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Week 12: How Do You Handle the Scoring of Plays that Blur the Line between Special Teams and Offense?

Last Week’s Question: Does Your League Make the “Consolation Playoffs” Meaningful to the League as a Whole?

In last week’s column, I shared the idea of a reader named R. Jones, whose league awards the top pick in the draft to the winner of the “losers’ bracket.” As I explained last week, this strikes me as an excellent way to fend off apathy in leagues with owners who don’t bother to pay attention to their lineups after they have been eliminated from playoff contention.

There was one point about R. Jones’ approach that I did not entirely understand when I shared his message, so he wrote me back earlier this week to clarify:

After I sent this it occurred to me I didn't make it clear that we use this approach for all [participants] in the losers’ tourney. So if you get first you get pick first. Second place [gets the second pick, etc.]

This year is one of those years. I'm the guy with the most points scored against me. Despite having Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Reggie Wayne and a well maintained and managed rest of my roster, I'm 4-5-1 and likely to miss the playoffs. But I'm still into it.

Even if I don't win the losers’ bracket, maybe I can get 2nd rather than 3rd. Or 3rd rather than 4th.

Next year at draft time I'll be glad I kept trying.

Although he made the point about seeding for the losers’ bracket clear enough in his original message, it may have been lost on readers who were skimming. I will therefore reiterate that by making seeding important in the losers’ bracket, the Jones approach provides incentives to owners to remain active and competitive in Weeks 9-13 (even when it is clear to them that they will not be eligible to compete for a championship). The owner who starts 1-7 and who might otherwise be tempted to perform poorly for the rest of the season (if only to get the first pick in next year’s draft) will obviously have no such temptation in leagues that use this approach.

A reader named Paul responded to last week’s column by explaining that his league uses an approach that is similar to the Jones model with one important variation:

Our league goes even one step further. The owner that wins the consolation tourney gets to select where he would like to pick in next year’s snake draft. 2nd place finisher selects 2nd, etc. The #1 pick overall is not always the best choice. We are also a keeper league. We cannot keep anyone selected in the 1st 3 rounds, and any player you keep will cost you a draft pick 2 rounds ahead of where he was chosen that year. Everyone is in it until the last week, and it makes for some interesting choices the following year.

Paul makes an excellent point. This year, Adrian Peterson was the clear-cut #1 pick in the opinion of most analysts and FF enthusiasts, but in past years we have seen two or three legitimate candidates for the top pick in the draft. If you are having a hard time deciding between the top 3 running backs in the league, then you might opt for the third overall pick. That way, you can take whichever RB is left to you after the first two selections are made and move up two spots in the second round (in a traditional serpentine draft).

Donovan’s league appears to handle seeding in the losers’ tourney differently than the Jones model (which makes sense for commissioners who do not mind using ridicule as a roundabout motivator):

The six non-playoff teams in our league compete in a toilet bowl tournament, where seedings are in reverse order (so the two worst teams have a bye) and the losers advance each week. The eventual toilet bowl “champion” pays an extra $20 into our party fund and takes home a travelling toilet seat. This is not something you want to win. I’m not sure how much it helps increase participation late in the regular season, but they definitely participate during this tournament.

A reader named Tom reports that instead of using the losers’ bracket to determine the draft order for the following season, his league relies on the results of an all-inclusive tournament:

Don't know if this is unconventional or not. In our league everybody makes the playoffs, but everybody continues to play also. The reverse of the tournament results determine the draft order for the first two rounds next year. By the way, we are a keeper league—2 players/team but no player can be "carried over" more than twice by the same team.

Perhaps there is nothing more meaningful than food, so Jon’s response concerning a “meaningful” losers’ tourney is worth sharing:

We do a “toilet bowl” pitting the two teams with the worst records against each other in week 16. The loser of the toilet bowl has to buy the pizza at next year’s draft party. The downside of this is that we’ve had a few years where the toilet bowl loser quit, so we didn’t get pizza out of him.

Based on the feedback I have received from readers over the years, I don’t think it is unusual for the person who finishes last in a league to provide beer or food at the next year’s draft, but I appreciate Jon’s response all the same.

This Week’s Question: How Do You Handle the Scoring of Plays that Blur the Line between Special Teams and Offense?

This week’s question comes from a reader named Tony:

In our league we do not award points to individual players for yards and or touchdowns scored on special teams. It seems this year we have had more fake punts/fake field goals than usual—with a few of them resulting in scores. For example, in Week 8 Josh Brown (the kicker for the Rams) threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal. Should this have counted for Josh Brown as an offensive player, or for the Rams’ defense/special teams?

As is my customary practice, I will refrain from volunteering my own opinion on this matter until readers of the column have had a chance to chime in. Since I suspect that most of the people who write in will agree with each other (and with me) about what the correct ruling should be on this point, I invite readers (whether they have an answer for Tony or not) to share other examples of puzzlers that seem to straddle categorization as “offensive,” “defensive,” or “special teams” plays.

Wk 12 - Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Yuck, tough week. Getting the upset pick correct for the Monday night game was little consolation after blowing two picks and escaping in the third by the slimmest of margins.

I was truly floored when I checked the scoreboards on Sunday evening to see that both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati had lost, to Kansas City and Oakland, respectively. My only thought was: “What on God’s green earth happened in those two games.”

An analysis of the box scores reveals most of the story in the Pittsburgh game. The Steelers dominated most of the game against Kansas City, and as advertised, the defense played very well. Ben Roethlisberger, despite putting up some strong numbers, threw two costly interceptions that were returned for a combined 96 yards, giving the Chiefs great field position. Worse than that, on the opening kickoff of the game Pittsburgh’s special teams personnel missed a bunch of tackles and allowed Jamaal Charles to take the kickoff 99 yards to the house.

I really dislike blowing LMS picks, but it is somewhat reassuring to know that the reasons I liked a game enough to pick it remain sound. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you expect—even if your expectations make sense.

Trap Game: Saint Louis over Seattle

This game would appear at first glance to be an odd upset pick, given that Seattle absolutely crushed Saint Louis earlier in the year. However, there are several reasons that I like this game enough to select it as an upset pick.

First, I like to pick upsets, when I can, that actually affect people’s picks for the week. When I pick Baltimore to upset Pittsburgh, sure it’s a nice upset pick, but did anyone really take Pittsburgh that week? Surely they will play 7 opponents weaker than the Ravens.

That was the beauty of the Detroit-over-Washington upset pick, and this game has that same kind of allure for me. As we near the final stretch of the season, it becomes difficult to find good teams still available to be selected, particularly if you are keeping track of 3 separate entries, rather than just selecting 3 games per week. People might actually pick Seattle this week.

More importantly, I think the Rams are a different team than they were in the beginning of the season. Roughly two months ago I wrote that the Rams would eventually put things together and improve under the leadership of Steve Spagnuolo. There are indications that they have done just that. In the last 3 games, they beat Detroit, lost to New Orleans by 5 (28-23), and lost to Arizona by 8, (21-13). In all 3 of those games, Steven Jackson was the lead rusher, and Marc Bulger was the lead passer.

I don’t think that the Rams are drastically improved on offense; rather, I think they are deceptively serviceable on defense. At home, against a struggling division rival, the Rams very well could walk out of this game with their second win.

3. Atlanta over Tampa Bay

Atlanta is coming off a difficult OT loss to the Giants, a game they would probably have won had Michael Turner been healthy enough to play. He isn’t likely to play this week either, but Jason Snelling did a fine job filling in against a tough Giants front seven; expect him to have little trouble topping 100 yards against a dismal Tampa Bay rush defense.

The passing game should continue to succeed as advertised( on the shoulders of the Tony Gonzalez-Matt Ryan duo). Gonzalez is extremely difficult to match up with, and if you attempt to double team him, the Falcons have just enough talent at wideout (Roddy White) to burn you if you routinely throw single coverage out there.

There are still some question marks about Atlanta’s defense, but this week’s opponent is in no position to exploit that weakness. At home, in a must-win game against an awful division opponent, I’ll take the Falcons with confidence this week.

2. Cincinnati over Cleveland

I had this pick penciled in over a month ago, and I am not going to second guess myself. Admittedly, I do not understand the loss to Oakland last week. I have been saying for weeks that JaMarcus Russell is terrible and someone else needs to start if Oakland is going to win, but if you look at the numbers, Bruce Gradkowski was no all-star either.

At least this week Cincinnati is at home against a much more familiar opponent. They also caught a lucky break with Pittsburgh’s loss to Kansas City, but they surely need to recognize that they cannot afford to blow games against opponents of Oakland’s caliber. I think last week was a wake-up call, and the Bengals will come back and pound on the 1-9 Browns at home.

1. Philadelphia over Washington

Let me first say that I cannot believe that I am placing the fate of my #1 entry in the unsure hands of Donovan McNabb, the ailing Brian Westbrook, and the extremely underwhelming Philadelphia defense. It’s just that time of year, and the Redskins are just that kind of opponent – the kind of opponent that couldn’t beat an atrocious Dallas team last week.

If this game were not at Lincoln Financial, I probably would not have selected it. That place is one of the toughest stadiums in the country to play at, especially for a division rival like the Skins. It is folly to expect Washington to head into Philadelphia and play decent football.

Philadelphia is in the middle of a heated division race and simply cannot lose this game if they hope to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. When it comes down to it, the inconsistency of the Eagles will likely be what does them in this season, but not just yet. They can afford just a little bit of it on Sunday, and they should still win. That all said, if this one comes out the other way, don’t color me shocked.

Sorry for the bummer of a top selection this week. It’s tough for a diehard Giants fan to get excited about the Eagles. Have a wonderful holiday this week, eat plenty of Turkey, and enjoy the full day of football!

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