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Week 16

Last Week’s Question

The question in last week’s column came from Terry, who reported what he perceived as an imbalance in the way that his league awards fantasy points to defenses. Terry thinks it’s “just plain silly” for elite defenses (e.g. the Ravens and Bears) to score two or three times as many points as Peyton Manning. Shawn begs to differ:

If you ask me, Terry’s league hasn’t taken things far enough. The same goes for just about every other fantasy league out there. There are eleven guys on defense—eleven!—and if it bugs you that those eleven guys are scoring three times as many points as individual offensive players, well you obviously didn’t play safety in high school. I say if the rest of the FF world is too lame to use IDPs [individual defensive players], they should at least have the guts to let their team defenses score 50% of the team’s points each week.

Well Shawn, I did play safety in junior high for all of one week. (I had to fill in for a safety one day in practice and picked off our QB because I knew his tendencies. The coach thought I was a natural and put me in the real game that week; I was terrible, but that is another story.) I realize that Shawn is likely just venting some of the frustration that many of us feel with the way defenses are handled in fantasy football, but I think there are obvious reasons that logic like Shawn’s doesn’t go over well with the fantasy football community. The first is that there’s another set of eleven guys—the eleven guys who play special teams. If I understand Shawn’s logic correctly, and if the three dimensions of football are offense, defense, and special teams, then it seems that all leagues that lump special teams in with defenses should try to have two-thirds of each team’s points generated by defense/special teams each week. The one-third left over to offense would make the fantasy differences between Marc Bulger, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers even more negligible than they already are. The first two picks of the draft would be the Ravens and Bears; the third pick would be a flyer on a defense like Jacksonville’s; and every owner picking fourth or later would lose interest in the league by week 6.

The best thing for folks like Shawn is probably to join IDP leagues, but since the majority of FF leagues tend to use team defenses, there are presumably commissioners who will be interested in the scoring systems that I heard from readers about this week. The first comes from Dan, who explains precisely how defensive productivity measures up against the productivity of other positions in his league:

I am in a 10 team non-keeper league. We are quite pleased at how our defensive scoring is going. In reading your column I like the idea of counting down from 20 instead of the 5 point intervals.

Shutout -20 points
1 - 9 PA = 15 points
10 - 16 PA = 10 points
17 - 20 PA = 5 points

(Points against include points scored by the other defensive team; I don’t really like this, but no mechanism exists to automatically back these points out)

Fumble Recoveries, Interceptions and Sacks 1 Point each
Defensive and special team touchdowns 6 points
Safeties 5 points

Compared with the scoring vs other positions, the Bears(261 Pts.) are behind 8 QB’s, 2 RB’s and 0 WR’s. The Ravens (238 pts.) are not far behind. This could be a little high for these teams. After the Bears and Ravens (Dolphins next with 178 pts.), the DT’s match up pretty evenly with the top 20-30 WR’s and are behind most of the top 20-30 RB’s. So all in all I can’t say DT’s are getting an inordinate amount of points in our league. Maybe the Bears and the Ravens, but they having the kind of year that Tomlinson is having at RB, so you would have to expect that their points would be a bit askew. Is anyone intending on changing their rules based on LT’s scoring? I doubt it.

Looking at it another way: DT’s provide about 17% of the scoring in our league. QB’s about 22%, RB’s 25%, WR/TE’s 25%, K 8%

What I like about Dan’s statistical breakdown at the end is that he evaluates productivity by position regardless of how many players there are at the position in question. Each owner only starts one defense (for roughly 17% of his team’s productivity), but he starts two running backs (for roughly 25% of his team’s productivity). I also notice that Dan complains about something that bothers a number of FFers out there: the fact that some of the tools used to calculate defensive fantasy scores do not distinguish between points yielded by a defense from those yielded by an offense on a turnover. If Joey Harrington throws an interception that is returned for a TD, that obviously shouldn’t count against the Miami defense. In fact, many fantasy leagues would recognize that if the Dolphins went on to win the game in this hypothetical scenario 10-7, then the Dolphin defense should be awarded a shutout. Although I occasionally hear from readers who complain about how their leagues shortchange defenses by failing to distinguish between scores against a defense and scores against an offense, my sense is that the most widely used websites do make such a distinction. I think Dan’s league can very likely find a free league-hosting website that will eliminate his problem with scores that should be credited to an opposing defense (and not against a defense that was simply standing on the sidelines).

I want to be sure to look at Mike’s scoring system because his league separates team defenses from special teams:

My league has tweaked its defensive points over the years, and [this is what we’ve come up with]:
2 points for all sacks, int's, and fumbles,
4 pts for safeties,
hold offense to under 10 pts, we get 4 pts,
shutouts are 6pts,
all td's are 6pts.

My league’s defense averages about 10 to 18 pts; occasionally someone gets 20 to 30 pts for a great defense.

Your reader's league seems only skewed with a few spots and should be easily tweaked for next season. My suggestion would be to change the points as to what they want it to be, take a few of this year’s defenses and reapply the new points system to see how it fits in with the overall league points. It takes some time, but is the best way to reconfigure them without guessing.

Although there’s no way to be sure that the top 5 defenses next year will perform roughly along the same lines as the top 5 defenses this year, the similarities should overwhelm the differences. Mike therefore makes a fine point when he suggests that Terry should figure out roughly what percentage of points he wants defenses to account for—and work back from there (using the statistics from 2006 that he can already draw on). Of course, Terry’s more fundamental question seems to what that ideal percentage should be. The answer to that question, though, depends on personal preference. If you think defenses should be roughly similar to tight ends in their productivity, you should benefit from Kim’s experience:
My league is just completing its 9th year, and over time we've tinkered with scoring rules for each of the fantasy positions—but probably none more than the D/ST scoring. I think we've come up with a good balance so that the scoring of this position is similar most of the time to that of a TE in our league, but for the truly good ones on a good day they are capable of putting up numbers similar to higher end RB's. Here are our rules:

2 pts for each safety
2 pts each for every fumble recovery & INT (not forced fumble only those that are recovered by the D/ST)
1 pt each for sack
1 pt for a blocked PAT
2 pts for a blocked punt
3 pts for a blocked FG
6 pts for each TD (regardless if blocked FG returned, kickoff, INT, etc.)
2 pts bonus on all TD's over 40 yards (we have this bonus for all TD's but comes into play more often with D/ST TD's)
10 pts for a shutout
7 pts for allowing 2-6 pts
4 pts for allowing 7-13 pts
2 pts for allowing 14-17 pts

Many of these items are fairly standard, but I think the pts allowed scoring, which is the last adjustment we made, really brought the defensive scoring in line with the rest of the positions. It gives an appropriate range of scoring for this position and rewards the truly good D/ST accordingly but not disproportionately as would seem to be the case in the example cited in your article. Having a defense be able to get any points for allowing as many as 29pts is ridiculous. We based our limit of 17 on what we believed was the amount of points a team could allow and still reasonably expect to win. Of course, there are really low scoring games where a defense might only allow 13 pts and that team still loses but the Defense shouldn't be blamed for that as they did their job and gave their team a chance to win. That's about it.
I happen to like systems like Kim’s, but I’m a junkie for statistics. It’s fun for me to pay attention to my defense’s every sack, fumble and interception, but there are people who don’t think that sort of thing is fun at all. Nate speaks for this population eloquently (if bitterly):

I’m sick of trying to keep track of every little thing a defense does. Fantasy football should limit itself to the stuff that’s likely to crawl across the screen in the average game so that we can calculate our points without having to bust out our calculators or run to check the computer every ten minutes. That means offensive players should stick to yardage and scores, and defenses should stick to points allowed—period! If I see that New England beat Houston 40 to 7, I should know how my Patriot defense did. I shouldn’t have to go chasing down the info. on every little thing that happened.

Well Nate, I heard from a reader named Mike (a different Mike than the one quoted above) who shares your frustration with elaborate scoring schemes for defenses. You might like his system:

The best defensive scoring system I've experienced was as simple as it gets. At the beginning of the season, we established an offensive baseline number of average points scored per game from the previous season. That particular year the number was 24; thus, if your defense had a shutout, you got 24 points; if they allowed 14, you got 10, etc. There was no penalty for allowing over 24, no extra points for fumbles, sacks, etc. I'm currently in a league that gives points for everything, which is both ridiculous and complicated. In terms of overall scoring, defenses occupy 7 of the top 10 scorers in our league. I think it's way out of balance with the overall spirit of how FFB first started. I'm pretty sure we're tweaking this scoring in the offseason.

This Week’s Questions

I have 2 questions to ask this week. The first is light-hearted (and perhaps won’t produce much feedback); and the second is time-sensitive (though the fact that we addressed it last season may mean that there isn’t much new light to shed on the topic).

The Light-Hearted Question: What’s the dumbest rule or lamest policy that you ever had to live with in a fantasy league? This question was sparked by a note I received from Marc, who took my question about defensive imbalances as an opportunity to share what he regards as an egregious offensive imbalance with me. (I’ve deleted some of his colorful commentary about a commissioner that he appears not to hold in very high regard.)

I was invited to a family member’s work league. [Against my better judgment, I did so; here are the rules:]

QB Scoring
1 point per completion
1 point per attempt
-1 point per inteception
-1 point per sack
1 point for every 25 yards
6 points per TD

Is that not the most ridiculous scoring for a QB you've ever seen? Your QB runs up to the line and throws the ball into the dirt to stop the clock. 1 point for you. An interception nets you 0 points (+1 for the attempt, -1 for the sack). A sack is "worse" than an interception. In some of those hideous Rex Grossman games, he still scored over 15 points, which was a lot more than many decent games by RBs and WRs that week.

When I first asked for explanation on the scoring, I was told "you think to much, go get a life."

The Time-Sensitive Question: I’ve heard from several readers in recent weeks about tiebreakers for playoff games. I got some great feedback from readers on this topic last year, and I’ve referred those who wrote in to previous columns on the subject, but it seems that the same kinds of problems keep cropping up, so I’m happy to consider any new solutions that have presented themselves. Representative queries came from Lou and yet another reader named Mike. Lou writes:

In our league, we have a tie in the first round of the playoffs. But have no criteria for a tie-breaker (we have had one tie in the 8-year history of our league). What is the fairest way to determine the winner? We don't use bench points for ties during the regular season so we will not use them now.

Should we use head to head during the regular season? Should we use playoff seeding as the tie-breaker? I could really use your opinion/advice.

In my opinion, it should be head to head matchup during the regular season. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

As much as I like to use fantasy stats to break fantasy ties, I think Lou’s league is in for a headache no matter what fantasy criterion the commissioner settles upon. My sense is that most readers will say the only thing to do is to revise the rules for future seasons, but to use a coin toss this time. Maybe I’ll have a better response for Lou next week.

The third Mike of this week’s column reports exactly the same situation that we explored last year (a “push” that forces one team in the playoffs to effectively square off against two competitors simply because they tied the preceding week).

I was wondering what other leagues do for tie breakers during their Fantasy playoffs? I guess the reason I'm asking is that I ended up tying my fantasy playoff game this weekend, and ended up losing the tie breaker that we had come up with when the league started. I do believe this is the first time we've had to use the playoff rule in the 5 years our league has been running. We've had a couple of 1 point playoff games, but never a tie before. During the regular season, we just leave ties as ties in the standings, but obviously you can't do that in the playoffs. After much debate, we originally came up with a tie breaker of picking a random week during the season (we picked week 7 which was right in the middle of the season), and whichever team scored more points in that week would win the tie breaker. If the teams tied in week 7, then we flip a coin. Of course, I had my highest scoring week of the season in week 7, but so did the guy I tied in the playoff game which left me 6 points short in the tie breaker. OUCH! Anyway, we didn't want our tiebreaker to be based on who had a better record during the regular season or the most points scored, because we didn't feel like that was fair because every team's record is wiped clean in the playoffs. We, also, debated having the two teams play again in the next week to see who scores more the next week, but that's not really fair to the team that either got our playoff bye, or another team that was suppose to play the winner of the game. It basically would make it so that the one team would essentially be playing 2 teams in a given week which really isn't fair. He would have to beat both of the teams that tied to advance. We did passed a rule that if the Super Bowl teams tied, they would play again in week 17 as our super bowl is in week 16, so we are set there.

What do other leagues do? I really feel like the tie-breaker should be based on something that the players do in the given week so see really who is better.

Since this question has now come up two years in a row, I’m going to suggest the “reverse push” as a general principle for breaking ties in the playoffs. If Team A and Team B are competing in Week One of their league’s playoffs for a chance to face Team C in Week Two, then a traditional “push” is indisputably unfair to Team C in the event that Team A and Team B tie. Team C should not effectively have to face the better of two teams in Week 2 of the playoffs, so the fairest way to determine the winner between Team A and Team B, in leagues that ordinarily use the “push” as a tiebreaker, is to look back at what Team A and Team B did the previous week. At least I think that works as a matter of principle, though I’m willing to review other responses.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

Matthew has family commitments that will prevent him from submitting his picks for Week 17, so I want to thank him on behalf of this column’s readers for sharing his insights with us in 2006. We will look forward to hearing more from him in 2007. Happy holidays, Matthew.

Matt’s Picks

#3: Tampa Bay at Cleveland (11-4 Season): This is my upset special of the week. The Browns are favored by 3 at home, but they get that just for showing up. That said, Tim Rattay might just be the elixir that the Bucs need to win the last two games of the season, and in last week’s game against the Bears, Rattay had a pretty good game against one of the best defenses in the league. Use this game if you a really desperate for a pick. If you are still in your pool, you definitely know what you are doing and this is crunch time.

#2: Buffalo over Tennessee (12-3 Season): The Bills are favored at home this week over Vince Young and the playoff hopeful Titans. Tennessee is dead last in total defensive yards allowed, and while JP Losman is not the second coming of Jim Kelly in Buffalo, he should be more than enough with Willis McGahee to beat the Titans. Unfortunately the last five opponents that the Titans have met have all felt that way. However, the difference in this game is the Bills defense, which if they play like last week, should have a decent game. The only thing missing in this game is the lake effect snows which won’t materialize because it will be above freezing.

#1: New Orleans at NY Giants (10-5 Season): I am a huge Giants fan, and it pains me to see my team play as poorly as they are. The secondary has been mediocre at best all season and without defensive line pressure from Strahan and Umenyiora, average quarterbacks have been able to light up the Giants D. Imagine what Drew Brees will be able to do against two “press corners” who hardly press anymore. The Giants might make the playoffs at 8-8 if they can win against the Redskins in the last week of the season, but this game will expose all the weaknesses of this team.


Michael’s Picks

3 - (6-9) - Bucs over Browns - Tim Rattay provided some spark to a Tampa Bay offense that hasn't been getting it done. He'll get the start this week against a defense that isn't close to the Bears he faced. Cleveland has been playing poorly. Their own backup quarterback hasn't been able to change their luck.

2 - (11-4) - Falcons over Panthers - Carolina's season has fallen apart. The running game doesn't exist anymore, and the passing game has taken a big hit with Delhomme's injury. This doesn't add up to a very good offense. The defense is good, but not enough to carry this team the way things are going. Atlanta has had their own problems, but I think they'll make enough big plays on offense get the win at home.

1 - (14-1) - Niners over Cardinals - Way back in week one, I took the once promising Cardinals in their win over the dismal Niners. Things have changed. Now San Francisco is shooting for the playoffs and even a division title. Frank Gore is the stud that carries this team, helping Alex Smith to progress as a quarterback. The defense is underrated, and I would expect Arizona to get some points. But Gore will have another big game to lead the way for a team with a lot to play for.

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.