Unconventional Wisdom: New fantasy playoff would reward best
If you're still playing this week, congratulations. By now, I'm sure you've had all the start/sit advice, all the weekly sleepers and all the tough lineup decisions you can handle. Good luck to all you championship chasers, even though only half of you will win.
For everyone else, it's never too early to start thinking about next year's playoffs. Not necessarily about how to get back, but about how they should be structured. The fantasy football season is a ton of fun every season, win or lose, but there's no doubt the standard head-to-head playoffs could use a few tweaks. I'm as steadfast supporter of the head-to-head system as you'll find. The essence of head-to-head competition is what makes sports, sports, be they real or fantasy. However, I think there are reforms we can make that would make the playoffs more fun and equitable without damaging the integrity of a head-to-head regular season.
The fantasy playoffs are supposed to be identical in spirit to the NFL (or MLB or NBA or NHL) playoffs, a natural culmination of the regular season, a tournament among the best in the league to prove who is the best of the best. Unfortunately, our game is fake. The bottom line is the regular season and playoffs in nearly every fantasy league across the country are at odds with one another.
While everyone strives for a playoff championship, few would argue that the playoff championship is a better barometer of the best team in the league than regular season. Nobody would argue it's harder to be the best team for a three-week stretch rather than the course of a 13- or 14-week season. Still, come playoff time 1-seeds routinely fall to 8-seeds, and before you know it, a 5-8 regular season team wins the championship. Upsets are a lot of fun and unpredictability is a necessary element of competition, but the randomness of the playoffs can create everyone's least favorite thing: a split championship.
Fear not. There will be no BCS in fantasy football. We still want our championships to be won completely on merit. But there is a way to make the regular season and playoffs work together to crown every fantasy league's one true champion.
This proposal works best with leagues that send eight teams to the playoffs, and is ideal for a 12-team league, one of the most common league setups in fantasy sports. Instead of 13 regular season games, you only play 11, every team once. The top eight teams then move on to a double-elimination tournament beginning Week 12 and ending either Week 16 or 17, depending on the length of the finals.
If you know how the mechanics of a double-elimination tournament work, skip ahead to the next paragraph. For those of you still with me, here's how it goes. The first round is played as is. Winners move on as they normally would, but the losers are shuttled off to a losers bracket. In the second round, the four winners face each other while the four losers face off. The two teams that fall to 0-2 are eliminated, leaving us with two 2-0 teams and four 1-1 teams. Again, the undefeated teams play each other, with the 1-1 teams squaring off and the two losers of those games being eliminated. At the end of that round, we have one 3-0 team, which has earned itself a berth in the championship, and three 2-1 teams. There are a few options to get rid of those two of those teams so we have a championship series, but let's get everyone back together before moving to that step.
OK, we all here? By now, we all know that a double-elimination tournament inevitably gives us one 3-0 team and three 2-1 teams. In our timeline, we're left with our final four Week 15. At that point, the 3-0 team would have a bye into the championship. In Week 15, the three 2-1 teams would face off in a triple-threat match (hat tip to Vince McMahon), with the top point-scorer moving on to the championship to be played Week 16.
Of course, this gives us one final complication. What if the undefeated team loses Week 16? It wouldn't be fair for that team to be eliminated with only one loss when everyone else got to lose twice. In that case, the championship game simply becomes a championship series, with the deciding game played Week 17.
I know, I can already hear the Week 17 haters grousing. I understand the drawbacks. No Drew Brees owner wants to turn to his backup in the championship because Chase Daniel is starting a meaningless game for the Saints. The truth is the notion that teams sit their starters their final week of the season is overstated. It simply doesn't happen as often as you think it does. In reality, only one or two teams are even in position to sit their starters, and they don't always do it. It also means one of the two teams in the championship would have to own someone from one of those teams. Without breaking out the calculator and advanced models, I feel comfortable saying the odds of a championship swinging because of a regular resting for the playoffs are relatively slim. And remember, there isn't even a guarantee the tournament makes it to Week 17. If the undefeated team wins Week 16, season's over. They're the champs.
Would this be a better system? I'm not sure. I believe it has the chance to be the best marriage of regular season and playoffs for fantasy football. An 11-week regular season would allow everyone to play every other team once, and the double-elimination format insures the top seeds against one bad beat.
The one thing I do know is that it would be a fresh take on the fantasy football playoffs, and sometimes that's all you need.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to everyone. I'll see you in two weeks when we'll start talking baseball. Spring must be right around the corner.
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