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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Q&A – Anatomy of a Championship Loss

Last Week’s Question: Does your league reshuffle divisions?

In last week’s column, I reviewed the reasons for and against reshuffling divisions in fantasy leagues. Scott E. wrote to report that even though he shares my preference for static divisions, his league has adopted a primitive (though not annual) form of randomization:
Our league (12 teams) reshuffles our 4-team divisions after 3 seasons. It was a compromise between those who feel like you (I'm one of 'em), that want the rivalries and tradition, and those that don't want an "easy" division where one strong owner can dominate. This compromise has been in place now for 6 years. We reshuffle again after this season. Our reshuffle consists merely of drawing names from a hat, regardless of which division one was in last season. So far there hasn't been an appetite for moving to a yearly reshuffle.

That’s an interesting compromise. Reshuffling once every 3 years might give owners a change of pace to look forward to and rivalries a chance to establish themselves as well.

Cheech’s league reshuffles divisions annually, but there’s nothing random about the process:

Before each draft, my league allows the top four teams to draft the divisions (i.e. the first place team gets to pick the first team they want in their division). It's a great way to slap another owner in the face and let them know that you have no respect for their ability to manage a fantasy team.
Ouch! Tough room. (Still funny though.)

The approaches of Scott E. & Cheech stood out because they are based on chance and choice, whereas the other techniques readers described were variations on the more familiar concepts (in sports at least) of promotion and relegation. Consider Tee’s league, with its gold, silver, and bronze divisions:
We reshuffle every year. Our league, going on its 18th year . . . basically uses relegation. We have three divisions: gold, silver and bronze. The top two division winners receive a playoff bye, the remaining division winner plays in the wild card round with the next three teams with the best remaining records without regard to division. (So yes. theoretically all four teams from one division could make the playoffs.)

After wk14, the lowest four teams are placed in the bronze division, the next two in the silver division. The top two teams receive a playoff bye and are placed in the gold division. After wk15 the two losers of the wild card round go in the silver with the winners joining the gold. (And yes, we play our championship in wk17 but that is a discussion for another day or a question for next week.)

Each team plays every team in the other divisions once and the teams in its own division twice. By realigning in this manner, teams generally play more games each year against teams of similar quality since you have the final four playoff teams playing one another the next year and so forth. This process also guarantees at least one new team in the playoff field each year which helps with owner participation and retention. (9 of 12 owners have been in the league for at least 12 years.) As a result, six franchises have won two championships, five have won one and only one franchise has failed to win.

We feel we have found a great balance of competition and enjoyment for all the participants. After all, enjoyment and entertainment is the goal. (The winner’s purse ain't bad either.)

The system Tee describes sounds both appealing and intuitive to me. (Alas! This column comes to a screeching halt at the end of the regular season, so the question about scheduling championships in Week 17 will have to wait for next season—though it has been covered in the past in this space.) Parity is part of what makes the NFL great, so it’s nice to know that only 1 team in Tee’s league has failed to claim at least one title. (I wonder if that owner is from Detroit.)

Scott R.’s league does something roughly analogous with only 2 divisions of 6 teams each:

I've run a 12-team redraft league since 1991. We have two 6-team divisions and the top three teams in each division make the playoffs with the division champ getting a first round bye. Every year the teams that made the playoffs the prior year become the "cut-throat" division, while the six teams that missed the playoffs become the "cream-puff" division.

By reshuffling the divisions in this way, we ensure that there are three playoff teams every year that didn't make the playoffs the year before. Also there is the bragging rights of being a cut-throat or the shame of being a cream-puff. (We label teams that don't make the playoffs in consecutive years as perennial puffs.)

We still have rivalries as the league is quite old and you have three inter-division games per year.

I love solutions that combine simplicity with efficacy. If your objective is to ensure high turnover in the playoffs, Scott R.’s method is worthy of consideration.

Kevin’s league applies similar principles, but focuses on total points rather than playoff status:

We use relegation to set our divisions each year. As a 12-man keeper league that's been running since 1991, we've tried several formats over the years, and this is the most competitive format to date. Even though we use the standard H2H format, we use total points scored to seed the teams in the conferences/divisions the following year. So even though the highest scoring team got screwed repeatedly this year with the H2H schedule, he will be in the best division in the top conference next year based on points scored even though he failed to make the playoffs this year. If a team that makes the Super Bowl did not score enough points to land in the top conference, it automatically gets seeded in the top conference. We've found that the regular season is much more competitive and gives teams coming off a bad year a fighting chance at making the playoffs in a more competitive conference.
I think that total points probably does a better job of indicating which teams in a league are strongest, but I must admit it seems like a tough break for the team that didn’t get the reward of going to the playoffs this year, but nevertheless has a harder road to the playoffs next year than a team that lucked into making the playoffs because of good-timing in H2H contests.

Jim’s league uses yet another method, an unusual blend of randomization, relegation, and inertia:
Here is how my league has done it for over 25 years:

The previous season's three division winners (East, Central, West) will be given the opportunity to defend their division titles by being placed in the same division they were in the previous season. The remaining teams will be randomly placed into divisions as follows. The three highest-ranked teams that did not win their division will be randomly placed into three different divisions. Similarly, the next three highest-ranked teams will also be randomly placed into the three different divisions. Finally, the three lowest-ranked teams will be randomly placed into three different divisions.

This gives the most balance (based on the previous season results) that we can think of. No division gets loaded up with all the best or worst teams.

We also have the division games set for the same weeks each season (Weeks 3 5 7 and 12 13 14) so that divisional battles really don’t usually get resolved until the final weeks of the season. We originally had Weeks 1 3 & 5 as our opening trio of divisional games, but too often Week 1 is a crapshoot as to player performance and we figured moving that first week’s divisional game to week 7 gave all teams a better idea of their roster strengths and needs.
Thanks to everyone who chimed in on this subject. If a curious commish can’t find a good model for reshuffling in this batch of responses, I suspect that commish isn’t very serious about reshuffling.

This Week’s Subject: Anatomy of a Championship Loss

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote cavalierly about turning one or two weeks of the postseason into a battle royal without H2H matchups—with the top half of scoring teams advancing to the next round and the bottom half being eliminated. If your objective is to have the most competitive teams meet in the championship, that model makes a lot of sense.

But if your goal is to savor the thrill of victory (or to see your opponent languish in the bitter pool of defeat), there’s nothing like H2H matchups.

Consider the emotional roller coaster that I rode from the time I secured my semi-final victory in Week 15 to the championship game in my 24-team league (which I lost):

Date: Monday, December 17th – Friday, December 21st
Confidence Level: High

Our league locks rosters before the playoffs begin so that eliminated owners can’t “donate” players to friends. If you carry just one kicker into the playoffs and he gets injured, you aren’t allowed to replace him. You just limp forward without him, which is exactly what my opponent in the championship game, Carey, had to do when his kicker (Graham Gano) went on IR.
I had 8 active starters to his 7, and things only got better from there.

Carey’s starting QB was Aaron Rodgers, but with the Packers out of the playoff race, it seemed possible (or even likely) that Rodgers would play a quarter or two vs. the Jets before taking a seat. For several days during the week, Carey was worried enough about Rodgers that his lineup showed Baker Mayfield as his starting QB.

Worse yet for Carey was the fact that even though Todd Gurley had carried his team to the playoffs, there was good reason to doubt that Gurley would be active. Still, his starting backs were Gurley and Gus Edwards all week long.

His best receiver, Keenan Allen, had suffered a hip pointer in Week 15 and seemed unlikely to play in Week 16.

The Allen development boded especially well for me, since I had Melvin Gordon returning from injury. With Allen hobbled, I expected Gordon to play an even larger-than-usual role in the Charger offense.

Even better for me (since I had lost Emmanuel Sanders to injury as soon as rosters were locked) was the fact that I had Tyrell Williams on my bench—available for my flex spot if I wanted to gamble on him. It was all too easy to imagine a scenario in which Gordon and Williams picked up the slack for Allen.

I felt justifiably optimistic.

Date: Saturday, December 22nd
Confidence Level: Through the roof

Just before the roster lock, I picked up the Titans as a very streamable defense for the playoffs & was delighted by their performance vs. Washington. We rarely see defenses crack 20 points in that league, but they put up 23 points on Saturday night. I went to bed having fired successfully on 1 of 8 cylinders and with tremendous confidence in the remaining 7.

Life was good.

Date: Sunday, December 23rd
Confidence Level: Shaky

I didn’t believe Keenan Allen was healthy even when he was listed as active. I decided he was going to be a decoy at best and rolled the dice on Tyrell Williams as my flex.

The Jets-Packers game was a punch in my gut because Carey had both Rodgers and the Jets’ Robby Anderson. When the Packers still trailed the Jets by 5 after Rodgers’ second rushing TD of the day, I consoled myself by observing that at least the game wouldn’t be going into overtime. “Either the Jets will put it away,” I thought, “or, more likely, Rodgers will get 1 more TD. But that will be all he needs, and the bleeding will stop.”

But the bleeding didn’t stop with Rodgers’ next TD. He added a 2-point conversion with enough time for the Jets to kick a field goal and send the game into overtime. “Maybe the Packers will lose the toss,” I dared to hope. “Maybe any Jet other than Robby Anderson will score a TD and Rodgers will not be heard from again today.”

The Packers won the toss, of course.

Rodgers marched down the field like the gridiron warrior he is. He scored a TD on yet another sneak and had it called back before throwing his 2nd TD pass of the day. Carey’s QB had racked up 56 points in the same game in which Robby Anderson outperformed my trio of receivers (T.Y. Hilton, Amari Cooper, and Williams) all by himself. My own QB, Andrew Luck, had a perfectly respectable game, but his 32-point performance was almost doubled by Rodgers.

Melvin Gordon had his worst day of the season, and a solid performance by my other RB (Christian McCaffrey) wasn’t enough to put me ahead with 7 of my cylinders spent.

I was glad to see Todd Gurely deactivated, since that forced Carey to replace him at the last minute with the only RB he had active after the afternoon games: Doug Martin on Monday night.

By the time the afternoon games were over, the only player I had left was Harrison Butker in the Sunday night game. I was down by 8 points. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleased when Butker finished with 15 points in our league.

I was up by 7 with a total of 131 points (a score that ordinarily wins in that league). My opponent had taken a zero at kicker and made a last-minute substitution for the star of his team (Gurley), but he still needed 8 points from Doug Martin to win. It was not lost upon me that Martin had only racked up 4 points (39 yards, no scores) in Week 15.

I went to bed telling myself that I could win even if I didn’t deserve to.

Date: Monday, December 24th
Confidence Level: Inconsolable

The day was agonizing. I had to help my brother-in-law assemble a trampoline as a Christmas present for my nephews. Time seemed viscous as we toiled on that project. It slid over me slowly when I wasn’t thinking about the game and even more slowly when I was. Finally, the Monday night game was underway.

At least Martin didn’t string me along. He put me out of my misery with 7:56 remaining in the second quarter on a 24-yard TD scamper by the man who hates being called the Muscle Hamster.

I didn’t watch the rest of the game.

I shouldn’t complain. We award a decent purse to 2nd place. But I wanted the $500 bigger purse (and the bragging rights) that come with a championship.

But here’s the astonishing truth: Even though the emotional roller coaster I endured was unpleasant, it was thrilling. There’s no denying that it was more than $500 worth of thrill (though the thrill would have been more satisfying, of course, if the upshot had been victory).

I don’t think that kind of thrill is possible in battle royal situations. It only comes with H2H matchups.

So even though there may be good reasons for using a battle royal approach in your league, try not to lose sight of the thrills that can only be had in H2H contests.

P.S. How many fat guys do you have in your league?

Since my column for Week 17 is the last you’ll see of me for the year, this is usually when I wish readers happy holidays, so please accept my best wishes for 2019.

But as someone who spent the last 2 years overcoming a bit of a weight problem in my late 40s, I want to let the readers of this column know that those of you who are considering a new diet as your New Year’s resolution for 2019 may want to look into this crazy little thing called carnivory, which turns out to be a really easy way of getting rid of the moobs and guts that are typical of so many fantasy enthusiasts in their 40s.

I found my way to carnivory gradually, after realizing that 1) I don’t like being hungry, and eating as much grilled meat as I want leaves me satisfied for ridiculously long stretches at a time, and 2) I must not be a foodie because I’m unwilling to spend much time in the kitchen learning new recipes.

I’ve been documenting my approach to fitness and nutrition on Youtube for over a year now, but I only got around to making a video aimed at the fantasy football community this week: So-Called Beer Bellies in Fantasy Leagues. You might want to check out that video (or at least the website) before plunging into some god-awful program based on calorie restriction. Whatever you decide to do, good luck.

Survivor Pool Picks

Pick #3: Steelers over Bengals

(10-6; GB, NO, CHI, LAC, CIN, car, TB, IND, oak, phi, ari, jax, KC, car, BAL, NE)

Although I try to steer clear of divisional matchups, those are the only matchups on offer in Week 17, and the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati contest may be the most promising of the bunch. The Steelers need more than a win on Sunday to claim the AFC North title, but their season will definitely end if they fail to get that win. And why should they struggle against a Bengals team that is missing QB Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green, TE Tyler Eifert, & even up-and-comer WR Tyler Boyd? I expect the Steel Curtain to envelop the replacement Bengals (Jeff Driskel, John Ross, and C.J. Uzomah—the TE who led the Bengals in receiving in Week 16 with just 49 yards).

Pick #2: Seahawks over Cardinals

(11-5; no, LAC, hou, GB, CAR, MIN, IND, PIT, KC, atl, tb, BAL, TEN, DAL, phi, LAR)

The Seahawks will march to the playoffs whether they beat the Cardinals or not, but they can secure the #5 seed by winning (and could end up behind Minnesota at #6 if they lose and the Vikings win). That’s not as huge as incentive as I would like them to have, but it’s enough for me to expect them to take care of business against a Cardinals team that hasn’t shown a pulse since defeating the Packers in Week 13. In the past 3 weeks, the Cardinals have scored 26 points and given up 88. I don’t see Arizona reversing that trend on a visit to Seattle at the end of a forgettable season.

Pick #1: Patriots over Jets
(12-4; BAL, LAR, min, JAX, NO, GB, LAC, CHI, dal, KC, car, IND, HOU, pit, ATL, TEN)

This game might not be the pushover that it looks like on paper. The Jets’ Sam Darnold is getting better by the week, and he could manage to stay on his feet in this game, since the Patriots are only ahead of one other team (Oakland) in the sack department. The Jets were positively fierce against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16, taking Aaron Rodgers and company to overtime in a 44-38 scorcher. Still, I have faith in New England if only because of their incentive to secure the #2 seed and a bye. They control their own destiny at this point and can either claim a first-round bye by defeating the Jets or put two other teams (the Texans and Ravens, who would both have to lose) in charge of their fate. The Pats have been unusually inconsistent this season, but they are a Bill Belichick-coached team playing a meaningful game at home in Week 17 against a lackluster opponent playing only for pride. I’m not gonna overthink this one.

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.