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Occam's Football
Joe Levit
September 20, 2006

Too often in fantasy football, owners who should know better outthink themselves on any given Sunday and end up paying the price. What usually happens is that too much time is spent analyzing matchups, or contemplating hot streaks, when the better endeavor is to put your best fantasy team on the field – every time. The creativity can come into play instead while trying to make trade deals to improve the overall strength of your starting lineup.

The penalty of over-analysis is that, unusually often, it leads to that most demoralizing of fantasy football defeats: the razor-thin loss. Be honest, what is worse: Getting blown out by 50+ fantasy points or losing by three or fewer points? Obviously, it is the latter. In the first scenario, you can rationalize the loss to yourself. Maybe all your guys were just due for a letdown. Or, maybe his men were simply enjoying a joint career afternoon. Whatever the excuse, it doesn’t matter because that win was never a possibility.

But in the second case, the person to blame for your loss is clearly yourself. There is no scapegoat you can pin misfortune on. When you lose a tight game, one different choice usually would have meant victory. And that is a haunting and sobering fact. One close loss on the season, particularly to a division opponent, can be the outcome that keeps you out of the playoffs.

Additionally, this kind of loss can mess with you psychologically. If you lose a couple of games in a row, and then get razor burn, it can leave you irritated and out of sorts the rest of the season.

So how is one to reduce the chances of having to bear this type of loss, and what can be done to move past the debacle when it does happen?   

For the first part of that question, let me introduce you to former Franciscan friar William of Ockham. He is the English logician best known for the principle called Occam’s Razor. In essence, his maxim makes it clear that adding suppositions to any theory or practice is an unsound idea. Any extra factors in play simply introduce more possibilities for error. The uncomplicated answer or formula for any equation is most likely to be the correct choice.

Applied to fantasy football, the principle becomes: Keep it Simple Stupid.

Start your best players and don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in any number of asinine assumptions or tantalizing pet theories regarding other ways to set a starting lineup. I’ve already made a silly blunder of this kind this season, and of course it led to my closest defeat ever. Here is my example of a razor-thin loss, which can be used as a cautionary tale.

These are the results for Week 2 of the Sports Illustrated online experts league. My team is FantasyFootballSpeaker.

FF Mastermind (111.25 pts) defeated Football Diehards I (109.85 pts)
XpertSports (136.10 pts) defeated Gridiron Grumblings I (109.40 pts)
Talented Mr. Roto I (118.10 pts) defeated Talented Mr. Roto II (115.70 pts)
FF Experts (138.75 pts) defeated Sports Illustrated (137.95 pts)
Dr.Football (138.60 pts) defeated Fantasy Football Speaker (138.40 pts)
Gridiron Grumblings II (137.90 pts) defeated Football Diehards Kadlec (98.15 pts)

As you can see, my matchup was not the only one that would qualify as a razor-thin loss. Three or fewer points decided three other contests, a testament to the sharp minds and intense rivalries in the league.

My head-to-head went like this:

Dr. Football   Fantasy Football Speaker    
Starters Points Starters Points  
Daunte Culpepper 16.20 Tom Brady 14.00  
Julius Jones   9.40 Tiki Barber 17.80  
LaDainian Tomlinson 31.20 Frank Gore 21.70  
Drew Bennett 13.50 Ahman Green 15.00  
Terry Glenn 21.40 Antonio Bryant 23.10  
Chris Henry 16.30 Larry Fitzgerald   9.20  
Javon Walker 15.00 Troy Williamson 16.20  
Jeremy Shockey   3.70 Vernon Davis   0.00  
Jeff Wilkins   9.90 Shayne Graham 11.40  
Miami DEF   2.00 Seattle DEF 10.00  
Starter Total 138.60 Starter Total 138.40  
Potential Points 138.60 Potential Points 150.40  
Efficiency Rating 100.0% Efficiency Rating  92.0%  
Non-Starters   Non-Starters    
Trent Green     0.0 Brad Johnson 11.55  
Alex Smith 15.65 Stephen Davis   2.80  
Chris Brown   1.90 Corey Dillon 14.00  
Correll Buckhalter   2.50 Michael Turner 17.50  
Travis Henry     0.0 Greg Jennings 18.70  
Brandon Jacobs   3.50 Keenan McCardell 11.60  
Reche Caldwell   3.40 Heath Miller   2.10  
Cedrick Wilson   2.20 Giants DEF   3.00  
Non-Starter Total   26.95 Non-Starter Total   79.15  
Starter + Non-Starter Total 165.55 Starter + Non-Starter Total 217.55  

The key statistic here is the Efficiency Rating. Dr. Football logged a 100% rating. That means that he started the players who did produce the most points possible at each fantasy position on his team. My Efficiency Rating was 92%. Still good, obviously, but that 8% made all the difference. Now, I hardly feel I can be blamed for starting Larry Fitzgerald or Ahman Green over Greg Jennings and Michael Turner, respectively. But, I did make a crucial mistake that cost me the contest.

I decided to start Vernon Davis at tight end rather than Heath Miller. This was a bad idea for two reasons. First, I drafted Miller before Davis because I was of the opinion that he would be the better fantasy tight end this season. Second, Miller had done nothing so far in the season to warrant a sudden lack of faith on my part. In fact, Miller scored 19.10 points to Davis’ 14.70 in week one. I just talked myself into starting Davis, and he gave me zero points. I lost by .20 points. In other words, two yards or six feet, about the distance it takes a starting NFL tailback to fall forward. If I had put in Miller, his paltry 2.10 points this week would have been more than enough for the victory. The lesson here is don’t get cute in fantasy football, start your starters.

To recover from this kind of defeat go about performing three feats. First, immediately set your starting lineup for the next week with your best possible starters. Second, set up some attempts on the waiver wire to acquire more talent for your team. Third, try making some favorable trades happen. By looking forward to the next contest (following the vogue NFL aphorism “play one game at a time”) you can get closure on a loss that cuts deeply and get to work on destroying your next opponent.

Joe Levit provides fantasy football presentations for corporate outings or client appreciation events. Go to and find out what this service is all about. Joe can be reached at