The Beauty (and Ugliness) of Fantasy Football
"My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you're ugly too.” – Rodney Dangerfield
The Beauty (and Ugliness) of Fantasy Football
In the summer of 2015, I wrote a blog giving the top ten reasons why people should play fantasy football (see link below):
The number one reason I gave people to play fantasy football was because it was fun. And believe me it is, however, that was before I missed the playoffs for the fifth time in my main 14-man league (I played in six different leagues last season but my main focus was on this particular league as it is for all the league members in it). I missed the playoffs by a game. It was disappointing and frustrating. Not only that but I also became the butt of jokes for league members because no matter how much knowledge I have about fantasy sports, or how much I claimed to know about football (not as much as basketball or baseball admittedly), my fantasy football performance has been poor in this league. Granted, I’ve won a championship before with my friend Elias as we co-partnered in a 12-man league that featured linebacker scoring of all things. I will admit though, he was the driver and I was just the co-pilot who’s main purpose was to be the voice of reason during “tough decisions” but above that, my job was to stay out of his way.
You see when we first created our fantasy football league six years ago; I had just begun to watch football on a regular basis. Yes, I grew up a Giants fan; however, I wouldn’t have called myself a true die-hard fan because I wasn’t watching every single game they played, nor did I follow the NFL as much as I did the NBA or MLB. That changed the moment we started our fantasy football league which consisted of mainly guys I grew up with. While many of them were big NFL fans, the majority didn’t have any fantasy sports experience but a few did, myself included (with fantasy baseball and basketball). But I think it’s fair to say that fantasy football is a different animal than any other sport and I don’t use the term ‘animal’ loosely when I say that.
In fantasy sports, if you aren’t as knowledgeable as your friends (ahem, competitors), you’ll look for ways to gain an edge. For me, it was my prior experience playing fantasy baseball or basketball, my general sports knowledge but the biggest edge I had was ROTOWORLD.com; the best website for any fantasy sports related news. But that edge was gone the moment I opened my mouth about the website to Elias and others. Rookie maneuver, I know. The first season of our league was just a 10-man league with standard scoring and has evolved into a 14-man standard scoring with half-point PPR (points per reception) league. Every fantasy player (and league) is different. Some of us follow Rotoworld.com (or ESPN/Yahoo) heavily; others don’t even bother. Some of us will watch all the football games and pay the extra money for the Red Zone channel; while others will just their favorite teams on TV (or not watch at all). Some of us are super active in making deals, making pickups, digging for information while others are less active, at times forgetful. With all that being said, there was one thing that caught my attention (besides the fact that I was missing the playoffs and finishing under .500 every year) and it was the fact that every season there had been a different league champion despite the variety of knowledge, activity, and experience amongst the group. There was no fantasy player superior to any other, no matter how much knowledge or experience, no matter how much football they watched, and no matter how active they were or not. To me, there was no exact science to being a great fantasy football player. In fact, I dare to say that fantasy is more luck (both good and bad) than it is about skill and I brought this to the attention of my league members.
Our league has a group chat with most of the league members where we banter about fantasy football topics (or life in general) and one day I decided to bring up the fact that I believed that fantasy football is mostly based on luck than it is about skill. It was received with a mixed reaction. Many pointed out that I was only saying that as an excuse for my poor records and fantasy performances. Elias, for example, said that fantasy is mostly based on skills and said if anything, it was 80% skills and 20% luck. I argued the percentage is way too high for skills when a lot of fantasy football is based on randomness (which I categorize under ‘luck’ portion) because we can’t control the unpredictability of player performances but also the randomness of our opponents. In fact, I cited Elias previous two seasons as perfect examples to back up my claim. In the 2014 season, he finished first in scoring in our league and missed the playoffs. Poor luck and the randomness of his opponents having their best weeks against him despite him consistently putting great scoring outputs weekly. In the 2015 season, it looked like he had drafted three potential RB1s (top ranked running backs) but all three of them got injured and were out for rest of the season. I don’t know about you but that seems like poor luck and something is unpredictable, thus random, am I right? There’s no way to predict injuries and if you could, I wouldn’t think you had great fantasy skills; I would think you are a psychic. So to compromise, I settled on this breakdown. Fantasy football is 60% skills and 40% luck.
Waivers/Free Agent Pickups
Randomness of opponents scoring output
Player health and injuries
General Good or Bad Luck
I’m giving credit to those who are skillful but wouldn’t allow myself to discount how big of a factor luck/randomness is in fantasy football. In some cases, someone can be great at the 60% skills portion by drafting great players, making savvy pickups, and making great line up decisions but just have poor luck and lose matchups and thus not be great at fantasy football because it doesn’t matter if you have great players if they get hurt or don’t happen to produce a great amount in certain weeks. I’ve learned over the years that fantasy football is a fickle game and anything can happen. And my 2016 fantasy football was a perfect example of this.
I entered the 2016 fantasy football season with a determination to finally the playoffs. Not only that but I wanted to win it all and it wasn’t to prove I’m the best but to prove my theory about the skills/luck factor to be accurate. I did my research, some mock drafts, but the most important thing I thing was change my mindset about fantasy football. I promised myself that I wouldn’t get frustrated by outcomes (because again I believe we can’t control them) and just do my best to have fun playing the game (this is the key). My team name for this season was “Macho King” Ronnie Savage, named after one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time. And it became a fitting moniker when I decided that’ll actually act like a savage, a term used today by kids to describe someone who has the balls to say or do things without a care of what people say or think about them, which for the most part I already was, but I went the extra mile this time especially for my weekly opponents. I would post silly pictures of my opponents in the chatroom, make jokes about them or their teams, and it wasn’t even to gain an advantage mentally because it’s not like we’re playing on the football field itself. I did it all because it was funny and I had fun with it. None of it was done with any hate or animosity towards anyone but I can only speak for myself. But despite my savagery act and claim to have more fun playing fantasy football this year, I began the season 0-3 and reality set in; I am about to miss the playoffs once again!
First thing I did was laugh at myself because quite frankly, I was there poking fun at everyone yet I’m the one with no victories but secondly, I told myself to not get frustrated because again, it was out of my hands. I felt good about the team I drafted and in no way, shape, or form did I believe the players on my team sucked. However, I lost for a variety of reasons; some of it was poor lineup decisions, a few of my players got hurt, or the week I did put up a great scoring effort, I still lost because my opponent had an even greater week than me. No matter the reason, the fact was I was 0-3 with some key players hurting and some key players with bye weeks approaching which made me feel like I could easily end up 0-5 or 0-6 if I don’t make some changes. So I began to get extra active (and creative) in trade talks despite my usual promise to wait until mid-season before getting serious about making any trades (I break this promise every year). I didn’t want to miss the playoffs again and I needed to find way to improve my team and fast.
This is the team I started on Week 3 (after which I finished the week 0-3):
QB: Ryan Tannehill (streamed)
RB: Lamar Miller
RB: Charles Sims
WR: Allen Robinson
WR: Stefon Diggs
TE: Dennis Pitta
FLEX: Cole Beasley
DEF/ST: Dolphins (streamed)
K: Matt Bryant
RB: Jonathan Stewart (hurt)
RB: Rashad Jennings (hurt)
TE: Tyler Eifert (hurt)
QB: Tyrod Taylor (didn’t trust)
RB: Deandre Washington
RB: Orleans Darkwa
IR: Donte Moncrief (hurt!)
And here are the four trades I made with to improve my team with a little insight as to why I made these trades:
Trade #1: Tyler Eifert and Rashad Jennings for Jeremy Maclin and Duke Johnson
- Initially, I was trying to acquire Jameis Winston to pair with Taylor who I liked but didn’t trust. I really liked Eifert but at 0-3, I couldn’t wait for him to return. I thought Maclin would be a solid WR2 while Duke was a decent RB option especially for PPR. The main point was to get healthier bodies, however.
Trade #2: Allen Robinson, Stefon Diggs, and Dennis Pitta for Julian Eldelman, Greg Olsen, and Sammy Watkins.
- I made two trades in a span of one day to overhaul my team. My main purpose on top of getting healthier was to acquire players with higher floors as well as players with later bye weeks. Robinson was my top pick coming off a huge Week 3 but he had a bye week coming up and I couldn’t afford another loss at this point. The original offered didn’t include Diggs/Watkins, it was a straight two for two which was rejected and I was told to include Lamar Miller in exchange for Frank Gore. I considered Miller an RB1 and felt that despite the fact I would get other upgrades in the deal that it wasn’t worth the price. However, I really wanted Edelman and Olsen. I considered Edelman a great buy low as he was struggling without Tom Brady but Brady was close to returning to suspension. And Olsen was a top-five tight end option every week. Diggs was someone I believe had low-end WR1 potential but I knew he was an attractive piece and I knew the person I spoke with regretted drafting Watkins. So I included Diggs in the deal and the next day the offer was accepted. (Note: Before the trade was processed, Watkins was placed on IR and I still went ahead with the deal. I knew the risk with Watkins but the deal was more Edelman/Olsen than it was about him. And since I was 0-3, I dropped Watkins because I couldn’t afford to stash both him and Moncrief on my bench (or IR) as I needed as many options as possible.
Trade #3: Jeremy Maclin and Duke Johnson for Emmanuel Sanders and Gary Barnidge.
- Other pieces were included (Orleans Darkwa and Josh Gordon) but this was basically a two for two. My opponent had many RB injuries and needed an RB2 badly and we made this trade prior to our Week 5 matchup. Not only that but we had made three bets prior to the season: who would have a better record, if I would make the playoffs or not, and who would win our Week 5 matchup. I didn’t care about those factors. I wanted Sanders and didn’t care if I was giving him the RB that he sorely lacked (I never liked Duke anyway). In my opinion, Sanders was a much safer option than Maclin but getting Barnidge gave me an extra asset to acquire a QB which I wanted (again, I didn’t trust Tyrod).
Trade #4: Gary Barnidge and Cole Beasley for Kirk Cousins and Sammie Coates.
- I took heat for this trade because I already had Tyrod Taylor who was solid to start the season, however, I loved Cousins’ potential prior to the season but that’s the main reason why I get for this deal. The heat came from agreeing to a deal involving Coates (who was on waivers and not yet on my trade partner’s roster). I wanted to use my waiver on a running back and I had the idea in mind to ask for a WR through waiver but my trade partner beat me to the punch but suggested it himself. The issue to certain league members was that I was manipulating the waivers somehow, however, it wasn’t like I was guaranteed to get Coates through him if someone else ahead of him on waivers would’ve claimed him instead but they didn’t. And if he didn’t get Coates, I would’ve done a straight deal (Cousins for Barnidge). He liked Beasley but with Dez Bryant returning, I felt like Coates had more upside. Beasley ended up having a better season but Coates almost single handedly won my Week 5 matchup (and bet).
After these four trades were made, this is how my roster shaped up heading into Week 5 matchup:
QB: Derek Anderson (Cam was out; I actually started him this week and won)
RB: Lamar Miller
RB: Deandre Washington
WR: Julian Edelman
WR: Emmanuel Sanders
TE: Greg Olsen
FLEX: Sammie Coates
K: Caleb Sturgis
RB: Jonathan Stewart (still hurt)
RB: Bobby Rainey (the top claim that week)
RB: Jalen Richard
QB: Kirk Cousins
QB: Tyrod Taylor
RB: Peyton Barber
IR: Donte Moncrief
I don’t know how much better my team really was overall but at least it was much healthier, consisted with players with higher floors, and more specifically players with later bye weeks which gave me a shot to get back to .500 and a shot at the playoffs. However, I believe the biggest key for me going forward was the fact that I needed to treat every week as a must win matchup. I learned a lesson early on in the season which was to remember that fantasy football is a weekly game. I questioned a league member before Week 1 started about why he benched Cam Newton (after he drafted Cam in the first round) for Matt Ryan and his explanation was “I don’t care that I drafted Cam in the first, Ryan has a better matchup this week” and he was right; he did and he ended up outscoring Cam. Also, I would usually claim players each week based on who I felt had the best perceived value for the season but anymore. At 0-3, I started claiming players based on who could help me in that particular week or to block my upcoming opponent from obtaining a player he plug in due to bye weeks or injuries. I also did the same thing with defenses. I’m a streamer, I never draft defenses early but sometimes I’ll hold on to a defense longer if I felt they had potential to be better as the season rolled on. Not this season. Every week I was streaming the defense I felt had the best match up for that particular week and at times I used my top claim on a defense instead of a skill player because it was what I needed most to help put the best lineup for that week.
One league member called me scared for making so many trades. Sure, I’ve seen others start 0-4 and go on to win a championship, however, I didn’t want to stand pat and for hope for the best (like some others did), I wanted to be proactive (especially considering key players pending bye weeks). Not only that but every trade I made was calculated. It wasn’t like I was making trades for the sake of making trades and acquiring new players. Each player I acquired I liked prior to the season but wasn’t unfortunate enough to draft them. Each trade I made I felt I may have given more value than what I got in return (at the time) but they all came with risks. None of the players I traded were traded because I believe they weren’t any good and league members wouldn’t have made trades for my players if they felt what they were getting back wasn’t any good. But that’s beside the point. Scared wasn’t the word to describe me after Week 3; it was another S word: SAVVY.
There was one instance where this win at all costs mentality drew the ire of league members but it was my fault for opening my mouth. I asked a league member (a co-worker) of mine a hypothetical question one Friday morning; “Hey, if I were drop Hunter Henry, would you put in a claim on him?” His response was “yeah, he would be a better option than Jack Doyle.” And so I went ahead and dropped Henry to pick up a QB to stream (prior to acquiring Cousins). My coworker ended up claiming Henry like he said he wouldn’t. I asked him a hypothetical question and he answered. I didn’t tell him to make the claim, however. And even if I did, why would he listen to me? And would I be helping another league member who’s ahead of me in the standings? I wasn’t trying to. All I was trying to do was make sure my opponent wasn’t going to be able to claim Henry if I dropped him for the QB I wanted. And he didn’t and I won the match up. Did I feel guilty about? For like a second then I realized, there aren’t any rules saying you can’t talk to people during fantasy football season and I never put a gun to anyone’s head. But I digress.
After my fourth trade, I settled down and stopped talking trades seriously. I listened to offers but wasn’t as active. I liked my team and was in “chill mode.” My job every week was streaming my defenses and a new thing I tried this year was to stream kickers by picking up kickers involved in projected high scoring affairs. I also wasn’t afraid to start guys I picked up from waivers based on match-ups either. Previous years, I would hesitate and not bench someone I considered “my starter.” Whatever it was I was doing, it was working. I ended up winning 8 of my last 10 match ups to finish the season 8-5 and finally made the playoffs. The best part about the stretch run was winning so many close victories that came down to Sunday night or Monday night games. It gave me a little anxiety but for the most part, it was just fun to enjoy watching games that had extra meaning to them. That was great but what was more fun was seeing the frustration of other league members when they would lose to me especially my week 12 opponent, the same one who called me scared for making all the trades. Not only did I beat him (thank you Emmanuel Sanders!) but I also eliminated him from the playoffs, winning two bets in the process (winning our matchup and finishing the year with a better record).
While winning bets and seeing my friends frustrated was sweet at times, it was also bittersweet. I play fantasy to have fun and if I make fun or talk trash, it is never done with malice. Some of my friends never got the memo, I guess. It seemed like this season acting like a “savage” may have built some animosity towards me but I couldn’t help it because shit, I was winning and was finally backing it up. In our league, we use the term “magic” for people who are perceived to have more good luck than others. They also didn’t dare to talk as much smack as I did or show any signs of confidence because of fear of giving themselves bad karma. When it comes to fantasy football, I truly believe you can’t control anything except to enjoy watching football and have fun with it. I even laughed when they all said I had “magic” this year which was all fine but I also didn’t like that I wasn’t getting enough credit for the way I played this season. But I told myself, you know what, they’ll have no choice but to respect me and give me my credit when I win the championship…
But I didn’t win the championship this season (shout out to the new champion, Mirsh!). However, I did start 0-3 and ended up in the championship game which would’ve never seemed possible after Week 3. I came in 2nd place and won myself a little profit after league fees. It was disappointing at first but once the disappointment wears off, I was relieved. I finally got the “no playoffs” monkey off my back, for one, but secondly, I couldn’t recall a fantasy season (ever) that I had as much fun as this season; from all the jokes, from all the maneuvering, all the drama in games, and from actually winning some games for once. It was all fun, during wins and losses. I’m not going to say I was okay with losing because no one is a good loser but I will say that I am not a sore loser.
Fantasy football has its pros and cons but if you learn to just enjoy for what it is; a fun game, I believe the better off you’ll be. If you treat it like it’s life or death (and believe me some people do, just go on Twitter to see the hateful stuff people say to players who don’t perform well), then it won’t be any fun for you. I vow next season to be less savagery but I will NEVER stop clowning around and talking smack. I also vow to finally win the championship! Fantasy football is a fitting name because it’s a fun game to escape from reality, to enjoy playing with friends, to enjoy watching football, and to be competitive in a non-physical way. So again, if you’ve never played fantasy football, check out my ten reasons why you should because above all else, it’s fun. When I mention ugliness in title, it’s only about the temporary hatred your friends have towards you from whipping their butts certain weeks but otherwise, fantasy football is a beautiful game. Maybe fantasy football isn’t as beautiful as I described it in the title but it sure is fun. And I mean, having fun brings happiness, and being happy is a form of beauty, no?