I feel bad for Colts players and Colts fans following their Week 16 loss, but I especially feel for those Fantasy Football owners who started Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne against the Jets and got short-changed in their championship week.
This has become a common problem in Fantasy for years, especially when it comes to Colts players. Owners who did so well for the entire season with Colts players got penalized because of an organizational decision that came with no forthright warning (and believe me I have a lot to say about that later).
It's time to take a stand and change the game. I know that many of you feel like Fantasy Football is about rolling with the punches and having owners be the best possible "managers" of players available to them. I get that and I think that's a solid argument. But I also think it would be nice for Fantasy owners to have alternatives available to them that wouldn't force them into starting Alex Smith or Matt Hasselbeck or Jason Campbell in place of Manning on the chance that he could get benched in the heat of the game. Commissioners should especially take a look at this if they're interested in improving the "competitive balance" within their leagues.
So this week, I'm going to put some suggestions out there for you to look at -- suggestions to eliminate the "will they or won't they play" factor that makes players Fantasy risks. Some might be considered unfair and against the nature of Fantasy Football, but they all would eliminate the stress associated with setting a lineup. I don't know about you, but I'd rather stress about paying for my kid's college or making sure my taxes are filed properly than stress about my Fantasy Football team. Remember guys, Fantasy Football is about having fun.
Idea No. 1: Backup stats count
Owners would automatically receive credit for the stats of the backup player to their starter.
Week 16 example: Reggie Wayne leaves after catching three passes for 33 yards. Hank Baskett sees playing time in his place and gets two catches for 16 yards. His stats count toward Wayne's final stat line.
Would it work? Owners get a "full game" out of a position on their roster. Not that that's a good thing -- Curtis Painter's negative Fantasy stat line would have hurt Manning's final tally.
Idea No. 2: Fantasy backup stats count
Owners would have the option to select a "backup" whose stats would count for any and all quarters that the "starter" would completely miss.
Week 16 example: Peyton Manning is your starter, Matt Ryan is your backup. Manning played into the third quarter, so all of his stats count toward your active lineup, but so would Ryan's fourth quarter stats (not his full-game stats). Ryan had 46 passing yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter, so owners would get those stats toward their final score too. If said designated starter plays into the fourth quarter, even for one series, then the backup's stats would not be awarded.
Would it work? This would definitely make owners feel better about starting a player who could potentially sit in a game. And it's not a slam-dunk that the "backup" would give an unfair advantage: Alex Smith and Vince Young didn't record a single stat in the fourth quarter of their games and others such as Jason Campbell, Tony Romo and Joe Flacco only posted nominal passing yardage in the fourth quarter of their games.
However, one could argue that a team that does this is starting two players instead of one. Also, what would happen in the instance of an injury to the starter? Would the backup's stats count then?
Idea No. 3: Extrapolate stats
Essentially do some math and take the actual stats by a given player and calculate what he was "on pace" for in the game, then credit that total to the bottom line.
Week 16 example: Joseph Addai rushes six times for 40 yards and a touchdown through roughly 40 minutes of play. In a standard Fantasy league, that's 10 points. Divide 10 points by 40 minutes and you get one point for every four minutes of play. By doing simple multiplication, Addai was on pace for 15 Fantasy points based on the production he had, and that's what an owner would have been credited with.
Would it work? There's no telling what Addai would have had if he had played a complete game. He might have fumbled, he might have broken a 99-yard run for a touchdown. Just because Addai was "on pace" for 15 Fantasy points certainly doesn't mean he would have had that many. He could have had more or less. This idea merely safeguards owners to get an approximate total based on a complete game.
Idea No. 4: Use playoff stats
Owners that had players affected by an early benching would have the option to keep those players' stats or accept what they produced in their first playoff game.
Week 16 example: If you started Dallas Clark, you could keep the credit for his four-catch, 57-yard game against the Jets, or take whatever he gives you in the Divisional Playoffs. You cannot get both or a combination of the two. Maybe an average of the two if a league wanted to get creative.
Would it work? Fantasy owners are not patient by nature, so waiting as many as three weeks to determine a winner would be annoying. Plus, it seems unfair to give an owner a choice on what game a player he owns gets credit for when he knows the result of one of the games already. Perhaps this idea would be better if the decision on which game to "use" would be made before kickoff of the first game.
I'd like to know what you guys think of these ideas. Do you like them or loathe them? Or, if your league has some sort of a safeguard in place already, shoot me an e-mail or a Tweet and tell me about it. Write me at email@example.com, and find me in the Twitterverse: @daverichard.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) during the week's action.
Fantasy: Don't use any Texans running backs in Week 16. A week after fumbling on the team's first series and getting benched, Houston's Arian Foster pieced together a nice game and had 87 rush yards and a touchdown. Worse yet, if the Texans win in Week 17 and clinch their first winning season, Gary Kubiak could potentially continue playing games with his running backs. Hooray, more fun Texans issues to look forward to!
Reality: Jerome Harrison is a quality Fantasy option vs. the Raiders. Harrison became the third NFL running back to follow up a 275-yard rushing game with at least 130 rush yards and a touchdown the next week. Incredible stuff! Next week's matchup against the Jaguars is tougher on paper, but with the Browns riding a three-game win streak and Jacksonville's playoff hopes hanging by a whisker, it's not inconceivable that Harrison posts his third-straight solid outing.
Fantasy: The Saints will steamroll the Buccaneers. A lot of people are pointing to the New Orleans defense and special teams as reasons for the two-game slide, but scoring only 17 points against the Buccaneers is a problem. One notable issue was their inability to run the ball after Pierre Thomas got hurt. That's the Bucs' weakness, and they were able to fend off the likes of Mike Bell and Lynell Hamilton and keep their chances of winning the game alive. Drew Brees cost a lot of people chances at winning a Fantasy crown over the last two weeks.
Reality: The Falcons and 49ers DSTs were gems. Just another example of playing the matchups, folks. The Falcons had a cake walk at home against Brian Brohm while the 49ers stuck it to Drew Stanton and the Lions. Each unit put up big totals to help Fantasy owners -- they were far more reliable than old stand-by DSTs like the Steelers, Ravens and Giants. Lesson learned? Don't sink a big draft pick into a DST when playing waiver-wire roulette for a DST is more cost-effective.
Fantasy: Steven Jackson plays in spite of missing practices. What a shock to see Jackson inactive on Sunday, though I suppose it's not exactly that big of a shock since he's been wearing down physically over the last four weeks. If the Rams are smart, they rest him in Week 17 too. While winning games is always nice, the Rams will lock up the top pick (and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh) if they lose in Week 17. Not having Jackson would help a lot in that regard, plus it keeps him from aggravating the injury and forcing him into more rehab before 2010. He says he'll play, but we'll see.
Reality: Tom Brady will throw all over the Jaguars. A lot of Fantasy owners might be upset at Bill Belichick over giving Laurence Maroney the "Arian Foster treatment," but he's actually a friend of the Fantasy community. No other coach puts together a game plan so well against a rival's weakness as Belichick does. The Patriots saw that the Jaguars' secondary was a weakness and planned accordingly. End result: Four touchdowns for Tom Brady, who helped salvage his status in his Fantasy owners' eyes after his recent play.
Is Week 17 the best week to determine a league's Fantasy champion?
You're talking to the wrong guy on this one. The only way I'll play into Week 17 is if it's a league where cumulative points are scored. I don't like having a Fantasy championship decided in a week where half of the teams are eyeballing golf courses and Caribbean resorts and half of the other half are resting up for the playoffs.
The Colts' situation is a perfect example: They're definitely going to rest their players in Week 17 at Buffalo. No chance you'll get a full game out of them, nor will you get a full game out of Chargers players. Depending on how the Vikings do against the Bears, you might not get a full game out of the Saints or Cardinals, either. And there's no telling what strategy the Bengals or Patriots will implement since they're locked into having a home playoff game. Same thing goes for the Packers, who will be on the road in the first round of the playoffs no matter what they do.
Again, some Fantasy purists will say that the best team owners are the ones who can adapt and be prepared for such events in Week 17, but I think it penalizes a team to have one set of players get you to the title game and have another group of potentially lesser-skilled players there to try and help you win it.
I don't mind leagues that combine Weeks 16 and 17 into their championship. We do that in the keeper league I'm in and it seems to work out just fine so long as owners are allowed to change their lineups (they are). But otherwise, Week 16 is the safest week to play a championship game. The only teams to rest their starters in advance of a playoff run this week were the Chargers (who put up 35 points in a blowout before pulling their first-team offense), the Packers (who scored 38 points before the second-team came in) and the Colts.
Which brings me to ...
Parting Shot of the Year
• My jaw dropped when Curtis Painter came into the ball game to replace Peyton Manning with 5:36 left to play and the Colts up by just five points. Shock of the year for me to see that, then not give the team a morsel of a chance to win following the Jets' second-half stampede. What the Colts did by pulling their starters might be considered shrewd in a long-term football sense, but I just can't see spitting in the face of history as something that will be good for this team.
Did you see the faces of Colts starters on the sideline? Blank stares, heads down, no one talking. Manning didn't even take off his helmet. For 14 games this team was dominant; they were building an edge and a mystique, especially at home, that no one else in the league had.
It had become part of their identity as a football team, and now it's gone. The only thing that could have possibly deflated the Colts more than this would be losing Peyton Manning to a season-ending injury. And sure, that could have happened had he stayed in there, but we're talking about a guy who has never missed a game because of injury and also is royally protected by his offensive line. And we're talking about the face of your franchise now and forever. That face didn't look pleased at his press conference following the game.
Remember, the Colts didn't lose this game with their starters. Had they lost the game with their starters we'd be talking about a different story altogether, and it would have been far more acceptable. Instead, the Colts treated the game like it was their third preseason game. The Colts walked away from a perfect season. This should be illegal.
Some argue that the Colts took added pressure off of the team by accepting a loss. Really? They're not going to be under pressure when they play in the postseason? How about the fact that they'd be raging with confidence had they entered the postseason at 16-0. I'd much rather be on that team than the team that gift-wrapped a win after playing my heart out for 14 weeks.
Some argue that going undefeated did nothing to help the Patriots when they lost Super Bowl XLII. I disagree -- New England manhandled the Jaguars and Chargers en route to the Super Bowl and fell prey to a couple of big plays by the Giants on both sides of the ball and got away from their offensive game plan. I think the Colts might be more disciplined than that Patriots team was and could have surged.
Time will tell on this one. If the Colts win it all, then this loss (and the potential loss next week at Buffalo) won't even matter. GM Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell will be heralded as geniuses. But if the Colts lose in the playoffs, you know that NFL critics will be shining up their daggers to plant into this team for their decision to bench their starters in the middle of a very win-able game.
The players deserved the chance to go for history, Peyton Manning especially. Opportunities to go this deep for perfection don't exactly happen every year. If they did, then the NFL world wouldn't guffaw every time the 1972 Dolphins team uncorked champagne bottles, would they?
Best of luck, Indianapolis.
Parting Shots (the rest of them for this week)
• Here's one fun idea for Week 17, as voiced by our readers one year ago: Have a "Fun Bowl" where all the owners set their best possible lineups, and a silly prize goes to the winner. Or, change it up and start your worst possible lineup (no add/drops), and the highest score wins. Hey, I might be against deciding a Fantasy winner in Week 17, but that doesn't mean I don't want to play Fantasy in Week 17. I'd play Fantasy Football in the dead of June if I could.
• I don't think the Panthers have a choice: If they want to keep Julius Peppers, they need to save some dollar bills and trade DeAngelo Williams before they have to pay him or let him go for no compensation. Williams will be in a contract year in 2010, and over the last two weeks we saw what the team could get out of Jonathan Stewart if he was their primary rusher. Granted, Stewart is far from the picture of health and he'll always need someone around to help him with his duties, but the team could always add another back via the draft or free agency, and that's if they're not sold on rookie Mike Goodson being the guy behind Stewart.
Four teams that might entertain giving a late first/early second-round pick for Williams:
2. New England
• What do Buffalo, Seattle, Washington and a postal worker have in common?
• Nice knowing you, Quinton Ganther.
• I'm warning you right now: I'm going to be right back on the Pierre Thomas bandwagon again in 2010. The guy is so, so solid. The rib injury he had against the Bucs isn't believed to be serious.
• This week's reason why Twitter is a great thing for Fantasy Football ... OK, good for Fantasy Football ... OK, moderately amusing for people who might like football more than the casual observer: Titans running back LenDale White made a Christmas wish for 17,000 Twitter followers. Knowing that the people who follow me might be interested in following LenDale's exploits, I asked him to send me a message he'd like me to convey to people who followed him, and he did. Not that it was a great message like "free Fantasy leagues for everybody" or "I promise to score a touchdown," but he did write "tell them that everybody's all-american needs 17,000 followers for X-mas burrrrrrrfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!
OK I'm not exactly sure what that means either, but one very cool aspect of Twitter is how close you can get to the players without interference from teams, agents, etc. It's very personal in that regard. Oh, you can also get close to Fantasy writers who can help you with lineup decisions and keeper quandaries, not to mention pick up some good NFL news and analysis along the way. For that, you can follow me @daverichard. I plan on starting a BIG Playoff Challenge league open to everyone who receives my Tweets, so if you haven't gotten over the Fantasy bug just yet, climb into a league with me.
• I don't recall the last time I did this well with my playoff predictions. I nailed five of six teams in the NFC with a shot at all four division winners. The AFC isn't as pretty, but my preseason Super Bowl prediction of Vikings-Chargers is very much alive. Beats last year, that's for sure.
• Sure, the Cowboys might have gone 2-2 in December, but they're playing really good football. Tony Romo isn't falling apart and the defense is generating some top-notch pressure. I never thought I'd say this about Wade Phillips' team this year, but the 'Boys are Super Bowl contenders. And they're peaking at the right time.
Drop Dave a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put Attn: Fantasy & Reality in the subject field and include your full name, hometown and state. And be sure to follow him on Twitter @daverichard. He'll never sit on his promise for daily Fantasy Football advice during the offseason.