Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jeremy's Spoken: Avoiding Fantasy Panic After an 0-2 Start

If your fantasy football season even closely resembles the following scenario, read on: You’re 0-2. You drafted Larry Johnson in the 1st round, followed by Thomas Jones in the 2nd, Drew Brees in the 3rd, and Lee Evans in the 4th round. This was the core of your team that was supposed to bring you the championship. Uh oh.

You’re starting to panic. You know it. Everyone in your league can see it as well. That guy in your league that always seems to offer completely lopsided trades (and somehow succeeds in completing some of them) has offered you Warrick Dunn, Ben Roethlisberger, and some guy you’re never heard of named Matt Spaeth for Larry Johnson. He slyly points out that Spaeth is Big Ben’s “go-to guy” in the end zone. He has even scored 2 more touchdowns than LJ.

Here’s what you should do next: Nothing. And here’s why: it’s been only 2 games and your perception of reality is very much skewed by the events of the past 2 Sundays.

Because we have seasons in the NFL, our minds automatically try to “chunk” player performances together into seasons rather than thinking of performance as a continuous spectrum across a player’s career. Without any other games to influence our perception of this season’s performance, we automatically assume that these 2 games are indicative of what is to come during rest of the year. Yes, there are usually changes to each team during the off-season that impact our beliefs about each player’s performance for the upcoming season. But changes occur in-season as well, most often when significant injuries strike. Do you think Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis won’t struggle with the starting right side of the Redskins offensive line on injured reserve?

Think of the situation this way. What if one of your under-performing players had consecutive 2 game stinkers during the middle of the season? Would you rush to trade him then? Probably not. You’d be upset, of course. But most likely, you’d wait another week or two. After all, you reason, he’s “earned” the right to stay in your lineup after a great start to the season. What’s different about a similar 2 game streak now? Nothing at all.

Here’s a perfect example. Last year Larry Johnson had one of the most dominating seasons in fantasy football history with 17 touchdowns and nearly 1,800 yards rushing. Yet during weeks 4 and 5 last year, he put together games that looked like this:
  • Week 4 vs. Arizona: 16 rushes, 36 yards, 2.3 ypc
  • Week 5 vs. Pittsburgh: 15 rushes, 26 yards, 1.7 ypc, 1 T

In his next game, Johnson rushed 28 times for 132 yards, a 4.7 ypc average and 2 TD and not a stinker the rest of the year.

A general rule of thumb in fantasy football is to wait about 3-4 weeks before giving up on a highly ranked player. Of course, if you took a flier in a late round on Matt Jones, for example, don’t hesitate to cut him loose. But with players that are supposed to anchor your team, be patient this week and next. All you need is one win to change the perception of your team’s prospects for the season.

This is the 1st edition of "Jeremy's Spoken" -- Jeremy Mittler's weekly column on strategies and statistical tools to help you gain an edge in your fantasy leagues. "Jeremy's Spoken" will appear on Thursdays at SportsJudge Blog.

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