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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A
Week 15

Last Week's Question: What Models Work for Fantasy Leagues during the NFL Playoffs?

Last week's column featured commentary from a reader named Alan, who has run a postseason fantasy pool for the last seven years. Participants in his pool create a fantasy squad of twelve players--one from each team that makes the NFL playoffs. As the playoffs progress, players are eliminated from the rosters of participants. The result is that all participants only have two players available in the Super Bowl. The winner is the participant whose players generate the most total points from Wild Card Weekend through the Super Bowl.

I should apologize to a reader named Dave who contacted me for my Week 15 column in 2005 about a strikingly similar setup for a postseason fantasy pool. Alan's model is so similar to Dave's that I should certainly have made a reference to Dave in last week's column. I regret that oversight.

I appreciate the trouble that Alan took to write in with his suggestion for a postseason fantasy pool, but the feedback generated by last week's column was limited to people who already do something similar and are happy with their results.

I did not receive suggestions for additional postseason fantasy models. Nevertheless, readers who are curious about the approaches taken by various fantasy leagues that like to remain active in the NFL postseason should consult my Q&A column from Week 15 of 2005 (available in the FFToday archives).

This Week's Question: Can the "Team Player" Designation (or any other Model) Salvage Week 17 of the Regular Season for Fantasy Purposes?

Some readers will need background information to understand the question I received from Tim this week about "team players." In most fantasy leagues, owners start specific players at specific positions. If you designate Michael Vick as your starting QB in Week 15 and his rib injury keeps him from playing, your quarterback score for the week is a big, fat zero.

However, some leagues use a "team quarterback." These leagues are much more forgiving when it comes to injuries because an owner who starts the Philadelphia quarterback gets credit for all the points generated by whichever player is under center for the Eagles. When Vince Young steps in to relieve Vick, the owner using the Philadelphia "team quarterback" continues to earn fantasy points. If Young is injured and replaced by Mike Kafka, the owner of the Philadelphia quarterbacks still manages not to have a hole in his roster.

The best argument for the "team player" concept is that no owner of an NFL team would simply go into a game without a player at a key position simply because of one injury. If Jerry Jones says he looks forward to seeing what Tony Romo will do in Week 15, but Romo slips and breaks his ankle on the way out of the locker room, Jones doesn't have to send his team onto the field without a quarterback. Leagues that rely on the "team player" concept ask why their owners should be incapable of responding to player injuries any more than the coaches and owners of the NFL are.

The strongest argument against the "team player" concept is that it essentially eliminates backups from the pool of available players and only works well for positions that are not duplicated on NFL teams. In leagues that use the "team quarterback" concept, the owner who drafts the Philadelphia quarterback position drafts all of the Eagle QBs. There is no waiting to pounce on Vince Young at the end of the draft. Moreover, it is far more difficult to implement a "team running back" or "team receiver" because teams may have two or three players at that position--all of them viable as independent draft picks, and all of them backed up by the same pool of second- and third-stringers. The Giants, for example, have three receivers who are all desirable in fantasy leagues (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham). Since most fantasy leagues (even those that use the "team quarterback" concept) want to allow owners to draft high caliber RBs and WRs separately from each other, it is tricky to use a "team receiver" concept to cover all contingencies. What if Cruz gets dinged while blocking for Nicks on a long run? Nicks takes the next play off to catch his breath, and Cruz steps into the locker room for a quick examination by the trainer. They are replaced by Ramses Barden and Devin Thomas for the next play, but Tom Coughlin isn't going to issue a press release specifying that Thomas is filling in for Nicks and that Barden is filling in for Cruz. It is easy to use a "team quarterback" or a "team kicker," but when fantasy starters at the same position share the same pool of backups, it is tricky to score "team players at position x."

With that (admittedly complicated) background information in mind, consider this question from Tim:

I know a lot of leagues avoid Week 17 of the regular season by having their championships in Week 16. I guess it makes sense to them to cut their season short just because teams that cannot change their playoff destiny may not play their stars for more than a quarter or so in Week 17.

It doesn't make sense to me. Some of the games in Week 17 are hugely important. Teams that need to win the last game of the regular season just to get a chance at a wildcard spot can turn in surprising performances that make for really dramatic fantasy championships.

My problem is that not everyone in my league agrees with me, and it looks like we are going to change to a Week 16 championship next season.

If I want us to continue using Week 17, I am going to have to figure out special rules that we can use for that week that will keep all the owners happy. The owner who lost the Super Bowl last year is still bitter about Michael Vick not playing, but he says the real source of his frustration was how hard it was for him to figure out whether he should start Vick or not. With all the travel people do between Christmas and New Year's Day, I guess I understand the stress of trying to keep up with whether Andy Reid is going to start an injured star player with nothing to gain from a win. (Although if you just read that last sentence all by itself, it was kind of obvious all along that Vick wasn't going to start, no?)

Anyway, what I am hearing from the guys who want a Week 16 championship is NOT that they mind star players being benched. What they mind is that coaches are so evasive with the media about their intentions. It's not so much that Vick didn't play [as that Vick's owner had to spend days agonizing] about whether Vick was going to play or not.

So I was wondering if you know of any leagues that use a team quarterback just for the last week or two of the regular season. We don't use team quarterbacks ordinarily, but it really would have been the perfect solution for Vick's owner last year. He could have just started the Philadelphia QB in the hope that Vick would play. Then, if he didn't get a chance to check the news or reset his lineup while traveling for the holidays, he wouldn't have had to lose any sleep over it. What do you think?
My own initial response to this idea is that Tim is asking for trouble. In a league that doesn't start out with the team quarterback concept in place, how do you handle owners of backups when you switch to the team QB model? Would the owner of Kevin Kolb have been allowed to start the Philadelphia team QB even if Vick had been active for the Week 17 game in 2010? The second obvious problem is that QBs aren't the only stars who get benched early in meaningless Week 17 games. I cannot see an easy way of imposing a Team RB or Team WR designation on a league just for the end of the regular season.

None of which is to suggest that the idea cannot work. There may be a league that has figured out how to pull something like this off. If so, I hope to hear from them. But since the chances of getting an answer to Tim's very specific question seem slim to me, I will pose a more general question:

Does your league have a special way of handling Week 17 that enables you to schedule your championship at the end of the regular season without worrying too much about last-minute benchings?

Please do not write in with an explanation of why it is better to schedule championships for Week 16. Most leagues already schedule their championships for Week 16 (or perhaps a double-header in Weeks 15 and 16) because the problems associated with roster management in Week 17 are widely understood. The question isn't, "Should you have a championship in Week 17?", but rather, "If you are determined to have a championship in Week 17, do you do anything special to make it less stressful for owners?"

Last Man Standing - Week 15 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: ATL over JAX: (10-4, PIT, SD, GB, BUF, HOU, CIN, NO, CAR, NE, DAL, DET, NYJ, BAL):

Jacksonville is no pushover, but on the road on Thursday night, look for them to wilt against the balanced attack of Matt Ryan and company. Jacksonville's fourth-ranked defense has not played against many offenses that can score at will. And as long as the Falcons can hold MJD under 100 yards, the Falcons can continue to keep their playoff hopes alive.

#2: TEN over IND (11-3, SD, AZ, DET, GB, NYG, PIT, JAX, NO, DAL, MIA, NE, CIN, SF, BAL):

Tennessee all of a sudden seems to have found a running game with a reinvigorated Chris Johnson at tailback. While Matt Hasselbeck might be out this week, don't think that CJ2K and company won't have enough to beat Dan Orlovsky and his Colts. Look for Indy to continue its losing ways as they guarantee the Andrew Luck pick with a loss at home to divisional rival Tennessee.

#1: ARI over CLE (11-3 SD, PIT, TN, PHL, CIN, GB, DAL, NYG, OAK, BAL, SF, ATL, NE, NYJ):

The Cardinals are playing good defense, which should be more than enough to offset any offensive woes they might have with Kevin Kolb ailing at quarterback. Look for Beanie Wells to break 100 yards against the Cleveland defense even though the Browns are ranked 9th overall in yards allowed this season. The Browns have played some good defense, but they are a young team that has hit the professional wall (and appear likely to finish the season with numerous hiccups). This is not going to be a pretty game, but if you need a home pick that is "safe," this is a good option.

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