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Week 16

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I shared the responses of various readers to a particular case of collusion. I concluded by recommending that leagues not try to anticipate every form of cheating—and that it is usually a good idea to permit commissioners the latitude to respond appropriately to circumstances as they arise. What I failed to state was that we shouldn’t need elaborate rules to prevent cheating because fantasy football should mainly be played for fun. Brian wrote in to remind me of this point:
In response to the laundry list of poor fantasy football behavior, if it’s that freakin serious, it’s time to find another hobby……it’s supposed to be first and foremost fun and a way for friends to get together……competitive, yes, but not to the point of being a [jerk] by stashing healthy players on IR…..I’m the commissioner of our 8-team league……we’ve rotated commish duties, but I’ve had the job for the last 3 years…..our league has been in existence for 14 years, and we’ve never gotten to the point where someone quit because of foolishness on another owner’s behalf.
Fair enough, Brian.

As for last week’s question, Rus gives quite an insightful response:
In my head-to-head league, winning seems to be more correlated to the number of points scored by your opponent than by yourself. The problem with this is that unlike "real" sports, there is nothing you can do to prevent or limit the number of points scored by your opponent. Have you ever heard of any Fantasy rules that will allow you to play defense against your opponent?

One idea that I have come up with is allowing each to target 1 player on his opponent's roster and therefore cut that player's points in half or something.

My Response:
What we are talking about here is the age-old debate involving luck in fantasy football. Yes, there is an element of luck in head-to-head competition. Some leagues have opted to go to a total points format where only season total points are considered and there is no head to head competition. I find that this eliminates the luck factor a bit, but at what cost? Head-t- head competition is fun. You have close games, blowouts, rivalries and, most importantly, trash talk. Counting points is boring. A compromise my league and many others have come up with is the following. In a 12-team league, 6 teams make the playoffs. Without getting into divisions, Seeds 1 to 5 are the teams with the best records and team #6 is the seed with the most total points during the season regardless of record. This rewards that owner with a losing record that got unlucky and had the most points scored against during the season. Playing "defense" by choosing a player on the opposing team for a point reduction is just too much. The beauty of a good league is the simplicity of the league's rules. Once you get specialized, idiosyncratic rules like the one suggested, the league becomes less like football and more like a game of chess. If you want to play chess, grab a board and go to the park. Otherwise, sit yourself in front of the TV for some football.

I’ve boldfaced the key component of Rus’ remarks because he speaks, in my estimation, for the vast majority of the fantasy football community. If the sole reason for adding a defensive component to scoring in fantasy is to reduce luck, then I tend to think that the treatment is disproportionate to the symptom. There are simpler ways of minimizing luck, and Rus has done a fine job of explaining one.

However, I don’t think the point of adding a defensive component to scoring is only partly about luck—and primarily about adding a level of intricacy that some players may enjoy. Consider Burton’s response:

I love the idea of playing real defense in fantasy football. Some of the guys in my league have been messing around with something close to what your reader describes (but a little more complicated).

Our playoffs start in Week 11, so we have broken the season into two 5-week cycles. In each cycle you have to focus on defending one time each against an opponent’s 1) quarterback, 2) running back, 3) wide receiver, 4) tight end, and 5) kicker. Whichever player you play defense against has his points cut in half, but it’s really tricky because you have to weigh the strengths of your various opponents against upcoming matchups and possibilities for injury. You can only defend against a quarterback once in the first five weeks, so if you have to go up against the teams Brady in Week 3 and Manning in Week 4, you have to make a hard choice.

We’re only testing it out this season; it doesn’t have any impact on the way we keep actual score. Some owners don’t want to bother, so I’m making their defensive choices for them just so we can see how the numbers work out. But so far everyone who is playing along is having a lot of fun.

As I’ve said before, let a thousand fantasy leagues bloom. I suspect that something less than 10% of fantasy players would actually go for a system such as the one Burton suggests, but if your in a league of folks who like intricacy, more power to you.

The pragmatist in me can’t help wondering how one would program this scoring wrinkle into my league-hosting websites, and my gut says that scoring systems that can’t be automated aren’t likely to become terribly popular, but the game-player in me has no difficulty seeing how much fun it could be to play by Burton’s rules.

Kent wrote in with a much simpler system that has to do with the actual defensive performance of players:

I play in a league where we draft IDP's. You get four starters, 1DL, 1LB, 1DB and 1 of any position. Their points count against your opponent’s offense. We used to use IDP's as an add-on of points to your total score. It has turned out to be very thrilling way of playing and we won't change back.

This model is completely in keeping with the mimetic impulse behind the organization of most fantasy leagues. It also sounds like a lot of fun, though there are many casual fans who remain reluctant to go the IDP route.

Paul’s answer is only tangentially related to defense, but he explains why his league has adopted the “home team advantage” rule:

Have you ever heard of any Fantasy rules that will allow you to play defense against your opponent?

One common rule is Home Team Advantage. If the scheduling is done correctly, you should play people once as a home team, once as away. That should give you an extra point or two or 5 or 10. That's an option that's simple and usually available across the boards.

Otherwise, that's kinda like double-jeopardy. You have the bears D and Hester runs it back for a couple TD. Nice! Now you also get to take points away from your opponents kicker? Nice Nice! Or another scenario: your kicker kicks a 53 yarder. you get 3 points, plus a 2 point escalator (50+ yards). Otherwise, it seems to random. I'm going to pick the highest player and take 50% off his points. every time. Predefined perhaps counts. But I've never been in a league like this. Anything can be done, just has to be agreed upon at the start of the season. No making up new rules, especially during playoff season.

My thanks to these readers for their widely differing responses to the question. I’m afraid no one wrote in to explain which league-hosting service was best suited to automating such scoring systems, so it seems that those who want to explore anything along the lines of what Burton suggests will need to do some independent scoring.

This Week’s Question

Every year around this time, I get questions from readers who want to know about when the fantasy season should end. Most leagues shy away from Week 17 (since so many personnel decisions are compromised by the fact that many teams will have locked up their post-season seeding by then). Even Week 16 is too dodgy for some leagues, such as Noah’s:
We hold our playoffs (12-team league, 6 playoff spots, 2 first-round byes) from Weeks 14-16. This year, with some teams having wrapped up their playoff seeding, the prospect of holding the championship in Week 16 poses some real problems, as it seems as though some teams are likely to rest their stars, at least in the 2nd half (the Colts and Chargers are likely the most problematic teams in this regard). Have you ever [asked] whether weeks 13-15 make more sense?
There are lots of good reasons for stopping the fantasy season before the regular NFL season ends, but there’s also an excellent reason not to: fun. The NFL regular season only spans a third of the year as it is—and to make the fantasy season any shorter than that unnecessarily is, of course, a shame. Readers who share my attitude on this subject might be interested in Jason’s note:
I wonder what your readers will think of the way our league has figured out to make the fantasy season last all 17 weeks. We have our Super Bowl in Week 17, but it’s more like the Pro Bowl than the Super Bowl. We are broken into two conferences of six teams each, and the Super Bowl pits the two conference champs against each other. They have to advance to the Super Bowl on the strength of their own teams, but they can draw on the rosters of other owners in their conference in Week 17 to replace any of their players. If you have Willie Parker and you think the Steelers are going to rest him in Week 17, you can use any other running back in your conference in his place. You don’t even have to think the player is going to be benched. You can just grab any old wide-out from your conference because you like his matchup that week. It’s actually led to conference pride and a lot of fun trash talk.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew and Paul)

Matthew’s Picks

Trap Game: Detroit over Kansas City:

There are whispers coming from KC that Larry Johnson might actually play this week. This is probably true because Detroit’s rushing defense was crushed last week by Ladanian Tomlinson and company, and LJ is salivating for the chance to rack up the yardage. Even though the Lions are favored at home, The Chiefs may be more than the Lions can handle now that they have been formally eliminated from the playoffs after a great start to the season.

#3: New Orleans over Philadelphia (11-4):

The Saints are still alive in the playoff hunt, but they need some help. Meanwhile, the Eagles are going to be playing without Takeo Spikes on defense, and this should help the short passing game of New Orleans. The Saints hope to pull this one off and remain alive in the playoff hunt as they wait for the Redskins to play the Vikings on Sunday night. It might just come down to the final game of the year to determine if they are in or out of the playoffs.

#2: Arizona over Atlanta (7-8):

Okay, okay, okay. Maybe I should just leave my #2 pick out of this column. But like almost any team (except Baltimore) who plays the Dolphins, any team that plays Atlanta should win. The Cardinals had a really good shot of making the playoffs, but they fell short. While they may be on the outside looking in, the Cards may be a good team for years to come. The good news for them is that the Falcons are coming to town, so for the fans, Christmas comes a little early with a huge win at home during the holiday season.

#1: Minnesota over Washington (13-2):

The Vikings are on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs with this year’s NFL rookie of the year, a first-time starting quarterback, and a defense the still is a little suspect when facing a quality offense. The Redskins, however, must win to remain in the hunt. This may be a stretch as your lock of the week, but now is the time to separate yourself from the rest of the people that are left in your pool.

Paul’s Picks

I think there are 4 types of teams that will emerge in the last two weeks of the season.

1. Teams that have solidified their playoff position and will likely rest their starters.
2. Teams still fighting for playoff spot or position.
3. Teams just fighting for pride. These are the most difficult to identify.
4. Teams that have packed it in for the season.

Ideally, we want to find a category 2 team against a category 4. Hopefully you have already used the category 1 teams.

#1. TEN over NYJ (12-3, Used SEA, CHI, BAL, IND, DAL, SDC, WAS, NEP, TBB, nos, pit, nyg, CAR, JAX, MIN)
The Titans are coming home after thumping the Chiefs and are still fighting for a playoff spot. The Jets kept it reasonably close in a snowstorm with the division rival Patriots. The Jets have been eliminated from playoff contention for several weeks and have a miserable 1-6 road record.

#2. ARI over ATL (12-3 Used IND, DEN, NEP, sdc, TEN, sea, DAL, NYG, ATL, PIT, GBP, JAX, was, DEN, CLE)
Both of these teams are coming off road losses and have been eliminated from playoff contention. That makes this pick a little tricky. However, the Falcons are a category 4 team. Interrim head coach; issues with Vick; a 1-6 road record. Atlanta just wants to get this season over and move on to 2008.

#3. MIN over WAS (13-2 Used SDC, JAX, PIT, NEP, HOU, GBP, NYG, IND, WAS, SEA, DAL, ari, phi, BUF, TBB)
The Vikings slipped past the Bears on Monday Night Football while the Redskins upset the Giants on the road last week. That was a rivalry game for the Skins. I don’t think they will play with that much intensity against the Vikings. Minnesota is still playing for a wild card spot.

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.