Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Survivor Leagues present a stark contrast to traditional fantasy football. When you’re in a survivor league, you take a step back from rooting for individual players from different teams to accrue statistics, and return to cheering an entire NFL team to victory. While these types of leagues are loosely considered “fantasy football”, they’re more closely related to football handicapping. Your sole objective is to pick the team that’s sure to win – a difficult task in the topsy-turvy NFL, where a double-digit favorite seems to lose almost every week. Unlike a shorter season in a traditional head-to-head league, survivor leagues are played out through the end of the regular season, providing seventeen opportunities to slip up on the wrong pick. Choosing the right team is a tricky science, as you can only bask in the comfort of one of the elite teams once per season. Below is a checklist to run through before finally deciding which pick you’re going to make each week:

1. ALMOST ALWAYS PICK A HOME TEAM – Every week, you have an opportunity to pick from 13-16 home teams, depending on bye weeks. Any team can unexpectedly lose on the road to an inferior opponent, so I would avoid all road teams to be safe. The only exception would be if the Colts or Saints went to a city like Detroit, whose stadium didn’t carry a significant home field advantage.

2. TEAM OVERALL QUALITY – Before you select your home team for the week, check several factors to determine exactly how good they are. What’s their record? What are the records of teams they have beaten and teams they lost to? Have they beaten quality opponents? What are this team’s strengths and weaknesses? How do those strengths and weaknesses stack up against their upcoming opponent? If your team has a winning record, but ranks in the bottom 10 in pass defense, you may want to avoid matchups against teams that are able to launch a formidable aerial attack. This leads us to the next point…

3. WHO ARE THEY PLAYING? While checking the record of your team’s opponent is important, you should also look at other factors as well. Has this opponent been winning lately? Is momentum on their side? What is their injury situation? Does your team’s opponent play well on the road? Have these two teams had an extensive recent history? Do the head coaches know each other well? Are there players on either team that previously played for the opponent that might lend insight to the other team’s game plan?

4. BYE WEEK – Bye weeks are a welcome respite from the brutality of regular poundings that the NFL’s players dole out on each other. Teams tend to play better coming off a bye week, as they are not only well-rested, but have also had an extra seven days to prepare for their upcoming opponent.

5. CHECK THE POINT SPREAD OF THE GAME – While the point spread does not always prognosticate the outcome of a game, it can be an effective indicator that sums up the talent level of the competition. The spread also factors in a myriad of variables including injuries, team momentum, home field advantage, and game history of previous matchups. Underdogs will cover the spread in their fair share of games in the NFL, but more often than naught, you’re better off picking a favorite to win the game outright, which is the objective in Survivor League Football.

6. CHECK INJURY REPORTS – It is important to look at injuries to key skill players like quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. But sometimes a casual football fan will overlook critical injuries that fly under the radar, like lineman and impact defensive personnel. If you’re leaning toward selecting a home team that has a starting left tackle who is questionable or doubtful, and is scheduled to face a team with a strong pass rush, then you may want to consider making another choice. If a Pro Bowl shutdown corner is inactive, and his backup is a free-agent rookie that gets frequently burned by receivers, then that team should be avoided.

7. CHECK WEATHER REPORT – Unless you picked a team playing their game indoors, make sure to check the weather forecast before kickoff on Sunday morning. Teams that play in a pass-based offense will have less success in poor weather, and the scores in bad weather tend to be closer.

8. PLAY FOR THIS WEEK, DON’T LOOK AHEAD – Since you can only pick teams once, it can be tempting to check the coming weeks on the schedule. The Colts look great this week, but they may also look even better three weeks from now. Don’t get cute trying to line up your entire season of pick selections, as injuries and personnel moves can change the complexion of a team in the NFL from week to week. In other words, what may seem like a good pick three weeks from now may not be a great pick after the next two games take their toll. Play for now, because if you don’t, you may not make it to next week.

9. WHO’S GIVEN UP? – Towards the end of the regular season, you’ll notice that you already picked virtually every dominant team, and are no longer able to simply glance at the remaining teams, and find a winner. You might even be tempted to pick a team with a losing record. There comes a point in the season in Survivor Leagues where the worst teams who are awarded the highest draft picks appear to be playing without a competitive fire; as if they’re trying to lose! Not every team with a horrible record necessarily gives up on the season. But teams that bench established and experienced veterans in place of project rookies at key positions are the teams who are more concerned with developing young talent than winning ball games. These are the types of teams whose upcoming opponents you should target, even if the opponent isn’t playoff bound.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Your team is, as they say, “in the mix” at 4-4. Only five or six weeks remain until the fantasy postseason, and you want to do everything in your power to make sure your team doesn’t miss the playoffs. While fantasy football is essentially 60% luck, there are several steps you can take to be proactive so that you’ll still be in contention for your league title come Week 14:

1. SCOUR THE WAIVER WIRE – Not that everybody doesn’t already do this, but at this stage in the season, you need to form contingency plans in case one of your studs gets hurt. If you lack depth at a particular position, then focus on grabbing the best available talent in the free agent pool at that position with the easiest upcoming schedule so that you’ll be able to make an informed decision. HINT: Go to your free agent pool, and use the sort functions to tell which free agents have scored the most points in your league’s scoring system. This is typically done by clicking on the words “Fantasy Points” once you’re on the page that lists free agents. You’ll notice that the players are rearranged with the most prolific scorers at the top, going top to bottom. But don’t just grab the players with the most points. You should look at their injury status, upcoming schedule, and whether there are any injury issues with this player’s teammates. For example, if you’re thinking about picking up Terrell Owens, who was dropped in many leagues, you should also take note that his schedule looks somewhat favorable down the stretch. Furthermore, Buffalo’s starting QB Trent Edwards is coming back from his concussion, and this could mean a return to decent production for T.O (or, he just might be washed up). Between injury history, anticipated inclement weather at certain stadiums, and the overall play of certain teams as the season winds down (HINT: avoid ALL Browns!), you should have enough information at your fingertips to make an informed, if not the right, decision on who’s best for your fantasy team down the stretch.

2. THINK TWO, SOMETIMES THREE WEEKS AHEAD – If you have six WRs, five RB, or three TEs, and one of those players is someone you wouldn’t start unless you have a slew of bye/injury issues, then there is probably a chance that this player would sit in the free agent pool and go unclaimed by another team. But you know who won’t go unclaimed? A defense who is scheduled to play the Rams/Brown/Lions/Yuccaneers at home in two weeks! Before kickoff on Sunday morning, before every free agent goes back on waivers, you need to look 2-3 weeks ahead, dump your WR6/RB5/TE3, and grab the team defense that plays well at home with the tastiest matchup against a league doormat. This will keep you ahead of the curve, as your league maters will also start looking more towards future matchups as opposed to the quality of team defenses they start. Example: you have Denver defense, but Seattle D at home against Detroit Week 9 may be a better fantasy start than Broncos Defense playing against the Steelers on Monday Night.

3. ASSESS WHO MAKES A GOOD TRADE PARTNER – Chances are the trade deadline in your league is drawing nigh, and there are other teams in your league looking to make that one trade which will help put them in the playoff picture. Fantasy team owners are more willing to make a trade at this stage in the season since they know who on their team is panning out as opposed to whom they can safely declare a bust. For example, someone may have been reluctant to trade for a RB right after the draft, but now that Larry Johnson is no longer their RB2/RB3, they are actively looking to acquire a RB to replace L.J. Meanwhile, you have four quality RBs, but need a WR3 since you just dropped Terrell Owens out of frustration. Since you can address each other’s needs with one trade, then this dynamic makes you two good trade partners.

4. GET FACE/PHONE TIME, THEN SELL HIGH – In this cold, impersonal age of technology we live in, getting someone to agree to a trade can be quite the challenge if all they do is check their email, see the players offered, and click “Reject Trade.” Even counter-offers can be frowned upon when your trade partner doesn’t know a whole lot about the player you’re offering. Solution: If you play in a league where your competition is in the same geographical location as you, then ask to meet them for a drink. Nothing creates a handshake more quickly than alcohol-infused trade talk. Once you two are engaged in Rounds 2 or 3 of your libations, then start educating your counterpart on the benefits of owning the player you’re trying to trade him/her. Stress a lack of injuries, how that player is or has the potential to be the most productive player on their team, and seal the deal by listing the cupcake fantasy playoff schedule down the road. The mere mention of fantasy playoffs gives your partner the notion that s/he may very well be in the playoff hunt (even if s/he’s 3-5), and in order for that person to flourish in the postseason, they will need your RB3 much more than their WR3 down the stretch. Note: If your trade counterpart lives out of town, then the best you can hope for is to get him/her on the phone (or video conference) so that you can feed off each other’s energy. Instant Message or chat on a computer does NOT allow for this energy exchange, and the walls of communication are still there. The same goes with texting trade offers to your counterpart. It’s much easier to say “no” to an email, text, or instant message as opposed to someone making a hard sell in person or on the phone.

5. ANALYZE WHICH STARTERS ARE ON THEIR LAST LEGS, THEN ACQUIRE BACKUPS – Let’s say you’re thin at RB or QB, and you need a RB3/QB3 to add to your team for depth purposes. It’s not easy to find a starting RB or QB in the free agent pool at this stage, but just because free agents aren’t currently starting, that doesn’t mean they won’t start at some point. Some good portents of lost playing time are: ineffectiveness (20 rushes for 38 yards in a game), a high draft pick waiting in the wings that ownership is calling for more playing for in a lost season (e.g. QB Vince Young), ball security issues (just ask blindsided Steve Slaton owners), truculence in the locker room with teammates and coaching (Larry Johnson), or excessive mileage on the engine (Clinton Portis).

6. ANALYZE WHICH NFL TEAMS HAVE GIVEN UP ON THEIR SEASON, AND ACT ACCORDINGLY – Just because a team is bad, this doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily given up on their season. The Rams and Chiefs might be the two of the worst teams in the NFL, but the cities, fan base, and respective coaching staffs have enough pride and leadership so that they’ll always compete, even in December when they’ve already accumulate double-digit losses. Other inferior teams have already started looking toward next year, and have essentially mailed in the rest of the 2009 season. This year’s candidates to assume this type of mentality include: Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Tennessee (head coach Jeff Fisher probably can’t wait to escape the clutches of meddlesome owner Bud Adams), and possibly Washington. If you own players on these teams, you may want to think twice before starting them (except Chris Johnson) unless the matchup is positively delicious.

7. BUY A LOTTERY TICKET – If you play in a deep 2-QB league where there are ZERO starting QBs available in the free agent pool, sometimes you need to make speculative picks and hope that luck is on your side. Injuries are a part of football, and the right injury at the right time can benefit your team tremendously. A “lottery ticket” is essentially a free agent pickup of a backup on a high-powered offense who would see a tremendous boost in value and production if the starter playing ahead of him were to suffer a significant injury. My most famous lottery ticket acquisition occurred when I used a 11th round pick on Larry Johnson in my 2005 draft. When then-starting RB Priest Holmes got hurt, paving the way for the era of LJ’s dominance, my team went from mere contender to the front-runner to win the league (I lost my fantasy Super Bowl that year). Some lottery tickets in this 2009 season include: Arizona QB Matt Leinart (how much more pounding can Kurt Warner’s body take?), Houston QB Rex Grossman (Schaub has carried the ‘injury-prone’ label his entire career), and Minnesota RB Chester Taylor (still plenty of tread on his tires, and the Vikings have an awesome offensive line coupled with a balanced offensive attack which keeps defenses honest), to name a few. If you’re choosing between your WR6 who almost never cracks your starting lineup, or a player who could have an instant impact on your ability to score more points, then this should seem like a no-brainer.

8. TIME TO GET CUTTHROAT – Look at next week’s opponent’s starting lineup. Do they have holes in their lineup? Do they not have a starting QB this week? If this is the case, be proactive and pluck whoever your opponent needs out of the free agent pool to field a complete and competitive team. Don’t be afraid to use your waiver pick if you’re in a must-win situation. There aren’t as many can’t-miss free agents to grab as opposed to earlier in the year, when it was more judicious to hang onto a high waiver pick. Just last week, I saw my opponent needed a defense to pick up, as his was on bye. I dropped my TE2 and current defense, and picked up Arizona as well as Chicago D only because I knew that those two defenses (playing at home against Carolina and Cleveland, respectively) were the ones my opponent would be targeting for acquisition.

9. BELIEVE (but don’t upset the Fantasy Gods) – Not that I’m suggesting you go out and read “The Secret”, but there is something to be said for the power of positive thinking. The unlikeliest upsets have taken place in this beloved sport, and the beauty of fantasy football is that luck can be the sweetest variable to help an underdog reach the postseason. Just because you’re not in first place now doesn’t mean you can’t leapfrog several teams to get back into playoff contention. Now, there is a difference between believing in your fantasy squad, and mocking the shortcomings of other people’s teams. While I lack sufficient data to support this, experience has suggested that the Fantasy Gods (yes, they exist – you’ll just have to trust me) only seem to listen when you arrogantly disparage your opponent’s team. Long story short: Keep it classy when you lose, and stay magnanimous when you win. Your defeated opponent is dejected enough about losing without you rubbing it in his/her face.