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Week 15

Last Week's Question

In response to last week's question about how to settle ties in head-to-head leagues, I received an overwhelming number of replies. I would like to be able to say that I hope some of these ideas will be helpful for those of you in leagues that struggle over this issue, but my sense is that even though leagues handle ties in all sorts of intriguing (and sometimes bizarre!) ways, most folks seem to be quite happy with the rules their league has adopted. Usually when I ask a question such as this, people simply write in to tell me what their leagues do, but the replies I received this week seemed more interested in advocating a particular tie-breaking system than in merely describing it. In any case, it's good to know that most leagues out there are happy with the way they handle ties, and anyone who isn't happy should have no trouble finding a solution that all their league-mates can live with in what follows.

Solutions vary from giving the advantage to the higher-seeded team to comparing selected players on the bench to tallying collective bench scores to comparisons between more specialized categories (such as performances from kickers and defenses). The problem with most of the tie-breaking categories, however, is that they allow for ties themselves. Accordingly, most leagues have three or four meaningful tie-breakers before resorting to the dreaded coin flip. But John's league refuses to allow the luck of a coin flip to settle a tightly contested fantasy football game. If two opponents tie all the way across the board in John's league, then the contest is actually settled by a 100-yard dash! Now that's the sort of crazy detail that keeps me writing this column, so please keep the outrageousness coming, folks.

I appreciate the effort that so many readers put into their responses to last week's question, but since so many of the tie-breaking methods are virtually identical, I'm going to put together a sort of composite paraphrase of the emails I received, proceeding from the most popular to the most idiosyncratic answers.

Method 1: Bench Scores
A number of leagues apparently have owners select a single player from their bench as a tie-breaker player each week. I'm a little surprised by how popular this method is considering how drastically scoring tends to vary from one position to another in fantasy leagues, but apparently this approach is ordinarily implemented by allowing FF opponents to choose any players they like, even if the result is to put a kicker up against a quarterback. I guess that makes sense, since fewer and fewer leagues require owners to carry a set number of players at any position. But since QBs are usually the highest-scoring players in fantasy leagues, I assume that there is pressure in leagues with this tie-breaking system to keep a roster spot open for a very solid back-up QB.

Almost everyone who wrote in concerning this method went on to point out that if the selected bench players for both teams happened to tie, then the score for the entire bench would be used as the next tie-breaker. It's easy to imagine league structures in which this would put certain teams at a decided advantage, but also easy to imagine league structures in which this would be a perfectly reasonable way of proceeding. This was, hands down, the most popular method of breaking ties.

Method 2: Advantage to the Higher-seeded Team
Although few leagues appear to use this method as their first tie-breaker, it was quite popular as the third or fourth resort for settling ties. And I did hear from several people who said that this is the only tie-breaker their leagues use in the playoffs. The clear advantage of a system such as this is that it doesn't allow for a tie, since the seeding order has to be set before the playoff tournament brackets can even be set up.

Method 3: Kickers
In a number of leagues, the first tie-breaker is a matter of which kicker scored the most points—a reasonable approach, since so many close games in the NFL are settled by the kicker.

Method 4: Team Defense/Special Teams
I received three responses (possibly from people in the same league) who argue that the scores for the defenses in a tie game should be used as the first tie-breaker. I didn't really understand why defenses made more sense than kickers for this purpose, but obviously it makes sense to the people who made the rule.

One potential problem that leaps out at me with regard to using kickers or defenses as the first tie-breakers is that this system is obviously asking for trouble in leagues with multiple conferences. Multi-conference playoff games routinely feature one or more identical players on the opposing teams, and it goes without saying that Mike Vanderjagt is going to tie with himself each and every week.

Method 5: Highest Individual Performance
Although not terribly popular as the first tie-breaker, the method of comparing the single highest scoring player on each of the tying teams was quite popular as a second, third, or fourth tie-breaker. I have to say I like this idea a lot for all sorts of leagues, since it can be extended automatically to the second-highest scoring player (and so on and so forth) should the highest-scoring players on both teams tie.

Method 6: Home-field Advantage
In some leagues, each team plays half its games "at home" and half "away." These leagues frequently give the home team the advantage of an automatic tie-breaking win. That's an interesting possibility in the regular season, but in the playoffs, this technique appears to come to the same thing as giving the victory to the higher-seeded team. It would be very strange to give home-field advantage to the lower-seeded team in a game that is modeled (at least theoretically) on the NFL, but far be it from me to tell leagues how to manage their affairs.

Method 7: Longest Single Field Goal
While it is far more popular to compare kickers as a way of settling ties, some leagues look not at the overall performance of the kickers, but at the single longest field goal in a game to determine which team won. I like this idea a lot, though I shudder to think about the scenario in which two kickers both connect on 42-yard field goals, but a fantasy player pulls out his Tivo footage to show that his kicker's 42 ½-yarder edged his opponent's 42 ¼-yarder.

Method 8: Total Yardage
A fairly rare (but sensible) method for settling ties is to tally up the total passing, rushing, and receiving yardage that both tying teams racked up in the course of a game. Obviously, this can also result in a tie, but that seems an extremely remote possibility. I was surprised I only heard from two people about this method, as it clearly rewards one team for outperforming another in an easily quantifiable and clearly relevant scoring category.

This Week's Question

I'll try to make this week's question fairly general even though it stems from two very specific questions submitted by readers. The general question is this: Are there any leagues out there that have found a meaningful way of incorporating penalties into their fantasy scoring. How would you go about doing something like that if you wanted to?

For the specific queries behind this question, I'll turn to Monica and William.

Monica wrote:

It seems crazy that my receivers don't get any points at all when they are prevented from making a huge play because the defenders interfere with them. This was really painful for me on Sunday night in the Eagles game because I saw Terrell Owens get up after an incomplete pass and clap because he drew an interference call! He was happy about it. The Eagles were happy about it. But I had nothing to be happy about because even though the game proceeded as if he had made the catch, my fantasy team had nothing to show for it. Isn't there some way around this problem?
I'm certainly not aware of any solutions, but I would be interested to find out if other fantasy players regard this as a problem or have figured out a way to "score" interference penalties.

The second question (which is kind of technical and won't mean much to those who skim it) concerns two sacks that William would like to dispute:
According to my research, the Eagles were credited for a sack on one play in the 4th quarter when a defender leg-whipped the QB down and was flagged for a penalty on the play for leg whipping. It seems odd that the sack would count when the defender sacked the QB due to an illegal act.

The second "sack" was recorded as time ran out in the game. Ramsey dropped back 10 yards and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Redskins. If it was a sack, then the QB was down and there could be no fumble; if it was a fumble, then it could be no sack.
I really don't know how to answer William's question, though I will confess that in my league's draft prior to the 2004 season, twelve drunken men spent the better part of an hour shouting at each other (and nearly coming to blows) about the way the NFL allows a sack and a fumble to be recorded on the same play. I understand your point, William. It seems to me that if the quarterback doesn't possess the ball, he can't be sacked-and that if he is sacked, then the play must be dead at the moment of the sack, in which case there can be no opportunity for a fumble. But I know as a matter of established fact that the NFL routinely records sacks and QB fumbles on the same play. I've met a lot of people who say they can explain this seeming contradiction to me, but they mainly just yell that the NFL statisticians know what they're doing.

As for the first part of your question, I haven't done the research you've done, but if you are correct, then I find it very strange that a sack on a play that was nullified by an accepted penalty would actually stay on the record books. If anyone has an explanation of this matter (or a correction of William's research), I would like to know more.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

Trap Game: St. Louis at Arizona:
On paper this game looks like a Cardinals beating, but the Cardinals are a very effective running team and their defense is not that bad. Chris Chandler has not been great over the last two weeks, and this divisional game has upset written all over it.

#3: Washington over San Francisco (7-6 This Season):
Dennis Erickson has been given permission to speak with Ole Miss about the head coaching job there. It is too bad, but he will be the scapegoat for what everyone knew was going to be a salary cap nightmare that was created many years before his arrival. Unfortunately, he just could not take a team of unproven players and match them up against the rest of the NFL. This week they will face one of the toughest defenses in the league and it won't matter if Maurice Hicks or Kevin Barlow is in the backfield. Washington is playing very good ball despite their record and the 49er defense is exactly what Patrick Ramsey needs to get his confidence going.

#2: NY Jets over Seattle (10-3 This Season):
Seattle has been beaten by teams that have a good running game, and Curtis Martin is a good running back. As long as the Seahawks are unable to stop the run, the Jets should win this one even without John Abraham on the defensive line. Darrell Jackson will drop one or two sure touchdown passes in the swirling winds of Giants stadium and Doug Brien will seal the victory with a field goal kick late in the game.

#1: Tennesee over Oakland (9-4 This Season):
Neither of these teams are giving up, but Tennessee's offense seems to be taking off with Billy Volek under center. Drew Bennett has posted 357 yards and 6 touchdowns over the last two weeks and should have some success against the Raiders' defense. While Kerry Collins is finding his rhythm with Jerry Porter, the Raiders offense does not match the Chiefs, who effectively dismantled the Titans on Monday night football.
For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.