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Week 17

Last Week’s Question

Readers of this column either have long memories or a difficult time letting go of the past. Last week, I asked readers to share the boneheaded moves that they either made or witnessed this fantasy season. Over 90% of the responses I received concerned draft day blunders. I figured that this late in the season, I would receive notes from people who should have known better than to start flex player X in Week Y of the playoffs, but those choices apparently don’t haunt readers as much as draft day mistakes.

These anecdotes will make for great cautionary tales at the beginning of the 2009 season, which is partly why I have decided to feature them next year (when they will be useful).

However, the main reason I have decided to table the discussion of fantasy boneheadedness for the moment is that I want to respond as fully as possible to the following question from John:

I wanted to ask for your guidance on a scoring issue that has surfaced in our league:

We reward bonuses for stellar performances as follows:

WRs, RBs
>100 yds: + 3 points
>200 yds + 3 points

>300 yds: +3 points
>400 yards: +3 points

Historically, ESPN would award both bonuses when a player eclipsed the second bonus tier. However, this [is no longer the case.] Specifically, Andre Johnson's 207-yard performance last week was only awarded a 3-point bonus. This "scoring error" was only brought to my attention this week, even though it has been happening all season (specifically Michael Turner's performance in week 1 and Matt Cassel's performance in week 12).

The intent of the league when the settings were established was to award both bonuses if the performance indicated as such. However, in practice this has not occurred during the season. How should we handle it now?

Before I get into the particulars of how I would respond to this problem, I want to advise all of the readers of this column to add any one of the following five clauses to their league rules (in the event that they do not have something similar in place already).

Clause 1:
If a question arises that our existing rules are incapable of answering, we will abide by the judgment of the league commissioner regardless of whether or how his own team might be affected by his ruling.

Clause 2:
If a question arises that our existing rules are incapable of answering, we will abide by the judgment of the league commissioner unless his own team would be directly impacted by his decision. In the event that the commissioner’s team would be affected, a committee of three owners who will not be directly impacted by the decision will by chosen by lottery. Their ruling will be binding.

Clause 3:
If a question arises that our existing rules are incapable of answering, we will put the matter to a vote by all owners. In the event of a tie vote, the commissioner will be allowed to cast a second vote.

Clause 4:
If a question arises that our existing rules are incapable of answering, we will put the matter to a vote by all owners whose teams will not be directly impacted by the decision. If a tiebreaker is necessary, then the vote of the league member with the least seniority will be discounted. (Insert your own clause for defining “juniority” here. I have seen one league determine seniority based on the date of the checks used to pay league fees. I suppose you could even say that in a league that had 3 new people join this season, the one who showed up last to the draft is the most junior member. The point is to have some sort of mechanism in place to ensure participation by an odd number of voters.)

Clause 5:
If a question arises that our existing rules are incapable of answering, we will request arbitration by _________________________. (You can fill in that blank with the name of any arbiter you like, including “Mike Krueger or his designated representative from FFToday.”)

Your league may currently have a clause in place that is nothing like any of the 5 choices above. As long as it is flexible enough to allow the league to respond to any and all unforeseen contingencies, you are set. There is nothing special about any of the 5 clauses I provide in this column, but we have to start somewhere—and we have to draw the line somewhere. I have tried to provide options that are appropriate for the various league personalities that I have encountered over the years.

My own strong preference is for Clause 1. I like to play fantasy football for fun; and I like to belong to leagues with commissioners who are able to focus on fun rather than their own interests. Although I’ve heard horror stories about commissioner abuse from readers and friends over the years, I myself have never joined a league whose commissioner I would not trust to do the right thing. Even when commissioners have ruled against me in the past, my respect for them has been such as to enable me to swallow the bitter pill of their decision and move forward without recriminations. If you think your commissioner cannot be trusted to put fairness and the interests of the league ahead of his own interests, I think you might want to shop around for a new league. Please forgive me if I am overgeneralizing based on my own experience, but I genuinely believe that most fantasy commissioners are actually more concerned about being perceived as fair and effective league managers than they are about winning their leagues.

In high-stakes leagues, however, it may be unreasonable to expect a commissioner to remain completely objective. If your league awards a purse of several thousand dollars (or more), you might want to focus on one of the last three clauses.

My own experience with votes is that fantasy owners are less likely to vote their consciences than their allegiances. I’ve witnessed plenty of exchanges between owners who openly court the votes of their friends based on the intensity of their friendships rather than the actual question that is being settled. This problem tends to spiral out of control because it is always possible to make the argument that the other guy is getting his friends to vote for his position, so it is only right for my friends to vote for my position. League-wide voting can work well in a variety of contexts, but it can also lead to a surprisingly partisan atmosphere precisely when cool heads are needed most.

Most leagues are capable of solving their problems in-house, but there are times (as evidenced by the question quoted near the beginning of this column) when it makes sense to turn to someone outside the league for advice. I can only guess that if Andre Johnson had received the bonus points in 2008 that he would have received for a 207-yard game in 2007, then the playoff picture in John’s league would be affected.

If it isn’t obvious how to settle a question (and I agree with John that the answer here isn’t obvious), and if the answer has serious playoff or championship implications in a league, it makes perfect sense to take the matter to a disinterested party outside of the league for arbitration.

It is absolutely essential, however, that all owners agree to be bound by the decision before the arbiter delivers it. It won’t do John’s league any good for me to rule on his question if the owners who don’t like my ruling can simply say, “I never agreed to abide by that idiot’s opinion about what we should do. Where does he get off rendering a verdict anyway?”

With that tedious preamble out of the way, I’ll explain how I would rule on this particular question and why.

I would direct the commissioner NOT to award the extra bonus points for Andre Johnson’s 207-yard performance based on the precedents that were set by the analogous performances of Michael Turner and Matt Cassel. I can only infer from the query that when the ESPN website failed to score these huge performances in 2008 as they would have been scored in 2007, no one in John’s league noticed because the extra points wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the fantasy matchups. In other words, when the change in question had no true consequences, it was implicitly accepted by the league. Now that the question matters to the league, interested parties are presumably fashioning their opinions about what is “right” based on their own interests, but the fact of the matter is that when there were no interests in play, the league swallowed the scoring change without a word of protest—perhaps even without noticing. If the change wasn’t noticed then (and we apparently have 2 cases of it going unnoticed), it should not be noticed now.

If you want to contact me with how you would settle this case if you were to arbitrate it, I’ll do my best to get your comments to John as quickly as possible. If you have other thoughts about how leagues can handle unforeseen contingencies, I’ll be happy to share your thoughts next season, but it is time for me to wrap up Q&A for 2008—and to hand things over to Marc Mondry for his LMS picks.

Since I want to give Mondry the last word in this column, I’ll say here that he has done a positively stellar job of handling the LMS picks for us since Matthew Schiff’s departure. I want to thank Mike Krueger for selecting Mondry as a finalist in the LMS contest we had earlier this season; and I definitely want to thank Mr. Schiff for being so judicious about selecting his own replacement. Mainly, however, I want to thank Mr. Mondry for the great job he has done, week in and week out, of making great picks and decking them out in the witty and engaging prose that his sound logic deserves.

Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

This is it. The last week, the grand finale, the whole enchilada . . . you get the point. While the fantasy football leagues are done (any worth playing in anyway), and owners are taking a well deserved break to relax and just enjoy football for a Sunday, we prognosticators have one more week of work to do. In that spirit, here we go.

Last Week’s Bust(s): Oakland over Houston, Buffalo over Denver
I told many of you that last week was going to separate the men from the boys. It did, and based on last week, I should be sent back to junior high, with anyone else who blew two-thirds of their picks last week. Believe it or not, I did worse than some of you even know. Many of you readers keep in touch with me throughout the week, discussing the games in the context of new information that comes out later in the week – those that do this know that I backed off Denver as soon as I heard that Trent Edwards was starting. Good foresight. I recommended two other possible #3 Picks: Philadelphia and the New York Jets. Ouch.

Last week absolutely baffled me. I was right on with the Cinci upset, and unbelievably, I picked 11/16 correct against the spread (I dabble in pick ‘em – and am getting to be fairly good). My 5 incorrect picks were Jacksonville, Pittsburgh (what happened in Tennessee?), and then 3 of my LMS Picks, Houston, New York, and Philadelphia. What a crappy week. I couldn’t savor my pick ‘em success for more than a moment.

So why was I so far off on these games? Well, I’m not going to touch the Denver game, since I foresaw that mistake before the game was played—and since I so conveniently have plenty of other blunder material to cover this week.

Houston I really do not understand. I fully overestimated the Texan defense. That unit had been playing very well, and had not let an opponent score over 21 points in four weeks. Why would they suddenly have a total breakdown against the Raiders? I still don’t get it. Most teams made JaMarcus Russell look silly, but the Texans found a way to make him look like a Pro Bowler (18/25, 236yds, 2TDs, 0INT). The Texans even effectively stopped the rushing game, and only had 1 turnover! How they let the Raiders roll for 27 still escapes, and more precisely, irritates me.

The thing that really frustrates me about this one is that I actually predicted how the game would come out – I knew Andre Johnson would likely be ineffective and that Owen Daniels/Kevin Walter would benefit, I called out Johnnie Lee Higgins, and there he goes for a TD, and I knew that the Texans might start the game slow after making the trip out to Oakland. All those things went exactly as expected. The big thing I missed was Steve Slaton – where did he go!? Against an Oakland team that is ranked 31st against the run, Slaton managed 66 yards on 18 carries – under 4 yards per carry. Why? Who knows. The only explanation I can think of is that Houston packed it in for the season – but they had not done so prior to this game. Perhaps Stevie got tired – he has had close to 300 touches and gained over 1500 yards from scrimmage, and in the last four games has had his only four 21+ carry efforts—all this in a season in which he was expected to make a splash as a rookie, not be the lead back. If he was going to have a let-down game, he should have picked a more meaningful opponent than the Raiders. .

A quick word on the Eagles and the Jets. For the Eagles, I saw it coming, but not against the ailing Redskins. 3 Points!? This is the second time that Philly has just totally underperformed against a crappy team. I do not think that many people went with the Eagles, just because I cautioned against taking an NFC East team playing a division rival away from home, so that’s a small consolation.

The Jets are worthless. They show flashes of brilliance, and then flashes of mental retardation. What is Brett Favre thinking when he throws that pass off his back foot across the entire field into double coverage? Simply put, he should know better. Thomas Jones was once again effective, but his lack of carries (and lack of trips to the end zone) hurt. His lackluster performance cost me my 2nd fantasy championship this year (that and T.J. Houshmandzadeh – what team throws the ball 9 times in a game and wins?).

For the record, anyone that disagrees that football is won by offensive and defensive linemen can give me their best case for another position. And then I will tell you that you are sadly and grossly mistaken. Now, if you are trying to argue against that premise, look to the Titans – Steelers game this Sunday for some material.

Sorry, sometimes I get on tangents. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’m letting go and moving forward.

This week is absolutely littered with good picks. So instead of a trap game, I have included 5 solid options this week – partially because I have not yet fully decided which 3 are the best games (except for Atlanta – that’s the no brainer #1), and partially because this is the week that many of you may want extra options because you may want to make a special effort to pick different teams than other leaders in your pools. If you still want your trap game picks, or my reservations about any of the games, feel free to email me, as always.

Bonus Pick: Pittsburgh over Cleveland
The only reason this is not up in the top set of picks is because the Steelers have very little to play for. They have the second seed locked up, but cannot take the top seed after losing to the Titans last week. My guess would be that the Pittsburgh starters will be out at least during the second half, perhaps more. Now, it is possible they will play most of the game, because the Steelers have locked up a bye, and 2 weeks of sitting can make any team rusty.

As far as analysis is concerned, this game could not be simpler. The Steelers are the crème de la crème of the AFC (yes, I still think they are better than Tennessee), and the Ken Dorsey led Browns are pathetic. Cincinnati absolutely embarrassed them in the battle of Ohio last weekend. Stay tuned for updates this week from Mike Tomli—and news of how long he is going to play his starters. For the record, this is still a fairly good pick if the entire first team sits the whole game. It’s just that there are other fantastic options available this week.

Bonus Pick #2: Green Bay over Detroit
I have been high on Green Bay for a couple of weeks, but they have had bad matchups – and somehow always find a way to lose close games. Aaron Rodgers may be an excellent quarterback, but those Packers still miss Brett Favre because Favre wins games. Rodgers may develop that Favrian, Roethlisbergian, Bradian quality, but he doesn’t have it yet.

Despite some bad losses, the Packers are a good pick this week at home against Detroit, for reasons that will mostly go unstated, because, frankly they do not need to be stated. Detroit put up a measly 7 points on New Orleans. They should eclipse that number against Green Bay, but not by a significant amount. The only aspect of this game I caution you about is the fact that Green Bay also has nothing to play for, except the pride of making their division rival live on in infamy as the worst team ever to play the game. Think that will be enough? I do.

Pick 3: Tampa Bay over Oakland

Tampa Bay against Oakland – The Cadillac is back. Antonio Bryant, against every expectation of mine, has realized his immense potential, and like Steve Smith for the Panthers, is the Bucs’ only real receiving weapon and continues to absolutely torch defenses, including strong defenses. San Diego lit up Tampa for a litany of TDs, including 4 through the air, but Philip Rivers did it on <300 yards passing, and Tampa effectively contained the San Diego rushing attack. Rivers’ big day was an aberration, and Oakland’s offense is certainly much less dangerous than that of the Chargers. Oakland’s 27 points on Houston was a darn (man there are times I wish it was appropriate to use more profane language!) aberration. Tampa should be in cruise control by the 3rd quarter. The win may not be by a huge margin, but it should be comfortable.

Pick 2: Baltimore over Jacksonville
(TENNESSEE, dallas, CHICAGO, new york giants, TAMPA BAY, san francisco, jacksonville, CAROLINA, philadelphia, WASHINGTON, new york jets, NEW ENGLAND, INDIANAPOLIS, houston)

This game has all the makings of a blowout. The Ravens need a win to secure a playoff berth, and they host Jacksonville, a team that struggles mightily against strong defenses. This to me seems like the kind of game in which Maurice Jones-Drew’s stat line looks something like 11 carries for 19 yards, and David Garrard has to throw the ball 35 times. This is not a recipe for a Jaguars win, especially without leading WR Matt Jones. It is a recipe for 2+ interceptions, and < 20 points for the Jags.

On the other side of the field, the Ravens should be able to put up some points. The Jags were stout against the run last week , but that was at home against Indianapolis. This week they travel to M&T Bank to face the Ravens, who have a much stronger rushing attack. Even if Baltimore cannot successfully run the ball, Joe Flacco has been quietly having a strong rookie season through the air, and he is managing to put up points against waek pass defenses—the kind of defenses that allow Peyton Manning to complete his first 17 passes and finish 29/34 with 364 yards and 3TDs. Those are astronomical numbers even for Manning in his heyday.

The Ravens also have a penchant for running up the score – even when you never expect them to be able to put up bunches of points. Often when the Ravens score I think “well, that was a fluke” – and then they do it over and over and over. Just look at last week’s game – 33 points against a Dallas defense that has been playing very good football lately. This one is going to get ugly, and get ugly fast.

Pick 1: Atlanta over Saint Louis

Atlanta against Saint Louis – I am interested. They’re at home? Sounds good. A win allows them to travel to Arizona for the first round of the playoffs, instead of playing Minnesota/Chicago? With a Carolina (@ New Orleans) loss they become the #2 Seed in the NFC? Sounds like a LMS pick.

Atlanta is underrated at 10-5. If you have not noticed, the NFC South has become the toughest conference in football (the AFC East could put up a fight, as perhaps could the NFC East). I expected them to go in and take care of business in Minnesota. Just take a look at the 5 losses - @PHI, @CAR, @TB, @NO, and at home against DEN, a lone bad loss. I should note that they went on to beat each of those division rivals at home. You think they want the #2 seed? As a Giants fan, I am more worried about this team than any other in the NFC (perhaps save the Cowboys, who always have the Giants’ number). I think Atlanta is better than Carolina. If not better, they are certainly close.

This week the Falcons host the second worst team in football, the Rams. I cannot think of a better situation for a LMS pick. It is a no-brainer to pick a team at home that has a lot to gain from a win. Pick Atlanta with confidence this week.

You may be wondering where New England is on this list, needing to beat Buffalo to have a shot at the playoffs. Well, they would be #6. Last week I recommended that readers stay away from the Pats – I neglected to consider that it was A) snowing and B) against a team with multiple players who had never seen snow. Sorry for missing that one guys. New England is a quality option this week, if for some reason none of the 5 above appeal to you.

Well, that’s all she wrote . . . umm, he wrote. It was an absolute blast writing this column and corresponding with all of you every week. It look’s like I will be back next year for another go, so I look forward to making even better picks for you next season. Thanks for sticking with me in my first season ever prognosticating. It can only get better from here.

For the record, I’m going into this last week having correctly picked 32 out 42 games this season, for a 76% win rate. Not bad, but that can certainly improve. As far as trap games are concerned, I correctly picked 5 upsets, with another 4 near misses (losses by 4 points or less) out of a total of 14 games. Not bad, but there is also room for improvement here. Check in next year to see how I do.

As a final word, thank all of you so much for reading all season long, and for engaging me in lots of fun conversations about football. Good luck this final week, and as always, if there are any questions or comments, I love to hear them. Email me, and I promise you will get a prompt and thorough response. The more information you provide me, the more I can give you! See you next year!

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