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Week 14

Last Week's Question
(and one from the week before, and another from the week before . . . )

As I indicated back in Week 12, my question about emerging FF technology and that technology’s relationship to the relative importance of luck vs. skill in the game prompted a wider array of responses than I could handle in a single column. I’ve since gone on to ask two questions (one about double-header fantasy leagues and another about what a reader named Charles calls “the Madden effect”), but the answers about technology, skill, and luck keep rolling in.

I appreciate the thoughts of the readers of this column, and I hate to nip what appears to be an intriguing discussion for fantasy enthusiasts in the bud, but there are obviously more opinions on this matter than I can ever fully account for, so I’ll announce here that I simply have to move on to another topic. Nevertheless, a couple of the late responses that I received on the Week 12 question are so cogent that I can’t help including them. The first comes from Matt:

I realize this response may be a week or two late, but I felt the need to chime in. I don’t understand the people that complain that the availability of information (i.e. technology/internet) has taken away the skill of fantasy football. Since when is having access to information a “skill”? So what if some player was able to dominate 10 years ago before the Internet took hold—just because he read all the newspapers and watched every Sportscenter? How was that a skill? Information may have been harder to come by years ago, but the same information was still available to everyone. Kudos if you worked harder and got more info, but don’t claim it’s a skill. If anything, I think technology brings out skill even more because it evens out the information playing field. If everyone has the same cheat sheets, projections, etc., then it’s the ones who can see past the numbers and stats and make good decisions on their own that win. To use a stupid analogy, who do you think can throw a football farther: my cousin or my brother? Maybe one’s an 8 year old who throws like a girl, and the other’s a top college recruit. The point is that my knowing which is which doesn’t give me some magic skill over everyone else.
Matt does an excellent job of reminding us that we can’t (or shouldn’t) necessarily conflate skill with knowledge. Jim also takes pains to look critically at these categories—and suggests that some folks see them through a sort of “sour grapes” perspective:
I read where [a reader of yours] wrote in about being in multiple leagues and how technology has made that easier. I say technology has. Further, [that reader] suggests that "Chance" and/or "Luck" is beginning to replace skill. This opinion is also shared by another [reader] up in Seattle.

Fellows, let me ease your minds. Luck and chance ARE NOT replacing skill. I believe only those who happened to have a bad year or two think this way. It is true that there is a thin line between “Chance, Luck & Skill.” How could a person have one of these three without the others? Some say that Montana's pass to Craig in the end zone was luck. Others say it was skill because Montana called the play and Craig understood it and made it there to catch the ball. And as for chance—isn't it all the same? True, Craig was a cog in the 49er machine. His skill meshed with the luck of having a clear running path and increased his chance of making the game-winning catch. His skill came from LOTS of practice. With skill you get a shot at the big game; once you get there, you hope to meet up with Skill’s friends "Chance and Luck."

I think anyone who really believes that the skill it takes to draft and manage a team is being replaced by "Luck" and "Chance" is holding a grudge for a bad year or two. Yes, there are some cases where someone has dumb luck and pays very little attention to his/her team and wins it all. But, do we really see this happening with any frequency? [My motto for the draft is that] "Chance favors the prepared mind." If you are prepared for your draft, then you have honed another year of skill for yourself—allowing an increased chance of taking it all. Luck! Perhaps a little of all three.

I have had 3-4 years of pure garbage teams recently. But that was not because I failed to prepare; I failed by second guessing myself during the draft and because some of the players SIMPLY had a bad year. Therefore, I had a bad year. It surely wasn't because of someone else's luck. Perhaps you could say they were lucky that I had a bad year.
The consensus of those who wrote in about the double-header question was generally that such structures are more trouble than they are worth. As Mark put it:
I guess I just don't understand why leagues mess with the nature of things. In the NFL's 17-week season, you can still have a 15-game regular season and 2 weeks of playoffs. Semi-finals in NFL week #16 and Super Bowl in NFL week #17.
I certainly take Mark’s point, but the reason that one of the leagues I belong to decided to schedule several double-header weeks was so that we could have a 16-game regular season (just like the NFL) in the course of 13 weeks of play. I guess Mark would ask why it was so important to us to play the same number of games as NFL franchises, and I’m afraid I couldn’t answer that question. I was particularly puzzled by the move when we added a week to the regular season and ended up playing 17 games. No teams in the NFL play 17 games, so I have no idea why our structure evolved as it did. But I do know that I’m not the commissioner of that league and that it’s fun to try to win even if I do have double-headers scheduled at random intervals throughout the season—so I play along. I wouldn’t mind if we had double-headers every week, which is what Chet advocates:
Before we went to weekly double-headers, there was always somebody bitching and moaning about having the second-highest score in the league the one week that he had to play the team with the top score. I’m sure it even happened to me, and I probably did some bitching and moaning myself. I think it’s pretty stupid to use double headers just because you want to have some arbitrary number of games played in a season—particularly if you only have double-headers occasionally during the year. But I’m a fan of double-headers if they happen every week. I play everyone in my own division three times each season and everyone else in the league twice. It’s fun because you always get at least one rematch against everyone. Also, if you get the second-highest score in the league one week, then the worst that can happen is for you to go 1-1. I guess it’s possible that the third-highest scorer could play the first- and second-highest scorer one week, which would be a raw deal. But that hasn’t happened to us in two years, and I think the odds on that would have to be pretty long. Also, if you play double-headers, you can start your playoffs much earlier, which means you can have more wild card teams and offer more byes.
I’m glad to hear that Chet’s league is having fun with double-headers, but I’m sure there are some readers who would say that if you are going to play against two different teams every week, you might as well play everyone in the league. And if you are going to play 7 or 9 or 11 games every week and finish the season with triple-digit wins or triple-digit losses, then you may as well move from a head-to-head format to a points only league. I know that some readers will argue this because I’ve heard from them before. But as I’ve said in the past, there’s enough room in the world for all sorts of leagues—and I always advocate sticking with whatever is working for you.

When I asked Charles’ question about the Madden effect, I solicited responses from those who agreed with him as well as those who thought he was “off his rocker.” Predictably, the answers came from both ends of the spectrum. I’ll start with Brad, who agreed:
I got into FF in 1995, and we started with 8 teams. Our scoring was T.D.’s only: 6, 9, or 12 points depending on the length of the T.D. Our results came from the box scores in the local paper. Everyone totaled each team to avoid mistakes. In our early years, the “Madden” factor was prevalent—and players who “couldn’t be stopped” on the video game were often teams’ # 1 picks (even though those teams were usually the cellar dwellers).
Christian came down on the other side of the question (though he opted to eschew the “off his rocker” phrase in favor of a fast food metaphor):
I can’t see anyone drafting a team based on a player’s performance from a "Madden" game. Whether it’s draft day or you’re setting your line-up during the regular season, like you said last week, all the information you need is a click away in one of a bazillion places. Why settle for video game assumptions when genuinely relevant fantasy info. is so easy to come by? I think this “Madden effect” guy is a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

This Week's Question:

Ahem. Moving on. First, I know I’m not the only one who hates to see the fantasy season end just as the NFL playoffs are beginning. Second, I know I’m not the only one who has tried to participate in a fantasy league geared specifically to the NFL playoffs. Third, I know I’m not the only one who thinks that there must be a better way to set up a post-season fantasy league than the way I’ve tried.

Those of you who have tried such leagues have presumably found that the problem with fantasy leagues that last from the wildcard playoffs through the Super Bowl is that there simply aren’t enough players in action to go around. The only format I’ve tried for post-season fantasy leagues is to draft players who are simply eliminated from my roster as their teams are eliminated from the playoffs. As I’ve mentioned before, the tendency that emerges in such leagues is to draft players not so much because you think they are the best at their positions as because you suspect they will still be active in Detroit on Super Sunday. But that game (which I’m always willing to play because it’s better than nothing) feels more like betting on who will make it to the Super Bowl than it feels like fantasy football. I’m sure someone else out there has come up with a better method. Lay it on me.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

As we get further into the season, it becomes harder and harder to find a “good team” that you haven’t used. It is in this light that I give you my picks for this week.

Trap Game: New Orleans at Atlanta:
The last time these two teams met, the Falcons returned two turnovers for scores and held on to win 34-31. Atlanta has lost three straight, and while on paper this game looks perfect for the Falcons to get healthy, it might just be a Monday night shocker. The Saints are not a good football team, but they do play well against their division foes and always seem to come up big in these games. If not for these tendencies, this would be an ideal game to pick for your LMS pool. However, if you pick Atlanta this week, you just might find yourself looking in from the outside in your LMS pool.

#3: Pittsburgh over Chicago (9-3 Season):
If you are fortunate enough to not have used the Steelers yet this season, this should be the week that you can use them with confidence. Everyone knows that this game will be a low-scoring affair because of the defenses that these teams have, but it all comes down to the quarterback position in this game. Big Ben is hands down a better quarterback than Kyle Orton, and it is because of this that the Steelers should win this game.

#2: Tennessee over Houston (7-5 Season):
Houston, we have offense. In the last few weeks, the Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson has been found on the field by David Carr. While this is reassuring, it has not been enough in the last few games to convert offense into wins. That trend should continue in this rematch with the Titans winning in spite of their youth. Whoever loses this game should have the inside track on Reggie Bush.

#1: Minnesota over St. Louis (10-2 Season):
Brad Johnson has won five straight for the Vikings since taking over for Culpepper, and this week he should make it six in a row. The Rams defense has allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of the last four games (all but the Cardinals), and while no one is sure whether Michael Bennett or Mewelde Moore will be running the ball, all that matters is that the Vikings will try to run it against the Rams. Ryan Fitzpatrick should have a better outing against the Vikings than he did last week with the Redskins, but even if the Rams can run the ball with Stephen Jackson as they have promised, the Vikings should win this one at home. For the Rams, the only saving grace this week is that the Vikings play indoors.

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.