I did something recently that I hadn't done for several years. I didn't know how it would turn out, because it had been so long. But I was curious to see if it would be good for me, or if I would hate it. Might be a little of both.
I watched football games with absolutely no fantasy implications whatsoever.
Playoff fantasy football is a fun end to the season, an opportunity to add some excitement to the games and a chance to either recoup some losses or keep the winning streak going. I'm not saying it's as meaningful as the regular season, but it can take the sting out of a tough year, and make the playoff games more interesting.
I decided to forego all that and not play in any fantasy games this time around. That meant no draft and no game where you pick a stable of players and hope they advance (my favorite). No salary cap game. No daily fantasy tournaments, either. I didn't wager on who would win and I wasn't that concerned about who won or lost. I was just watching football for the sake of enjoying the actual game.
At times I really enjoyed it. The conference championship games were great to watch. As a fan, I think a Goff/Mahomes Super Bowl, or a Brees/Brady matchup would have been preferable to what we have. And yes, the referees completely botched the end of the Rams/Saints game. But I didn't "need" the Saints to advance to help my fantasy team, so I was just annoyed that the outcome was likely changed by the most blatant non-call I've ever seen.
But two overtime games? Tony Romo calling plays in the booth, a 38-point fourth quarter and multiple lead changes in Kansas City? I was able to enjoy how Sunday unfolded, without worrying why Michael Thomas was being left out, or where Todd Gurley was throughout the game. I didn't take a flier on Sammy Watkins and I wasn't disappointed in Tyreek Hill. I just watched football, and enjoyed what Alcoa would have called "Fantastic Finishes" a few decades ago.
That part was fun. You know what wasn't fun? Slogging through the Colts beating the Texans, or the Chargers falling in New England. With nothing else to keep the games interesting, they simply weren't interesting. I didn't care that one team was moving on and I didn't care who scored the touchdowns. It was nice to see Andrew Luck do well, though. He earned Comeback Player of the Year. But that wasn't enough to make the game exciting on its own.
So really, it was a mixed bag. Not to channel Captain Obvious, but good games are good and bad games are bad. It's no different in the post-season if you don't have a rooting interest in the outcome. I wasn't cheering for any specific players and there were no prizes on the line. So unless the games were close, there was something missing. And that something was fantasy football.
On the other hand, it was nice to see a great catch and not immediately focus on the number on the jersey. I wasn't calculating stats in my head after a long run. I didn't care if the Patriots gave the ball to Michel or Burkhead at the goal line. It didn't matter if a Dallas touchdown came from Elliott or Cooper or Prescott. C.J. Anderson or Gurley? Who cares? Not me. A touchdown is a touchdown, there are no TD vultures and yards don't really matter. There's a beautiful simplicity in the actual game.
The truth is that I should be able to put fantasy stats aside when enjoying a great playoff contest. But I've been playing for so long, my brain automatically calculates the value of each completion or carry, and identifies some players as "good" and some as "bad." A great touchdown to the wrong player isn't fun to watch. A meaningless catch by the right receiver is exciting. And while we saw great championship games, what if they had been boring? Would the entire playoffs be boring for me?
I'm not sorry I passed on the January fantasy games. Everyone can use a break now and then. But I'm looking forward to August, and I'm not sure I can count on the NFL providing great playoff action next year. I might be looking for a fun game or two during the post-season. I kind of missed having every game mean something, regardless of the score.
We have one more game to go, and I hope it will be a good one. I'll have no fantasy stakes on the line, prop bets or any Vegas-related action. But if friends are setting up squares, I might be in for a couple. You know, just to keep things interesting.
How important is fantasy football to you during the playoffs? Can you enjoy the games on their own if your favorite team isn't playing? Can you set aside your fantasy team if the games are exciting, or does it affect how you watch? Share your thoughts below.