Commentary

Final fantasy week advice

You shouldn't be playing this week, but if you are, here's how to handle your lineup

Originally Published: December 21, 2011
By Danny Tuccitto | Football Outsiders
Cam NewtonAP Photo/Bob LeveroneCam Newton won't be going to the playoffs, but he can still help you this week.

Let's get this out of the way at the beginning: If you're in a fantasy league that schedules anything meaningful during Week 17, either find a new league or (non-violently) persuade your commissioner to rectify the situation for next season. Plenty of fantasy football writers have already published screeds railing against the inanity of Week 17 games, so I'll refrain from doing so. Rather, before getting to the specific player matchups, we'll take a statistical look at whether the main argument against Week 17 fantasy games is fact or fiction: Does a team's playoff scenario situation in Week 17 affect how many points its players will score?

When it comes to playoff scenarios, there are only four possibilities for each team:

1. It's clinched a specific playoff seed.

2. It's clinched a playoff berth but not a specific seed.

3. It hasn't clinched a playoff berth but is still mathematically alive for one.

4. It's been mathematically eliminated from a playoff berth.

For the first type of situation, the theory goes that these teams will either pull their starters midway through their meaningless Week 17 game or they'll deactivate their starters altogether. From 2007 to 2010, of the 16 teams to have clinched a specific seed prior to Week 17, only four played their starting quarterback deep into the second half. In either case, fantasy owners are left holding the bag. Either they have to bench a star player that probably carried them to the championship game (e.g., Michael Vick in 2010) or they start said player and see him score half (or less) of his usual output (e.g., Peyton Manning in 2008).

For the second and third types of situations, it's assumed that players on these teams will score at or above their usual fantasy output because they're motivated by playoff participation or improved seeding. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that when a team has something to play for, their players will -- at the very least -- not exhibit decreased scoring like those on teams locked into seeds. Therefore, fantasy owners should start players in these situations confidently. Brett Favre scoring 65 percent higher than his average while vying for the NFC's No. 1 seed in Week 17 of 2009 comes to mind.

Theoretically speaking, the final type of playoff scenario is a little harder to figure out from a fantasy perspective. Are players on already-eliminated teams thinking about their tee times more than their games? Do some eliminated teams relish the role of spoiler? What about the game-time decision to deactivate a mildly injured player in a meaningless game? The answers to these questions are relatively unpredictable without playing armchair sport psychologist, so fantasy owners are usually in a start-and-pray situation.

So those are the theories, but what do the stats say?

To find out, I looked at all quarterbacks who started in Week 17 from 2007 to 2010 and determined the type of playoff scenario situation for each of their teams heading into the game. I decided to focus on quarterbacks for two main reasons. First, as I mentioned two weeks ago, weekly quarterback scoring is the most predictable among major positions. Second, quarterback is the most important position on the field, so it's the one that is usually affected by these Week 17 fantasy shenanigans.

As a reminder, the scoring system I'm using awards one point for every 20 passing yards, one point for every 10 rushing yards, four points for every passing touchdown, six points for every rushing touchdown, minus-two points for every interception and minus-two points for every lost fumble:


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