Last Week’s Question: Does your
tournament seeding formula punish the top team?
My column for Week 14
featured a question from David, who asked whether fantasy leagues
should seed playoff teams according to total points scored on the
season rather than H2H records or divisional titles. In a 12-team
league with 3 divisional champs and 1 wildcard spot, it’s
not unusual for the wildcard team to be much stronger than 1 (or
even 2) division winners.
Why should the top-seeded team have to play against that strong
wildcard instead of one of the weaker divisional champs?
Kilpatrick replied by pointing out that even though this may not
seem ideal, it’s par for the course in the NFL:
The 2nd best team in the AFC can still be the 5th seed in the playoffs.
Sometimes (a lot of times) life isn't fair; make do with what you
Also, most of the time, the point differential isn't that crazy
where you should be complaining. 300 point difference? Sure. But
a 50pt differential in a 13-game season is roughly 4pt/game. That's
Kilpatrick is obviously correct about the NFL. The Chiefs and the
Chargers are both better than any team in the AFC North, but one
of them will be seeded lower than the AFC North champ whether that’s
fair or not—even if it turns out to be Cleveland (still technically
possible). Kilpatrick’s second point (that the difference
in the average weekly score of the “weak” divisional
champ vs. the “strong” wildcard is likely to be much
more than a TD) is also worth noting. Does anyone really want to
overhaul an entire seeding system based on a statistical sense of
justice that falls to pieces with every vultured goal line carry?
Another reader, Mark, defended his seeding system is a different
way. He conceded that it can be inherently unfair (as David suggests),
but argued that as long as the top seed gets a bye during the first
week of the postseason, there shouldn’t be any whining:
What we did in our league was to expand to 7 playoff teams and give
the top seed a bye in the first round (we do not use divisions as
they are too arbitrary). So the other six play in week 14, and then
we reseed for week 15 when we have our final four. Yes, the top
seed might still face a high-scoring team in the semis this way,
but our take after 23 years in this league is that if you deserve
to win it all, you don’t get a free pass to the finals regardless
of your regular season record. Sometimes the top seed is 8-5 or
9-4 instead of 12-1, and we all know the regular season W-L record
is a bit of a crapshoot because you don’t always win when
you should and lose when you should. So, we’re not going to
reward a weak top-seeded team with an easy path to the finals when
a team that goes 12-1 is going to be strong enough to take on all
There’s a lot to be said for Mark’s attitude about a
true champion being “strong enough to take on all comers anyway.”
But if the point of winning the first seed is to earn the easiest
path to the championship, then there’s a good argument to
be made for ensuring that the path taken by that team is the easiest
one available. If that’s your position, then your problem
comes down to defining what the “easiest” path should
look like. Jim’s solution is to have the top-seeded owner
choose his own path:
For several years now I have pondered what it would be like if the
top seed in our league (after their 1st round playoff bye) got to
pick their opponent from the remaining teams.
That is sort of a way of avoiding the type of punishment of facing
the ultra hot wild card winner in any particular year. On the flip
side, the punishment is that if they lose to the team they chose
to play it is extra crushing. Pick your poison playoffs.
I have not yet pulled the trigger on it. But I do think I will eventually…
if only temporarily. I am not sure if this is done elsewhere, but
I have not seen it in any leagues.
I’ve never heard of a league doing this either. But I have
heard of leagues using such a system for draft picks. (It’s
customary for a league’s worst team in 2018 to get the first
overall draft pick in 2019, but some leagues with serpentine drafts
allow owners to select the draft slot of their preference.) If anyone
out there is already using a method like Jim’s, please let
me know how well it’s gone over in your league. Thanks to
Jim and everyone else who wrote in.
This Week’s Question: Would you
consider a battle royal approach to the playoffs in a H2H league?
One response to last weekís question resonated with me
because of what happened in my own league this week. I won my
quarter-final matchup 172-106. (Yes, I had Amari Cooper.) Another
contest was settled 79-61. (Yes, those owners had Todd Gurley
and Antonio Brown.) The team that I crushed in my matchup would
have crushed either of those teams. But in our single-elimination
tournament, the team with the 79-point victory advances to the
semi-finals, while the team with the 106-point loss is kaput.
This was in the back of my mind as I read Bobís note about
structuring the first 2 weeks of the playoffs so that ďthe
top half scores would move on and then face off in the championship.Ē
Interesting. In a league with 6 playoff spots and byes for the
top 2 teams, Week 14 would feature 4 teams competing for 2 spots.
The 2 teams with the highest scores would then join the 2 bye
teams in Week 15 for another competition for the 2 spots in a
H2H championship game in Week 16.
I can see how that would be sort of thrilling. It would also
dramatically streamline the playoff tournament structure. More
to the point, thereís good reason for thinking that such
a model would have done a better job of determining which teams
most deserved to advance to the semifinals in my league.
Iím sure a lot of readers will wonder why a H2H league would
stray from the H2H formula, but I can still see some appeal here.
Do you? If your league has tried (or is considering) an approach
like this, please comment below or email
Survivor Pool Picks
Pick #3: Ravens over Buccaneers (8-6; GB, NO, CHI, LAC, CIN, car, TB, IND, oak, phi, ari,
jax, KC, car)
I know. You stopped watching the Ravens back when Joe Flacco was
still the starting QB because the team looked, in a word, flaccid.
Youíve heard that Lamar Jackson has done a great job of
claiming the starting job. Perhaps youíve even used Jackson
as a streaming QB because rushing QBs are a cheat code in fantasy.
But have you watched the Ravens lately? Did you see them take
the Chiefs to overtime in Arrowhead Stadium? Baltimore isnít
just playing better on offense with Jackson under center; in the
past 3 games, the Ravens have scored 3 TDs on defense and special
teams. Despite the heartbreaking loss in Kansas City, the Ravens
are heading in the opposite direction of the Bucs, who have won
just 2 of their last 7 and only 1 road game all season. I donít
buy the idea of the Bucs getting their second road win of the
year against a team that is just hitting its stride.
Pick #2: Rams over Eagles (10-4; no, LAC, hou, GB, CAR, MIN, IND, PIT, KC, atl, tb,
BAL, TEN, DAL)
The defending Super Bowl champs are double-digit dogs as they
travel to Los Angeles to face a Rams team that only scored 6 points
vs. Chicago, which means that the Bears would have needed to score
-5 for the Rams to have covered this same spread last week. And
yet this week, those same Rams are heavy favorites against the
Eagles. Is that because the Rams are that good or because the
Eagles are that bad? The answer is yes. The Rams struggled to
get Todd Gurley going against the Monsters of the Midway, but
they should fare far better against an Eagles defense has only
held 1 opponent (Washington) to fewer than 22 points since their
bye in Week 8. The last elite offense that Philadelphia faced
was New Orleans in a 48-7 route. It probably doesnít help
that Carson Wentz (back) is likely to miss this contest. I was
right to pick against the Eagles last week in Dallas, and Iím
doing it again.
Pick #1: Falcons over Cardinals (10-4; BAL, LAR, min, JAX, NO, GB, LAC, CHI, dal, KC, car,
IND, HOU, pit)
As disappointing as the Falcons have been in 2018, they still
have Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, who remain among the top 5 players
at their positions. (I know thatís hard to believe about
Ryan right now. Look it up.) The Cardinals, on the other hand,
have virtually nothing to offer offensively. Rookie QB Josh Rosen
has yet to pass for more than 252 yards in a game this season,
and he seems unlikely to improve on that number behind an offensive
line that is falling apart more quickly than the trainers and
coaches can gauze it back together. David Johnson looked like
he was coming back to life vs. the Chiefs and Raiders in Weeks
10 and 11, but has been held to 79 total yards or less in the
3 games since. The Cardinals appear to be lost, and it will be
very hard for them to find their way against a team with as much
raw talent as the Falcons (even if that talent hasnít consistently
translated to wins for Atlanta).
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.