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Week 13

Last Week's Question

As I explained in last week’s column, my question about whether changes in technology have increased the role of luck (and decreased the role of skill) in the game prompted a wide array of responses. Some readers agreed—a few of them more emphatically than I had hoped or expected. Others contended that technology is actually minimizing luck to an unprecedented extent. I’ve tried to organize the responses so as to emphasize similarities in logic (even if there are glaring disparities when it comes to the conclusions reached by those who wrote in). Now, as I promised last week, I’ll try to cover the perspectives that were unrepresented in my Week 12 column.

I’ll start with Lance’s response because I think he puts an appropriate stress on the importance of participation in multiple leagues as a consequence of the evolution of FF technology:

I do believe that chance or luck is starting to replace skill in many leagues as discussed in your column. I think that the “explosion” of fantasy football might partially be explained by the fact that more players are starting to play in multiple leagues. I still play in 1 league only, but plan on playing in 2-3 next year. In this way, you have a better “chance” of doing well in a league and due to technology, etc., there really is little extra work in playing in multiple leagues. I have no proof to this theory but I wonder how many people now play in multiple FF leagues compared to 2-3 years ago.
Like Lance, I have often thought that the stats concerning the number of fantasy football participants may well be inflated because it seems clear that many FFers participate in multiple leagues. When a league-hosting website reports that it hosts 15,000 players, I have to wonder whether that means there are really 15,000 people who log in to the site to submit their lineups or perhaps only 11,000 such people—4,000 of whom have second teams in different leagues on the same website. I’m not trying to suggest that anyone in the fantasy community is deliberately distorting numbers to make the hobby seem more popular than it is, but I suspect that such misrepresentations of fact are bound to happen from time to time.

A further consequence of this phenomenon, as observed by one of the readers in last week’s column, is that roster moves have clearly become “infectious” across leagues. If I belong to 3 or 4 leagues, I don’t really have to keep my ear to the ground to stay abreast of developments around the NFL. It’s safe to say that at least a few FFers who were overwhelmed at work when Samkon Gado was first named a starter in Green Bay found out about the RB neither by reading their local sports pages nor by clicking on the news updates provided by many league-hosting services to their subscribers, but simply by seeing Gado getting snapped up in other leagues.

Here I think we can point to a definite change in the way fantasy football is being played. It used to be that belonging to more than one fantasy football league meant devoting a great deal of extra time and energy to the hobby. But technology has come such a long way recently that belonging to multiple leagues can actually save owners time on research. We can simply watch what on-the-ball owners do in our less important leagues and imitate them in our more important leagues. Amoxy appears to be referring to something akin to this kind of technological change when he writes:

Back [when I started playing fantasy football], the only box scores that showed [the statistics we needed were in] USA Today. And since I am on the West Coast, we wouldn't get the Monday night scores until Wednesday's edition. Can you imagine FF players waiting that long to see if their team had won?

I received another geographically oriented comment from Mike, who says:

Our league is over 30 years old and is as vibrant as ever. For us, one of the reasons why may be that we are geographically different from other parts of the country. Our local Seattle Seahawks, which happen to be pretty good this year, have never been to a Super Bowl or cultivated the kind of feverish fan base that we notice on TV from other areas. Therefore, being involved in a Fantasy Football League has saved us from pinning all of our hopes on the 'Hawks for excitement. We can sit and watch any two crappy teams play on a given Sunday, watching with interest to see if one our RB's or other players score. When you have a rooting interest in the players, watching all of the games is far more interesting. Besides what else are you going to do on Sunday in the Northwest where it rains all the time? Golf is out, so we watch football, and Fantasy Football is here to stay!
I like Mike’s response a lot because it is essentially a thumbing of the nose at the luck/skill distinction. It doesn’t really matter if being competitive in fantasy football requires no more skill than winning the lottery because fantasy football gives folks in the Pacific Northwest something to do on Sunday. Even though the response is light-hearted, the argument is practically watertight—and does a great deal to allay any fears I might have had about fantasy football going the way of the hula hoop.

Of course, I heard from a number of folks who were eager to endorse my hypothesis that technology is reducing the importance of skill in the fantasy world. There’s no reason for me to include all of the responses that I received along these lines, so I’ll use this representative sample from Scott:

Bingo!! Exactly how I've been feeling the last couple of seasons. I've been running a league for 10 plus years now, and I always felt dominant at the fantasy game. I always felt my instincts set me apart. Well, no more. Instincts are out the door with all this information. Don't get me wrong; I'm still very competitive (never missed the playoffs in my league), but the thrill is fading recently. I've begun to rack my brain to take the luck out of the game, but how can you really?! Besides, I'm a dinosaur, and won't really change much. I have always, and will always, love the draft, but it's getting to the point where it's the only enjoyment left. I mean really, check this out Mike! Last year, my league was won by a guy who actually forgot about the draft!!! After we chased him down frantically, his unprepared @ss shows up and drafts a team that dominated the league! ‘Nuff said.

I get emails like this all the time. The Internet makes it so easy for FFers to get the information that they need to win that less and less preparation is required of owners each year. It really seems to have reached the point that the guy with the first overall pick in a draft can show up without having made up his mind, consult his blackberry in the two minutes that he is allowed to make his pick, and nab LaDainain Tomlinson without even knowing that there’s a professional football franchise in San Diego. In the time that it takes the other owners to make their picks, he can learn everything he needs to know about Chad Johnson, Domanick Davis, and Tiki Barber—and be ready to make an informed pick in round 2. Please don’t misunderstand me, readers. I do not mean to suggest that this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m absolutely a fan of the information age in which we live, but I don’t see any way to debate that these changes are real and pervasive—or that they are having a dramatic impact on the way the game is played.

I’ll finish with the thoughts of Charles, who commented on the luck-vs.-skill debate on his way to making another observation about the way fantasy football is changing the community of football fans:

I am very interested in the response to this question. My main personal concern is that luck is becoming too great a factor, turning Fantasy Football from a game of strategy into a game of chance, like the lottery. But I am also worried about the changing nature of those who play.

For many of us who have been in leagues for years, the idea was to see how well you could judge and manage talent. Fantasy leagues, for us, don't overshadow the NFL games; they augment them. However, many of the "new" breed of FF owners look only at selected, hyped individual pro players. As one friend has described it, it's the “Madden effect”—with fantasy leagues being overrun by individuals who have become fans of those players they like to use in the Madden NFL game. The appeal isn’t what these players have actually accomplished during their careers, but because of the success they bring in the computer game!

This "Madden effect" seems especially pronounced in the Los Angeles metro area. With no NFL franchise here, young people are growing up without a "home" team. Some still follow the former locals (Rams & Raiders); others the other "Cali" teams (49ers & Chargers). Some jump on frontrunner bandwagons (Patriots, Colts), and a few stick with "Family" allegiances (Bears, Packers, Cowboys, whatever franchise Dad or Mom follows). But many seem to be influenced by the "Madden effect." How else can you explain the growing number of Vikings, Eagles and Falcons followers except for Culpepper, McNabb and Vick?

Is this "Madden" influence only here in L.A.? Does it exist in areas that have never had an NFL franchise? Is it evident in cities with traditionally non-contending NFL teams (Arizona, Detroit, Houston)?

This Week's Question:

Charles poses an interesting question with regard to what he terms the “Madden effect”—a question so interesting, in fact, that I’ll go ahead and invite readers to weigh in on the topic if they sense that he is on to something (or off his rocker).

I’ll also remind readers that I am soliciting information on how and why various leagues handle the matter of double-weeks (weeks when fantasy teams play more than one opponent).

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

Trap Game: Houston at Baltimore:
Houston’s offense found a way to move the ball last week against a very weak St. Louis defense. Baltimore’s defense is not what it used to be but is probably enough to beat a team that has had a hard time all season. That said, a spread of eight and a half points should be covered by the Texans with a lot of Carr to Johnson. If this game were in Houston, the Texans would be my lock for the upset of the week

#3: NY Giants over Dallas (8-3 Season):
The Giants have lost some tough games this year on the road and only had one debacle at home (against the Vikings). Tom Coughlin has his team focused on the prize at hand, the NFC East Championship and this game goes a long way towards that goal. If the Giants lose this one, they will be effectively two games back of the Cowboys and will have a hard time making the playoffs when only last week they could have taken a large step towards securing home field advantage. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have not been lighting up the scoreboard and were lucky that the Giants came into Texas Stadium flat earlier this year. In this meeting, the Cowboys will find it harder to run the ball, and if they are put into 2nd and 3rd and long, the defense will tee off on Drew Bledsoe in the swirling winds. Look the Giants to not only win this, but make a statement.

#2: Buffalo at Miami (7-4 Season):
The Dolphins are favored at home against a team that beat them last time with the running game of Willis McGahee. While the Bills’ rushing defense is one of the worst in the league, the Dolphins have not been able to strike a balance between Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Some experts think that at home the Dolphins will score at will, but this is a divisional game and all bets are off. Look for JP Losman to score two touchdowns to Evans and the Bill defense to stymie the Dolphins quarterbacks.

#1: Jacksonville at Cleveland (9-2 Season):
David Garrard will be leading the Jaguar attack this week, and there should be no drop off in production. With this team looking to make the playoffs as a wildcard team, it is this type of game that they need to take control of on the road. Fred Taylor will be back in the lineup which will help relieve some of the pressure that Garrard will be facing, but it is their defense that will be the difference. Trent Dilfer may start this game, but it is very likely that he will not finish it. With Charlie Frye in the mix at quarterback, no amount of running by Reuben Droughns will be enough to help them win the game. If you are really strapped for a lock this week, the Jaguars are your pick.

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.