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Week 9

Last Week’s Question

In my column for Week 8, I invited readers to respond to specific questions about a league that could productively be used as a point of reference for people who might want to get a sense of player value beyond the scope of whatever scoring systems their own leagues use. The idea, as I tried to make clear in the column, was not to standardize fantasy leagues, but to come up with a supplemental league model so that people who are primarily invested in 8-team, points-only keepers might be able to discuss player value with people who are primarily invested in 14-team, head-to-head redrafters.

Predictably, I heard from some folks who see no point in having such a discussion. As Mark put it, “I don’t understand their league, and they don’t understand mine. But that’s fine—because I don’t play in their league, and they don’t play in mine.” Fair enough, but there were other readers, such as Fred, who thought differently (if also negatively):
I wish you luck with the project. It is hard to know what to make of a lot of expert commentary because of the constant caveats about how this or that variable will make a lot of difference in different scoring systems. As helpful as your FFS league might be, I doubt you will get very far with it. You started with three softball questions. How many teams in the average league? Twelve, duh. Points or head-to-head? Head-to-head, duh. Redrafter or keeper? Redrafter, duh. If we’re talking “average,” there isn’t much to debate here. But what happens when you get to the harder questions? Do you give bonus points for long touchdowns? Do you award points per reception? You can take a vote on these things or try to sort through various arguments or whatever, but any consensus you may reach at the beginning seems bound to slip away from you as you proceed.
I thank Fred for his candor and clear-headed criticism, but I’m going to see how far we can get nevertheless. I’m also going to take the advice of Nathan:
I “get” the joke you are making with your FFS League (fair, fun, and simple—wink! wink!), but I think you are making a mistake by not using a name that does more to indicate what you are going for. If you really are suggesting that people in all sorts of fantasy leagues might want to consider participating in this “average” league just for the sake of having a “Point of Reference,” then just call it the PoR League.
Nathan goes on to suggest that things about the limited mental capacity of those who might find the FFS League name amusing, but I see the value of his suggestion. Consider the name changed, Nathan.

The polls that Mike Krueger put together on the FFToday bulletin boards showed that Mark’s instincts were correct, but in addition to the overwhelming statistical preference for a 12-team, head-to-head redrafter, I want to share some of the explanations that I received from readers both for and against that basic design. The first response comes from Dan:
1.) Participants in a league should be based on some math, like how many quality fantasy players are used each week by all NFL teams. Most likely based on 1QB, 1RB, 2WR, 1TE/3rdWR, 1K, and a DEF. Of course after years of everyone's experience with playing multiple formats, there has to be pretty solid averages of these numbers. I think 8 teams is too few—way too many waiver wire choices to keep the sanity. 10 is better, especially if it's a keeper league, so it may persuade a few people to hold onto a guy, even though the waiver wire will still have some decent choices out there, but I really think 12 is the best format. It makes owners study more and prepare for the draft as it will have a bit more importance than an 8- or 10-person league, and while the waiver wire will be thin, there will always be those few gems every year, and trading becomes more important.

2.) I say hybrid on the next question, if you mean the points used to score the H2H matchups each week is used to also determine a playoff spot. So mainly a H2H league, and a semi-confusing playoff system based on the points teams have scored and that were scored against them for the whole season. (Not to get into the whole thing, but as an example, no matter what the team record at the end, if they were in the top 25% of points scored for the year, but also had the most points scored against them, they would make it a some type of playoff, if they weren't already. Maybe even in a 3-way playoff of sorts.)

3.) Based on all previous answers, it would be a 1-player keeper league. Of course certain guidelines like who you can keep based on only a player you drafted would be a key rule.

Although Dan only agrees with the majority on the number of owners (12), I see the logic for his arguments about a hybrid scoring system and the possibility of keeping one player. I am particularly sympathetic to the idea of keeping just one player as an adequate compromise between keepers and redrafters—particularly in a league whose purpose is to serve as a point of reference. However, in light of the overwhelming endorsement of redrafter leagues that I received from other readers, I would have to say that Dan and I are very much in the minority on this question—and would therefore defer to the consensus. Another dissenting opinion came from Gary:

I do believe a standard league can be set up as a basis for comparing players or even maybe management styles and hence why I am replying to this question. So most of my logic behind how I decide to set up this standard league would be for the purposes of using it as a standard for comparing players.

1st part is to decide on the number of participants who will be in this league. I did some research on this subject and found that league sizes varied greatly from as few as 6 teams in a league to leagues as big as 24 with those bigger leagues usually having several divisions where each division does it own draft and hence two teams can have the same player. So using the fact that most leagues use 8, 10, 12, or 16 teams I decided to standardize our league with 12 teams. I found 12 teams to be a good-sized league allowing everyone in the league to field a decent team and be competitive. The other reason for choosing 12-team league is a lot of magazines use Expert drafts or expert mock drafts in them now a days with usually 12 experts participating.

2nd part was to decide on head-to-head, points-only, or a hybrid. I gave this a lot of thought and since I decided this league was a league to compare player A to player B I decided to make it a points-only league. By making it a points-only league you eliminate one whole variable from the comparison table (wins/loses). Head-to-head is fun as are hybrid leagues, but for our purposes here we wanted a standard so we can compare players while still making it fun. This system may also make later decisions such as division size and number easier.

3rd part was to decide on a redraft, keeper, or some other model. This was the easiest. Redraft because I have seen teams keep anywhere from 1 player to a whole team and just drafting rookies. So by making it a redraft you accomplish 2 things, one is you place players on even ground each year and make it simple to analyze player A to player B, and you also make it simpler on the league by keeping it simple as possible for new and experienced fantasy football players alike.
Although Gary is a lone voice in the wilderness in his preference for a points-only league, I think he makes an excellent case. If there were any way for me to repackage the consensus view to correspond with his logic, I might be tempted to do so. However, one wants to be careful when it comes to spitting against the wind, and the wind on this point definitely blows against Gary. Moreover, although I agree with the basics of his argument, I don’t think the head-to-head vs. points-only distinction could really have much practical impact on the evaluation of players (as John points out below). And since most fantasy players appear to have a strong preference for the head-to-head model, I think we have to consider that point settled.

John isn’t convinced that the establishment of a Point of Reference league will do much to reduce the time experts spend explaining why they still have to give dozens of different answers to the same question, but he wrote in with his thoughts nevertheless. I’ll call that sportsmanlike conduct:
I think your trying to make a standard model is a tough choice. Even if you find some sort of a happy medium, you are still going to have to make disclaimers constantly, such as "in our standard this wr is great, but in your league where points are awarded for receptions, this other wr would be better." It may help your burden of dealing with this [stuff] every day, but the diversity of the people out there, in the knowledge they have, as well as the (let’s face it) intelligence they have, still makes your job almost impossible. you still are going to get asked, “Do I start Larry Johnson or Maurice Morris?”

How are you supposed to answer, “Who should i pick up for Porter? That’s impossible.” Your answer should be, “Tell me all your free agents and I’ll pick one. Next question."

The one place that a standard system might help is in the rankings, but it would seem that even there you would have to get all the sites and experts to agree--good luck!

To answer your questions, my opinion is:

1. How many participants? 12 seems to be a standard number that works well. Our league has been 14 teams for years, up till this year, when we dropped to 12 out of lack of good owners. 14 teams left little room for error. Free agents are non-existent. Also to compound the problem, in our league we allow for a free free agent bye week pickup. That is, if you have a player on bye, you can pick up a player of the same position who will be dropped on tuesday after the games. You do not have to start him, but he must be of the same position as your bye week player. when you make you weekly free agent selections, you must specify bye week player pickup.

2. Points-only, head-to-head, or a hybrid? For your purposes, it shouldn’t mattter, right? If you are talking about players-scoring should matter. Teams are combos of players. I don’t know if you get questions regarding leagues, but in any league you are attempting to get the highest score possible each week.

3. Redrafter, keeper, or some other model? I see no way to choose properly here. choose one, and you still are going to have to address the other.
As I indicated above, I think John is right about the empty distinction between a points-only league and a head-to-head league for the purposes of player evaluation. But I guess that somewhere in the back of my mind lurks an idea for using this average league as a way of helping players of fantasy football to get their fingers on the pulse of the fantasy community. But that is my own sloppy thinking. In any case, John makes excellent points all around. Pino actually didn’t write in to answer my questions at all, but thought it worth his time to explain why he might (or then again, might not) benefit from the Point of Reference league that I am trying to construct:
I have read your article and agree that most scoring systems vary quite dramatically, so it is very hard to standardize . As an example we run a 12-team head-to-head league in Australia which I find hard to compare to most leagues in the US because it is predominantly a TD league. We award pts for TD’s (6 for pass TD of 1-9yds up to 20 for a pass TD of +50yds). We also award more pts for running and passing TD’s (ie RB’s that rush for 0-9 yd TD get 9 pts up to 25pts for +50yds but if they catch a TD its 12pts for 0-9yds up to 28pts for +50yds) Similarly for receivers.

To add to this we award bonus pts for passing, rushing and receiving. (QB 10pts for 200, 15 for 300, 25 for 400 … RB 5 for 50, 10 for 100, 25 for 200, same for WR). We sometimes have a RB that runs for 99 yds but no TD get 5 pts and a RB that gets 2 carries and are both TD’s get 18pts!

It works for us though because by now we all know it’s a TD-based league … and the longer the TD the better. We prefer this because we are not trying to mimic a real game here … it’s the big plays that are exciting, and they should be rewarded, not the plodding workhorse. But when trying to research in the preseason it gets difficult because not many leagues run this way (or not that I know). Hence I have noticed that most mags and web sites generally pick RB’s in the first rounds of drafts but they seem to be based on a traditional scoring system, but in our league big play guys may be heavier weighted than the RB’s … not sure because it’s hard to compare.
You don’t have to go to Australia for Pino’s problems, which are shared by a second reader named Gary (who is clearly skeptical about the value that a Point of Reference League would have for him):
Good luck with it. As I discuss fantasy here at work with people, we talk about players and for the most part, everyone I talk to has a league with yardage bonus. My league (or the league I’m in, I have retired as commish) is still 16 teams (more than normal), touchdown only (I don’t know of anyone else in a league like that anymore). It is very hard to query someone about players if I have questions, as their leagues just don’t go that deep. Years ago, there was a mag that had a nice breakdown for TD only, but alas that is gone now.

It really comes down to your own analysis. For example, Vincent Jackson is a complete afterthought for the majority of leagues, but watching him in preseason, I figured he was a liked target for Rivers in the end zone, being 6’4” and all. I’ve gotten two touches out of him basically by watching matchups. Also, in a league the size of ours (which we do carryover two keepers per year) you have to project out, look at later in the season, injuries, etc. much more than a 10 or a 12 team league. Right at this moment, there is not a QB available on our waiver wire that is starting. And in a league like ours, having a quality QB is a big key. Consistent and quality. Kickers are quite huge and they start getting drafted early…but again, it’s projecting that team’s offence, who they are playing and the points they are going to score. Defenses are really a wash as we do sacks, ints, fumble recoveries and touchdowns/safetys. No special teams. But, really, to have a receiver or running back(s) that are consistently scoring is what will make you from an average team to a top team in our league.
I suspect that the primary benefit of a PoR League to players like Pino and Gary would be in the estimation of trade value for players, but even there the value could easily be skewed by the dramatic change in context. It’s also quite possible that players as savvy as those in leagues like Pino’s and Gary’s don’t particularly need the benefits that might be offered by a PoR League in the first place. In any case, I thank them and the other readers for writing in (and the many others who took the time to respond to the poll on the FFToday forums).

This Week’s Question

Some readers may consider one of my three questions for this week a softball question (for an “average” league at least), but I think it’s difficult to predict the responses to the other two. Once again, if Mike Krueger can set up polls in the forums for these questions, we may get some statistically interesting responses:
  1. Team Defenses or Individual Defensive Players? (Also, should team special teams be lumped in with team defenses?)

  2. Preferred lineup? (The possibilities here are limitless, but I’m primarily interested in determining whether people think the average league should require tight ends, allow a third receiver instead of a tight end, and/or include flex players.)

  3. Roster Size? (I’ve drafted 12; I’ve drafted 20; I see the downsides and the upsides of both methods and everything in between, but what number most accurately reflects the amount of talent tied up in the average league?)

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

Matt’s Picks

If you are still in your survival pool, congratulations! At this point of the season you will have used some of the good teams when you weren’t sure about the Kansas City’s and San Diego’s of the NFL. To that end, I will skip the easy picks like a Chicago or Indianapolis as much as possible for the rest of the season and give you the information that you need to make an educated decision about the “pick ‘em games” or those that scream upset.

Trap Game: NY Giants over Houston:
Houston is not a very good team, and historically the G-Men have always played down to their competition. 2006 may prove to be different, but when the Giants are favored by almost two touchdowns a week before the biggest game of the year, you have to pause—especially since Houston has figured out how to win a few ball games recently. That said, the Giants are 12th in the league in rushing yards (96 yds/game), 14th in the league in overall yards (308 yds/game) and 8th overall in points allowed (19.1 pts/game). The Giants should win this, BUT they may be looking at next week’s opponent (the Bears).

Trap Game #2: Seattle over Oakland:
Warning!!! Seneca Wallace is not very good. Warning!! The Raider defense is ranked 1st against the pass averaging 159 yard per game. Warning!! Shaun Alexander is still out and Maurice Morris has rushed for 21, 49 and 35 yards over his last three games. Those poor Seahawks, right? No, not according to the betting public. The Hawks are favored by 8 at home, but don’t look for them to put this game in the win column. If there ever was an upset special, this is it.

#3: Atlanta over Detroit (6-2 Season):
Atlanta is giving up only 19 points per game, but since their bye week three weeks ago they have yielded 27 pts, 38 pts and another 27 pts to the Giants, Steelers and Bengals respectively. The Lions are not the same caliber of team that any of those three are, but Mike Martz should be able to move the ball against the Falcons by spreading the offense. On the defensive side of the ball Detroit is 31st, yielding an average of 27 points per game, and Michael Vick should continue his scoring streak through the air. This might end up being a shootout, but one that the Falcons should win.

#2: San Diego over Cleveland (6-2 Season):
How good is Ladanian Tomlinson? Now that Philip Rivers seems comfortable in the pocket and the defenses realize that they cannot stack the line against the run, the Chargers have a very good chance of not only making the playoffs, but winning their division. Cleveland is just trying to make it to the end of the season. The fact that they have gone through so many centers this year is only one of many problems, and the firing of Maurice Carthon only covers up the bigger problems. Charlie Frye will be a solid but unspectacular NFL QB, and he has two very good weapons in Kellen Winslow and Brandon Edwards. But this team needs more time to play together before they are a threat to Marty ball.

#1: Jacksonville over Tennessee (6-2 Season):
The Jaguars haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboard of late, but at home they are 3-0. Houston snuck up on them in week 7, but Vince Young and company may have a harder time considering the combination of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are better than Wali Lundy and Ron Dayne (116 yards and 16 yards last week against the Titans). The Titans have a two-game winning streak going but those were against the 26th and 32nd ranked defenses. The Jags are ranked 7th in yards allowed and 5th in points (15 pts/game). While the Titans will most likely cover the 9-point spread, the Jags should win this because of the home field advantage. Beware, this is the same team that knocked out a lot of Survival Pool players two weeks ago.


Michael’s Picks

3 - (5-3) - Bears over Dolphins - If you haven't used Chicago yet, here's another good week to pick them. With the way they are playing, it's hard to find a reason they will lose when they are facing a lesser opponent. Miami has started playing a bit better with Joey Harrington, believe it or not. I just can't see the Dolphins putting it all together against the Bears though.

2 - (6-2) - Giants over Texans - Houston took a step back last week after showing improvement. The Giants keep moving forward in solidifying their role as legitimate contenders in the NFC. They are going to get another win against Houston. I like the balanced offense for NY, along with the good play out of the defense.

1 - (7-1) - Chargers over Browns - This one should be as close to a lock as you can get. The game is in San Diego, and the Chargers are playing great. This defense will be too much for the Browns, and the offense will have the freedom to either run or pass with ease. Cleveland is simply overmatched here.

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.