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Out Routes: The answer we've all been waiting for...
By Patrick Snow

Bill Parcells once famously uttered that “You are what your record says you are.”

This seems like an obvious and realistic answer for how good or bad a team is no matter if it’s an NFL, Major League Baseball, college basketball or fantasy football squad. However, much like any overly simplistic, black-or-white answer, it isn’t really accurate if you dig beneath the surface.

For example, the Syracuse Orange basketball team is 2-0. As a fan who has coached basketball, I’m cautiously happy with the efforts and outcomes of their first two games. There are some great players on this team and, with some coaching and some experience, there is the potential for fantastic results. However, if you look at their young roster of talent, it isn’t difficult for the trained eye to understand that this 2-0 team could just as easily be 0-2. Averaging 20 turnovers and permitting 79 points per tilt is a recipe for losing at some point, especially when playing teams with more talent than Sienna and St. Joseph’s. How, then, do we determine how good a team, perhaps a fantasy football team, is and why they are where they are in the standings?

Eureka! I have found the answer. 

I now know the one stat that can accurately explain a team’s performance in fantasy football. It isn’t running back yardage or passing touchdowns or tight-end receptions. It isn’t even the points scored by a team. 

Drum roll, please…The most important statistic in fantasy football is…points allowed. (Cymbal crash.)

Coach Parcells is right about one thing: my pathetic 2-8 record in the auction league is what it is. As I am mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, I decided that it’s time for some reflection. Because I refuse to let this season be a waste, I analyzed what factors may have caused this abomination to occur so I could avoid such humiliation next year. By doing so, I found an interesting pattern.

At first, I thought the problem was just that I had terrible players. Drafting Cedric Benson and Laurence Maroney as starters didn’t help given that neither has been a reliable option and I have turned to alternate players. On the other hand, I’m still fourth out of the 10 teams in total points scored. That means on any given week, I should beat six of the teams in the league. At that rate, the law of averages suggests I should at least be near .500 despite Benson and Maroney’s inadequacies. Besides, Carson Palmer, Joseph Addai, Jason Witten, Heath Miller and Bobby Engram aren’t bad players to build a team around.

Given these facts, I decided to compare teams by average points scored per week. For the record, there are currently four teams in the league with 5-5 records. Three of these four teams will make the playoffs barring a major losing slide by two of them over the last three weeks. In terms of points scored, these units average 130, 128, 128 and 128 points per week. Furthermore, the next team in line for a playoff berth has a 4-6 record. That owner scores 124 points per game. On the other hand, I produce 132 points per week—better than all of them. Yet, I languish at 2-8.

This data suggests that the problem isn’t one of accumulating enough points to win. So, what gives?  

Next, I looked at the “Points Allowed” column in our standings and saw something quite shocking. The answer to my problems lies in the fact that, through the first 10 weeks, my team has “allowed” 1670 points. The next closest team (who sits at 5-5, in position to make or miss the playoffs) has surrendered 1451. There isn’t another team who has allowed over 1400 total points. That means eight teams in my league have allowed at least 270 total points less than I have.

Break that down by week. Through 10 weeks, teams are scoring an average of 167 points a week against my helpless squad. Contrast that with the better teams in the league. Teams manage only 128 points against the best team in my league, 139 against the second-best team (a team who is in the lower-scoring of our two divisions, by the way), and 129 against the third best. The team that has surrendered 1451 points obviously gives up 145 points per game, but two of his five wins were against me—in which he scored 173 and 187 despite averaging 128 points for the season. I would say that is quite an increase in production when facing my squad.

Even the unit with the second-worst record in the league (3-7) has only given up 133 points per game. This owner's problem is that he can’t score on a consistent basis. If his team could regularly tally points, he would be at least 4-6, probably 5-5. This proves that players are at least a factor in a team’s success. In other words, having quality players on your team helps your chances of being a solid unit. This is a no-brainer.

Great players, however, don’t guarantee fantasy success. In fact, in head-to-head formats, they are much less important than we make them out to be. The highest-scoring team in my league scores 166.3 points per contest. If that unit allowed as many points as I do each week—167—they would lose more than they would win based on these averages. At best, they would be a .500 team, not a 7-3 team. This is the reality despite the fact that they arguably put together the league’s best team based on total points scored. Winning teams tend to score more than they allow (There’s the most obvious observation of the day, huh?), but even the league’s best scorer wouldn’t be able to accomplish that while playing my schedule. In essence, that team’s just lucky to have its schedule instead of mine.

How is it possible that one owner, in this case the one owner I care most about—ME—is getting dumped on by an average of 38 points more a game than the team with the best record in the league and by at least 22 more points than everybody else? No wonder I go to bed frustrated every Sunday night.

Someone who wants to cling to the idea that his or her ownership is the the most important factor in his or her first-place record will say things like: “Your team just got a raw deal this year."  "Any team that scores a lot of points will win more often than not."  "Look at my team; I was smart enough to select players X, Y and Z, which is why I'm winning.” I'm willing to admit that my points allowed in the auction league is a bit out of the ordinary because of how much higher it is than everone else's. However, a clear pattern exists despite this anomoly; winning owners don't always average the most points, meaning their team isn't as strong as other teams who may be lower in the standings. Conversely, losing owners almost always rank near the top in points allowed. 

Need more proof that points allowed is the single biggest factor in fantasy success? Check these numbers out. The two worst teams in my eight-team keeper league (a lower-scoring league than the auction format) are suffering the same fate as I am in the auction league. They have “allowed” the most points this season, and they are the only two to have 1300 total points scored against them. The next closest is 1229—an average of a full seven points less a game. In a lower-scoring league, seven points is a significant difference. In addition, one of the four teams tied at 5-5 is .500 despite tallying a significant amount of points so far because his team has allowed a mere 26 fewer points than it has scored. This owner’s squad shows how match ups play a vital role in your overall record; he has matched up with the right teams at the right times (five wins) while meeting the wrong teams on other Sundays (five losses).

This same trend also appears in my third league, a 14-team league with individual defensive starters. My team is 7-3 in that league, and I’m currently listed as fifth in the league, sharing the same record with two other owners who have scored more points than I have. Yet, all three 7-3 teams have outscored the second-place squad, who is 8-2. The only reasonable explanation for this is that the second-place owner hasn’t had as many points scored on him. Sure enough, that’s the case. To further show the point, the team that is 10th in the standings has scored less than the 11th-13th squads but has a better record. Want to venture a guess as to why?

What hurts most is that this key factor in head-to-head formats (points allowed) is out of an owner’s control, and yet it most directly influences his or her won-loss totals. I have already shown how one owner outperformed the mean (There’s a nice mathematics term for you) of his weekly scoring by an average of 52 points in his two tilts with me. Those two losses are killers, and I have lost others like that--contests where owners score well above their season averages when the meet my squad. These losses have turned my potentially 6-4 team into a 2-8 loser. 

I have no way of stopping an opponent’s players from scoring on me; I don’t have a defense that I can coach up and send out to neutralize his or her lineup. While great performances and weak outings would even out over the course of a season in rotisserie formats, in head-to-head systems, owners are at the mercy of luck. If my opponent is luckier than I am on a given week, I lose. If, over the course of ten weeks, my opponents put up a ludicrously higher amount of points against me than against other owners (say--oh, I don’t know—by an average of 30 points per contest more than the league average for points allowed), there isn’t much I can do about it but whine to all of you.  

For those of you Jungle Animals who are struggling this year and are wondering how to improve your chances for victory next year, the answer is clear—get luckier or do unlawful things to your opponents’ players. These are your only hopes.      

The Fantasy Game of the Week

New York Giants at Detroit: I’m reaching here, but this is the most promising fantasy match up on the slate for a rather unremarkable NFL weekend. This is a battle between two top-ten teams in scoring who play so-so defense, which means we could see plenty of points. The Giants are pretty good against the pass; Detroit, ranked 30th in that stat, isn’t. Look for Eli Manning, Jeremy Shockey and Plaxico Burress to flourish. On the other side of the ball, expect Kevin Jones to continue his recent success. Jon Kitna may not have the best numbers, but the Giants secondary isn’t stellar, so he should throw a touchdown or two if his line can hold up. Furthermore, Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson and crew are safe to start. 

All-Pro

  • Matt Schaub is supposed to return, along with his top receiver, Andre Johnson, to Houston's lineup. Look for them to have success against the 29th-ranked New Orleans pass defense.
  • Willie Parker meets the Jets’ last-place rush defense, which allows 152 yards per contest. Expect him to hit the century mark. He may even find pay dirt.
  • Derrick Mason has struggled lately, but I predict he will return to form with Kyle Boller starting for the dreadfully ineffective Steve McNair. In addition, the Ravens take on Cleveland’s defense, which is ranked 31st in passing, giving further reason to believe Mason should have a solid game. Mason reeled in 10 passes the last time these two teams met.   

All-Pine

  • Kellen Clemens meets Pittsburgh, who is first in passing defense. The jets have been dysfunctional on offense this year, and it won't get better playing a top-flight defense. Don’t expect big numbers from the Jets signal-caller this week.
  • Speaking of Jets’ players not to start, pass on Thomas Jones. Pittsburgh is number one against the run, too, and has only surrendered two rushing scores all year.
  • Dwayne Bowe has been a surprise for owners, often serving as a potent second or third wide out. However, I wouldn’t count on him producing against the second-ranked Colts pass defense. Even with Dwight Freeney out, Tony Dungy will find a way to rally his players, especially since they have lost the last two games in heartbreaking fashion.

Under the Radar and Under the Gun

  • I don’t know if he is necessarily under the radar, but Ryan Grant has provided a spark to the Packers. He’s totaled 100 yards in two of his last three games. Look for Grant to continue his success this week against the Panthers.
  • Rex Grossman is under the gun. Does anyone else feel like we’ve been here before? Déjà vu much? “Sexy Rexy” has regained the starting role in Chicago, but for how long depends on his play. Don’t expect any major changes to Grossman’s game; he will still have an occasional good game, but he will make you want to rip your hair out most weeks.

 

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