The FO crew takes on the top contenders as the playoff field rounds into shape. Plus: the great Drew Brees debate of 2014.
09 Oct 2013
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he would certainly have revised his famous aphorism to the two truly universal constants: NFL injuries and fantasy football score adjustments. The latter has become increasingly rare with the quality and immediacy of electronic play-by-play data from the NFL, but the former still rears its ugly head with depressing regularity. The injury bug again bit Michael Vick (le shocque, I know!) this past week, and I lost one of my games due to his lack of production. This (plus some prompting from my wife) got me thinking: Is there any way we can account for the vagaries of in-game injury? Preferably in a way that means I win, of course.
Tom: Do you have an idea for how this would work beyond team quarterbacks?
Mike: Well ... it would have to be a general roster feature, with the bench actually acting as a bench, rather than just starting options.
Tom: The bones of an idea came to me as you mentioned it, since we now have publicly-available snap count information. Tell me more about your idea.
Mike: My initial thought is that you could just designate replacement players in the event of injury. This would be the simplest solution, since it would just run a switch off the bench. The devil is in the details, however.
Tom: My idea in response to this was, Vick played X of Philadelphia's Y snaps. In that case, you get Vick's points plus [100-(X/Y)]% of designated QB2's points.
Mike: The problem with that formula is that Philadelphia may have run the ball every single time after Vick's injury, which would result in you possibly getting the end of a quarterback in a shootout, thereby gaming the system considerably.
Tom: Yes. There are a number of problems with that simple idea. Note I said you get a percent of your QB2's total points. QB2 may throw two touchdowns in the first quarter and just hand off all day after that. In that case you would still get credit for his two touchdowns, even if they came during the "period" of the game where the starter was still playing. The more complicated issue is (a) with players who return and (b) with players who, unlike quarterbacks, regularly enter and leave the game. And particularly, (c), the combination of those two.
Mike: Right. This exercise escalates rather quickly.
Tom: Suppose on a bye week, like the one we're going through, you're starting a player in a committee backfield like Danny Woodhead.
Mike: The system would have to only kick in when a player is officially listed as Out.
Tom: Unfortunately, a declaration of Out does not appear in the official gamebook. Players for whom there was an injury timeout generally are listed. Vick's game on Sunday does not fall into that category.
Mike: An injury timeout is also useless. But that does add an extra level of difficulty for committeemen.
Tom: It's an easy and official marker of "Player Z is injured."
Mike: Officially, all it means is that he has to sit out a play.
Tom: My head is starting to hurt. I think if there were an easy solution, somebody would have implemented it already.
Mike: Yeah, we dove headfirst into the rabbit hole here. That does bring up the question: How are in-game injury reports handled? As far as I can tell it's just scuttlebutt to the sideline reporter.
Tom: There is an official announcement in the press box. If you were on Twitter, you would see the tweets of beat writers and teams updating a player's injury status during the game.
Mike: True, but that requires reading tweets, which removes a lot of the automation from fantasy football, and automation is what made the game take off.
Tom: Well, the automation part of it is the ease of setting lineups.
Mike: And scoring. You have no idea how annoying fantasy football scoring was before the internet.
Tom: I've kept score for things manually off a newspaper before. I have an idea.
The scoring automation could still by done by the fantasy football provider, assuming they could set up a back-end that accounts for Out designations and player snap percentage calculations.
Mike: I was referring principally to the collection of injury designations, since, as you said, they're not in the play-by-play. And honestly never will be, since they're not officially part of the game
Tom: Right, especially since the injury timeout listing generally just lists a player as "injured during the play" without a designation. Example, from Nick Foles' second play on Sunday: "(1:02) (No Huddle, Shotgun) L.McCoy left guard to PHI 18 for 2 yards (J.Hankins, J.Tuck). NYG-J.Tuck was injured during the play." The other option is, since we have snap data, you get a certain number of snaps, and the production you get is based on those snaps.
Mike: But ... but ... I thought the future was super-fast offenses running a zillion snaps per game!
Tom: This can definitely have really screwy results, since there's a real difference between, say, Vick's 38 snaps in the first half and Geno Smith's 46 in an entire game. If we allocated, say, 70 snaps to QB, you would get all of QB1's Vick's points and 70 percent of QB2 Smith's points. Obvious point 1: what if QB1 plays more than 70 snaps in a game? The Broncos ran 79 snaps, so should you only get 89 percent of Peyton Manning's points? Now we're implicitly favoring players on teams that play with a faster pace.
Mike: I suppose the other method is perhaps knowing who backups are and if they get a bunch of snaps, you know that the starter is therefore injured.
Tom: Easy with most quarterbacks, harder at running back and wide receiver.
Mike: That really leads us to just replacing the player entirely rather than in our preferred piecemeal fashion.
Tom: Right. Going back to the Woodhead example, the Chargers could play Ryan Mathews instead of Woodhead for tactical reasons even though Woodhead just got the wind knocked out of him and is ready to go back in.
Mike: I'm afraid this is an excellent idea with no realistic application.
Tom: Yes. It's too bad, but the very nature of what makes fantasy football so popular (because it's so easy) also makes injuries so devastating and hard to account for. Our only solution is the simple one, a switch to team positions instead of individual players.
Mike: A solution that nobody would find particularly satisfying.
Tom: It would solve this issue, more or less, while also probably making fantasy football less interesting and less fun. I am therefore resigned to its inevitability.
Mike: Now, Tom, I recently took my daughter on her first camping trip
Mike: At no point did I feel compelled to narrate my trip in overly dramatic fashion.
Tom: Obviously, this was only because you did not have the right vehicle.
Mike: Well, yes. It's hard to be dramatic driving a cherry red Honda Fit. I also did not have the good sense to insult my child's pastimes, which seems to be the second lesson from this commercial.
Tom: Ah, well, but if you were going to dramatically narrate your camping trip, how would you have done it? What cherished pastimes did you tear your daughter away from?
A toddler, deprived from re-watching an epsiode of Doc McStuffins for the seventh time.
Mike: Wondering if this forest is where Daniel Tiger lives.
A man. In a sensibly-priced car with excellent gas mileage.
Tom: Traveling the moderately crowded highways of the midwestern United States.
Mike: A Forest. Full of roughly the same amount of trees. Experiencing roughly as much nature as this other man's absurdly large car that gets terrible gas mileage. Because you don't drive trucks through campsites. Morons.
A daughter who learns how fun it is to subsist entirely on hot dogs. But she cannot cook them. She doesn't even know how to start a fire. Seriously, what are we teaching toddlers these days.
Tom: "Don't play with matches?"
Mike: Exactly. How are our children going to grow up into rugged truck-owning mountain men if they don't play with matches? Even the girls will grow to be men, because this truck is just so damn manly. Joking aside, the thing that really pisses me off about this commercial is that it makes the cultural exclusion most truck commercials hint at completely explicit.
Tom: I, of course, favor the more subversive reading. Pickups are primarily purchased by males. I'm not going to source that statement, but I'm comfortable asserting it's true. Modern American Dad feels harassed by life, disconnected from his son, who is constantly playing some weird computer game he doesn't understand and will never be good at. If only he can buy this truck, and use it in a way he'll never actually get to use it, because son has events X and Y on the weekend and daughter has events P and Q, he can put both him and his son in an environment that is the reverse of one of those computer games. One where he knows what's going on, and he can explain to his son how to do well, like that one time he had his son try to explain to him how to play that one game. Only, unlike his son's attempts, which ended in vain, his will take. His son will learn these skills and like them. If only he'll buy this truck, those dreams will come true.
Mike: That seems less "subversive" and more "Dad is kind of an ass."
Tom: That's what the years and years of therapy will be designed to teach the son in a couple decades.
Mike: The real issue is that there is no such exclusion. I adore video games. I play them constantly. In fact, I was playing Rune Factory IV on the train home to write this column tonight. I also adore camping. That trip with my daughter is one of the highlights of our short time together, but even before that, I was a boy scout and spent at least a weekend a month camping. The idea that I like video games and drive a practical automobile shouldn't lead to any inference that I'm some sort morally inferior shut-in. I know it's a silly thing to complain about in the testosterone-soaked world of truck advertising, but it's reached the point where it's not enough to talk about what great big manly men these actors are portraying, but to reach out and start mocking everyone else. Like we're all in middle school again. So shame on you, truck advertisers.
Tom: I think that's something that's gradually changing. As we discussed last week, you are younger than I am. I'm pretty sure I am younger than the sort of buyer Chevrolet is targeting with this pickup truck.
Mike: Start selling your product, instead of a boyhood daydream of a rugged manly lifestyle.
Tom: Chevy runs lots of commercials. They can run some that are about the image of their product rather than the features of the product. In fact, it makes sense for them to do so. Large pickup trucks are lucrative things to sell. Chevrolet doesn't want it to turn into just another large tool without any romance to it.
Mike: First of all, Chevrolet has shown in the past to be the best at selling trucks aspirationally without being overbearing dingbats in the process. That makes this commercial even more depressing. Second, do we really want to get into an in-depth discussion of automobile economics?
Mike & Tom: No, we do not.
Quarterback: Matt Schaub and Jeff Tuel each managed 2 fantasy points thanks to enough turnovers to offset their passing yards.
Running Back: Bilal Powell would like to note his team only ran 46 plays, many of them passes, so his 3 points did not represent a terrible running back day. Bernard Pierce, Daryl Richardson, Giovani Bernard, and Rashad Jennings each had 4 points.
Wide Receiver: Harry Douglas is apparently Atlanta's best fully healthy wide receiver, and so he had two catches for six yards and 0 Loser League points. Marques Colston, Jacoby Ford, Chris Givens, Stevie Johnson, and Kenbrell Thompkins each had 1 point.
Kicker: Nine of Randy Bullock's 12 field goal attempts on the season have come from 40 yards and beyond, so that he has missed five of those is more understandable. Being more understandable does not mean more acceptable, as the Texans are still last in our FG/XP ratings. Sunday's pairing of one miss and one make made him the low man with 1 point.
For where your team came in this week, see the Loser League results page.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: New Scramble rule: If you set a new league record for most consecutive games throwing a pick-six, you win Keep Chopping Wood for the week. Sorry to pile on, Matt Schaub, but at least we didn't accost you at your house.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: If thou art an NFL head coach and thy team art leading by six in the fourth quarter and thy team shall score a touchdown, thou shalt instruct thy team to go for two to give thy team a 14-point lead. Thy team mayst win thy game anyway, but thou still shalt not get any goddamn snacks, Rex Ryan.
Tom: Ron Rivera and Mike Shula, you are dead to me. You managed 259 yards of offense in the first half and scored six points.
Mike: At least your pick didn't fail due to a non-predictive event! If there is one thing I can't stand, it's quarterback wins. If there are two things I can't stand, they are quarterback wins and non-predictive events.
Tom: How do you feel about the "save" statistic? In baseball.
Mike: Save is actually slightly better than pitcher wins. It's bad shorthand for holding a lead in a high-leverage situation. Pitcher wins are often earned by blowing a lead and then having the offense bail you out. One thing that football does have going for it, actually, is most of the simple derived statistics do actually mean something. Whereas most basic derived baseball statistics, like ERA, are just awful.
Tom: Okay, I was just curious. I really don't want to get into how dumb some baseball stats are, since we have to submit this column in like 14 hours. Anyway, for attempting to pick one game a week, we (particularly me) are not doing a good job of picking the right team. Fortunately, what we do does not make for easy inclusion in the You Had One Job tumblr. As always, lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks.
Well, this week is a new week. And another chance to not screw things up. Or dig ourselves into a deeper hole.
Mike: We'll see how that works out. The pick that immediately jumps out at me is Packers and three points at Ravens. Normally I would jump all over that pairing, but this past week has spooked me. That said, last week's process was correct, but merely yielded an unexpected result. Such is life in the parity of the NFL. Green Bay still has a potent offense, and while the Ravens have a good defense again, their offense is terrible. I'm starting to come to the conclusion that offense just trumps everything at this point, so Green Bay Packers -3 at Baltimore Ravens.
Tom: Humbug. I was hoping you would drop that one so I could pick it up.
Mike: I am nothing if not irksome.
Tom: By keeping that one, though, I can stick to a new rule: if you like a home team underdog, take them. By our numbers, the Buffalo Bills have played nearly as well as the Cincinnati Bengals this year. The Bengals are favored by more than a touchdown on the road.
Mike: Oh man, you're going to pick the Bills? Hold on, I need to get some popcorn.
Tom: Looking at other lines, Bovada's CIN -9 is out of whack with other sites. Obviously the Bills are starting a different, worse quarterback this week, and a quality Bengals front four could shut down the Jeff Tuel-led offense. But Bovada's line is telling us that, by our numbers, Buffalo with Tuel is so bad they would be underdogs in Jacksonville right now. I didn't believe Aaron Williams' shutdown corner act against the Ravens (which I profiled in Any Given Sunday) would last, and it didn't. I do, however, still trust in Mike Pettine's ability to scheme a defense that will confuse the junior slump-experiencing Andy Dalton. Give me the points. Buffalo Bills +9 vs. Cincinnati Bengals.
Tom: I'd like to thank somebody for possibly reading last week's column, and trying to unload Spiller while they could.
Mike: Great job, that guy! Also, I feel like you should take this question. Since you love Buffalo so much.
(The preceding line should be read aloud, affecting the voice of a middle schooler/automobile ad company executive.)
Tom: Your problem is you ended up waiting too long to make this deal, as Ahmad Bradshaw is reportedly heading to injured reserve with that neck injury that a week ago seemed like it might not be that serious. By default, Richardson is now likely to be the clear front man in what will still likely be somewhat of a committee. Also, Spiller now has Tuel for a couple weeks.
Mike: After a significant number of weeks of poor production, to boot.
Tom: Yes. Any offer of a C.J. Spiller trade now has to come with a link to or, better yet, an embed of his 54-yard touchdown run against Cleveland and a blackout of news on EJ Manuel's injury. I'm still not a particular fan of Richardson, but from a fantasy perspective that's (mostly) irrelevant. He'll get touches on a team that wants to run and is playing with a good quarterback, which means goal-to-go touches. (Yes, I know Donald Brown had a 3-yard touchdown run. T-Rich should still get his share.) I would not make this trade.
Mike: On one hand, there is some chance that Spiller's value might increase with the downgrade at quarterback. On the other, he was already ineffective and defenses are just going to be teeing up on him. Don't deal.
32 comments, Last at 27 Jan 2014, 6:03am by Coach Outlet