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Last Man Standing
Week 17 2003
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Mike Davis

Last Week's Question
When I asked about playoff formats last week, I expected at least a few readers to support the "Fantasy Focus" duo from Monday Quarterback, but they didn't appear to have many fans at FFToday. I guess if your segment airs in the middle of the afternoon on Mondays, you aren't likely to be a hit with people who work for a living (or, more accurately, people who use their computer terminals to shirk their work in order to debate the finer points of fantasy football via the Internet).

The most comprehensive response I received to my query came from Dave, who said:

I run a 12-team league that is split into 3 divisions, and we play a 14-week regular season. Six teams make the playoffs: 3 division winners and 3 wild card teams. The top 2 division winners get a bye in Week 15. Our championship game does fall on the dreaded last weekend of the season. I thought long and hard about shortening the season to 13 weeks to avoid this, but that would mean either not playing someone in another division at all or not playing one of your division opponents twice. I didn't really care for either of those choices.

I know I'm playing with fire by having the championship game in Week 17, but over the past few years it hasn't been an issue. With parity becoming the norm, most teams have something to play for in Week 17, so it's not nearly as much of a risk as it used to be. It's something I think about each off season, but for now I prefer having a full regular season schedule.

Additionally, it adds another week of entertainment that the other leagues are missing out on. That won't be any solace if someone gets "screwed" in the championship game, but the majority of my owners prefer having a 14-week regular season and will live with the risk.

We used to only have 10 teams in the league and only 4 made the playoffs so we were able to have a 14-week regular season and have the championship game in Week 16. The first year we went to 12 teams we kept the playoffs at only 4 teams, but there was a huge outcry for two more teams so we made the switch. And now that 6 teams make it, there's no way everyone will agree to reduce it back to 4.

There are a couple of talk show hosts on radio in my area that go a little overboard on this issue. They've basically said commissioners that has their championship games in Week 17 are idiots and don't know what they're doing. While I'm sure there are some leagues that are clueless about the risks of having a championship game in Week 17, we've carefully considered the pros and cons and made a conscious choice to do it that way. I feel it's a matter of preference and it depends on what everyone in the league prefers. The other league I'm in ends in Week 16 and I'm ok with it, but I hate missing out on that other week. I may feel differently in a few years if teams start running away with home field advantage, but that's highly unlikely. Everyone thought the Chiefs were going to do that this year (anyone who thought that obviously didn't watch any of their earlier games and see their defense really wasn't very good), and now they're fighting for home field with New England & Indianapolis.

And while I agree with those so-called fantasy experts [Mike mentioned from] ESPN that it's ok to have a championship game in Week 17, I don't agree with them that even if players do get rested it's ok because it just adds to the strategy. I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority on this one, but I'm holding out for now.

Clearly Dave and the folks in his league understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. They have ended up with a format that they enjoy, and there is no reason for them to change it if they are happy with it the way it is. However, if Dave wants to avoid taking the chances that come with playing championships in Week 17, he might want to consider scheduling double-weeks at some point during the regular season. In my league, we have 4 such weeks, which enables us to have a 16-week season even though our playoffs start in Week 13. Ordinarily, each team in my league plays a single head-to-head match-up each week. But in weeks 3, 6, 9, and 12, each team plays 2 different opponents (one intra-divisional and one inter-divisional match-up). This way, even though we only have twelve weeks of regular season play, we still end up having played 16 regular season games before the playoffs begin. Of course, the people in Dave's league might object to this system as being unfair to those who just happen to have bad outings on the weeks when they have to play two different fantasy squads, but it is an option that some leagues might want to consider.

At the end of his response, Dave alluded quite diplomatically to the "Fantasy Focus" guys I mentioned last week. Andrew did not bother with diplomacy:

The suggestion that week 17 benchings add to 'strategy' is ludicrous. There's a ton of churn in playoff teams every year, so you can't build a [hungry] week 17 team into your draft. You won't get it right; it's just too damn hard. Secondly, the week 17 Super Bowl kills dynasty leagues. Here's what happened to me: 2 years ago the Eagles were playing the Bucs on Sunday, with an imminent meeting the next week in the playoffs. In our Super Bowl, I started McNabb and Keyshawn Johnson. Neither played. Nevertheless, I couldn't release them and go looking for other guys because I wanted to keep them going into the next year.

Andrew is not alone in his frustration, and frustration is not limited to dynasty leagues. As Randy points out:

The vast majority of FF leagues I have been in take the top four teams (according to W-L record) and have the playoffs during Weeks 15 and 16. One of the problems with this is that the "best" team often doesn't make the playoffs because it seems everybody has their best week against them. Another problem with this is that for many of the teams in the league, Weeks 15 -17 have no meaning.

We solved this in two of our leagues. In one of them, the top four teams still go to the playoffs during Weeks 15-16. But we have a toilet bowl tournament Weeks 15-17 for the others. The winner of the toilet bowl doesn't get much, but it gives the other teams a reason to play the final weeks. In addition, we have a pool for the highest total points during Weeks 15-17. That way, all teams have a stake the final three weeks. However, we keep the championship game away from Week 17 because the championship is too important to have your best guys potentially sitting on the bench resting for the NFL playoffs.

In another league, the top four teams by point total get the majority of the money at the end. But we still do head-to-head games. The head-to-head record is used for seeding in a tournament Weeks 14-17, in which any team can win. We also charge $5 for a head-to-head loss, giving everybody a reason to field a team to the end.
Of course, there is more than one way to avoid having the Super Bowl in Week 17. Michael's league has implemented a playoff scenario that manages to correspond with the NFL postseason (though the winning team might feature a single running back, a No. 2 wide-out, a kicker, and no QB):

My league (which began in 1991) appears to use an entirely different approach than most other leagues. We play all 17 weeks of the season [to determine which owners will advance to the playoffs].

The four division winners and two wildcard teams move onto the playoffs [after Week 17]. We redraft from the playoff teams the Wednesday before the first wildcard games. The playoffs are basically a "Last Player Standing" affair; your players drop out as the teams they belong to are eliminated. Picking players that are Super Bowl-bound is crucial to winning.

Like Dave, Walter's league is content to have a championship game in Week 17, as it enables a playoff scenario similar to what we saw in the AFC and NFC prior to the most recent divisional realignment:

I'm in a twelve-team league with three divisions of four teams each. Each team plays each team in their division twice and all other teams once, requiring fourteen weeks. Playoff qualifiers are the three division champs, and from the remaining teams, the three teams with the best records regardless of division. In the first round, the two best division champs get byes with the third champ playing the sixth seed and four and five playing each other. The lowest seed to advance plays the first seed in the second round. Though this requires that our Super Bowl is played in week seventeen, we think that being able to set up the regular season schedule so that we play every team in the league makes it worth it.

This Week's Question
Unlike Dave, Brad's league does not schedule a championship game for Week 17. But like Dave, he does hate the idea of allowing that week to go to waste. After all, the NFL season is so short that it seems a shame to cheat oneself out of a week of competition. Accordingly, Brad wanted me to ask readers to "brainstorm" about ways to put Week 17 to use in leagues that have already wrapped up their championship games.

I'll respond by pointing out that even though no one wrote in to support the idea of a two-week championship game (spanning weeks 16 and 17), that option is definitely worth considering. I'll also say that it might be worthwhile to let all members of the league submit their own "fantasy-fantasy rosters," by which I mean that all owners would have access to all players in the NFL. You might end up with 11 different owners using Michael Vick as their quarterback or Marvin Harrison as a receiver, but the charm of such a system is that it would not require a redrafting party. What would the owners be competing for? I don't know. Draft order perhaps. Or maybe a 50% reduction in the next season's entry fee. You tell me. I'm just a writer. You folks have the ideas.

I'll collect the responses to this question during the offseason and get back to you in my June column of 2004. That wraps it up for me this year. Happy holidays everyone. And good luck to those of you playing championships in Week 17.

Reader's Picks (Matthew)

Trap Game:

Last week I predicted that Miami would have a problem with Buffalo. Well, I was wrong. Why? Because it was sunny in Buffalo in December. While most teams will be looking to clean out their lockers this week, it is the teams that have the chance to knock a team out of the playoffs that I think you should watch out for. In fact, this week there are many to choose from. Take Buffalo at New England, for example.

In Week 1, everyone expected New England to crush the Bills and the Patriots came home with their tails between their legs trying to figure out what happened. Since then, the Patriots have lost 1 game. In fact, the two teams that they lost to this season are a combined 11-19. So why is this a trap game? Because the Bills were built to beat New England and Travis Henry is making sure that the Bills don't forget that he played with a broken leg the last month of the season even though they were out of the playoffs. Also, New England already has the bye wrapped up and may ease up a little.

#3: Philadelphia over Washington (15-1):
If ever there was a time that a team needed a win, it is this week. The Eagles laid a big one against the 49ers and will need a win against the Redskins to clinch the division. The Redskins don't match up very well against them and this game should be over early.

#2: Cincinnati over Cleveland (12-4):
The Bengals will need to win to have any chance at making the playoffs, and the Browns will be easy to pick off. Unfortunately, this win will most likely not be enough. Oh well, the playoffs will have to wait until next year, but no one can deny that Marvin Lewis did a heck of a job in Cincinnati. Now, if only they can figure out that they won more games without Corey Dillon than with him.

#1: Baltimore over Pittsburgh (14-2):
After looking at all my picks this season, I found that I still have not picked the Ravens as the best choice for the Last Man Standing Pool. And so, this week with great pride I choose the Ravens over the Steelers. Pittsburgh has only won 2 games against teams with winning records this season, ironically Cincinnati and Baltimore. However, both of those games were played in the first 3 weeks of the season and have long been forgotten by the men in black. The Ravens will be playing in Prime Time with the playoffs on the line and are focused on getting Jamal Lewis the single season rushing record. While Tommy Maddox may have torched the vaunted Ravens defense in week 1, the Steelers are not the team they were in the early part of the season; nor are the Ravens relying on a rookie quarterback. What more could the NFL want than a Prime Time game that determines the winner of the AFC North? Isn't that how they scripted it when the schedule makers released the schedule earlier this year?

Mike's Picks:

The same rationale informs all my picks this week. If a team has something at stake in terms of the playoffs and is playing at home against a team with nothing at stake, I'll take the home team. We'll see how it works out.

#3 Tennessee over Tampa Bay
(12-4 in 2003; 33-15 cumulative)

Tennessee can still claim the AFC South title with a win over Tampa and a loss by Indy.

#2 Baltimore over Pittsburgh
(12-4 in 2003; 36-12 cumulative)

I understand why Matt has this as his top pick, but I just can't pass up the opportunity to use the Bengals there.

#1 Cincinnati over Cleveland
(11-5 in 2003; 33-15 cumulative)

I have never used Cinci as my top pick of the week, but they have to beat the Browns and hope for a Baltimore loss in order to taste the postseason. How can you not pull for them?

:: comments to mike davis

Readers who are relatively new to fantasy football or who need to recruit FF rookies into their leagues may want to check out Mike's instructional audio CD, Getting to Know Fantasy Football, available at the following URL:


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