Last Week's Question: Is There a Good LMS-Style
Contest for the Playoffs?
Last week's column
featured a question from Lance, who is looking to create something
close to a Last Man Standing pool for the NFL playoffs. Lance
pointed out one major problem for a post-season LMS pool when
he observed, "the playoffs are about the same teams winning
and advancing, so the whole idea of only being able to pick a
team once doesn't make any sense. Then again, if you can pick
the same team over and over, it will probably just be everybody
picking Green Bay week after week."
He neglected to mention the additional problem created by the
brevity of the NFL postseason. Most LMS pools do not last the
entire seventeen weeks of the regular NFL season before a winner
is declared, but they do tend to last much longer than the scant
four weeks between Wildcard Weekend and Super Bowl Sunday. If
you want to have an office pool that only gives participants four
chances to eliminate themselves before the winners are declared,
a better name for it might be "Last Crowd Standing."
I do not believe that Lance will be satisfied by any of the responses
I received concerning NFL playoff pools, but the best suggestion
for a tested model came from Marc:
What I've done for many a year is to set up a March Madness type
pool/bracket once the playoff teams are determined. The premise
is simple. An entry fee is determined, and players fill the bracket
out as to how they think the playoffs will go, all the way through
the Super Bowl. This does require a bit of knowledge on the players'
part as to which team goes where once they win a playoff game.
I'll usually provide a website to players for guidance on this.
Like a March Madness bracket, points are awarded for each correct
pick in an ascending amount: 1 point awarded for a correct pick
in the wildcard playoffs, 3 points for correct predictions in
the divisional playoff games, 6 points for correct conference
playoff picks, and 10 points for correct Super Bowl picks. Ties
are broken by the closest prediction to the total points scored
on Super Bowl Sunday.
Payout is simple. S/he with the most points at the end is the
victor. Winner take all.
Marc's pool sounds like fun to me, but it does not offer the
thrill of elimination by a single error that is a major component
of LMS contests. However, I may place too much emphasis on that
thrill, as demonstrated by this response from Michael:
This year I'm doing a LMS variation that guarantees I get to make
a pick every week, even if I lose one week. The rules for picking
teams and winning are the same as normal - we pick a team each
week, the pick wins if the team wins straight up (as opposed to
against the spread), and we may only use each team once during
the season. However, the winner is whoever finishes the season
with a better record, not whoever goes the longest without losing
a pick. So I'm still making a pick this week, even though in a
normal pool my season would have ended in week 5 thanks to the
New York Giants.
I'm doing this contest against a single friend, which holds more
appeal to me than a large pool where I may not even know all the
participants. Because of this, the bragging rights will be significant.
The loser also has to treat the winner to dinner (in the event
of a tie we've agreed to just go get a meal and go Dutch, so we'll
still have a great ending to the 'LMS' pool).
I realize your writer asked about a LMS pool that extends to
the playoffs, so I wanted to share an addition my friend and I
have been discussing for next year. We're considering doing our
contest the same way as this year, but INCLUDING the playoffs.
This idea really intrigues both of us as we feel it will substantially
increase the overall skill factor. Instead of 17 picks, we'd need
to make 21. And if you used your studs early (i.e., normal LMS
strategy), you may be unable to make a pick during some weeks
of the playoffs. The result should be that you're forced to use
a lot of marginal teams that would be ignored in a traditional
I generally do not reprint responses about untested pools (such
as the one Michael and his friend are discussing) because practice
definitely trumps theory whenever wagers are concerned, but since
the pickings of tested models such as Marc's are slim this week,
I have decided to include Jay's suggestion for what it may be
worth to Lance and anyone else who refuses to give up on Last
Man Standing pools just because the regular season is coming to
I don't think Last Man Standing is a good fit for the NFL playoffs,
so my advice to Lance would be to do something else for the postseason.
Those pools where you pick the last digit of each team's score
for each quarter are usually a hit at Super Bowl parties, so my
choice would be to stick with something like that.
If anyone tries Jay's idea and wants to give me feedback on how
well it works, I will be interested. However, I share Jay's opinion
that Lance and all the other pool-aholics would probably be better
off playing Super Bowl Squares (a widespread term for the pool based
on a 10-by-10 grid to which Jay alludes).
If you must have a postseason LMS pool, I see the point about
allowing participants to choose the same team more than once,
but I would require them to alternate between conferences each
week (so you could use the Packers twice at most). If you are
confident that the Packers will win the Super Bowl, then you would
have to choose an NFC winner in the divisional playoffs, which
would mean picking one AFC winner in the wildcard round and then
the AFC champion. If you started with an NFC pick in the wildcard
round, then you would be forced to take the AFC team in the Super
Bowl. That may sound merciless, but you only have four chances
to whittle the pool down to a winner, so you HAVE to make it hard
on people for anything to happen.
No matter how hard you make it, you are probably going to end
up with multiple survivors after the Super Bowl, so you should
either decide on splitting the pot at the end or making everyone
predict the margin of victory if you want to declare a single
This Week's Question: Has Your League
Found an Effective Way to Mix Head-to-Head Matches with Point
Tallies in the Fantasy Playoffs?
The note I received from Ben this week reads more like a complaint
than a query, but I suspect it will generate some useful feedback
My league is [screwed] up. We play head-to-head games all season,
and the teams with the best records [advance to the playoffs,
where they] play in a head-to-head tournament (single elimination,
just like the NFL). But the winner of our fantasy Super Bowl has
to split the pot with whatever team in the league generates the
most total points during the fantasy playoffs. The team with the
most total playoff points MIGHT be the Super Bowl winner, but
it MIGHT be any other team in the league--even a team that doesn't
make it into the playoffs!
I have told the commish how much I hate this rule, but he says
it keeps all teams invested in watching the waiver wire and being
the best they can be to the end of the season, no matter how bad
a start they get off to.
Silly me, I thought the point of fantasy football was to WIN GAMES--not
to keep losers "invested" in the league.
What chaps me is I don't even see why we bother playing head-to-head
games in the regular season if total points matter so much at
the end. Do you know of any other leagues that operate like this?
The shortest answer I can give to Ben's question is, "No."
But even though I may not know of other leagues that operate exactly
that way, I have heard from many commissioners who divvy up the
pot at the end of the season in ways that would seem wacky to
people outside their leagues. Most fantasy leagues set up something
like a Toilet Bowl bracket for teams that don't make the playoffs--often
refunding the entry fee to the winner of the Toilet Bowl tourney
because commissioners like to give owners incentives to remain
competitive even when they have no shot at winning the big prize.
Awarding half of a league's purse to a team that doesn't make
the playoffs strikes me as counterintuitive, but I have encountered
a number of FFers over the years who think that head-to-head leagues
are fundamentally flawed and that the most accurate way of measuring
success in fantasy football is to tally points over the course
of a season. (FFers who claim to be involved in very serious,
very high-stakes leagues have told me that their leagues would
never consider switching from a point tally model to a head-to-head
model. ) I do not know why Ben's league is interested in tallying
points generated strictly during the post-season. My guess is
that the commissioner sees the regular fantasy season as a period
for building and tweaking teams. All in all, Ben's league sounds
like a strange hybrid of the head-to-head and point tally approaches.
As I indicated to Ben in my private response to him, the question
should not be about how many other leagues operate the way yours
does; the question should be about whether you are happy in your
own league and want to stay there or prefer to seek fresh fields
and pastures new. If you think that head-to-head leagues are right
and point tally leagues are wrong, then join a head-to-head league.
When I asked for feedback from readers about head-to-head vs.
point tally models several years ago, the responses indicated
to me not only that head-to-head models were more popular, but
that leagues generally fell into one category or the other. Ben's
question has me rethinking that assumption. If your league has
found a way to mix the head-to-head approach with the point tally
approach, I would like
to hear from you.
(Courtesy of Matthew
#3: Ravens over Browns (9-3, PIT, SD, GB,
BUF, HOU, CIN, NO, CAR, NE, DAL, DET, NYJ):
The Ravens are in control of their own destiny. If they win out,
they will be no less than a #3 seed (and possibly higher depending
on what happens to Houston and New England). While the Browns
could get Peyton Hillis back at full strength this week, it may
not be enough. Baltimore is extremely difficult to run and pass
on (3rd overall), but the Browns are no slouches either--giving
up only 313 yards per game (good enough for 6th overall). The
key factor, however, is that the Ravens are focused on not playing
down to the level of their competition. Look for a squeaker, but
a win nonetheless.
#2: 49ers over Rams (9-3, SD, AZ, DET,
GB, NYG, PIT, JAX, NO, DAL, MIA, NE, CIN):
With three more wins, the 49ers will have the #2 seed locked
up. Think about that for a moment. San Francisco could finish
the season 14-2 and still end up the number two seed. That means
that they would have to go to Lambeau in January if they want
to get to the Super Bowl. But before then, they need to continue
to stay focused and run the table. The Rams were fortunate to
surprise New Orleans a few weeks ago, but this is a divisional
game where the 49ers could clinch the division at home. As always
with divisional rivals, be wary of that trick play. It has killed
many LMS dreams, even this late in the season.
#1: Patriots over Colts (9-3 SD, PIT, TN, PHL,
CIN, GB, DAL, NYG, OAK, BAL, SF, ATL):
Move along; there’s nothing special to see here. If you
still have the Patriots, use them. Dan Orlovsky may be taking
the reins, but the outcome will be the same for him as for Curtis
Painter. What more needs to be said about this matchup than the
names of the players? Brady, Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez
versus the Colts' second team. Reggie Wayne had his best week
all season last week. But as bad as the Patriots' secondary has
been, he and three of his best friends would need their best day
all season to stay in this game. Barring a miracle, the Patriots
lock this one up before halftime.
For responses to this month's
fantasy question please email