Last Week's Question
In Week 3, I asked
readers what to do with Week 17, when teams that have either locked
up their spot in the playoffs or locked themselves out of playoff
contention routinely opt to keep their superstars healthy by keeping
them off the field. The responses I received were so varied and
interesting that I decided to devote two columns to them. For the
first set of answers, see
my column for Week 4. For the remaining answers, keep reading.
A reader with the initials JMT spoke for a lot of those who will
presumably be interested in this column:
I've been in the same league for 7 years, and it existed
for 3-4 years prior to my joining. For most of that time, I've
been trying to get our group to consider changing our approachor
non-approachto the Week 17 issue. It's a 12-team, 3-division
league with a 14-game regular season. The three division winners,
along with the two best runners-up and the remaining high points
team, make the playoffs. Seeds 1 and 2 have a first-round bye
and things culminate with our championship game . . . you guessed
it . . . in week 17.
Well JMT, I hope that some of the suggestions in this column (or
last week's column) will sound attractive to the other owners in
your league. Maybe they'll be receptive to what Scott's league does:
My suggestions to change "the way things have always been done"
have generally been met with a lack of interest. I've come to accept
our system as just another of those uncontrollable vagaries of fantasy
footballalong with injuries, weather, and running back by committee.
I'd love to see it change, though, and would like to hear from anyone
that's been successful overhauling the way stubborn owners think.
Our league is in its 9th year, and our solution to the
Week 17 mess is this. We play a 14-week regular season and send
4 teams to the playoffs in Week 15 (Seed 1 vs. Seed 4 and Seed
2 vs. Seed 3).
The two winners advance to the Super Bowl, which is a 2-week game,
with teams able to change their rosters at "halftime".
That way, you can get the stats for your stars in week 16, and then
you can start your lower-tier players in week 17 when the stars
are resting. This arrangement makes for all kinds of interesting
story lines if a team takes a big lead after Week 16 and then some
who-dat goes for 153 yds & 3 TDs in a meaningless Week 17 game
to secure the upset win!
That's an interesting solution, but we're just getting started.
For instance, Randy's league has undergone a complex evolution
in response to the problems caused by Week 17 and to the apathy
that begins to plague owners who are out of contention by the
end of the season:
In our league, we [used to be fairly conventional, with the] top
four teams playing for the championship in weeks 15 and 16, since
Week 17 can really kill a great team. It was no good for the teams
who didn't make the playoffs, because the last three weeks were
pointless for them, and nobody in the league had a stake in Week
Gary's league also experienced a complex evolution in response to
Week 17. Perhaps some readers can learn vicariously from him:
Last year I instituted a pool for Weeks 15-17, with the highest
total point scorer for the three weeks combined getting some bucks.
This year I am expanding on this. In addition to the pool for
weeks 15-17, the eight teams who don't make the championship brackets
will have a toilet bowl in weeks 15-17. Since it is not for the
big money, playing Week 17 for the toilet bowl championship is
no big deal, but it is enough to keep everyone active. Furthermore,
in addition to the total points for Week 15-17 combined, we are
also going to give $10 to the highest total each week (Weeks 15-17).
Now there are plenty of reasons for everyone to field a lineup
each and every week. Although I had to raise the entry fee this
year to cover the extra stuff, nobody had a problem with it.
When my head-to-head league first started in 1999, our Super Bowl
fell on Week 17, and the best owner that year lost because all
of his "studs" were benched early, severely crippling
any chance his team had. We changed for the 2000 season to a Week
16 championship, which works so much better, but at that time,
I asked myself what could be done with Week 17 to use it in a
Another "Pro-Bowl" scenario comes from Neil:
In the 2001 season, I got my chance to try something out as commissioner.
We used Week 17 as a Pro Bowl scenario. Our 12-team league had
a 2-conference setup, and the highest-scoring individuals at each
position within each conference were matched against each other.
We had nothing at stake but bragging rights, but if I had to do
it over again, I would have put a nominal amount of money from
the pool toward the winning Pro Bowl contest, with each team owner
receiving a set amount of money for each player he owned on the
winning Pro Bowl roster, and a bonus going to the Pro Bowl MVP
(the player scoring the most points).
Unfortunately, since that 2001 season we have not revisited the
Pro Bowl scenario, since our league has expanded and each conference
now picks from a separate pool of players, rendering the Pro Bowl
useless (as both teams would now mirror each other--2 Priest Holmes,
2 Peyton Mannings, etc.). But it seems to me that for a league
with a single pool of players, a Pro Bowl is a terrific way to
finish out the year, with 2 "super-teams" dooking it
out for league supremacy.
In our 10-team, 2-conference league, we use week 17 as a Pro-Bowl,
with a slight twist. The Pro-Bowl rosters are picked by the regular
season conference champs, with a few provisions. They must select
1) at least one player from every team; and 2) be sure that each
player selected has started at least 5 games for that team during
Quite a few people wrote in to the effect that the problems experienced
by leagues that try to have championships in Week 17 are clearly
indicative of the flawed nature of head-to-head competitions. Scott's
league has found a very elegant way of balancing head-to-head play
with pure points competition. Their method leaves room for Week
17, but doesn't allow it to over-determine things in the league.
Each owner belonging to the losing conference must contribute $10
at the following year's auction to be put to use towards pizza,
chips and. . . . uhhh . . . soda . . . for everyone present to partake
We've used the following method for the past 11 years, and it
seems to work fine. Our league uses a head-to-head as well as
a total points system. Head-to-head determines the playoff seeding
and the Superbowl winner (using total points as tie-breakers).
Total points determines next year's draft order. Let's also not
forget about the prize money for weekly top score as well as at
the end of the season. Anyway, we start our playoffs in week 14,
ending with the Superbowl in week 16. In Week 17, each team still
starts a lineup, but no head-to-head match-ups are held. There
are no wins or losses in Week 17, but the points count towards
the total point tally for the season.
Such hybrid scoring systems appear to be fairly common, as evidenced
by Jeff's response:
I am commissioner of a league with 10-14 teams participating every
year. I have found that to keep every coach interested to the end,
there has to be an incentive. The incentive I use in my league is
no playoffs and no championship game, but recognition for the best
final record and total fantasy points. The overall champion is the
one with the most total fantasy points for the season.
David's message is representative of those who favor pure points
systems over head-to-head contests or hybrid arrangements:
Let me further explain: End season payouts for my league are for
best record and total fantasy points, plus a weekly payout for
the team with the most fantasy points for that week. So I can
have a team that has lost its last 3 games, but will still be
in the hunt for the total points championship going into W17,
or I can have a coach in the lead with a 12-4 record going into
the last week, but need to win in W17 to ensure the best record
Last year, in W17, I had 8 of 10 teams playing meaningful gamesgames
that decided division titles, best record, total points, etc.
And for the other 2 teams that were not in the running for an
end-season payout, they still could make some cash if they posted
the highest fantasy point total for the week. Thus, all coaches
stayed involved to the very end. This way, payouts are based on
consistency displayed in coaching their team the entire year,
not just the luck they had in a couple of playoff games.
Mike, there is obviously only one way to address the question of
what do with Week 17 of the fantasy football season: set your league
up as total points instead of head-to-head. It's incredible to me
that more commissioners and leagues have not adopted this approach
yet. As we all know from professional leagues, the best team does
not always win the championship in a playoff type post-season structure.
A good example is the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games and
lost to the Yankees in the AL league championship series. Granted,
[a head-to-head playoff scenario] makes for great pressure and excitement
and nail-biting, but to me the best team is the team that has proven
it all year long. In a seven-game series, you hope that the best
team pulls through, but in a two-game fantasy football playoff?
There are just too many other variables, especially at the end of
the long NFL season, that make that sort of championship hollow
and irrelevant. . . . By simply making your league a 17-week, [all-out]
brawl, the issue of what to do with Week 17 becomes moot. The best
teams (not to mention the best managers who have made the best moves
over the season) have risen to the top by that time, and probably
have some cushion to absorb the blow of having their best players
sit out a few games [at the end]. Last year in my 10-team redraft,
total points league we had 2 teams that were head and shoulders
above the pack, and they went into the last week separated by 1
point. It was still exciting, and the two best teams finished in
the money, which is just as it should be.
This Week's Question
For this week's question, I want to ask you folks about the leagues
with "training wheels." For those of you who don't know
what I mean, I'll explain. My wife joined a fantasy football league
in her office this year, but it doesn't sound like any league I
ever heard of. I have heard of 14-team leagues, 12-team leagues,
and 10-team leagues. I have even heard of 8-team leagues, which
make a kind of sense in that at least the number of players is even.
My wife, however, is in a 7-team league.
Now I don't want to stir up controversy about the "appropriate"
number of teams for a fantasy league, but that's only the beginning
of what weirds me out about her league. What's even stranger to
me is that she had nothing whatsoever to do with the drafting of
her team. It was all handled by a computer program (on Yahoo! or
some such service). I'll say that again: she didn't select her players;
they were assigned to her.
So I actually have a sort of a 2-part question. The first is, "What
is the freaking point of a 7-team league in which you don't even
draft your own players?" Can anyone explain to me how these
leagues are good for anything? Do they actually expose people in
any meaningful way to fantasy footballperhaps giving those who
are new to the hobby a taste for something more challenging? My
wife's league is free, but I have to wonder if there are others
out there who actually put money on such leagues.
And the second point of my question is, "Do any of the people
in the fantasy football community have any idea how inflated the
numbers are concerning fantasy football participation?" It
used to be that when I would hear the commentators on Fox or CBS
talking about how many millions of people play fantasy football,
I would think, "Wow." But now I have to wonder how many
of those people are playing anything like the game that I think
of when I think of fantasy football. To be in a league like my wife's,
you don't even have to know what position Donovan McNabb playsmuch
less consider the consequences of drafting a tailback who is part
of a running-back-by-committee. The computer will draft your team
for you, select your lineup throughout the season for you, and then
tell you at the end of the year whether you won. I'm left wondering
whether people in the fantasy football community are generally comfortable
referring to anyone who has a fantasy football teamwhether he can
name a single player on that team or notas a fantasy football player.
LMS Picks for Week 5 (Courtesy of Matt)
Last week, Matt had this to say: "Mark this as the week
that the Last Man Standing, or Survival Pools have their biggest
attrition rate. So many games could go either way."
This week, he adds, "Little did I know that my picks would
be the ones that could knock you out. If you went with the Eagles
last week and had not picked them against the Giants in Week 1 like
I had, you're still in it. That is why you need to be careful about
what game you pick each week and when to use the better teams for
your weekly pick."
Trap Game(s): Tampa Bay at New Orleans:
Tampa Bay is down, but not outand New Orleans is struggling. This
is one of my famous divisional matchups in which the teams also
know each other. If New Orleans can find a balance in their offense,
they should win this one, but the Bucs have a lot of pride and will
give the Saints some trouble.
#3: Minnesota over Houston (2-2 This
The Vikings are coming off their bye week and hoping to have a running
game. Mewelde Moore might get the start with Williams and Bennett
injured and Smith possibly serving out his suspension (don't look
for the league to be lenient; they haven't in the past). Even so,
the combination of Culpepper and Moss should be enough to do in
the Texans who will probably be without their starting running back
Davis for the second week in a row. Houston is at home looking for
their 3rd in row. Don't expect the miracle and go with the Vikings.
#2: Arizona over San Francisco (3-1 This
If you want to save some of the better teams for later in the season,
this may be one of two weeks you might consider picking the Cardinals.
Yes, I said the Cardinals. San Francisco has had trouble with bad
defenses, i.e. the Rams, let alone matching up against a defense
that feels that they can control almost any team these days. Emmitt
Smith is running like a man 5 years younger and Denny Green has
them believing that they can beat anyone. On the other side of the
ball, you have a team that is trying to find its identity and is
definitely rebuilding. The only other time I see the Cardinals as
a potential lock later this season is when they face the 49ers at
home, but by then, it just might be too late.
#1: Indianapolis over Oakland (3-1 This
You can't pick the Patriots every week; otherwise, they would be
my lock of the week, so instead I'm taking the high-flying Colts'
offense in the dome against the Raiders. Even if this game becomes
a shootout, the Colts should win it, but Tony Dungy is working on
his defense and they should be able to hold the vertical passing
attack of the Raiders at bay. And now that Manning has found an
old buddy in Stokely, Marvin Harrison should be able to get in the
end zone more often, since he is not the only receiving threat on
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