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Week 17

Last Week's Question

I do not know the owner of the team called Scooter Trash. I only know that Scooter Trash made it to the Super Bowl in my league, while my own squad,, was eliminated in the third week of the playoffs. Recall that I am in a 48-team league, so it is extremely impressive that Scooter Trash is appearing in his second consecutive Super Bowl in my league.

Impressive and maddening.

For you see, rumor has it that the owner of Scooter Trash did absolutely no research into the NFL before the season began. He simply showed up at his conference's draft and presumably spent the entire time getting liquored up as a computer program told him which players to draft when his turn came up. He didn't have to know about Ricky Williams' retirement. The computer program knew. He didn't have to think about how successful Terrell Owens would be as an Eagle. The computer program had thought about it for him. He didn't have to decide how much of an impact Clinton Portis' move from the Broncos to the Redskins would have on Portis' success or the success of Mark Brunell or the Redskin receivers. The computer program had already taken its own best guesses about all of those things.

And judging from the results, it did a pretty good job of guessing.

Now I, on the other hand, did not use a computer. I have written about fantasy football for years. Apart from the work I do at FFToday, I cover the AFC South for another fantasy website. I have to follow the NFL in the offseason to write my reports in the preseason. I follow developments in the draft and through training camp. I participate in mock drafts. I plot my way through various draft scenarios, forcing myself to decide between running back X and wide receiver Y in the third round. I do all of these things, but I am not in the Super Bowl.

Now I do not mean to suggest that the owner of Scooter Trash is not as informed as I am. His canny waiver wire activity this season indicates a very clear grasp of player talent, and he clearly knows how to spot an advantageous match-up. But this is the time of year when lots of people who spent the season thinking very intently about fantasy football find themselves eliminated from playoff contention in their leagues. And the first thing that we think to ourselves is, "There must be something wrong with the way my league is set up to let the people who waltz into the draft completely unprepared walk away with the purse, while those of us who give the NFL an embarrassing amount of attention get eliminated!"

Of course, that inexplicable element of fantasy football is precisely what is most attractive about it. Skill plays a role in the game, but there is no way to eliminate luck-be it good luck, bad luck, or that lopsided, slouching luck of a quarterback catching his own pass. But even if we all know that luck plays an important part in the game, most FFers do want to reward the players who have the best eye for NFL talent, though it's difficult to define talent and therefore even more difficult to agree about what it would mean to have a good eye for spotting that talent.

When fantasy leagues revise their rules in an effort to encourage and reward whatever they think of as "NFL insight," there's no reason for us to think that they are trying to eliminate luck from the equation. You don't have to watch very much football at all to realize that luck is going to be part of the equation in fantasy football no matter what we do-just as the luck of the draw is always going to be a factor in card playing no matter how good a card player one may become.

That is why I am always curious about the changes made by various leagues to keep things competitive and interesting in a game that is already plenty competitive and plenty interesting. And that is what led me to ask about what leagues would do differently next year.

You already know what the most popular response to that question was. In head-to-head leagues throughout the world, owners whose teams finished the season well ahead of everyone else in points somehow managed to lose in a single elimination playoff tournament. These owners assure me that their leagues will be changing from head-to-head leagues to scoring only leagues next year. No doubt some of them will, as points-only leagues are becoming more and more popular. But I also suspect that some of them will remain head-to-head leagues. I suspect it partly because there's just a rush that comes from playing in a single elimination tournament-and partly because I recognize some of the names on these notes from last year or the year before. There are people who finish every season vowing to change from a head-to-head format to a points-only format, but for whatever reason, they don't.

Apart from that gripe, people wrote in about highly technical matters (such as whether a TD run from inside the two-yard line should be worth more points or less points than a TD catch from inside the two-yard line), but it's the end of the season, and even though I think there is a time for thinking about such questions, it isn't the time now.

So I'll share what struck me as the most generally useful proposal, which came from Dan:

A rule change we implemented this year was a cap on waiver wire pick-ups for the year (8 total). This rule has not only increased the value of each pick-up, but also emphasized a good draft. The competitiveness of the league and skill level have both been more apparent under this system. No longer can you simply pick up some defense just because they play the Browns, then drop them the next week. You'd think due to my situation this week, I would hate this rule but I truly love it. This week my RB's are James, McGahee, Zeroeue, and M.Moore. I am out of picks and I am in the Superbowl. I have to risk starting Willis and getting a zero or starting Zeroue and still getting a zero. But it's my own fault for picking up David Terrell in week 2.
I can definitely see the appeal of this idea. Terrell looked like a great pickup after Week 1, but when you're limited to 8 waiver wire transactions on the year, you definitely want to take a step back from each potential acquisition. I'm not even sure if such a system is primarily about making the game more competitive, though it would obviously make things more fun simply by introducing yet another constraint into an already complicated rule set.

I also asked a question on behalf of a reader who was looking for a Roto Football league. I'm afraid I didn't get the precise answer that the reader may have been looking for, but I hope he will find the following response (from Barry) helpful:

I'm in 10-year old head-to-head league, but we have 16 teams in four 4-team divisions, without playoffs. Everyone stays interested, and here's why:

We play a simple round-robin with 15 "regular-season" games, followed by games in week 16 pitting the top two teams in each division against each other and the bottom two in each division against each other. Then in week 17, we seed the teams 1-16 based on overall record (total points scored breaks ties) and 1 plays 2, 3 plays 4, etc…to 15 playing 16.

The payouts are what keep people interested. Plus week 16 and 17 are each crucial for 8-10 teams, sometimes more, as opposed to most leagues where the championship game is the only game those weeks.

The team with the top record at the end of the season is the champion and earns about 40% of the prize pool. Each of the other division winners wins about 10% (weighted so the worst division winner earns less than the 2nd and 3rd best division winner. The next three best teams (we refer to them as wildcards) share about 20%. The remainder is used for weekly high-score bonuses and a nominal prize (about $10) for winning games in week 17. Even the winner of the 15 vs. 16 game wins something.

Also, we have a week 8 trading deadline, but teams who have been eliminated from any contention may start rebuilding for the next year with trading among themselves. The transaction fees for those trades are put to the next year's prize pool.

Anyway, we like the no-playoff system. We're in week 16 now, and through 15 weeks, only 3 teams are out of contention for a top 7 finish. My team is 6-9 (after starting 5-3 - curse you Jake Plummer and David Akers!), and I'm within 2 games of my division lead and even have an outside shot at winning my division.
Because I heard from a reader with the courage to stand up for scoring-only leagues last week, I wanted to give others who might feel similarly a chance to chime in on the subject. Only one person (Randy) wrote in with anything like support for scoring-only leagues, though his league isn't strictly about scores:
I have been playing in a league that was formed long before the whole fantasy craze began. The only changes we have made in over 20 years is that now [in addition to TDs, field goals, PATs, and 2-point conversions], we count sacks and interceptions. We have always used individual defensive players instead of the team concept. I feel it is more challenging on draft day to try to figure out which players are going to score. There are players who will always gain yardage, but scoring is tougher to come by. The pros have to score to win. So shouldn't everybody else?

What have we here? A scoring-only league that also acknowledges interceptions and sacks-but a league that uses individual defensive players rather than team defenses. I find it difficult to believe that there is more than one league like this in the entire world, and I have to say I like the idea.

Apart from Randy, no one wrote in to support the scoring-only concept. I did, however, receive a number of responses from people who have participated in both scoring-only and performance leagues and wanted to express their preference for the performance set-up. Since these people appear to be carrying the day already, I don't really see the point in rehashing all their replies here, but for the sake of balance, I will include one representative response from KL:

I have participated in 3 different leagues, all of which started as scoring only leagues and now have performance and scoring combined. I think everyone in each league would agree that the combined is more fun and more fair.

For example, Charlie Garner with OAK runs for 100 yards and receptions of 20 yards and no TD's. He would get 0 in scoring and 12 in performance in our combined leagues. Zack Crockett, with 3 yds and 2 TDs would get 12 in both systems. Think back to Barry Sanders and Corey Schlessinger. Need I say more?

I am commisioner of one league and assistant commissioner in the other 2. The only reason for scoring only leagues is ease of scoring. But now with stat services and other programs performance leagues are the way to go.

This Week's Question

As promised, I will wrap up the season with a list of questions concerning league-hosting services. I'll do my best to compile the answers into something useful for my June column in 2004. Please bear in mind that I am asking only about the sorts of websites that host fantasy leagues, not about the sites that give FFers advice on which players to draft and who to start or sit each week. If you don't care to respond to all of the questions that follow, simply use the numbers of the questions that follow in your responses to indicate which questions you are answering.

1) Does the league-hosting service offer live scoring?

2) Does it allow for fractional scoring?

3) Can it keep track of the performances of individual defensive players?

4) How much does it cost?

5) Does it charge by the team or by the league?

6) How many teams can be in a league?

7) How many players can be on a team?

8) Does it allow for live chats with other members of my league when I am logged in at the same time they are?

9) Does it email updates to me concerning league developments, or do I have to remember to check the website?

10) Will it keep track of drafts from year to year, or are records purged at the end of every season?

11) Does it provide a sortable list of players in terms of their productivity at their position?

12) Is it possible for me to score every category that I would want to?

13) Does it provide me with news updates concerning players?

14) Does it provide me with a warning when a player on my roster is injured or coming up on a bye week?

15) Is it reliable all the time? Most of the time? Some of the time?

16) Do people have trouble getting access to the site on Sundays when everyone is flooding it?

17) Are the administrators of the league hosting service receptive to customer suggestions and complaints?

18) Was I fully satisfied with this service? Mostly satisfied? Somewhat satisfied? Not at all satisfied?

Be sure to indicate the name of the league-hosting service that you are writing about. If possible, please cut and paste these 18 questions into your email to me and simply answer the ones that you are capable of answering. If you don't know the answer to a question, please skip it. Misinformation isn't going to help anyone. If you have experience with 3 different league-hosting services, it will be easiest for me to keep your answers straight if you past the questions into the same message 3 times over and answer them separately for each service. If you have an anecdote or important experience with a particular league-hosting service to share, feel free to do so. But please bear in mind that I will have to edit the messages I receive quite dramatically.

Last Man Standing

Matt is busy for the holidays, so you are stuck with me again this week.

#3 New York Jets over the St. Louis
I realize that the Rams are fighting for their playoff lives, but the Jets can assure themselves of an AFC berth with a victory, so the game isn't meaningless to New York. Also, the Rams won on Monday night only because the Eagles didn't really try. I think they'll be shocked when they're reminded of what it is to play against a team that cares (something I'm not sure the Rams know a lot about under Mike Martz).

#2 Detroit over Tennessee
You've heard the horror stories about Tennessee's defense. You know they barely have enough warm bodies to keep eleven defenders on the field. You also know that they lost their starting quarterback and running back earlier in the season. You probably know that backup QB Billy Volek of the game vs. Denver with a knee injury. But what you may not know is that four of Tennessee's offensive linemen are either questionable or out for Sunday's game. A quarterback on a bum leg behind an offensive line of injured rookies and backups is a recipe for disaster-no matter how bad Detroit's pass defense may be. I just don't see how the battered Titans can get the win.

#1 Houston over Cleveland
If the Texans win on Sunday, it will be the first time for the expansion franchise to string together three consecutive victories. It will also mean a .500 finish for Houston. That's all well and good, but why do I think they'll win? Mainly because the Houston defense is peaking just as the Brown offense is sinking to an all-time low. The Texans haven't yielded a TD in 11 quarters. They shut out a solid Jacksonville team on Sunday. And the Browns offense should be easy enough to handle, since the Browns have scored only 7 points in the last 2 weeks.

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.