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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A
Week 13

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 LMS pool.

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 an end:

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 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 winner.
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).

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 nevertheless:

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.

Last Man Standing - Week 13 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#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 me.