Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
The opposite of a leap of faith
Posted Oct. 01 at 10:57 AM
A few weeks ago I started doing a regular free-advice feature at the Fantasy Index Facebook page. Every Thursday, readers submit questions about which players they should start and sit for the upcoming weekend's games, and I spend a few hours giving the best answers I can. I take the exercise seriously, not because I think I can get every answer right -- I can't; there's way too much luck involved; anyone who says otherwise is lying -- but because I do think I can give the right answers.
Maybe the distinction between those two (getting the answers right and giving the right answers) exists only in my head. What I really mean is that I can give honest answers based entirely on sound thinking -- based on everything I know and believe about what is more and less likely to happen in every game.
The results will be whatever they'll be, whether I recommend Jahvid Best and he combines for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns, or I recommend Joe Flacco and he throws for 154 yards and 4 interceptions -- both of which happened in Week 2. But the thinking behind my recommendations will always be sound. That's the whole gig. I have faith in my own approach to making fantasy decisions, and I share enough of the approach to allow the question-askers to decide to share my faith or not.
In answering their questions, I've focused most carefully on what they've told me about their leagues' scoring systems -- much as I've always focused these columns on the differences between challenge formats. That's obviously the starting point for any fantasy analysis. Knowing the rules is knowing the game. Ignore how the scoring works and you might as well pick your players at random, as my girlfriend does with a Fantasy Index Super League entry that I won't name until she has a really good week.
NOTE: It's coming. I beat her by 9 points in Week 3. Although I'm not sure she knows about bye weeks.
So the advice I give at Facebook winds up being vastly different than the advice I give you here. Hell, it winds up being vastly different than the advice I give at Facebook in response to other questions. In most fantasy formats these days, C.J. Spiller is just useless. He touched the ball on five offensive plays in Week 2, then on seven in Week 3. The Bills are a mess; the quarterbacking and blocking are awful; Chan Gailey may be featuring Marshawn Lynch because the team is looking to trade him, or maybe he just can't figure out how to get Spiller free in open space because, again, the quarterbacking and blocking are awful.
But a couple of weeks ago someone asked me about Spiller in context of a league in which 25 kick-return yards are worth 1 fantasy point. Lo and behold, three weeks into the season Spiller has returned 12 kickoffs for 374 yards and a touchdown, earning 20 points for doing so (the TD counts as 6 points). That's the equivalent of almost 70 rushing yards per game, or more than 1,000 for the full season. And since the Bills are so bad that they're allowing scores -- and thus returning kickoffs -- as often as almost any other team, Spiller is a viable starting option in that format even without hitting ten offensive touches per game.
I know none of this pertains directly to the challenge games we're all playing -- Spiller has been one of my keenest disappointments in those games so far -- but there are lessons to be remembered here.
Week 3 was tough, with a bunch of the usual challenge suspects not playing (Ryan Mathews) or putting up surprisingly poor numbers (Matt Schaub, Miles Austin, others). My teams moved as little as I can remember them doing in a given week -- from 369th overall to 341st in Fanball's Football Challenge, 132nd to 137th in the $35K points game -- and I consider myself lucky to have held my ground.
I'm sure several of you were not as lucky. I'm sure several of you are getting panicky about your rosters and your current places in the standings. I know you are, because I keep getting the same question from Football Challengers:
What about Michael Vick?
What about him?
I hope it's clear that what I'm trying to do with this column is link the process I use for answering Facebook questions to the process you use for answering challenge questions. They ought to be similar. You'll have to decide whether you have faith in me, and separately you'll have to decide whether you have faith in Vick. No getting around this; the first question that will decide our 2010 seasons is whether Vick, who costs a piddling $1120 in the Football Challenge -- just 63 percent as much as the cheapest QB left on my roster, the unplayable-for-now Carson Palmer -- belongs on our teams or not.
If you'd asked me to answer that question at Facebook on Thursday, this is what I would have told you:
Vick has started two games this season, and in those two games has passed for an average of 288 yards (at 8.8 yards per attempt) and 2.5 touchdowns, and has rushed for an average of 34 yards (at 5.6 yards per attempt) and .5 touchdowns. Those numbers are beyond useful, in any format. One of you asked me whether Randall Cunningham's numbers from 1998 are now realistic to expect out of Vick in 2010. Cunningham's numbers: 247 yards (8.7 per attempt) and 2.3 touchdowns per game passing, 8.8 yards (4.1 per attempt) and .1 touchdowns per game rushing. In other words, is Vick -- in Andy Reid's pass-first system -- suddenly a vastly different player than he was in Atlanta, where he ran often and his best-ever passing season came to 196 yards (7.0 per attempt) and 1.1 touchdowns per game?
Answer: I have perfect faith in Vick -- by which I mean that I have zero faith in Vick. I bought him last week in the points game, where his rushing production can always offset an off passing day, but I will not buy him in the Football Challenge, and if my "perfect" faith proves to be misplaced, I will lose to those of you who go the other way. I have faith enough not to leap.
I think buying Vick in any game in which both passing yards and passing average count as categories -- especially if those are two of just eight categories -- is asking to find yourself in a tough spot very soon. He'll have a bad game, and you'll fall behind teams that own better-throwing QBs. Then you'll have to decide whether to start him the next week, and risk compounding the problem. Then when he has another bad game -- whether it comes immediately or not -- you'll have to decide whether to use a second purchase to replace him. Not that he'll be easy to replace, mind you, because he is so cheap; it's always easier to dump guys who cost more. And meanwhile I will have zoomed past you in the standings.
Bottom line: I do not believe Vick is meaningfully different as a passer now than he used to be. ESPN.com's KC Joyner, who does interesting work with football numbers, reported last week that Vick threw seven passes in Weeks 1 and 2 that could or should have been intercepted (none were). Perhaps even more telling is this: Vick averaged 17.1 yards per completion in Week 3, but only 9.4 yards per attempt. The huge spread means that his 291 yards came on big plays, but he completed just 54.8 percent of his passes. His career completion percentage is 54.0. The difference between Sunday and the rest of his career? DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are better than Jacksonville's defensive backs. Duh.
Vick faced a good defense in Week 1 (relieving the concussed Kevin Kolb against Green Bay), and he lost to that defense with 175 yards passing and 103 yards rushing. That is Michael Vick. Then he won games at Detroit and Jacksonville through the air. Those teams rank 26th and 29th against the pass in 2010, respectively. They ranked 32nd and 27th in 2009. It's a 32-team league.
Washington is this week's opponent; the Hogs' rankings are 31st in 2010 but 8th in 2009. Maybe this is suddenly another putrid defense that Vick can light up in Week 4 -- but the old Vick was no sure thing against a bad defense, and my faith is full and complete. Eventually, this "new" Vick will prove that he has not changed (on the field) at all.
Have faith in the new Vick and you might beat me this week.
Have faith in me and you might lose this week, and might even lose longer-term. I have gotten answers wrong before. But now is the time to make your choice. Leap or not?
I promise not to take offense if you go against me. But I have the right thinking behind my recommendations, whatever the results will be.
Justin Eleff has written for Fantasy Index for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter or you risk hurting his feelings.
Posted by KEVIN DALLAS | Oct. 01 at 11:51 AM
J...I am 717th overall in the Challenge. I am not in panic mode yet, but I definitely have some work to do.
Posted by Carlos Jackson | Oct. 01 at 01:03 PM
Ok once again you have talked me out of Vick. After this post you have me for the rest of the year. I am 88 overall(best start ever thanks Justin:) )and I see 85% of the top 100 has Vick. One of the guys in the FC fourm said that you can't win the FC without Vick. I think you can. Thanks for the post Justin I need that smack in the face. One more thing I know you picked up Culter last week and he did ok for you. What do you think about E.Manning? I was thinking about picking him up to use for the next three weeks and put Orton on the bench, b/c it looks like Orton have some bad match ups. If you see or know something I do not know please tell me. Again Justin thank you thank you.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Oct. 01 at 01:29 PM
Kevin: Keep fighting the good fight. I was around 1,000th in the Diamond Challenge in late May or early June. I'll finish in the top 10.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Oct. 01 at 01:44 PM
Carlos: I'd tune out the bulletin boards at Fanball's sites if I were you. Much noise, little expertise. You can't win the FC without Vick - that's true - if Vick will average 280+ passing yards. Guess what else. You can't win the FC without Peyton Hillis if Hillis will average 100+ rushing yards. Separately, I like Eli a lot; he was my second choice after Cutler. I just decided I'd made a mistake letting bias (against Cutler and Martz) get in the way of the obvious: Cutler's better than Bulger, and Martz is only marginally worse than he was then. This can work until Cutler gets hurt. And, note: I did own Johnny Knox all along, everywhere. I have him in every challenge, I have him in every draft league, I've started him everywhere every week except in the Super League. It's not like I was ENTIRELY anti-Bears. The trick to going more expensive at QB (like Palmer to Cutler for me, Orton to Cutler or Eli for you) will be coming down from an expensive WR to a less expensive one. Big deal; Malcom Floyd has been more consistent than several big names so far, and the only guy who's clearly more explosive (until Stafford comes back, in any event) is Jackson - on the other end of Vick's arm. I'm comfortable enough with Cutler and Floyd instead of, say, Vick and any WR I wanted. Let them say what they want on the bulletin boards. I like my chances. Last thing: Eli will occasionally lay an egg. That's the one downside. He's done it every season. No way to know when it might come. It doesn't appear to be a function of his matchups. Just some weeks he's ... elsewhere. But maybe Week 2 was it for a while.
Posted by Chris Metz | Oct. 02 at 12:28 AM
I'm doing fine in every category except passing yards and average. Getting torched there. I've had bad luck with who I choose to start. Week one I had Schaub, Brady and Rodgers. That was Schaub's horrible game. Week 2 I decided to sit Schaub for Brady and I put Palmer in. Oops. Week 3 was OK, it could have been a little better if I had put in Brady instead of Schaub. I also had Cutler and Rodgers, they were fine. MY league is big on Michael Vick. I will not get him because that seems like a fine way to catch up in passing yards, if Vick cooperates and decides to have a 35 attempt game for 150 yards. My question is should I get Peyton Manning. He will make lineup decisions a lot easier for me. I would have to get a Peyton Hillis or DMC to make it work. The choice is the following Choice 1) Peyton Manning, Hillis or DMC and Roddy White(I have him and can then afford to play him) I would use two burns under this choice. Choice 2) Using zero pick ups and going with Tom Brady, Frank Gore and Jabar Gaffney. Brady should be OK.
Posted by Chris Metz | Oct. 02 at 12:36 AM
and I could just sell Gaffney then and get any WR under 1340. Mike Wallace seems like a decent pick. Maybe not for this week, but I could play him and see if he catches a long bomb anyway.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Oct. 02 at 12:42 AM
Justin: Surprised at overall WR%'s in 35K? I'm shocked that Calvin J. is twice as owned as Roddy W. and even Jennings is more owned than White. I don't like the price much but wondering if I need to move given need to replace AJ. Getting a little queasy with Schaub too - Foster is the real deal. I'm in the mid-200's overall and reasonably satisfied with my assumptions so far.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Oct. 02 at 12:49 AM
Regarding above - I'm pretty standard at WR right now: AJ, Calvin, Austin, Nicks, Floyd, Knox, Maclin, Wallace and Harvin. Was considering dropping Calvin for White in 35K.
Posted by Chris Metz | Oct. 02 at 02:39 AM
Looking ahead a week. If I get Eli Manning that will make me set for a few weeks without a trade, unless an injury happens. I could even just go the Brady route this week with the plan of getting Eli, his schedule is good for the next few weeks. I will probably sit tight and hope Gaffney gets something.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Oct. 02 at 02:46 AM
Chris: I started Brady for Peyton in Week 3 and it worked fine. But I'm scrambling to go back to Peyton now. NOTE that Brady has been much, much better in home games the last two years. That said, I don't love DMC (anymore) or Hillis. I worry about Bush taking work away from the former, and worry even more that the latter's Week 3 breakout was pure fluke. Let's see Hillis do it at least once more. So ... how to fit in Peyton AND Gore? Do you have Naanee?
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Oct. 02 at 02:56 AM
Mark: Megatron can't work in points while Shaun Hill is the QB. He's too expensive; can't get the really top-end numbers any $3 million WR needs to justify the price. White is the top bulk-numbers guy in the league in 2010 (he's been much worse where receiving average counts), and ATL will win a bunch of games, so you can't really go wrong with him. Re Schaub, remember that you don't need to compare him to last year's numbers at this year's salary. He just has to beat last year's other $3.5 million guys (Flacco, Palmer, Ryan, etc.) by a little. Which he will. Rodgers / Schaub / Vick are locked in for me in that game, at least until Vick does crap out. I may shuffle Brady's home games in for Schaub, but maybe not.
Posted by Chris Metz | Oct. 02 at 05:31 AM
I can play Peyton Manning if I use Gaffney and Jermaine Gresham this week instead of Roddy White and Antonio Gates. I do have Naanee. I am starting Chris Johnson, Turner, Gore, Mathews Foster and Bradshaw at RB. Cutler and Rodgers at QB. Finley is my other TE. My WRs are Knox Maclin Nicks Floyd Naanee and Gaffney. Kickers are Nedney (Buehler on a bye) Rackers and Bryant.
Posted by Chris Metz | Oct. 02 at 05:44 AM
I like that the best...Blasted kickers. Wanted to get Nugent preseason but was scared off him. He would be a great bye week replacement. That is pretty balanced and it's best to take a risk at WR. Titans can be thrown on and Denver WILL chuck it. Gresham is getting action because Palmer can only throw it 10 yards. I have the other SD WRs so I am not missing out totally on that passing game.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Oct. 02 at 02:36 PM
Chris: I just bought Nugent myself. No choice; Hartley's terrible at best and Buehler's on his bye, so I dropped Hartley for the one other cheap guy who fits with my other byes. We have similar squads this week, it looks like, except that I have Peyton in with Rodgers and Cutler, which means I have an extra cheap RB. Match you with C.J., Turner, Bradshaw, Mathews, Foster, but Gore is on the bench in favor of Greene. As with Vick, my faith in the Bills is full and complete.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Oct. 02 at 05:42 PM
Bit some bullets in the points game this week. I used a purchase at TE, which I hate to do, bringing Gates on for Celek. Used a purchase at K, which I hate to do, bringing Nugent on for Hartley. And used a purchase at DEF, which I hate to do, bringing ATL on for SF. Also: I'm starting five different WRs this week who have Week 8 byes, so at least a couple of purchases will go to fix that mess between now and then. I like my roster, but the few holes are just ulcerous.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Oct. 03 at 04:27 AM
Mark: Here's hoping you ignored me re Megatron this week. I stand by my aversion as to the whole period Stafford will miss, but Hill has been lights-out in the first half.
Posted by Carlos Jackson | Oct. 03 at 09:54 AM
I would still like to say THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU !!! about Vick.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Oct. 08 at 12:52 AM
Justin: No worries - I kept Megatron, played him even, and still dropped 150 spots overall!!! Looking for some analysis this week - still like Brady as much if they're really moving toward a West Coast approach? Any cheapo WR's getting your attention?
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