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Week 12

Last Week’s Question

I knew when I asked last week’s question (which concerned bizarre/unique scoring rules in leagues around the world) that I might not get very many responses. The question came from a reader whose league awards bonuses to players who break rushing records in a single game (something that comes up so rarely that it’s hard to justify keeping track of).

Even so, I thought I would hear from some readers who were itching to explain how they score fantasy punters or why they give bonuses to head coaches who win a certain number of games played away from home. What I mainly received, however, were criticisms of the bonus for breaking rushing records.

Mike wrote in to point out that we have to draw the line somewhere—and that the line falls a LONG way short of the record-breaking bonus:

I have to qualify my opinion as being "old school" about Fantasy Football, dating back to the Terry Bradshaw era, when FF scoring consisted of 6 points for TD's, 1 or 2 for PAT's, and 3-point FG's, all tracked manually by tireless commissioners, and that was it. [Nowadays], the popularity of Fantasy Sports of all kinds, coupled with internet stats tracking, mandates more sophisticated systems and expanded scoring opportunities, to include bonus yardage and defensive points. That's all fine, but enough is ENOUGH! Your writer-in even admitted that his League Commissioner may have had a personal agenda, because one of his own players was setting new NFL records that year. I think he answered his own question. What's next? Bbonus points for the most flamboyant end-zone dances by the NFL's growing population of self-serving WR's? I hope not.

I think Mike speaks for a substantial portion of the fantasy community. Computerized scoring has made it easier for us to develop increasingly complicated scoring systems, but the fact that these systems can be easily implemented and maintained does not make them desirable for most players. Every year since 2002, I’ve been thinking that the following year will see an explosion in the popularity of IDP leagues, but I’ve been wrong year after year because the majority of fantasy players seem to want to keep things simple.

One of the reasons it’s freakish to see leagues awarding fantasy points to offensive lines is that it’s hard to figure out a fair way of assigning blame for quarterback sacks or of assigning credit for total rushing yards in a game. But I think that difficulty is only a secondary concern. The primary reason the vast majority of fantasy leagues overlook offensive linemen and punters and individual defensive players is that folks want to keep the game as simple as the traditional 6-position format (QB, RB, WR, TE, K, Defense) makes it. Scoring-only leagues may be a bit too simplistic for most of us (particularly given our access to computerized scoring system), but it’s generally enough to add yards, fumbles, interceptions, and sacks. Once we start throwing in bonuses for breaking records, the game is probably becoming a bit too complex and intense for the average participant.

Mike’s philosophical objection to last week’s question was balanced nicely by this mathematical argument from Steve:

I understand special bonuses in TD-only leagues, for instance, or in other specialty formats that usually don't reward some aspect of the game.

But it seems to me that a record-setting performance is pretty lucrative in and of itself. I'm an Adrian Peterson owner, and that day he scored 51 points for me. Do I really need 10 more on top of that?

(In my case yes, because I still lost that week. But I digress....)

Our league has minor bonuses for long TD throws/catches/runs -- a max of 3 extra points for an 80+ bomb. And we still have grumbling from some players who point out that an 80-yard TD catch is worth 14 points all by itself (8 points for yardage, 6 points for the TD). Isn't that enough?

I agree, which is why our bonuses are half what they were a few years ago. I still think a small bonus worth having, to recognize (and emulate the game effect of) the spectacular play that wows fans and energizes a team. But a game-swinging bonus (like the 10-point bonus under discussion) feels like piling on.

Steve is clearly sensitive to both sides of the argument about fantasy bonuses. I play in leagues that give bonuses as well as leagues that don’t. I think both are a lot of fun, but I can certainly understand the argument against bonuses. A running back who scores on a 60-yard run is already getting points for the score and the yardage, so why give him additional points?

Your answer to the question probably comes down to your own sense of how important momentum is in football and whether “big plays” are the huge momentum boosters or breakers that some analysts make them out to be. But it’s hard to apply the argument of “momentum” or “psychological demoralization” to records. If your league awards points for sacks, should Michael Strahan have gotten extra points when he broke the sack record? Did he demoralize the Packers by taking Favre to the ground? Did Peyton Manning give his team a special boost by breaking the passing TD record? The effect of these record-setting performances isn’t as clear as the effect of a 102-yard kick return for a TD, so I can understand the logic for awarding big-play bonuses and not recognizing record-breaking performances from a fantasy standpoint.

One of the more counterintuitive responses I received on this question came from Kim, who points out that the very technological advances that have made lots of extra scoring wrinkles possible have, in some cases, become obstacles to such wrinkles:

Our league used to do some of that when we calculated the scores by hand. Each week the highest scoring player at each position would get a 3 point bonus provided he was in the respective owner's starting lineup. Most of the time it didn't have a bearing on the outcome but once in awhile it tipped the scales but aside from that the league liked it because it was a source of bragging rights. Now that our league is online though there's no mechanism to include that scoring (at least there's not on any of the 3 different sites I've used) so we've since dropped it.

I don’t know whether the record-setting bonus is automated or not, but none of the league-hosting websites that I’m familiar with would support such a feature (to my knowledge), and I can understand why commissioners would shy away from anything that might require a manual override of the existing scoring mechanisms.

Craig decided against using the NFL records (such as the one mentioned last week), but brainstormed a possible fantasy adaptation:

In reality this issue probably wouldn’t come up often, since it’s not like records are an every week (maybe season) occurrence, but when they do happen its not going to be pretty. How would you feel missing out on the playoffs because in week 14 against the worst team, you wound up losing because he happened to have Brady breaking the passing TD record? While there is a lot of luck involved in this hobby, it is similar to Poker in that there is skill involved, and I’m sure most if not everybody considers it more of a game of skill. Adding this will just take some of that away, and maybe even ruin the hobby for some.

I probably would be against adding it, just to avoid ay controversy and pissed off friends in what I like to do for fun.

What might be more fun would be to have these bonuses apply to records in your fantasy league (pass TDs, points in a game, points in a season, etc.). This is something that at least the guys in your league could have some control over, and it becomes more personal. It would be kind of cool if I had Adrian Peterson and LT on my team, and in one game they both amass 450 yards rushing. That’s a record not likely to be broken, but if it did it would be mighty impressive. Their own fantasy points would probably guarantee a victory, but even if they didn’t I think the extra bonus points would be more forgiving than if was awarded for an NFL record.
Since we started with Mike’s objection to over-complexification, I’m not sure how many commissioners will want to run with Craig’s idea, but the idea of tracking fantasy records is something that might appeal to some leagues.

This Week’s Question

In head-to-head scoring leagues, we are only partly in control of how we perform. I make it to the playoffs not simply because of how well I do, but because of how poorly my opponents play when we face each other. This obviously introduces an element of luck into fantasy football that is analogous to what we see in the NFL. (Every year, we see at least one team in the playoffs that doesn’t seem to belong—and only made it to the post-season because of an extremely soft schedule.) Kim wonders whether fantasy leagues really need to emulate this aspect of NFL play:
Many of the different sites I've employed over the years break down wins versus every team on a weekly basis and keep track of this information for the season. Sometimes this is simply referred to as "breakdown" (CBS Sportsline) or in some cases it is called "power ranking" (Fanball). At any rate, I'm the commissioner in one of the leagues I'm in and have considered using this system to determine which teams get into the playoffs and the seeding in the playoffs, thereby eliminating head-to-head W-L records or at least ignoring them. Every league I've ever been in uses a head-to-head matchup and the W-L record stemming from those matchups to determine who makes the playoffs. In many leagues (including the one of which I'm the commissioner) the breakdown or power ranking breaks ties for the purposes of the bubble teams as well as for seeding. I'm wondering what you and some of your readers think about just using the breakdown system right from the start. It is the truest way to determine the best teams for the playoffs and eliminates the "luck" inherent in head to head scheduling (Ex: playing a team who has Tom Brady this week while the Pats are on a bye).
Kim’s question actually ties in nicely to a question I received from Brian, who asks, “How much is success in fantasy football attributed to luck?”

The easy response to these questions is that luck plays just about as much a role in fantasy football as we allow it to. When we choose to go with a head-to-head format, we are obviously introducing the luck of the draw into the contest. We could just keep track of points all season long and declare the team with the most points the winner (as some leagues do), but my own sense is that luck is part of the fun.

Some people think the phrase “games of skill and chance” refers to two different kinds of games. Chess is a game of skill, and roulette is a game of chance. But fantasy football is like real football and contract bridge and a host of other games in that it blends skill with chance in a way that most of us find enjoyable. It’s fun to win the games you should win, but it’s a lot more fun to steal the games you shouldn’t. When you look at your opponent’s roster all week and reflect on your own injuries and byes and think that you don’t stand a chance and nevertheless pull out a win, you get a thrill that wouldn’t be the same if you were simply accumulating points from one week to the next.

So my own answer to Kim’s question is that we use the head-to-head format because it’s more fun. And my answer to Brian’s question is that a good deal of success in fantasy football can be attributed to luck—and most of us like it that way. But I’ll be happy to share other responses to these questions in next week’s column.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew and Paul)

Matthew’s Picks

Trap Game: NY Giants over Minnesota:

This game plays to the strengths of the Minnesota Vikings—and with the Giants’ running game in question as well as Kiwanuka being injured last week, Chester Taylor might be able to loosen up the linebackers so that what receivers they have can find the holes in the Giants secondary that seem to be there but few are noticing. Both of these teams seem to be winning games with smoke and mirrors, but it will come down to which Eli Manning shows up for game time, the one that has the pedigree arm and head or the one who has looked lost and makes bad decision when the pressure is on.

#3: Kansas City over Oakland (9-2):

This game is scary since the Chiefs will be playing their first game in almost 7 years where Priest Holmes and/or Larry Johnson is not in the backfield. The last time that happened was when Marcus Allen was back there pounding the ball. Kolby Smith will get the start if Priest Holmes is truly out this week, and Brodie Croyle will need to rely on Tony Gonzalez a lot to move the ball but that should be enough against the a Raiders team that is better than it was last year but not by much.

#2: Cleveland over Houston (6-5):

The Houston Texans are almost healthy, and Andre Johnson and company should have a good day against the 31st-ranked passing and 32nd-ranked defense overall in the league. Still, the Browns keep putting up points and seem to slug it out against their opponents each and every week. This week’s pick relies on the fact that the Browns put up 33 points against the 11th ranked scoring defense in Baltimore and Houston is ranked 26th in that department. This won’t be an easy game for them, but Derek Andersen seems to have good command of this offense and team.

#1: Arizona over San Francisco (10-1):

The Cardinals are on the verge of making the playoffs for the first since the 1990’s—while the 49ers are just trying to get healthy. No one wants to admit that the loss of Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator was huge for the 49ers, but it is easy to see that Frank Gore and company are lost without him. Meanwhile, Russ Grimm has got his offensive line playing great, and they should be up to the task of being a double digit favorite against a perennial favorite in the NFC West. Look for the passing game to light up the score board as the Cardinals stay close to the Seahawks for the NFC West Division title.

Paul’s Picks

Last week I went 2-1 and completely whiffed on the trap game—the same stats I put up in week 10. Pittsburgh wasn’t able to hit the road and take care of the Jets, so I’m getting back to basics and playing by the cardinal rule of LMS: No more road teams! No more road teams! Non-division home favorites were 8-1 last week (55-17 for the year). I’m sticking with home cooking for the Thanksgiving week.

(Capital letters indicate correct predictions; lower-case letters indicate incorrect predictions)

#1. NYG over MIN (9-2; used SEA, CHI, BAL, IND, DAL, SDC, WAS, NEP, TBB, nos, pit)

The Giants (7-3) return home after a tough battle with the Lions. This week the Vikings come to town after holding off the Raiders last week. The Vikings are not very impressive on the road (1-4). Even with Jacobs hurt, I think the Giants will take care of the Vikings.

#2. JAX over BUF (9-2; used IND, DEN, NEP, sdc, TEN, sea, DAL, NYG, ATL, PIT, GBP)

Buffalo didn’t have any chance against the Patriots last week. They are playing better than most expected, but 3 of their wins are against the JETS (twice) and the Dolphins. Garrard is back under center for the Jaguars, and they looked strong last week. As long as Garrard doesn’t get hurt, the Jags will roll over the Bills.

#3. ARI over SFO (11-0; used SDC, JAX, PIT, NEP, HOU, GBP, NYG, IND, WAS, SEA, DAL)

Don’t look now, but Arizona is on a 2-game winning streak, having beaten Detroit and Cincinnati. This week the woeful 49ers stagger into town with their 8-game losing streak. They did beat the Cardinals (20-17) earlier this year, but that was Week 1. A lot
has changed since then. San Francisco’s losing streak will stretch to 9.

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.