In Week 17, the fantasy leader board is probably going to look a lot like your bulk email folder:
Except if those were spam names, capitalization would be randomized and everyone would have a middle initial. But the names themselves are going to seem unfamiliar and fictional. This is really a terrible week to settle your fantasy championship.
Take a look at the current NFL playoff scenarios. Only three of the league's top 20 offenses – New Orleans, Minnesota and Washington – will play meaningful games in Week 17. Aside from a small number of players (mostly Patriots) with personal and/or team goals ahead of them, the usual fantasy scoring leaders will have little obvious incentive to take the field.
Thus, Clifton Dawson and Ahmad Bradshaw become persons of interest.
There's normally an underlying methodology to my player rankings, but not so much this week. In Week 17, it's mostly guesswork. When you peel away the top layer of NFL depth charts, it's not so easy to say anything with confidence about matchups.
You also can't rely on whatever it is that NFL head coaches happen to say regarding playing time. Coaches are not to be trusted. They gain no advantage by being honest and forthcoming with the media; in fact, they have plenty of solid tactical reasons to be dishonest and vague. You're better off ignoring them.
The most useful advice that the fantasy expert community can give you right now is this: next year, move your league championship to Week 16. Your league's winner shouldn't be the guy who saved his waiver priority for Jim Sorgi.
This is likely to be the last football column of the season, so I'm not going to devote it to Week 17 ranks. Those will be out tomorrow, and they're almost certainly going to be more flawed than usual. Instead, today we'll recap the fantasy leagues that we've discussed at various points this season.
Yeah, I realize that most of you would rather listen to Tony Siragusa read an epic poem in a dead language than hear about someone else's fantasy team. And I'm totally with you, which is why most of these leagues were discussed during draft season – back in August and September – and then never again.
Until today, that is. In this particular recap, we'll try to focus on elements of strategy that can be carried into next season…
The Tank Johnson Desert Classic
This league ended with an all-Kissing Suzy Kolber final. Not surprising, really, since five of the participants were KSK bloggers. It also turns out they all know a little something about the NFL. You should read them.
The league's top two playoff seeds, Unsilent Majority and Big Daddy Drew, met for the championship. Unsilent had a commanding 84-60 lead entering the Monday night game, and Brandon Marshall did just enough to enable him to edge Drew's squad, 91-86. Nate Kaeding and the Chargers defense led a furious, failed comeback attempt on Drew's behalf.
If you want to single out a player on either side whose contribution made the difference in the title game, it was Unsilent's Andre Johnson. With 1:07 remaining in a game that the Texans trailed 38-7, Johnson caught a 6-yard touchdown. That useless TD probably decided a few thousand fantasy championships.
Unsilent and Drew basically schooled the league this season. A quick look at their Week 16 starting rosters should tell you just how incredibly well they both drafted, traded and played the waiver wire:
QB Tom Brady (Drafted in Round 3)
WR Andre Johnson (Round 4)
WR Brandon Marshall (Sept 12 waiver add)
RB Joseph Addai (Round 1)
RB Ryan Grant (Oct 31 waiver add)
TE Owen Daniels (Dec 13 free agent add)
W/R Calvin Johnson (Round 6)
K Kris Brown (Dec 20 FA add)
DEF New York (Oct 10 waiver add)
Big Daddy Drew QB Tony Romo (Round 5)
WR Terrell Owens (Round 3)
WR Greg Jennings (Round 9)
RB Steven Jackson (Acquired via Sept 30 trade)
RB Kolby Smith (Nov 21 FA add)
TE Anthony Becht (Dec 20 FA add)
W/R Chad Johnson (Round 2)
K Nate Kaeding (Dec 20 FA add)
DEF San Diego (Oct 26 FA add)
If you're going to win a competitive league, a great draft isn't nearly enough. Unsilent obviously drafted well – Joseph Addai, Travis Henry, Tom Brady and Andre Johnson were his top four picks – but he also scored Grant and Marshall from waivers.
If you managed a team that well in an active league, you've earned your virtual trophy.
The How to Lose a League
The point of this league was to draft the Chicago defense with their average Yahoo! draft position – at the time, it was 46th overall – and play out a full season. My first and second round picks were Laurence Maroney and Rudi Johnson, so you can imagine how well this experiment went. The Fantasy Cafe posters mauled me. The league was really lost before the Bears defense entered the discussion. An uncharacteristically useful performance by Chicago last weekend (25 points) prettied up an otherwise atrocious fantasy season.
League champion SteelerFan513 entered the playoffs as the fourth seed and basically rode Steven Jackson to the title. Jackson totaled 38 fantasy points in Weeks 15 and 16; that's the second straight year he's been a force in the fantasy season's most important weeks. Steeler Fan relied on the free agent pool for defenses throughout the season, settling on Tampa Bay in Weeks 14-16. By his tally, Steeler Fan's team defense totaled 170 points for the year. That's 17 points behind the Chargers league-leading total, but the Vikings and Patriots were the only other teams to top 170.
Considering his Yahoo! user-name, it was particularly impressive that Steeler Fan avoided Pittsburgh. The Steelers were the top defense in the NFL in terms of yards-per-game allowed (261.9), but they were not especially useful in fantasy leagues (136 points). It's turnovers and touchdowns that tend to drive defensive fantasy scoring. Which, of course, is why the Bears were so tempting.
Thanks to all the Cafe folks who participated. Let's do this again.
Matt may have actually won this league at 12:29 a.m. ET on Sunday when he added the Tennessee defense and dropped Baltimore. The Titans held the Jets to six points in Week 16, sacked Chad Pennington six times and intercepted him twice. The Ravens, of course, were torched by Seattle, 27-6. Further evidence that your defense's matchup is a rather big deal. I started Tampa Bay at San Francisco, which seemed like a nice idea at the time.
Derek Anderson was supposed to carry me to a title in this league, but he was picked four times in Week 16 by an inexplicably lively Bengals defense. Kenton Keith was supposed to help, too, but Clifton Dawson ended up getting all the fourth quarter carries for the Colts. Just when you think you know something about how players will be deployed in meaningless games, a coach digs further down the depth chart than you ever thought possible.
All those auto-drafted teams
You might recall this feature, which focused on how to best rank players if you absolutely have to auto-pick in a live draft league. The three teams I drafted using pre-draft rankings and auto-pick logic went 31-10-1, and all three made the playoffs. We'll repeat this experiment for baseball, since A) it went spectacularly well and B) the cost of auto-picking doesn't actually seem so steep in a baseball league. If you auto-pick in a public football league, you'll only take two running backs in the first nine rounds. That's not an easy thing to overcome, so you need to be careful and smart about how you arrange your player rankings.
Or better yet, don't auto-pick.
The Larry Johnson league
After weeks of getting the eighth or ninth pick in drafts, I traded up to take LJ. This team finished 10-3, atop the regular season standings, and was second in total points. Through 13 weeks, it was a staggering success. And then my team lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the eighth seed – a seed that shouldn't even exist. So we will speak no more of this league.
We should, however, say something about LJ. The original point of this article was to say that if Johnson declined significantly – if he lost half-a-yard per carry, 50 rush attempts, and half his touchdowns – he would still be an excellent fantasy running back. There actually seems to be a division among fantasy experts as to whether LJ was a predictable disappointment or someone who met expectations and happened to get injured.
Those who think he was a disappointment generally cite his 3.5 yards per carry in 2007. That's not actually a fantasy stat, though. If a player gets a bunch of carries – particularly goal line carries – they can certainly overcome a sub-4.0. Rudi Johnson did it in 2006.
The essential LJ facts are these: he rushed for over 100 yards in the two games prior to his season-ending injury, he scored two touchdowns on the day he was hurt, and the best portion of his schedule was clearly ahead of him (two games against Denver, one each against Oakland, Detroit and the Jets). The injury he suffered was just clearly not a result of his 2006 workload; he was tackled by A.J. Hawk, a great linebacker who took a good angle and happened to bring all of his weight down on LJ's ankle.
Brad Evans pegs Johnson's 2008 fantasy value dead-on in this column. It seems clear that LJ's injury isn't career-altering. He really shouldn't fall too far in fantasy drafts, but he probably will.
That quirky custom PPR/IDP/return yardage league
In private leagues with custom settings (like this one), I tend to do especially well. As a general rule, 75 percent of the owners in leagues with odd scoring systems will fail to realize that default player ranks don't apply.
In fact, depending on the league settings, using default player ranks can assure that you'll draft a team that can't compete. My team finished second in the regular season standings in this league, and won the championship 157-149, edging an opponent who started both Brandon Jacobs and Aaron Stecker in Week 16. No small feat, that.
That New Orleans keeper league draft
There's just no way anyone has read 1800 words into a first-person review of some fantasy geek's portfolio, so this is probably a safe place to bury this dog of a team. Not only was my squad burdened with Cedric Benson for the first eight weeks of the season – until I traded him for Larry Johnson, who immediately broke his foot – my team was also ridiculously unlucky.
How unlucky? After 10 weeks my team was 3-7-0, but it had outscored the squad with the league's best record by 40 points. I've seen luck like that before in fantasy leagues, but had never actually suffered from it.
Those things happen, though. Once it became clear that the season was a lost cause, I traded expensive non-keepers for better 2008 draft position. This is really the best thing about fantasy leagues, and maybe sports in general – no matter how unimaginably bleak and cruel this season has been, there's always next year.
For a few of you, there's also a Week 17. Enjoy your Dawsons and Sorgis.