Thursday, June 25, 2015

Infinitely Second Place - How You Too Can Continue to Almost Win Your Fantasy Championship

Spoiler Alert:  The details included in this post will not provide you with the information needed to actually win your fantasy title.  At best, they will help you earn a second place regular season finish, or possibly runner-up status as your league's Almost Champion.  Proceed at your own risk.

When it comes to sports, our country puts a very heavy emphasis on championships.  We consider championships the ultimate icing on the cake, the element of one's career that truly catapults them to the upper echelons of greatness.  I completely disagree with this notion (and that opinion is only slightly influenced by my seemingly freakish ability to finish second far more often than first).  Realistically, finishing second isn't all that bad.  You probably had a good season, you potentially won money and/or bragging rights and you earned yourself the second to last pick in the first round of next season's draft (which is always convenient if you do a snake pattern draft).  Every team but one will lose their last game of the season, and you happened to be the last loser, congratulations!

So, I thought I would highlight the good, the bad and the ugly of last season to help provide you with some perspective on how you too can fall just short of your optimistic expectations.  Enjoy!

Part 1 - The Draft
The road to fantasy victory always begins with the draft...unless you are remotely drafting your team using Google Docs while ironing a shirt for a wedding and chasing around your son who has developed a case of unstoppable diarrhea the morning of your draft.  Then you probably don't draft so well.  Case in point, here is the team I drafted from the #11 spot in a 12-team league (refrain from laughing and or vomiting in your mouth and remember that this team did lead to a second place finish)

1st Round - Jamaal Charles
2nd Round - Andre Ellington
3rd Round - Michael Crabtree
4th Round - Vincent Jackson
5th Round - Rashad Jennings
6th Round - Matthew Stafford
7th Round - Tavon Austin
8th Round - Dennis Pitta
9th Round - Eric Ebron
10th Round - Andy Dalton
11th Round - Markus Wheaton
12th Round - Kenny Britt
13th Round - Khiry Robinson
14th Round - Odell Beckham Jr.
15th Round - Tampa Bay Defense
16th Round - Luke Kuechly (IDP)
17th Round - Alex Henery

As you made your way through this pile of disappointment, perhaps you were amazed that I was able to snag Odell Beckham in the 14th round, he certainly must have helped my team succeed last year.  Nope, I ingeniously dropped him BEFORE the season started to pick up the immortal Robert Turbin as insurance for Marshawn Lynch (who I didn't even have on my team), and then dropped Mr. Turbin within the first week of the season to pick up Travis Kelce out of Kansas City (who remained my tight end for most of the season and had a decent year, but certainly not comparable to the insane breakout rookie year that Mr. Beckham had).

So how the hell did I actually generate wins?  Free Agency!??  No, actually.

Part 2 - Free Agency
Ah yes, free agency.  All those hours spent reading articles late at night, attempting to gain an edge on my opponents, only to be cruelly reminded that I have absolutely no control over how these players perform and that everyone else was probably reading the same articles.  Let's take a look at some of my all-star transactions (besides the Odell Beckham one, typing that previous paragraph has actually caused my hands to go numb as I have been clenching them in "angret" (yes, that would be the combination of anger caused by regret, a term I shall now go trademark).

  • Dropped Khiry Robinson for Knile Davis prior to the season starting - this move actually made sense since (like that alliteration??) I had Jamaal Charles on my team, no regrets there
  • Dropped Alex Henery...who cares, kickers don't matter, I actually tried not to draft one but was informed by Yahoo that I "had to field a complete team"
  • Dropped Eric Ebron for the Houston Defense - I literally don't know why I drafted two tight ends within three round, and why I chose the two I did.  Happy I was able to pick up Houston and reap some of the benefits from J.J. Watt's stellar year.  
  • At one point Bishop Sankey and Eddie Royal were in my starting line up, just thought you would like to know that (feel free to laugh, cry, barf at my shortcomings)
  • I also picked up Boobie Dixon at some point, mainly so that I could have a guy named Boobie on my team
  • I dropped an injured Brian Quick for Martavis Bryant, which was probably my single best free agency pick up the entire season
  • Actually, I picked up Marques Colston for Luke Kuechly at one point (not flashy, but provided some consistent numbers)
  • Dropped Jacob Tamme for Latavius Murray, which was probably my second best free agency move
  • I added Donte Moncrief later on for John Brown from Arizona, which was also helpful down the stretch
  • I added Stedman Bailey because his name is Stedman, and I was hoping to harness the power of Oprah as I approached the fantasy playoffs
In retrospect, that isn't much of a list.  As you have probably guessed by now, the only reason my team had a fighting chance last year was from trades.

Part 3 - Trading
For some reason, every league I have ever been a part of has viewed trading as some type of dark art.  Everybody thinks they have drafted the greatest team, and they don't want to part ways with the talent they chose because THEY chose it, and it would be an indictment on their sports intelligence if they were to let someone go and then see them have success.  Well, believe it or not, I actually thought I had drafted a good team at some point, but 'some point' quickly changed by mid-October.  The Patriots had just been decimated by the Chiefs, and people were actually calling for Tom Brady to be benched (in real-life, not in fantasy-life).  Yes, the same Tom Brady who led the Patriots to victory in last season's Super Bowl.  I saw that Tom Brady had been dropped and recently picked up by another member of the league, and that member happened to have various players that I also wanted.  I knew that Brady would bounce back, and I pulled the trigger on my first major, multi-player deal of the season, which was:

I gave:  Andy Dalton, Andre Ellington, Michael Crabtree
I received:  Tom Brady, Fred Jackson, Rueben Randle

This deal was probably the most win-win trade I have ever been a part of in my 15+ years of playing fantasy football.  Dalton provided my league mate with a solid backup (he already had Aaron Rodgers), Ellington went on to have a few more good games before his late season collapse, and well Crabtree was about as effective as Rueben Randle was for me.  Fred Jackson helped provide me with a consistent stat-producer who did nothing flashy but generate enough touches to earn me about 10+ points per week, which was all I was looking for out of him.  (By the way, the person I traded with went on to win the championship, so I think things worked out pretty well for him).

The second multi-player deal I pulled off occurred two days later.  For my 'regular' followers (aka - the people I force to read these posts) you have read me preach about the importance of yards over touchdowns.  Touchdowns are inconsistent, but yardage numbers tend to be more reliable season to season.  I noticed that Jamaal Charles' numbers were greatly inflated due to touchdowns, not yards, and was worried that at some point his TD numbers would be the victim of a correction.  I also had picked up Eddie Royal at the perfect time, watched him have a few good games in a row, and knew that it wouldn't last for long.  Meanwhile, I found a suitor who had a talented running back who amassed yards by the bundle, as well as targets and touches, but had yet to consistently find pay dirt (LeVeon Bell) and a wide receiver who had shown flashes, fallen cold, but I expected to heat up again (Sammy Watkins).  So, I was able to move Charles, Royal and Knile Davis for Bell, Watkins and Brian Quick.  Charles would only go on to rush for 100 yards one more time the rest of the season, and watch his numbers slowly decline while Bell went on to be one of the hottest running backs of the second half of the season.  Watkins had enough good games to provide me with some victories as well, but the addition of Bell is what pushed my team over the edge.  

I'm reminded of a quote by Frank Sinatra, in which he stated:  "If you possess something but you cannot give it away, then you don't possess it; it possesses you."  I think of this often when playing fantasy football.  If you think a player is so good that you can't drop them or trade them, then you are being fooled into thinking they are better than they really are.  It wasn't easy to trade away my first three draft picks because it caused me to admit that I had drafted very poorly.  But the numbers don't lie.  I could see that Charles would start to trend downward, and that Ellington probably wouldn't hold up the entire season, even though I tried to convince myself of the opposite by pouring over articles that would defend these players.  Ultimately, you have to trust your gut and be willing to take a bruise or two on your ego for the chance at glory and success down the road.  

I hope this has rekindled your itch for fantasy football and has provided you with some useful tools for how you too can achieve victory this upcoming season...and by victory I mean almost winning the championship in your league.  Because despite all this 'wisdom' I have imparted on you, luck still plays a huge part in all of this.  You just have to hope you set yourself up to benefit the most from good luck, and to fail the least from bad luck.

Until next time.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

2014 Fantasy Preview Pt. 1 - Road Trip!

Like Disney World and road trips, fantasy football has entered the echelon of All-American experiences that everyone must enjoy at some point in their lives.  It is rare to find someone who has not had the privilege of experiencing at least one of the above three, but what is even more rare is to find someone who has experienced all three events at the same time!  Well, not quite, more like 2.5 of the three events.

You see, while embarking on an epic 12-day quest to visit recently-relocated family in south Florida, as well as visit Disney World, I had this expectation that I would have hours upon hours of time in the car to reflect upon who I would draft this upcoming season, while additionally perusing my newly purchased fantasy football magazine while my kids were quietly sleeping in various hotel rooms.  And if you are one of the many people who has experienced a road trip with children (ages 2 and 4), or have stayed in a hotel room that is not a suite with said children, then you have probably not finished laughing from reading the previous sentence.  The tag line to 'Alien' may have been "In space, no one can hear you scream," but the tag line to long road trips with children is definitely "In a cramped car for 16+ hours, everyone will inevitably scream."  Every hour we would find ourselves laughing, screaming, crying, or all of the above, and I wouldn't trade it for the world, or even for an extra first round draft pick.  I look back and find it comical that I actually though I would be doing 'fantasy research' at all while driving in the car.

Hotels with children...yeah, pretty much same tag line.  Our second night into the trip, in a matter of 3 minutes, my daughter managed to bash her skull on the headboard of a bed, I yelled that it was the hotel's fault, my wife told me to stop yelling because people were knocking at our door and on our wall, and amidst the chaos, my son pokes his head out of his pack-n-play like a little gopher and pipes up "I think we should go home right now!"  Ah, the tranquility of night time.

While I didn't find the time during the trip to really research fantasy football, I did find myself comparing many aspects of the road trip and the rides at Disney World to that of a fantasy draft and various players (why does my mind do this?)  So if you're a fan of extended metaphors, you're in luck, because I will now unleash upon you the similarities of a fantasy draft to a road trip (does that make this a simile instead?)

The opening rounds of a fantasy draft, much like the first two hours of a road trip, are full of excitement.  'Wow, this draft is going great, I already have two great players I wanted,' says every person ever.  With driving, same thing: 'Wow, we're making great time, this is going to be so much fun!'  Then, the doldrums of Round/Hour 3-5 kick-in.  You begin to realize that there really aren't that many great running backs left, or you have to figure out which average NFL teams' WR2 are better than others.  Similarly, you begin to realize that states like Indiana are deceivingly larger than anticipated.  It's also around this time that you may fall victim to poor decision making.  For instance, the clock is ticking on your selection time, you are debating several mid-tier players all from the same position, you are trying to outwit the people picking directly after you, your mind starts to race and out of your mouth you blurt something foolish like "I'll take Greg Jennings."  Or, while driving, you may feel the urge to eat at the first place that appears to have food, like the Mexican restaurant attached to the parking lot of the Econolodge, in which the person working the front desk of the Econolodge mentions that the restaurant offers a 10% discount for people who stay at the Econolodge, only to find out that upon entering said Mexican restaurant, the restaurant is not that great, and has in fact only been open (as in grand opened) for 4 hours, and I think they actually used cocktail sauce for their salsa.  We should have just paid to share some of the hot dogs that a man was grilling out of the back of his pickup truck in the parking lot of the Econolodge (yes, this was a surprisingly active parking lot).

Rounds/hours 6-8 are when talks of a major break for food/rest are discussed.  With all of the mini stops along the way for bathroom breaks or driver switches, in addition to 8-hours of actual in the car driving time, was my family's threshold for traveling in one day.  Similarly, with a draft, rounds 6-8 are usually when participants take the obligatory trip to the buffet line of chips and chip-based products, and refuel for the next half of the draft.

And this is where the meta-simile ends (that was an anti-climactic conclusion, sorry to disappoint).  The exact same hourly feelings show up again the next day while driving, but in the case of a draft, that is not the case.  This is my favorite part of the draft - when participants start to get bored and/or feel the effects of their beverages and start making terrible picks.  However, that makes me sound like a jerk, so to clarify, the real reason I like this part of the draft is because it makes me feel like Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Wolf of Wall Street' when he first starts selling penny stocks -  I literally enjoy finding hidden value with mid-tier players and seeing their value rise with time.  I feel that the players I draft in these later rounds always end up being valuable commodities that may not pay off dividends immediately, but will do so later in the season (just ask the people in my league who benefitted from my dropping Percy Harvin and Cordarelle Patterson, two players I drafted in the double-digit rounds last year, or Darren Sproles, who I drafted in the second to last round two years ago).

Lucky for you, even though the road trip has come to an end, if you tune in next time, I will share more insight into which mid-tier players I plan on considering or avoiding, as well as which big-time players I am down on this season (because let's face it, what would be the point of me telling you about big-name players I would draft, that seems pretty obvious), and even some players I expect to have bounce-back seasons due to changes in scenery, new coordinators, or recovery from injuries.  And, since this was a Disney World road trip, I'll make sure to make cute analogies to rides and players, like my Tower of Terror picks (players for whom I expect the floor to drop out...sorry, had to go there), or my Haunted Mansions (oldies but goodies, players who seem to defy age and can still produce) or even my Seven Dwarfs Mine Trains (players who are young, fast, explosive and dynamic, just like this awesome ride).

Until next time,

Davey Dave

Monday, November 11, 2013

The 5/7 of the season Fantasy Report Card!

There must be something about the 10th of every month that gets me in the writing kinda mood.  I started to brainstorm some ideas last night about what to post today, and noticed that I had begun drafts for previous posts on September 10th and October 10th.  So, if you had been eagerly awaiting a new installment from this blog, first of all, you could have just texted me because most everyone who reads this is someone I know. 

I also debated posting and offering analysis as the season went on, but I considered the inherent disadvantage in posting my thoughts and theories during the season and giving my competitors the advantage of reading my mind (assuming they actually wanted to use my advice).

But I have had the itch to write for over two months, and at this point, sharing any ideas won't be too detrimental because I am COMPLETELY DOMINATING EVERY LEAGUE......well not really, but in the five leagues I am participating in I am 32-16-1 with a slight chance of winning in one other league tonight (all other match-ups have been decided).  Even if I lose some place in the standings, I am on pace to most likely make the playoffs in all leagues. 

Before sharing any insight though, I'd like to grade myself on how my summer predictions have gone. 

Most Successful Prediction:  The Success of the Carolina Panthers

This is by far the best preseason prediction I made.  I was convinced the Panthers could make the playoffs this year, and started their defense in the two high-stakes leagues I participate in since week 1, despite playing Seattle and being told by every analyst except Adam Schefter that they were going to get smoked.  Ironically, the only time I didn't use Carolina's D was when they whooped the Giants, but they at least remained on my bench and have been used ever since.  After watching them scare my beloved Bears into a near-upset last season, the names Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy became ingrained in my brain, I already knew Thomas Davis was good and that Luke Kuechly would most likely to be an All-Pro before too long, and the addition of Star Lotulelei was a major steal in the draft (Mel Kiper had this guy #1 in his early big-board predictions, prior to teams discovering he had a heart issue during his physical). Needles to say, these players have all had great success, but even the secondary, which I did not know as much about, has played fantastic and helped this team go from an afterthought after 5 games of the season into legit NFC title contender.

Worst Prediction of All Time:  Thinking Josh Freeman would be a difference maker this year

I forgot I even thought about Josh Freeman and success in the same sentence until I checked some old blog posts, and literally read something along the lines of "I think Josh Freeman keeps the Bucs competitive and has a bounce-back year this season."  Ouch. 

I still like Josh Freeman, and I still thought he could have a successful career prior to his one-game implosion for the Vikings this season.  I think this game unfairly damaged his reputation and that he will most likely be a career back-up for the rest of his career, which is unfortunate. 

I did think the Bucs would be 'competitive' to the tune of at least 6 or 7 wins, but even if I had predicted them to be terrible, they have been beyond terrible this year.  You know your franchise is in trouble when given the opportunity to remove someone from their organization, they choose their potential franchise quarterback over their unsuccessful head coach or their MRSA outbreak, which has officially had a longer NFL career than Ryan Leaf.

In-Between Predictions that were sort of ok:  Guessing QB success

I had some hits and some misses when predicting QB success for this season.  My biggest hit would be Philip Rivers.  I explained that he had been a full standard deviation above average in yardage and touchdowns for 4 out of the past 5 seasons, and that he would be a mid-draft steal.  He has certainly had some inconsistent moments this season, but he is a top-10 QB and has shown flashes of fantasy awesomeness (but most importantly, he has given me the chance to tell my students that I actually used math to predict something in real life, and it worked!!).

With the crew of young QBs (Luck, Wilson, Kaepernick, Newton, RG III) I was very off with my predictions.  I had considered Luck and Wilson to be the type of QB I would want on my REAL team, but not on my fantasy team, and I now want them on BOTH of my teams.  They both far exceeded my expectations, and have convinced me that they are the real deal.  I thought Kaep and Newton would take the world by storm, not so much because of the read option, but because they were good passers AND would keep plays alive with their legs when necessary, not just through designed runs.  Well, oops on that.  Newton has actually had a relatively quiet fantasy season, but has matured as a leader and QB in REAL football, which I am happy to see.  I still think Kaep has the chance to have a fantastic career, I just think that two things have happened: 1.  Teams have learned more about how to scheme against him.  2.  He has nobody reliable to catch the ball besides Vernon Davis.  I think the loss of Mario Manningham until recently, and Michael Crabtree for the entire season (so far) have really limited Kaep's opportunities to succeed in the passing game.  The guy still has a great arm and good accuracy, and the 49ers are still winning, but he has certainly not been the fantasy beast I thought he would be.

Other Prognostications:
Stafford would be good (bingo)
Romo would be good (bingo)
Eli would not be consistent (bingo)
Schaub would stink (bingo)
Carson Palmer would be good (oof)

Doug Martin would not be effective (sorta bingo, injuries are unpredictable) (kinda check)
Alfred Morris would not be effective (super miss by me, he has been the model of consistency, and I love his touchdown dance, you win Alfred) (horrible miss)
RB's over 30 years old who I thought would do well/stink
-Sproles - for the most part (I am in a PPR league with kick return yards, so definitely so) (bingo)
-Fred Jackson (much better than expected) (miss)
-Steven Jackson (sigh....I keep holding out hope that he will be good one day, and that day will not be in 2013) (miss....for 9th straight year)
-Arian Foster (avoid = good job by me, but you can buy stock in him??) (bingo by default, this wasn't much of a stretch)
-Gore (better than expected, currently 6th in NFL in rushing) (kinda miss)
-DeAngelo Williams (quietly has worked his way to being 10th in NFL in rushing, albeit only 2 TDs and a longest run of 27, so surprisingly better than I expected) (miss)
 -Patriots avoiding the NFL trend of uber-passing and just run the ball a whole bunch (true, for awhile I didn't think it would be Stevan Ridley, but now it finally is, and they are currently 9th overall in rushing this year) (kinda bingo)

Avoiding boom or bust guys like DeSean Jackson, Nate Washington, Mike Wallace, Jacoby Jones (miss, bingo, bingo, bingo - but injury related bingo)
WR's over 30 I thought would do well/stink
Andre Johnson would do well (for awhile, thought this was a big miss, but Case Keenum is making my prediction look great!)  (bingo)
Vincent Jackson would do well (bingo)
Roddy White would remain consistent (ummmmmmmmmmmm.......yeah, look over there)
Marques Colston would remain consistent (barring injury, who knows what could have been.  He will most likely average out to a bit below his career numbers, but it's hard to know when that success will occur and if his recent output will continue through the season) (kinda miss)
Welker would remain consistent (not much of a stretch, but believe it or not, people worried that Peyton Manning wouldn't have enough balls to throw around to all receivers prior to the season) (kinda bingo)
Steve Smith/Anquan Boldin/Reggie Wayne finishing in that order (this is only a win by default: Wayne was far exceeding my expectations prior to injury, Steve Smith has been ok as a WR3, and Boldin has done his usual play one awesome game and kinda stink the rest of the year) (kinda bingo)

Jordan Cameron (and for that matter Brandon Weeden and Browns Defense would be good (bingo followed by horrific miss, followed by kinda bingo)
Jason Witten remaining consistent (not performing at his usual Witten-ness, but still been decent) (kinda bingo)
Kyle Rudolph (and anyone who is touchdown dependent) would have a rough year (bingo)
Gronk's replacement (at the time Jake Ballard, then became Zac Sudfeld) would not automatically be great just because he took a great player's spot on a team (bingo for me! - Sudfeld is already on the Jets, Ballard is on the Cardinals)
Greg Olsen would be a top 5 TE (kinda miss - he is currently 9th in my leagues, but will most likely not finish in the top 5)
Jermaine Gresham would have a breakout season (mega miss, and not just because Tyler Eifert is around.  The Bengals look like Super Bowl contenders for a month and then can't throw a touchdown the next.  Regardless of Dalton though, Gresham has not been nearly as good as I thought he would be)
Tony Gonzalez continuing his RoboCop-esque ability to not age and keep catching touchdowns (bingo)
Owen Daniels to be avoided at all costs (not much of a prediction, but bingo)
Antonio Gates being decent, but only as a second option or Flex (oops)

Anyone playing Jacksonville (until this past weekend, great move, but if you really couldn't make this prediction on your own, maybe you were one of those people who is anxiously awaiting Arian Foster's IPO)

General Thing I Mentioned Doing that Paid Off
I reiterated many times the importance of knowing your league and its settings.  You can read all the fantasy articles you want, but they are all written from the frame of reference of a basic, non-PPR league. Where this has really helped me is with my leagues that reward for return yards.  It's why I won games fielding a receiving corps of Ted Ginn, Cordarelle Patterson and Golden Tate (which has turned out to be a boon for me because he has now become the #1 option in Seattle and may remain so even when Harvin returns).  Even if these players had decent games ( a few catches, a few returns, maybe one run), they would usually add up to about 10 points. 

I would say I have earned a B- or B, because if my team's have a .653 winning percentage, that would win me 2 out of 8 NFL divisions thus far, and at the very least, get me into the playoffs.  In the world of fantasy, it will most likely get me into the playoffs in 4 or 5 of my 5 leagues. 

For my future predictions for the rest of the season (and prior to the fantasy playoffs), tune in next time (which statistically seems like it will be in one month, but I will try my best to write before December 10th).

Until next time,

Davey Dave

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Appreciating f.u.n. and fun - Learning how to Re-Appreciate Fantasy Football

If you are a regular follower of this blog (aka someone who sees my posts in their facebook feed and feels obligated to click on the link out of guilt), you may have noticed the absence of posts lately.  Sorry, real life and work intervened and made me change my priorities.  Ironically, changing priorities is what this post is all about (good thing some type of real life, relevant analogy happened in the past month and a half, I was running out of ideas pre-NFL season to write about).  But I had to get a post in before the start of the season, so here goes!

As mentioned in the title, this post is also about the band f.u.n. (not to be confused with Fun, some other band that threatened to sue f.u.n. if they didn't change their name/add three too many periods to their name).  Like probably a good million or more people, I originally liked the song "We are Young," only to grow to hate it when one day it was being played on three radio stations simultaneously on my way to work.  Then, the song "Some Nights" came out, and I completely hated it.  I felt like someone let three dudes loose in a recording studio with a case of Four Loco and said "Hey you three, go loco" (would have been way funnier if they had four people in the band).  I didn't get it, it was all over the place to me.

My wife, having much savvier musical taste than I, immediately dismissed me as being both anti-f.u.n., as well as anti-fun in general (for not liking a fun song by f.u.n.).  She, like most normal people, actually listens to the words of songs, and could appreciate the song for its lyrics, but also for other reasons.  I, as a drummer, tend to not listen to the lyrics at all, because I usually had ear plugs in when I played with my old band and couldn't really hear the lyrics anyways.  I listen for rhythms and the bass line, then imagine how I would drum to the song (which has made any attempt to 'sing' the lyrics to any new song I hear impossible, to the chagrin of my family, who can't seem to understand what I'm singing when I say - 'Boom, ba chow, ba ba boo chow pop,' you know, that song). 

So anyhow, I had an epiphany one day.  I was driving home from work, didn't have any grading to do, it was a beautiful sunny day, and "Some Nights" came on.  The combination of low-stress and beautiful weather put me in a good mood, and made me feel less obligated to change the station so nobody would somehow discover I had the song on for longer than three seconds.  And somehow, it just clicked.  I found myself wanting to hear the song more and more often (which wasn't really that hard), and I liked it more each time.  Particularly, I kept dwelling on the oft-repeated line "What do I stand for?"  And of course, I thought of fantasy football.

As a fantasy football player (and now blogger), what did I stand for?  Was I mainly interested in making a bunch of predictions on my blog and then saying "HA, told you so!" when they came true (or deleting the blog and pretending it never happened when things went wrong).  Was I only interested in winning for the sake of money?  Bragging rights?  Proving myself more savvy at being a fake GM than my friends/family? 

Well, I came to realize that what made me ditch fantasy football in the first place was over-stressing over trying to win it all.  This whole blog was made under the pretense of both finding ways fantasy related to my life as a parent, but also about making your team and fantasy-life as stress/regretability-free as possible.  How does one balance their over-competitiveness in regards to sports intellect with their desire to have less stress in their life?

The key is to create a league in which the cost/benefit ratio is in your favor.  Everyone likes money, and wants to win as much as possible.  However, having a huge buy-in always makes things more intense and stressful.  It can lead to the demise of friendships or even make family parties that much more uncomfortable.  If you do want to have a larger buy-in, I enjoy having the pay-outs be more balanced.  If you do just a winner take all (or 1st and 2nd, or 1st, 2nd and 3rd take all), your odds of actually winning are not good, no matter how 'good' you are at fantasy.  Luck always plays a role, as do injuries, which are completely unpredictable.

Leagues I have been a part of, including ones I have created, may have smaller payouts, but they pay in multiple ways.  For instance, I always like to award the team with the highest total points  by giving them their money back.  Sometimes, but not always, you have that team who happens to put up tons of points but always plays against teams that happen to have their best day of the season when they play that team.  This helps avoid that annoyance.  Also, if you have divisions, paying division winners (or even just the regular season 1st and/or 2nd place winners) rewards those who have put in the effort to succeed over the course of an entire season. 

Also, something I have considered doing, and may do this year, is akin to the concept of a "Beer Frame" in bowling leagues.  If you are unfamiliar, in the Beer Frame, the person on your team who rolls the worst frame has to buy beer for the rest of the team.  Simple, fun, effective.  Why not make, let's say Week 5, your "Beer Week" in which the team with the lowest point total must buy a case of beer for the team with the highest point total that week?  (Beer may be replaced with any type of reward/incentive since not all enjoy beer, nor are old enough to drink it).  Additionally, I have even given out an award/money to the team who beat a team by the highest amount of points at any point in the season.  Lastly, many leagues have a 'Toilet Bowl' playoff, in which the teams left out of the playoffs have a chance to compete for the Master of Mediocrity (so long as you don't allow these teams to be able to pick up free agents and trade, thus affecting the teams in the actual playoffs).  Or, you can just make the true Toilet Bowl winner the team that sucks the most and actually loses the Toilet Bowl playoffs.  Their prize can be either first pick next year, or perhaps something awesome, such as an expired gift card or a wallet sized photo of your picture for the current school year's yearbook (sorry, teacher specific prize, but think of how fortunate you could be if you do a fantasy league with a teacher!).

 Luckily, I have great friends and family who have created leagues that provide these type of incentives.  I thought I would outline some of the perks of these leagues that differ from those above, and demonstrate ways to make sure that the stress of fantasy doesn't overshadow the fun of fantasy football (or 'funtasy football,' my new terrible term that I hope to copyright).

League 1 - League with my friend's neighborhood buddies, of which I am not a member, but have won the league and their money, so I think they actually don't like me, but it would be cool if I lived in the neighborhood, they all seem nice.

So, this league is ideal for parents, because everyone in the league is a parent.  Thus, you get the occasional bad line-up decision or over-reaction to dropping/adding players due to "real-life" getting in the way of "fake-life", which can play to your advantage.  From a less devious perspective, everyone in this league has other real-life things going on, so although there is money involved, nobody is overly serious.  This is the league where a guy drafted an entire team of Johnson's, so again, not too intense.  What do they do that is an added perk?  They charge $1 per transaction, which I did not like at first, but have since come to enjoy.  All of this money goes into a fund, and percentages of it get paid out to division winners and overall league winners.  It adds a different dimension to how often you add/drop players (which also makes the draft more strategic), but also, you have no idea how much potential bonus money you may win, so long as you win your division or the league.

League 2 - League with friends and acquaintances, higher stakes, more pressure, but involves keepers, multiple ways to make the playoffs, good payouts, and a sweet, sweet trophy!

This is a league I won two years ago, retired, and then re-joined this year (and now have a way better team, thanks guys!).  The commish of this league has payouts for regular season champ, as well 1st-3rd of playoffs, but third place actually wins more than their money back, which is nice.  Additionally, there are four divisions, and each division winner advances to the playoffs (granted, their seeding may be adjusted if they won a weak division, but regardless, you're in the playoffs).  Also, 6 teams make the playoffs, with the top two teams earning byes.  Thus, if you can win your division or at least do better than half the league (12 teams), you have a very good chance of winning more than your money back.

But the real reason this league (the New World Order Fantasy League) is worth the price of admission, the sweet championship belt!

This belt fits nicely and makes for a great dance partner (for more details on that story, you must talk to me in person).

Leagues 3 and 4 - Leagues with family members and old college friends where the main reason the league exists is to hilariously trash talk each other at family parties/emails/facebook posts/other means of communication.

I take all of my leagues seriously, but these tend to be more good-humored, less financially-driven, and thus, I find myself taking more risks.  It never fails, much like when I fill out NCAA brackets, the more relaxed and less data-driven/over-thought I make my picks, the better I do (kinda runs counter-intuitive to the last 7 posts of mine).  Taking more risks in these types of leagues, and succeeding, helps me to do so in the more intense leagues, which often yields good results all around.  But again, as explained above, the trash-talking in these leagues is outrageous and hilarious.  Teams become more interested in who has the better team slogan than who they have in their lineup.  Drafting with my family the other night made me truly appreciate why I love fantasy football in the first place. 

Although the draft was online, it was slightly in-person because my wife and I were together in one location, three friends were in another, and several other family members were together at their homes.  So we found ourselves cracking up over and over, and were able to collectively watch the James Franco roast on Comedy Central and comment on not only fantasy football, but also the unfortunate career arc of Bill Hader (left SNL for phone commercials?  Really?  Stefon would be most disappointed). 

My favorite part of this draft came at about Round 10, when the selection of the incomparable Bryce Brown triggered a robo-message that read as follows:  "Congratulations!  You have just selected a Snickers Super Sleeper!  Please enjoy your fantasy drafting experience, brought to you by Snickers."  (or something like that).  The rest of the draft then became a challenge to find the next Snickers Super Sleeper (which apparently was every team's third string running back, as Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Hillman were the only others we could discover).  Nothing like corporate sponsorship to bring a family together (this past sentence brought to you by Subway, which I just ate for dinner).

League 4 was similar in nature to League 3, albeit no corporate sponsorship (come on ESPN, get with it).  It was nice to catch up with old friends, talk trash and enjoy each others' company for an hour (actually 55 minutes, a personal record for a fantasy draft).

So as the season begins tomorrow (don't forget, set your line-ups and pick-em choices!), it was nice to have a refreshing reminder of what the best part of fantasy football is: giving you an excuse to buy the NFL Sunday Ticket.  Well, I actually don't have the Sunday Ticket, so the other thing that is nice about fantasy football is that it's a hobby you can partake in with the people you love and care about the most, no matter how busy life gets or no matter how far apart you now live from one another.  As any parent can attest, finding the time to stay in touch and actually see your friends can be challenging.  Fantasy football is an outlet for doing both; not only do you stay in touch online, you most likely will try to arrange to watch a game together at some point during the season. 

As my wife demonstrated to me months ago, sometimes you just have to take a step back and appreciate a song or a hobby for what it really stands for... fun.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

We are 30, going on 65 (looking at NFL players who have received their unofficial AARP card, and how they may fare next season)

Today I found myself singing along to the classic "16 Going on 17" from "The Sound of Music" (please continue reading before judging, but truth be told, Julie Andrews is a bad-ass, and so is this musical).  Why you ask?  My daughter, who will be 4 in one month, has often been described as a kid who is '3 going on 13,' or something akin to that comparison.  She is one mature cookie for her age, and acts/talks/behaves at times like she is already a teenager.  I can always count on her to ask a question during a movie that is far beyond what my 4 -year old brain would have ever comprehended.  My favorite:  While watching "Tangled," she asked whether or not Rapunzel had ever gone to school.  Reason being: If she has truly been locked away in this tower for so long, who taught her how to read, as well as make candles, play guitar, paint, etc.?  Her reasoning then concluded that Mother Gothel (SPOILER ALERT:  She's not her real mother, and don't be mad, this movie has been out for awhile and they tell you that within 5 minutes of watching), despite being the villain of the movie, couldn't be all that bad since she must have done some nice things for Rapunzel.  When I was 4 and watching movies, such as my absolute favorite of the time, "GI Joe: The Movie," the questions I had running through my mind weren't so transcendent, but very literal:  Who is actually in charge of COBRA anyways?  Is it Cobra Commander (as his name would imply)?  Destro, who must have had to invest a fortune in feeding tubes due to the fact that the dude wore a complete head-helmet covered in metal (and as a result, probably had serious 'hanger' issues: Hanger of course being the love-child of hunger and anger).  Was it Serpentor?  The guy is literally dressed like a cobra, which shows some supreme loyalty to the mission and vision statement of Cobra Enterprises.  Or, as the movie would go on to show us, Cobra had actually made allies with a subterranean alien-like race of people, who ran an organization named Cobra-La, which was run by none other than Golobulus, a giant Centaur-like guy who was actually not a Centaur, but more like a Snake-taur, and was THE best G.I. Joe action figure of all time (seriously, check this bad boy out HERE!)  (In case you are wondering, that purple fella on the bottom of the 3-pack is the Nemesis Enforcer, ultimate 80's villain equipped with bat wings, spikes coming out of his elbows, supreme strength, and a complete disregard for basic fashion (who pairs red and purple?  Come on N.E.  The third guy in the pack is lame, so who cares).

Anyhow, if you would like further analysis of the greatest movie of my childhood, or would like to rank this movie against other childhood favorites such as the original animated "Transformers: The Movie" (how the hell did they get Orson Welles to say 5 words for this movie????) or the classic "GoBots: War of the Rock Lords," which happens to be the first movie I ever saw in the theaters, and was actually on tv last year for some un-Godly reason, and featured the vocal talents of both Telly Savalas and Margot Kidder, both of whom probably fired their agents within 10 minutes of the film's release), feel free to send me a message.

If you haven't already seen how all of this relates to fantasy football, then I guess I will spend some time explaining to you.  As many people know, the career of an athlete is not as long as that of us regular working folk (as detailed in this commercial which sadly reminded me back in the day that I would be working for a long time compared to these people), and the average duration of an NFL player's career is anywhere from 3-13 years (I decline to say the oft-cited '3.5 year' career length because of this little nugget I read).  Regardless, that's not very long.  And for anyone who has played fantasy football for awhile, the age of 30 is often considered the Doomsday Clock for many players (particularly running backs).  So as I turned 30 this past year, I found myself pondering several thoughts: Wow, if I were an NFL running back, I would be considered past my prime.  Wow, all these other athletes are way younger than me, so does cheering for them and keeping track of their performance make me even lamer than I may already be?  Wow, I must officially be old, I watched the 2012 VMA's awhile back and literally did not know who anybody was on camera for a solid 5 minutes.

So, who is on the fast track to fantasy anonymity?  Who is aging gracefully like a fine wine (honestly, who really has the patience for wine to age gracefully?  I am not very good at buying food-type products, only to look at them.  My wife has literally had to buy back-up snacks before we host a party for fear that I will inevitably eat all the snacks in the days leading up to the party).

Without further adieu (and tangential thoughts), let's do a run down position by position, starting with...

Quarterbacks-This is actually the one position of all offensive positions (aside from kicker) where you can have several productive years post-30.  Do you really think you won't draft Drew Brees (34 yrs old), Peyton Manning (37), Tom Brady (35) if given the opportunity?  And don't even go there with Brady having lost all of his targets from last year.  The dude is Tom Brady.  He helped Deion Branch win a Super Bowl MVP (yes, that Deion Branch, the one you may have seen playing sub-par professional football every year since he left the Patriots the first time).  He made David Givens, David Patten, Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell look better than they were.  If you seriously think he won't be that good because he lost Welker, or Gronk is a question mark, you are crazy.  Brady made Welker who he is right now, not vice versa.  Before his arrival in New England, Wes Welker was a modestly-known WR in Miami who had a decent number of receptions, and was perhaps more well known in fantasy leagues in which return yards are counted (as in the leagues I have done). 

Tony Romo (33), everyone's favorite whipping-boy for all that is wrong in the world, is high on my list of QBs for next season (and low on many others', which could make him a steal).  I think he is better than people realize, as I have explained in my previous post about QBs.

Eli Manning (32) is another decent option, and by the way, is a decent rapper as well.  Caution: This video may make you want to draft Eli higher than you should.  Be mindful and try not to fall in fantasy-love.

Carson Palmer (33) is an enigma, albeit one with more upside than other 30+ enigmas (Philip Rivers - What the hell happened last season?  Is he really this bad, or can he return to his old form?  Do you really want to take that gamble with him as your starter?  Matt Schaub - Way too inconsistent, too many TDs yielded to the Texans' ground game.  Michael Vick - Is he even the starter?  Ben Roethlisberger - usually decent and consistent, but won't wow you or win you games with his numbers, better as a bye-week replacement).  Carson Palmer quietly put up 4000+ yards passing with a pretty horrendous Oakland offense last season.  He now has Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, which is always a plus.  Why else do I consider him above the others?  Bruce Arians, the offensive coordinator for the Colts last season, and the Steelers before that, has a knack for offense and for working with quarterbacks.  I think Palmer will be decent next year, but more importantly, I think the bang-for-your-buck you get with him, based on where he is being drafted, is quite lucrative.

Jay Cutler turned 30 this year, and hosted an awesome birthday party in Chicago.  If you were seriously going to draft Jay Cutler as your starter, you should look into playing in leagues with very low entrance fees.

Running Backs
-Don't draft a running back who is over 30 years old anywhere before the 3rd/4th round.  Seriously, don't.  I tried to find one worth that early of a pick, and Steven Jackson (who I thought was 42) is only 29, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Reggie Bush are all 28, and that's about as old as I would go.

The only 30+ RBs that I would even WANT on my team, but would be drafted later on, include Frank Gore (yes, he has stayed relatively healthy and has been productive, but the 49ers have a bajillion RBs on roster to either split carries and keep Gore healthy and/or take his place should he get injured).  Gore is a good RB2/3.  Darren Sproles is also 30, and how can you not love his potential in a PPR league?  However, he also has Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas to share carries/catches with (if your league does return yards, Sproles is a solid RB2).  DeAngelo Williams is also 30, and I have been burned by him and Jonathan Stewart so many times, I can't fathom how you could confidently draft him.  He will definitely split carries, but not so much with J. Stewart but with Cam Newton.  Aside from that one year when Williams scored like 57 touchdowns, when else has he been consistent for fantasy play? 

Wide Receivers
-Andre Johnson is 31, and still very good.  However, he only averages 12 games per season, which can be frustrating when trying to fill the WR vacancy he leaves if/when he gets injured.  I would surely draft him if I have the choice, but there are better/younger options available.

Vincent Jackson is 30, but since he sat out practically an entire season in 2010, let's pretend he's 29.  Go draft him!

Roddy White is 31 and one of the most consistent WRs, even with Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez splitting targets.  Don't worry about drafting him.

Marques Colston (30) -  (same story as Andre Johnson and Roddy White).  Consistency, despite injuries (Colston has four straight seasons with at least 70 receptions/1000 yards/7 TDs).  Still a solid play every week.

Wes Welker (32) echoes my sentiments about Tom Brady above (minus the whole part about Brady helping him breakout).  He now has Peyton Manning to throw to him, which is a nice QB-transition, and I don' care how many other WRs are on this team, the guy is going to get balls thrown his way.

Reggie Wayne (34) is the most worrisome of the 30+ WRs I have mentioned so far.  Bruce Arians is gone, the new offensive scheme seems to be more West Coast in style (limiting deep plays for Wayne potentially), I'm not very high on the Colts either.  I think Wayne will still do well, but not at the numbers he had last season (I would say perhaps the average of his 2011 and 2012 numbers). 

Steve Smith (Carolina version) is 33.  I am very bullish on the Panthers this season, and Smith remains their main go-to WR (with Greg Olsen beginning to close that gap a bit).  Smith hasn't been scoring many TDs lately (averaging 4 over the past three years) but seems to catch 70-ish passes and put up 1000+ yards consistently.  Fun fact:  Steve Smith amassed 138 targets last season despite Carolina being such a run-heavy team.  I would rank Smith slightly higher than Wayne heading into next season.  Although Smith doesn't have the same average number of receptions over the past three years as Wayne (66 compared to 97), I think his team will be better.

Anquan Boldin (32) benefits from the loss of Michael Crabtree, but like Steve Smith and Reggie Wayne, his average touchdowns the past 3 seasons hovers around 4-5.  He also hasn't had more than 1000 yards receiving since 2009.  However, similar to Wayne and Smith, he is solidly putting up about 60+ receptions, near 1000 yards, but has the benefit of playing for the best of the three teams (Colts, Panthers, 49ers).  He is always a player who fights for tough yardage and someone you can enjoy rooting for, and his consistency is nice to have in a WR2.

Tight Ends
-Although former Bears tight end James Thornton was nicknamed RoboCop (for reasons I still do not know), I would have to make a case for that title to be transferred to Tony Gonzalez (37 years old!).  His average receptions/yards/TDs the past three seasons:  81/820/7.  Barring injury, I would not be surprised to see him put up similar numbers.

Surprisingly (at least to me) Jason Witten is 31.  Jason Witten also boasts rec/yds/Td 3-year averages of 94/994/5.  And he has never missed a game in his NFL career.  EVER.  He's solid.

Owen Daniels (30) has yet to ever fully live up to his potential.  It shines through in glimpses, but unfortunately, he is not consistent enough to draft as your starter (great bye-week fill-in or bench player though).  Positives:  Had 103 targets last season.  Negatives: Only caught 3 passes in the red-zone last year.  Yikes.

Antonio Gates is 33.  In case you cared.  But seriously, this guy used to be such a beast, and still has some value in the TD department.  He has averaged 8 TDs the past three seasons, but only 54 receptions and 700 yards.  I'm not as gonzo about TDs as a statistic to use when making draft decisions, thus why I am steering clear of Mr. Gates.

- This nicely sums up my thoughts on kickers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Car Shopping and its effects on fantasy football...and some random nuggets of football goodness

I have come to that inevitable point in a parent's life when a new family car must be purchased.  As a month of research has slowly drawn to a close, I have read so much information about the benefits/drawbacks to purchasing an SUV with an optional third row vs. a mini-van vs. an SUV with only two rows but more storage that I couldn't help but make the comparison to a desperate fantasy owner attempting to pick up a free agent.  The thought process is the same: This WR doesn't usually get too many receptions, but he has big play ability and has a chance to score if the QB airs it out often against this poorly ranked pass defense, but says it's going to be windy that day, so maybe that's not a good pick, on the other hand, my opponent is playing two good WRs so I want to counter that with a player with more upside, oh crap, I've been reading about receivers for half an hour, there goes my lunch break, oh fine, I'll just pick up Devery Henderson.

I am hoping that my car purchase does not end the way a pick up of Devery Henderson usually ends (in utter disappointment), but I began to find more and more comparisons of how certain players perform, as well as what certain car dealers and cars themselves have to offer, that I couldn't help but point them out here and see if anyone else agrees.  So, here goes:

1.  An extended warranty (such as the Kia 6 year, 100,000 mile warranty) = that player who has a crazy game about 3 times during the year, but the rest of the time, puts up average to below-average stats.

At first glance, the Kia warranty sounds awesome.  However, the more I learned about warranties like this, the more I realized they aren't all they are cracked up to be.  So your car needs maintenance?  Great, but you can only get it repaired at specific Kia dealers because it's still under this crazy long warranty, even though the Midas down the street will do the work for much cheaper.  Oh, you don't think your transmission needs a flush at 30,000 miles?  Your warranty says you do.

I like to call this type of warranty Santana Moss Syndrome.  Santana Moss is a player whose stats on paper look promising, but it's the way in which he acquires them that is so frustrating.  You only needed 3 more points to beat your opponent this week?  Sorry, I decided to only catch the ball once for 6 yards this week.  You are soundly beating your opponent heading into my Monday Night Football game tonight?  Cool, I'll catch 9 passes for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns to meet my bi-monthly quota, then take 3 weeks off.  Santana Moss, you are such a Kia (note: I test drove several Kia's and liked them quite a bit, but the warranty seems too good to be true, just like the promise of Santana Moss ever living up to legit #1 receiver status).

Now, Santana Moss hasn't exactly been fantasy-relevant for a long time, so who else suffers from SMS?  Any boom-or-bust player, particularly WR's who are strictly deep-threats.  Santana Moss wasn't strictly a deep-threat, but the allure of deep-threats and the potential for big points quick (i.e. Devery Henderson, Jacoby Jones, DeSean Jackson, Nate Washington, Kevin Walter, Michael Floyd, even Mike Wallace to a certain extent) have all fit this mold.  They will have about 3-4 amazing weeks, and the rest average, resulting in decent numbers.  However, most fantasy leagues are head-to-head, so unless you are in a total points league in which the end result is all you care about, trying to predict when these players will have their breakout game is incredibly frustrating.  I would much rather have a player who is good for 5 receptions, 50 yards, and a chance at a TD then a deep-threat (which is probably why I am searching for reliable cars that are safe as opposed to sportier, riskier choices - wow, fantasy football is truly a reflection of my values and beliefs, make sure to use that line on your spouse when he or she questions your obsession with managing a fake team of grown men).

2.  Ok, come to think of it, that is the end of the car analogies.  I had been thinking about how free agents that must clear waivers are like pre-owned vehicles, and you shouldn't be afraid to test drive them, or that the Kelley Blue Book of fantasy trading is often helpful to use (for instance, Yahoo has a built in resource that projects players' points for the rest of the season to deem a trade fair or unfair), but none of them seemed too entertaining.  Instead, here are a bunch of tidbits I have floating around in my head!

-Arian Foster is nursing an injury again.  As Matthew Berry points out in his '100 Things Column', (and who, by the way, shares several of my opinions regarding the importance of big-time RBs, the plethora of QBs and WRs available, and thus your obligation to pick up a big-time RB and possibly wait on a QB or WR (unless your league settings determine otherwise), the Kyle Rudolph effect for TE's (in short, many tight ends simply catch a bunch of touchdowns but have little value otherwise, unless they are named Jimmy Graham) - sorry, this is a lot of parentheses and I guarantee there is a grammatical error in my usage of them). his average rushing yards per game has decreased for the past three seasons.  Additionally, as I discussed in an earlier post, he eclipsed the magic number of 300 carries last season as well.  It's hard to not draft him, or keep him if you have a keeper league, but this guy is looking more and more like Rudi Johnson 2.0 to me.  I would still like him on my team, but temper your expectations. 

-The season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta only helps elevate the value of Greg Olsen and Jermaine Gresham, which I discussed in an earlier post

-The hip-injury, and subsequent surgery for Percy Harvin is a slight hit to Russell Wilson's value.  He had a great season without Harvin last year, but much of his preseason ranking had to do with the fact that the Seahawks had added a talent of Harvin's caliber.  Again, of the new crop of QBs (aka the Gang of Five - Newton, Kaepernick, RG III, Luck and Wilson), I would rank them in the order I just listed (if you have already clicked on the link for Matthew Berry's article above, you should...he provides further evidence for why I am down on my Luck evaluation (sorry, had to type it).

-In case you didn't know, Jeremy Maclin also will be out for the season.  I'm sort of up in the air over what to expect from the Eagles.  I think LeSean McCoy will certainly bounce back (not to the tune of 20 touchdowns though), and I'm not convinced that Chip Kelly is the savior of Philadelphia.  Does anyone trust DeSean Jackson enough to draft him before the 4th or 5th round?  Will Brent Celek bounce back?  Is Vick even going to be the QB?  The Maclin injury may not effect your fantasy team, but it certainly doesn't help your overall perception of the Eagles as a success next season. 

-Broncos center Dan Koppen is also out for the season with a torn ACL.  I think Peyton Manning will do just fine.  This wasn't really helpful information, but I saw it go across the SportsCenter ticker and felt it was necessary to type.  If you are in an intense league in which offensive lineman can earn points, adjust your draft rankings accordingly.

-I read an article stating that Vernon Davis has actually been lining up at WR instead of simply TE to help offset the loss of Michael Crabtree to start the season.  I think you would probably have been considering Davis as a high-end TE anyways, but the thought of this is just scary for defenses having to line-up a cornerback on a 6'3", 250lb gigantic dude.

-As a Bears fan, I can't pass up the opportunity to mention that Jermon Bushrod is already injured, granted it is day-to-day.  Jay Cutler should improve his life insurance plan before the start of the season.

As the season draws closer, and pre-season begins, stay tuned for more fun and insightful reading.

Until next time,

Davey Dave

Sunday, July 21, 2013

QB or not QB: Some thoughts about drafting the most important position

I have a confession to make...I like math.  This seems par for the course, seeing as I am a math teacher, but I wanted to forewarn you: the next paragraph will involve math.

We have been led to believe that the NFL is becoming a more pass-heavy league, which is true (trust me, I did the math) but the change hasn't been as drastic as we've been led to believe.  Ready, here come some numbers and stuff:

I wanted to see how the league has changed over the past 5 years, so I looked up the yardage stats of the top 30 QBs from 2008-2012.  I calculated the mean (average) as well as the standard deviation (for those unfamiliar, the standard deviation is simply the average amount by which data points in a set vary).  So, let's say for a given season, the mean is 3500 yards passing with a standard deviation of 500 yards.  That means if you were to select a QB at random, there is a good chance that the yardage stats for that QB would fall anywhere within 3000-4000 yards.

I also calculated the z-scores for these top 30 QBs.  A z-score is a convenient way of normalizing data into a singular context.  It is somewhat similar to WAR or VORP, advanced baseball statistics that are used to compare a player's effectiveness relative to those of a different era, except way less mathematically complex.  For instance, lets say someone passed for 4000 yards, which used to be a rarity (only 5 people passed for 4000 or more yards in 2010, and by 2012, that total had already risen to 11).  A z-score helps us relate that player's 4000 yard season relative to his peers from that season. 

So, how does one calculate a z-score?  You simply take a data point (in our case, passing yards), subtract the mean from this data point, and divide the different by the standard deviation.  That's it.  The answer you get will always be a small number, usually anywhere from -3 to 3.  What this small number standards for is the number of standard deviations above average that person's yardage total was in relation to other QBs that season.  So, if we use our example from 2 paragraphs above, in which the mean is 3500 yards with a standard deviation of 500 yards, and a player throws for 4000 yards, they would have a z-score of 1.  If they threw for 3000 yards, they would have a z-score of -1. 

Why did I do all this?  Mainly, I wanted to see just how much above average some QBs were in relation to one another.  We all make the mistake of falling into biases, whether from the media or our own viewing of football, about who we think are effective players.  If a player annoys us (such as Tony Romo, who will be making an appearance very soon) we tend to think they are worse than they actually are, whereas if a player wins games dramatically or wins Super Bowls, we tend to think they are better than some of their fantasy peers (Super Bowl victories do not make a great fantasy football QB necessarily). 

So, here come some numbers.  First, let me show you the passing yardage totals from 2008-2012, complete with means and standard deviations.

2008: Mean = 3,236.3 yards, Standard Deviation = 812.8 yards
2009:  Mean = 3,330.8 yards, Standard Deviation = 996.7 yards
2010:  Mean = 3321.8 yards, Standard Deviation = 762.9 yards
2011:  Mean = 3449.5 yards, Standard Deviation = 1044.5 yards
2012:  Mean = 3652.4 yards, Standard Deviation = 885.8 yards

What can we conclude from this?  Well, the mean has certainly risen each year, aside from a nine yard fall from 2009 to 2010.  What also stood out to me was the standard deviation for 2012.  The lower the standard deviation, the less one QB's yardage totals vary from their peers.  So, in a year in which the mean passing yardage was at a five-year high, we also saw the third lowest standard deviation; meaning more quarterbacks were performing at a higher level than in previous years (again, 11 passers exceeding 4000 yards).

Now, as mentioned before, I calculated the z-scores for all of the top 30 QBs over these seasons as well, and I identified which quarterbacks had a z-score of 1 or greater (again, meaning they exceeded the mean by at least the standard deviation amount).  Some people were close with z-scores of 0.9, but no partial credit for this exam.  Also, I highlighted which quarterbacks had seasons of 4000 yards passing, because I think it's fair to say that if your starting fantasy QB hits the 4000 yard threshold, you probably had a productive season.  So, below I have listed only the QBs that fit one or both of the two proposed criteria and have labeled the number of seasons in the past five years in which they have achieved (z-score of 1 or greater, 4000 yards passing).

Drew Bress: (5, 5)
Peyton Manning: (4, 3) *(did not play in 2011)
Tom Brady: (3, 3) *(did not play in 2008 - has it really been five years since Cassel fever?)
Aaron Rodgers: (4, 2)
Philip Rivers (4, 2) *(Remember when Philip Rivers didn't suck?)
Tony Romo (3,2) *(Played minimally in 2010 due to injury, replaced by the immortal Jon Kitna)
Matt Schaub (3, 2) *(was injured for second half of 2011 season, replaced by the more immortal fumbling machine known as Sage Rosenfels, who was then replaced by T.J. Yates)
Matthew Stafford (2,2) *(both of those happened in the past two years because this dude was the Glass Jaw Joe of the NFL for awhile getting injured immediately for 2 straight seasons)
Matt Ryan (2,1)
Ben Roethlisberger (2, 1)
Eli Manning (3, 1)
Jay Cutler (1, 1) *(holy crap, Jay Cutler had the third most yards thrown in 2008?  Ever since Peyton Manning jokingly threw him into a pool at the Pro Bowl and messed up his diabetes monitor, he hasn't been the same)
Josh Freeman/Andrew Luck/Carson Palmer/Cam Newton (1,0)

What does this tell us?  First of all, Drew Brees is by far the most consistent fantasy QB.  He has led the league in yardage three of the past five seasons.  Sure, Manning (the Peyton variety) and Brady were completely out for one season apiece, but they still mathematically would not hit 5,5 like Brees.  Either way, if you have the chance to draft anyone of those three, you're in good shape.

Aaron Rodgers didn't have as many high z-score seasons, but he also adds stats and value with his legs.  And while some people will have crazy awesome games, followed by a dud (that means you Matt Schaub), Rodgers is consistent in getting at least 200 yards and 2 TDs per game.

I was surprised how consistent Rivers had been until last season.  He had a horrid year, and doesn't have the cache of targets he once had, so I'm hesitant to draft him high, but I guarantee some people will sleep on him or forget about him and you could possibly get him as a back-up or mid-round draft steal if you're willing to gamble.

Ah, Tony Romo, everyone's favorite player to hate.  Tony Romo reminds me of my children: you are excited to pick them up and give them a hug, so you lean down, extend your arms towards them, and as you are lifting them up to you shoulders, they inadvertently swing their legs and kick you in the junk.  This is what owning Tony Romo in a fantasy league is like.  You will love him when he throws for 400 yards and 3 TDs in a game.  You will then be immediately nut-punched by some bone-headed play he makes the next week, leading to a 3 interception, multiple fumble debacle.  My all time I can't believe how Tony Romo dicked me over this week story is as follows:  I had been playing my brother-in-law in a highly anticipated match-up.  He was in first place at the time, and I was hoping to score a victory over him.  Our match-up remains tight going into Monday Night Football.  We each have players on the Cowboys, me having Romo, him having either Miles Austin or Dez Bryant.  Well, the fourth quarter rolls around, and there is about a minute left to play, and we are tied.  I've never actually seen a tie in fantasy football because I use fractional points (I love fractional points and I will never understand why people don't use them.  Are you really that afraid of decimals?  You mean to tell me that if a guy runs for 97 yards in a game, he should only get credit for 90 of them, and be rewarded 9, and not 9.7 points?  Fantasy football ain't no Greatest Integer Function (boom, math reference, go look it up kids!).

Anyhow, so there is a minute left, score tied, and my bro-in-law messages me to say it looks like we're going to have our first ever fantasy tie, good game, etc.  Well then, as the game is winding down and most normal humans will take a knee, Tony Romo decided he is no ordinary human.  He is Tony Romo, ex-beau of Jessica Simpson, guy who botched a snap and cost the Cowboys a chance to beat the Seahawks in the playoffs, what could possibly be worse than either of those two things?  He decided that he will do the super-protective kneel down in which he will walk backwards a few yards and THEN take a knee.  Well what does that mean for me?  It means Tony Romo ran for NEGATIVE 1 yard!  That's right, because Tony Romo decided he needed to be extra safe to take a knee, I lost a point and lost the game. 

Yet, as I mentioned, Tony Romo is like my children.  No matter how much Tony disappoints me or gets on my nerves, I still love the guy.  Now don't get me wrong, in terms of actual football, I wouldn't want the guy leading my team at all, he always seems to botch things at the worst possible time.  But in terms of fantasy?  He actually produces!  He has people to throw to (Dez Bryant, who I think will really break out this year, Jason Witten, most prolific tight end last season, Miles Austin (I think he's still on the team) and DeMarco Murray, who if healthy, is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield).  We all hate on Mr. Romo because real life Tony Romo annoys us.  Hell, I was in a league where people left him out there until the 10th round.  10th round!  That's nuts.  Then again, I believe alcohol may have played a role in some people's draft decisions that day, seeing as how one man set out to  make a team of nothing but Johnson's (He actually had a fantastic draft, somehow landing Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Stevie Johnson in successive rounds.  I'm sure we threw in Rudi Johnson and Brad Johnson as all-star Johnson's at their respective positions). 

So, moral of the story: Tony Romo doesn't suck as much as you think.  Look at the numbers. 

Stafford set an NFL record for attempts last season, yet wasn't even the yardage leader, weird.  However, this team definitely wants to pass the ball, there is know way Calvin Johnson only gets 4 TDs againt next year, and with Reggie Bush able to catch balls out of the backfield, he is a solid pickup for QB next year.

Eli Manning wins the Charles Dickens award for performing like the opening lines of "A Tale of Two Cities;" "I played the best first/second half of the season, I played the worst first/second half of the season."  Seriously, I feel like I can never predict when this guy is going to be consistently good.  Eli is anti-Romo; a player who I would much rather have, and has more value, in real life as opposed to fantasy life.

Matt Ryan has been getting better, he has three amazing targets, he's solid, Big Ben is always just outside the top 10 in fantasy QB stats, I would pass on him.

The bottom row is intriguing: I would pass on Palmer, he may put up some numbers throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, but I don't know who else he will be throwing to, and Rashard Mendenhall isn't even a pass-catching back who could help raise his yardage totals.

I like Freeman a lot, I have for a few years now.  The Bucs do have Vincent Jackson now, and Doug Martin, who IS a pass-catching back.  I have been hurt by taking a chance on Freeman in the past, but I think the Bucs will be decent, Freeman does run too, yet I still worry about consistency.  I would use him as a backup.

And now on to Newton and Luck.  While we're at it, let's throw in RGIII, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.  These guys only have one (and in Newton's case) two NFL seasons to their names, so obviously they aren't going to show up in the numbers I did above.  However, any one of these guys I feel is worth taking a gamble on.  They all have crazy upside.  All can actually run with the ball well (Luck is a better runner than people give him credit, akin to Aaron Rodgers).  But which one do you draft?  Bill Barnwell of has coined the phrase 'The Gang of Four' when discussing the four breakouts from last year (no Newton), and has his rankings here.

Since there is not much of a body of work, much of our ranking of these players is on our own speculation about their potential, but also, about their team's potential.  Barnwell also wrote a fantastic piece about some statistical indicators of success in the NFL, and the one that stood out to me like a sore thumb was a team's win-loss record in games decided by one touchdown or less.  The Colts had a 9-1 record in games decided by one touchdown or less.  To summarize Barnwell, most teams regress to the mean the following season, meaning the Colts statistically won't have so many lucky bounces next year.  Additionally, teams with bad records in games decided by one touchdown or less tend to improve their record in these types of games the following season.  Among the lowest in one touchdown or less losses last year (nice alliteration huh?) were the Chargers, Panthers, Lions and Buccaneers (may make you think twice about some doubts surrounding Rivers, Stafford or Freeman).  I have already previously discussed my love of the Panthers for next season, and I think this is yet another stat in favor of my opinion, and in favor of Cam Newton.

Although I love RGIII, I don't see the Redskins making the playoffs next year.  Same with the Colts.  A lot of people love Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, but I can't bring myself to drink the Seattle Kool-Aid just yet.  I think Wilson will be consistent, but not as flashy or have the chance for as much upside as a Kaepernick or Newton.  I would opt for Kaepernick first, then Newton.  The 49ers are legit, I expect them to make the playoffs, and Kaepernick is so much more than a gimmick.  Yes, he runs ridiculously fast, but he throws a beautiful ball (and accurate too).  Again, you really can't go wrong with these guys, but don't forget about the old fogies (gotta love that being 30-ish makes you on the verge of AARP in the NFL) mentioned above who have shown themselves to be consistent for several years running.

Until Next Time,

Davey Dave