Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
01 Jan 2014
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Everyone's favorite Football Outsiders Staff Playoffs Fantasy League has returned! The scoring rules are the same as every year:
Teams are comprised of one quarterback, two running backs, three wideouts, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense. There are no substitutions, so if a player is injured or his team is eliminated, then he ceases to produce points for his team. The teams, in drafting order, are as follows:
This is a serpentine draft, as is the fashion of the day, with a two-pick round eight.
1. Sean-Peyton Manning, QB, Denver
2. Mike R-Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City
3. Mike K-Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle
4. Rivers-LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia
5. Tom-Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
6. Aaron-Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle
7. Aaron-Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver
8. Tom-Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco
9. Rivers-Giovanni Bernard, RB, Cincinnati
10. Mike K-Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver
11. Mike R-Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans
12. Sean-Eric Decker, WR, Denver
13. Sean-A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati
14. Mike R-Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
15. Mike K-Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay
16. Rivers-DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia
17. Tom-Julius Thomas, TE, Denver
18. Aaron-Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco
19. Aaron-Golden Tate, WR, Seattle
20. Tom-DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina
21. Rivers-Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay
22. Mike K-Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay
23. Mike R-Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego
24. Sean-Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco
25. Sean-Stevan Ridley, RB, New England
26. Mike R-Wes Welker, WR, Denver
27. Mike K-Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle
28. Rivers-T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis
29. Tom-Julian Edelman, WR, New England
30. Aaron-Matt Prater, K, Denver
31. Aaron-Gregg Olsen, TE, Carolina
32. Tom-Steve Smith, WR, Carolina
33. Rivers-Seahawks Defense
34. Mike K-Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia
35. Mike R-Chiefs Defense
36. Sean-Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis
37. Sean-Riley Cooper, WR, Philadelphia
38. Mike R-Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati
39. Mike K-Tom Brady, QB, New England
40. Rivers-Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis
41. Tom-Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco
42. Aaron-LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England
43. Aaron-Panthers Defense
44. Aaron-Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego
45. Tom-Graham Gano, K, Carolina
46. Tom-Bengals Defense
47. Rivers-Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia
48. Rivers-Steven Hauschka, K, Seattle
49. Mike K-Stephen Gostkowski, K, New England
50. Mike K-Broncos Defense
51. Mike R-Phil Dawson, K, San Francisco
52. Mike R-James Jones, WR, Green Bay
53. Sean-49ers Defense
54. Sean-Alex Henery, K, Philadelphia
|FO Playoff Fantasy Rosters|
|Pos.||Sean||Mike R.||Mike K.||Rivers||Tom||Aaron|
|QB||Peyton Manning||Aaron Rodgers||Tom Brady||Nick Foles||Drew Brees||Russell Wilson|
|RB||Stevan Ridley||Jamaal Charles||Marshawn Lynch||LeSean McCoy||Frank Gore||Knowshon Moreno|
|RB||Donald Brown||Danny Woodhead||Eddie Lacy||Gio Bernard||DeAngelo Williams||LeGarrette Blount|
|WR||Eric Decker||Wes Welker||Demaryius Thomas||DeSean Jackson||Julian Edelman||Anquan Boldin|
|WR||A.J. Green||Marvin Jones||Randall Cobb||Jordy Nelson||Steve Smith||Golden Tate|
|WR||Riley Cooper||James Jones||Doug Baldwin||TY Hilton||Michael Crabtree||Keenan Allen|
|TE||Vernon Davis||Jimmy Graham||Brent Celek||Coby Fleener||Julius Thomas||Gregg Olsen|
|K||Alex Henery||Phil Dawson||Stephen Gostkowski||Steven Hauschka||Graham Gano||Matt Prater|
My draft strategy was pretty simple -- it was take Peyton Manning and then see what happens. There was no way there would be no value at running back by the time it came back around to me, so I doubled up on wide receivers. Considering how bad San Diego's defense is, Green looked like a steal, and I wanted one of Denver's top two wideouts. I had my eye on Jimmy Graham and the Seattle defense, as both were clearly far above anyone else at their respective positions, but it didn't break that way. My running backs are bad, obviously, but I'm fine with that -- the team is going to rise or fall based on the combination of Manning and the three receivers, with the chance to get a few unexpected points from the 49ers defense depending on their matchups.
Tom: Peyton was the obvious first choice. The basic macro problem I had with this whole thing, since I want to get it out of the way and not repeat it with every team, is a lack of perfect picks after Peyton. Considering he didn't pick again until 12/13, I think Decker and Green, a doubling down on Peyton and a great receiving option, is about as well as he could have done.
Mike: Agreed. I tried to follow a similar plan with Seattle after Lynch, but then I realized that outside of Lynch and Wilson, there just wasn't much there.
Tom: Right, and that's the problem I had with just about every team outside of Denver. Ridley may have a couple 20-carry, 100-yard games. He may end the postseason 2-5.
Mike: I think Green Bay was an attractive option, but yes, most teams just don't have a huge wealth of options.
Tom: Green Bay's an attractive option in terms of the number of players, but I think they're likely to lose their first game. Likelier than not to lose, at least.
Like the philosophy for my mingling 401K, I attempted to diversify as much as possible. While keeping to the top two seeds is probably the safest strategy, it's far from a sure thing. Not to mention that the top NFC teams are lacking for fantasy studs (save for Marshawn Lynch). Some picks, like Graham, are likely to play just one game. But he has the talent to make that one game worth it. Jason Witten just put on a clinic against the Eagles defense, so my hope is Graham gets me enough points to make up for his possible lack of games played.
Mike: Mike stole Welker from me. I was quite irate.
Tom: If only we'd had a slightly slower draft, so Welker hadn't been cleared until you were on the clock. I think Mike picked Welker about an hour after it was officially reported Welker had passed through the concussion protocol.
Two picks here that I was struggled with, at least a little bit. Woodhead was the first one. I know what kind of weapon he's been as a receiving back, but this isn't PPR. If I had to pick a San Diego back, it would have been Ryan Mathews, who's been consistently used and productive. But I wouldn't have picked a San Diego back, because I think Cincinnati is rightly considered the clear favorite in that game given the Chargers defense. Graham was the second one. We'll get to my team in due course, but I don't think he stands out relative to the other tight ends in this format the way he does in a regular season add/drop league. I would have rather had some of the next wide receivers to come off the board, including Decker and Green.
Mike: One thing that I do like is that he has a good conference dichotomy between his top players. The less your players compete with each other, the more likely you will get multiple games from them. That said, I dislike how spread out this team is. As someone who tried that strategy many, many times and never found success, that worries me
Tom: I won this my first year, because I went very heavy on Saints and Colts and those two teams met in the Super Bowl. Since then, though, it seems to have been much harder to concentrate on a couple high profile teams (both No. 1 seeds) like I did.
Mike: That is really interesting, since, as we saw earlier, the top seeds have had a very rough go of the playoffs, lately.
Tom: Maybe my team was just a fluke and I'm putting too much influence on personal anecdata.
Mike: That said, the staff has largely figured out that we need to load up on players from good teams. Which has made doing so very difficult.
Tom: Exactly. Rodgers and Jones may carry him to a championship on their own. Very likely not, but it could happen. That's probably my favorite thing about this team, but that doesn't mean I like it.
Mike: To be fair, the Packers are a great dark horse. So I can't complain about any team that has Rodgers.
Tom: I can't get past that defense, especially considering both of the top two seeds actually have real defenses.
Tom: Getting Brady where you got him was a steal.
Mike: Absolutely. For those who are uninterested in reading the draft recap above, Brady was selected in the round before the penultimate round. Since only one other team was lacking a quarterback, I managed to hang back and wait. Sure, I don't have a great hope for the Patriots' chances, but Brady could just explode and carry his team to a championship. It's a lot of upside for basically no risk.
Tom: I also would have taken Lynch over Charles.
Mike: The rest was my attempt to build on the top team strategy. I picked Thomas early, but after that there was a run on Broncos, so that was a non-starter. I picked up Baldwin to work with Lynch and I got Cobb late because I think everyone forgot about him. It's more scattershot than I had hoped, but I have two very good running backs and my roster is decently concentrated. I probably like this squad the best of all my attempts at our wonderful little game.
Tom: It definitely has a chance to win a title. That's about all you can ask for.
I didn't necessarily intend to draft the Eagles, it just sort of shook out that way. Last year I had terrible running backs and that really ruined things for me. Then on the way back I was hoping I'd land a Denver receiver and that didn't come to fruition, so Jackson was the last great receiver I thought could advance.
I kind of had my pick of the Foles/Kaepernick/Newton/Luck group at the end. I just thought Foles had the best chance to put up numbers since Kaepernick is going to Seattle if he wins and Luck is going to Denver if he does.
Mike: Rivers seems to have the best setup, as far as major players on the same team. Unfortunately, that team is representing the NFC East.
Tom: Neither you nor I likes Philadelphia nearly as much as DVOA, especially weighted DVOA, does.
Mike: Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.
Tom: He has a clear winning strategy there. I just dislike it nearly as much as I do Mr. Ridley's Green Bay-based strategy.
Mike: Personally, I think Green Bay is a much different team than it was during the regular season, and is now fielding a world-class offense to supplement its increasingly sketchy defense and interestingly strong running attack.
Tom: Beyond kicker (blah) and defense (double blah), the only player I love to get a second game is Bernard, a committee back.
Mike: The Eagles also have a bad defense, don't have Aaron Rodgers, and were waiting on Kyle Orton to help them get into the playoffs. I'm not buying it, no matter how much geniusosity Chip Kelly possesses.
Tom: We're on the same page here.
Mike: I hate this team, Tom. Sorry.
Tom: I do too. I was really hoping for Knowshon Moreno after the turn, but Aaron stole him out from under me. We'll see Gore's name later in this column, in a not very good place, but running back depth disappears so quickly and I think he has good chance at multiple games. I wanted in on the Denver bandwagon, and I think Thomas is a big matchup threat for them. I have a bet on Carolina that could pay off. I wanted a bet on somebody. Brees was too big of a risk for my first-round pick, but he's a top-level quarterback who'll have to throw a lot. Yes, Saints on the road, I know. That's how you justify picking a team you end up hating.
Mike: Saints on the road has been a troubling and confusing issue this season.
Tom: Would you rather have Brees or Russell Wilson?
Mike: Wilson. I have a much lower opinion of Wilson, but I have a much higher opinion of his team.
Tom: Definitely fair. I just personally don't trust Wilson enough to pick him that high. I probably should have just taken Moreno, gone wideout in the second round, and waited on a quarterback.
Mike: Frank Gore also bothers me. Aside from San Francisco's chances, he just hasn't looked nearly as dominant as Charles or Lynch or even Lacy.
Tom: Next backs off the board: Gio, Lacy, DeAngelo, Woodhead.
Mike: I like Gio and Lacy more than Gore, honestly.
Tom: Again, maybe I should have waited, but I feel comfortable in Gore's volume and his chances of getting multiple games.
Mike: Fair enough
Tom: I still hate my team. I just wanted to be clear I had a thought process behind it, as flawed, short-sighed, and idiosyncratic as it may have been.
Mike: C'est la vie.
Just want to say that Marvin Jones is a great pick. I was hoping to sneak him in the last round. San Diego's pass defense is horrific, and if the Bengals win that game, the Patriots historically are always weak against the opponent's No. 2 option. So I'll go with my strategy here, which is to go against recent history and stock up on players from the top two seeds. I also wanted 49ers but I stuck with just Boldin because if NO goes according to recent history and loses on the road in PHI, then the 49ers, assuming they beat the Packers, will go to Seattle and get crushed.
And then one longshot pick, because the Chargers have to win just to piss off all of us who don't like 9-7 teams winning in the playoffs.
Mike: I like the Wilson/Tate combination.
Tom: I would if I liked Seattle's passing game more. I like the Boldin pick, though I'm happy with my Crabtree gamble. Allen is a good upside play in case the Chargers do pull off the upset. And of course Moreno. I think he'll be used a lot in the postseason due to his reliability, though I certainly don't foresee any more games like that against New England.
Mike: I concur.
Tom: This is a good team, but I don't love it. I'd probably rank it third, behind yours and Sean's.
Mike: I like the late-round pick up on Olsen, for some reason. I have no idea why, maybe because I just like Carolina. Not liking them to advance, just warm fuzzies.
Tom: Then you should like my team more, goshdarnit! ... Oh.
Remember to assemble your own "best of what's left" teams in the comments. We'll keep track of them! Or find someone responsible to do so!
Quarterback, Week 17: On the whole, a pretty good week for quarterbacks, with 7 about the highest worst score you will see. Of course, no matter how high the worst score is, somebody still has to finish in last. This past week, it was Kellen Clemens and Joe Flacco in his last game as defending Super Bowl champion quarterback.
Quarterback, Weeks 10-17: New York, New York, your quarterbacks cannot throw. With -3 points in his first three games combined after a Week 10 bye, Geno Smith seemed almost assured to finish at the bottom of the cumulative second half Loser League standings. Putting up 23 points in Week 14 and 28 more in Week 16, though, gave him 96 total points and knocked him down to fifth in total points. Instead, it was the other Gotham quarterback, Eli Manning, who finished with a mere 85 points. The key for Manning: Never having more than 16 points in a given week, as outside of his -3 in Week 15 he only had two more single digit games, and both of those were 9 points.
Running Back, Week 17: When your Scramble writer made a late playoff push with Andre Brown, he thought he had found a hidden gem on the waiver wire. It was not to be, as the entire Giants offense disappeared, taking with it your Scrambler's fantasy football team. Brown's woes continued with a -1 in the season finale, with the aforementioned Frank Gore finishing with 1, albeit against a much stouter defense.
Running Back, Weeks 10-17: The inconvenient truth is that NFL players at all positions, and particularly ball carriers, have a non-infinite shelf life. At nearly 2,200 regular season carries, at age 30, and after a couple major knee operations, Frank Gore may be about at his, as his 60 points was the fewest among running backs. The runners-up at 65 included Andre Ellington, who avoided the penalty enough times to actually have been a worthwhile pick, and the aforementioned Andre Brown. Honorable mention goes to Alfred Morris, 66, and a pair of backs at 67, Ellington’s backfield mate Rashard Mendenhall and Bernard Pierce.
Wide Receiver, Week 17: Rodgers' Return was no panacea for everything, as Jarrett Boykin still could not crack ten yards on his two receptions for a league-worst 0 points. Domenik Hixon, Santana Moss and Austin Pettis each had 1 point.
Wide Receivers, Weeks 10-17: Just a wild guess on your Scramble writer's part, but if Rodgers had played all of the second half of the Loser League season, James Jones would have finished with more than 47 points and would not have ranked last. Right behind him was Eddie Royal, whose 48 points would seem to be a pretty good indicator he did not go on to break the NFL record for touchdown receptions as he was on pace to after the first couple games of the season. Harry Douglas and Lance Moore each had 49, Nate Washington 50, and Andre Roberts and T.Y. Hilton 51.
Kicker, Week 17: Sebastian Janikowski missed a field goal to go with his two made extra points to conclude a disappointing season (-11.0 points of FG/XP value) and finish with 0 Loser League points. Runners-up Billy Cundiff and Caleb Sturgis both played for teams that let them attempt only one extra point.
Kicker, Weeks 10-17: Not a contest at all, as David Akers finishes number one. It was not just a normal number one finish either, but number one with a bullet, a whopping 17 points clear of the runners-up. Never finishing above 9 points helped, but Sebastian Janikowski did that as well and he was part of the crowd behind Akers. The -5, lowest score of the year, definitely helped a lot, but he would have finished well clear of the pack even with a made extra point that week. No, it was really the thorough-going mediocrity that left him at 29. Tied with Janikowski at 46 were Rian Lindell and Josh Scobee.
Congratulations to Andrew Sama and his Samas Bombas, who took Loser League Part II with 287 points. That was a hefty 28 points ahead of everyone else. His team included:
Our grand prize winner for both halves of the season was Paul Cotter. He scored 363 points in the first half and 353 in the second half, totaling 716 points. Andrew will get a copy of the 2014 KUBIAK projections; Paul gets both the KUBIAK projections and a copy of Football Outsiders Almanac 2014.
You can see all the results for Loser League Part II right here.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: There are plenty of other contenders for the dubious distinction of the worst safety in the NFL (try watching the Texans if you doubt this), so the overall honor probably does not belong to Chris Conte. His blown coverage on Randall Cobb on a Cover-0 defensive call on Green Bay’s last-minute playoff-clinching touchdown may have been the most harmful defensive play of the year, though.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Not to pick too much on Mike McCarthy, since his team did win and go to the playoffs and all that, but why did the Packers keep running slow-developing outside toss plays against a Bears defense that ranked in the middle of the back on runs to either end and dead last in Adjusted Line Yards up the middle? Aside from mastermindering, of course.
29 comments, Last at 05 Jan 2014, 12:01pm by andrew