Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
The finishing kick
Posted Dec. 15 at 04:58 PM
Three weeks left and my teams in Fanball's two big games are 2nd in league, 10th in division, 120th overall (Football Challenge) and 1st in league, 11th overall ($50,000 Fantasy Football). But enough about me.
One of the most gratifying things about writing these columns is following my readers' teams and seeing them do just as well, if not better. I know you don't agree with everything I write here, and I know there are times (Vernon Davis, ahem) when you're better off disagreeing than agreeing -- but I like to think I've had a small hand in some of your challenge success, too.
Almost nothing has thrilled me as much as getting e-mail lately asking for advice on how to make a run at the very top of the standings, so I decided to make that topic the focus of this column. Call it the finishing kick -- how do you get your teams over that last hump?
We'll use a very particular perspective to guide the discussion -- say your team happens to be the one presently sitting in 20th place overall in the Football Challenge -- but understand that there should be at least a few points of much more general applicability here.
Also: Understand that the advice I can offer is much more extensive in categories games than points games, where "score more" may not seem so helpful but really is the right answer. That's not quite all there is to it, but since there's less to say about points games and some of you are only playing those, let's get that out of the way first, then return to the 20th-overall-in-the-Football-Challenge paradigm. If you're only playing points games it won't hurt my feelings if you duck out halfway through the column -- I'll even tell you where to do so.
First point, score more.
Second point, I've already written about setting a lineup; the lineup set according to the guidelines I offered in my column dated 12/2 (How to set a lineup, from Ian down to the everloving coinflip) should generally score the most.
Third point, what I'm about to write will be easier to implement if you still have purchases remaining, but (a) neither of us can do anything to get you extra purchases; and (b) this can still work, albeit on a smaller scale, with the players you already own.
Fourth point, I'm telling you how to shoot for the top -- but that necessarily means taking a big swing, and big swings can mean big misses. My strategy will boost you in the standings as much as possible if it works, but it may cost you if it doesn't. It makes a lot of sense for my own $50K points team to follow the strategy; that team is 1st in its league by 141.8 points and (no disrespect to 2nd-place Salty Slug) will likely finish 1st in league whether it finishes 5th or 50th overall. But if I were neck-and-neck with the 2nd-in-league team, I'd probably play things safer and focus on securing the $600 league prize.
Fifth point, the strategy itself:
Most people are inherently risk-averse. Challenge players are no different. By now most teams (in both points and categories games) are running out very similar lineups every week.
Last week, one of you asked me about the possibility of sitting Aaron Rodgers ($3750 in Fanball's points games) over concerns about the weather in Chicago, and another of you asked about sitting Matt Schaub ($3440) over concerns about the health of his non-throwing shoulder. I advised against both moves -- and started both players myself -- but the questions were on the right track.
If most teams will start very similar rosters the rest of the way, the fastest way to gain ground will be to sit some of the players they'll be starting in favor of less popular, possibly riskier options. That's indeed the right strategy: take some chances; start some guys others won't; hope for the best; know you'll either gain on the whole field at once or, when it doesn't work, lose by the same amount.
Of course, implementing this could be somewhat less than artful -- you could just make every decision according to which of your guys is the lower-percentage option.
(Note: When you click the tab for overall results in any Fanball game, you'll see a Select Report drop-down box featuring a "percent" option -- that's how you know which players are more and less popular among your competition.)
But, as I suggested by advising against sitting Rodgers and Schaub, I prefer a somewhat more refined approach. Rodgers indeed had a lousy game as it turned out (I lost my office league because of it, after coming into the playoffs with the best record), but he's No. 2 among all players in points scored in 2009, and he ain't costing you what Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are. I think he's a lousy target to go against. Instead you want the most popular, more expensive players who appear (to you) to be vulnerable.
I'd absolutely consider going against:
Manning (who's not really a high-percentage guy, but IND may begin to limit his time any week to keep him healthy for the playoffs, and I'm not sure NO will do the same with Brees);
Tom Brady (two bad weather games coming up, and he has a couple of nagging injuries, and who knows what his situation is at home with the baby);
Adrian Peterson (same comment as Manning, except that A.D. is high-percentage);
Maurice Jones-Drew (just scored too often early in the year, used too many of his numbers up);
Reggie Wayne (same comment as, and because of, Manning);
Randy Moss (because of Brady);
Vincent Jackson (I'm only using him in sure wins at this point, as he appears to be another used-too-much-up guy like J-D);
Dallas Clark (same comment as, and because of, Manning);
and many others, most definitely including V.D. (I've been going against him all year, actually).
One factor unites all of the guys I just named (except V.D., my white whale), and that's their relatively high salaries. I'd keep playing the cheaper guys who might kill you if you pull them, the Rodgers and Schaub and Ray Rice types. Instead I'd pull costlier guys, who'll free up enough salary to let you start other expensive players in their places, so you'll usually get some numbers even if you're wrong -- and you may do yourself double the good if your higher-percentage benchings work out.
My two favorite lower-percentage players remain Larry Fitzgerald (27.4-percent owned overall, just 20.0-percent among the Top 100 teams in the $50K standings) and Greg Jennings (29.6-percent overall, 25.0-percent among the Top 100). I'm using both of them every week, and I've surged from 22nd overall to 11th overall the last two weeks without them using up the last of their big games (assuming, of course, that Fitz's knee is OK).
So the strategy comes in two parts: (1) use guys others don't, whether they're on your roster already or you have to burn for them; and (2) use them in place of seemingly vulnerable higher-percentage options -- particularly expensive ones.
Remember that you can swing and miss doing this; I'm not recommending the strategy for the faint-of-heart. But remember this, too: The league prize in the $50K game is $600 for 1st place whether you win your league by 1 point or by 100 points. And the overall prize is the same ($250) from 7th place all the way down to 100th place. I have to move from 11th to 6th ($500) or higher to win a single dollar more than I presently project to. I'm going for it.
That's it for points games; see some of you next week.
The strategy in categories games is the same, but different. Everything I just wrote remains useful. You'll still likely have to go with some lower-percentage options, but now you'll have to decide where specifically -- i.e., at which positions -- to do so.
Here's how you decide:
You are Kevin Dallas, loyal reader of this column and owner of Statman's Crew, presently 20th overall in the Football Challenge. You have 4 purchases remaining -- 2 more than any team ahead of you in the standings -- and you're a very solid 19 points up in your league. If that isn't well-in-hand already, it's because you have an absolute collapse coming. No sense worrying about such a thing; there is little reason to believe the gods hate you.
So you're going for it, same as me.
You have 22,125.5 overall points, which means that all of your category scores individually add to that number.
The overall leader has 22,881 points; he's 755.5 points up on you at that level. (Note, however, that he's only up 8 points in his league -- again, it'll take a collapse for you to lose yours.)
Q: How to make up 755.5 points?
A: First, figure out where you can gain the most points most easily. It isn't enough to spot your own weak categories; you also have to spot the ones where ground can be made up with the smallest edges in player stats.
There are about 3,100 teams in the Football Challenge this year. I know because 426 teams own Stephen Gostkowski, and 13.7-percent of all teams own Gostkowski, and 426 is 13.7-percent of 3,100.
Statman's Crew has more than 2,900 points in three of the game's eight categories -- Passing Average, Rushing Yards and Rushing Average -- and almost as many in Receiving Average, so there isn't a lot of ground to be made up there.
Focus on the other categories:
Passing Yards -- 2,711 points.
Receiving Yards -- 2,382 points.
Kicker Scoring -- 2,792.5 points.
Total Scoring -- 2,451 points.
(Remember, these are category points, not raw football stats. Statman's Crew's kickers haven't booted 2,792.5 actual kicking points, obviously; they've booted 331 actual kicking points, which is more than those scored by the kickers on roughly 2,800 of the 3,100 Football Challenge teams.)
But it may not be enough to spot the lower numbers and start working on those categories. We also want to consider how much ground you can realistically hope to make up.
Stay with Kicker Scoring for now.
Again: Statman's Crew has 331 actual kicking points, worth 2,792.5 category points.
The team right below Statman's Crew in the overall standings, Pho Tai Gan, has 333 actual kicking points, worth 2,835 category points. So 2 extra actual kicking points would net you something like an extra 42.5 category points (perhaps not exactly that number, because you'd move into a tie with other teams, and might change how valuable 333 actual kicking points were, but that's a level past where we need to be thinking). Those 42.5 points are a start -- but you need 755.5 to catch the team in 1st place. Look a little harder.
The team in 12th place overall, Headhunter II, has 339 actual kicking points. Those are worth 2,938.5 category points -- a gain of 146 category points with a gain of 8 actual kicking points. Can that be done in three weeks? Yes. Is it worth doing? Look a little harder.
Statman's Crew's worst category is Receiving Yards -- just 2,382 category points, which have come from 9,308 actual receiving yards. One question we might ask now: How many more actual receiving yards would you need to gain 146 points in this category?
The 2,382 category points you already have plus the 146 points we're looking for make a total of 2,528 category points.
Look again at Pho Tai Gan, in 21st place overall. That team has 2,559.5 points in the Receiving Yards category, which have come from 9,407 actual receiving yards -- just 99 more than you have.
So the next question is, what's easier -- gaining by 8 actual kicking points in three weeks, or by 99 (or slightly fewer) actual receiving yards?
And what would happen if you gained by 12 actual kicking points?
And what would happen if you gained by 149 actual receiving yards?
This is the whole process. Spend time studying the overall rankings. Spend a lot of time studying the overall rankings. You may well do better than I just did; by definition, you are more motivated to get this right than I am.
Decide which raw stats would likely give you the most bang-for-your-buck(s) in terms of category points, and then go after those raw stats in particular.
Statman's Crew is sitting fairly pretty, because (again) you have 4 purchases remaining and some of your weaker categories are closely tied together. You need Receiving Yards and Kicker Scoring and Total Scoring? Buy yourself low-percentage, high-volume receivers who get plenty of red-zone looks, and maybe a fair-weather kicker as well -- work on everything at once.
Larry Fitzgerald is 11th in the NFL in receiving yards, tied for 2nd in receiving TDs, just 22.3-percent owned overall (just 3.0-percent among the Top 100) -- and he's really only had a couple of monster games all season. If his knee is right, he'd seem to have some numbers left in him.
I mentioned still liking Greg Jennings? He's just 34.6-percent owned overall (37.0-percent among the Top 100). Brandon Marshall is just 5.2-percent owned overall (not owned by any team in the Top 100) -- and check his numbers lately.
Nate Kaeding leads the NFL in actual kicking points, is 8.2-percent owned overall (24.0-percent among the Top 100), and has games left vs. CIN (warm), at TEN (moderate) and vs. WAS (warm).
If he holds his new job, Garrett Hartley kicks for the team that leads the NFL in actual points, is 7.1-percent owned overall (7.0-percent among the Top 100), and has games left vs. DAL (dome), vs. TB (dome) and at CAR (moderate).
Nor are these the only ways to make up points. Statman's Crew would gain 168 category points in Passing Yards just by adding 132 actual passing yards -- which could easily be the difference between having a purchase left in Week 17 (when Manning and others will sit) and not having one.
Again, a big swing can end in a big, flailing miss. Them's the breaks.
But I like your chances to move up in the standings, not down, if you're careful about studying the categories. Pick the ones where little gains in actual stats mean disproportionately big gains in category points; use those last purchases to augment in those categories, holding one back for Week 17; and -- combining this advice with the points games advice -- give yourself a little extra juice by targeting the most popular expensive players you believe are most vulnerable.
I won't win the Football Challenge this year.
You may as well.
Posted by PETER DEBIASE | Dec. 15 at 10:35 PM
Justin: Best column yet. Thanks to my boys Kurt and Fitz coming up big on Monday, I am now 2nd in points league (-27, 1st) (+9, 3rd) and 107 overall in game (doesn't look good for overall money). I was sitting at 338 points going into Monday with the above two and V.D. (it's a shame you have taken to referring to him as a sexually-transmitted disease now) and SF D. Needless to say that the player (SF D) I was least excited about got me the most points which explains my standing after week 14. I am still sitting on 3 purchases while the first place owner has none. I'm going to analyze the rosters of the other two top teams and pose some specific questions to you later today or tomorrow. Again, thanks for such a comprehensive column.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Dec. 15 at 11:34 PM
Peter: Yep, I've been praising the SF defense all season ... but Monday was all about ARZ laying an egg. Or a dozen eggs. And it's no accident I'm calling him V.D. Don't need kryptonite to stop him; I need penicillin. I'll be traveling the next couple of days but will try to check in late tomorrow. May not be before game time, so ...
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Dec. 15 at 11:38 PM
All: It would not surprise me if Indy lays an egg in Thursday night's game. I'm virtually certain the Colts plan to rest their stars down the stretch - Tony Dungy seemed to say so Sunday night, and he'd probably still know - and this is a road game at an OK opponent that will be fiercely motivated. I'd never say the Colts would tank a game, but it makes sense they'll find a way to lose this one in advance of any controversy over the stars sitting when they're still unbeaten. So I'd go away from Peyton / Wayne / Clark before J-D this week. Even if that's wrong, it'll only be wrong for 30 mins.
Posted by James Baker | Dec. 16 at 12:31 AM
Opposite thinking seems to work sometimes... I wouldn't start Moss, but neither would anyone else, if he's focused in practice and trying to shut up and shut out the noise, Moss will have a big game. I'm thinking sit Clark for Celek, sit Sims-Walker probably for Moss, and start MJD with a 63% lean.
Posted by James Baker | Dec. 16 at 12:33 AM
Burned by Warner and Rodgers still managed 12th ovr and 100 pts off the leader with 3 weeks to go... do I have a chance.
Posted by PETER DEBIASE | Dec. 16 at 02:53 AM
Justin: Based upon my review of other leaders rosters, I pretty much have to start Warner, hope he gets the opportunity to play full games and feasts on DET and STL next two weeks. Fitz as well (I know he's big for you also). Other than that, we pretty much have the same group of WR's (except Jennings who is owned by leader and who I do not have). RB is where I fall short. My starters last week were MJD, CJ, Grant (not an every week start IMO), Mendy, Rice and Ricky. My bench is Slaton (out for season), Forte (not playable until week 17 IMO) and Turner (if he gets healthy, can be an ace in the hole for me). I do not own Peterson and I see no reason to purchase him now. I believe that if MIN gets a win this week and NO also wins, they pretty much sow up their playoff position making AP a candidate to lose PT in weeks 16 and 17. Looking for a RB to purchase. Leader burned his final purchase on Charles last week (brilliant IMO) and he also owns D-Will and Ced (I do not). RB's I'm looking at (that other leaders do not own) are T. Jones (vs. ATL, @ IND, CIN), Moreno-Buckhalter probably out this week (vs. OAK, @ PHI, vs. KC), Gore (@ PHI, vs. DET, @ STL). Also considering Maroney and F. Jackson as secondary options. Don't see any being rested, although Moreno is a possibility in week 17 (if DEN has playoff position locked up). The question is do I move now or keep my purchases for weeks 16 and 17? Basically, I have to make up 10 points per week to win the league. Thanks in advance for any advice.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Dec. 18 at 05:50 PM
James: Answer is yes, of course, you have a chance. 100 pts. in three weeks isn't that many; you need one really huge week. BTW, I kinda like the Moss idea. It's not every week we get a crack at a player like that almost by ourselves, and we might just be by ourselves if we start him in Week 15. But ... at BUF ... weather not looking the least bit hospitable ...
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Dec. 18 at 05:54 PM
Peter: It seems to me there are many prayers less likely to be answered than the one that asks for Warner to have big games vs. those teams. You should be fine in that regard. On RBs, I think I mentioned a few weeks back that I've called Moreno wrong over and over this year - owned him, dropped him, repurchased him, redropped him - but I still really like him down this stretch run. Other guy I'd look at among those you mentioned is T.J. If healthy, he may just have three good matchups in a row as frontliners on IND and CIN start to drop out.
Posted by James Baker | Dec. 19 at 02:42 AM
Justin, which group looks better Favre, ___________, S. Smith NYG, Moss or Warner, Mendenhall, V. Jackson, and Holmes? I read somewhere that AP would get a lighter workload over the next 3 weeks... any chance that happens?
Posted by James Baker | Dec. 19 at 02:44 AM
Weather is a concerned, but Brady did pretty good against Tennessee in the snow... blizzard conditions are a whole other story though.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Dec. 19 at 11:03 AM
I lean toward the first group. Check the weather in Buffalo tomorrow to be sure, but last I saw it should just be (very, very) cold there. Didn't look like they expected precipitation till later in the day, unlike lower down the east coast, which is apparently gonna be a mess.
Posted by James Baker | Dec. 20 at 01:38 AM
Rodgers, S. Smith NYG, AP, and V. Jackson looks better than Brady, Moss, Mendenhall, and Holmes... on paper at least. I like Holmes over V. Jackson, but can't start Favre over Rodgers. Buffalo defense only 5 wr tds allowed this year... GB 15 vs WR and CIN 7 vs WR. My goal this week was for every player I start produce 1 TD... Holmes and Moss are more likely than V. Jax and S. Smith, but sitting ADP for Mendenhall doesn't make sense, even if Mendenhall is the 3rd down back. Sure hope I guessed right.
Posted by PETER DEBIASE | Dec. 20 at 09:33 AM
Justin: Thanks for all your help this season. Time to throw in the towel when you pick up Moreno, he picks up 40 total yards on the first DEN drive then proceeds to do nothing the remainder of the game against the stinkin Oakland Raiders and then, to add insult to injury, you can't even get the extra 3 for the win. Good luck to you the rest of the way.
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