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Week 13

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I shared questions from two readers about league structures and how they pertain to playoff scenarios. One reader seemed particularly frustrated by the fact that his league uses a “divisional” structure—but doesn’t require teams in the same division to play each other any more often than they play other teams in the league. I can certainly see why one would wonder whether there’s much point in having divisions at all in this sort of situation.

The answers from Brian and Al neatly link this question to an earlier question about the distinction between points-only and head-to-head leagues. Brian writes:

Our league started as a points-only league and now has evolved into a head-to-head league. We still use overall points for one of our wildcard spots in our playoffs to benefit the guy who constantly scores high but seems to always lose his head-to-head matches. Our 12-team league has four divisions, with everyone playing each other once and their division opponents twice. The top two teams get a bye while the other two division winners play the wildcard teams. One wildcard is from the next best record, and the other is from the highest point total. This has worked out well for us for the past five years.

Al’s 10-team league takes essentially the same approach:

We have what I call a "mixed" playoff structure. We're a 2-division, 10-team league. Our playoffs consist of the 2 division winners plus the 2 highest non-division winning teams.

We can and have had 3 teams from the same division make the playoffs.

I think it's worked well because those owners that like wins and losses (not me personally) can focus on winning their division.

Those of us that believe that points are more important have the satisfaction of being able to make the playoffs simply by having the best teams over the course of the season.

Craig’s league is imitative of the NFL in its divisional structure for games played as well as tiebreakers:

Our league is similar to Jeff's (6 of 12 make playoffs - 3 divisions - 2 byes) with a couple of exceptions. We are even closer to the NFL model. Each team plays 6 of its 13 regular-season games (you don't play 1 team/yr) against its own division so that being in a division means something. Our tiebreakers are as much like the NFL as possible.

1) Head-to-Head
2) Division record

Both of these are considered before total points. Two-way or three-way ties are broken within the division just as they would be in the NFL. This year it makes my job as co-commissioner more difficult as only 3 of the 12 teams are eliminated going into the last week but it keeps owners active throughout the season. I have we haven’t had to resort to those yet.
Mathew wrote in to describe a very elegant playoff structure. He says that this same structure is used in all of the leagues in which he participates, which suggests that it should be fairly common. However, I would be surprised to learn that the majority of fantasy leagues allow only one-third of participants to advance to the playoffs. (Please correct me if you think I’m wrong.) Whether this structure is common or not, the logic for structuring things the way they are structured is clear and easy to follow:
I am involved in several 12-team redraft leagues, and all of the leagues use the same format for the playoffs, as follows:

The leagues are structured into 3 divisions of 4 teams each. Each team plays the 3 other teams in its division twice throughout the season, and every other team once. Playoffs begin in Week 15. The 3 division leaders and 1 wildcard go to the playoffs. Seedings are determined according to standings (W-L record). Ties are broken as follows: division record, points for, points against, coin flip. Seed 1 plays Seed 4 (wildcard), and Seed 2 plays Seed 3. Winners go to the Superbowl in Week 16.

I think that only having 4 teams go to the playoffs makes it extremely competitive. It forces owners to do a better job of staying on top of things, especially in a cash league. In a 12-team league where 6 teams go to the playoffs, you tend to see owners not trying as hard after studying the playoff picture for a few minutes. The balance of power in each division pretty much defines itself after about 6-7 weeks. Oh, and by the way, the scheduling in my leagues is such that every team plays the last 3 weeks vs. division opponents. That keeps things interesting right to the end, because any slim lead in a division can be lost pretty quickly.
Based on the responses I received, I think leagues that invite half the teams to the playoffs are more common than those that invite only a third of the teams. Whether this tendency is better or worse is not for me to say, but the single most representative response I received came from Kevin, who writes:
I feel our league has done a decent job of imitating the NFL format and creating as fair a system as possible.

We have a 12-team league, with four divisions of three teams each. Similar to Mike’s league in this week’s column, each team plays each other once, with division foes playing each other twice. The division winners each clinch a playoff berth, and the best two non-division winners advance, regardless of which division they are in (we do not use conferences). The top two teams earn byes, and the playoffs are held during weeks 14-16. Much like the NFL, there are occasions where a team wins their division with a mediocre record and the wild-card teams may have better records.

Ties between division foes are settled by division records: ties between non-division foes are settled by head-to-head records. Three-way ties are settled by total points.

In order to keep things competitive between the non-playoff teams, we have a “toilet bowl championship” that includes a small buy-in, but a cash prize equal to 2/3 of your regular season buy-in, so everyone plays to try to recoup some of their losses.
Although divisional structures are common in fantasy leagues, conference structures appear to be uncommon—if not quite rare. Shane’s response is representative of what I received concerning the way that leagues broken into conferences operate:
In our league we have 20 teams in two conferences which have two divisions of five teams. We allow four out of the 10 teams in each conference to make up an eight-team playoff field. During the season, we play our divisional opponents twice, three teams from the other division in our conference and one team from each of the two divisions in the other conference. For each conference, the team with the best record in each of the two divisions automatically makes the playoffs as the division champ. Then, of the remaining eight teams, in each conference, the team with the most overall points gets a wildcard. After that team is added to the field, there are seven teams left in each conference. The team with the best record of those seven gets in as a wildcard. We like to think [the points wildcard] sort of take a little bit of the head-to-head luck out of the equation that would normally leave a high scoring team out of the playoffs. Teams are then seeded by record, 1-4 in each conference. Each conference has its own playoffs in weeks 14 and 15, then the two conference champs meet in the Superbowl in week 16.

If you suspect that I finished with Shane’s comment because it brought us back to the way that playoff structures can respond to concerns about points-only leagues vs. head-to-head leagues, you’re right.

This Week’s Question

This week’s question comes from Mick, who used “Integrity” as the subject heading in the email that he sent in:

I am an avid reader of FFToday, but I do happen to play fantasy football on another site (not my choice). Anyway, I have a question for you concerning integrity.

Several of the players in my league have recently discovered that one of our fellow owners is benching all of his top players this week (he has already qualified for the playoffs) so that a player in another division can lock up a first round bye (the owner of the latter team gave him $50 to throw the game). The owner of the latter team is in a dead heat with another owner for the top spot.

As far as I can understand there are no rules against this sort of play, but by my calculations it is pretty unethical. I would love to hear your thoughts.
I’ll be happy to share my own thoughts (along with any that readers may have) next week.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew and Paul)

Matthew’s Picks

Over the last few weeks my percentages have been going down, but if you are still in your survival pool, congratulations. This week you have some teams that are favored that you may or may not have used, but beware—the trap game this week may catch a lot of people.

Trap Game: Denver over Kansas City:

Anytime division rivals line up against each other, you have to assume that there is going to be a battle. These teams do not like each other, which is sufficient reason for the Chiefs to prevent the Broncos from making the playoffs. Kolby Smith will be starting again at tailback, and he has proven that he can run the ball against a porous defensive line. In light of how Adrian Petersen lit up the Broncos, you can bet the Chiefs will try to do the same. In addition, the Chief defense is better than what most people think, and this game will come down to a late field goal.

#3: New Orleans at Atlanta (9-4):

This is a really risky pick because you never know which Saints team is showing up on Sunday. And because this is a divisional game there is that X factor. However, the Saints are desperate to stay in the playoff chase, and as such this is a MUST win. Look for Bush to create some matchup problems this week and Drew Brees to find some passing lanes. The only question here is whether the Aints defense can shut down Warrick Dunn and company.

#2: St. Louis at Cincinnati (7-6):

Avoid this pick. I chose this game because as anyone can see from my record in picking my second favorite game, I have had no luck. The Bengals are favored in this game because they are at home and playing on grass. So this should favor the Bengals. However, this team is lost right now. If nothing else, Linehan is having his team play for his job security. I’m not sure that will be enough the Rams, but Stephan Jackson and company are getting healthier and that may be the difference here.

#1: Buffalo over Miami (11-2):

The Buffalo defense is salivating waiting for this game that will be played in typical cold Lake Erie wintry conditions. Their visitors from Florida will be thinking about how quickly they can get back on the bus and fly home to some warm weather. With the hope of post season play still awaiting the Bills, Trent Edwards simply must find a way to lead this team past a division rival so that the Bills can find themselves playing some very meaningful games again late in the December snow.

Paul’s Picks

The last few weeks have not been good. Non-division home favorites, the usually predictable games, went 4-2 last week (67-20 overall)—and I picked the 2 losers (Philly and Washington).

#1. JAX over CAR (10-3, Used SEA, CHI, BAL, IND , DAL, SDC, WAS, NEP, TBB, nos, pit, nyg, CAR)
The Jaguars vs. the Panthers will be the battle of the big cats. The Panthers finally won a game at home last week against the punch-less Niners. The Jags are 6-1 in non-division games. They just can’t get by the Colts. Jacksonville shouldn’t have any problems getting a win this week.

#2. DEN over KC (10-3 Used IND , DEN, NEP, sdc, TEN, sea, DAL, NYG, ATL, PIT, GBP, JAX, was)
I’m going against my non-division rule on these next two picks. The Chiefs are in freefall and struggling with a lot of injuries. Their highlight play last week was a touchdown by their defensive end. And that was their only touchdown. The Broncos beat the Chiefs 27-11 in week 10 and should be able to take care of them again at home.

#3. BUF over MIA (11-2 Used SDC, JAX, PIT, NEP, HOU, GBP, NYG, IND, WAS, SEA, DAL, ari, phi)
Miami’s chance to win a game may have come and gone. The Dolphins were competitive with the Jets last week, but then came half time. The Bills slugged it out with the Redskins and benefited from a penalty on consecutive time out calls from coach Gibbs. The Bills beat the Dolphins 13-10 four weeks ago in Miami and swept them last year. Now, Miami will have to try in the frozen tundra. Good luck.

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 season.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.