How to Win One Game in Fantasy Football

Published on 11/20/14 
By Brian Umbaugh

Fantasy Football owners are an insecure bunch. The hubris of triumphant 8-2 owners is only for show, as they pepper fantasy experts with questions about rostering for the upcoming playoffs. The downtrodden 2-8 owners doubt their very fantasy existence like Socrates, wondering whether knowledge is at all possible. The worst, however, are the 5-6 owners that need to win the next 2 games to get that last playoff spot.

These people wake up at 3 a.m. on Sunday in a panic because they had a dream about oversleeping and didn’t set their rosters. They will get up at that point to set them, then set the alarm for 30 minutes before kickoff for another round of lineup tinkering. They are restrained by the rankings and captive to the calculations. The halls of Twitter ring out with regret as despondent owners cry “That’s the last time I start Matt Asiata!”

The fact remains — you’re 5-6 and you need to win THIS game. Playoffs don’t matter if you don’t get in. Trading deadline is over, the waiver wire is a wasteland. You have to figure out a way to will your team to victory one time.  Best of luck to you this week, and may the Fantasy Gods grant you success.

Step 1 — Check for Injuries

Philip Rivers is probable this week. Probable means 75% chance of playing, but as NFL play0ffs approach, anyone who is probable is playing and you can start them normally. Ronnie Hillman is doubtful. Doubtful means 25% chance of playing. Even if they play, chances are they can’t help you.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City ChiefsPlayers like Marshawn Lynch are questionable.  These are your tough calls, and you have to pay attention during the week.  Look for 2 things — did their status improve during the week, and did they practice on Friday. If the answer to both are ‘yes’, start as normal. If only one is ‘yes’, check the inactives on Sunday morning and make sure your guy isn’t on the list.  If he’s active, start him with a fair degree of confidence. Practicing Friday is the best sign. If both are ‘no’, move on.

Step 2 — Player Performance

This is where owners become slaves to stats. Yes, it is swell that your QB has averaged 19 points per week, as Matt Ryan has in my league scoring. However, remember that 36 point week he had in Week 1? How has he done since then? Tom Brady is another case.  He’s averaging “only” 23 points per week, but he’s on a tear these days.

What you can do to avoid overestimating either side is to meet in the middle.  Take the season points per game of your player and average it with their current performance.  I use a 6 week truncated mean method, where I remove the best and worst performance from that player’s past 6 weeks and average the other 4 weeks.

For example, let’s use Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, two QB’s who have similar season averages, at 23.0 and 22.4, respectively:

Brady = 6 Week Truncated Mean (24 + 38 + 28 + 44 + 35 + 18)/4 , which totals 125/4, or 31.3.

Wilson = 6 Week Truncated Mean (1040 + 14 + 10 + 18 + 26)/4, which totals 68/4, or 17.

Brady’s raw projection would be (23.0 + 31.3)/2, or 27.2.

Wilson’s raw projection would be (22.4 + 17)/2, or 19.7.

Eww, math.  What’s the point of learning all that stuff if you can’t apply it to your fantasy football team?  This makes your decision a whole lot easier, but it is a raw projection. You need to adjust your thinking based on other relevant factors.

Step 3 — Understand Your Opponent

Are you playing against the lame duck of your league, or are you blessed enough to be playing against the first seed? If you’re playing the lame duck, you may want to start the floor models, guys like Justin Forsett or Mike Wallace. They might not blow you away, but they won’t hang a zero for you either.  If everyone does their part against an inferior opponent, you should win.

If you’re playing a superior opponent, you may need to turbo-charge the lineup. If everyone gets their projected points, you’ll still lose. You need guys that have a better chance of being studs, at the risk of flaming out. Who cares if you lose by 60 or by 6? Lose this game and you’re done. Start guys like C.J. Anderson and Allen Hurns, and hope that the RedZone Channel mentions their names a lot.

Don’t get cute, of course. If you have big-time names, start them. This is only if you’re choosing between flash or substance.

Step 4 — Matchups Can Make a Difference

You must understand, though, that it doesn’t trump skill.  I would start Rodgers against Miami before I started Orton against the Jets.  Again, don’t get too cute.  For players of similar skill and output, starting the RB facing a bottom 5 rushing defense may net a few extra points.  Here are the current NFL Team Stat Leaders.

Step 5 — Check the Betting Lines

The oddsmakers know more than you about the games this week, so use their knowledge to help you. Check the over/under on the games to see which ones may be high scoring and favor some of those players. Can’t decide whether to go with Russell Wilson or Tony Romo? Perhaps you’ll favor Romo a bit because Dallas may score a bit more this week than Seattle.

Step 6 — Environment

Environment in this case consists of three factors: stadium, weather, and time.  There are very few stadiums that seriously affect opposing offenses.  Places like Seattle, Green Bay, and Kansas City.  Include Baltimore, where the fans and the defense are in sync, and Denver, with the altitude.  If offenses have trouble, you may not get the points you need from your players.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Philadelphia EaglesAfter what happened in Buffalo this week, tell me you would want to play football there this weekend. It will be cold in Minnesota and Chicago. Tennessee and Dallas may have trouble in Philadelphia and New York, respectively. New England is always fun for opponents. Check weather reports for Sunday; if your guys are in those places this weekend and the weather doesn’t cooperate, expect a bit more rushing and a bit less passing.

The last bit has to do with time. It’s not exact science, but when is human nature ever an exact science? Big players put up their biggest numbers in the big games. We’re talking Prime Time — Thursday Night, Sunday Night, and, of course, Monday Night Football. Don’t put too much weight on this, but if you’re choosing between two similar players and one’s playing in prime time, I would lean that direction.