StrategySeptember 29, 2004


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Fighting Chance

By Jay Finnigan

Let’s face it. Success in fantasy football is an elusive science. Part informed decision-making and part luck, it can sometimes make you wonder why you bother to care at all, especially as your QB takes a knee in the last minute of the fourth quarter and drops his rushing total from eleven to nine. All you can do is watch while your ‘live’ head-to-head fantasy game recalculates online from a tie … to a loss. But hey, stuff happens.

The bottom line is that there is very little we can control. Can’t do anything about injuries. Not much you can do if your RB gets busted for using an ‘illegal substance.’ And if the defenses around the league have figured out your top QB’s offensive coordinator, pretty much all you can do is suck it up and make a sacrificial trade that you know is going to cost you.

There is, however, one constant we do have on our side, and that’s information. From the chaos of the NFL emerge the statistical truths told each week on the gridiron that not only reveal who’s hot and who’s not, but more importantly, who’s stable and who’s inconsistent. As fantasy football team owners, it is our responsibility to make the most of this information, particularly when it is shared with each and every team against whom we compete. This leads us to the question, what exactly do we do with all this data?

Category Management is defined as the ‘operation or management of product categories as separate strategic business units.’ This practice empowers the category manager to accurately judge patterns, performance and trends for each category. In this practice, the individual brand is not king, the brands together are a kingdom.

In most fantasy football leagues, regardless of scoring guidelines, teams are generally expected to start a lineup consisting of six categories in which to compete: QB, RB, WR, TE, K, D/ST and sometimes a seventh Flex position. Now unless you’re in a league with nine or eleven people you found beneath a rock, you probably had to watch as other equally informed owners drafted the likes of Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper or Tony Gonzalez before you were able to. These perennial category leaders are the prized gems of rosters everywhere and will surely serve their teams well over the course of the season. However, owning the most successful statistical players does not necessarily equal a championship.

In my twelve-team money league’s Super Bowl last year, the team that won did not have a single player who was ranked #1 statistically at his position. In fact, his QB, Tom Brady, was ranked 12th, while his RBs were ranked 10th (Edgerrin James) and 14th (Dominick Davis). Granted, he had the third best receiver in offensive rookie of the year Anquan Boldin, who played alongside eighth ranked Keenan McCardell, but Itula Mili, his TE, was sixth best at his position and his Carolina defense was only 11th. For the record, his kicker, Matt Stover, was third.

This year, our second highest scoring team thus far boasts only one player ranked first at his position, John Carney, the kicker for New Orleans. Her remaining starters break down as follows: QB (3rd), RB1 (6th), RB2 (20th), WR1 (7th), WR2 (24th), TE (4th) and D/ST(6th).

When applying the principles of category management to your fantasy football roster, the goal should be to establish point productivity in each category every week. Sure it’s easy to manage a position when you have a statistical giant like a Randy Moss or a Daunte Culpepper, but if you don’t have that luxury, you must look in other places for team balance. For example, you might not be looking forward to the day when you have to start Rich Gannon against Donovan McNabb, but hopefully you’re able to counterbalance that head-to-head action with a productive duo of RBs or WRs, or perhaps even with the triple threat of the top scoring TE, kicker and defense/special team. Generally, where one team may dominate a category, it is likely they will struggle in another.

In order to find the key players that will help bring balance and productivity to your roster, it is imperative that you follow not only the news, stats and injury reports from week to week, but also the rosters of the teams in your league. If you have a surplus of value at a certain position, it is a pretty good bet that there’s a team out there looking to add that same value to their roster. Knowing players’ values not only on your team but also on your opponents’ will help you find beneficial trade opportunities to fix whatever holes you may have in other position categories.

But sometimes regardless of how much analysis and effort we put into managing our rosters, the forces of fantasy seem to work against us. Two teams in my league are tied for seventh in scoring. One team is 2-1, the other 0-3. They are also in the same conference and opened the season playing the same teams. So then what is the difference between the two? Luck. Chance. Fate. The difference lies in the X-factor, Points Against. The first team is ranked fourth, the second team is tenth in that category. It seems all we can do is prepare as best we can and let the chips (or points against) fall where they may. And maybe one Monday night you too will experience a late game kneel that will make all of this, just for a moment, seem very very silly.

But just for a moment.

 
In his next article, Jay Finnigan examines a concept he calls The Midas Touch. Which players have it? Stay tuned!

How do you manage your team? Do you look for balance, or rely on the top players at key positions?

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