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Week 1

Last Week's Question
In my column for July, I asked FFers whether leagues should do something in response to kicker parity. The answers I received to this question were far too varied to be easily categorized, though I’m sure a number of readers will be amused to learn that more than a few folks wrote in with extremely draconic solutions to the problem.

Take Tonia’s response, for example:

Simple solution, don't have kickers at all. They add nothing to Fantasy Football, so we got rid of the position 3 years ago and haven't missed them at all. I highly recommend [that other leagues do the same].

James was even more dramatic in his aversion to kickers, as he labeled the use of kickers in fantasy football “un-American.” I hope this doesn’t mean that those of us who like the new Neil Rackers commercial are aiding and abetting the terrorists!

Chris reports that his league’s decision to eliminate kickers was “probably the best move we ever made,” so clearly there are plenty of leagues out there that get along fine without paying any attention at all to this position. Colin wrote in to explain that his league may move in precisely this direction:

My league is going through this issue right now. We had a 5-5 vote to "boot" the kicker position out of our league. I personally enjoy kickers because I feel that they are a strategic part of the real NFL game, and therefore should be represented in the fantasy game. The major opponent of kickers in my league points to the "Top 3" kickers (all the rest being good, but not as good) as the reason to get rid of them. He feels that 3 teams will get an unfair advantage when they draft one of those Top 3. I think that is where a part of the strategy lies — when to draft your kicker. I also feel that a position like kicker that ranges from 0 to 15 points on any given week is not nearly as (potentially) game-changing as a defense, which can range from negative points to 30 or 40 on any given week. No one argues to get rid of D's, so why argue that kickers are any more random (or unfairly game effecting) than any other position?

We play a 10-team, head-to-head CBS Sportsline league, starting 2 QBs, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 D and 1 K. Any thoughts on the K position in my league? Can you think of a compelling reason to keep them?

I don’t think I can give Colin a better reason than the one he suggests himself. Kickers may be the butt of 90% of all football jokes, but they nevertheless routinely determine the outcome of NFL games. The extent to which you think kickers are integral to fantasy football is probably a measure of the extent to which you think fantasy football should be rooted in reality, and different commissioners will obviously have very different opinions on this point.

You may not have to put things to a vote, however. Many leagues have simply evolved in response to the supply-demand problem presented by kickers. Bob’s dynasty league (with 40-man rosters) lets teams horde so many kickers that getting just one of the mediocre kickers clumped together statistically can be a challenge:

I've been in the title game 4 years in a row (this is a 22-year-old league) because I grab 'em all. Kickers, that is. Figure 32 teams have 32 kickers. In our 16-team league, every manager could have 2 "starters", but if I grab an "extra," someone else as to scramble. Rookie projections and second-tier journeymen all have a place in our league. Both Gramatika brothers are on rosters. Remy Hamilton was a mid-season pickup last year. After playing catchup, most of the rest of the league has started trying to pick up 3-4, driving up the "value" of the position. For years they read and followed the "draft a kicker late" advice in EVERY pre-season mag. But now they've learned.
Of course, most leagues limit roster size to a number considerably smaller than 40, and such leagues may want to consider adjusting their scoring system so as to exaggerate the otherwise minimal distinctions between kickers. John suggests a simple, graduated system:
Why not change the scoring to make kickers more (or less) valuable?

10-20 yard FGs = 1point

That might give some serious incentive to draft the long-ballers and reduce the value of the guys who get the 20 yard cheapies.

You could also add -1 for a missed FG (and -3 for a missed extra point) to a)reward accuracy and b)offset some of the above value if you don’t want to place TOO much emphasis on the position.
Leon’s league does something similar:

Field goal 0-19 yards: 3 points
Field goal 20-29 yards: 3 points
Field goal 30-39 yards: 3 points
Field goal 40-49 yards: 4 points
Field goal 50+ yards: 6 points (instead of 5)
Each extra point: 1 point

Each missed FG (-1)

With this system, long distance kickers who are accurate, such as
Rackers, have much more value. Rackers (#1) had 169 pts,whereas Josh Brown (#12) had 117 pts. This difference can be exaggerated even more if you make FGs under 40 yards worth -2 and/or FGs over 40yds worth 5 pts.

There are endless variations on this theme, but I’ll include just one more (from a reader named Chris) because it includes end-of-season data that may be useful to commissioners who are contemplating a change to the way kickers score in their leagues.

FGs: range of 2.5 to 6 points, with 0.1 pts awarded per yard (i.e. 55 yds = 5.5 pts)
Missed FGs: 0-29 = -2; 30-45 = -1; 46+ = 0
Extra Pt: = 1
Missed Extra Pt: = -2

John, Leon, and Chris were in the company of dozens of other readers who wrote in with various scoring systems adopted by various leagues in order to make kickers more meaningful to fantasy football. The consensus among these readers is that if your scoring system doesn’t do much to separate the 5th kicker from the 15th, then you should consider tweaking and retweaking the system until that difference is clear.

But if you don’t want to eliminate kickers from your league or adjust the scoring of the position, you should consider Tony’s solution:

The simple solution to the problem of rampant kicker swapping in our league was to limit the number of waiver wire transactions to some number lower than the total number of games. So in a 14-week season, we would get 12 waiver wire pickups for the whole season. If you want to blow all your transactions on kickers week-to-week, so be it, but you lose out on picking up surprises at other positions. It doesn't eliminate the kicker concerns, but it does at least add a balancing act to it.

In reality, it forces players to stand by their kickers unless a Neil Rackers hits the waiver wire. [Because of concerns at other positions, it isn’t] worth blowing waiver wire pickups on kickers.

Another solution along the lines of league mechanics comes from Paul:

In our league, we have 10 teams, 18 man rosters, but require that 2 tight ends, defenses, and kickers be kept at all times. Because of this, pickings are usually slim on the waiver wire for kickers (and the other positions really). This way the top 20-ish are usually locked up throughout the season, although that will fluctuate depending on byes and stuff like that. It's worked for us.
Craig reports similar success by limiting waiver wire moves in his league. As he puts it, “If owners want to use their 2 waiver wire picks in an extremely shallow pool of players on kickers, it’s their dime.”

An extremely unorthodox (but nevertheless sensible) suggestion comes from Juan, whose system might be the best compromise for people who are on the fence about eliminating the kicker position entirely:
There is a way to make kickers more appealing. In a league that I have been playing in for a couple years now, we have combined kickers and Def/ST. Technically, kickers are on special teams, so we decided to keep them there. Example: If I have IND defense and they end up with 1 int (2pts), 1 fumble recovery (2pts), a kick return TD(6pts), and 1 FG less than 30 yards (3pts); I would end up with a total of 13 pts. By doing this, the Balanced DEF/ST's/K's have a lot more value and importance. Not for everyone, but it was worked great for us.
Todd suggests something similar, though he makes a distinction between “the kicking team” and team defenses:
I have experimented recently with this same issue. I tried incorporating the kicker into the whole special teams concept. It actually worked out quite well, except for the fact that most of the league owners were used to seeing a "kicker" in their lineup. What I mean by this is that when owners see "NEP" they usually think of a "Team DEF", not a kicker. It's mildly confusing to a guy who has played fantasy football for 25 years. Anyway, without being overly specific, the kicker was now replaced by the Special Teams Unit. The Special Teams was really the kicker in disguise and received not only TD's on punts and kickoffs ( there weren't too many, 8 and 11 respectively last year, which helped bring the scoring in line with the "skill" positions) but also on the kickers' performance, i.e FG's and PAT's. This particular version of Special Teams is something of a misnomer, because it was more of a "Kicking Team". Conceptually it worked out great. In real life, it was a little difficult remembering that your kicker was "New England" and not "Vinatieri", and that you weren't getting defensive points if you had NEP Kick team. (note: This is less of a problem in IDP leagues, where there typically is no team "DEF").
Since the real problem in some leagues is that players go through gobs of kickers from week to week without really committing to any one player at the position, Robert has a reasonable suggestion:

Raise the cost of a kicker transaction to prevent constant K slot tinkering. If a normal p/u costs $5, then perhaps raise a kicker transaction to $10 or even $15. No scoring rules would have to be changed. Obviously this would only influence leagues that charge for transactions.

One of the solutions to this problem proposed by FF Index was to force players to stay with the kickers they draft for the entire season, but I asked readers to reflect on the sorts of problems that injuries would present in such a system. Ray responded with an idea that I like quite a lot:

Have owners draft team kickers, not individual players. Take the Colts’ team kicker for instance, instead of Vinatieri.

I’m generally reluctant to go with strategies that involve “team player” concepts. If your league automatically awards you Michael Turner just because you picked up LaDainian Tomlinson, then you are removing a good deal of strategy from the annual draft/auction. I wouldn’t have wanted to play in a league that automatically awarded Larry Johnson to whichever owner started out with Priest Holmes last year, but things are different with kickers. If you think that the best way to keep people from going through kickers like mad is to force them to make a commitment on draft day, then I think Ray’s solution is great for avoiding questions about injured kickers.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in with a response to my question on kickers. I apologize to those whose responses were too similar to other responses to justify their inclusion here.

This Week’s Question: When is it too late to start a fantasy league?

I’ve participated in leagues that draft just as the preseason gets underway. I’ve participated in leagues that draft on the Saturday after the first Thursday night game. I know that most owners appreciating having as much information as possible (which usually means postponing the draft for as long as possible), but does anyone participate in serious leagues that draft well into the season (say Week 4 or 5)?

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

I’m delighted to report that Matt Schiff will be attending to LMS picks for us once again in 2006. In addition to providing us with picks for Week One, he has done some reflecting on LMS strategy. Take it away, Matt . . .

Matt’s Strategy and Picks
In 2005, I went 35-10, and while that is a great percentage on a betting basis, there are probably some readers who used one or two of my picks to move on to the next week in their pools when I stumbled. To those people I apologize for the errors of my ways and I promise to try harder. If there is one consolation, I give three picks each week and in every week I had at least one pick last year that was a winner. I also offer up the “trap game” of the week. This is the game that looks like a lock, where everyone picks it, and most people are knocked out because of that game. Sometimes those games result because of divisional match-ups, mismatched personnel or once and a while, a team that is looking ahead to that next “big game”.

Taking a look at all the “experts in the media” I thought that I would add some of my own thoughts, sprinkled in with an opinion or two from the broadcast public and give you some ideas about how to play a Survival Pool this year.

  1. The NFC East looks like it might be the strongest of all the divisions in the NFL. Yes this is a no-brainer, but you will want to avoid the divisional matchups in your survival pool games since the teams know each other well and will use every trick in the book to steal a victory.

  2. Look at the teams that you think will be good in the future and try not to use them until there is a week when you know there are tough matchups. So many Survival Pool participants just pick a team and hope for the best. Look at the overall season schedule before choosing the Steelers over the Raiders. You might need the Steelers against the Saints later on in the season. (P.S. these are the only two lock games that the Steelers have this year).

  3. The Eagles are not as bad as everyone thinks (this comes from Merrill Reese – Voice of the Eagles). While I am a Giants fan, I have to agree. Their schedule is the easiest in the division and if the team is healthy, they could steal the division. They have SF, NO, Green Bay, Houston, and Tennessee outside the division, all of which may be locks for a win.

  4. Beware of the Chargers – Philip Rivers needs some time to get comfortable as the starting quarterback but once he does, this team may be the 2nd best team in the AFC West. KC is hurting on the offensive line, and they have a new offensive coordinator. Denver is aging at WR, and Aaron Brooks is not the answer at QB in Oakland. The San Diego defense is very good and may have the best front 7 in football, but LT will be seeing a lot of 8-man fronts. Use them at the right time and you may get further than a lot of other Survival Pool participants.

  5. The Bills will steal some games – They might even steal the first game against the Patriots, but when there is that matchup that the Bills look totally overmatched, you might just want to avoid taking the favorite. The defense is better than last year, and McGahee has a chip on his shoulder. Whoever ends up as QB should have the full trust of the team, and if they get a lead, forget it, few teams will generate enough points to get back in the game.
So let’s get to Week 1’s picks:

Trap Game: Buffalo at New England
Hands down the Patriots should win this game. The Bills don’t have a quality starting QB, the offensive line has more holes in it than swiss cheese and New England’s defense has now added more veteran leadership. BUT Tom Brady is without his two starting receivers from last year, has a running back that will turn 32 this season with very little tread left on the tires, and is on a team that has come out flat in the early part of the season the last two years. On top of all this, there is that dreaded “D” word – divisional game. While New England may win this game, you might want to avoid it and wait until the Patriots play the Jets for the lock.

#3: Chicago at Green Bay (0-0 Season):
In years past this would have been blasphemy. Ahman Green is coming back from a season ending injury last year and Brett Favre has one reliable target, Bubba Franks. While Rex Grossman may not by Joe Montana, the two-headed attack of Benson and Jones should shred the Packers defense. In fact, forget who is in the backfield for the Bears, it won’t matter. The Bears will add a turnover for a touchdown for good measure and stake an early claim on the NFC North Division title.

#2: Seattle at Detroit (0-0 Season):
This game screams upset to me. Mike Martz is now in Detroit and knows the weaknesses of the Seahawks and with a receiver named Williams, whom he thinks is the best he ever coached, Jon Kitna should be able to connect with Williams for at least one, if not two TDs. However, this is a pretty good running back in Seattle named Alexander who should run for over 125 yards and a touchdown while his quarterback will find his new receiver Burleson uncovered three or four times in the game. The difference maker here is that the Seahawk defense should be able to control what Martz does with the offense. Look for a solid win out of the reigning NFC Champs.

#1: Denver over St. Louis (0-0 Season):
I really thought about taking the Eagles over the Texans, but there are many more games where the Eagles will have a favorable matchup. As such, the Broncos and their new rookie running back, Mike Bell, will light up the scoreboard on the fast Dome floor in St. Louis. This game may end up a little close for comfort because of the weapons that are available on the Rams offense, but Rod Smith still has enough in his legs to have a good season and Javon Walker could be exactly what Jake “the snake” needs to send the ball deep.


A reader named Michael has also written in with his LMS picks for Week One. He approaches things very differently than Matt (so much so that he likes Matt’s trap game as the second-best lock of the week and has gone with 3 divisional matchups). Let’s see how he does.

Michael’s Picks

3. Carolina over Atlanta
I'm not happy with trying to find a "sure thing" third game (not that any of my other picks are sure things). But I'll take the home team, which should be pretty good, over their division rivals.

2. New England over Buffalo
Pats at home. If they can't handle the Bills, it's going to be a long season.

1. Arizona over San Francisco
Cardinals at home, and what better time to take the usually bad franchise. If you lose in the first week, this gives you plenty of time to find a league starting up in week 2.

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.