Fantasy Football: Predictably Unpredictable June 2, 2013  |  John Kerwin

Fantasy football has a way of turning NFL fans into self-proclaimed “experts” in their own minds. How many of us have wishfully envisioned ourselves finishing an NFL season as the most accurately ranked analyst in the industry? For a majority of us this is a dream, for a select few it has blossomed into a reality. What factors come into play when rationalizing the possibility of this success? A vague correlation of football IQ, intelligence, analysis, and luck are combined mixtures of a perfect storm helping this come to fruition. Unfortunately this passion we indulge in is a guessing game to a certain extent. Our opinions and insights formulate predictions that are based on events that are simply unpredictable. Studying players, statistics, and coaching styles among other influences assist in concocting our most valiant educated assumptions that differentiate the leaders from the bottom-dwellers throughout the fantasy industry.

We can’t control the outcomes yet we stubbornly dispute our perceptions to the last breath. Argumentative debates spawn on a daily basis across social media resources because of our varying thoughts. Being persuasive and convincing may sway these friendly altercations, but who is ever exactly correct? Yes, some opinions end up in the ballpark of factual down the road, but many times we inevitably eat our own words. We point fingers and call each other crazy, but an inference being judged as erratic is a conclusion derived because of our own views. How many people have ever been involved in some type of contest where you are required to predict a number? More often than not, nobody hits the number exactly on the head, but the individual closest to that random number wins; welcome to fantasy football.

No matter how intensely we study and analyze every aspect that draws us to a conclusion, the NFL has an agitating way of shattering these opinions we’ve gathered. The easiest example of this is “injury”. Specific players are gauged as injury-prone, but as physical as the game of football is, freak occurrences are going to happen. Depth and planning helps prepare us for these nightmares, but if a top-tier player goes down for an extended period of time, it can cripple our hopes in a blink of an eye. 20/20 hindsight would be a beautiful thing, but lets be realistic, nobody can predict the future or change the past. Millions of people around the world have nearly captured a fantasy championship based on a “what if” situation. Unless your name is Pete Rose, you’ve never had the ability to manage a bet placed on professional athletes in a first-hand manner.

Coaches, game plans, and game flow are dimensions of the game that can alter our outcomes in positive and negative ways as well. Carson Palmer exemplified the term “garbage time” a majority of last season and many fantasy teams benefited from the lack of close games the Oakland Raiders were involved in. If you owned Darren McFadden, the second half of Raiders games was commonly irritating, but Palmer owners rejoiced at the two and three+ touchdown deficits. Game flow can drastically change the point totals of many players over the course of four quarters. Until last season many fake footballers have referred to Mike Shanahan’s coaching style as “Shananigans.” His running back situations were typically fantasy wastelands with his inconsistency of sticking with one guy. Alfred Morris was finally able to destroy his stretch of fantasy frustration conveyed by us all. Even with the workhorse dominance Alf was able to display in Washington last season, many writers are still weary of this specific situation and the trust that needs to be placed on a late 1st-early 2nd round pick. A rankings drop in PPR is understandable, but the continued fright of drafting him because of coaching decisions is a reality. Who knows if Shanahan himself is even convinced he won’t resort back to his tricky ways. Doubt is a common determinant holding us back from confidently predicting many outcomes.

On the other end of that spectrum is promise. C.J. Spiller is a shining example of potential waiting to explode. There are hoards of individuals assuming Spiller is going to breakout and be handed the workload needed to ascend into the coveted “tier 1” of running backs. The promise that surrounds Spiller is unquestionable, but that reiterated cloud of doubt is still holding others back from placing him in the top 5 rankings at this point. Doug Marrone has spoken highly of Spiller and insists he is capable of carrying a workload, but how many times has a coach blown phantom smoke during the off season? Certain analysts wisely restrain from giving into all of this and keep Spiller a few spots lower than his talent displays he is capable of attaining. I can’t argue the ones that have him top 3, and I won’t argue the others that have him 5-10 either. You can debate and throw stats around all day, but realistically we are in the dark as to what is really going to occur.

A great analyst/writer is capable of using an intelligent mixture of statistics and the eye-test to rate players, but a lot of times bias tends to skew perceptions and alter an educated opinion. I’m as much of a homer as anyone, but I know better than placing Trent Richardson as my top rated running back heading into this season. Although I would like to think I derived my rankings logically, I still probably had TRich a bit higher than I would’ve if I wasn’t a Clevelander. It’s perfectly understandable to fall victim of homerism on occasion, but don’t let your accuracy fail miserably because of hometown pride. I can claim I know more about the Cleveland Browns than many people around the country based on 100% attention to the team on a consistent basis, but hyping certain stats and happenings within the organization is only going to cause personal failure if I don’t think outside of the brown and orange box. I assume his workload is predictable from an ignorant standpoint, but his situation and fantasy outcome is about as unpredictable as it gets.

There are various other recent examples of how unpredictable the game of fantasy football really is; just look at Colin Kaepernick and Randall Cobb. I was able to grab Cobb off of waivers last season after week 1. I also snagged Kaep off of waivers the day after Alex Smith succumbed to injury. Kaep was a solid play down the stretch, but was nothing more than a security stash for myself because of Matt Ryan. Cobb however, helped solidify my team as my WR3 and was a significant reason to winning that particular fantasy championship. If it wasn’t for Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings being so inconsistent, Cobb might not have been nearly as much of an impact player as the end result defined. Kaepernick is predominantly ranging anywhere in the 5-12 block in most rankings heading into this season. Cobb is anywhere in the 5-10 range, and I even heard a fellow writer mentioning his potential status as WR1 overall by this seasons end. Nobody could’ve predicted this quick of a catapult for each of these players before last season. The promise was obviously there, and they were honestly on a few deep radars, but nowhere near the range they are hovering around at this point.

My decision to write this article was caused by an argument last night between multiple writers throughout Twitter over a debate of the value of Percy Harvin. As the conversation was nearing the end of it’s climax it dawned on me that every single one of us could be wrong. The odds of him cementing a final spot somewhere in one of our vicinities is very possible, but the strength of each individuals perception would lead you to believe we all had a crystal ball. I am a very open-minded person and like to at least listen to the thoughts and beliefs of others that I value, but it seems we are quick to write-off someone’s views without giving their argument any consideration. As predictable as any situation seems, and as solid as someones opinion may be, the fact of the matter is this game we play is always going to be as unpredictable as the lives we lead. With all of this taken into consideration, should 99% of us that portray ourselves as “experts” wisely alter that description to educated theorists?


2 Responses

  1. J. Stone says:

    I have Kaepernick and Cobb in my keeper league, both will cost me a tenth round pick. I was going with Kaepernick 100% before the Crabtree injury, now I’ m 50-50. Who should I keep?

    • JKerwin says:

      I personally would go with Cobb without hesitation. Kaep has a bright future but I see Cobb as a consistent Top 10 WR for years to come. Especially if it is a PPR league.

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