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Week 11

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I passed on Jeff’s concern about leagues that bar waiver wire activity as a means to prevent passive trading late in the season. It’s obvious why some leagues forbid owners to trade players during (or even in the weeks leading up to) the playoffs. Owners who are clearly out of the running can easily load up friendly teams with talented players who won’t do their losing teams any good.

If it’s clear in Week 15 that the Packers will be going to the playoffs and the Vikings won’t, then we would all cry “Foul!” if the Vikings lent Adrian Peterson to Green Bay and issued a press release about the “pervasive spirit of camaraderie that has always characterized the NFC North.”

But what if the Vikings simply cut Peterson at 2 in the morning on the Tuesday before the Week 16 games and phoned the Packers to say, “Sign him now—before anyone else wakes up and notices he’s available”?

Unfortunately, some leagues have been burned by just this scenario. There are rules to prevent collusive late-season trades, so owners who are longer on ambition than integrity get around these rules by urging friends to cut key players in the middle of the night, when no one else is likely to see that Tom Brady or Antonio Gates has suddenly become available on waivers.

In some cases, commissioners simply reverse these passive trades conducted via waivers, but it can be difficult to prove collusion. The owner of Tom Brady can say, “The Pats have the #1 seed locked up, so I don’t think Brady is going to play more than 2 quarters in Week 16—and not at all in Week 17.” The owner of Gates can point out that the defenses the Chargers will face in the last two weeks of the season have completely shut down opposing tight ends all season—diminishing Gates’ value for the remainder of the season. The list of justifications is endless. And when the commissioner says, “Okay, but you cut Brady at 4:03 a.m., and your buddy’s team picked him up at 4:06. Doesn’t that look fishy to you?”

Some people—I’ve known a few—could look a commissioner in the eye under these circumstances and say, “I guess we’re both like John Gruden. We just don’t need much sleep.”

“So you’re telling me it’s coincidence that you cut the leading passer in the NFL in the middle of the night—and your buddy picked him up a few minutes later?” the commissioner might ask.

“Exactly,” a certain kind of player is capable of responding—and the fact that he is visibly choking back a laugh isn’t something that every commissioner knows how to handle.

The upshot is that many leagues simply ban waiver activity at a certain point in the season—since it’s so difficult to prove collusion. In fact, one big-money league that I play in (sponsored by AFFL) has this sort of rule in place all season long. Once a player on my team is cut, he is off limits to all teams for the remainder of the season. I picked up Bryant Johnson (the Arizona wide-out) with a late pick in my draft. A few weeks later, even though I still liked his potential in case of injury to Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald, I had to make room for a kicker—and Johnson was my most expendable player that week. Now he’s off limits to everyone. Even if Boldin and Fitzgerald both end up on IR for the remainder of the season, no one in my league can snatch Johnson off waivers—and it’s all because the league doesn’t want to deal with accusations of passive collusion.

Jeff’s league appears to have a somewhat more forgiving rule—since owners are allowed to pick up other owners’ rejects until a certain point late in the fantasy season. But after that point, no waiver wire activity is allowed at all. On the one hand, this decision prevents passive collusion. But on the other hand, it prevents owners from addressing needs that they might not be able to anticipate as they head into their fantasy playoffs.

If Jeff only has room on his roster for 2 QBs and they are both expected to miss Week 16 (when most fantasy championships occur) due to injury, then he has to play his championship game without a quarterback. I understand the desire to prevent collusion, but there must be less drastic ways of achieving this result than simply forbidding access to waivers.

Michael’s league takes the approach of trying to ensure that no one wants to finish last:

An early trade deadline is just too limiting. Teams and players continue to change their performance and strategy, and certainly guys continue to get hurt. Trades are an integral part of maintaining your team.

In our seasonal league, in order to combat any late season shenanigans (and to combat hopeless teams just throwing in the towel towards the end), we have a "loser's playoffs". All teams that don't qualify for the playoffs have to play in the loser playoffs. The loser of each matchup in the loser playoffs advances. The ultimate loser has to buy all of the booze for following year's draft.

This sounds like a great idea in certain leagues, but one obvious limitation is that once a team has been eliminated from contention for “worst” status, the owner might go the route of waiver wire collusion. I’m not suggesting this is something that Michael’s league—or even most leagues—should worry about. However, leagues with this sort of concern might want to consider the model adopted by Harold (since it keeps more teams in contention for a longer period):

As fantasy seasons wear on, collusion is certainly an issue that every fantasy commissioner must address. Also, there's the problem of those teams who feel they no longer have a chance to win simply not playing anymore -- which results in cheap victories and skewed standings. Nothing is more irritating than to see a main competitor winning a key game late in the year against someone who isn't even submitting a lineup or is still starting his two injured RB's.

I tackle both issues with my playoff format. In my view, the best way to avoid most of these cases is to consistently have something to play for, even if a specific team is winless. I divide our league's playoffs into three brackets -- Champs, Contenders, and Toilet Bowl. Our conferences are 12 teams, so the top four in each conference advance to the Champs, the next four to the Contender's, and the final four to the Toilet Bowl. Each bracket plays to a winner, and each bracket has its own prize (Champs, of course, is the largest). As an added incentive, I tie all the various prizes into playoff performance -- prizes for weekly high points during the playoffs, prizes for each victory, etc. This is our fourth year with this format, and each year a team that has been completely horrid during the regular season arises to make a run in the playoffs, thus adding another element of fun to the season (for example, last year a team was winless during the season -- 0-12 -- but won three straight playoff games before losing in the Toilet Bowl Finals). Because everyone has something to play for, everyone keeps trying to improve their teams, and thus no cheap victories and, in four years, only one attempt at collusion (team A offered Peyton Manning for Team B's kicker, backup QB, and tickets to the Chief's game -- his argument was that the kicker was one of the highest scoring players in the league!).

An additional tactic we use to discourage collusion is the way we run our waivers during the playoffs. Because the NFL now plays Thursday night games the same weeks as our playoffs, it works well. During our regular season we do worst-to-first waivers until Wednesday morning—then first come first serve until noon (Central Time) Sunday, but during the playoffs first come first serve is eliminated. This forces teams to wait a full week to pick up players dropped on waivers, thus eliminating incentive to try and sneak one through on everyone.

Of course, even Harold’s measures aren’t enough to prevent those who are truly determined to cheat. Mike has a suggestion that is particularly appropriate for leagues in which the owners a) don’t know each other very well or b) know each other well enough to suspect that one or two folks aren’t trustworthy:

That is kind of crazy not being able to start a QB in the championship if they both get hurt or can't play for some reason. There is a way to prevent collusion and still be able to add players in the playoffs. In my league when a team is eliminated from playoff contention or eliminated from the playoffs his roster is frozen. He can't drop/add or trade.

I realize it’s probably easier to program software to freeze ALL waiver wire transactions at a certain point, but I like Mike’s point about allowing access to the players who haven’t been dropped from other teams. I grant that it’s possible to use the waiver wire as a means to the end of collusion—but only if the player being acquired on the wire used to be on someone else’s team.

Don’s solution allows for even greater flexibility:

Our league, which has been around since 1990, says in order to be eligible for the play-offs, a player has to be on the roster prior to the start of the least regular season game (Week 13). During the play-offs if a player is injured and listed as questionable or worse, an owner may make a pick-up. Our trade deadline is prior to the start of week 10's games.

Craig’s solution is even more flexible (and yet still provides a reasonable solution to the problem—particularly for those willing to explore keeper leagues):

Jeff’s league is kind of harsh in not allowing any type of pickups at all. I understand having a cutoff week on trades (around weeks 8-10), but it makes no sense to go to the extremes and possibly have a player with an empty roster spot because of something he cannot control. If all of the Patriot QBs (Brady down to whoever is on the practice squad) took a crazy night on the town the week before the playoffs and accidentally drove off the side of a cliff, do you think the NFL wouldn’t let them put somebody under center because it was too late in the year?

For situations like the one described, I see no reason why a waiver pick could not be used and have the owners examine any waiver transaction like a trade, with possible veto power if something fishy is up.

I would think non-keeper leagues would have this issue come up more than keepers (since players on non-playoff teams have no more value), so I would suggest if this comes up in your non-keeper league a lot then you should transition over to a keeper style to help offset this. It may not stop all types of collusion but it can’t hurt. At least you won’t be seeing players like LT, Brady, TO dropped to waivers a couple weeks before the playoffs. Combined with the owner veto ability stated above should be more than adequate to prevent cheating.

I know some may want to stay non-keeper (I had been so for the longest time), but I’m sure you can modify your league rules just enough where it won’t discourage people from playing next year (I personally like allowing just 1 player to be locked from previous roster).
My thanks to everyone who wrote in on this topic. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may not get such extensive feedback on this week’s rather esoteric question. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for esoteric questions.

This Week’s Question

My week 11 question comes from a reader named Chris, who wants to know about “special bonuses” for record-setting performances that leagues may offer. Does your league have any idiosyncratic scoring rules akin to the one Chris mentions below?
In the league I'm in (14-team redraft), we have a pretty standard scoring system. However, we also have a little-used clause that says any owner gets a 10-point bonus (over and above the regular points for yardage) if one of their active players sets the NFL single-game rushing record. (I suspect our commissioner, a Saints fan, implemented it a few years ago, when the Deuce was tearing it up in N.O.). Of course, we hadn't worried about this in a while -- until last week. I'm wondering how many other leagues have special bonuses for players who set records, and what those bonuses are.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew and Paul)

Matthew starts by catching us up on what we’ve missed:

For the last few weeks Mike and I have seemed to have some technical issues in getting my picks in—which is probably for the best for the readers of this column. Last week my number one pick, like 50% of my Survival Pool contestants, was the New Orleans Saints. I mentioned in my picks (which never arrived) that this game had the makings of an upset but that it was probably not going to happen. As such, my perfect record for my number one pick is now gone. That said, let’s get to our picks.

Trap Game: Washington at Dallas:

Oh how the Redskins would love to have last week’s game back. And nothing would be better than beating their hated rivals the Cowboys in their own stadium to get a little closer in the division standings. The last time these two teams met (in November of 2006), the Redskins won the game 22 -19. These teams have each gotten better since that meeting, but Joe Gibbs and company still are looking to prove to everyone that they are good enough to make the playoffs. Look for this game to be a lot closer than what the odds makers have this at, and don’t be shocked if the Redskins pull this one out.

#3: NY Giants at Detroit (8-2):

Detroit is really banged up coming out of their loss to the Cardinals this week, and it is very possible that both Kevin Jones and Jon Kitna may not play. If that happens the Lions defense will have a very long day trying to stop Brandon Jacobs and his 6’4” 264-pound frame from running over them in the third and fourth quarters. And to top that off, Steve Spagnuolo has got his defense playing pretty well over the last seven games with rookie Aaron Ross making some spectacular interceptions and defenses against the pass. However, if Jon Kitna plays, this secondary can be beat by tall and fast receivers like Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson.

#2: Philadelphia over Miami (5-5):

The Dolphins are becoming the punching bag of the NFL, and this week they get no rest. The Eagles find themselves fighting to stay in the playoff hunt in the NFC even though the NFC East is all but locked up by the Dallas Cowboys and their win over the Giants. Brian Westbrook should continue his record year and just might finally get the recognition that he deserves. Miami’s defense will most likely again be without Zack Thomas, and without him Donovan McNabb should not have to pass a lot as Westbrook should break into the secondary both running and catching swing passes in the flat.

#1: Indianapolis over Kansas City (9-1):

Indy has lost two games in a row, but three in a row is out of the question for last year’s Super Bowl champs. While Priest Holmes is back in the lineup, this is not the Priest Holmes that ran for almost 5800 yards over three seasons in his prime. Brody Croyle will be at quarterback for the Chiefs this week, and even though the Colt defense isn’t completely healthy, Indy should be able to confuse the second-year player from Alabama. Look for the Colts to get back in the win column this week.

Paul chimes in as well:

Last week I went 2-1 and completely whiffed on the trap game. My misstep concerned the Saints’ loss to the Rams, which may have ended a lot of LMS seasons. Non-division home favorites were 1-1 last week (48-16 for the year). The good news this week is that the bye weeks are over and you have 4 more teams to consider and/or worry about.

#1. PIT over NYJ (9-1, Used SEA, CHI, BAL, IND, DAL, SDC, WAS,NEP, TBB, NOS)

The Jets are coming off a bye and have only won one game—and that was over the hapless dolphins. Pittsburgh got a wake up call last week as they came from
behind to beat a decent Cleveland squad. Generally, I don’t like taking road teams, but there are a lot of mediocre home teams this week, and I think it’s better to take a good team on the road than a mediocre home team. The Steelers will take care of the Jets this week.

#2. GBP over CAR (8-2 Used IND, DEN, NEP, sdc, TEN, sea, DAL, NYG, ATL, PIT)

The Panthers have lost 3 in a row and still have me mystified with their 4-1 road record and 0-4 home record. The Packers have won 4 in a row and are rolling along. I don’t see Carolina and the 44-year-old Testaverde (happy birthday, Vinny) slowing the Pack down.

#3. DAL over WAS (10-0 Used SDC, JAX, PIT, NEP, HOU, GBP, NYG, IND, WAS, SEA)

Except for the Buffalo disaster/escape on Monday Night Football and the loss to this season’s Super Bowl champs (the Patriots), the Cowboys have won all their games by 10 points or more. Washington, on the other hand, is 1-2 against division rivals. Oddly, since their bye week, the Redskins have alternated winning and losing the last 6 games. That trend would have you thinking that they should win this game after losing last week. Not in the big D.

Trap Game: I’ll leave those picks to Matt. He’s much better at that than I am. Even so, I do have a hunch about Miami. I don’t know why.

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.