The Article Which Will Win You Your Fantasy Football League
League Format: 12-team Standard Scoring, +2 points for scores over 40 yards, +2 points for 100+ rush, 100+ receiving, 300+ pass yards, One point per FIVE receptions (not scored as 0.2 ppr)
Roster: QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 Flex (RB/WR/TE), 1TE, 1 D/ST, 1 Kicker.
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick
RB: Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris, CJ Spiller, Knowshon Moreno, Jacquizz Rodgers, Evan Royster
WR: Hakeem Nicks, Pierre Garcon, Greg Jennings, Danario Alexander
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Rob Gronkowski
(D/ST and Kicker omitted for purposes of inconsequence)
Step One: Prioritize
Everyone’s got an opinion. Everyone has a ranking. Everyone “likes” a player, has a sleeper, has a “must-start.” Fine. All they have given you is one piece of the puzzle, one pro or one con, one tiny tidbit of information which you must assimilate into your system as a whole.
My theory is this: fantasy football games, playoffs, and leagues are won and lost by decisions. I set my obvious starts and then spend every ounce of energy, every waking moment, every second of free time (OK, not really, but sometimes) agonizing over the two or three tough decisions that every roster will almost certainly provide. These take ultimate priority. These will win your league.
You have now narrowed your focus. You now know what must be overcome. You have a target for your energy, for your malice, for your genius.
Priority Decisions: CJ Spiller vs. Knowshon Moreno. What two WRs to play?
Yeah, I drafted really well in the late rounds. Every running back listed except for Moreno was on my roster on draft day and for the entire season. But now, at playoff time, I need to get it right. I need to start the proper five players between my running back, wide receiver, and flex spots.
Now that I know what my key decisions are, I can move on to…
Step Two: Attention to Detail
Remember, everything counts. A ranking list is just a place to start and can be extremely misleading, but it can also provide a rough guide as to where to begin.
Attention to detail entails several things:
1) Gather as much information as possible
2) Pay attention to league scoring rules- they count, too!
3) Know your opponent
Sticking with the same above decision between Knowshon Moreno and CJ Spiller, here is a way to use information to your benefit past just looking at the two players involved. Too many fantasy managers have a tendency to focus only on the player and not his team. When I first thought of playing Moreno over Spiller, I looked back to Willis McGahee’s week 4 line against Oakland: 19 carries for 112 yards and a score, 6 catches for 23 yards, 21 points. I liked the carries and production, but I also liked the catches. While Moreno isn’t McGahee, he is still the lead back in the same system against the same opponent. We all already have the book on Moreno: 20 carries and 4 catches in both of his past two games. We have the book on Oakland: second worst in all of fantasy against opposing rushers. What I want is the book on a Denver lead back against the Raiders in 2012. It could be (and was) the tipping point in my starting decision.
Moreno’s week 14 line? 32 carries for 119 and a score, 4 catches for 48 yards, 23 points.
2) League Scoring
In this case, two league scoring rules affected my decision. First: the two point bonus for 100+ rushing yards. Second: the point per five receptions. CJ Spiller has crossed the 100-yard barrier only once with Fred Jackson in the lineup- in week 12 against Indianapolis. While Moreno had yet to reach the century mark before Thursday night’s game, he was a very good bet to dominate the touches against one of the worst rush defenses in football. Spiller has recently given way to Fred Jackson on passing downs, which explains his very pedestrian five catches in the past three weeks.
3) Know Your Opponent
As a rule: always start what you believe to be your best roster. But in the case of a very close decision or two players who you believe may be in a virtual deadlock, having a glance at your opponent’s choices may give you some insight as to how to proceed. Are you a big underdog? Do you need big performances? Or is your opponent himself making risky plays as he views your team as the stalwart favorite? I reiterate: always play your best lineup. But, it never hurts to have a look at your surroundings. In a tight pinch, it can help. Case in point: in week 10 of this same league, I had Aaron Rodgers, Trent Richardson, and Alfred Morris on bye and was a huge underdog. I took a shot on Danario Alexander against a terrible Buccaneers secondary, reasoning that it only would take one big play to make his week. (Keep in mind, at this point, Alexander had only caught three passes on the season.) On the first play of the game, Alexander took a short pass 80 yards to the house. It doesn’t always work out quite so perfectly, but sometimes that slight tip of the scales can swing a week in your favor.
Step Three: Make a System
If you have a system that you believe in, that you have tested and shown to work, your decisions become easier and easier. My system is actually quite simple:
1) Faith. If I believe it’s a remotely difficult decision, then it is. Forget what the rankers say, forget what the stats say. If my gut/intuition/whatever tells me it’s a tough call, it’s a tough call. Believe in yourself, always, at every step of the way.
2) List the pros and cons of each player.
3) Evaluate outside factors (highly subjective and pseudo-analysis is involved).
4) Weigh the potential for upside against the “safety” play
Let’s use the system on my first decision at running back.
List the Pros and Cons
CJ Spiller Pros: He’s the better player. Ranked higher by experts. CJ Spiller Cons: Only one touchdown in the past 6 games. Fred Jackson.
Knowshon Moreno Pros: Receives more carries. Catches More passes (4 catches in each of the two weeks, compared to 1, 1, and 3 for Spiller in the last three). Better matchup. Knowshon Moreno Cons: Not the better player. Zero touchdowns in two weeks of starting.
Evaluate Outside Factors
-Knowshon Moreno is on the better team overall, which usually translates to a more effective offensive attack (could entail greater time of possession, more effective drives/scoring chances).
-If Denver (heavy favorite) gets a sizable lead, they could turn to clock-killing, run-heavy drives.
-Peyton Manning is a far scarier passer than Ryan Fitzpatrick.
As you can see, the above claims (for they are certainly not facts, statistics, or any kind of concrete data), are complete projections, thoughts out loud, and, in some cases, wishful thinking. They rely on assumptions of how a game may go, and we are all familiar with what “assume” does to “u” and “me.” Still, these factors add up. And, stacked upon the already-made pros and cons list then added onto the statistics I discovered while paying attention to detail, my first tough call of the playoff season suddenly looked quite clearer.
Upside vs. Safety
The question of upside versus safety is one that every fantasy owner must struggle with at almost every position throughout the year. Namely: at what point does a player’s upside override the value of a safer selection? It’s like a never-ending, inconsistent, and impossible to predict formula that is best solved by the manager himself through a series of convoluted “I likes” and, at times, blind faith in your gut.
Again, in this instance, Spiller’s value seemed to diminish even further. Most “experts” will point to his explosiveness, his high YPC, and his talent or ability to “break one” at any time as the main arguments in favor of ranking Spiller so highly. What are the above three if not “upside?” And yet this “upside” has netted only one touchdown and one 100+ yard game in the past six weeks. And Spiller is the “conventional”, “safe” play? What?
Even here, where the argument for CJ Spiller should have been at it’s strongest, I think Moreno’s upside triumphed and won the day. A Denver running back with 20+ carries against one of the worst run-defenses in the league as part of an offense that is capable of piling points on the board? Not to mention, he gets looks in the passing game?
Step Four: Pull The Trigger
And so, I played Moreno over Spiller this week. Despite nearly every ranker available placing the Bills back significantly above the Broncos rusher, I played him. Despite league-mates texting me to ask if I was serious, despite the propensity for Thursday night games to be goofy offensive debacles, despite the fact that while CJ Spiller was busy piling up the points to bring him to the 8th-highest scoring running back in our league’s scoring, Moreno was busy being inactive from weeks 2-11, I played him.
This was priority decision number one, and by drawing it into focus, paying attention to the details, and following my system, I (probably) got it right.
Now all that remains is to run my receivers through the same rigorous protocol. But, thankfully, that did not need to be finished by Thursday afternoon. (In case you’re curious, I’m currently playing Garcon and Jennings, but that may change.)
A final note: don’t forget to be sneaky and smart. I played Moreno at my RB1 position because I knew for sure I was going to use him. Why waste him in the Flex? Now, I have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning to assimilate two and a half more days worth of details into my roster choices. Namely, I now have a new difficult decision to make: which two (of three) running backs do I use at RB2 and Flex? Spiller, Alfred Morris, or Trent Richardson? Does one of the receivers make it into the discussion due to upside if more news comes down the wire? You see… the wheels are always spinning.
As an obvious disclaimer, my methods are not guaranteed. If there is one thing I hope you garnered from these few pages of advice and explanation it’s this: trust yourself. Find something you like, believe in, or understand, and go with it. If you enjoyed my methodology and reasoning, feel free to apply it, but remember: the choice is yours.
I wish you all the best of luck. See you in the winner’s circle.
-Pete The Greek
As always you can tweet me: @petethegreekff. I look forward to your tweets about gloating victoriously over your leaguemates.