Last Week’s Question: Does your
league reshuffle divisions?
In last week’s
column, I reviewed the reasons for and against reshuffling divisions
in fantasy leagues. Scott E. wrote to report that even though he
shares my preference for static divisions, his league has adopted
a primitive (though not annual) form of randomization:
Our league (12 teams) reshuffles our 4-team divisions after 3 seasons.
It was a compromise between those who feel like you (I'm one of
'em), that want the rivalries and tradition, and those that don't
want an "easy" division where one strong owner can dominate.
This compromise has been in place now for 6 years. We reshuffle
again after this season. Our reshuffle consists merely of drawing
names from a hat, regardless of which division one was in last season.
So far there hasn't been an appetite for moving to a yearly reshuffle.
That’s an interesting compromise. Reshuffling once every
3 years might give owners a change of pace to look forward to
and rivalries a chance to establish themselves as well.
Cheech’s league reshuffles divisions annually, but there’s
nothing random about the process:
Before each draft, my league allows the top four teams to draft
the divisions (i.e. the first place team gets to pick the first
team they want in their division). It's a great way to slap another
owner in the face and let them know that you have no respect for
their ability to manage a fantasy team.
Ouch! Tough room. (Still funny though.)
The approaches of Scott E. & Cheech stood out because they
are based on chance and choice, whereas the other techniques readers
described were variations on the more familiar concepts (in sports
at least) of promotion and relegation. Consider Tee’s league,
with its gold, silver, and bronze divisions:
We reshuffle every year. Our league, going on its 18th year .
. . basically uses relegation. We have three divisions: gold,
silver and bronze. The top two division winners receive a playoff
bye, the remaining division winner plays in the wild card round
with the next three teams with the best remaining records without
regard to division. (So yes. theoretically all four teams from
one division could make the playoffs.)
After wk14, the lowest four teams are placed in the bronze division,
the next two in the silver division. The top two teams receive
a playoff bye and are placed in the gold division. After wk15
the two losers of the wild card round go in the silver with the
winners joining the gold. (And yes, we play our championship in
wk17 but that is a discussion for another day or a question for
Each team plays every team in the other divisions once and the
teams in its own division twice. By realigning in this manner,
teams generally play more games each year against teams of similar
quality since you have the final four playoff teams playing one
another the next year and so forth. This process also guarantees
at least one new team in the playoff field each year which helps
with owner participation and retention. (9 of 12 owners have been
in the league for at least 12 years.) As a result, six franchises
have won two championships, five have won one and only one franchise
has failed to win.
We feel we have found a great balance of competition and enjoyment
for all the participants. After all, enjoyment and entertainment
is the goal. (The winner’s purse ain't bad either.)
The system Tee describes sounds both appealing and intuitive
to me. (Alas! This column comes to a screeching halt at the end
of the regular season, so the question about scheduling championships
in Week 17 will have to wait for next season—though it has
been covered in the past in this space.) Parity is part of what
makes the NFL great, so it’s nice to know that only 1 team
in Tee’s league has failed to claim at least one title.
(I wonder if that owner is from Detroit.)
Scott R.’s league does something roughly analogous with
only 2 divisions of 6 teams each:
I've run a 12-team redraft league since 1991. We have two 6-team
divisions and the top three teams in each division make the playoffs
with the division champ getting a first round bye. Every year
the teams that made the playoffs the prior year become the "cut-throat"
division, while the six teams that missed the playoffs become
the "cream-puff" division.
By reshuffling the divisions in this way, we ensure that there
are three playoff teams every year that didn't make the playoffs
the year before. Also there is the bragging rights of being a
cut-throat or the shame of being a cream-puff. (We label teams
that don't make the playoffs in consecutive years as perennial
We still have rivalries as the league is quite old and you have
three inter-division games per year.
I love solutions that combine simplicity with efficacy. If your
objective is to ensure high turnover in the playoffs, Scott R.’s
method is worthy of consideration.
Kevin’s league applies similar principles, but focuses
on total points rather than playoff status:
We use relegation to set our divisions each year. As a 12-man
keeper league that's been running since 1991, we've tried several
formats over the years, and this is the most competitive format
to date. Even though we use the standard H2H format, we use total
points scored to seed the teams in the conferences/divisions the
following year. So even though the highest scoring team got screwed
repeatedly this year with the H2H schedule, he will be in the
best division in the top conference next year based on points
scored even though he failed to make the playoffs this year. If
a team that makes the Super Bowl did not score enough points to
land in the top conference, it automatically gets seeded in the
top conference. We've found that the regular season is much more
competitive and gives teams coming off a bad year a fighting chance
at making the playoffs in a more competitive conference.
I think that total points probably does a better job of indicating
which teams in a league are strongest, but I must admit it seems
like a tough break for the team that didn’t get the reward
of going to the playoffs this year, but nevertheless has a harder
road to the playoffs next year than a team that lucked into making
the playoffs because of good-timing in H2H contests.
Jim’s league uses yet another method, an unusual blend of
randomization, relegation, and inertia:
Here is how my league has done it for over 25 years:
The previous season's three division winners (East, Central, West)
will be given the opportunity to defend their division titles
by being placed in the same division they were in the previous
season. The remaining teams will be randomly placed into divisions
as follows. The three highest-ranked teams that did not win their
division will be randomly placed into three different divisions.
Similarly, the next three highest-ranked teams will also be randomly
placed into the three different divisions. Finally, the three
lowest-ranked teams will be randomly placed into three different
This gives the most balance (based on the previous season results)
that we can think of. No division gets loaded up with all the
best or worst teams.
We also have the division games set for the same weeks each season
(Weeks 3 5 7 and 12 13 14) so that divisional battles really don’t
usually get resolved until the final weeks of the season. We originally
had Weeks 1 3 & 5 as our opening trio of divisional games,
but too often Week 1 is a crapshoot as to player performance and
we figured moving that first week’s divisional game to week
7 gave all teams a better idea of their roster strengths and needs.
Thanks to everyone who chimed in on this subject. If a curious
commish can’t find a good model for reshuffling in this
batch of responses, I suspect that commish isn’t very serious
This Week’s Subject: Anatomy
of a Championship Loss
Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote cavalierly about turning
one or two weeks of the postseason into a battle royal without
H2H matchups—with the top half of scoring teams advancing
to the next round and the bottom half being eliminated. If your
objective is to have the most competitive teams meet in the championship,
that model makes a lot of sense.
But if your goal is to savor the thrill of victory (or to see
your opponent languish in the bitter pool of defeat), there’s
nothing like H2H matchups.
Consider the emotional roller coaster that I rode from the time
I secured my semi-final victory in Week 15 to the championship
game in my 24-team league (which I lost):
Date: Monday, December 17th – Friday, December 21st
Confidence Level: High
Our league locks rosters before the playoffs begin so that eliminated
owners can’t “donate” players to friends. If
you carry just one kicker into the playoffs and he gets injured,
you aren’t allowed to replace him. You just limp forward
without him, which is exactly what my opponent in the championship
game, Carey, had to do when his kicker (Graham Gano) went on IR.
I had 8 active starters to his 7, and things only got better from
Carey’s starting QB was Aaron Rodgers, but with the Packers
out of the playoff race, it seemed possible (or even likely) that
Rodgers would play a quarter or two vs. the Jets before taking
a seat. For several days during the week, Carey was worried enough
about Rodgers that his lineup showed Baker Mayfield as his starting
Worse yet for Carey was the fact that even though Todd Gurley
had carried his team to the playoffs, there was good reason to
doubt that Gurley would be active. Still, his starting backs were
Gurley and Gus Edwards all week long.
His best receiver, Keenan Allen, had suffered a hip pointer in
Week 15 and seemed unlikely to play in Week 16.
The Allen development boded especially well for me, since I had
Melvin Gordon returning from injury. With Allen hobbled, I expected
Gordon to play an even larger-than-usual role in the Charger offense.
Even better for me (since I had lost Emmanuel Sanders to injury
as soon as rosters were locked) was the fact that I had Tyrell Williams on my bench—available for my flex spot if I wanted
to gamble on him. It was all too easy to imagine a scenario in
which Gordon and Williams picked up the slack for Allen.
I felt justifiably optimistic.
Date: Saturday, December 22nd
Confidence Level: Through the roof
Just before the roster lock, I picked up the Titans as a very
streamable defense for the playoffs & was delighted by their
performance vs. Washington. We rarely see defenses crack 20 points
in that league, but they put up 23 points on Saturday night. I
went to bed having fired successfully on 1 of 8 cylinders and
with tremendous confidence in the remaining 7.
Life was good.
Date: Sunday, December 23rd
Confidence Level: Shaky
I didn’t believe Keenan Allen was healthy even when he
was listed as active. I decided he was going to be a decoy at
best and rolled the dice on Tyrell Williams as my flex.
The Jets-Packers game was a punch in my gut because Carey had
both Rodgers and the Jets’ Robby Anderson. When the Packers
still trailed the Jets by 5 after Rodgers’ second rushing
TD of the day, I consoled myself by observing that at least the
game wouldn’t be going into overtime. “Either the
Jets will put it away,” I thought, “or, more likely,
Rodgers will get 1 more TD. But that will be all he needs, and
the bleeding will stop.”
But the bleeding didn’t stop with Rodgers’ next TD.
He added a 2-point conversion with enough time for the Jets to
kick a field goal and send the game into overtime. “Maybe
the Packers will lose the toss,” I dared to hope. “Maybe
any Jet other than Robby Anderson will score a TD and Rodgers
will not be heard from again today.”
The Packers won the toss, of course.
Rodgers marched down the field like the gridiron warrior he is.
He scored a TD on yet another sneak and had it called back before
throwing his 2nd TD pass of the day. Carey’s QB had racked
up 56 points in the same game in which Robby Anderson outperformed
my trio of receivers (T.Y. Hilton, Amari Cooper, and Williams)
all by himself. My own QB, Andrew Luck, had a perfectly respectable
game, but his 32-point performance was almost doubled by Rodgers.
Melvin Gordon had his worst day of the season, and a solid performance
by my other RB (Christian McCaffrey) wasn’t enough to put
me ahead with 7 of my cylinders spent.
I was glad to see Todd Gurely deactivated, since that forced Carey
to replace him at the last minute with the only RB he had active
after the afternoon games: Doug Martin on Monday night.
By the time the afternoon games were over, the only player I had
left was Harrison Butker in the Sunday night game. I was down
by 8 points. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleased
when Butker finished with 15 points in our league.
I was up by 7 with a total of 131 points (a score that ordinarily
wins in that league). My opponent had taken a zero at kicker and
made a last-minute substitution for the star of his team (Gurley),
but he still needed 8 points from Doug Martin to win. It was not
lost upon me that Martin had only racked up 4 points (39 yards,
no scores) in Week 15.
I went to bed telling myself that I could win even if I didn’t
Date: Monday, December 24th
Confidence Level: Inconsolable
The day was agonizing. I had to help my brother-in-law assemble
a trampoline as a Christmas present for my nephews. Time seemed
viscous as we toiled on that project. It slid over me slowly when
I wasn’t thinking about the game and even more slowly when
I was. Finally, the Monday night game was underway.
At least Martin didn’t string me along. He put me out of
my misery with 7:56 remaining in the second quarter on a 24-yard
TD scamper by the man who hates being called the Muscle Hamster.
I didn’t watch the rest of the game.
I shouldn’t complain. We award a decent purse to 2nd place.
But I wanted the $500 bigger purse (and the bragging rights) that
come with a championship.
But here’s the astonishing truth: Even though the emotional
roller coaster I endured was unpleasant, it was thrilling. There’s
no denying that it was more than $500 worth of thrill (though
the thrill would have been more satisfying, of course, if the
upshot had been victory).
I don’t think that kind of thrill is possible in battle
royal situations. It only comes with H2H matchups.
So even though there may be good reasons for using a battle royal
approach in your league, try not to lose sight of the thrills
that can only be had in H2H contests.
P.S. How many fat guys do you have in your league?
Since my column for Week 17 is the last you’ll see of me
for the year, this is usually when I wish readers happy holidays,
so please accept my best wishes for 2019.
But as someone who spent the last 2 years overcoming a bit of
a weight problem in my late 40s, I want to let the readers of
this column know that those of you who are considering a new diet
as your New Year’s resolution for 2019 may want to look
into this crazy little thing called carnivory, which turns out
to be a really easy way of getting rid of the moobs and guts that
are typical of so many fantasy enthusiasts in their 40s.
I found my way to carnivory gradually, after realizing that 1)
I don’t like being hungry, and eating as much grilled meat
as I want leaves me satisfied for ridiculously long stretches
at a time, and 2) I must not be a foodie because I’m unwilling
to spend much time in the kitchen learning new recipes.
I’ve been documenting my approach to fitness and nutrition
on Youtube for over a year now, but I only got around to making
a video aimed at the fantasy football community this week: So-Called
Beer Bellies in Fantasy Leagues. You might want to check out
that video (or at least the meatheals.com website) before plunging
into some god-awful program based on calorie restriction. Whatever
you decide to do, good luck.
Survivor Pool Picks
Pick #3: Steelers over Bengals (10-6; GB, NO, CHI, LAC, CIN, car, TB, IND, oak, phi, ari,
jax, KC, car, BAL, NE)
Although I try to steer clear of divisional matchups, those are
the only matchups on offer in Week 17, and the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati
contest may be the most promising of the bunch. The Steelers need
more than a win on Sunday to claim the AFC North title, but their
season will definitely end if they fail to get that win. And why
should they struggle against a Bengals team that is missing QB
Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green, TE Tyler Eifert, & even up-and-comer
WR Tyler Boyd? I expect the Steel Curtain to envelop the replacement
Bengals (Jeff Driskel, John Ross, and C.J. Uzomah—the TE
who led the Bengals in receiving in Week 16 with just 49 yards).
Pick #2: Seahawks over Cardinals (11-5; no, LAC, hou, GB, CAR, MIN, IND, PIT, KC, atl, tb,
BAL, TEN, DAL, phi, LAR)
The Seahawks will march to the playoffs whether they beat the
Cardinals or not, but they can secure the #5 seed by winning (and
could end up behind Minnesota at #6 if they lose and the Vikings
win). That’s not as huge as incentive as I would like them
to have, but it’s enough for me to expect them to take care
of business against a Cardinals team that hasn’t shown a
pulse since defeating the Packers in Week 13. In the past 3 weeks,
the Cardinals have scored 26 points and given up 88. I don’t
see Arizona reversing that trend on a visit to Seattle at the
end of a forgettable season.
This game might not be the pushover that it looks like on paper.
The Jets’ Sam Darnold is getting better by the week, and
he could manage to stay on his feet in this game, since the Patriots
are only ahead of one other team (Oakland) in the sack department.
The Jets were positively fierce against the Green Bay Packers
in Week 16, taking Aaron Rodgers and company to overtime in a
44-38 scorcher. Still, I have faith in New England if only because
of their incentive to secure the #2 seed and a bye. They control
their own destiny at this point and can either claim a first-round
bye by defeating the Jets or put two other teams (the Texans and
Ravens, who would both have to lose) in charge of their fate.
The Pats have been unusually inconsistent this season, but they
are a Bill Belichick-coached team playing a meaningful game at
home in Week 17 against a lackluster opponent playing only for
pride. I’m not gonna overthink this one.
Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and
playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning
a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms)
can be found here.