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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A - Week 12: Default Scheduling Questionnaire

Last Week's Question: Do non-IDP leagues generally undervalue defenses?

My Week 11 column featured a question from a reader named Alex, who is tired of getting abuse in his league for drafting defenses in the fifth round.

Alex's assertion that the Chicago Bear defense should have been the top overall draft pick for 2012 in non-IDP fantasy leagues could not have come at a worse time. The 49ers embarrassed Chicago on Monday night. The Bears not only failed to score on defense (something they have done 7 times this season), but gave up a whopping 32 points to San Francisco. Even more surprisingly, the Chicago defenders were masterfully manipulated by backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who did not turn the ball over once against a defense that has been ferocious all year.

Not surprisingly, most of the responses to Alex's question poured in on Tuesday--primarily (I suspect) from 49er fans who wanted to gloat. These notes generally echoed the sentiments of Brad (who gets high marks from me because he had the guts to write in BEFORE the Monday night game):

So Alex has finally found a reason to justify his early draft reaches on defenses and wants to shout to the world he finally got it right! Chicago's D is having a season that is rarely seen, so he just got lucky. I think Alex is just a fool chasing fool's gold and finally found a nugget.

Clearly, a number of readers agree with Brad, though their messages were, in many cases, worded more aggressively. The Monday night game makes it hard to stand up for Alex, but the fact remains that despite their dismal performance against San Francisco, the Chicago Bears are still the most statistically productive defense of 2012 in most leagues--by a hefty margin.

With that in mind, I want to draw special attention to Rusty's (more measured) response:

I don't think there's anything wrong with taking the top defense in the league in the fifth round, but it's pretty hard to know in advance which defense is going to finish the year on top. Did anybody have Chicago ranked as the #1 fantasy defense over the summer? They weren't even in the top 5 on my cheatsheet.

That is one of the objections that sprang to my mind when I first read Alex's question. In my opinion, the main reason most drafters wait so long to pick a defense is not because they undervalue defenses, but because offseason projections about defenses are so wildly inaccurate. A lot of projections about defenses are based on assumptions about the opposing offenses they will face, and many of those assumptions fly out the window when a quarterback gets injured (e.g. Kevin Kolb) or a receiver turns out to be better than expected (A.J. Green) or blockers fail to meet expectations (Dallas). Even in the years when you could rely on the Ravens and Steelers to be near the top every season, it was very difficult to say which one would be better, and there were often two or three surprise defenses that snuck in ahead of them. Burning a fifth-round pick on the #1 defense in the league is one thing; burning it on a team that is likely to finish somewhere in the top five is a different matter entirely.

The problem with projections is that they are just educated guesses based on historical samples. Good models can't focus on the statistical outliers; they have to focus on averages. When a team comes along that defies all the odds (as the Bears did when they scored 7 defensive TDs in 5 games), the method for making projections may look broken. But do we really think the right question to be asking for next season is "Who will have the Chicago defense of 2013?" instead of, "Will any defense in 2013 score as frequently as the Bears did in 2012?"

Congratulations to Alex and anyone else who had the foresight to draft the Bears for 2012. The reality of my own primary draft as I recall it, however, was not a bunch of guys asking themselves, "Do I have the guts to draft the best defense in the league early?" Instead, it was a bunch of guys who kept putting off drafting a defense because most of us were unsure which one we really wanted.

This Week's Question: Does the default schedule on your league's website emphasize non-divisional matches at the end of the regular season?

A reader named Dan is disappointed in the fact that as his fantasy season draws to a close, the most meaningful games of the year (divisional contests) have already been played:

We are a 10-team league. We play divisional teams twice and non-divisional teams once for a total of 13 games. We use the automatic scheduling feature at our league’s website.

The issue we have, or at least I and a handful of other owners, is that every year the last 4 weeks of the season is almost strictly non-divisional games. We are finding this somewhat anti-climatic as most tiebreakers have already been settled through divisional records and previous head-to-head match-ups. Currently, a few teams that could tie for the last playoff spot by winning out have already been eliminated. These guys now have no incentive while for the rest of us these last two weeks are of great importance. It isn’t much fun to need a team to lose and his opponent has empty roster spots or players below waiver wire quality. Had the 2nd divisional match-ups been scheduled for the last weeks, then nothing would have been decided--and the last two weeks would have been much more exciting.

We are contemplating swapping out weeks 10-13 for weeks 6-9 which will solve this for the most part. I am curious if you or your readers have any input on why this is or is not a good idea. There must be some reason virtually all fantasy sites use the same default scheduling.

I can't offer Dan any insights on his assertion about what most websites do because apparently none of the leagues I play in use the default scheduling mechanism. I finish every season playing against my divisional rivals. (My most important game in Week 12, for instance, is against a divisional rival who is only one game behind me in the standings. It's a great late-season match-up for exactly the reasons that Dan spells out.)

I would like to know whether Dan is over-generalizing based on his own league's settings, so I am asking readers of this column to reply to a series of very specific questions this week:

1) What league-hosting service do you use for your fantasy league?

2) Does your commissioner use the default scheduling option, or does s/he override it and schedule games manually?

3) Do you have divisions in your league? If so, how many?

4) Of the last 5 games in the regular season, how many are divisional matchups?

5) Of the last 3 games in the regular season, how many are divisional matchups?

Dan and I will both be grateful for your feedback, and if you want to respond to his question in more general terms, please feel free to do so. As for me, I can't imagine why a league would bother having divisions if not to increase the sense of competition between divisional rivals at the end of the regular season.

Last Man Standing - Week 11 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

May you all be surrounded by loved ones as you sit down to your Thanksgiving meals, and may your prayers go out to those who cannot be with you.

Trap Game: Dallas over Washington (6-5, Wash, CLE, TB, Den, ATL, SF, NYG, NO, MIA, DET):
The traditional trap game involves a heavy favorite looking past the upcoming game and experiencing a letdown against an easy opponent. Well, this week we don’t have the heavy favorite, but we do have a major rivalry that the whole country will be watching on Turkey day. Both of these teams have the chance to win the NFC East just by winning the divisional games left on the schedule. But betting against the Cowboys at home on Thanksgiving is always a risky proposition. It will be especially risky with Robert Griffin III coming to town, as RG3 has risen to the challenge in most other arenas and now gets his first taste of holiday NFL football.

#3: Denver over Kansas City (10-1: PHI, TB, CHI, AZ, HOU, BAL, GB, SF, SD, NE, WASH):
Is there a more complete team in the AFC than Denver? The Broncos are third in overall offense and sixth in defense. John Elway’s bold move of getting Peyton Manning at quarterback may well be enough to get them to the AFC Championship game (and perhaps even the Super Bowl). The Chiefs, on the other hand, have been in a very giving mood most of the season, especially where turnovers are concerned. Look for Peyton and company to accept their presents willingly as the Ronnie Hillman era starts with a win on the road this week.

#2: Indianapolis over Buffalo (8-3: CHI, Wash, NO, HOU, SF, PIT, MIN, NE, ATL, BAL, DEN):
The Colts return home after a disheartening loss to the Patriots last week to find the Buffalo Bills and their 27th ranked defense coming to town. While this looks like an easy matchup on paper, it could be the game that lets the Colts' playoff chances slip away. However, if Andrew Luck has his way, he’s going to prove to the Bills that one bad week doesn’t make a season. It’s not the Indianapolis offense that should worry Colts fans, but their defense. After giving up more than 400 yards and fifty points to Tom Brady and the Patriots, this week the Colts face an explosive Bills team that features C.J. Spiller, who has been averaging 6.6 yard per carry. If the Bills can establish the run early and open up the play action pass to Steve Johnson and company, they should be productive against Indy, but look for the Colts to pull this one out for the home crowd as they try to keep their playoff hopes alive.

#1: Cincinnati over Oakland (10-1: HOU, SF, IND, BAL, NYG, ATL, NE, CHI, GB, PIT, DAL):
It seems that Marcel Reese will get at least one more shot to show the rest of the NFL his great talents before Darren McFadden returns. But even if McFadden does suit up, expect Reese to continue his threat as a change-of-pace back for an Oakland Raiders team that has the worst defense in the league at the moment (although they are only ranked 24th overall this season). The Bengals come into this game with the NFL’s number one receiver, A.J. Green. Need I say more? He has beaten teams with his speed, his size, and his pure athletic ability. Few players so early in their careers have put their team on their backs and carried them to success. Look for the Bengals to continue their playoff quest as they easily handle the visiting Raiders on this holiday weekend.

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