Wisdom of the Crowd: Goodness Greatness

Brian Malone


Some guys have Andrew Luck
Some guys have Charles Clay
Some guys make savvy trades
Some guys give firsts for Jonas Gray

Apologies to Rod Stewart and, well, everyone.  But here’s the point – dynasty fantasy football is a fickle game.  You can do everything right – acquire multiple elite talents, hit your rookie picks, earn the #1 seed in the playoffs, but make one or two foolish lineup decisions and you’re conceding the championship trophy to the #6 seed who had to start Mohamed Sanu and Reggie Wayne in the title game.  Anything can happen, which is why many folks advocate fighting to make the playoffs every season, even if you’ll probably only squeak in as the #6 seed.

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But DLF Forum user “MEuRaH” advocates a different approach and this summer he wrote an article-length forum post to defend his position.  He advised aging, borderline-playoff teams to throw in the towel and start the rebuilding process.  As support, he used two real teams – one that has been stagnant for years and another that started to rebuild after the 2013 season and is now ascending.  Many posters chimed in to agree, often citing their own experiences of tearing down and rebuilding middling teams.  Steveeb summed up this approach with the line, “If you can’t decide whether or not you are a contender, you are not a contender.”

Tsunami and others criticized the all-or-nothing approach as akin to tanking, explaining that each owner’s goal should be to win every season.  Instead of selling studs from a mediocre team, Tsunami advocated grinding ones way to the top of the pile by making savvy trades, hitting on draft picks and being ahead of the curve on free agent and waiver acquisitions.

Others, like “maxhyde,” critiqued from a different angle, arguing “mediocre teams win fantasy championships, too,” and scrapping to make the playoffs is often the optimal strategy. And “jordanzs” identified a team that went from mediocre to very good in one year without rebuilding.


If you’ve read any Wisdom of the Crowd articles, you know this is where I try to throw some data at the problem and see if we can come to a clear solution.  That’s not happening here – this debate is too big for a few colored dots to solve.  But I did throw some data at a related problem that might inform the conversation a bit, so let’s look at that.

What’s the expected value of a playoff spot?  A bye?  The #1 seed?

The premise behind rebuilding is to turn a mediocre team into a powerhouse.  But is the transformation worth the risk and delayed gratification?  Eric Burtzlaff gave us some insight into this question in his outstanding Roughing the Kicker series (Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). In fact, I stole – er, adapted – his ROI calculator for this article.  Really, I’m just injecting some playoff success data into Burtzlaff’s model.  With that, let’s see what the data show.


I identified 130 dynasty league seasons from 2006 to 2014 where six teams made the playoffs and two teams earned week 14 byes.  For each season, I recorded which seeds won the quarterfinal, semifinal and championship matchups.  From there, I calculated the average success rate of each seed in each round.


Below is a table of the results.  For the sake of simplicity and sample size, I consolidated the results of the #3-6 seeds.  They each had roughly a 50% win rate in the quarterfinals.

table 1
So, what can we make of this?

If you just want maximize titles, it seems the all-or-nothing crowd has the better argument.  A team good enough to earn the #1 seed has triple the title odds of a team that makes the playoffs without earning a first-round bye.  Put differently, if you make the playoffs nine out of the next ten seasons but never earn a bye, you should expect to win only one title. If you make the playoffs just three times in the next ten seasons, but you earn the #1 seed each time, you should again expect to win one title.  Over the course of a decade, I think it’d be much easier to put together three dominant seasons than nine above-average ones.

Flags fly forever and all that, but some of us have more materialistic goals.  So, what’s the value of a playoff spot in a cash league?  Say, a $50 buy-in?

Well, that depends on the payout structure.  I considered three setups, one of which should approximate your league’s setup.  The “Wealth Spread” structure pays $270 to the league champion, $130 to the runner-up, and $65 each to teams that lose in the semifinals. The “Money Back” setup pays $330 to the champion, $100 to the runner-up, and $50 each to teams that lose in the semifinals.  The “Winner Heavy” setup pays $400 to the champion, $130 to the runner-up, and nothing to teams that fail to make the title game.

table 2
As you would expect, the “Winner Heavy” setup favors earning a #1 seed, while the “Wealth Spread” setup favors making the playoffs.  In all formats, the #2 seed is worth a little more than twice as much as a playoff team that hasn’t earned a bye.


These results assume typical head-to-head playoffs.  Any league that gives the higher seeded team a points advantage will increase the value of the #1 and #2 seeds relative to other playoff teams.  Any league that doesn’t award byes to the top two finishers will obviously decrease the value of the #1 and #2 seeds relative to other playoff teams as well.


As I warned, this data can’t tell you whether to rebuild or regroup after a three-loss September.  But it can help you make an informed decision.  “Maxhyde” was right – the playoffs are unpredictable.  But having a bye week sure helps and having a really good team plus a bye week gives you triple the chance of a team that snuck in through the side door.


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