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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A
Week 14

Last Week's Question: Has Your League Found an Effective Way to Mix Point Tallies with Head-to-Head Matchups?

Last week's question sprouted from the commentary of a frustrated FFer named Ben who clearly dislikes the fact that that his league splits the pot between the winner of a single-elimination head-to-head playoff tournament and whichever team generates the most points during the playoffs (whether that team makes the playoffs or not).

Ben clearly enjoys the head-to-head structure more than the point tally structure used by some leagues, but not all people share this preference. Pat wrote in to explain his frustration with the head-to-head approach:

A major drawback of head-to-head leagues is the "I'm toward the top in points but toward the bottom in the standings" complaint, which I'm sure you've heard often. I'm in a head-to-head league where I'm first in total points and in fourth place. The girl in second place has 250 points fewer than me. Aggravating. I suppose I can live with this, but a friend of mine in another league is first in points and might not make the playoffs. That's enough to make a guy stop playing for good. I know there are times I lose the desire after a string of tough losses. Or a few seasons of them.

A "mix" or "hybrid" league is exactly what I'm after. Head-to-head is the most fun, but it needs just a little tweaking to eliminate some of the "luck." Hopefully somebody out there has a solution.

Good news Pat! I received answers from participants in leagues that take a number of different approaches that blend the head-to-head and points approaches. Sean reminded me of a points-oriented practice that already exists in many head-to-head leagues:

Our league champion is based on wins. He takes 70% of the pot. The rest is split between the other playoffs teams depending on where they finish. However, in weeks 7 thru 13 we award a $25 weekly prize to the high scorer for that week, which keeps people in the game.
The practice of awarding weekly payouts to high-scoring teams, particularly at the end of the season, is a time-tested method of keeping owners who are behind in the standings from leaving their teams on auto-pilot after concluding that they have no realistic shot at the big prize. I understand why this might seem like a hybrid approach to some FFers, but it really does very little to address the concerns of people like Pat. It's nice to see a prize awarded to the high-scoring team in a league each week, but the simple fact of the matter is that the team with the highest score in any given week will also have won the head-to-head match in which it participated. Pat's concern is for teams that consistently deliver high scores, but uncannily end up playing against other teams on their best day. If a team in Sean's league scores the second-most points each week from week 7 to week 13, it never wins a prize even though it would probably finish that stretch with more total points than any of the other teams. Some of the other responses I received do a better job of addressing this problem. Brian's league includes payouts based on head-to-head records as well as points performance:

Regarding our scoring, we have always gone by total cumulative points in determining our overall champion. We have had many discussions about this through the years, but the “majority” of the league thinks this is the best way to determine the champion. We have one owner who is adamant about wanting to use HTH record as the determining factor, but he ends up caving to the rest of the league.

I look at it this way… have 2 owners who match up against each other and both score over 200 points for the week. And you have 2 other owners who match up and score in the 150s. You mean to tell me the one owner who lost say 202 to 211 has a worse team than the other owner who won his matchup at 155 to 150?

I don’t see it that way…’s all about scoring points……that’s the reason you draft a team, to score points, not to get a HTH win….plus you still have a shot with total points, depending on how large or small the lead is heading into the closing weeks of the season.

We have payouts for the end of the year for the following catagories:

Weekly High scorer (17)

Best weekly high score

1st and 2nd place HTH record

1st and 2nd coaching % (actual score vs what you could have scored)

Top 4 total points…..with the top point scorer being crowned champion AND getting to take home the champion’s trophy for a year (winner gets his name engraved on the trophy….similar to the Stanley Cup)

8th place finisher (total points) get the “Horse’s Ass” trophy and is responsible for supplying 3 pizzas and a 30 pack at the following year’s draft…..keeps those at the bottom from throwing in the towel.
By offering payouts to some teams based on their head-to-head records and other teams based their total points, Brian's league clearly qualifies as the sort of hybrid I was looking for. Some head-to-head leagues would be reluctant to base the league championship strictly on points, but it would not be hard for leagues that want to keep their current structure mostly intact to continue to award the trophy to the winner of a traditional, single-elimination tournament while offering significant payouts to the teams with the highest point tallies (regardless of their head-to-head records). Roger's league uses a very simple formula for this sort of modification:

In our league we base the season, and playoffs, on head-to-head matchups. That creates the most competition and talk throughout the year and provides a traditional feel to the playoffs since “any given Sunday…”. But we do also recognize points through the regular season as we feel that is a pretty strong measure of a successful fantasy squad. The pot is split roughly with ¾ going to the Super Bowl Champ and ¼ going to the Points winner through the end of the regular season in Week 13. I don’t believe we have ever had a Points champion miss the playoffs, though most of the time we have two different winners. We feel this system rewards a quality team, even if that team did not have a great record due to matchups, and still gives the biggest payout to the real Super Bowl champion.
In leagues that split the pot between a head-to-head winner and a points champion, the percentage of the pot awarded to a points champion will obviously vary based upon how strongly the league values head-to-head competition. But I did hear from one person with a league similar to Ben's (with a 50/50 split between the teams with the best records and those with the highest point totals). According to Dan:

Our league splits the total purse between the playoffs (head to head) and total points for the year. We also have a token prize for the “toilet bowl” and also for most points scored against through Week 13. We have a ten-team league and offer payouts to the top four in playoffs and the top four in points.
However, payouts need not be affected at all. David's league has come up with an extremely interesting way of using point tallies to determine playoff seeding in a league that stresses head-to-head competition:

My longtime league is experimenting with a new playoff seeding system this year that mixes in points a bit more, although our playoff qualifiers have always been a mix of both. In our 10-team league (a pair of 5-team divisions), 8 teams make the playoffs (no bye weeks). In the past the top 6 seeds were determined by the top 3 teams in each division, seeded 1-6 according to record. Then, the 2 highest scoring teams of the "bottom 4" would get in, seeded 7 and 8 based on points. This was a decent system, and kept bad schedule luck (a high scoring team that scores enough most weeks to win against anyone...except who they're playing) from keeping a team out of the playoffs. The problem was, the 1 and 2 seeds (for each division winner) weren't very prestigious because seeds 7 and 8 were usually high scoring teams with bad luck, whereas seeds 5 and 6 were usually mediocre teams with "good" schedules. So this year, the same 8 teams qualify but we're then seeding 3 through 8 by points. Right now, the highest scoring team has a 4-8 record and is in the bottom 4 with no hope of a top-3 division finish. In the past this team would be the #7 seed, but now they'll be the #3 seed. We (of course) voted in the offseason and felt this was still a nice mix of points and record while rewarding the top seeds (since we don't have playoff byes).

Nathan's league also uses point tallies to determine playoff seeding according to a slightly different formula:

Our 14-team league plays doubleheaders each week, and the top 8 teams make the playoffs. By top 8 I mean the 6 best H2H records and the top 2 remaining scoring teams. Once we get those 8 teams, the first 4 are seeded by record and the next 4 are seeded by points. Then it's straight H2H from there. This keeps more teams in the mix if their H2H record is bad.

As the responses quoted above indicate, the problem that leagues face in choosing between head-to-head and point tally approaches is that even though most FFers agree that the point tally approach is the more accurate indicator of a fantasy squad's quality, the head-to-head approach is more enjoyable for most owners and results in a more sustained and satisfying sense of competition (perhaps because the element of luck adds a thrill that is somehow missing in points-only leagues). The single most unorthodox suggestion for a resolution of this problem came from Darren, whose league relies on power rankings to sidestep the head-to-head/points quandary:

One of the great things about the league is how well it’s adapted with the times. Among the changes: A move to an auction and a move away from being a pure head-to-head league to something like the hybrid which you discuss in your column. We agreed several years ago that head-to-head records proved a poor judge of what were the best teams in the league, given that ‘playing defense’ was largely impossible in fantasy football and that the quality of your opponent’s performance in any given week was a matter of pure luck. Obviously, total points was a much better indicator of a team’s overall strength. Still, we agreed that head-to-head matchups were a main source of the fun of fantasy football, so we didn’t want to abandon the concept entirely.

So what we ended up doing was using the ‘Power Rankings’ system calculated by CBS Sportsline, which hosts our league. It’s a rather ingenious way to judge overall scoring strength AND consistency (an important factor that many points-only leagues overlook), and would be fairly easy to calculate even if your site was on another service. It basically ranks your team on three different criteria: 1/3rd Head-to-Head Record; 1/3 Total Points Scored; and 1/3 Breakdown Record, which is basically what your record would be if you played every team every week (ie if you scored the highest score on the first week in a 12-team league and the third highest score the second week, your breakdown record after week 2 would be 20-2).

At the end of the season, the 6 teams at the top of the power rankings make the playoffs.

Now for some reason, we still have it so the two division winners in the head-to-head portion of our league automatically make the playoffs and get a bye (that was kind of a nod to the folks who were more reluctant to abandon the old way) – we haven’t yet had a division winner not be in the top 6 in the power rankings, but I suppose it could be theoretically possible (in which case the #6 power ranked team would get screwed).

I’ve been advocating for the past several years to try and incorporate this hybrid system into our playoff season, which for now remains purely head-to-head. But even though I still think it’s unfair that a team gets kicked out of the playoffs because of one poor week or even if it outscores every other team except it’s actual opponent, I understand why most of the owners in our league want to keep it as is. The appeal and excitement of head-to-head matchups, especially in the playoffs, is tough to deny, even if it will never be the best way to determine the best team in a league. After all, it’s not like the best NFL team always wins the Super Bowl either.
My thanks to everyone who took the time to write in. There was too much feedback this week for me to include every response, but I have attempted (as usual) to represent every perspective with as little redundancy as possible. If your league is interested in blending the head-to-head and point tally approaches, you should definitely be able to use one of the responses above as a launch pad for the transition.

This Week's Question: Do You Have Fantasy Plans for the NFL Playoffs?

This week's question stems from a note that I received this week from Alan:

I have run a playoff pool/league for 7 years now, and it is very popular. You would think that more than a few people would pick the same players, but it has never happened, and we get around 40 entries every year. It really helps fan the fantasy flames after the standard season ends.

Here are the rules and such from last year:

1) One player—and only one player—from each of the 12 playoff teams must be selected by each fantasy team.

2) The same players can be selected by multiple owners, so it’s more a selection process than a draft.

3) The rosters must consist of the following:

2 QBs (Team QB –all players playing the QB position); 3 RBs; 2 WRs; 1 TE; 2 D/STs; 2 kickers (Team Kickers – all players kicking FG’s/XP’s)

4) Regular-season scoring rules apply as far as points and such go.

6 points per TD (passing, rushing, receiving, DST)
1 point per 25 yards passing
1 point per 10 yards rushing
1 point per 10 yards receiving
-2 per lost fumble (A "muff" on a punt return is not a fumble)
-2 per interception thrown
3 points per FG 49 yards and less
4 points per FG 50 yards and up
1 point per XP
2 points per successful 2 point conversion (passing, rushing & receiving)
2 points per Fumble and/or INT recovered (DST only)
1 point per sack (DST only)
20 point bonus for shutout, 19 points for giving up 1 (even though that is impossible), 18 for giving up 2 and so on… (DST)

5) There is no head-to-head competition, but rather a total points calculation. The owner with the most points after the Super Bowl wins.

6) $20 per team fee

Basically every team will have 2 players in the Super Bowl and the same number of players being knocked out each week.

Here is the winning entry last year...

QB: Green Bay
QB: New England
RB: Matt Forte
RB: Michael Turner
RB: Rashard Mendenhall
WR: Marques Colston
WR: DeSean Jackson
TE: Jacob Tamme
K: Seattle
K: Kansas City
D/ST: Baltimore
D/ST: New York Jets

Thanks Alan for sharing the rules for your postseason fantasy pool. If any other readers out there have fantasy plans for the NFL playoffs, I look forward to hearing about them for next week's column.

Last Man Standing - Week 14 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: Dolphins over Eagles (10-3, PIT, SD, GB, BUF, HOU, CIN, NO, CAR, NE, DAL, DET, NYJ, BAL):

At the beginning of the season, this game was penciled in by Eagles fans as an automatic win. But the Eagles have played flat for most of the season, and Andy Reid may have lost the locker room (though hopefully not his job because there are not many better than him). Miami Coach Tony Sporano, on the other hand, seems to have his team competing at a high level in spite of their 4-9 record. When the Dolphins do lose, it is usually in heartbreaking fashion at the end of the game after leading for most of it. While Michael Vick will probably be back under center to try and exploit the attacking defense of the Dolphins, it will be Reggie Bush who causes fits for an Eagles Linebacker crew that has been torched by rushers that have rushed for over 100 yards 10 times this season. Combine that with a Dolphins defense that is ranked 5th against the rush and the formula for beating the Eagles is in the works. This game between two 4-9 teams is not genuinely lopsided, but if you have used all of your LMS picks on the teams that are “expected to win," this is probably one of your best options this week.

#2: Ravens over Colts (10-3, SD, AZ, DET, GB, NYG, PIT, JAX, NO, DAL, MIA, NE, CIN, SF):

By now you should see a recurring theme in your LMS picks. Pick against the Colts and against the Browns. No brainer, right? Maybe not. Indy gave the Patriots a fight for most of last week’s game and even fought back to within a touchdown at the end (which makes one pause). Maybe the Colts aren’t dead. And now that they are in pretty good shape for the Andrew Luck pick in April, maybe the team puts players on the field who, because they are fighting for their jobs for next year, will make something happen. Last week, Dan Orlovsky did just that. He was able to move the Colts' 29th ranked offense over 475 yards against a Patriots defense that is ranked dead last. But the Ravens (ranked 3rd overall) are no pushovers like the Patriot defense. Look for the “new Colts” of Baltimore to beat the “old Colts” of Baltimore in a game where Art Modell returns again with his team to the city he once left in the dead of night.

#1: Jets over Chiefs (10-3 SD, PIT, TN, PHL, CIN, GB, DAL, NYG, OAK, BAL, SF, ATL, NE):

This game scares me. Rex Ryan has publicly stated that he needs to put some “wrinkles” in his offense because Mark Sanchez and company are predictable. They are 26th in overall offense going up against a Chiefs defense that is 2nd in the league with 17 interceptions. Shonn Green should have a pretty good game as well based upon the Chiefs' tendency to allow opposing rushers over 130 yards per game. But Kyle Orton may come in and play for a Chiefs team that still has slim playoff hopes and seems to be going in the “right” direction in spite of injuries to key players. While all the stats say that the Jets should win at home, there are intangibles that make this game a risky lock of the week.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.