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Week 6: Themes for Naming Teams?

Last Week’s Question: Are Commissioners an Endangered Species?

In last week’s column, I shared Larry’s concerns about the impact of automated league-hosting services on commissioners. Larry foresees a time when he will be commissioner “in title only,” though he does not appear to miss the days of calculating scores for his league on a legal pad.

If any readers really believe that the fantasy football commissioner will go the way of the dodo bird, none of them bothered to send me a note to that effect. The responses I received this week were generally from commissioners who were amused (not threatened) by Larry’s concern.

I want to focus on the responses from Donovan and Dave—partly because Donovan’s response is representative of what commissioners generally seem to think, but mainly because these two readers are both involved in leagues that started in the 1980s. Kudos to both of them on their longevity!

Donovan covers the topic clearly and succinctly:

League hosting services are not eliminating the commissioner; they just make his job much much easier, since he doesn’t have to collect lineups or calculate scores like the good ol’ days.

Nowadays the commissioner only has three critical roles:

#1) Help get everyone organized for the draft, which includes helping replace owners.

#2) Handle the money, or appoint someone to do so

#3) Take control when really weird things happen during the season that the league rules don’t cover. Our league has operated for 20 years, so our written rules are pretty thorough, but strange things still come up that haven’t happened before. The commissioner helps deal with these situations, usually by organizing a quick rules vote [so that things go more smoothly the next time]. One example of this that immediately comes to mind is the Donovan McNabb pass play a few years ago that wasn’t ruled a TD pass by the NFL until Wednesday or Thursday. Due to that play, we amended our rules to handle late statistical changes by the NFL. The website alone simply was not equipped to make that change. A good commissioner handles these dilemmas without ruffling too many feathers.

Dave’s response stood out because he reminded me of the dying art of writing a league newsletter:

We have had a league for 20 years now. 75% of the owners are originals! The commissioner’s duties have certainly become less over the years with on-line scoring, but we are nowhere near obsolete. I still have to arrange the draft party, handle waiver requests (our waivers are silent bids each week using $100 cash) and trade requests. However, to the guys in my league, the most important job I have is to write the newsletter every week. No, I don't have to mail it out like I used to since everybody's got e-mail, but as the owners in my league will attest, there is nothing like getting the newsletter each week to see what owner made a bonehead move that cost them a win (such as starting Devery Henderson over Sanatana Moss two weeks ago when Moss went off for 175 and a score). [Owners also like to get their props] for a great move or waiver pickup (like Mike Sims-Walker when he scored 2 TDs last beat me!). The bottom line is in my league my "job" will never be obsolete. A league without a newsletter has no personality. And as any other commish that writes a newsletter each week will confirm, it's not easy to do it when your own team bites the big one for that given week!

Dave’s claim that “a league without a newsletter has no personality” is likely to strike some readers as an overgeneralization, but I know what he is getting at. In one of my leagues, the commissioner who was in place when I joined did not send out a weekly newsletter to the league, but on Thursdays he always emailed the entire league a lengthy, smack-laden explanation of why he was going to beat the next team he was scheduled to face. When he bowed out of the league and his replacement was appointed, I didn’t even pause to consider how much I would miss those hyperbolic rants.

I didn’t realize I missed them until I read Dave’s note.

This Week’s Question: Themes for Naming Teams (and Other Ways of Adding Personality to FF Leagues)

Not everyone has the time for leagues with personality, but in my experience they are decidedly more fun than the leagues that are simple number-crunching affairs with a payout at the end for the winner(s). One reason that Dave’s point about the newsletter hit home with me is that for two years I looked forward to reading the newsletter that one of my co-workers received in his league. He didn’t write the thing. I never met the person responsible for putting it together, and I had no desire to join the league because I thought the scoring system was absurd. So why would I set aside a few minutes each week to read the newsletter of a fantasy league that I had no desire to be a part of?

Because it was fun.

If you are a serious student of the NFL and your idea of fun is scoring more points than your opponents and taking their money at the end of the season, that is perfectly fine. I know lots of people who fall into this category, and I enjoy competing against them in various leagues.But if your idea of fun is being in a fantasy league that sets itself apart from other leagues in some way, this is the week I want to hear from you. I am therefore posing a more general question than Tim, who wrote me this week to ask:

Here's a question for you: do you know of any leagues that use themes when it comes to naming teams and posting news items? My league has used a different theme every year since we began in 2002, just to give the league a little flavor. All owners are required to consider the theme when naming their team for the year. Those who don't are not usually invited back.

I don't want to make this too lengthy, but here are the themes (and league names) we've used:

2002 - The Simpsons (Springfield Pee-Wee League)
2003 - Our Own World League (Global League of Football)
2004 - Star Wars (Galaxy Far Far Away League)
2005 - Comic Book Super-Heroes (Justice League of Football)
2006 - Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Pigskin)
2007 - James Bond (Her Majesty’s Secret Football League)
2008 - Axis & Allies/World War II (Day of Infamy League)
2009 - AFL/Defunct League Tribute (All-American Football Conference)

Answering Tim’s question, I have not ever heard of a league that requires (or encourages) members to name their teams with a theme in mind. It sounds like fun, and I will be happy to pass along the responses of any readers in leagues that engage in such a practice. However, what I liked most about Tim’s question was the phrase “just to give the league a little flavor.” Whether your league has a theme each year or not, I am opening the floor for a discussion of what people do to spice up their leagues.

Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Quick Recap From Last Week

Atlanta beat San Francisco by 35 points. WOW. I picked the upset, but even I didn’t dream of a 35-point win.

On a somewhat unrelated note, this is also the second time in three weeks (DET over WAS) a reader has taken a game as an LMS pick that I wrote up as an upset and been burned. Ladies and gentlemen, you may not agree with everything I say, and I’m not always right, but I have correctly picked 3 out of 5 upsets so far this season (in addition to a near miss in Week 1 when I took Oakland over San Diego). At least take a moment to reconsider your selection if I recommend it as an upset game; it probably is not as safe as you think it is.

Put another way, there is no way anyone is successful in LMS competitions if the team they pick to win has a 60% chance of losing each week. Statistically speaking, if you pick against my upset every week (and therefore have a 40% of picking a winner), you will finish the season undefeated 1 out of every 5,820,766 seasons. That may be a gross simplification based on a five-week sample, but the point is made: pick against my upsets at serious risk to your LMS health.

Reader’s Week 5 Picks

Great picks again readers! The leader board after 5 weeks:

 Top Prognosticators - Week 5
Player Last Week's Picks Overall Win % Point Differential
Mark Den Adel PIT, PHI, NYG 15/15 100 287
Scott Goldschmidt DAL, MIN, PHI 15/15 100 242
Martha Lorenz N/A 3/3 100 75
Keith Bielory MIN, PHI, NYG 14/15 93 259
Marc Mondry MIN, PHI, NYG 14/15 93 247
Dave Zucker DAL, PHI, NYJ 14/15 93 210
Supernewper DAL, PHI, PIT 14/15 93 183
Justin Leone N/A 11/12 92 160
Paul Moore NYG, PHI, MIN 13/15 87 253
Matthew Schiff IND, CHI, NYG 13/15 87 169

Remember to email your picks to me by noon on Sunday! Lots of people forgot last week because I did not send a reminder. Get those picks in to keep your name in the spotlight. If you miss 3 weeks in a row, you will be dropped off the board!

Trap Game: Denver over San Diego

Let me first say that I was tempted to pick Arizona, Baltimore, Kansas City, and even Detroit here (in that order). Even I don’t have the cojones to pick Detroit as a 13.5-point dog going into Lambeau, but don’t think I didn’t consider it. In the final analysis, I think Denver is the right choice for the trap game for several reasons.

Let’s start from the beginning. Denver is 5-0. Since the Broncos’ fortuitous win over the Bengals in week one, they pounded on Cleveland and Oakland, then beat Dallas 17-10, and most recently bested New England.

Folks, these guys are for real. Josh McDaniels, whom we all thought was an imbecile forletting Jay Cutler get away, has put together a very strong team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise us given that he was Bill Belichick’s understudy while in New England. Many analysts assumed that he was simply the offensive mind behind the Pats, but clearly he picked up some defensive strategy while there as well. The Broncos are the top-ranked defense in the NFL, allowing a meager 8.6 points per game. Perhaps even more impressively, they only allow opposing offenses an average of 252 yards per game—good for second in the league behind my Giants (210 YPG allowed).

That’s a surprisingly strong defense from a team that has been plagued by a porous rush defense and an inconsistent secondary for the past several years.

On the other side of the ball, Denver has put together a fairly strong rushing attack behind the well-rounded youngster Knowshon Moreno and veteran Correll Buckhalter. Kyle Orton has performed well and is (slowly) developing rapports with WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Thanks to the Denver defense (which must remind him of his days with Chicago), Orton hasn’t had to play from behind much all season.

In fact, my only fear about this game concerns San Diego getting off to an early lead. If Philip Rivers can strike early with a big pass to Vincent Jackson or Antonio Gates, enabling San Diego’s defense to bring the heat, the Chargers could embarrass Denver. Most assuredly this is what the odds-makers were thinking when they made the 2-2 Chargers a 4.5 point favorite over the Broncos.

If Denver can keep San Diego’s passing game in check, the Broncos have a pretty good shot at pulling off an “upset” on Monday night.

3. Jacksonville over Saint Louis

“You’re picking the team that just lost by 41 points last week to the Seahawks!? Are you kidding me!?” I expect that was your first thought upon reading my third pick for the week. Most likely it was followed by the word “You” and a long train of expletives. Much thanks.

But seriously, it’s a good pick.

No, really, it is.

First and foremost, the Jags host the worst team in the NFL, bar none. Worse than Oakland, Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, and the hard-luck 0-5 Titans. The Saint Louis Rams are . . . honestly, I can’t think of a word that conveys just how bad they are – and I’m a law student, I’ve got words for everything.

I wrote to a couple of readers two weeks ago about how I had faith in Steve Spagnuolo and how convinced I was that he would at some point in the season turn that defense around and shock someone. I thought it was going to be the Niners in Week 4. Boy was I wrong.

I have since revised my prognosis for the Rams . . . or at least postponed it. They are 100% not ready to beat anyone, on either side of the ball. Perhaps later in the season they will put together a competent offensive attack or defensive performance, but certainly not now.

(On a totally random note – where is the parity that characterized the NFL for so long? Look how many teams started 0-5: Titans, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Rams. Maybe that’s why our LMS pick percentages are so high at this point?)

In contrast to the Rams, who are just inept, the Jaguars are merely inconsistent, looking terrible one week and serviceable the next. I’m willing to bet that the Jaguars come back this week and take out their frustration on the Rams. Jacksonville had what had to be a feel-good win over division rival Tennessee two weeks ago and clearly looked past Seattle and felt entitled to a win.

Last week had to be a wake-up call for David Garrard, Maurice Jones-Drew, and the Jaguar defense. Known around the league just a few years ago for its stinginess, the Jacksonville defense has a lot to prove this year. Look for that unit in particular to restore at least a little faith in itself against Saint Louis this week.

2. Pittsburgh over Cleveland

The Steelers, one of the safest LMS picks year in and year out (strong defense and running game), are hosting a team that hasn’t beaten them since October 5, 2003. And remember, that team gets two shots at Pittsburgh each year!

Sounds like a safe pick to me.

Under normal circumstances, taking Pittsburgh to beat Cleveland at home is savvy, but this year it’s even more so.

The Browns are almost as bad as the Rams. Almost. Brady Quinn proved to be ineffective, leading to another QB change and Derek Anderson being re-installed as the starter, for now.

Good move Mangini (Eric Mangini, Head Coach, Cleveland Browns). With a grand completion percentage under 12% (2-17) for a total of 23 yards and an interception, Anderson’s performance last week was downright ghastly. How Cleveland beat Buffalo last week, 6-3, is beyond my comprehension.

Buffalo had another crucial turnover at the end of the game to set up a Browns FG for the win, more than slightly reminiscent of Buffalo’s loss to New England on Monday night in Week 1. That said, the fact that the game was tied 3-3 with 3 minutes to go, in my opinion, explains more about the loss than the fumble did. The coaches may try to deflect blame onto the players, but the fact is that the game shouldn’t have even been close enough that three major errors, never mind one, could lose the game for the Bills.

For our purposes, it is worth noting that beating the Bills last week resulted in the Browns’ first win of the season . . . and potentially their last.

1. Philadelphia over Oakland

This choice requires zero explanation. Literally, you could copy and paste my analysis of the Giants-Raiders game last week, changing “Philadelphia” for “New York” and “Eagles” for “Giants”—and you have your analysis.

To reiterate, Oakland is incapable of moving the ball, and the defense is not what we (I) thought it was going to be following the week one game against San Diego. Richard Seymour is talented and was a good addition, but he’s not a miracle worker.

To win this game, the Raiders will need a miracle worker. Does anyone in the “Black Hole” of Raider Nation have a direct line to the big guy upstairs? I doubt it – in fact, I can’t think of many groups less likely to have one . . .

In the end, Philadelphia’s offense should overwhelm Oakland. Star corner Nnamdi Asomugha might shut down DeSean Jackson, but who is covering upstart Jeremy Maclin (2 TDs last week) and massive TE Brent Celek? Let’s not forget RBs Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy, who although contained last week, are both liable to pop a big run at any time.

And wait – what about Mike Vick? Who’s got him?

Okay, that last one wasn’t so serious. 1/3 for 1 yard passing and 10 yards on 4 carries doesn’t strike fear into anyone. On the other hand, Philadelphia’s massacre of Oakland might.

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