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Week 1

In my final summer column, I asked readers to weigh in on the question of whether the responsibilities of most commissioners put them at a competitive disadvantage. The question actually came from an FFToday reader named Robert, and he was not alone in his frustration, as I heard from quite a few frustrated commissioners, including Tom:

We ARE at a disadvantage when drafting. I am trying to keep track of 13 other draft picks, dealing with possible trades, keeping an eye on time limits, keeping track of roster limits, preventing Beto from eating everyone else’s chicken wings, and then making my pick if I can think straight.

I do not have a system that makes me able to feel comfortable in my picks. When I leave the draft, I have no clue who I just drafted, and it was never like that in the past when I wasn't the commissioner.

I would love some hints.....

Bud wrote in to point out that frustration with the draft is only the tip of the iceberg for some commissioners, since the management of a league for an entire season is a workload unto itself.

I was the commissioner of two leagues up until this year. I shut down one of them in order to focus more on the other one. I can tell you that "managing" a league of 16 owners (including myself) is a job in and of itself. The draft was conducted on-line, however it was not without its problems. Owners were instant-messaging me with all sorts of things from potential trades they were working on to questions about the draft, to issues with their internet browser!

I had to get reminders from people to tell me that it was my turn to pick (for my own team), and when that came up, I had to pick quickly, and I felt rushed.

Oh - and I think that all commissioners should get free entry into their leagues that they participate in. Please print that for ALL to see, I'm sure most commissioner/owners would agree that the commish job is just that, a job. Throwing us a bone like that would go a long way!

David makes a point that echoes Bud’s sentiments without losing sight of the question about whether commissioners are at a competitive disadvantage:

Being commish is a job, but I don't think you can say that it necessarily puts you at a competitive disadvantage. You just need more preparation because you can't be reading a magazine on draft night. And since the commish does have all these other duties... he's more aware of the upcoming draft and probably is in the mindset to do research earlier than the other guys.

This column will focus on how commissioners can be competitive with the other participants in their leagues, but since Bud pointedly raised the question of commissioner compensation, I want to get that matter out of the way. I heard from at least half a dozen readers who pointed out that since commissioners do get more than their fair share of frustrations from running fantasy leagues, their entry fees are covered by league. For what it’s worth, the league that I consider my “main” fantasy league has had such a policy in place for more than a decade. I have never heard any complaints about the policy. If anything, I think most of us suspect the commissioner is undercompensated.

I received far too many responses to Rob’s question for me to include the remarks of all those who wrote in, so I have done my best to break the responses into general categories and to include only the most comprehensive or representative answers that I received.

Although a few readers (mostly former commissioners by the sound of their notes) wrote in to say that being commissioner was nothing but a liability, that was a minority perspective. Most of the responses I received suggested that the disadvantages of being a commissioner are either completely offset or more than offset by the advantages. As Mike put it:

I don't complain about the extra work because I see running the draft as more of an advantage than a disadvantage. I have NEVER called a player’s name only to hear, "He was picked two rounds ago!" I always know what everyone has drafted, and what they are likely to be targeting in the next round or two. I never reach for a QB or TE when those around me have already filled the position and I can wait a round or two. I can see runs coming before they start by looking at the available list compared to the league rosters. This more than offsets the frantic filling out of boards and draft lists.

John expands quite persuasively on this point:

As one who has commissioned a league with friends for a number of years, and more recently a work league as well, I find that the duties of the position can have pros and cons. On a very basic level, being a commissioner can give you a better understanding of the league and its members. What I mean by this is that commissioners are probably the most knowledgeable league members with regard to scoring, roster sizes, trade deadlines, free-agent settings and so forth. Granted, any fantasy player worth his salt "should" know these very basic but important pieces of information, but commissioners are almost forced to become walking encyclopedias of any rules and regulations.

If knowledge is indeed power, this is taken a step further by the ability of commissioners to easily look back and dissect the drafting patterns and tendencies of their competition. For example, with the draft results from the last 4 years at my fingertips, I can readily determine who tends to draft which players. I also notice general strategies by certain players, i.e. who targets RB/RB in the first two rounds, who reaches for a TE early, and for the less savvy members, who likes to get their starting lineup (DEF and K included) set within the first 10 rounds of the draft. In many ways, the draft is the most important time for any league, so if you have a solid grasp of how the draft might unfold based on the habits of league members, that can be a competitive advantage.

However, these advantages extend only so far. Commissioners often seem to be the most gung-ho fantasy players, but against other fanatical researchers and draft preparers, they can certainly find themselves at a disadvantage. The free time we have to spend on scouting players can vary from person to person, but it is certainly a fact that if two people have identical free time but one has to separately email owners, bang down doors for fees, organize draft dates and locations, and take care of any other peripheral issues, then those responsibilities can work against you.

The many readers who made arguments similar to John’s know who they are, but since I think he makes the point adequately, I want to move on to the two primary tools stressed by commissioners who feel that they have overcome the disadvantages that are inherent in attempting to manage a draft while participating in it: 1) delegation (which I will touch on below); and 2) preparation (a topic which will be discussed in detail in my Week 2 column). Lee has adopted a delegation policy that would likely be useful in most leagues:

I appoint a league member to help me run the draft. The person I use is the one 6 spots away from my own draft position in a 12-man league. I seat this person to the left of the board; I am at the right. While I am conducting the draft, he will mark off the taken picks from a draft sheet for me so I know who is gone. I have another draft sheet with my info on it I don't want him to see. When it gets to the 6th pick we switch, He runs the draft and I do the same for him. That keeps me up on the draft and gives me plenty of time to prepare my own selections. Works great for me.

Brad and Cliff take things further than Lee, as their leagues actually divide the responsibilities of the commissioner position between various league members. I quite like Brad’s idea of a “draft coordinator”:

I am the commissioner in a keeper league, and I actually assigned a "draft coordinator" position in my league! It is his responsibility to choose the date, and put it all together. I will do some of the prework for creating the charts and pulling rankings, etc. This splitting up of tasks allows me to focus on the draft more.

Cliff’s league doesn’t stop delegating after the draft:

As far as our commissioner goes, we have two. There is one guy who is the 'Comish' who sends out all the emails, coordinates the draft, oversees the summer rules meeting/draft number selection meeting, deals with any disputes, oversees the league, collects the money and handles payouts, etc. Then we also have an assistant commissioner, or “Commish Jr.” as we call him. Commish Jr. runs the website, manually adds the bonus points we award (for NFL's leading QB, RB, and WR that week), oversees weekly waivers/trades, and generally deals with any technical problems.

Most leagues move organically towards the kind of delegation that works for them, but if your league delegates duties in a particularly helpful or interesting way, I will do my best to share your practice with other readers in next week’s column.

However, since I received a number of detailed responses about how preparation is a commissioner’s best friend when it comes to running a successful draft, I want to focus in my Week 2 column on the preparative strategies that appear to be working for commissioners in all sorts of leagues. I already have more on the topic of preparation than I will be able to fit into a single column, but if any readers know of some particular form of preparation by their commissioners that enhanced their draft experience this year, please let me know about it.

Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

LMS is an acronym for “Last Man Standing,” and this column offers advice and information to help people in their LMS or Eliminator competitions. In these competitions, participants must pick one team each week to win. If your team wins, you’re in; if not, you’re out. The wrinkle is that you cannot pick any team more than once during the season.

In this column, I will highlight at least 3 games that make for good options each week. I will also usually single out a “trap game”—a game that most people think would be a good choice, but that I consider risky for whatever reason. Of course I don’t expect anyone will agree with me 100%, so please feel free to email me with your gripes and arguments. I can talk (or text) about football until I am blue in the face (or fingers).

Last year I had a couple of people write to me and tell me that they could do a better job picking the games than I could. One enterprising reader even said that his eleven-year-old sister could do a better job than I had done. Ouch.

This year, it’s time to put your pride where your mouth is. I invite any and all of you guys and gals to submit your own picks to me at least an hour before the first kickoff for the week. Shoot me your 3 picks for the week, and I will keep a running track of wins and losses (ties count as losses) over the season. I will post a short leaderboard at the end of the column identifying the readers with the highest win percentages. Who knows? Maybe someone will give me a run for my money.

Honestly, I’m sure plenty of you will, and I’m sure a couple will beat me. You think you’re one of them? Send me your picks each week and we’ll see.

Trap Game: Oakland over San Diego

Okay, I know an Oakland upset sounds crazy, but hear me out. The Chargers are undoubtedly the more talented team—and should win this game by 10+ points. That said, there are a couple of things that scare me about this contest.

First and foremost, it’s Week 1, the week during which anything can happen. This week San Diego has to travel out to Oakland Coliseum. Honestly, I cannot think of a more hostile place to play than Oakland, especially when Oakland still (theoretically) is in the race for the playoffs. Raider fans won’t be able to sustain the delusion for long, but they are a downright scary bunch of folks when they actually think their team has a shot of going somewhere.

Furthermore, Oakland isn’t as hopeless as everyone seems to think. They have plenty of offensive talent, and they are taking themselves seriously enough to have released Jeff Garcia. Apparently they have realized that JaMarcus Russell is the long-term answer, a step in the right direction. Plus, at the end of last season Oakland made some strides, particularly on offense. They have a very talented TE in Zach Miller and 3 talented (and healthy) running backs: Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas. It wouldn’t surprise me if they put up a fight against the Chargers, and if that wouldn’t surprise me, they don’t make for a great LMS pick.

3. Baltimore over Kansas City

In all honesty, I do not love this pick. I was extremely close to taking Atlanta for my third pick, but decided I could not trust the Falcon defense. Instead I am going with Baltimore, in a game that the Ravens should win handily at home against Kansas City. I don’t have full faith in the Baltimore defense anymore. Parting with Rex Ryan and losing a bunch of defensive talent (notably Bart Scott) to the Jets is going to hurt. It could hurt A LOT. That said, I am one of the ‘non-believers’ in Matt Cassel and the rest of the KC offense, especially since Cassel hasn’t gotten into a rhythm with Dwayne Bowe. The Raven D should be able to get lots of pressure and create turnovers.

On the other side of the ball, I would not describe the Ravens as an offensive juggernaut, but they should be able to get the job done against the flimsy Chiefs defense. The real key is that they are at home at M&T Bank Stadium. I really just can’t visualize the Chiefs coming in and having their way with the Ravens, though I certainly can see the game going the other way.

2. New Orleans over Detroit

It was pretty much a no-brainer to include this game on the list. Before I explain, please note that I think Detroit is improving by the day as a franchise and in 5 years or so could have a bright future (if they can draft some solid defensive players). The offensive talent is in place now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they put up 20+ points vs. the Saints in week 1.

Unfortunately for Calvin Johnson and the crew, 20 points just isn’t going to get it done. 30 points might not get it done. 40? Well, 40 would probably do it. Drew Brees is going to have a field day at home against the Lions’ secondary. Moreover, between Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, and Mike Bell, the New Orleans running game should top 150 yards. My over/under for the New Orleans offense is 33.5 points. Anyone taking the under? At best, New Orleans absolutely dominates this game; at worst, it’s a shootout, and Sean Payton’s got the bigger guns.

A word of caution: Games like this can be dangerous for LMS competitions. Generally, I trust defenses, not offenses, to show up with consistency. That’s why this game isn’t number 1 for the week.

1. New England over Buffalo

Full disclosure: I have a genuine visceral dislike for the New England Patriots. My girlfriend of 4 years is from Concord, MA. On this point, we do not get along. The 2007 Super Bowl was mighty satisfying.

I made that disclosure for two reasons—first, to give a shout out to my lady (since I promised her); and second, to provide some background for this recommendation.

I have a litany of reasons for recommending the Pats this week. They are at home against a divisional opponent that they have historically dominated. This divisional opponent has a bonehead for a head coach (Dick Jauron) and will be missing its ‘beastly’ running back (Marshawn Lynch). Tom Brady wants to come back and prove that he can still dominate as he did in 2007. Bill Belichick will certainly want to run up the score and make a statement that the Pats are back in business this year. Honestly, need I say more?

Okay, if I must, I’ll continue. I have no worries about Brady’s injuries. The shoulder will be fine, and the fact that the Patriots (a team historically excellent at personnel management) let Matt Cassel leave speaks volumes about Brady’s leg injury. The last time Buffalo beat New England was opening day of the 2003 season. To put that in perspective, that was when the dynamic duo of Drew Bledsoe and Eric Moulds still led the Bills. Lightning strikes what, once every six years? Bills fans sure hope so . . .

With that, I am finished. Remember to send in your picks for this week! They are due Thursday at 7:30 EST. I know it’s a quick deadline this week, but get them in. After all, I wouldn’t want anyone else to miss out on the crapshoot that is Week 1 forecasting!

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