Farewell to fantasy football

One of the first nonfiction books that I ever read was Farewell to Football by Jerry Kramer, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers. When the book was published, I was 14 years old and already a huge fan of professional football. I’ve been an NFL fan for more than five decades, but I’ve concluded that I’m not as big of a fan of the fantasy version.

The main problem with fantasy football is that there is way too much luck involved. Consider the case of Alpha Dog, which is the name of my fantasy team in one of the private leagues I play in. Alpha Dog scored the most fantasy points of any team in its league across the 14-week regular season. Yahoo had Alpha Dog as a 17-point favorite in the first round of the playoffs.

Alpha Dog lost its first-round playoff matchup by 40 points. The team, which had averaged 111.29 points per game during the regular season, scored 80 – the lowest number of points it had scored in the season. Injuries weren’t the problem. The only injured player on my roster was Jeff Wilson, and he was on my bench. The problem was that Lady Luck abandoned me.

“It’s better to be lucky than good,” quipped an opponent of mine in doubles tennis several years ago. His shot had hit the top of the net and fell over, and there was no way to hit a return. A fraction of an inch lower and the tennis ball would have wound up on his side of the net. I’ve heard that expression many times since then in various situations. But is it really true?

I guess “Better to be lucky than good means that to be gifted with good fortune is better than being simply good at something. I searched the internet for the origin of this expression, and the search led me to the story of Lamar Gillett. Gillett, the only P-35 pilot in World War II to shoot down a Japanese Zero fighter, said it was luck, not skill, that allowed him to succeed.

Perhaps, what Mr. Gillett meant to say something like this: “Skill alone would not have enabled me to shoot down that Zero. I needed some luck.” That makes more sense to me since the idea of relying on luck instead of skill seems foolish. I would much rather work to develop my skill at something (e.g. fantasy sports) than to hope that luck will carry me to the winner’s circle.

Anyone involved in medical research knows that statistically, small sample sizes are not as convincing as larger sample sizes in proving or disproving a theory. For instance, a drug study showing a certain “desired” result (e.g. the treatment group had lower cholesterol than the placebo group), is more reliable with a larger sample size. This is common sense, right?

If I flip a coin twice, and it comes up heads both times, can I conclude that the probability of heads is 100 percent? Of course, not. Since Zay Jones scored 31.9 points on Sunday, can I conclude that he’s a much better fantasy wide receiver than Amon-Ra St. Brown? You were wondering how I was going to bring this discussion back to fantasy sports, weren’t you?

St. Brown, my WR1, scored 11.7 points in my half-point PPR league on Sunday, which 20 points less than Jones, my opponent’s WR1. But 18 of those points were a result of three touchdown receptions. St. Brown had seven receptions for 76 yards and no TDs. Jones had six receptions for 109 yards. When you’re wideout catches three TD passes, you’re lucky.

One of the reasons I prefer fantasy baseball to fantasy football is that there are 162 games in a regular season, compared to 18 in an NFL regular season. But remember that when you reach the playoffs, it’s just one game to determine if you will advance to the next round in fantasy football. If I played the same opponent nine more times, I’d probably beat him seven times. So what?

Another problem with fantasy football is that there are far less fantasy-relevant plays in the mix each game than in fantasy baseball. If you have ever prepared for a fantasy baseball draft, you know that you must familiarize yourself with at least 250 players in a shallow league. But if you are preparing to draft in a deep league (15 teams, or more), you must look at twice that many.  

People might argue that fantasy sports are just supposed to be there for fun, and I agree, to a certain extent. After all, almost everyone I know who plays fantasy sports has a day job that pays the bills. But the people that I know who play fantasy sports are competitive (like me). They are not only willing to spend the hours of research, they actually enjoy those hours of research.

As a fantasy managers, do you want to open the draft window and make your selections without any preparation. Do you want to click on the auto-draft setting and sit back? Where is the fun in that? The fun for me in playing fantasy sports is pitting my knowledge against my opponents. That knowledge comes from research. In my case, it’s probably hundreds of hours.

When you have 10 teams or less in a league, the research is helpful but not essential. The reason is that there are enough good players at every position to draft a good lineup. Twelve teams, and each manager still has a good lineup. More than that? Now it’s getting real. When I drafted for the first team in a 15-team league last March, my roster made me sick to my stomach. 

I wrote at length about my TGFBI draft last year, so I don’t want to repeat myself unnecessarily.  By the time the sixth round rolled around, all the stars were gone. But there were 25 more rounds to go. When the draft was over, each manager in my 15-team league had picked 30 players. There were players with an ADP as high as 600 being drafted on some of the teams.

As the later rounds rolled around, I was going nuts. The players that I had identified as targets for the late rounds were all gone. I was literally doing research on the fly, between draft picks. I would add names to my draft board and then cross them off. With the 13th draft pick, sometimes there were 20 picks between my turns, due to snaking. At other times, there were only four.

I have enjoyed playing in smaller leagues where I don’t have to think, but deep down, I just love deep leagues. I can hear the Adele song playing in my head as I write this. “Rolling in the deep. Tears are going to fall. Rolling in the deep.” I may lose my mind in March when I’m drafting my TGFBI team, but I won’t be relying on luck to draft a good team, or have a good season.

It’s time to bid farewell to fantasy football in 2022. I still have a public league team that’s alive and playing in the semifinals, but I’m not going to invest much time in that. There are five hundred player profiles to be compiled as part of my research for the 2023 fantasy baseball season. I will be sharing a great deal of this information with you readers. See you next year.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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