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
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
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
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.
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.
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
#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.
#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
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
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.