
very good ball despite their record and the 49er defense is exactly
what Patrick Ramsey needs to get his confidence going.
#2: NY Jets over Seattle (10-3 This Season):
Seattle has been beaten by teams that have a good running game,
and Curtis Martin is a good running back. As long as the Seahawks
are unable to stop the run, the Jets should win this one even without
John Abraham on the defensive line. Darrell Jackson will drop one
or two sure touchdown passes in the swirling winds of Giants stadium
and Doug Brien will seal the victory with a field goal kick late
in the game.
#1: Tennesee over Oakland (9-4 This Season):
Neither of these teams are giving up, but Tennessee's offense seems
to be taking off with Billy Volek under center. Drew Bennett has
posted 357 yards and 6 touchdowns over the last two weeks and should
have some success against the Raiders' defense. While Kerry Collins
is finding his rhythm with Jerry Porter, the Raiders offense does
not match the Chiefs, who effectively dismantled the Titans on Monday
For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your
LMS picks, please email
me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football