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The Great Tiebreaker Debate

It’s the time of year that we have all been counting down to for months. No, I’m not talking about Christmas time – it’s playoff time! That means this is the time of year where we get to reap the rewards from the months of hard work that we put in over the Spring, Summer, and Fall to get here. It is the time of year that we collect the money and hoist the trophies. It is also the time of year when one particular debate always seems to come up, the great tiebreaker debate!

We have all been a part of this debate, and we all know the options and understand why it comes up. Tiebreakers often decide draft order, seeding and payouts. If some of you are like me, you’ve even been in leagues that have flip flopped back and forth between the various options on what seems like a yearly basis as those that perceive themselves as being slighted by the current rules whip enough people up into a frenzy to get the rule switched. This makes everyone happy until they end up on the wrong end of the rule the following season and then the process repeats.

Before we lay the arguments out there for the two main methods, let’s first take the time to agree on a few things:

1)      Number of wins should be the primary item that we use to rank/seed teams. In the famous words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game!.”  Nothing should come before that in 99+% of leagues.

2)      No matter what you have for your tiebreaker, you need to be consistent for everything in your league. If you have one set of rules for your wavier wire order and a different one for playoff seeding and a third set of rules for division ranking that gets to be a huge mess. Make a choice and be consistent throughout all of your rules. If you forgot to address a tiebreaker for a certain situation, just go with what you’ve always done for everything else.

3)      Like several things (such as payouts), this is a rule that you can only change during the off-season. Making a tiebreaker change mid-season or worse yet at the end of the season is a fantastic way to anger many owners in your league at once and rip the league apart.

Method 1: Head to Head and then Division/Conference wins

Many fantasy football enthusiasts play fantasy football to try to get the experience of what it would be like to run a real football team. This is especially true for the “hard core” fantasy football owners that are attracted to things like dynasty leagues, salary cap leagues, and other more intense niches of the fantasy world. A lot of the rules that we have in fantasy are reasoned and rationalized as being there because “that is what the NFL does.” The bane of my existence, kickers in fantasy football, fall into this argument a lot, but more on that in a few months. In the NFL, the first tiebreaker is head to head followed by division/conference win record.

For many, this is likely the only argument that is needed and that matters. There are a few others though, such as the belief of many that if we have the same record and my team beats your team, how can you tell me that you are better and should get the higher playoff seed or the higher payout?

Method 2: Total Points Scored

Supporters of the total points scored method hang their hat on one very important concept: the points that you score are the ONLY thing that you can actually control in fantasy football. In the NFL, when two teams play each other, they are not only trying to score points but they are actively trying to prevent the other team from scoring as well. That is one thing that fantasy football can never emulate. The fantasy lineup that I set has absolutely no bearing on the number of points that your team as a whole will score that week. Even in the rare occurrence where one team has a team defense or an IDP player going against a few players on the other team, it is just a small portion. Shouldn’t how you place be based on something you can actually control?

It is possible for a team that averages 150 points a week to lose to a team that averages 120 a week just due to the randomness that is fantasy football. It is also possible (though extremely unlikely) for a team to be the second highest scorer every week of the season to go 0-13. You can’t control the points put up against you, so it is possible to lose to an inferior team at some point during the season and hence lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to them even if you outscore them in every other week. With a little luck on their part and lack of luck on your part, you could end up with the same number of wins and miss out on the playoffs due to the head to head tiebreaker in this case.

If you can’t tell, I’m more in favor of using total points scored as the primary tiebreaker for pretty much everything. I think it is a more consistent and more reliable way to measure the strength of teams. It rewards the team that was better for the entire season not the team that was better on one or two weeks. This is just one man’s opinion though! Feel free to share your thoughts and get in on the debate below.

Also, while we are talking about tiebreakers, don’t forget to put in some kind of tiebreaker if you have two teams that tie during a playoff game.  Even those of you that score out to two decimal places can still get ties from time to time, so get something in the books. Just to name a few options it can be the higher seed, the highest bench player, the best non-QB score, the best player, or just about anything else. It doesn’t quite matter, just get something in the books in case it happens!

What are some methods you use and what do you feel is the best tie-breaker system?

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Chris in Chuck
9 years ago

Our first tiebreaker is H2H which often results in a tie if two teams have the same overall record.
(When multiple teams are tied we use total H2H between the tied teams.)

We use the all-play as the second tiebreaker in our league.
It works like a dream and separates the people who pu up one or two huge weeks but were genuinely mediocre most of the season.
It tracks closely with total points but takes outbthe statistical anomalies mentioned above.

9 years ago

I’m a proponent of points scored. The biggest issue with the head-to-head tiebreaker, to me, is that it doesn’t account for bye weeks. I might have half of my studs on bye in a given week, and could be playing against an opponent who’s at full strength.

Bye weeks only take into account one or two data points during the course of the season, whereas points scored considers all thirteen weeks. My vote goes for total points scored.

Reply to  Eric Hardter
9 years ago

*Head to head only takes into account…

Matt Peach
9 years ago

We have two different sets of tiebreaker rules.
For division titles it is head to head followed by division records followed by points scored in head to head games.
For wildcard it is head to head followed by total points scored all year. We bypassed division for this so someone from a weak division doesn’t get a leg up in wildcard tiebreakers
It works pretty well

9 years ago

I like Victory Points as tiebreakers.

xlote
9 years ago

One league I’m in uses the Head to Head followed by division record, etc. The highest scoring team in the league (by 9 PPG over 2nd best) missed the playoffs on tie-breakers. He scored 22 PPG more than the worst team that made the playoffs.

This is a league where the average weekly score is about 90 points.

thomas selvey
9 years ago

My leagues use victory points for the standings so our tiebreakers go overall record, then total points.

jtkelley06
9 years ago

On a slightly different topic, my league only counts whole points, so ties during games are a little more common (although still pretty rare). What do you guys think is the best way to settle a tie during a playoff game?

Matt Feit
9 years ago

I am personally struggling with wins versus total points for the wildcard in a 12 team league with 4 team playoff system.

While it sucks that a team with most points could actually miss the playoffs– it also seems unfair if one team led in points most of the year and had 2-3 more wins than the other then due to one or two HUGE weeks- statistical anomalies then over took a team with more wins and got the wildcard spot– what do you think about that scenario? Thanks.

Doug Dischler
9 years ago

My league uses points, then HTH, and then division record. I’ve tried getting it changed to All Play, then points, then HTH, but to no avail.

As to weekly ties, we use a bench player, but that player is selected. Meaning, we each designate one player off our bench as our tiebreaker player. Highest scoring selected player breaks the tie, as opposed to simply highest bench scoring player.

I personally wished we used some sort of variant based on efficiency %. .E….The owner who did the best job maximizing their roster points for the week would get the win. I guess I see it that as an owner, its our job to put our best lineup out there week to week. I think a reward for doing so would be appropriate.

John Berry
9 years ago

So what exactly does all play mean?

Chris in Chuck
Reply to  John Berry
9 years ago

All Play
That’s the record you have against the entire league each week. In a 12 team league you would theoretically play all of the other 11 teams each week, accumulating 143 games against through 13 weeks.

If you have a great week, but lose H2H, such that you are the second highest scoring team that week, you would go 0-1 H2H but 10-1 in the All Play.

Similarly, you could win H2H while scoring the second fewest points but beating the lowest scoing team. Thus you might go 1-0 H2H but 1-10 in the All Play.

In both examples your performance is more accurately reflected in All Play than in H2H. The vagaries of a computer-selected schedule are minimized.

Chris in Chuck
Reply to  Jacob Feldman
9 years ago

My unlucky FF career is one of the reasons my 15 year old dynasty league now uses All Play. I am constantly losing to the highest scoring team by a handful of points after an IDP has 4.5 sacks, 2 FFs and a TD on MNF.

Jared Allen a few years ago.
Aldon Smith this year.

Meanwhile my All Play record remains Top 3 despite those ridiculous results.

Paul Taylor
9 years ago

I am in the corner of total points as #1 tiebreaker for exactly the reasons stated above. You can’t limit your opponent, there is no defensive tactics to fantasy football.

Case in point – in one league I am the 2nd highest scoring team in the leaghe (overall), and yet I did not make the playoffs because of the randomness of the schedule. I lost a couple of games to teams that put up epic performances, and a couple of extremely close games throughout the year plus several losses where it would have been a win against any other team on the board. I was 1 game back of last playoff spot, so tiebreakers didn’t come into it. However, putting together one of the leagues best and most competitive teams should be rewarded in tiebreak situations, not torpedoed by schedule voodoo.

Rob
9 years ago

The league I play in has a head to head side pot, but the Champion is the person with the most total points at season’s end precisely because of what you said about fantasy football not being capable of emulating defenses preventing points.

It makes for a far more exciting and heated finish to the year for everyone and explosive weeks mean the difference between victory and defeat, not just dominance for one solitary week.

I still play in other leagues, but being at the mercy of random scheduling and regularly seeing at least one top 4 overall points team at the bottom of the rankings in standard leagues is enough to convince me that overall points is better for everything, not just as a tie breaker.

Andy
Reply to  Rob
6 years ago

If it’s a head to head league, the tiebreaker should be head to head. Otherwise just have a points league. I beat a team twice in one season and almost didn’t make the playoffs because they had more overall points. The head to head games should not just be an exercise in points accumulation.

Craig
Reply to  Andy
6 years ago

So the reason you don’t favor it is because it cost you a playoff spot once. I bet if the shoe was on the other foot and it went based on H2H record with you having way more total points that you would have then been complaining it should be total points not H2H. Am I Right?

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