In most cases, you don't want to make perfect the enemy of good. But for this column, we're throwing that mantra out the window.
Fantasy football is a good thing, maybe the best of things. Unfortunately, fantasy owners the world over have trapped themselves in the jail of the standard rules that have come to dominate our favorite little hobby. I'm here to help you carve a hole in the wall and escape the tyranny of win-loss records, cookie-cutter playoffs and limited starting rosters.
We may just be putting a bow on the 2013 season, but our next fantasy football season is never more than eight months away. Now is the time to consider changes you can implement to make your league more fun. Allow me to help.
• Problem: Head-to-head competition is the essence of sports. Even though we're only lining up on a fantasy field, there's still a rush in beating the guy you're up against week after week. At the same time, we all know points scored, not overall record, determines the strength of a fantasy team. We've all experienced the heartbreak of scoring the second-most points in a given week, only to be playing the team that scored the most. On the flip side, we've also all stolen a victory while scoring the second-fewest points and going up against the one person in the league we would have defeated.
• Solution: Grant at least two playoff spots based on total points, not win-loss record.
Let's take a 12-team league where six teams make the playoffs. The top four would qualify as usual, based on record. The five and six seeds would be the top-two point scorers of the eight teams remaining. After all, who more deserves to make the postseason? A 7-6 team with the eighth-most points in the league, or a 6-7 team with the fourth-most? I think the answer is self-evident.
If you aren't totally comfortable with this fix, there is a little tweak you could adopt instead. Rather than grant the final two playoff spots to the top-two point scorers remaining, guarantee playoff spots to the top-four point scorers, regardless of record. If they all qualify with record, nothing changes. If one doesn't though, he or she bumps the last seed. If two don't, they bump the final two seeds.
The playoffs are meant to reward regular-season performance. Giving more credence to total points ensures that happens.
• Problem: The rise of the passing game and the two-back system has made more players than ever relevant in fantasy leagues. Just look at all the running back timeshares that have granted the fantasy community two useful backs. Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington in Arizona. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in Buffalo. Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Cincinnati. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles in New Orleans. These are guys who should not be relegated to fantasy benches.
Meanwhile, receivers now dominate the league. Receivers hold seven of the top 10 rushing or receiving yardage totals in the league, and 14 of the top 20. Two receivers, Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson, have more receiving yards than LeSean McCoy, the leading rusher, has rushing yards. Twenty receivers are north of 900 receiving yards. Just eight running backs have reached the same number on the ground. Three tight ends -- Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas -- have scored more touchdowns than the leaders at the running back position.
Put simply, the NFL has more players than ever worthy of starting in fantasy. Yet most leagues remain tied to a system in which they start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one flex, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. It's time to update the game for the new NFL.
• Solution: Add one receiver and two flexes to the traditional starting lineup, and open the flex position to tight ends.
Many of you may already do something like this. Those of you who don't should really think about it, though. Larger rosters put a premium on a good draft. Few things in fantasy football are more frustrating than being the most prepared person at your draft, only to have all that great depth languish on your bench all season. Not only does this alleviate that issue, it makes better use of the players who matter on Sunday. And Monday. And Thursday.
• Problem: If you're reading this, there's a good chance you're one of just four people still alive in your league. While that's great for you, it's not quite as much fun for the others, especially those who didn't make the playoffs at all. It seems like just yesterday we were debating who should be the No. 2 pick in the draft, who among the new generation of quarterbacks would have the best fantasy season, and whether or not Arian Foster would hold up all year. Fantasy football seasons move rather quickly, so why not make them last a few extra weeks for the unfortunate few who miss out on the postseason.
Of course, no one wants to play for a meaningless consolation championship. There's little consolation in that. However, if there were some stakes in the loser's bracket, perhaps something that had an influence on the following season, that could be a lot of fun.
• Solution: Make the consolation playoffs a tournament for the next season's first pick.
Every sports league awards the top draft picks to the worst teams from the previous season. Why should fantasy leagues be any different? Instead of just gifting the pick to the worst team, though, this is a fun way to make someone earn the honor. It also allows everyone in your league at least 14 weeks of fantasy fun. If you so choose, you could give the consolation runner-up the second pick, and fill in the rest of the top of your draft with the owners who miss the playoffs.
You may be of the mind that the first pick is not necessarily the best pick. That's fine. Instead of locking the consolation champion into the first pick of the draft, allow them to choose their slot. That could yet another fun wrinkle to the season, and help tie one year to the next.
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