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Week 11

Last Week's Question

In last week’s column, I asked readers about what I perceive as a dramatic increase in the savvy of FFers. I observed that in 2005, it seems as if FFers are making their roster decisions “more quickly, more judiciously, and more frequently” than they have in the past—and asked readers why that might be the case. A lot of people have apparently been thinking the same thing, as the response was overwhelming. I appreciate all of those who wrote in to assure me that I am not imagining things. There’s no way that I can include all the responses, but even if I don’t use the words of everyone who wrote in, I will try to cover all the perspectives in what follows. I’ll start with Charles, whose response was as unambiguous as I could have hoped for:

My answer would be an unequivocal yes. My current league is in its 14th season. It's always been an 8-team league, with 23-player rosters (plus defenses & special teams). No trades, no drop/replace except for a mid-season drop draft (just completed this week). The major prize (league championship) is judged on starter's total points, with a second category of head-to-head champion. We also have a separate pool for the postseason, where all players/teams in the NFL playoffs are active. The team finishing the postseason with the most points wins the playoff pool.

When the league first started, it was very obvious at the draft which owners had done their prep work and which had simply bought a newspaper/magazine the day beforehand. [These days] I'm seeing owners doing their homework. The surprise picks now typically involve when a player is taken as opposed to who is taken. A great example is Ernest Wilford. In this week's drop draft, I thought I would be able to snag him in the third or fourth round. Guess what? He was the No. 2 overall pick behind Mark Brunell.

As to the "why" for this increased savvy, I think it is because there is so much more information available. Printed materials and broadcast programs have multiplied, but nothing close to what can be found on the Web. FFToday is a terrific site, and I know I am not the only owner in my league that checks it regularly. And there are many, many more avenues of access, including improved efforts by the NFL and its teams to cater to the fantasy players.

However, I believe there is a huge downside to this increased owner savvy. I see luck (good and, especially, bad) playing a much larger role than skill in the final results. If all teams remained healthy (a miracle, I know), we'd see much tighter scores and tougher start-to-finish competition. Instead, now injuries -- even to second and third string players -- and unexpected real-world decisions (Tim Rattay from starter in SF to third string in TB; Jose Cortez from game-winning kicker to out of a job) determine so much of the final outcome.

It would be counterproductive for me to quote everybody who agreed with me and pointed to the Internet as the chief cause of this increased savvy, but I want to give readers more than a taste of this perspective, since it was the predominant response. Consider how similar John’s response was to Charles’:
The answer to your question is you are absolutely correct. The Internet has changed FF, as it has everything else on the planet. Forget TV shows and other kinds of media. When it comes to leveling the playing field, the abundance of information over the past couple of years has completely taken away the advantage of the owners who did their homework vs. those who did not. IT has made it easier to learn more quickly how to become a good owner, and the landscape of FF has changed as a result.

When I first started FF in ‘98 or ‘99, I used to relish the Tuesday morning paper, with all the box scores on 2 pages, easy to read. I remember having to scour through them to find a hint of a promising RB to pickup, watching for trends in who was getting the ball more, and hoping upon hope for players to come available. If you did your homework, it generally paid off. Now, not only is that information available 24/7, but the names of 3rd- and 4th-stringers are known commonly among owners who do not have to spend more than 15 minutes a day reading through reports.

The fact that in my league (14 team redraft), this week Greg Jones and Alvin Pearman were both picked up—with LeBrandon Toefield getting some consideration as well—shows exactly what I am saying. Everybody has the same information, and as a result, it has become more difficult than ever to navigate successfully all the way to a championship.

Rookie owners quickly become savvy 2nd-year owners, and with more time spent playing, it only gets harder and harder for the rest of us.

You could even say, with the leveling of the playing field information-wise, some of the fun has gone out of the game. The pride of discovering that gem of a player before anyone else is long gone. Oh well.

Jeff also thinks the Internet is important, but he stresses that there is a little more to the increased savvy of FFers than that:

I think the reason is two-fold, and you hit the nail right on the head for one of them. Improved technology and increase in information sources has helped greatly. I’ve been playing fantasy football for about 8 years now, and every year there are more sources of information: more magazines, more shows, more websites, and more people playing (which is a cause for more discussion/idea exchange). More information = more knowledge = better players.

But I think there is a reason that precedes the one I mention above. To become savvier through the use of all these resources, you have to want to know more and learn more. It still takes time and energy and effort to research and study all these sources of information. The casual fantasy football fan is usually not willing to do this. I think what is happening is the “fad” of fantasy football has evolved past the fad stage and is now a bona fide staple in the category of hobby/entertainment. A larger percentage of the people who play care more about what they are doing than past years because, even though not every league is hardcore/fantasy expert level, more leagues, even the casual ones, have members who have more than just a passing interest (you know, the type that traditionally will fill out a bracket for the NCAA office pool, or maybe do a pick 6 NFL weekly office game).

For example, in random online leagues (, etc) it used to be common to see dead teams several games into the season (not making changes for bye weeks, no trades, no waiver wire transactions, etc). I don’t run in to that very often anymore.

Also, in my “live” league I’ve been in for 7 years, I know the first few years we had a lot of turnover, 3 to 5 new owners in a 12-man league the first few years, down to 1 or 2 the next couple, and now the same owners for the second consecutive year. Also trading and waiver wire transactions have skyrocketed.

Sorry this ran so long – basically, I just think more people are truly “into it” than before, as the fad followers/trendy folk (no insult intended) have moved on to the next big thing, leaving a higher percentage of true fans who want to put in the work to study and learn more to make their team better.
There’s no doubt that the Internet has simplified things for FFers interested in finding out about statistical trends and the personnel decisions of coaches around the NFL, but I’ve been using the Internet to do the research on the NFL since the late ‘90s, and I’m sure others were doing so even earlier. I have begun to suspect this year that the real simplifier in the equation isn’t the Internet itself, but the way that hosting services such as and are set up. I happen to play in one league on each of these hosting sites, and they’re both set up so that I can simply click on the names of players to access fantasy updates. I’m not ready to say that this feature has “revolutionized” fantasy football, but I think one could argue that it’s the single most important technological development in the history of the game. While it’s true that four years ago, I could have done a Google search on each player on my team to check for late breaking news that might effect my lineup decisions, that’s not quite the same as logging onto a website, seeing that 5 of my 16 players have little icons by their names to indicate that there’s something for me to read about them, clicking on the links, and finding out everything I need to know about my team without ever leaving my hosting service. Since I have to log in to submit my lineup anyway, it only makes sense for me to click on those links. It’s always been easy to find out about players by using the Internet, but there are hosting services that now make the process virtually effortless. It’s my opinion that such a development has to change the face of the game, and Frank appears to agree:
I have definitely noticed an increase in knowledge in my fantasy football league among other owners. While it used to be I could wait a couple of weeks to see how a free agent player panned out, I now have to take a lot more chances and snap a player up right after a break-out game (or even before he has done anything).

For my league, I believe the change came when I moved our league to an online format. While I (and a few others in the league) have been using websites such as FFToday for years, the rest of the owners have just figured out the online advantage. Our site includes up-to-the-minute news on players, a feature that has taken my "inside" knowledge and made it available to everyone in the league. Once owners saw the information they can get online, they began to subscribe to other sites for things such as injury updates and "sit/start" help.

Even though it was nice to have that advantage, the use of online information has made our league more competitive. This is the first year where I couldn't automatically count a few teams out of the race before the season started. It has made us a well-balanced league which has made it more fun for all of us.

Andrew, however, isn’t ready to embrace the technological explanation. He points out, quite justifiably, that the people who have flocked to fantasy football in recent years just needed a little time to mature as participants:

I would say that owners are absolutely more informed and quicker to act. There are a few reasons for this:

1. The owners that got into FF for the first time when it ‘exploded’ about 2 years ago have had a couple of years to learn.

2. The articles published every year that tout the importance of timely waiver claims as well as the draft have finally become so prevalent that every FFer is now privy to this information.

3. The volume of information from various sources has increased the accuracy of daily injury updates by corroborating truths and exposing rumors. You can now be surer that what you act on is legit if it comes out of a few places (and I mean primary sources, not the site that reports it).

4. Multi-league participants are much more common now. As a result, a player might observe a claim in one pool and copy it in another.

The bottom line is that FF experienced a lag between its increase in popularity and an increase in competence of the new owners. This is a very simple, predictable concept. All of the new owners that started playing in the last 2 years or so have had a chance to learn the game and get good. The underlying truth (and this might be a bitter pill to swallow) is that FF is not really that hard. You don’t have to be a genius to interpret an injury report’s impact to a depth chart or analyze a match up. Once everyone is on a level playing field it becomes a question of who can predict ‘unlikely’ events, and who gets lucky.
I’ll close with Marc’s opinion because he was the only one who wrote in to contradict my assertion that FFers are any different these days from what they used to be:
First of all, FFers aren’t more savvy; they just have access to more information, in a much shorter time frame. I don't know if you’ve been over to the ESPN FF message boards. If you go, you’ll see a lot of posts that are far from savvy (should I drop K. Jones for Marion Barber ?), but they do have instant info on what’s happening with the FF world—in particular, injuries. You'll see guys immediately snagging up Tony Fisher or Samkon Gado if Ahman Green has a head cold. Leagues are MUCH deeper these days, where 20-team leagues can be commonplace (can you imagine, back in the good ole days, having to be a commish, reading the newspaper for stats, and manually inputting that data into an Excel spreadsheet for a 20-team league?). You HAVE to react quickly in order to be competitive. Unfortunately, what makes matters worse are free leagues, or leagues with no limits on roster moves. In my league, like a lot of 'em I'm sure, you have to pay for WW pickups. When you’re shelling out 5 bones (a lot more in some leagues) for a WW pickup, you have to think about it. In a free league, you don’t. It's easy to take a chance. IMO, in every free league, there should be a transaction limit. You won’t see the Alvin Pearmans of the world being picked up too frequently. Right now, I can guarantee you that Richardson has been picked up in thousands of leagues due to the Holmes injury. No one has even probably heard of the dude. 20 years ago, before the Internet, I wouldn’t have even known where to find who the heck the 3rd RB for Kansas City was.

My thanks to all who wrote in—and apologies to those whose remarks were too similar to other responses for me to be able to include them.

This Week's Question:

You folks know that I’m a sucker for league mechanics, and I expect to get back to asking questions that pertain to the ways in which leagues are structured next week, but I can’t help pondering an implicit tension between what Charles and Jeff had to say in their responses to last week’s question. Jeff contends that fantasy football has gone from fad status to being “a bona fide staple in the category of hobby/entertainment.” I suspect he’s right—and that fantasy football will turn out to be more like rock-and-roll (which, as they say, is “here to stay”) than the hula hoop. But it’s obviously too early to tell for sure. And in light of what Charles has to say about how technology has already taken at least one aspect of fun out of the game, I have to wonder whether we fantasy aficionados might in fact go the way of the hula hoop. I don’t think of fantasy football as being less fun than it used to be, but then again I’m an addict—so it’s hardly as if I’m in any position to judge. So what do you folks think about the possibility that the youth of today will look at fantasy football a few years from now and see it as an uninteresting, unchallenging exercise in technological futility? Luck already plays a significant role, and if the most important information is available to absolutely everyone, then it seems as if luck will only be more and more important down the line. Once fantasy football becomes more clearly a game of chance than a game of skill, why should anyone bother playing it instead of, say, the lottery? Set me straight on this one, please.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

Sometimes it’s not fun being right. Matt pointed out in a note to me this week, “As you know, I am a BIG New York Giants fan and just had that feeling that they would fall flat. However, with Bob Tisch dying this week, the team should get up for a big game at home against the Birds who will be without McNabb.”

Matt’s Picks

Trap Game: Indianapolis @ Cincinnati:

Indianapolis is on a roll and on paper should handle the Bengals rather easily. But Cincinnati has not had such a big game so late in the season in years, and they are home against a team that is undefeated. The last time the Colts were undefeated this late in the season, they lost their 10th game to the Bengals. Will history repeat itself? The '72 Miami Dolphins hope so, but each week that they are undefeated the pressure will build on the Colts and with the high-powered, balanced attack of the Bengals, this is just the first of many games where their streak may end.

#3: Green Bay over Minnesota (8-1 Season):
If anyone thinks that Green Bay has packed it in, think again. The Pack went out and played an inspired game against the Dirty Birds last week and barring another miracle three touchdowns by the special teams and the Viking defense, the Packers should win this one with a steady diet of Sam Gado, "the Nigerian Intern", in a classic frozen tundra game. Winter has made an early arrival in Wisconsin, and the Vikings are a dome team. Combine the cold weather, the conservative play of the Vikings, and a team that realizes that because of their schedule they are not out of the NFC North divisional race, and it all adds up to a win for the Pack at home.

#2: San Diego over Buffalo (5-4):
Last week's upset special was Buffalo over Kansas City because the Bills were going to take advantage of the corners with their wide receivers and they had two weeks to prepare. This week the Bills travel to the left coast against a team that has a running back that knows how to score as well as put up the big yards against the second-worst rushing defense. Combine that with timely passing from Brees to Gates, and the Bolts should win this at home. However, if there is a formula for the Bills to win on the road this week, it is with controlled mid-range passes between the linebackers and the secondary of the Chargers. Now that J. P. Losman seems to have finally learned some valuable lessons from watching Holcomb run the offense, the Bills may have the chance to steal one in San Diego.

#1: Seattle @ San Francisco (7-2):
The Seahawks have all but clinched the division title, and this is one of those games that you are supposed to win. While most fantasy owners will be looking for a big day from Hasselback, Engram and Jurevicius against the 49er secondary, it may be another grind-it-out day of Alexander on the ground with little need for aerial fireworks. Ken Dorsey should complete more passes than Cody Pickett did last week, but he could do that just by showing up. Even so, Dorsey and the 49ers have little chance of winning this game at home.

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.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.