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Week 9

Last Week's Question

I want to start by offering my apologies to Albert, who wrote in with last week’s question concerning the weekly drafting of team defenses as a way to equalize competition in fantasy leagues. Albert’s explanation of his league’s practice was much longer than the excerpt I printed in last week’s column. In the interest of making Albert’s point as inviting and accessible as possible for readers of the column, I focused on what struck me as his key points. The main point seemed to be that the reason Albert’s league redrafts team defenses every week is so that fantasy owners who have fallen behind will be able to make up some ground by nabbing the most promising defenses (since the picks are made in a worst-to-first order). The second most important point seemed to be that Albert’s league has chosen to make it easy for team defenses to rack up high scores because that makes the weekly redrafting of defenses even more important—and further equalizes things in his league.

I thought that I had edited Albert’s comment so that these major points would come through, but apparently I did an inadequate job, as the responses I received came from readers who seemed to see the way that Albert’s league handles defenses as a problem in need of a solution, when I suspect he was attempting to offer his model as a solution for leagues that were already struggling with radical disparities in production between winning and losing teams.

I appreciated the thoughts of readers who wrote in to say that defenses in Albert’s league were being awarded too many points, but I think that disproportionate point distribution is itself the key to the equalization that Albert’s league appears to be seeking (though I can certainly understand why some readers would see that equalization as undesirable). I also appreciated the comments from those who saw the weekly redrafting of team defenses as too time-consuming, so I’m sorry for Albert’s sake that I cut the paragraph in which he explained that all of the people in his league work in the same office building and handle their drafts via email over the course of the workday on Wednesdays. Otherwise, I’m sorry to say I just didn’t receive much feedback worth reporting.

This Week's Question:

What’s the best television show to watch for information that is relevant to fantasy football?

As you can see, this week’s question is very simple. Even so, I’ll try to get the ball rolling by discussing a few shows that I expect people to name in response to the question. I realize that most folks in the fantasy community watch ESPN’s NFL Countdown on Sundays, but that’s primarily a bunch of speculative filler and archival footage that is only occasionally interrupted by useful updates from Chris Mortensen concerning injuries.

Countdown is a reasonably entertaining show, but I don’t find it terribly useful from a fantasy standpoint because it focuses on a handful of predictable agendas. Steve Young likes to reduce games to the quarterback position; Michael Irvin likes to reduce them to the receiver position; Tom Jackson likes to reduce games to the question of what he calls “character”; and Chris Berman makes a lot of bad puns along with some noises that are presumably regarded as “funny” by his grandchildren. Call it “infotainment” if you like, but it’s light on “info” and heavy on whatever people seem to mean by “tainment.”

My favorite show for fantasy purposes used to be NFL Matchup (featuring Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge), but their running feud concerning the importance of the pass vs. the run has become more than I can bear. However, I’m such a fan of the Jaws-Hoge practice of breaking down game tape that I would never have been able to give up Matchup if not for the emergence of a new show on the NFL Network: NFL Playbook.

Correct me if I’m wrong, gentle reader, but I happen to regard Playbook as the perfect television show for fantasy football fans. It’s billed as a football show, not a fantasy show—but the very scheduling of the installments suggests that the producers are well aware of what fantasy enthusiasts need in the way of information. Tune in on Tuesdays for analysis of the games that have just been played; Wednesdays for a close look at developments around the AFC; Thursdays for a similar look at the NFC; Fridays for an entire show dedicated to key injuries (and their implications); and Saturdays for a preview of upcoming contests.

The hosts of the show all have their flaws, but they generally do a great job of speaking knowledgeably and compellingly about the NFL. The moderator is the ultra-slick Paul Burmeister (a former college QB whose consummate professionalism speaks to his having taken his communications major quite seriously). Burmeister’s most irritating quality is his smugness (a characteristic at its most irritating when he talks down to co-host Sterling Sharpe on matters of vocabulary—since Sharpe’s vocabulary is clearly far more extensive than Burmeister’s), but that smugness is perfect for the moderator of this particular show. Burmeister needs to be as self-confident as he is in order to facilitate discussions involving numerous participants who are a good deal more knowledgeable about the NFL than he is. Even though his calculated smile occasionally makes my skin crawl, I can’t help thinking that the NFL Network made a mistake in deciding to run with Rich Eisen as the face of their operation. They would probably appeal to more viewers by touting Burmeister at least as much as the sometimes too-ingratiating Eisen.

Burmeister’s co-hosts change from one installment to the next, but they’re all competent analysts. The best, by far, is former head coach Butch Davis. I happened to cover the Cleveland Browns for another fantasy website while Davis was the coach in Cleveland, and he made lots of decisions that I regarded at the time as flat bone-headed. But the NFL is complicated, and I’m now convinced that I simply didn’t understand his reasons for making the choices he made. He is nothing short of brilliant when it comes to explaining how teams find success by running particular plays and speculating about how upcoming opponents will attempt to defend against those plays. He also does a great job of responding to questions posed by other analysts on the show; I can’t recall his ever having advanced a claim on the show without providing some support for it. In fact, in just a few short weeks, he has become my hands-down favorite NFL analyst. The only negative thing I can say about him is that he’s obviously a bit nervous about being on camera. His stiffness is a wonder to behold as he turns his head, at carefully scripted intervals, from one camera to another. If his producers are too frightened to tell him that he moves like a robot from the neck up, then maybe his wife should.

The second best analyst on the show is the irrepressible Sterling Sharpe. He is not afraid to call out players who are underperforming. He looks directly into the camera and issues challenges to those players (such as Warren Sapp) as if he is speaking to them one-on-one. He will then show tape of the players in action and explain how we can see that they are failing to do their jobs. And he’s not afraid to be critical of people face-to-face. When other hosts select evidence to make a case, Sharpe will call them on the flimsiness of their argument by explaining what is flawed or unrepresentative about the evidence they are using. Sharpe is a lot like Davis in my mind in that I cannot find any kind of fault with the substance of what he has to say. He is also like Davis in that there is one tic about his style that can be very annoying. He appears to suffer from some variation of Tourrete’s Syndrome that compels him to assent wildly when other people are talking. As other hosts on the show make their remarks, Sharpe is sure to be in the background muttering, “Yes,” “Uh-huh,” “Right,” and “Sure” non-stop. If he can’t control himself, then whoever is working the microphones needs to make him more difficult to hear.

The two other analysts who appear most frequently are Brian Baldinger and Solomon Wilcots. They’re both capable analysts, but I don’t think they understand what kind of a show they’re on. Unless I’m very mistaken, Playbook is for diehards, not dilettantes. Both Baldinger and Wilcots, however, are in the habit of oversimplifying the game of football for their viewers. Whereas Davis can show you how, in a particular defensive scheme, the coverage responsibility for a tight end is supposed to be passed from a linebacker to a safety, Wilcots and Baldinger will show you that the Houston Texans are having a terrible time protecting David Carr. Thanks, fellas, but I didn’t need you to bust out the coach’s tape to demonstrate that one to my satisfaction. One suspects that the mass market exposure of Baldinger and Wilcots has something to do with they way they tackle their segments on the show, but they have that mass market experience for good reason. Even if they don’t quite trust us to grasp everything that they could say, they themselves appear to have a firm grasp on the NFL.

Although Mike Mayock does not appear as a regular host on the show, he stops in from time to time in order to offer his analysis of how selected rookies are adapting to the challenges of the NFL. This is actually one of the best segments on the show. Numerous people in the fantasy community ridiculed Mayock prior to this year’s draft because he expected Aaron Rodgers to slide all the way to Green Bay with the 24th pick. A quick Google search will turn up bulletin board discussions in which avid football nuts referred to Mayock as being “from another planet” for making this prediction. Apparently, however, the planet that Mayock is from has a strong tradition of pairing rock solid research with rigorous logic. He’s been right about a good deal more than Rodgers. He does a great job on Playbook of explaining how rookies are hurting themselves by squaring (or not squaring) their hips in certain circumstances, by lowering (or raising) their center of gravity, etc. The only complaint I can make about Mayock’s segment is that it’s not nearly comprehensive enough. Once you’ve heard him talk about Adam “Pacman” Jones for two minutes or so, you can’t help thinking, “I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about how Ronnie Brown is coming along as a blocker.” Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until next week—or even the week after that. He seems only to talk about one or two rookies at a time, so as soon as you think he’s getting started, he’s actually finished.

I have nothing but praise for the other elements of the show. The set is unpretentious and well-suited to its task. (It makes the set for Matchup look like some kind of Styrofoam toy by comparison.) The obligatory montages of bone-shaking hits set to music are reasonably well done (though I’m not yet convinced that the world needs montages of bone-shaking hits set to music). The scripted bits of verbiage on the show (e.g. introductory remarks and transitions) are always polished and precise.

The delay between the end of work on Friday afternoon and the beginning of football on Sunday morning can be a little rough on some of us, but my weekends are thoroughly enjoyable now that I’ve gotten into the habit of recording Playbook all week long and watching it in bits and snatches on Friday and Saturday evenings. The thing that’s best about the program is that I can watch it with friends who detest fantasy football. They think it’s just a great generic football show, and I suppose it is. But it’s far more useful, from a fantasy standpoint, than any show or portion of a show I’ve ever seen with “fantasy” in the title. That could all be accidental, of course, but it could also be a clever way of reaching what advertisers must think of as a coveted demographic. As smart is Butch Davis is, I’m convinced that one of his producers is even smarter.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Stewart)

If you were astonished when the 49ers upset the Buccaneers on Sunday, you weren’t alone. Matt, however, saw it coming—and called it in his “trap game” pick last week. He’s now predicted important upsets two weeks in a row.

Matt’s Picks

Trap Game: Lions at Minnesota
This week’s trap game is a division rivalry with Detroit favored over the Vikings. Brad Johnson has won almost 60% of the games that he has started, and while on paper the Vikings look decimated, the Lions are not a team that will run away from anyone, let alone a divisional rival. If Harrington starts for the Lions, this game will be an easy W for the home team. If Garcia starts, it will be close, but Johnson just might be the little extra that gets the Vikings over the hump.

#3 (6-1): Jacksonville over Houston
Houston won its first game last week against the Browns while the Jags let one get away in St. Louis. The Jags need a win and will remember that they were not only swept by the Jags last year, but also that they were prevented from getting into the playoffs because of the late season loss to the Texans. Jacksonville’s defense is better than they played last week, and Houston’s passing offense does not have a solid #1 receiver without Andre Johnson. Look for the Jags to win and cover the spread in this game.

#2 (3-4): San Diego at NY Jets
The road team has won the last four meetings between these two teams, and the Chargers are probably the best 4-4 team in the league. While the Jets are not mathematically out of the AFC East title race, the chances of them claming the division are looking slimmer and slimmer. The Chargers win this one with a heavy dose of LT, but fail to cover the spread.

#1 (5-2): Chicago at New Orleans
The glamour picks this week are Seattle over Arizona and Pittsburgh over Green Bay, but as they say, defense wins championships and Da Bears have one of the best in the league. The Saints are going to have a hard time running the ball against the Bears who have given up one rushing touchdown all season (last week to the Lions). And the Saints’ porous defense will allow for Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson to run the ball all day long. While some may think that Aaron Brooks will be able to keep this close, the Saints are quickly packing it in, and the Bears will take the gift all the way back to Chicago.

Stewart’s Picks

#3. Miami (3-4) over Atlanta (5-2)
The Falcons looked less than impressive over a demoralized Jets team, and the Fins’ defense ought to keep the Falcon running game more or less in check.

#2. Chicago (3-4) over New Orleans (2-5)
The Bears' D is the stingiest in the league, and the Saints repeatedly shoot themselves in the feet with stupid plays and stupid penalties. Thomas Jones should have a good day.

#1. Seattle (5-2) over Arizona (2-5)
The last time Seattle traveled to Tempe, they lost 25-17, and the Cardinal players spent the better part of the 2nd half jawing at Shaun Alexander. Since then, these teams have played twice and Alexander has eaten them alive. I expect more of the same.

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.