Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Forget Everything You Know About Fantasy Football

As excited as I am for the upcoming season, I've been doing a lot of thinking about fantasy football, and how the system is fundamentally broken. How often does the person who dominates the regular season actually win the playoffs? And how often is that due to individual guys getting injured (Matt Forte) or benched to avoid injury during the home stretch (Aaron Rodgers)? The most entertaining day of the year (draft day) is rendered useless by guys like Victor Cruz coming out of nowhere for an entire season, or, more notably, guys like Donald Brown and Jared Cook emerging out of nowhere in the fantasy playoffs. And is there anything more frustrating than starting James Starks and watching John Kuhn or BJ Raji get a rushing touchdown?

Individual players in fantasy baseball and basketball still work wonderfully, because everything about those sports is still incredibly individualistic. If (when) Stephen Strasburg gets hurt, John Lannan isn't going to effortlessly fill his shoes. Same goes for LeBron James with Shane Battier or James Jones. But if Arian Foster gets hurt? Ben Tate is just as good. No Darren McFadden? No worries! Michael Bush will get the same stats. Same goes for Adrian Peterson, Fred Jackson, DeAngelo Williams, Felix Jones, etc, etc, etc. Sure, there are a few quarterbacks and a few wide receivers that you simply can't replace, but for the most part, the NFL is all about cohesive units and rarely about individual assets.

Far be it from me to propose that we kill fantasy football, because it's a billion dollar industry and frankly the only thing to keep 50% of fan bases engaged in the NFL throughout the course of the season, but it absolutely needs to be changed. I've toyed with dozens of ideas over the past several years, including roto football leagues, completely re-drafting your team between regular season and playoffs, and other radical proposals; but the only one that has held any water is the one in which we get rid of individual players altogether and just go with team units.

We already do it with team defenses, so why not do it with the passing, rushing, and kicking games too? If the Carolina Panthers have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, why does nobody particularly want Williams or Stewart? With my proposal, you get both of their rushing yards, as well as Cam Newton's. And when BJ Raji gets a rushing touchdown, you get those points if you own GB Rush. And when Tim Tebow throws for a touchdown out of a punt formation, NYJ QB gets those fantasy points.

Feel free to change the number of owners, number of start/bench roster spots, and the scoring system if you want to give this thing a try, but what follows is what I’ll be running with this season.

Scoring System:

Based on team stats from the 2011 season, I came up with these formulas for the four team units:

Passing: (Yards * 0.04) + (Touchdowns * 4) – Interceptions
Rushing: (Yards * 0.08) + (Touchdowns * 7) – (Fumbles lost * 1.4)
Kicking: (PAT made * 2) + (FG 0-39 yards made * 4) + (FG 40-49 yards made * 6) + (FG 50+ yards made * 8)
Defense: 14 – (Points allowed * 0.4) + Sacks + (Turnovers * 2) + (Punt Return Yards * 0.05) + (Fumble/Int/PR Return TDs * 6) + (Safeties * 2)

Allow me to explain.

Passing and Rushing should be fairly self-explanatory. In 2011, the average number of passing yards was 3675, and the average number of rushing yards was 1875. Because of that nearly 2 to 1 difference, rushing stats need to be worth twice as much as passing stats to balance out. Using these formulas, the average passing unit would have scored 14.02 points per game, and the average rushing unit would have scored 14.01. I’d say that’s pretty balanced. In case you’re curious about the best and worst in each category - GB QB averaged 24.6 ppg, JAC QB averaged 7.5 ppg; CAR RB averaged 22.9 ppg, CLE RB averaged 8.9 ppg.

Kicking and Defense are a little more complicated and have a few caveats, but I wanted them to be equal to each other and relatively equal to passing and rushing – hence the inflated FG numbers. The first caveat is no deductions for missed kicks. With PATs counting for 2 and 50 yard FG worth more than a 12 yard rushing touchdown or a 99 yard passing touchdown, I think it’s enough of a penalty to take a 0 on those potential game-changers. The second caveat is no credit for returns on kickoffs. Why should you get rewarded for a nice return after giving up a touchdown? Swallow your -2.8 points and move on. I definitely wanted to include some credit for punt returns though, since good defenses force punts and bad ones force kickoffs. At the end of the day, the average kicking unit clocks in at 12.80 points per game, and the average defensive unit registers 12.92 points per game. The best and worst in each category, you ask? SF K averaged 17.75 ppg, STL K averaged 8.5 ppg; SF D averaged 18.1 ppg, IND D averaged 8.31 ppg.

With the scoring system established, we can move on to the basics: league type, league size, roster size, and playoff structure.

Starting with the roster size, my vote (which is the only one that matters right now) is for 9 units per team. [Sidenote: I keep using the word “units,” but there has to be a better term. Squadrons? Posses? Conglomerates? We’ll work on it.] With the average scores for rushing/passing and kicking/defense as intentionally similar as they are, everyone would start 3 offensive flex, 3 defense/special teams flex, and have 3 bench spots. With that starting line-up, I suspect an average score to be in the low-to-mid 90s, but we’ll see what actually happens.

I’m setting the league size at 14 owners. I’ll save you the trouble of doing the math, but 9 roster spots for 14 owners puts us at 126 conglomerates owned out of a possible 128. Free agency / waivers is almost completely non-existent, meaning that if you want to tinker with your roster, you have no choice but to ignite some trade discussions.

The reason I want 14 owners is to institute the greatest season/playoff structure ever invented (suck it, BCS!) The first 13 weeks of the NFL season is essentially a Round Robin Tournament with every owner going head to head with every other owner once. After Week 13, your spot in the standings dictates your handicap for the playoffs, which are no longer head to head, but rather a 3 week sprint to accumulate as many points as possible. And because I’m a math nerd, your handicap is based on a modified Fibonacci Sequence. Finish in last place in the standings and you start the playoffs with 0 points. Finish in 13th and you get 0.5 points. 12th – 0.5; 11th – 1; 10th – 1.5; 9th – 2.5; 8th – 4, 7th – 6.5, 6th – 10.5, 5th – 17, 4th – 27.5, 3rd – 44.5, 2nd – 72, 1st – 116.5. Good luck winning the playoffs if you finish outside the top 3 during the regular season, but you never know what might happen.

Unfortunately, until ESPN recognizes this format for what it is, we won’t be able to get live scoring. It’s a bit archaic to wait until after the game to get your score updates, but with the stats as simplistic as they are, you shouldn’t have much difficulty keeping track of whether your guys are having above or below average days until I can run all the calculations and post the scores.

That’s right – I’m doing this all manually. And I’m running it through SIIJ with weekly updates, so stay tuned. In the next few days, I’ll be figuring out who our 14 inaugural owners will be, and working out the draft details (most likely to be conducted via e-mail). Once the rosters are set, I’ll have an update for you.

In the immortal words of Tobias Funke: Let the great experiment begin!

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