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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A
Week 5

Last Week's Question: What Is Your Process for Using Weekly Matchups to Make “Start ‘em/Sit ‘em” Decisions?

In last week’s column, I asked any readers who were bold enough to send me the hardest start ‘em/sit ‘em decision they had to make before Sunday’s games.

Larry gave me this lazy answer on Friday:

I don’t obsess about this stuff too much. I can use Cedric Benson or Willis McGahee as my #2 RB for Week 4. I don’t really care which defenses they are up against. I am starting McGahee and sitting Benson. One will probably score 12 points, and the other about 20, but I am not going to sink a lot of time into guessing which is which.

The only thing I care about is Benson’s suspension, which I guess could kick in whenever the league decides to terminate his appeal. I use my computer at work to set my lineups, and I don’t fiddle around with last-minute news (injuries, suspensions, etc.) too much over the weekend. I get enough of sitting in front of a computer all week. I am going with McGahee pretty much because I feel 95% confident he will play. I am less confident about Benson.

McGahee lets me set my lineup and stop worrying about it. I won’t be kicking myself if Benson ends up scoring twice as many points.

Although Larry assumed that one of the backs would outperform the other, it turns out he was right not to bother trying to figure out which was which—as they ended up posting very similar numbers. Neither RB scored in Week 4, but both rushed for just over 100 yards. The slight edge went to McGahee because he also had 10 yards in receptions, but the performances were essentially a wash.

Larry’s chief motivation may have been laziness (the desire not to “fiddle” with breaking news on Sunday morning), but he independently arrived at his conclusion about who to start based on factors that he considered important.

Judging from the responses I received to my column, his decision to make these decisions on his own puts him in the minority.

Most of the respondents to the Week 4 column just let me know that they rely on various fantasy services for weekly picks. No service emerged as the consensus choice, and some FFers reported being extremely happy with services that others claimed were worthless.

There are, however, readers like Walter (who considers doing some research into his lineup choices part of the fun of FF):

I am happy to share the process I use for making lineup decisions even though I can’t say how successful I have been. I do know I end up picking the wrong guy often enough to be sure that there must be better systems out there. But for what it’s worth, here is what I do.

First, I really do always start my studs. Studs in the first part of the season are a little tricky to pinpoint because you have to consider how they were performing at the end of last season to have enough [games for a statistically significant sample]. But 4 weeks into the season is enough to know who the studs are.

I use a simple formula to define studs for myself: the top 8 quarterbacks, the top 16 running backs, and the top 24 wide receivers. (There is nothing magical about this formula. It’s just that there are 32 teams in the NFL, so the top 8 QBs are in the top 25%. My league has me start two RBs and three WRs, so I double the number for RBs and triple it for wideouts. It may not be perfect, but it is easy for me to remember.)

I am not going to think twice about starting any player on my team who qualifies as a stud—no matter what defense he is up against. If I happen to have two of the top 8 quarterbacks on my roster, then I start the one ranked higher [by season-to-date performance]. Again, I don’t care about who they are playing against.

Now, if my quarterbacks are ranked 10 and 13 in points earned this season, I have some thinking to do. I don’t consider either of them a stud, and I might end up starting the 13th-ranked QB over the 10th-ranked QB depending on their matchups.

When I look at defenses, the first thing I want to find out about is injuries. If a star cornerback from an opposing defense is going to miss a game, that is the kind of thing that makes me consider starting a #13 QB over a #10 QB (or a #45 wideout over a #35 wideout). Similarly, I am interested in injuries on the offensive line for any quarterback I am considering. Most teams have enough depth on the o-line that a single missing lineman or two shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. But when I know that an o-line is already hurting for healthy bodies, then an additional injury gets my attention.

After I have read about the injuries on both sides of the ball, I will modify the rankings of the 2 players that I have to choose between by 1, 2, or 3. As an example the 10th-ranked QB might be going against a healthy defense with 3 or his starting linemen listed as doubtful or out. The 13th-ranked QB could have all his linemen healthy and be up against a defense that lists a cornerback as out, a linebacker as doubtful, and a defensive end as a game-time decision. I would bump the 10th-ranked QB down one notch and move the 13th QB up two notches based on my assessment of the injuries. (There is no science to this; it’s more about eyeballing the injury situation and making a judgment call.)

So now that I have adjusted the QBs for injuries, they are tied at 11.

Now I consider how their opponents are ranked vs. the pass. If they happen to be playing the 18th- and 19th- ranked defenses, then the advantage goes to whoever was ranked higher before I did my “injury adjustment.” But if the defenses are more than 4 spots apart in the defensive rankings, then I would go with whichever QB was facing the weaker pass defense.

In cases where [the injury picture is unimportant or roughly equal, I base my decision strictly on the rankings of the defenses].

Let’s say the 10th- and 13th-ranked QBs are both playing in games with no injuries to significant players. I look at the defenses they are up against and modify the rankings by one point for every 4 defensive slots between the matchups. If the #10-ranked QB is up against the 5th best pass defense in the league and the #13-ranked QB is up against the 27th-ranked pass defense, then I adjust the ranking of the #13 QB by 5. This puts the number 13 QB ahead, so I start him.

But the advantage always goes to the one who started with the higher ranking based on actual performance (before I do make any adjustments). So if the #10 QB is going up against the 5th-best pass defense and the #13 QB is matched against the 17th-ranked pass defense, then the adjustment is only 3 points, which means a tie at 10, so I start the QB who was originally at #10. The point is always to give the most weight to the actual, unadjusted rankings.

If I have explained this well enough for you and your readers to understand it, I will be content even if everyone hates it. A lot of the time, it seems to work out perfectly, but that may just be luck. Sometimes the results are downright awful. But there is no way to predict everything.

My thanks to Walter for sharing his decision-making process in such detail. He never mentions contract bridge, but his point-counting formula for making adjustments reminds me a lot of the way I was taught to value my hands when I was learning to play bridge.

He also makes the point that we cannot predict everything, which goes to the heart of Patrick’s frustration with Ken’s tirade about Eli Manning in the Week 3 column. Patrick points out how easy it is to find fault with expert predictions when we have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight:

Ken reminds me of my friend Ryan, who, after requesting my advice every Saturday, sends me an email at work on Monday blaming me for his recent fantasy woes. Safe to say, myself, and all of Ryan’s friends, have stopped answering his Saturday phone calls.

Who asked Ken to read the various “Start `em/ Sit `em” columns, or listen to the ff talk radio? Did Matthew Berry call Ken and demand he sit Eli?

If you are going to [female dog] and moan about fantasy advice, do it before the game, not after Eli throws for 4 tds - because obviously the perennial 10th-ranked QB is going to do that from time to time.

Every ffer knows that you take all advice with a grain of salt. Ken calling so-called fantasy experts "dimwits" for suggesting that one sit Eli Manning against the Eagles [only makes me question his own judgment.]

The advice was sit Eli against the Eagles, not sit Brady against the Bills. C’mon.

My point is that even if one thinks Ken made good points to render the “Sit `em” experts fools – which I would argue – you shouldn’t rant and rave after the fact like my friend Ryan. Particularly if the advice is sit Eli Manning, wise advice against good teams 99% of the time.

Next time this situation arises, Ken, pat yourself and be quiet, or send your email on Saturday.

Although I did modify the profanity in Ken’s question in Week 3, Patrick used the bracketed [female dog] in his own note, a clever touch that would have made me want to post his comment even if I didn’t sympathize. But I probably understand Patrick’s frustration better than he imagines.

I have received emails from hundreds (possibly thousands) of readers over the years who claim that I owe them the entry fee for their Last Man Standing pools because they followed the advice in this column and lost.

My response is always that I will refund them exactly what they paid to read this free column. We have had a number of experts contribute their predictions for LMS pools, and no matter how good their predictions are, they occasionally get things wrong. It really does take courage and tenacity to appear before a public audience every week with 4 predictions about the upcoming slate of NFL games without using the same team twice in any of the top 3 picks. Matthew Schiff does a remarkably good job of making these predictions correctly in the vast majority of cases. The fact that he shares his insights with the readers of this column out of the goodness of his own heart (and on his own time) means that I can only chuckle at the readers who want to get huffy about his occasional errors—very much the way I imagine Patrick chuckles at his buddy Ryan.

This Week's Question: Are There Any Performance Leagues that Award Points for Successful Onside Kicks?

This week’s question comes from Mel, who has decided that onside kicks deserve recognition in his performance league:

Our league gives points for receptions, fumble recoveries, interceptions, blocked field goals, and yardage. Obviously we don’t think that scores in the NFL are the only things that should earn fantasy points. And we pretty much all agree that successful onside kicks are important enough to earn points as well, but we aren’t exactly sure how valuable they should be or who the points should go to.

Some of us think they should be worth 1 point to the kicker and 1 point to the defense/special teams unit on the field that recovers the ball. Others want to give 1 or 2 points strictly to the special teams unit (nothing for the kicker).

We know we are going to do something with onside kicks, but we would like to know how other leagues are handling them (if any are).

If you award points (or have considered awarding points) for onside kicks in your league, I look forward to hearing from you for my Week 6 column.

Last Man Standing - Week 5 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: New England over New York Jets:

If you do nothing else in Survival Polls you want to avoid divisional rivalry games, especially between these two. Need I remind everyone about the Bills upset win over these same Patriots who were double digit favorites on the road no less than two weeks ago in another AFC East matchup. The Jets are better than their record and these two teams always pull out the stops to surprise the other. The Patriots are at home and should handle them, albeit with a fight. But because of their history, this is just too risky a game to choose as your LMS pick this week.

#3: Houston over Oakland (2-2 PIT, SD, GB, BUF):

Statistically speaking this should be a relatively even matchup. Darren McFadden has clearly taken the next step to elite running back status and the consistency of Jason Campbell has created a balanced attack for a team that should make a run at the playoffs. But when the defenses are matched up, gone are the days where opponents could expect to come in and throw the ball for touchdowns consistently against a Houston defense that is now run by defensive guru Wade Phillips. These offenses are pretty evenly ranked (8th and 10th respectively in total yards), but look for the Texans to exploit a Raiders defense that gives up the 3rd most yards and 2nd most points.

#2: NY Giants over Seattle (4-0, SD, AZ, DET, GB):

Eli Manning is starting to find his rhythm with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in spite of the poor route running and minor concussion of Mario Manningham this season. While the G-Men defense might be a little shaky, Perry Fewell is getting enough out of his backups to keep them in games late enough where Manning can position his team for the win. If this game were played in Seattle the edge would go to the Seahawks. But they are home and this Giants team has something to prove to those who believe that they aren’t very good. Combine that with almost perfect conditions for some strategic “air strike” football out of play action pass, and this should be an easy win at home for a team that no one thought had a chance of winning the NFC East and is currently in 1st place against a jetlagged team that thoroughly was beat by its last opponents.

#1: Cincinnati at Jacksonville (3-1, SD, PIT, TN, PHL):

If you took my number one pick last week instead of the autopilot Green Bay pick which was my second choice, you may not be around for this week’s survival pool. For that I wish I to say, Sorry. But who would’ve thought that the Eagles Dream Team would lose, let alone lose after being up 20-3 at halftime? That said, if you are still looking at this column and are willing to take a riskier pick, then the Bengals look very attractive against a Jaguars team where their offense is truly anemic. The Jags are last in total points scored and second to last in total yards gained. While Jacksonville’s defense is in the upper third and has kept them in games, it shouldn’t take a herculean effort for Cincinnati to win after knocking off the surprise AFC East Leading Bills last week. Ironically, the last time these two teams met in 2008, an unproven veteran QB who had bounced between St. Louis and Cincy, and only started 4 games prior to taking over for an injured Carson Palmer, and pulled out a 2 point victory at home in his 8th game that year. His name was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Take the Bengals and hold your breath because this will be a touch road game. But over the season, there is very real possibility that you will use Cincy as your pick. Why not this week?

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