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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Undervaluing Points as a Fantasy Tiebreaker

Last Week’s Question: What do you think of the flexiest league ever?

My column for Week 12 featured Hugh’s question about the appeal of allowing all skill players to be flex players. He reported success in using just such an approach in his league for almost 20 years, and the idea is certainly intriguing. I wonder what it would be like to manage a team with 5 RBs vs. an opponent with 5 WRs—or even a team with 3 TEs, 1RB, & 1 WR.

The holidays are a busy time, so it’s not unusual for my Thanksgiving column to fail to generate responses, which is unfortunately what happened in Week 12. I’ve repeated Hugh’s question here in the hope of prompting belated responses, but my initial impression was that there aren’t very many leagues that would be willing to toy with such a model (rightly or wrongly). Perhaps I was right.

If you have thoughts on Hugh’s model (or experience in a league with an unusually high number of flex players), please post a comment below or email your remarks to me.

This week’s question: Do we undervalue points as a tiebreaker in head-to-head leagues?

I want to start this section of the column by reprising a point I made 4 years ago about a policy adopted in my longest-running H2H league. We awarded playoff spots based on win-loss records, and we had an owner with one of those heartbreaking seasons of scoring more points than any other team in the league, but always running into his opponents on their best day. He didn’t make the playoffs (despite having outscored everyone who did). We responded with a policy that awards a playoff spot to whichever team scores the most points in the course of the season without winning a divisional title according to the win-loss formula.

That rule worked out very well for my brother this year. He scored more points than anyone in his conference, but finished third-to-last in the standings. He was therefore awarded a playoff spot that would have gone to a more traditional wildcard in our league 4 years ago. I think that’s a good outcome—and not just because he’s my brother. In fantasy, you can only control how many points you score—not how well your opponents do against you in a given week. So I don’t think it makes sense to exclude teams like that from the playoffs simply because of unlucky scheduling.

But I do understand the thrill of playing for wins & losses each week. I know what it’s like to steal a win you don’t deserve (just because your opponent tanked), and I know the heartbreak of doing exceptionally well … only to lose to an opponent who managed to do a tiny bit better. That roller coaster is fun to ride, and that’s why my brother is seeded behind the division winners in the playoff picture. Yes, points matter. But the win-loss record remains the primary focus.

So please don’t take my question about undervaluing points the wrong way. I’m not proposing that wins and losses be done away with and that all leagues adopt a model of simply tallying points without H2H matchups ever taking place.

But I am starting to lose faith in the traditional methods used for breaking ties in H2H leagues.
This year, we had a 3-way tie in a 4-team division. I’ll call the owners Andy, Bob, & Carl to keep things tidily alphabetical. Andy swept Bob; Bob swept Carl; and Carl swept Andy. Since all 3 teams had the same record, there was no obvious head-to-head tiebreaker. According to our rules, the next tiebreaker is divisional record. Andy & Bob were both 3-3 in the division; Chuck was 2-4. This led us to throw Chuck out of the running and resort to yet another tiebreaker (conference record) between Andy and Bob. Bob’s record in the conference was 1 game better than Andy’s, so Bob advanced to the playoffs as a division champ—even though he had the same record as Andy and had been swept by Andy in the regular season.

That’s kinda screwy, right? Obviously, if we had started with just a 2-way tie between Andy and Bob, then Andy would have won the division by virtue of head-to-head matchups. But once you throw in a 3-way tie & the fact that Carl swept Andy, things become incredibly muddled.

What bugged me about the outcome was that Carl, the first one to be eliminated by our current tiebreaker system, had more points than either Andy or Bob. That’s because we don’t look at points until we’ve already considered H2H, divisional record, and conference record.

I think the progression outlined in our rules makes perfect sense for breaking a 2-way tie, but I also think it failed miserably in this 3-way scenario. In my opinion, looking only at points (instead of H2H, divisional record, and conference record) would have rewarded the most competitive team instead of taking us down some deeply unsatisfying rabbit holes.

What do you think? The win-loss record is obviously more important than total points in H2H leagues, but should we have resorted to points earlier in this tie-breaking process? Once again, responses can be posted directly below or emailed to me.

Survivor Pool Picks

Bonus Pick: Packers over Cardinals

The Packers aren’t available to me this week because I’ve used them in each of my slots, but they are 14-point favorites at home vs. the Cardinals for good reason. Sure, there’s a morale-based case that the Packers are in for a letdown game in light of their ever-diminishing chance at a playoff spot. They are 4 games behind the Bears, 1.5 games behind the Vikings, and only half a game ahead of the lowly Lions in the NFC North. The best possible finish for the Pack is 9-6-1, so I don’t foresee even a wildcard spot for them. But my read on Aaron Rodgers is that he’s more likely to win out of spite than to lose out of apathy. Can a discombobulated team from Arizona win in Green Bay in December against Rodgers? I don’t think so. I would use Green Bay this week if I could.

Pick #3: Chiefs over Raiders
(7-5; GB, NO, CHI, LAC, CIN, car, TB, IND, oak, phi, ari, jax)

Although I try to avoid divisional matchups, this game strikes me as irresistible for 2 highly technical reasons: 1) The Chiefs are very good at winning; & 2) The Raiders are even better at losing. This could be a trap game, of course. The Chiefs probably are looking past the Raiders. And who could blame them? If your bye had been timed so that you had an extra week to prepare against one of the least talented teams in the league, you might get a little sloppy. But this game won’t just be about the Chiefs being rested with superior talent. It will also be about the fact that the Raider offense simply doesn’t have what it takes to keep up with KC even on an off day.

Pick #2: Titans over Jets
(8-4; no, LAC, hou, GB, CAR, MIN, IND, PIT, KC, atl, tb, BAL)

The Jets are struggling. They haven’t scored more than 17 points for 5 consecutive games. It’s not clear whether the starting QB will be rookie Sam Darnold (currently recovering from a foot injury) or veteran backup Josh McCown (who has been ineffective in relief of Darnold). Whoever starts at QB for the Jets can look forward to very little help from the run game (the Titans are 4th in run stuffing) and to being sacked frequently (Tennessee ranks 5th there) and probably shouldn’t expect a lot of help from tight ends (since the Titans are 1st vs. TEs). The only real weakness of the Titan defense is the deep passing game, but the Jets don’t appear to have one of those. I’ll take Mariota & company at home.

Pick #1: Texans over Browns
(9-3; BAL, LAR, min, JAX, NO, GB, LAC, CHI, dal, KC, car, IND)

After getting off to an enigmatic 0-3 start, the Texans have racked up 8 straight wins. Can they keep that winning streak alive against the visiting Browns on Sunday? Well, they just might have to if they want to maintain control of the AFC South. They’re only 2 games ahead of the Colts, who face a reeling Jaguars team on Sunday. If the Colts win and the Texans lose to the Browns, they’ll be down to a 1-game lead with 4 games left in the season—plenty of time for the Colts to overtake them. I think the Texans are too serious & too talented to let that happen. Sure, Baker Mayfield has breathed new life into the Browns’ offense vs. the porous defenses of Atlanta and Cincinnati, but I expect him (and the rest of the Cleveland offense) to struggle against a Houston defense that features J.J. Watt returning to his dominant form. And the Texan offense has 3 very impressive De’s (Deshaun, DeAndre, and Demaryius) who will probably put on a show for the home crowd.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can be found here.