Last Week’s Question - What is the best fantasy tiebreaker?
I received a lot of great feedback on fantasy tiebreakers (via
comments & email) this week. The wide range of opinions is
consistent with different leagues having different priorities
& therefore taking different approaches. Since I singled out
bench scores for criticism when posing the question, I’ll
start with comments on that subject. According to Eric:
We use bench players - teams choose any 3 bench players and rank
them 1 to 3. In the event of a tie, each team's 1st-ranked player
is compared, then second, etc. In 27 years, we've never had to
go to the second player, much less the 3rd.
We also give the higher-seeded team a 3-point home team advantage
in the quarter- and semi-final rounds [but not in the] championship.
Many leagues award a home-field advantage of a few points to
the higher-seeded team. I like the fact that Eric’s league
suspends this practice for the championship game for a couple
of reasons. First, it mimics the NFL, in which teams can secure
home-field advantage for themselves through the conference championship,
but have no control over where the Super Bowl is played. But second
(and more importantly in my opinion), it prevents teams from tying
in the championship based on home-field advantage being awarded
to one contender. If two teams tie in a title game and one of
them was awarded a few extra points just for being the higher
seed, then it would be tough for me to justify resorting to bench
scores to break the tie (since the team without the home-field
advantage scored more ACTUAL fantasy points). Since this method
has worked for 27 years, it’s difficult to find fault with
it, but Jason’s comment explains how it’s conceivable
that owners concerned about tiebreakers could easily end up with
3 backup QBs in leagues like Eric’s:
I've been in a league for 15 years, managing it for the last
8. In our playoffs we settle ties with home field advantage: the
highest-seeded team wins ties. With fractional scoring, it's come
up a few times. Everything else we looked at either seemed arbitrary
(like strength of schedule) or encouraged strange behavior (like
stacking the bench).
This is a typical & quite elegant approach, as Mark echoes:
We break playoff ties by seed. If a team had a better record
in the regular season it should be rewarded. So when two teams
tie in a playoff game, the better seed moves on. Clean and simple.
Although I agree that this approach is “clean and simple,”
it is vulnerable to the criticism that the best team in any fantasy
league is the one that scores the most points (which isn’t
necessarily reflected by record). Perhaps this is why numerous
leagues have resorted to some fairly complicated (by comparison,
at least) alternative strategies for tiebreakers. Derek wrote
in to describe one such method:
Since FFB clearly has a distinct element of luck due to the random
weekly match-ups against other fantasy teams, I feel the best
option for a play-off tie-breaker would be to create an opponent's
version of NFL.com's Power Ranking (we'll call it "Strength
of Schedule" - the compiled weekly Win/Loss/Tie record based
upon each team's relative placement). As with the Power Ranking,
the Strength of Schedule is a much better measure than Points
For and Points Against as it accurately represents weekly placement
in scoring relative to all of the other teams. As with the Power
Ranking, this proposed Strength of Schedule metric is the most
accurate measure as it shows relative placement for all possible
outcomes if the schedule were juggled over and over. If you doubt
my logic, juggle the season's schedule and you will come out with
a wide variety of possible W-L-T outcomes in the official head-to-head
Although most people with fantasy experience will probably accept
Derek’s logic, I’m not sure how many will embrace
his conclusion. Unsurprisingly, I heard about some alternatives
(simpler than Derek’s, but not quite as simple as seeding)
from readers like David:
We require our playoff teams to put their players in order (in
the comments section of the line-up) 1 thru 8 and use the points
of each player to break any ties.
I love techniques such as this that settle ties without resorting
to bench players, but Kevin’s league doesn’t think
it’s necessary to rank all 8 starters:
[In our league, e]ach team selects two “captains”
for their team before their games commence, ranked as captains
#1 and #2.
The combined point total of both captains is used to break the
tie. In the event the totals remain tied, only the #1 captain
Our 12-team league averages about one tie per season, though
it’s never happened in the playoffs.
Greg’s IDP league does something similar (with top performers
on offense as defense as captains, though they need not be declared
Our league is in its 22nd year. Ties count in the regular season,
but for the playoffs (we start 7 on offense and 7 on defense)
we take the top scoring offensive and defensive player on teams
tied and and add their scores, the higher 2 scores wins the game.
I think it is the best tiebreaker.
Many leagues reduce the number of ties by resorting to decimal
scoring, but that can leave a bad taste in the mouth of owners
who are accustomed to whole number scores (not just in football,
but in most other sports as well). Instead of using decimals,
leagues like A.N.’s simply rely on “total yardage
produced by starting lineups” to break ties. That seems
perfectly reasonable to me.
The longest response I received came from a reader named Mike,
who shared a tale of poetic justice that is bound to resonate
in some leagues:
The timing of your question is spot on for our league (now in
its 30th year). There’s been a little turnover over the
years, but our core has always been steady. Commissioner duties
have not stayed with 1 guy throughout this time, but have revolved
among a few in the core with a handoff occurring from time to
time depending on how long a guy wants to hang on to the responsibility
(on that note, and to comment on your question from last week
- our commish has never taken a cut; and while I’ve taken
my turn at the wheel and know it can certainly be akin to herding
cats sometimes, I find the concept of compensation for that responsibility
to be crass – like if it’s my turn to be sober cab,
but I require everyone to pay me for my services like I’m
an Uber or something. If it's not a labor of love, then don't
do it. Just my two cents).
Anyway, 6 years ago I was in the middle of my commish tenure and
had a question posed to me about playoff tiebreakers. I wrote
a league article addressing the issue so we had a foundation and
rule in place moving forward. [Mike included a screenshot of the
article based on using yardage for tiebreakers. His screenshot
won’t survive the FFToday editorial process, but he covers
the relevant details below.]
Fast forward to this weekend: Dao, the guy in the article who
brought the issue to me that season, and I - the guy who instituted
the rule, are in the semi-finals. He's got the proverbial 'best
team on paper' and I have Winston and McCaffrey along with a grab-bag
of injury-based substitutes because my roster's in shambles. Going
into Monday night's game, I'm down 7 pts and have Jared Cook yet
to play. We play .5 ppr, and Cook finishes with 4/54......for
7 pts. We tie. I get a bunch of texts asking what happens now
- and I repost my article from 6 years ago to our league home
page. Winston alone almost had enough yardage to win, add in CMC
and the rest of my lineup and it's not even close. The beauty
of that repost is: Cobra Kai Dojo is....wait for it....Dao. He
was the first to reply to my article agreeing with the rule, which
is why I included that reply in the repost (we didn't carry over
his suggestion that ALL yardage for each player be accounted for,
but even if we had, I still would've won).
Now if we had gone to bench, he had: Wentz, A.J. Brown, Tony Pollard
(who as Zeke's backup went nuts in garbage time), and a couple
other starters = 64 pts; and I had K. Murray, C. Conley, and a
couple guys on IR along with McCaffery's backup = 35 pts. If bench
points was our tiebreaker, I would have lost handily because of
my injuries....unless I had first stacked my bench with QB's for
the guys on IR or something like that which is a stupid consideration
and would only reward the truly paranoid and most OCD of owners.
Either way, in that scenario the result is determined by players
who aren't in either starting lineup, and is subject to arbitrary
manipulation like I pointed out in my original article. Instead,
by going to yardage-based tiebreakers your starting lineup dictates
the result of the game, not whatever you might have sitting around
filling out your roster.
As far as I'm concerned - justice is served. As far as Dao goes,
I'm still hearing about how his best team on paper got corned
on basically by two players....and I have to say, it warms my
heart to have this play out the way it did. And as far as compensation
to a commish goes, no amount of money in our fantasy realm could
take the place of this justification. Regardless of how the championship
game plays out this week, I'm going to live off this victory for
years to come.
Thanks for what you guys at FFToday do - I've been referencing
your stuff for years and don't bother with anyone else's input
because it's completely unnecessary to go beyond what you do.
Keep it up.
My thanks to everyone who wrote in--and especially to Mike for
his kind words about FFToday and for sharing his illustrative
story in such detail.
This Week’s Question: How did you do with your quarterly
The sad truth about fantasy articles written for Week 17 is that
they mostly go unread. But I hope that David and Bruce (the two
readers who participated in my “quick quarterly quizzes”
throughout 2019) will see the scoring system detailed in this
section of the column and let me know how they did.
In a perfect world, accurate predictions made earlier in the
season should be more valuable than accurate predictions made
We can gesture towards that perfect world by awarding more points
for getting things right in Week 5 than in Week 13.
Furthermore, in a perfect world, correct predictions made before
the season began would be even more valuable than those made after
the first quarter of the season was completed.
Unfortunately, since we didn’t start this process until
Week 5, we can’t gesture towards that perfect world without
a time machine.
However, when I tried to figure out how to score my own performance
on these quizzes, I realized that if I had started the process
in August, it would be really easy to generate a score on a scale
of 0-100 by awarding 4 points for each correct preseason prediction,
3 points for each correct prediction after Week 4, 2 points for
each correct prediction after Week 8, and 1 point for each correct
prediction after Week 12. We’ll get this right in 2020,
folks. But for 2019, I’ll show you how to calculate your
score on a scale of 0-60 (since we started late).
According to the scoring system for the FFToday Staff League
(FFTSL), the top 5 quarterbacks after the first 16 weeks of the
2019 season (which is the part of the season that matters in most
fantasy leagues) are:
I picked Mahomes to finish in the top 5 after Week 4 (wrong-0
points), Watson after Week 8 (right-2 points), and Jackson after
Week 12 (right-1 point) for a total of 3 points out of a possible
6 for Question 1.
I picked Prescott to fall out of the top 5 after Week 4 (wrong-0
points), Rodgers after Week 8 (right-2 points), and Kyler Murray
after Week 12 (right-1 point) for a total of 3 points out of a
possible 6 for Question 2.
In the FFTSL, the top 5 RBs after 16 weeks of NFL action are:
I picked McCaffrey to finish in the top 5 after Week 4 (right-3
points), Jones after Week 8 (right-2 points), and Cook after Week
12 (right-1 point) for a total of 6 out of 6 possible points for
I picked Ekeler to fall out of the top 5 after Week 4 (wrong-0
points), Leonard Fournette after Week 8 (right-2 points), and
none of the other options to slip after Week 12 (right-1 point)
for a total of 3 points out of a possible 6 for Question 4.
In the FFTSL, the top 5 WRs after 16 weeks of NFL action are:
I picked Jones to finish in the top 5 after Week 4 (right-3 points),
Thomas after Week 8 (right-2 points), and Hopkins after Week 12
(right-1 point) for a total of 6 out of 6 possible points for
I picked Cooper Kupp to fall out of the top 5 after Week 4 (right-3
points), D.J. Chark after Week 8 (right-2 points), and Mike Evans
after Week 12 (right-1 point) for a total of 6 out of 6 possible
points for Question 6. (Woohoo for a perfect score at the WR position!)
In the FFTSL, the top 5 TEs after 16 weeks of NFL action are:
I picked Kelce to finish in the top 5 after Week 4 (right-3 points),
Waller after Week 8 (right-2 points), and Ertz after Week 12 (right-1
point) for a total of 6 out of 6 possible points for Question
I picked Austin Hooper to fall out of the top 5 after Week 4 (right-3
points), Andrews after Week 8 (wrong-0 points), and no one else
to slip after Week 12 (right-1 point) for a total of 4 out of
6 possible points for Question 8.
In the FFTSL, the top 5 defenses after 16 weeks of NFL action
I picked the Bears to stay in the top 5 after Week 4 (wrong-0
points), the Patriots after Week 8 (right-2 points), and the 49ers
after Week 12 (right-1 point) for a total of 3 out of 6 possible
points for Question 9.
I picked the Steelers to fall out of the top 5 after Week 4 (wrong-0
points), the Giants after Week8 (right-2 points), and the Jets
after Week 12 (right-1 point) for a total of 3 out of 6 possible
points for Question 10.
My total score of 43 out of 60 possible points isn’t very
impressive. I suspect both David and Bruce finished ahead of me.
But I think the exercise has been useful--if only in showing me
that I had a much clearer sense of what to expect from receivers
(100% correct) than either QBs or defenses (only 50% correct).
I’m especially stunned by how well the Steeler defense performed
after the Pittsburgh offense suffered the monumental setback of
Ben Roethlisberger’s injury. I was quite certain that the
Steeler defenders would be on the field too long to maintain the
success they enjoyed at the beginning of the season, but the fact
is they only got better. I would almost certainly have lost sight
of that detail if not for the relatively quick and painless mental
exercise of these quizzes. Thanks to everyone who participated
(whether you reported your picks to me or not), and I look forward
to grading myself on a scale of 0-100 with a round of preseason
picks next season.
Survivor Pool Picks
As we come to the end of the 2019 season, I want to thank Matthew
Schiff for making as many picks as his schedule permitted. The
unpredictable travel requirements of my day job made it much harder
than usual for me to coordinate Schiff’s submission of picks
to me prior to my own submission of this column to FFToday, but
he was a great sport about working within those parameters to
the extent that he could. Even so, that left readers depending
on my picks more often than anyone would have liked (though I
definitely nailed that Indy win over Carolina in Week 16).
Survivor picks for Week 17 are always especially difficult because
it’s never clear which playoff-bound stars will play (or
for how long), but here are my best guesses to close out the regular
#3 Redskins over Cowboys (13-3; PHI, BAL, SF, lar, NE,
WAS, GB, NO, SEA, ind, MIN, BUF, KC, hou, NO, DEN)
My options in Week 17 are extremely limited. I wish I could pick
the Saints over the Panthers, the Packers over the Lions, and
the Chiefs over the Chargers. But I only have one slot (my top
slot) available for those 3 teams, and I decided to go with the
Chiefs (see below). If you still have the Panthers or Packers
available, I recommend you use them. Even though the Cowboys are
7-point home favorites vs. the Redskins, I’m taking the
Skins this week partly because I hate my other options and partly
because I believe Dallas has quit on Jason Garrett. This isn’t
a good pick, but at least it’s spiteful.
There’s nothing the Texans can do to secure a bye for the
playoffs. They will host a playoff game during wildcard weekend
no matter how they perform against the Titans, so it’s hard
to see why Bill O’Brien will make good on him promise of
playing his starters on Sunday. Las Vegas has given the edge to
the Titans because it seems unlikely that O’Brien is as
serious about “playing to win” a virtually meaningless
game as he suggested to the press earlier this week. But of course,
one never knows about these things until the actual game is actually
Much as I hate to rely on divisional contests in survivor pools,
it’s hard to resist a team as good as the Chiefs playing
at home against a squad as feckless as the Chargers--especially
when there’s something at stake for Kansas City (since they
still have a shot at the #2 seed in the unlikely event of a New
England loss to Miami) and nothing on the line for Los Angeles
(except for diehard fans betting the over/under on the number
of grimaces we can expect to see from Philip Rivers before the
expiration of yet another disappointing season).
Happy holidays everyone.
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.