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Week 4

Last Week's Question

In last week’s column, I asked readers whether they subscribed to online fantasy expert services for advice about the management of their teams. Since the question was posed on a free fantasy football website, it should be clear to everyone that the responses I received cannot possibly be construed as representative of the thinking of fantasy participants in general.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to learn how overwhelmingly averse the readers of FF Today seem to be when it comes to paying money for fantasy advice. Mike’s response sounded almost identical to dozens of others:

The only expert I hire is myself. I rely on FF Today and its forums (useful once you know how to wade through the BS). I also utilize FF Bookmarks for bench/start help, browsing many to formulate info that is beneficial for my league rules. Heck, my league's software program that we use online even updates player news and has pay info available also.

I can see 1st year owners possibly paying—along with FF owners with little time to browse the web to update player info. I recommend against paying with so much free access to player info. For those with limited internet time, I would recommend browsing Thursday/ Fridays when injury reports are out and bench/start sites are updated.
Sean seems to think much along the same lines:

As far as sites strictly for info, I only use free sites, and your site is the only one I use strictly for fantasy football news. I also use Yahoo, AOL, CBS Sportsline, and ESPN. For the most part, I go to individual newspapers that give you local coverage of the teams. That is where you compile your best info. I usually pick up one yearly publication just as a quick stats reference. I do subscribe to the Sporting News, but that is just so I have something to read while on the john.

I think most fantasy football players have evolved with technology and search a broad base of information and come to their own conclusions -- at least, those of us who win money.
I agree wholeheartedly with Sean about local papers being the best source for NFL news. I’m sure there are all sorts of links to relevant papers on the Internet, but I’ll offer readers a bookmark that I’ve found handy for tracking down local information pertaining to any team that concerns me. If you know of a more comprehensive list of links to local papers covering NFL teams, please let me know about it so that I can share it with readers (and start using it myself).

A number of readers have extremely elaborate strategies for deriving all the information they need from free sites. I appreciated the time these readers took to tell me, point by point, how they prepare for the season without paying for expertise from any websites. Unfortunately, these methods are so complicated and idiosyncratic (and yet, ultimately, so similar) that I can’t justify including more than one as a sample. Here’s the method employed by a reader who calls himself “Junk”:
I’ve almost got a standard practice at this point in terms of the annual pre-draft routine. Probably about a month before our draft is scheduled, I will go to the newsstand to pick out a fantasy mag. There were so many this year that it took me forever to pick out the one I wanted. However, after spending around 45 minutes reviewing various magazines, I finally chose one based on the idea that I am just looking for a good team overview for the year—a little discussion about last season including injuries, what player and coaching changes were made for the coming year, and a preseason depth chart. I’ll also skim some of the player rankings for the coming year... I am looking for a magazine that I feel thinks for itself, and makes a bold prediction or 2, but in my opinion has sound analysis to explain it, the latter being critical. It can’t be too crazy (compared to what I may think), such as Drew Bennett being # 1 WR this year, or Rod Smith at # 4 last year. There has to be enough evidence that it’s not just a standard, thoughtless ranking.

I will start with the team overview section and read the mag cover to cover, and make mental notes of players whose situation I think allows for a jump in production. Sometimes I am correct, such as LT2 and Ricky in 2002—and sometimes I am wrong, Amos Zereoue in 2003. I used to purchase 2 mags, but have switched to one from now on given the amount of free internet content there is. There’s also the fact that most mags are printed in June or July and don’t account for player movement/injuries closer to the season.

After that, I use FFLM to download all previous year league stats, and then make basic projections for each and every player to arrive at my rankings. I do this myself first, and then go to the web and look at what others have to say, what players others view as sleepers and busts, and make changes to my projections as I see fit. I do not pay for any services that give player rankings. I would rather live and die with my own projections, my own thoughts. I love football; I am a football fan... I work on my projections until I have confidence in them.

During the season, I spend lots of time on free sites looking through articles and forums and trying to keep the right players on my waiver wire radar. This has been critical to my success in fantasy football. I have it narrowed down to around 4-6 sites that I trust and will check regularly. Knowing about players like Mewelde Moore and Willie Parker before the rest of my league, and knowing which of these players to pick up (we have limited transactions) has enabled me to succeed in my league. I have not and will not pay for a service as long as there are a handful of free sites out there that I feel give me this critical information.
No doubt there are plenty of FFers just like Junk—those who insist on doing their own research and making their own decisions about player value. But those who subscribe to fantasy websites know that they are paying for the burden of this research to be lifted. It may be extremely rewarding to pick up Willie Parker because you found out about him in late July by studying the Pittsburgh newspapers, but the person who picks him up because his hired fantasy expert told him to do so gets just as much productivity out of Parker. If it’s important to you to keep FFers in charge of their own research, consider what Mark has to say:
This is plain and simple. We have a rule that no one is allowed to pay for premium websites. All information has to come from free websites or magazines. Of course, this is on the honor system, so a player might be paying for it. Our view is that [the use of] premium websites means you are focusing too much on the money and not enough on the fun. If you have to rely on others to tell you who to play, you shouldn't be playing in the first place.
Of course, there were a few readers bold enough to confess that they do, in fact, rely on the help of hired fantasy experts. Joe’s response was representative of this group:
I am probably on the extreme side when it comes to managing my teams and thought I'd give you an overview from my perspective.

I currently participate in three contests, each with different scoring systems: 1) Fantasy VIPs, 2) a basic scoring, eight-team league with the local guys and 3) TSN's Ultimate game (we've set up a league and play for $$).

This year I [paid for and used an online drafting aid] for my two drafts, and I feel it gave me a big advantage. The strengths of the system include customized scoring and projections, ADP information and a dandy mock draft feature that I utilized a great deal before the drafts.

[During the season,] I subscribe to four paid services. The "free" services I use include Fantasy Football Today and Football Diehards. Each service has its strengths and weaknesses, but each plays a part in the weekly management of my team. I consolidate my key information on Excel spreadsheets and use a personal formula to make my start/bench decisions.

The number of services I subscribe to has probably remained the same over the years but I've tried out and discarded many in a search for the next new thing. I'm a sucker for software and try out two or more [fantasy programs] every year, most times never using them. I probably spent over $150 this year on software before making my final decision.

Like I said, I’m on the extreme side, but I firmly believe in the saying, "there's a fine line between hobby and mental illness."
My thanks to all those who wrote in—and apologies to those whose responses I was unable to include in this week’s column. I’ll conclude by mentioning that a number of readers voiced the same concern as Nathan:
Was this only an idle question? Are you guys thinking of making FF Today a pay site?
Rest easy, readers, as I know of no plans to convert FF Today to a pay site. I am only Mike Davis, not the all-powerful Mike Krueger. My questions are my own and come out of my own less-than-pretty little head. I don’t talk to Krueger about the management of the site—and have never been asked to do nefarious research for him into the willingness of FFToday’s patrons to pay for access to the site. In fact, the only thing I ever do talk to Krueger about is how he screwed me out of Willie Parker in our auction, but he doesn’t even talk back. He just laughs and ignores me.

This Week's Question:

When I started in fantasy football, I heard over and over again about how championships are won or lost on draft day. I was pretty well convinced of the truth of that assertion a few years ago, but I’m less and less sure as time passes. I’m not saying that waiver wire activity is more important than the draft, but I definitely sense that weekly match-up decisions end up mattering more than stealing a particular player late in a draft. What about the rest of you folks? Are you willing to agree that who you start is more important than who is on your team? And if you are willing to concede that much, then is it fair to say that we don’t just trade players in fantasy leagues because we are always also trading the players’ remaining schedules? Take Willie Parker, for example. If you traded him after Week 2, you traded him after his games vs. Tennessee and Houston. You traded a guy with some tough match-ups ahead of him after his easiest match-ups were behind him. To what extent do you allow logic such as this to influence you when it comes to making trades?

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

I didn’t hear from Matt this week, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with my picks. Fortunately, another reader named Stewart decided to write in with his LMS suggestions for Week 4. Enjoy!

3. Oakland over Dallas. The Raiders are better than their 0-3 record, but look who they've played... the defending champs, the runner-ups, and the Chiefs, who—Monday's loss notwithstanding—are a tough 2-1 team. Dallas is 2-1, yes, but came out flat against a woeful San Francisco team after a 4th quarter meltdown versus the Skins. You used to be able to count on Parcells to motivate his teams to resounding comebacks after poor games. Yes, they won, but barely. I see the Raiders finally getting one in the win column this week.

2. Tampa Bay over Detroit. The Leos appear to have lost a little faith in Mr. Harrington, and with the pressure of a boisterous crowd and the Bucs' strong defensive front, I see more interceptions in Joey's future. (Incidentally, did you know that you can't spell Harrington without I, N and T? I'm just saying.)

1. Cincinnati over Houston. Cinci is really clicking on all cylinders, and Houston is still searching for an offense. If the OL can't provide a little better protection for David Carr, we'll be reading his obituary by Week 12.

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.