"I'm not an inventor, but I am an improver," Larry says to the receptionist. "I improve things that are broken. The system is broken. I'd like to improve it."
Like that system in Larry's doctor's office, the general framework for the fantasy football playoffs is broken. Since I like to group myself with the comedic genius whenever possible, here are my improvements to make the fantasy football playoffs more enjoyable for everyone (except the people the improvements would screw):
1. I'm a staunch supporter of head-to-head fantasy sports. It's a far more compelling way to play than a total points or rotisserie style, so I'm not advocating for eliminating the head-to-head format. But in football, the team with the most points is more often than not the best team in the league, yet total points are relegated to nothing more than tiebreaker status. There's something not right about that.
IMPROVEMENT: Total points, not record, should determine the final two playoff spots in fantasy leagues -- I'm in a pair of high-stakes leagues. In one of those leagues, six teams make the playoffs, and eight qualify for the postseason in the other. In the first one, the last playoff team is 7-6 (not all that impressive) with the second-fewest points in the league. In the other league, two sub-.500 teams made the playoffs, and each of those teams scored fewer points than a team that missed out on the postseason. I'm all for minimizing luck and rewarding skill wherever possible. This change would do just that.
2. Speaking of luck, the playoff matchups themselves can feel random at times, especially as you get beyond the first round. Quite often, the top seed in the playoffs ends up playing a more dangerous team than the second or third seeds do, based on individual player matchups.
IMPROVEMENT: In the first and second rounds, let the top seeds choose who they play. This is a pretty simple fix. In a league where eight teams make the playoffs, the No. 1 team gets to pick which of the bottom four he or she wants to play. The two seed gets the next choice, and so on. In a league where six make the postseason, the third-seeded team gets to choose his opponent from the bottom two playoff qualifiers. Repeat the process in the next round.
The other fun aspect of this wrinkle? It gives the underdog some bulletin board material and creates bad blood. And if the favorite loses, it's nobody's fault but his own for making the wrong choice.
3. Most leagues use decimal scoring, making a tie a nearly impossible. Some leagues, backward as they may be, still do not use decimals, and even those that do need to have a plan in place should there be a tie in the playoffs. Too many leagues revert to regular-season standings, but the playoffs should be completely self-contained, wholly removed from the regular season. Others use bench scoring, but that, too, is faulty. For example, quarterbacks are generally the highest-scoring players. What if I have a shaky quarterback situation, requiring me to carry three signal-callers, while you're rock-solid at the position with Aaron Rodgers. You don't feel the need for a backup, and would rather stockpile backs and receivers this time of year. You shouldn't be penalized for that. To break the tie, we need something that happens on the fantasy field.
IMPROVEMENT: Playoff ties will be broken by each team's highest-scoring player for the week. Fantasy football is a game of stars. Whoever's top star shines brightest moves on. If they're somehow tied, just move on down the line.
4. The fantasy playoffs should be fun for everyone, not just those competing for the championship. But seriously, has anyone in the history of fantasy sports paid attention to a loser's tournament? "Woo-hoo, I came in seventh!" Not exactly a barrel of laughs. But what if there were something at stake?
IMPROVEMENT: All teams that miss the playoffs compete in a consolation tournament. The winner gets the first pick in next year's draft. This gives the guys who miss the playoffs at least one more week of fantasy enjoyment, and adds a level of drama that might even make it fun for the people who made the real playoffs to follow. It even comes with a built-in name for the championship: The Adrian Peterson Bowl.
In the playoffs, it becomes even more important to trust the players that got you to where you are, but beware the name brand. This week's bust, courtesy of Nik Bonaddio from numberFire, could single-handedly undermine your team's playoff hopes. Cincinnati's Cedric Benson:
"The Bengals are being attacked on all sides by the football media, rightfully excoriating them for a host of grievous offenses, ranging from the inept defense to the equally inept coaching. From this highly data-driven viewpoint, the main problem stems from what was an outrageous success for the team as recently as one year ago: the running game. For reasons foreign to anyone not named Bob Bratkowski, the Bengals have abandoned the rushing game, preferring to rely on a controversial yet admittedly talented cadre of receivers to carry the load.
"The Bengals rush the ball just 37 percent of the time, which might be workable if Benson had skills or receiving talent (see: LeSean McCoy) to make something of the limited opportunities. Instead, he's been a fantasy killer for those unfortunate to have taken him in the early rounds. Heaping insult onto injury, just as bad vibes and team in-fighting begin to approach critical mass, the Bengals head into Heinz Field for a date with the Steelers. You couldn't hand-select a worse opponent if you tried -- the Steelers lead the league in rushing defense -- so the call here is only roll with Benson if you've got nothing else to work with.
"Benson has been terrible this year, topping 80 rushing yards three times. Don't expect him to do a thing against the Steelers."
Check me out on Twitter, @MBeller, for updated rankings later in the week.
1. Aaron Rodgers @ Lions2. Drew Brees vs. Rams3. Philip Rivers vs. Chiefs4. Mike Vick @ Cowboys5. Joe Flacco @ Texans6. Peyton Manning @ Titans7. Matt Ryan @ Panthers8. Tom Brady @ Bears9. Eli Manning @ Vikings10. Kyle Orton @ Cardinals11. Matt Schaub vs. Ravens12. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Bengals13. Jay Cutler vs. Patriots14. Matt Cassel @ Chargers15. Jon Kitna vs. Eagles
1. Chris Johnson vs. Colts2. Michael Turner @ Panthers3. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Raiders4. Arian Foster vs. Ravens5. Adrian Peterson, Vikings vs. Giants6. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Bengals7. Darren McFadden @ Jaguars8. Peyton Hillis @ Bills9. LeGarrette Blount @ Redskins10. Ray Rice @ Texans11. LeSean McCoy @ Cowboys12. Jamaal Charles @ Chargers13. Ahmad Bradshaw @ Vikings14. Knowshon Moreno @ Cardinals15. Fred Jackson vs. Browns16. Steven Jackson @ Saints17. Mike Tolbert vs. Chiefs18. Shonn Greene vs. Dolphins19. Matt Forte vs. Patriots20. Chris Ivory vs. Rams21. BenJarvus Green-Ellis @ Bears22. Ryan Torain vs. Buccaneers23. Felix Jones vs. Eagles24. Thomas Jones @ Chargers25. James Starks @ Lions26. Ronnie Brown @ Jets27. Jahvid Best vs. Packers28. Cedric Benson @ Steelers29. Brian Westbrook vs. Seahawks30. Mike Goodson vs. Falcons31. Anthony Dixon vs. Seahawks
1. Greg Jennings @ Lions2. Roddy White @ Panthers|3. Reggie Wayne @ Titans4. Calvin Johnson vs. Packers5. Andre Johnson vs. Ravens6. Anquan Boldin @ Texans7. Dwayne Bowe @ Chargers8. DeSean Jackson @ Cowboys9. Brandon Lloyd @ Cardinals10. Marques Colston vs. Rams11. Miles Austin vs. Eagles12. Steve Johnson vs. Browns13. Mike Wallace vs. Bengals14. Santonio Holmes vs. Dolphins15. Jeremy Maclin @ Cowboys16. Terrell Owens @ Steelers17. Malcom Floyd vs. Chiefs18. Mike Williams (TB) @ Redskins19. Sidney Rice vs. Giants20. Robert Meachem vs. Rams21. Johnny Knox vs. Patriots22. Deion Branch @ Bears23. Earl Bennett vs. Patriots24. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Broncos25. Braylon Edwards vs. Dolphins26. Hines Ward vs. Bengals27. Wes Welker @ Bears28. Mike Thomas vs. Raiders29. Michael Crabtree vs. Seahawks30. Steve Smith @ Vikings -- check status, but looks ready to return from pectoral injury
1. Antonio Gates vs. Chiefs2. Jacob Tamme @ Titans3. Vernon Davis vs. Seahawks4. Kevin Boss @ Vikings5. Aaron Hernandez vs. Bears6. Marcedes Lewis vs. Raiders7. Kellen Winslow @ Redskins8. Todd Heap @ Texans9. Greg Olsen vs. Patriots10. Chris Cooley vs. Buccaneers11. Jason Witten vs. Eagles12. Rob Gronkowski @ Bears13. Brandon Pettigrew vs. Packers14. Tony Moeaki @ Chargers15. Jermaine Gresham @ Steelers
Looks like I just have too much faith in the Colts, as they cost us another perfect week. Same deal as last week. We'll offer up three best bets, regardless of likelihood of a survivor still having those teams on the board, and then two more who you'd be more likely to have available.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Bengals): The Steelers are coming off a huge win that makes them the front-runner in the AFC North and gives them an inside track for a first-round bye. No way they screw it up by losing to the lowly Bengals at home.
2. New Orleans Saints (vs. Rams): The Saints squeaked by the Bengals last week, thanks in some degree to a neutral-zone infraction. The Rams six wins are against Washington, Seattle, San Diego, Carolina, Denver and Arizona. Not exactly a murderer's row.
3. Atlanta Falcons (@ Panthers): We usually make a point of staying away from road teams in this space, but the Panthers are simply atrocious, with the latest evidence coming via their disappearing act after going up 14-0 on a Seattle team that isn't very good. The Falcons are two wins over Carolina and a road victory over those same Seahawks away from home field throughout the NFC playoffs.
And now two teams you're more likely to have on your board:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Raiders): There's a chance this Jacksonville team is better than anyone is giving them credit for. Their losses? The Chargers, Eagles, Titans (with Vince Young and Kenny Britt), Chiefs and Giants. They kind of feel like Tampa Bay heavy, in that they take care of business against the teams they should beat, but lose to the teams they should lose to. They're also far more susceptible to a passing offense than a running one, which is why I expect them to handle the Raiders.
2. San Francisco 49ers (vs. Seahawks): The Seahawks are terrible away from Qwest Field, as they've been outscored 156-98 on the road. I am a little troubled by the return of Alex Smith for the 49ers. If you're still alive at this point, though, you've probably exhausted all your rock-solid options. Sometimes, it's better to bet against a team than on one, which is exactly what you're doing by taking the Niners.