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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Punishing Top-Seeded Teams

Question from Week 12: What's your take on the flexiest league ever?

Last week I reported that I had received no comments on Hugh’s description of his extra-flexy league that allows RBs, WRs, & TEs to be used interchangeably. I was mistaken, as there was a comment from Facebook suggesting that kickers be thrown in as well—though that would probably require a scoring adjustment for kickers, since even the best kickers fail to be competitive with mediocre RBs in most leagues. Still, that suggestion is definitely worth considering—if only because no one would be forced to draft a kicker at all if they didn’t want to.

There was also a belated response from brotherbock, who wondered about what kind of scoring adjustments would be necessary to keep teams like “Mahomes/Rivers/Newton/Luck [from] running rampant over Gurley/Elliott/M. Gordon/McCaffrey.”

Brotherbock’s comment gave Hugh an opportunity to clarify his scoring system:
It took a few years of balancing, but we have settled on a 1 QB, 1 K, 1 Def/Sp team, 5 skills format. All players earn 1 point per yd for rushing, receiving, passing, kicking, return yds, sack yds lost, 25 points per td, 10 pts for conversions, and 10 for extra points.1 point per carry. The balancing part come down to the points per reception. RB & QBs get 5 points per catch, WRs get 10 points a catch, and TEs get 15. Int's, Sacks, Fumble recoveries, each score 25. Not a perfect system but fairly balanced throughout. QBs and defenses score the highest and are valued in the format. Skills are fairly well balanced and we have had all three positions come out on top of the end of year total points in the past.
I also received a response from Deane concerning a slightly different (but still extra flexy) model:
We switched to a "flex type" league this year from a more traditional league (1 RB / 2 WR / 1 TE / 1 flex) to a variation of "all flex."

For our 5 starting "skilled" positions (RBs, WRs & TEs), we allow any combination with these stipulations: max 3 RBs and max 2 TEs ... to keep with the "spirit" of real football.

So a team could start 5 WRs or 3 RBs and 2 TEs, or 1 RB, 2 WRs and 2 TEs, etc.

It has worked pretty well as I have only received positive comments from the league members

However, our league is fairly large (24 teams with 2 conferences). We switched to the more flexible "skilled positions" format to alleviate the problem of teams not having a RB or TE to start due to injury or byes.

Thanks to all who wrote in, and especially to Hugh and Deane for providing so much detail about their leagues.

Question from Week 13: Do we undervalue points as tiebreakers in H2H leagues?

The most important response to my question involving a 3-way tie in one of my H2H leagues came from Bob, who wrote:

Our rules state that we use the NFL tiebreaking process and we agree that it makes the most sense. In the example you provided, 3 teams tied h2h so you move onto the next step. In that step you eliminated Carl with the divisional tiebreaker. Your mistake (in my opinion and contrary to the NFL system) was moving to the next step of a conference tiebreaker. The usual approach is to start all over with the tiebreakers after a team is eliminated. So after Carl was eliminated, tiebreaking would start over with h2h between the remaining teams and go from there until one is eliminated. In your case, Andy should’ve gotten the spot using your tiebreakers. Ironically, the one you advanced was the one who would not have in any of our leagues scenarios. For simplicity’s sake, we moved to H2H and then points as points would be a better indicator of the better of the 3.

I think Bob’s approach here is both correct & intuitive, but the wording of our rules apparently left room for an alternative interpretation. We definitely do not follow NFL protocols on multiple other points in that league, so there is little point in appealing to what the NFL would do (though perhaps there should be). But even if I agree that other 3-way ties should probably be resolved according to the method described by Bob rather than the approach taken by my league, the more important point is that Bob’s league ultimately decided to simplify things by moving directly from H2H record to total points.

This point was echoed by Dennis (“I understand where in a H2H league you have to go by record, but the tie breaker should go by points”) and by jeffg4 (“In our league, divisional winner tiebreakers for teams with the same record are broken first by H2H record, then by total points”).

Although I received an unusually high number of responses to my question about H2H tiebreakers, the arguments that came up again and again were all included in a single note from Steve:

We got rid of any sort of H2H record at one time since they were often tied 1-1 when used, or non-existent, and figuring out the common games type stuff like NFL does is even more complex. We used to have 2 divisions of 6, now 3 divisions of 4, division winners always got in, then WC from the rest, with 2 divisions it was top 2 each, now we take top 3 without regard to division.

Our rules for selection are simple, overall record, division record, total points. Now that we have fractional points I think it will be nearly impossible to have any need for a tie breaker after points.

We’ve also been discussing the situation where a really high points score doesn’t make the playoffs. We’ve seen that a few times and have another potential this year. Comparing two teams one has really good record but low points scored (and against) another has a middle of road record with highest total points scored and against. An all play (CBS breakdown page for us) record clearly shows which team is better. We have not changed our process, but I might advocate (I’m co-commish) for a change to award the final WC spot to the team with the highest total points remaining, regardless of record.

Another wrinkle I’ve heard is victory points, you get one for H2H win, and one for a top half score in league. Then use the victory points in determining playoffs, either as the main criteria, or some tie breaker to augment overall record. Might be too much work if the league software cannot do it for you.
Steve’s last point (concerning victory points, or a variation on that theme) was mentioned more than any other solution. I also heard from numerous readers about the frustration of seeing good teams with unlucky schedules miss the playoffs, but it seems that most leagues are in the same place as Steve’s: They are considering awarding one playoff spot to a team based strictly on points instead of record, but they haven’t actually made the change yet. Steve’s emphasis on fractional points is also incredibly practical—so practical that I was surprised to see it mentioned by only 1 other reader.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in. It’s a crowded column this week, so I apologize for having to let Steve stand in for so many of you.

This week’s question: Does the top-seeded team get punished by your tournament system?

The question for Week 14 comes from David, who raised it in conjunction with his answer to the question from Week 13:

Your article on using high points to both get into the playoffs as well as being the tie breaker hits home with me. I am commissioner of a keeper league started in 2004. For many years we used 3 divisions of 4 teams with division winners making it to the playoffs, and the 4th spot going to the next best record not winning a division. Tie breakers were overall record, followed by H2H record, followed by division record and finally total points. We ended up changing the format to the 4th spot getting in based on total points scored that didn't win a division title. This rewarded a team that stayed active and made smart roster moves but simply was unlucky in some weekly matchups. Please note that our league rewards the playoff winner and the total points winner equally at the end of the season, so points have always been a priority for us. We also reward division winners well, and each team in the division plays each other twice.

After the change, we began seeding playoff teams by total points rather than record. This was due to a couple of seasons where a division winner finished at 6-7 or 7-6. We didn't want to reward the subpar division winner with a higher seed than a team that scored more points and had a better record than the division winner. In addition, getting the #1 seed is supposed to be an advantage. How is having the #1 seed and facing the highest point scoring team automatically seeded #4 an advantage? Shouldn't the #1 seed get to face the "weakest" team? In the playoffs, high scoring teams usually win more matchups than they lose. They know how to manage a team and have shown they know how to build a team that can consistently score points. Reseeding by total points seems to be the fairest way to go.
David makes a strong argument. If you get the top seed by winning your division 10-2 with 1000 points, Huey gets the second seed by winning his division 9-3 with 900 points, Dewey gets the third seed by winning his division 8-4 with 800 points, and Louie gets the 4th seed as a wildcard with a 6-6 record and 1200 points on the season, why should you have to play Louie? Wouldn’t you rather play Dewey?

Is David right? Should the seeding in fantasy tournaments be driven by points rather than divisional titles & H2H records? Responses can be posted directly below or emailed to me.

Survivor Pool Picks

A special note of congratulations go out this week to Matthew Schiff, who just won the survivor pool in his fantasy league. Even though he’s taken a sabbatical from this column for the season, it’s great to know that he’s keeping his nose to the survivor grindstone.

Bonus Pick: Chargers over Bengals

The Chargers aren’t available to me in any of my slots, but I would use them if I could. The Bengals won’t have A.J. Green (toe). The Chargers may or may not have Melvin Gordon (knee). So the simplest question is: “Can the Green-less Bengals beat the Chargers at home if Gordon isn’t playing?” My answer is no. If Gordon plays, the no only becomes more emphatic.

Pick #3: Panthers over Browns

(8-5; GB, NO, CHI, LAC, CIN, car, TB, IND, oak, phi, ari, jax, KC)

The Panthers are only 1.5-point favorites in Cleveland, which suggests that home-field advantage is being overvalued or that no one is paying attention to how bad the Browns have been against the run in recent weeks. In a pass-crazy NFL that sees the rushing game as an afterthought in many contests, the Browns have yielded over 120 rushing yards to Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Houston. How do you expect this Cleveland team to do against Christian McCaffrey, the 7th-most productive rusher in the NFL (whose 5.3 ypc average put him half a yard ahead of Ezekiel Elliot and a third of a yard ahead of Todd Gurley)? Since the Browns are back to being their typical sieve selves against the run, I don’t expect the Panthers to struggle.

Pick #2: Cowboys over Eagles
(9-4; no, LAC, hou, GB, CAR, MIN, IND, PIT, KC, atl, tb, BAL, TEN)

I live in Texas, which means the one thing I will never be able to do is to assess the Dallas Cowboys objectively. I’ve watched them play all season, and they’ve looked ugly to me week after week. They lose ugly. And they win ugly. But they keep winning games that I expect them to lose. And I think I know why: It’s because Ezekiel Elliott is amazing, and Dak Prescott is good enough to come through now & then once an opposing defense is focused on Zeke. After every Cowboy victory I think, “Yeah, but if not for that one amazing juke by Zeke or that one amazing scramble by Dak, they would have lost.” But the formula keeps working. It worked against the Saints in Week 13, the Redskins in Week 12, the Falcons in Week 11, and the Eagles (in Philadelphia, no less) in Week 10. Why wouldn’t it work against the Eagles again in Dallas? I think it will. I’m not saying it should or that I want it to—because it’s ugly. But I think the standard Dallas ugliness will work.

Pick #1: Steelers over Raiders
(10-3; BAL, LAR, min, JAX, NO, GB, LAC, CHI, dal, KC, car, IND, HOU)

Much as I dislike picking visiting teams, it’s hard to imagine the juggernaut Steelers losing in Oakland. Yes, Pittsburgh is coming off a heartbreaking 3-point loss to the Chargers. But that’s only because the Chargers’ 5th-ranked offense stayed neck-and-neck with Pittsburgh’s 4th-ranked offense, which is exactly what one would expect. What one wouldn’t expect would be for the Raiders’ 22nd-ranked offense to keep up with Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Juju Smith-Schuster. The Steelers may have a few hiccups with Jaylen Samuels filling in for James Conner, but those who remember that Conner was only filling in for Le’Veon Bell have good reason to think that Pittsburgh will be just fine.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can be found here.