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Week 14

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I asked about the kinds of side bets that happen in fantasy leagues. My question was prompted by a reader named Zach, who plays in a league that actually awards owners bonus points for correctly predicting the biggest head-to-head blowout and the most tightly contested matchup each week.

Zach wanted to know whether any other leagues use bonus systems such as the one he describes. I did not hear from anyone who plays in such a league, though Dalton wrote in to explain that his league once tried something similar:

It sounds like Zach’s league focuses on games between two owners. We never did that, but we tried something fairly close for one season three or four years ago. Each week, owners had to predict who would get the high score for the week and who would get the low score. It was sort of pointless because most of us picked ourselves for the high score every week, and we kept singling out the same two or three weak owners for the low score. There were no bonus points, but there was a $25 payout to the person with the most correct predictions at the end of the season. I don’t remember who won the money. Maybe it was me, but it’s hard to remember because none of us took it very seriously by the end of the year. It was just too random. Really weak teams usually finish the season with a poor record, but they can still score big every so often. And strong teams that look like everything should work out for them in a certain week can end up with the lowest score in the league.

My experience is that good teams really do make the playoffs more often than not—and that bad teams really do miss the playoffs more often than not. But how they perform from one week to the next turned out not to be a very reliable indicator of the owner’s talents, so we scrapped that extra purse. I don’t miss it. I don’t think anyone else does either.

I did not expect to learn that the bonus system described by Zach was very common, so I invited readers to share any information concerning side bets in fantasy that might be interesting. Donovan responded with two anecdotes:

Our FF league has been around for 20 years, but it's not a huge money league. Old friends, lots of pride, and smaller entry fees create the perfect situation for side betting.

One of the other owners and I go on a canoe/fishing trip down the Rum River in Central Minnesota every Memorial Weekend. We play each other this weekend, and our side bet is the loser will have to jump off a bridge into the river on next year's fishing trip. It's not dangerous, but depending on the weather, might be unbelievably cold. If I lose, I'm hoping to use the bottle of Dr. McGuillicuddy that I won from him during our matchup earlier this season to keep me warm.

Another owner and I have been friends since 6th grade. With wives, kids, house projects, and that sort of thing, it gets harder to find time to get together, so each year when our teams face each other, we play for a dinner for four at a really nice restaurant chosen by the winner. No matter who wins, it's a great excuse to hang out, while our wives are happy as hell that we're actually taking them out at a nice place.

Donovan’s stories perfectly capture the kinds of “sub-dynamics” that make long-lived fantasy leagues fun. In anonymous online leagues, it’s easy to lump all of your opponents together. But in leagues that bring in friends, relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends, side bets are a great way of forging distinctive and memorable relationships with fellow owners who you might not otherwise get to know.

In 2003, I was in a league with my brother and a number of his friends (most of whom I barely knew). I had enough time in those days to post mean-spirited messages on the league’s bulletin boards about why my opponents didn’t stand a chance, and I went after my brother’s buddies with the special kind of heartlessness that is only possible for virtual strangers. In Week 5, I had a 40-point lead over my opponent (Todd, known affectionately as Toddles) going into the Monday night game. My players had all played on Sunday, and he only had one receiver active in the game—Keenan McCardell. That Monday morning, a victory seemed like a foregone conclusion, and I posted all sorts of things about Todd’s ineptitude as a fantasy owner. I was so confident of a win that I vowed not to trash talk Todd any more if McCardell could pull his team to within 10 points of my score.

True fantasy buffs will remember that Monday night game between Indianapolis and Tampa Bay because there was some controversy as to whether the TD that McCardell scored on a fumble recovery should count as an offensive or defensive play (no need to get into that here).

Thanks to a career night for McCardell, Todd did more than pull within 10. He actually beat me. I haven’t trash talked him since, and even though I don’t know him any better than my brother’s other high school buddies, I have a special rivalry with Todd—all thanks to a side bet I made with myself (and with Keenan McCardell apparently!).

David wrote in with a story of a quasi-side bet that enriched his fantasy experience:

I'm in a 12 team keeper league where your draft position for the next year is based on your regular season year-end performance this year. The best team picks 12th, and the worst team picks 1st. For 10 years, my buddy and I would trade each other our first round draft picks at the start of the year! Basically, putting my draft pick where my mouth is and betting him I will finish in front of him at the end of the season. If I finish in front of him THIS year, I get a better draft position NEXT year. My buddy quit the league a couple of years ago and I haven't been able to get anyone else in the league to agree to the trade. Hopefully, next year!

It was a lot of fun and put an added twist on the season to BEAT my buddy!

Homer Simpson has it right. Gambling is like ice cream in that it makes everything better. Gambling on football makes football more fun; and gambling on the way you gamble on football makes gambling more fun. It’s magic.

I will therefore remind readers about the “Acting the Fool” contest devised by one of my commissioners. This is an elimination contest that lasts for the first 12 weeks of the season. Each week, the owner with the lowest score is eliminated from contention. It’s very simple, but it can get to be more interesting (for participants and spectators alike) than the race concerning playoff seeding in Weeks 8-12. Whether you like any of the ideas outlined above or not, best of luck with getting some side bet action going in your league.

This Week’s Question

What percent of the fantasy football population is female, and how are the female players doing?

Consider the opening words of Marc Mondry’s LMS section this week:

Guys (and perhaps gals?) . . .

We know that women watch football, bet on football, and participate (to some extent at least) in fantasy football. I’ve included a fair number of remarks from female FFers in this column over the years, but it’s obvious that females are underrepresented in the world of fantasy.

If you play in more than 3 leagues and haven’t encountered a single woman in any of them, I would like to hear from you. But I’m more interested in hearing from female FFers or from males in leagues with at least one female owner. I think there is a general assumption that females who are willing to delve into the male world of FF generally only do so because they really really know their stuff. If that’s true, then women should be disproportionately represented in post-season tournaments.

Please feel free to share any stories related to this question that you like, but I don’t need long messages from anyone. If you are in a 12-person league with just one female owner and she has made the playoffs 3 out of the past 5 years, I’ll be grateful for just that piece of information. A man can stay in a fantasy league without making the playoffs for 5 years in a row—without anyone making a comment. But I suspect a woman who had that severe a drought would be ridiculed mercilessly. Am I right?

Last Man Standing - Thanksgiving Day Edition (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Guys (and perhaps gals?), I’m sorry to say this week’s column is going to be brief. Law school exams have begun for me, so I do not have time to be as thorough as usual, but as always, I will be available all week for those of you that have questions or want to discuss your options further. Feel free to email me; I love hearing from you!

Last Week’s Bust: Denver over New York, 34-17
This one was just ugly. The Broncos showed up to play, and the Jets did not. It’s as simple as that. In a clear let-down game, the Jets failed to put up much of a fight—even on the ground. Peyton Hillis (the former fullback and 5th option at RB earlier this season) looked very good against a supposedly strong NYJ front seven. The Jets also ran the ball well, but abandoned the run (earlier than I think was necessary) because they fell behind.

In the end, there were two inconsistent teams playing in this game, and the Broncos brought their A game, while New York didn’t. I knew the Jets have been inconsistent this season; I also knew that Denver could be dangerous; I took my chances and got burned.

Trap Game: Detroit over Minnesota
The great thing about picking Detroit to win is that if they win, I am a genius, but if they lose, it’s exactly what was supposed to happen. J

But more seriously, if you have been following the column, you know that I have been impressed by Detroit lately, although they looked awful against Tennessee on Turkey Day. On Sunday, the Lions host Minnesota, who squeaked out a win at home against them earlier this year, 12-10. This time, Culpepper will be leading Detroit against his former squad, which will be without both Kevin and Pat Williams, leaving large (very large?) holes for Kevin Smith to run through. If Detroit can keep it close and not allow the Viking defense to get aggressive, they have a decent shot at pulling out their first win of the season.

Pick 3: Indianapolis over Cincinnati

The Colts have not played like the powerhouse we are accustomed to, but the bottom line is that they are doing just enough to win. They are a team on a late-season winning streak with their eye on one of the two coveted wild card spots, and I find it hard to imagine that a leader like Peyton Manning, though no longer a prodigy, would allow his team to play down to the level that Cincinnati is playing at. Indy cannot afford to blow games if they want to make the playoffs, and this is basically a must-win game for them.

Pick 2: New England over Seattle
(TENNESSEE, dallas, CHICAGO, new york giants, TAMPA BAY, san francisco, Jacksonville, CAROLINA, philadelphia, WASHINGTON, new york jets)

How the mighty have fallen! If I told you 6 months ago that I would not recommend Indianapolis or New England once until week 14 of the season, you would have never read this column. Well, perhaps once—but just for laughs.

Back to business – New England is in very much the same position as Indianapolis, as they have a must-win game against a subpar team. They do have to travel all the way to Seattle, but they should be well motivated after the beating they took at the hands of the Steelers this past week. Matt Cassel has been torching bad defenses; he and the offense must be looking forward to their trip out West to face the Seahawks (just like Dallas was last week – I am sure you saw part of that game). The one silver lining from the contest against the Steelers is that the running game actually looked pretty effective—quite an accomplishment against the stout Pittsburgh defense. This week look for the Pats to run up the score against the Seahawks.

Pick 1: San Diego over Oakland

San Diego has been an awful disappointment this year, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Luckily, this week they host the even more pitiful Raiders on Thursday night. The Chargers are more talented at just about every position on the field, and they match up well against Oakland, as their rushing game (on both sides of the ball) is their strength, which should give Oakland trouble, both defending against LT, and especially trying to run on the often tough San Diego rush defense. Forcing JaMarcus Russell to throw the ball is the recipe for keeping Oakland off the scoreboard, and that’s exactly what the Chargers are going to be able to do. The Chargers should win this one handily.

On another, totally unrelated note: Why are two AFC West teams (one 4-8 and the other 3-9) playing in a nationally televised Thursday night game? Can anyone explain that to me? Even if the schedule was set before the season, Oakland was not looking to be a contender this year – why would anyone think this regional matchup was going to be worthy of national attention? In a week that features some excellent matchups (DAL vs. PIT, PHI vs. NYG) not being nationally televised, why do we get the distinct displeasure of watching the Raiders? Ugh – I hope I did not ruin anyone’s Thursday night with that mini-rant. Good luck this week everyone.

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