Preparing for the FFTOC
The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
Most drafts are over and it’s time to focus on a completely
different fantasy league: the Fantasy
Football Tournament of Champions (FFTOC). For those of you that
never heard of FFTOC, it is a format where there is no draft and
any player may be used once during the season. The specified number
of teams with the most total fantasy points between weeks 1-12 make
the cut, and advance to the playoffs. The team with the most cumulative
fantasy points from weeks 13-16 wins it all. For the actual money
tournaments, an owner can double his money just by winning his 4-5
man division—regardless of whether he makes the final cut.
Last year, Mike Krueger, Mike MacGregor, and The Gut Check were
invited to try FFTOC during its inaugural season. Krueger and Yours
Truly won their divisions. Krueger actually made the final cut.
The Gut Check made a four-week run that bumped him up a couple hundred
places in the rankings only to come up agonizingly short in the
final week of the regular season.
You’re probably wondering why Krueger isn’t writing
this article—as MacGregor did, and Yours Truly doesn’t
blame him, either. The best answer The Gut Check can give you is
that there’s a lot that can be learned from experience—especially
when one defines experience as not getting what you want. When it
comes to the FFTOC, this writer qualifies. But this year will be
different because a lot of quality information was gained through
The first thing learned is a successful FFTOC season is about planning
and pacing. Going all out with the best players early can really
get an owner in a bind. Approaching the conclusion of the regular
season with also-rans or unknowns can make a playoff run tricky,
at best. At the same time, saving good players for too long can
create an insurmountable gap between you and the cutoff ranking
for the playoffs. Therefore, The Gut Check recommends you consider
these points when competing in an FFTOC tournament, which he will
break down in greater detail:
These eight points will at the very least keep you competitive.
Moreover, remaining patient during the first six weeks will also
give you a real shot at not only making the cut, but also making
a run in the playoffs.
- Divide the season into three periods: weeks 1-6, 7-12,
- Don’t over emphasize strength of schedule during
the first period
- Take risks during the first period
- Capitalize on short term injuries early and often
- Understand specific player types for each position
- Begin planning your stretch run around week 5 or 6
- Begin placing greater emphasis on strength of schedule
after week 6
- Reference historical Crank Score/Consistency data
Divide the season into three periods:
The aim is to provide some structure. Otherwise, it is easy to panic
if you see your team ranked in the lower half or lower third of
a large FFTOC tournament. It is important to understand that a hundred
or more teams can be separated by less than 50 points! Therefore,
a basic framework helps you stay focused on the big picture without
blowing your strategy. The Gut Check views the FFTOC as two seasons
because at the beginning of each the point totals are reset for
every participant. Weeks 1-12 is the first season and the second
is playoff weeks 13-16. The first season needs to be split in half
to maximize one’s planning. This has to do with the succeeding
Don’t over emphasize the importance
of strength of schedule during the first period (weeks 1-6):
There are three things that have a negative impact on the effectiveness
of pre-season strength of schedule rankings:
2004’s preseason strength of schedule surely had Tennessee
as a much better defense than Arizona or San Diego. Tennessee wound
up with only three starters playing the entire season and savvy
fantasy owners capitalized on the Titans after the first third of
the season. On the other hand, the Cardinals and Chargers made enough
strides where they could no longer be considered a scheduling patsy.
- Free Agency
- The Draft
This year there are several changes that can throw off these types
of rankings. Chicago has key players returning from injury and should
be much tougher. Minnesota acquired enough free agents at key positions
that they are expected to improve. Yet Miami has lost some key players
as others continue to age. The point is league parity has a major
impact on strength of schedule. In reality there are minor differences
in talent level separating most NFL teams. Injuries, free agency,
and excellent draft picks can tip the balance. Therefore, it makes
sense to begin seriously evaluating strength of schedule after observing
the first six weeks of the season. After this point, one can gain
a general idea of a team’s real performance and project from
there as opposed to using information based solely on the previous
Take risks during the first period:
Weeks 1-6 is the best time to gamble on lineup choices. It’s
like a football team throwing a bomb on the first play of the game—if
you succeed, you win big; if you don’t, chances are your losses
will be minimal. The Gut Check isn’t advocating you only use
these types of players during this time, but the more you can comfortably
add to your lineup early, the greater your wealth of choices in
future weeks. There are certain types of players worth using early:
New/unproven starters: Wide receiver
and quarterback are the best positions that qualify. These are players
that have developed over the course of a few seasons that finally
get their shot, or get a new opportunity with a different team.
Here’s several that come to mind:
|Early Risks at WR &
||Nice training camp could translate.
||Will start at least until Warrick demonstrates
health and confort with offense.
||Nice preseason and a new starter. Faces
Rams defense week one.
||Looking excellent and begins season
||Low risk at beginning of season--if
it's a bad play, the season is still young.
||Looked good when on the field and healthy.
Get him on the field early.
||Veteran that establishes a reliable
presence in DC
||Antwaan Randle El
||Titans pass defense is regarded as weak.
||Culpepper and company like what they
see from the former Raven
||Packers pass defense could help Harrington
||Expected to breakout this year, but
if you’re not sure you agree—use early.
||First starting gig in a few years, Bengals
are good matchup in week one
||He has to start strong to gain confidence
of his team.
||Has to convince Gibbs he can be the
man--take chances early.
||Before he gets hurt or gives way to
Alex Smith--will have to throw vs. Rams
||Should show some improvement.
Slots: In today’s passing offenses,
the #3 receiver on a good unit can be a fantasy surprise on a weekly
basis. Several teams have strong #3 receivers capable of a solid-excellent
|Early Risks From The Slot
|In The Slot
||Great deep threat and should exploit
weak 49ers secondary
||Or Gabriel if healthy--the #3 WR in
Oakland should surprise regularly.
||Warner has shown confidence in Johnson
||The Lions slot receiver will give way
to Mike Williams at some point
||Leftwich has confidence in him, but
Matt Jones will be gaining ground soon.
||Will be a #3 WR that may see balls like
a #2 WR
||As Braylon Edwards gets his feet wet,
Dilfer will look to Bryant and Northcutt
||Interchanged a lot, might as well take
Rookies: Most opposing teams view
an NFL rookie as a player that has yet to prove himself and will
not devote a specialize game plan against him. The Gut Check’s
research illustrates that the position of the rookie factors greatly
into one’s decision to start him early.
|What About The Rookies?
The column labeled Impact lists the count of players that
were starters or saw significant opportunities in a game at their
respective position as a rookie from 2003-2004. The rookie runners
over the last two years tend to increase their production after
week four, and pick it up another notch in week six. The raw data
behind the average shows that more rookie backs got an opportunity
as the season progressed and backs with early opportunities demonstrated
they have become acclimated to the speed an intensity of the NFL
through their increased production.
The speed of the game in the NFL can initially catch a rookie RB
off guard in two facets of their game: running inside the tackles
and pass protection. A hotshot college RB can often rely upon his
athleticism to gain yards: taking the ball and either reversing
his field behind the line of scrimmage or coming to a full stop
and making a sharp cut in a large hole. NFL defenses are too athletic
to allow most backs to makes these types of plays on a regular basis.
Rookie backs often have to get these tendencies pummeled out of
A lack of pass protection skills is the most common reason a talented
rookie back does not get the 20-25 touches many fans initially hope.
NFL defenses are filled with players that use and abuse rookie backs
by either running round them, through them, or outsmarting them
(sending two on a blitz at once, hoping the back chooses the wrong
guy) on the way to creaming the quarterback. So much of football
is taking the right angles to block, run away from, or tackle a
player. When a player enters a league where the speed of every opponent
is significantly faster on average, then that player may react slower
and wind up taking the wrong angles. Taking bad angles often results
in missed blocks, running into tackles unnecessarily, or having
improper balance and getting blown up by the opponent.
In contrast, wide receivers getting significant playing time as
rookies seem to be more consistent than their running back counterparts.
Unfortunately, their numbers as a whole don’t appear to take
a jump, either. There are some individual standouts that are exceptions—Michael
Clayton and Anquan Boldin come to mind—but Lee Evans, Larry
Fitzgerald, and Roy Williams were inconsistent with their production.
The key thing about rookie wide outs is they tend to perform more
consistently early in the season. As the season progresses, the
numbers drop. The Gut Check believes this could be due to fatigue—or
“hitting the wall”—something attributed to most
rookies. Yet, there are notable exceptions so playing the match
ups in FFTOC is still important. Still it’s a good idea to
consider taking a chance on a rookie during the first two phases
of the season rather than the playoffs.
There aren’t a lot of rookie quarterbacks or tight ends that
start for NFL teams on an annual basis, so the numbers aren’t
as reliable for a two-year period. But it makes sense to believe
a quarterback will gain some confidence and demonstrate improvement
after the first month of the season. The middle of the season appears
to be the most consistent stretch of higher performance for the
few rookie quarterbacks that played in 2003-2004. After that, the
production has more ups and downs. The weeks with an average printed
in italics indicates there was only one quarterback from the sample
that played during this week in question.
Tight ends do experience a statistically significant increase, but
not so much in the scheme of fantasy contests that an owner is going
to see that difference translate to their roster. Unless there is
a player tearing up opposing defenses early and often, taking a
chance on a rookie tight end may be best for the end of the year—if
The Gut Check recommends you use common sense in regard to these
numbers: if a rookie is performing well, don’t override your
decision to start him at a different time because of this data.
Michael Clayton got better as his rookie year progressed! It is
excellent when one’s data matches their planning, but one
always needs to be flexible to recognize when something may be leading
them off course.
Capitalize on short term starters early and
often: Capable backups that start for a portion of the season
can really help owners save big-time players for the other two periods.
For example, Carson Palmer sprains his ankle and is scheduled to
miss a few games? Use Jon Kitna for one of those weeks. If he has
a 300-yard, 3 TD game, you not only benefit from your ranking but
you still get another shot at using Palmer starting behind the same
high-powered offense. Here’s a list of potential players that
fit this criteria:
Continue to look for these opportunities as the season progresses.
Quentin Griffin, Aaron Stecker, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, and
Derrick Blaylock all had big games in limited starting time. The
more high-profile choices you can save and still get production
early, the better your chances to not only make the cut, but do
damage in the final weeks when the big money is on the line.
- RB Willie Parker, Steelers —may only start 1-2 games,
but has big-play speed.
- QB Jonathan Quinn, Chiefs—if Trent Green can’t
go week one, the Jets will force Quinn to throw.
- RB Reuben Droughns, Browns—Droughns will start (watch
William Green, too) at least until Lee Suggs returns. If he
performs well enough, he could lock up the job. Count on Droughns
to have some decent games early.
Understand specific player types at each
position: Stat splits can provide a nice comparative analysis
for the three periods of the FFTOC and help us spot where players
might be best used during the season.
The Gut Check accumulated data from seasons 2002-2004 and separated
the results by position for weeks 1-6 vs. 7-12 vs. 13-16 (Periods
1, 2, and 3 respectively). Here is the information provided for
The Gut Check narrowed the sample of players for position according
to specific criteria. First, Yours Truly only used active players
currently starting, or in contention for a starting role on an NFL
team. Second, The Gut Check eliminated 2004 rookies from the sample.
The statistical trend with rookies reflected common sense about
their inherent progress when starting for a team: first year players
get better as they gain greater comfort in the system or they don’t
even see significant time until the season is well under way. The
only exceptions appeared to be rookies suffering injuries during
weeks 7-16. Roy Williams’ (-) 6.29 fantasy points per game
difference is a good example. The Lions’ rookie was the only
rookie starter at the receiver position with a negative difference.
Let’s start with backs:
- Average fantasy points per game for each period
- Color Codes
- Green—Player’s most productive period
- Yellow—Slight drop off from most productive period
- Red—Significant drop off from Green or Yellow periods
Backs to save for the final rounds?
Based on this information, Clinton Portis and Ladainian Tomlinson
saved their best for last better than any RB for the previous three
seasons. Others that fit this category to a lesser extent are Curtis
Martin, Brian Westbrook, Shaun Alexander, and Fred Taylor. Kevan
Barlow and Travis Henry also qualify as players that have recently
performed their best in FFTOC’s final period of games. What
do these backs have in common? Portis, Tomlinson, and Westbrook
are runners with great ability to make defenders miss them. Martin,
Alexander, and Taylor are slashers—although Taylor is capable
of moves that rival the first group. Other than Travis Henry, none
run with a style where they absorb a lot of hits. Coincidentally,
these results happen to match the exact number of RBs (8) necessary
to start in the final four weeks of period 3. If all eight manage
to make it to week 13 healthy and productive, plan accordingly.
Another guy to consider is Priest Holmes—his 3rd period stats
are nearly as good as his awesome 2nd period.
Hot Out of The Gate
Jamal Lewis, Michael Bennett, Chris Brown, and Mike Anderson have
their best outputs early. Anderson and Lewis are all big runners
with a downhill style—which opens them up to further punishment.
Bennett and Brown are speedy runners with few moves—both have
been nicked up early in their career. While Lewis’ health
is iffy, it is wise to wait a week or so to gauge his health and
then use him as soon as possible. Bennett is already nicked up,
but Brown and Anderson are expected to be the rushing attack for
their respective teams to start the season. Use these guys early.
Plus, both runners play behind decent offensive lines so if they
get hurt, you can use their backups in later weeks—increasing
your chances to save the strong finishers for the right time.
Now That They’re Warmed Up…
For the six weeks of period 2, there are twelve backs that produce
best for this period. Each seems to hit their stride in the middle
of the season. Neither Marshall Faulk nor Michael Pittman are expected
to carry the load, but interestingly enough the backs taking their
place (Steven Jackson and Carnell Williams) seem to share similar
styles to most on the list that perform best in the second period
(Barber, Faulk, and Dunn the exceptions). The backs The Gut Check
is referring to run with patience, maximize their blocks, and like
to hit before they get hit. It should be noted that Faulk truly
isn’t a part of this list because at the peak of his career
he was finishing strong like Portis and Tomlinson.
There are also some notable differences among quarterbacks. Matt
Hasselbeck, Steve McNair, Carson Palmer, and Trent Green all peak
at the best time for those in the FFTOC’s final weeks. Each
has some favorable match ups during weeks 13-16, and could be great
fits. All four possess some new/young targets in the receiving corps
and the passing game should click by season’s end. Plus, these
quarterbacks post four of the five highest fantasy points averages
among current starters for this period. Whatever the reason, these
signal callers (2nd year starter Palmer excluded) are historically
the most prolific choice.
Unlike running backs, it is probably a good idea to start some of
the studs early. Culpepper, McNabb, and Bulger all come out smoking
in the opening weeks. Take advantage of this opportunity. It will
also provide some insurance with riskier picks at other positions
in the first period. Might as well get the most out of some studs
when you can. This provides you some flexibility to balance out
your risks—if you are scoring well already, then save these
guys for later.
McNabb and Bulger also qualify as more consistent starters during
these two periods. Drew Brees and Tom Brady also fit in here. These
players should provide you more flexibility with lineup choices
if you plan on using this game plan as a basis for strategy.
Other quarterbacks that do their best work early are David Carr,
Patrick Ramsey, Kurt Warner, Brian Griese, and Joey Harrington.
All five are regarded as pocket passers that have a tendency to
take a lot of punishment and maybe experience streaky performances
as a result. Use them early before they get hit too much.
Interestingly enough, there are some excellent quarterbacks that
do their best during the meat of the season. Peyton Manning scores
a scintillating 25.99 FPG in weeks 7-12—noticeably more productive
than any other time of the year. Jake Delhomme, Aaron Brooks, Michael
Vick, and Jake Plummer are all are capable of huge games and tend
to do it just when you should be planning a stretch run.
Who are some of the more productive fantasy receivers in the opening
period of FFTOC?
Many of the usual suspects are here—Moss, Harrison, and Holt
among them. Yet, The Gut Check is looking for players that have
a significantly better start to the season than the rest of the
year. These three players are often nearly as good, or even better,
throughout all three of these splits.
Terry Glenn is a perfect example of a player The Gut Check wants
to identify as a good starter, but slow finisher. Glenn averages
a respectable 9.14 FPG during the past three seasons, but his numbers
drop significantly in the next two periods. This makes Glenn a good
candidate as a player to start early.
Keary Colbert appears to have the same pattern, yet the Panther
has only been in the league for a year and this could be the factor
of his steady decline as the season progressed. Eric Moulds is an
example of an established player that looks great to start the year,
but tails off noticeably after the first six weeks. This may have
a lot to do with Moulds’ previous QB, Drew Bledsoe. This year
Moulds will be paired with J.P. Losman—essentially a rookie
starter—so it may be more likely to expect the Bills receiver’s
production to increase as the young quarterback gains experience.
Speaking of Bledsoe, the new Cowboys QB is paired up once again
with Terry Glenn—another reason to start Glenn sooner than
later because both have faded fast in recent years.
Donald Driver, Anquan Boldin, and Andre Johnson also look like strong
starters. Johnson has been a noticeably weak finisher, so it might
be wise to keep this trend in mind. David Boston, if he sees significant
time in Miami, might be a good early gamble. The nomadic body builder,
in disguise as a once-elite receiver, has a tendency to make a good
first impression on the field.
Some receivers that peak during the meat of the schedule are Terrell
Owens, Hines Ward, Isaac Bruce, and Chad Johnson. None are particular
poor plays at other points of the season, but historically their
best games appear between weeks 7-12 in the last three seasons.
The receivers to the left are noticeably better in the second period
of these splits. All six receivers are primary threats on run-based
offenses. Is it possible these players peak as opposing defenses
begin key more on the running game? Not sure this is the case, but
whatever the reason there are ten receivers that are excellent plays
during this time.
Who are the strong finishers at receiver?
Moss, Holt, Muhammad, and Jackson are best in the final frame. In
fact, the Seahawks receiver is nearly 3 FPG better!
There are some rookie receivers that fared well down the stretch—which
means established starting rookie WRs might be better bets towards
the end despite what the Rookie Average Point per Week Breakdown
states for the position. Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, and Larry Fitzgerald
were all starters that were healthy down the stretch and their numbers
improved as they gained experience. Even Roy Williams’ average
increased from the middle weeks—as his ankle improved, so
did his numbers. The difference may be to start rookie WRs that
are complementary players early—Colbert—and true primary
threats later—Clayton and Williams.
Derrick Mason and Plaxico would seem to be good bets, but both have
new quarterbacks/teams, and might not demonstrate the same pattern
in 2005. Drew Bennett is nearly 6 FPG better at the end, but his
numbers may be a product of last season’s breakout. This may
also be true for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Ronald Curry, and Eric Parker.
Begin Planning Your Stretch Run Around Weeks
After the first month of the season, take inventory of your team’s
situation. If you are near the top of the points standings, the
priority will be to maintain a comfortable level of production to
make the cut while saving as many productive finishers for the final
weeks. This means continue to take chances on unproven players or
backups that get a shot due to injury or promotion. At the same
time, it is still easy to lose a lot of ground in a short span of
time so pay attention to the number of points that separates you
from the last ranked team eligible for the final round. Continue
to maximize the establish starters that historically show they are
performing at their best in the middle weeks.
Yet this information should keep you from panicking if you are near
the bottom of the pack. You have 7-8 weeks to gain ground, which
means you’ll have to play greater amount of established starters
while limiting your risks to situations where they have decent match
ups. As The Gut Check mentioned at the beginning of the article,
he was able to advance nearly 200 hundred spots in the span of a
month and was only one bad player choice away from making the final
cut. Furthermore, Yours Truly began his stretch run around weeks
9-10. In contrast, this plan will give you an extra month to gain
ground, if necessary.
Begin looking at Strength of Schedule Data
After six weeks, it will be come pretty clear where defenses stand
against the run or the pass. Greg Alan of 4for4.com,
and one of the people behind the FFTOC tournament, published the
type of rankings in Fantasy Football Pro Forecast The Gut
Check recommends for your planning:
|Against The Pass
Ranked Easiest To Hardest
||Avg. Ranked Pass Defense Opponent
|Against The Run
Ranked Easiest To Hardest
||Avg. Ranked Run Defense Opponent
These are partial rankings from 2004 data. The Gut Check recommends
you use 2005 data from week six, onward. This should be readily
available information and easy to compile from various sources.
Reference Historical Crank Scores
At FFToday.com, the Gut Check has Crank Scores available for 2003-2004.
If you don’t know about Crank Scores read
here. If you do, this information will become a useful ally
as the final weeks draw near. You will be able to make wiser line
up decisions because you can insert choices that have a higher level
of performance on a consistent basis. Or you can take the risk and
choose players with the higher elite scores and hope you hit on
them. For example, Portis and Tomlinson are both players The Gut
Check recommended you save for the final weeks but one is almost
twice as likely to have a game that at worst, only one RB in that
given week can beat. Information like this may help put you over
the top. Of course, in The Gut Check’s case, that means competing
with 180+ teams to get there. We’ll see if Yours Truly learned
the right things.
Mike MacGregor and Matt Waldman are participants in the $250
entry fee FFTOC. They will keep you posted on their progress throughout
the 2005 season.