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Week 8

Last Week’s Question

In Week 6, I posted Colin’s question about using defenses defensively. If Mike Krueger and I were in Colin’s league and had a head-to-head matchup against each other, then Krueger wouldn’t get any points based on his own defense’s performance. However, the performance of Krueger’s defense would have an effect upon the points earned by my offensive players. If his defense played poorly, my offensive players would get a bonus. If his defense played extremely well, my offensive players would get a deduction. If his defense played at an average level, the scores of my offensive players would be left unmodified. My own defense would have nothing to do with my score, but would have a similar impact on the score awarded to his offensive players.

Colin wanted to know why more leagues don’t use such a system, and a number of readers were kind enough to write in with their responses. I’ll start with those who liked Colin’s idea enough to ask for particulars on the scoring technique.

John asked: “Can you please find out how the defenses are ranked each week in Colin’s league? Is it by points allowed, yards allowed, etc.?” Ward had a similar question: “I like the idea and might suggest it at my league’s end-of-season meeting, but I was wondering how many teams were in Colin’s league and if they use just the starting defenses or if a bench defense goes into determining the rankings.”

Obviously, those interested in adapting the system used by Colin’s league can do so in any way they like. For the curious, however, Colin’s league uses the yardage rankings of all NFL teams that play in any given week. The top 5 NFL defenses are those that allow the fewest total yards; the bottom 5 NFL defenses are those that allow the most yards. There are no bonuses for sacks or defensive scores or any of the other categories routinely used when awarding points to defenses in fantasy football, though I’m sure there are plenty of readers who could revise Colin’s system to include such factors.

Although some readers seemed curious about how to implement Colin’s system, others were skeptical about the utility of the approach. Paul spoke compellingly for this group:

In my league, the defense does get points for sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, blocks, etc. and touchdowns resulting from any of these things as well as punt/kick returns for touchdowns. What also happens is points are deducted for points against. The D/ST starts with 10 points for a 0 PA score. If you shut out the other team, that's a good defense. It's worth 10 points in itself. Mediocrity results in fewer points (up to 17 PA). Between 17 & 22 PA, 0 is the PA score. After 22 PA, the point subtractions start up, so the defense that ranks at the top of the list gets bonus points instead of deducting points from the other team's offensive players, none of which may have played that defense. So Chicago, which not only limits opponents’ scores to low numbers, but also contributes to their team's offense by taking the ball away, gets great scores. The Titan D, which seems to let opposing offenses just waltz by, often gets points subtracted from the score. It in effect does give bonus points to the other team if your defense sucks.

In essence, you are affecting your opponent’s scores by having a good or bad D in play. A good D gives you the extra points, which is equivalent to deducting points from the other team's offense. A bad D does the opposite. You get points subtracted, which is equivalent to giving your opponent's offense points. If both defenses are mediocre, they potentially equal out in points, so no one is penalized. The top 5 defenses last week scored 26, 20, 19, 17, 16 points for their owners. The bottom 5 scored 0, -1, -2, -2, -6 points for their owners. Yes, the + points seems lopsided compared with the - points, but when the minus points team could have scored 6-10 points in mediocrity, you see the penalty.

All it seems is that you (Colin) are creating a lot of extra work and delay in getting your scores. Calculating the ranks and then manually adjusting the scores is already factored into many league's automatic scoring systems – you just need to configure them that way. It doesn't sound like you are doing anything that isn't already being done, and perhaps you're doing it in a worse way.

If your opponent’s offensive players played tough D's and didn't score many points, why should they get double penalized because the D sucked too? Weren't they already penalized enough? Week 4: Hasselbeck scores me a whopping 4 points. Seahawks D scores me -6. Opponent had Ravens D scoring him 9. In this scenario, my opponent gets 1 bonus point and I get 1 more point removed. It's it bad enough that I already got beat by 11 points by just his D? That's where the flaw in your system comes into play.

Mike was another critic:
I would really look hard at your league’s scoring system heavily before even attempting this. 20% knocked or added to a team, depending on defensive performance, would drastically affect your scoring system and throw every other position way off base.

Does your league really favor maybe picking a defense in the 1st round? I myself still like the points for sacks, picks, fumble recoveries, defensive TDs, safeties, shutouts, etc.
Most readers didn’t seem to mind the complexity of Colin’s system or the fact that (as Paul points out) the system could easily lead to teams being double penalized (if the offensive starters happened to be playing against a tough defense like Chicago and San Diego on the same week that the fantasy team was matched up against the Broncos or Seahawks). However, there was fairly widespread concern over the delay that Colin’s system would introduce into the scoring of most fantasy leagues. It seems that most FFers these days are fans of instant gratification. The complaint that was common to almost all of the other responses I received was that no one wants to wait until all the games have been played to figure out what sort of bonus or deduction their quarterback will receive. Colin’s system (which requires participants to wait until after the Monday night game to see where defenses are ranked prior to the adjustment of offensive scores) is certainly not for the impatient.

This Week’s Question

Can we construct an “average” league as a point of reference?

Like many of the writers here at FFToday, I often end up on radio shows dedicated to fantasy football—shows in which the hosts ask me questions about whether one of their listeners should trade Donte Stallworth for Tiki Barber. I know that people just want quick answers to their questions, but I often find that I have to preface my remarks in exactly the same way as many other “experts”:

“Well, it depends on your league’s scoring system. In scoring-only leagues, Barber appears to be a bust this year; in many performance leagues, he’s still quite valuable; in performance leagues that weigh scoring quite heavily, he’s in between.”

Yikes. That insight isn’t very helpful, but at least it takes a long time to articulate!

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be accurate (which is what I am trying to be when I issue such disclaimers), but I think it’s safe to assume that such disclaimers leave most audience members thinking that many so-called fantasy experts are simply sputtering nonsensically. I go through a similar process when a caller asks what receiver he should pick up to replace the non-producing Jerry Porter. “Well, it depends on who is available in your league,” I begin. The caller is confused. I’m supposed to be an expert, so he wonders why I don’t have a pretty good idea of who should be available in his league. Again, that has less to do with the productivity or promise of a guy like Matt Jones than with the number of teams in his league, the number of receivers allowed/required in a starting lineup, the limitations imposed on flex players, roster size, and other factors that the caller really couldn’t care less about.

The positions of the caller and myself both make perfect sense. He just wants me to give him some names, and I can’t give him useful names without knowing far more about his league than the other listeners care to hear. I suspect that most experts would like to keep things just the way they are—because it’s difficult for us to be held accountable if we never really make our positions clear. It’s still possible to be wrong, of course. For example, I was one of many experts who went into the season flat wrong about what to expect from Chris Chambers in 2006. But most things in fantasy football aren’t nearly that clear cut. By midseason, almost everyone can tell the top 5 running backs from the bottom 5, but the truly competitive players are trying to figure out which of the RBs ranked 14-16 in Week 8 will finish the season ranked 9-11 and which of them will finish ranked 19-21. It is a simple matter of fact that deviations in scoring systems will have a great deal to do with those distinctions. The experts aren’t trying to be evasive when they say such things, but they aren’t being very helpful either.

The most thorough solution to the problem is obviously to have those who ask questions provide the scoring systems of their league along with the questions. This would make the answer of the expert extremely relevant to the person with the question—and potentially meaningless to everyone else tuning into the program.

Another solution to the problem would be to encourage the standardization of fantasy football leagues. As I’ve indicated before, I think that is a horrible idea. Perhaps the single most appealing thing about fantasy football is that it can be customized to the interests of 12 drinking buddies in Detroit who have only a passing interest in anyone who doesn’t wear blue and silver or to 16 executives across the country who want to prove that they have their fingers on the pulse of the entire NFL in all its complexity. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Let a thousand fantasy football flowers bloom!

But I think there is a third option. Since many fantasy football players participate in multiple leagues, I think we might be able to put the idea of a “standard” league to use. Casual fans can stick to the leagues they know and love, but those who really want to get a sense of how the game is played “on average” could participate in the sort of league that I think we, as a community, are sophisticated enough to define as a useful “composite.” This composite league wouldn’t be anyone’s favorite league; it would simply be a league that one could talk about as a point of reference that would be understood by others in the fantasy football community.

If we could define such a league and talk about it, then the lessons we might learn from it could serve as the foundations for conclusions tailored to our own leagues. Even unsophisticated owners could presumably learn what sorts of stats to ignore when translating a player’s place in the composite league to his place in the owner’s favorite league.

I therefore want to propose a project to the fantasy football community. I think that the best way for us to reduce the difficulty that we face in talking about the average fantasy football league would be to define that league as precisely as possible. I think we can construct a composite league that reflects enough about the world of fantasy football to be useful as a reference point whether your league is an 8-team, points-only redrafter or a 14-team, head-to-head keeper. This composite league cannot hope to be perfect, but it can be fair, fun, and simple. Let’s call it the FFS League for kicks (especially since “FFS” is what runs through my mind whenever I hear myself or another fantasy expert going into the standard preface about how there are a million and one correct answers to every conceivable fantasy question).

I’m sure that many of you will want to write in to explain why this project of mine can’t work. I’m certainly ready to hear those opinions. If you express them forcefully enough, I suppose you might manage to talk me into abandoning the project. However, I’ve served on enough committees at my university to know that the key to building a consensus from any body (no matter how large) is to focus on facilitating the discussion rather than attempting to impose one’s own agenda on that discussion. I have no agenda apart from the construction of the model that you, the readers of this column, can most forcefully persuade each other to accept.

To that end, I want to begin by settling three points about the FFS League:

  1. How many participants?
  2. Points-only, head-to-head, or a hybrid? and...
  3. Redrafter, keeper, or some other model?

We’ll get to other details in the weeks to come (lineups, roster size, scoring systems, etc.), but for now I am interested only in feedback on these first three points. If our host Mike Krueger is so inclined, he may set up polls for feedback on these three questions in the FFToday forums. Readers who do not care to register with FFToday in order to participate in the polls can still contact me via my email address. Please don’t think that I am simply trying to put things to a vote. I am far more interested in why you think that the FFS league should be an 8-team, points-only keeper than I am in how many of you think so. As always, I will be including the most cogent responses to this question in next week’s column. Please remember that I am not asking you to advocate your favorite league model; I am asking for the model that you think is a fair, fun, and simple version of your own best sense of the average league.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

Matt’s Picks

For all those fans that chose any of our picks in a Last Man Standing or Survival Pool last week, let me just say, “Sorry.” Michael and I went a whopping 0-6. I mentioned in my Jags pick that I was very skeptical; this should have been my TRAP GAME. In fact, I should have said that the whole week looked like a trap week instead of just leaving it out as I did. Hopefully you avoided this game since it screamed sucker bet. If you were lucky enough to pick against us and are still alive in your pool, then here are some picks for this week:

#3: Chicago over San Francisco (5-2 Season):
This is no-brainer, but so was the Bears over the Cardinals. Until the last minute heroics of the Bears defense, a lot of Survival Pool fans were biting their nails. If you didn’t use them then, now would be a good time. Most likely there are only a few people left who haven’t taken the Bears.

#2: Pittsburgh at Oakland (6-1 Season):
Big Ben is questionable for the game, and Charlie Batch will step in. While this may seem like a formula for disaster if you remember Charlie in Detroit, the Steelers will not miss a beat against a team that took advantage of a demoralized Cardinals team coming off a heartbreaking loss. The Steeler defense will not be lit up again this week even though they will travel coast to coast because Coach Cowher will not let it happen.

#1: Giants over Tampa Bay (5-2 Season):
I usually have a hard time picking the G-Men in any game because I follow this team so closely. Unlike the Manning Bowl in week 1, the Barber Bowl won’t have as much hype. While the G-Men came out of Monday night’s game beaten up, this is a game that should not get away from them. The Bucs quarterback, Gradkowski, is mobile but probably will have a hard time reading the Tim Lewis disguised defenses that he will face. Jon Gruden will try to take the pressure off the rookie with Cadillac Williams, but he will have a hard day against a team that has really shut down the run in the last few weeks. The Giants won’t put up a lot of points, but as long as Manning and company protect the ball, they won’t have to.


Michael’s Picks

Brutal Week 7--and probably the end for many players, if not the end of many pools. How silly of me not to foresee record October heat in Tampa Bay to help a kicker, who going into the game hadn't made a field goal of over 28 yards all season, nail a near record 62-yard winning kick! Let's pretend that didn't happen and keep the picks coming.

3 - (4-3) - Giants over Bucs - I'm going against pesky Tampa Bay again. The Giant defense is stepping it up, and the Bucs start a rookie QB. The offense is well balanced to find opportunities against Tampa's defense. And I haven't heard of any expected heat wave in New York this week.

2 - (6-1) - Steelers over Raiders - A classic matchup of a once great rivalry. Pittsburgh may need to start Charlie Batch, but he's done fine for them this year. Oakland is getting more banged up to go along with the bad play. I like the Steeler defense to redeem itself after the Falcon shootout.

1 - (6-1) - Bears over 49ers - At Chicago, the Bears have had time to get back to business after their emotional comeback against Arizona. The defense showed in that game they can win almost single handedly. The offense should produce better against the Niners to help out in what should be an easy win.

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.