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How To Win In Fantasy Sports

I was reading Larry Schechter’s “Winning Fantasy Baseball” book,

wherein he identifies the underpinnings of his uncanny run of

expert and high-stakes league success. He writes:

The real keys to my success have always been my auction and

draft strategy as well as in-season management. I doubt I’ve ever

won a league primary because I had a better set of player dollar

values than everyone else.

We had Yahoo’s Dalton Del Don on our Siriux/XM radio show,

RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today, and I asked him how he’d done so

well in fantasy football leagues in recent years (this year nine of

his 10 teams made the playoffs), and he said it was more his

approach to the draft/auction than having any special insight into

the players. Peter Schoenke made the playoffs in 10 of his 12

leagues this year, and before the season, he had been advocating

going WR-WR in the first two rounds, something that’s panned out


better than going with RBs early this year.

Perhaps then it’s more reliable to find an edge in draft

strategy than it is in player projection, especially now that

people have access to a variety of well-thought-out projections,

ADP lists and cheat sheets.

Because any strategy can win given the right players, there are

likely many lower-probability strategies that have won and with

which people are sticking on that basis. If you find a

higher-probability strategy, for example, possibly Schoenke’s WR-WR

one based on a


early-pick bust rate, you’ll have a better chance of winning,

despite using a roughly similar by-position cheat sheet as everyone


Of course, patterns in football (and other sports) change. In

2011, the top-five quarterbacks were monsters. In 2012, it paid to

fade them. This year, it’s in-between. Ten years ago, it was worth

spending huge auction dollars on Shaun Alexander, LaDainian

Tomlinson or Priest Holmes because even though as RBs their chances

of busting were high, their healthy upsides were massive. This

year, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy have been great, but nowhere

near Alexander/Tomlinson/Holmes. And they came with just as much


To win consistently then, one cannot simply “always wait on

quarterbacks” or “always go WR-WR in the first two rounds.” The

strategic edge doesn’t come from the specific recipe to follow but

the ability to find the faulty assumptions underlying prevailing

conventional wisdom. If top running backs were priced like they

might score 25-plus touchdowns but none were likely to eclipse 20,

then snagging two among an historically good crop of top-six

receivers makes little sense. But if those receivers move into the

first round next year, that loophole will have closed, and you’ll

have to look elsewhere. I’d love to hear specific suggestions in

the comments about what to do in that case.

Those Yahoo! Bots Are Harsh

Here’s the write-up of my playoff loss to DDD in the Y! Friends

and Family League:

Playoffs: Y! – Del Don Punishes RotoWire_Liss

Y! – Del Don got the highest score this week from LeSean McCoy

(38.85), dismantling RotoWire_Liss 172.38 – 105.24. The playoff win

was memorable, with the 67.14-point margin of victory being the

fifth-highest recorded in the league this season. This is a repeat

performance for Y! – Del Don over RotoWire_Liss, after a 135.97 –

113.01 win in Week 5. To make matters worse, RotoWire_Liss got zero

points from Alex Henery. RotoWire_Liss ended the regular season in

sixth place with a record of 7-6. Perhaps benefiting from some good

fortune, they ranked just 12th in the league in scoring average at

110.51 points per game. This postseason, RotoWire_Liss was bounced

early, losing in their only playoff game.

Seriously, if that were was a person, he’d want to steer clear

of me at the next FSTA event in Vegas. As if I’m to blame because

my kicker wasn’t used in a 34-20 blizzard?

Jason Garrett is Even Worse Than We Thought

When you routinely criticize a player or coach, it’s easy to

fall into a kind of confirmation bias where you see only the

negative and block out the positive. You cease to notice when he

does the right thing or makes a good play and only see those

boneheaded decisions in line with your prior image of him. So while

I’ve piled on Jason Garrett for two seasons now, I secretly assumed

I was probably exaggerating how bad he really was. Until during the

Monday night game against the Bears down 13 in the third quarter,

he punted on 4th-and-4 in Bears territory. After which the Bears

got the ball near their own 10 and drove down for a game-sealing


When Dallas got the ball back, they drove to roughly the same

place on the field where they’d punted earlier, and got to

4th-and-9. Now down 21 at the end of the third quarter, the Cowboys

had to go for it – even Garrett knew that. After Tony Romo

inexplicably threw the ball away in the face of the blitz (why not

throw it up for grabs on fourth down?), ESPN’s Mike Tirico said

something stunning: This was the first time all year the Cowboys

had gone for it on fourth down. It took Garrett more than 13 and a

half weeks to take that risk. Then Tirico added it was the latest

in history a team had gone without attempting a fourth down


So even Among NFL coaches


to do the cowardly thing rather than the mathematically correct

one, Garrett is an historical outlier.

Observations Entering Week 15

– There were 90 touchdowns scored on Sunday, breaking the

previous one-day record of 87. When you include the Thursday and

Monday night games, it was the most points ever scored in an NFL


The bad weather didn’t hurt on that front, with teams going for

it rather than kicking field-goals, and defenses slipping around

while chasing LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Ross and Cordarrelle Patterson.

But the weather did hurt certain players like Matt Stafford, Calvin

Johnson and Nick Foles. The bottom line – while touchdowns were up,

field goals were down, and there were fewer crisp passing TDs in

the bad weather stadiums even if overall scoring totals were at

record highs.

– Favorites went 13-1 straight up on Sunday, the only loss being

the Steelers. Overall they went 14-2 on the week with the Texans

being the other. (Had Antonio Brown – more on that below – not

stepped out of bounds, they would have gone 14-0 Sunday and 15-1


– The Giants were unwatchable, and so for the first time in

several years, I actually didn’t watch much of the game. The

offense hasn’t looked crisp since the second half of Week 1 against

the Cowboys. When a Twitter follower invited me to dump the Giants

for the Cowboys, I told him that was Plan C. Plan A was stick with

the Giants, Plan B was kill myself.

– If that was the best the 49ers could do at home, they have no

chance in Seattle. It’s too bad Aaron Rodgers might not return.

While Seattle is technically undefeated at home the last two years,

it was Rodgers who actually beat them but for an insane call by the

replacement refs. The only team that looks capable of beating the

Seahawks in Seattle is the Saints in New Orleans. But I don’t think

we’ll see that match-up, barring a change in the laws of


– The No. 1 players (arguably) at three key positions, Adrian

Peterson, Calvin Johnson and Rob Gronkowski caused a lot of people

to get knocked out of their playoffs. You have to feel pretty

fortunate if you have Johnson and a first-round bye.

– The Broncos got touchdowns for Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker,

Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. Who

says there isn’t enough to go around?

– Seeing Andrew Luck blow up against the Bengals on the road

makes you wonder what would happen if Luck played in Marc

Trestman’s offense rather than Pep Hamilton’s. Good quarterbacks

need to sling the ball down the field and if receivers get hurt,

you find new ones who can give the QB a chance. Da’Rick Rodgers was

freely available, and it’s bizarre Indy waited until the team was

down three scores in Cincinnati to open things up. Forget about a

power running game, forget about time of possession. Just turn Luck

loose and get out of the way.

– Andy Dalton had a good game and has good match-ups down the

stretch (@PIT, vs. MIN), but I wouldn’t start him unless I were

backed into a corner. Gio Bernard is already one of the top-10

real-life backs in the league, maybe top-five.

– For a good visual of how crazy the Vikings-Ravens finish was,



– Matt Ryan had a disappointing day against a beatable Packers

defense. Roddy White saw 10 targets and caught eight, but it was

mostly short stuff. They get the Redskins at home next week, so

Ryan will still merit consideration.

– This is baseball-related but if anyone wants to see an example

of sports journalism done right,


here for a devastating takedown of the Seattle Mariners front

office, that uses real sources willing to go on the record.

Interestingly, one of the sources, Tony Blengino, used to run

RotoWire’s minor-league coverage.

– I’ve seen others (including

@markstopa) mention

this, but it really is crazy the Steelers lost due to Antonio Brown

accidentally stepping on the sideline one week after Mike Tomlin

stepped onto the field to distract Jacoby Jones. Karma usually

works mysteriously and subtly, not obviously and heavy-handedly

like that. Of course, had Brown not stepped out of bounds, the

league would have had to investigate whether there was a forward

lateral on the play, but it might well have been too close to call,

and you wonder if the refs would have had the stones to overturn it

in Pittsburgh. Now that it doesn’t matter, it’s possible the league

rules on it and costs Antonio Brown owners some yards, something

that could swing some playoff match-ups.

– The Texans-Jaguars game was actually close, but it was poorly

played, and the penalties made it unbearable to watch. Houston

actually set a record with 177 penalty yards. You combine that with

the Cialis commercials, and you have a recipe for armed revolt.

– Given Toby Gerhart’s performance, maybe Adrian Peterson is

just a system back.

– Who’s had a more trying year, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron


– How is it possible Dez Bryant saw two targets in a 49-17 loss

to the Saints and four targets in a 45-28 loss to the Cowboys?

Aren’t these the games your star receiver is supposed to rack up

the garbage-time production?

– Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Michael Vick and

Philip Rivers all have higher YPA marks than Peyton Manning’s 8.39.

But Manning is on pace for 55 TDs (Tom Brady’s record is 50) and

5,566 yards (Drew Brees’ record is 5,476).


@Chris_Liss on


Liss is RotoWire’s Managing Editor and host of RotoWIre Fantasy

Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

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