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Week 10

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I shared Craig’s question about whether leagues should attempt to balance fantasy productivity across positions.

In some leagues, a TD is worth the same number of points whether it is scored by a quarterback, a running back, or a tight end. Based on the responses I received, I think it is safe to say that such leagues are the exception rather than the rule.

Although I still hear from a number of readers who are in scoring-only leagues, most of the responses I receive each week are from players in performance leagues (i.e. leagues that award points for yardage, fumble recoveries, etc.). My sense is that just as performance leagues have essentially supplanted scoring-only leagues in the world of FF, leagues that do some balancing of productivity across positions have become the norm in the world of FF.

Almost all of the readers who responded to last week’s question agreed that it is appropriate for a passing TD to be worth less than a rushing or receiving TD (primarily because most FFers like to make it difficult to choose between elite quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers), but that was the only point upon which there seemed to be a genuine consensus.

There was not a clear majority opinion on the way yardage should be scored. Some readers believe that yardage-related scoring should be kept simple. As Danny put it:

To answer Craig’s question, a yard is a yard is a yard. I play in several leagues, and the one I like best is the one that awards 1 point for every 10 yards a player gains. It doesn’t matter if the yardage comes on a run or a reception or a punt return. 10 yards is worth one point. Period.

I like it because it’s simple for me to figure out how my players are doing. Our whole league likes to keep things simple, so we agreed always to round down. If a running back has 90 yards of rushing, he gets 9 points for yardage. If he gets 99 yards of rushing, he still gets 9 points. If he gets 100 yards, he gets 10 points. One of my other leagues awards fractional points for yards and bonuses for 100-yard games. I guess that stuff is fun if you do nothing but track stats all day, but it makes my head hurt. I’m glad we don’t give bonuses. We don’t give extra points for long scores. I can focus on two games each Sunday afternoon and watch for stat updates and pretty much know what my fantasy score is before I check the computer. I’m sure we could make things more fair by making them more complicated, but our rules are fair enough as they stand—and lots more fun because we keep things simple.

But I’m also glad we give 6 points for a rushing/receiving TD and only 4 points for a passing TD. Giving every player 6 points for every TD would make QBs too important.

Not everyone likes to keep things simple. Robert wrote in to say that he takes balancing so seriously as to readjust his league’s scoring system every year precisely because he wants the top 12 players at each position to be on par with each other in terms of productivity (which leads to a quite complicated scoring model):

We take balance very seriously in our league. We don’t have things worked out perfectly yet (and probably never will), but the idea is to make the best tight end or defense in the NFL just as valuable as the best running back. We award quarterbacks 5 points per passing TD; tight ends get 10 points per receiving TD; and defenses get 15 points for defensive scores. Running backs and receivers get points for scores and yardage, but not for receptions. Tight ends, however, do get 1 point per catch. We change our scoring each year based (loosely) on how the top 12 players at each position perform. We focus on balancing the 6th-ranked quarterback with the 6th-ranked running back, the 6th-ranked tight end, the 6th-ranked defense, and the 6th-ranked kicker. The main variable we play with is points based on yardage. We always give running backs 1 point for every 10 yards, but receivers can get 1 point per 6, 7, or 8 yards depending upon last year’s stats. Tight ends can end up getting 1 point per 4, 5, or 6 yards. We don’t pay attention to the yardage involved in scoring plays except for kickers because that was the only way we could see to make kickers competitive.

Robert’s league takes the idea of balance further than most leagues are willing to go, but most commissioners appear to assume that they should be willing to modify scoring systems to some degree in order to keep the various positions on a somewhat level playing field. Andrew does not appear to advocate making kickers as valuable as quarterbacks, but his response is typical of the feedback I received:

Should scoring systems make some effort to balance productivity across positions?

Simple answer is Y-E-S. Two things that always annoyed me about some fantasy football leagues: non-fractional and bonus scoring systems, and 1-yd TD runs/catches.

Non-fractional and bonus scoring systems
Nothing annoys me more than not getting that extra point or bonus modifier by falling short by a single yard. Of course, that extra yard is "meaningless" at the end of the season, but in the world of fantasy, it's all about the end of the week. I hate seeing my QB throw for 299 yards vs. my opponent's 300 yards and see a huge difference in points. That's 1 friggin yard! Their total points should practically be the same.

1-yd TD runs/catches
No disrespect to the Jermone Bettises (or Lendale Whites) of the world, but having more touchdowns than yards per carry in a single game should be outlawed in fantasy. How frustrating is it to see a 7-carry, 5-yard, 4-TD dumptruck score more points than a 7-catch, 150 yard game-changing receiver who probably set up that 1-yd TD plow? I've had enough.

So where am I going with all this? I want to point out the scoring system that my league uses because it focuses more on production vs. touchdowns. Take a look at a snapshot:
Passing Attempts (-2)
Completions (3)
Passing Yards (1 point per yard)
Passing Touchdowns (55)
Interceptions (-30)
Sacks (-7)
Rushing Attempts (-1)
Receptions (7)
Rushing/Reception Yards (1 point per 0.5 yard)
Rushing/Reception Touchdowns (75)
2-Point Conversions (20)
Fumbles Lost (-35)

In the example above, the dumptruck scored 303 points, while the receiver got 349 points. But let's take some real stats instead of my made-up ones. Who had the better game in this past Monday night's game: Lendale White or Chris Johnson?

Lendale White: 10 carries, 13 yards (1.3ypc), 2 TDs; 1 catch, 1 yard
Chris Johnson: 19 carries, 77 yards (4.0ypc), 1 TD; 4 catches, 19 yards

Typical scoring / Fractional scoring / My scoring:
Lendale White - 13 points / 13.4 points / 175 points
Chris Johnson - 14 points / 15.6 points / 276 points

As you can see, Johnson scored 50%+ more points than White in my scoring system. I don't think many people would argue against that. Now is this perfect? Of course not. I doubt it ever will be, but it's closing the gap. It'll take some time to adjust to seeing a player avg 200+ points per week, but I really think this format best gauges a player's performance, regardless of position.

Note that although Andrew begins by answering the general question about productivity across positions with an emphatic affirmative, he switches his focus to balancing productivity within a position (running back) by attempting to devise a system that does not so heavily favor scoring as to make yardage inconsequential.

Andrew uses the goal line production of LenDale White vs. Chris Johnson to get us to think about balancing running backs against other running backs. For a few years, he could have used Bubba Franks vs. Marcus Pollard to get us to think about balancing tight ends against other tight ends. I realize that this isn’t the point he was trying to make, but the point that emerges for me from Andrew’s response is that it’s difficult enough to try to balance scoring within a position—much less across positions.

So when it comes to balance, the question that commissioners need to put to their owners is simple: How far do we want to go to achieve balance? Most leagues seem to be willing to award more points to rushing/receiving TDs than passing TDs (and more points for rushing/receiving yardage than for passing yardage). Some leagues award more points for receiving TDs and receiving yardage than for rushing TDs and rushing yardage. A few leagues are willing to award more points for receiving yardage to tight ends than to receivers and running backs. If I read Robert’s note correctly, his league appears to award enough points to kickers who consistently connect on long field goals to make them as valuable as quarterbacks. We appear to be endlessly inventive when it comes to devising scoring systems that equalize fantasy production across positions, and I’m grateful to the readers who shared the approaches their leagues have taken to achieve this sort of balance.

My only caveat to commissioners would be to remember Danny’s advice about keeping things simple. Just because you have found a way to make things in your league work more fairly from a statistical standpoint, that doesn’t mean you have to implement it. Too many complications can spoil the fun. A commissioner has to take the pulse of his league and respond to the desire to make the scoring as fair as possible—while retaining as much fun as possible. That delicate balance is going to be different in every league.

This Week’s Question

Should injured reserve in fantasy be strictly for injured players, or should the category include players who are suspended or on a bye?

A reader named Ben has written to ask me why he can’t treat a player on a bye as if he is on IR, and the answer turns out to be more complicated than you might think.

IR is a strange animal in the world of fantasy football. Not all leagues have an IR category available to their owners, and the leagues that do allow owners to put players on IR are not consistent.

I happen to like leagues with limited rosters. By “limited,” I mean a roster that allows owners to draft anything less than double the number of starters. Most leagues that have owners start 8 players each week allow owners to carry a roster of 16 players from which to choose. If you have a starting lineup of 6 players in your league and your total roster is 11 players or fewer, then you know what sort of limitations you can face when one of your running backs is injured and another is on a bye. Do you cut the receiver that you don’t need this week but that you expected to use down the stretch in order to make room for a running back that you will only use once? Obviously, the more limited your roster size is, the more important the use of the IR category becomes.

If you have Anquan Boldin in a league that allows players to be put on IR, then it was probably a relief to you to be able to snap up a receiver to fill in for Boldin without having to cut any of your other players while Boldin missed Weeks 5 & 6. Most commissioners would agree that owners who put Boldin on IR used the IR category in a perfectly acceptable way.

But what about Steve Smith’s suspension in Weeks 1 & 2? Like Boldin, he is an elite receiver that no owner would want to cut in order to make room for a temporary fill-in. But since the I in IR stands for injured, is it fair for an owner to protect a suspended player under the IR aegis and expand his roster without injury being in any way relevant?

Some commissioners that I have talked to have no problem with putting suspended players on IR. It is not uncommon for leagues to allow owners to put any players on IR who are known in advance to be out for a particular game. It doesn’t matter to these commissioners whether the player will be inactive due to injury or suspension; the simple fact that the player will not see action is enough to justify the IR label in many fantasy leagues.

Ben plays in such a league. He was able to put Steve Smith on IR during the first two weeks of the season. Whether you agree with the practice of putting suspended players on IR or not, it is the way his league works. However, Ben’s commissioner would not allow him to put Smith on IR in Week 9. Ben’s argument is that it Smith’s inactivity in Week 9 was known in advance (just as it was known in advance in Weeks 1 & 2), so he should have been able to protect Smith and expand his roster.

To be clear, I am not trying to call the ruling of Ben’s commissioner into question. It is very clearly against the rules to put players on IR for their bye week in Ben’s league, so that particular case is settled.

But the general question remains unanswered. If you can put suspended players on IR, then why can’t you do the same with players on a bye? I look forward to hearing from readers who don’t think suspended players should qualify for the IR label as well as from those who think that using IR in conjunction with byes makes perfect sense.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Anyone still alive in LMS pools? If so, let me hear from you! I can’t imagine there are too many of you out there, but if so, let me know, I will tailor my picks to include what teams are available to you, the readers. I bit the bullet early, taking Denver over KC in Week 4. However, if you have been following this column, my #3 picks would still have you alive and kicking in a LMS competition. Look at these statistics:

Pick 3: 7/7, 100%
Pick 2: 3/7, 43%
Pick 1: 5/7, 71%

So I started thinking, “What is it about this 3rd pick that differs from the first two, if anything?” I think I have figured it out – these are my gut feeling picks. Pick 1 usually is a consensus pick, seemingly a no-brainer, and pick two is usually a similar, somewhat less safe option. Pick 3, on the other hand, tends to be a riskier pick, where I have to rely much more on my gut and intuition to try to find a 3rd reliable choice for a LMS pool.

Thus far, it has been pretty effective. So that’s the plan for this week – 3 picks and analysis straight from the gut. As always, feedback on these picks is always more than welcome.

Last Week’s Bust: Cincinnati over Jacksonville, 21-19
Unfortunately for me, this one was probably foreseeable. Cincinnati has been steadily improving, with Ryan Fitzpatrick slowly but surely becoming acclimated to life as an NFL quarterback. I should have expected that the Bengals could put up some points against the inconsistent Jacksonville defense. I don’t think, however, that anyone could have expected Cedric Benson to expertly perform his Rudi Johnson circa 2006 impersonation.

The fact of the matter is that for some reason, I cannot get it through my thick skull that Jacksonville is no longer the team with the solid but unexciting defense, stellar rush D, strong running game, and efficient offense. I almost got burned early in the season by Jacksonville, knew they were a risk (see last week’s analysis), and went with them anyway. I promise not to repeat that mistake.

Trap Game: New York Giants over Philadelphia
Yes, a true homer pick, and more than partially a result of the fact that I am personally offended that the Eagles are a 2.5 point favorite over the Giants, even at home. My G-Men are 7-1 and have looked nigh unstoppable aside from two letdown games against Cleveland and Cincinnati. Donovan McNabb and company have looked hot lately, particularly with the return of Brian Westbrook, but have not faced a defense similar to the Giants since they played Pittsburgh, a game in which they did not find the end zone. The Philadelphia defense is good, particularly against the pass, but do you really think they will be able to stop the Giants’ rushing attack? Maybe they can contain the Giants during the first half, but can they do it for an entire 60 minutes? I doubt it. Look for an absolute war at Lincoln Financial on Sunday night.

Pick 3: Miami over Seattle
Once again, in full disclosure, this game worries me a little bit. Ronnie Brown and Chad Pennington have both put up great numbers in some games this season, but have also thrown up some dud performances as well. The Miami defense is the same way – inconsistent. However, the Dolphins have been playing very well recently, keeping Denver and Buffalo in check in consecutive weeks. I just don’t see how Seattle is going to score points when they travel to Miami this Sunday. The Seahawks took an early 7-point lead last week on a 90-yard TD bomb to Koren Robinson, but after that failed to score a single point as they were handled by the Eagles. Miami probably couldn’t compete with Philadelphia, but Seattle probably won’t be able to compete with Miami.

Pick 2: Carolina over Oakland
(TENNESSEE, dallas, CHICAGO, new york giants, TAMPA BAY, san francisco, jacksonville)
Yes, Carolina does have to travel across the country to go play at one of the toughest venues in football. But let’s level with each other – can you even remotely conjure up an image in your mind of Oakland winning this football game? How would they do it? JaMarcus Russell isn’t the answer, and neither is Darren “Double Turf Toe” McFadden. Zach Miller is a talent, but the Raiders can’t get him the ball. On the other side of the field is a well rested Panthers team playing fantastic ball. Delhomme looks like the QB all of us (at least I) expected him to be, Steve Smith has strung together multiple stellar games, and DeAngelo Williams is showing flashes of his potential. This game might not be a blowout, but it should be in hand most of the way.

Pick 1: Arizona over San Francisco
I love this game. A rapidly improving Arizona defense hosts a struggling San Francisco team on Monday night. This might be the first time I am excited to watch a matchup from the NFC West in a very long time. I like Arizona this week because the Cardinals have two ways to win: 1) their defense could slow recent “Quarterback-Elect” Shaun Hill and the Niners offense to an absolute standstill, or 2) they could just try to outscore the Niners and put up 45 points. Perhaps both? The only thing that could stop the Cards from trouncing San Francisco is if Frank Gore goes off for 150 yards from scrimmage and a couple of TDs. Even that best-case scenario for the Niners might not be enough!

For responses to this week's fantasy question please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.