Friday, August 30, 2013

Turning on Zombie Mode: 5 Changes That Would Make Fantasy Football Even Better

   I cannot wait, friends—simply cannot wait. In just a few short days, football season will be upon us. The opening kick will soar through the air, and all of the heartbreak, triumph, and the I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw brand of craziness will be in full force. Of course, if you fancy yourself a fantasy owner, your football experience will always be two-fold—a touchdown that might damn your team into the gloomy dregs of the division might also be the saving grace for your digital team of all-stars. There are people who love it, people who hate it, and there are always the people who just do not understand it. But you know what? Who cares? You have a shot at a full year of bragging rights amongst your peers, and that is totally worth alienating roughly fifty-percent of your friends and family! Right? Right!
   Fantasy football is a heck of a lot of fun, but the thing is, it has the potential to be so much more. The stakes can always be raised. The gambles can always be bigger. The rewards, the sweet sweet rewards, can always be more bountiful. The Dazz staff has come up with some tweaks in the system—tweaks that really put the fantasy, and the fun, into fantasy football.

1.  Lottery Mode

   While most fantasy leagues utilize the traditional “Snake-style” function (where you make your picks in a randomized, pre-determined order), the truth is that auction-drafts are infinitely better. In auction drafts, each owner is allotted $200, and over the course of the draft they bid portions of this money on any player they want. The better the player, the more you usually have to pay for him. Pretty basic.

But what if . . .
   . . . there was a way to spend a fraction of that cost, take a huge risk, and possibly  guarantee yourself a championship if it pays off? Introducing lottery mode! What if, at any point in an auction draft, an owner could spend $5 out of their remaining funds to take a shot at “winning the lottery.” There would be a one-percent chance of winning, but if luck serves you well and you hit the jackpot, you have automatic rights to any three players left on the board, totally free of charge.
   Consider that in auction drafts, the first ten players or so are usually bought for an average of $55-$60. With fifteen more players to buy to fill a standard roster, that is pretty crippling to spend. But, if you spend five bucks right off the bat and have a stroke of luck, you could suddenly find yourself sitting on Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, and Marshawn Lynch for easy chump change. You just saved yourself $175 and you have arguably the three best fantasy players on your team! Sure, it is a long shot, but you would at least consider rolling the dice once or twice, right? It adds a whole new layer of strategy to the draft—everyone would try goading each other into potentially wasting their money, and especially cruel leagues would see nine guys all ganging up on one to try and have him blow $100 on lottery tickets. Hilarious—but even more so if that poor slob ends up winning.

2.  Buying Insurance

   You know what sucks? When your first-round pick in the fantasy draft blows out his knee in the first game of the season and sinks your whole team (cut to everyone who drafted Tom Brady in 2008 quietly weeping). That really sucks. A fantasy team without that pick is horribly crippled, and almost a surefire lock to miss the playoffs.

But what if . . .
   . . . you never had to worry about that, because you bought insurance? Here is how it would work: say you drafted Robert Griffin III this year, and you were worried his leg would break in half again—for a little extra money in the auction drafts, or for the sacrifice of a later pick in snake drafts, you could insure RGIII against all injuries. So, if RGIII missed any playing time, you would not miss the points.
   It could work like this: say you drafted RGIII in a free snake-draft league. You could have the option to keep him as-is, or, you could bundle him with an insurance policy at the price of your 14th-round pick. If RGIII is hurt during the first eight games of the season under your insurance, his point average from last season is automatically plugged into your weekly scores (if you choose to start him). In his case, you would have the security of 19 points a game—pretty good. If he is hurt during the latter eight games of the season, you take his average from the current season and add that into your total.
   You would be able to insure as many players as you wanted, but it would always come at the cost of late-round picks, bidding money, or minor add-ins to the pot in prize leagues. Of course, these always come at the risk of a player not suffering an injury, and then you would have wasted your money, pick, etc. Again, it adds another layer to the high-risk/high-reward factor that fantasy is all about. You could look brilliant when it is over, or you could look paranoid and, well, stupid.

3.  Money in the Bank
   Right now, the third-place game at the end of the fantasy season is pretty worthless. There are no bragging rights that come with achieving third-place, and since it already is the by-product of two first-round playoff losers, there is little to feel good about to begin with.

But what if . . .
   . . . we went all WWE up in our fantasy leagues?! For the uneducated, Money in the Bank is an annual match put on by the world of wrestling. The match features a ton of WWE stars, and the winner of the all-out brawl earns a silver briefcase with a contract inside. This contract gives them the sole rights to challenge the current reigning champion anywhere and anytime. If they win, they take the belt. It is one of the best things the WWE has produced in years—makes for great drama—and it is a perfect fit for fantasy football.
   Take that third-place game and turn it into a Money in the Bank showdown. Now, the winner of this once-meaningless affair earns the rights to challenge a fantasy champion anywhere and anytime during the following season for the rights to the title.
   The most likely scenario is, of course, using the contract right after someone wins the title (you just could not do it in the same season you won Money in the Bank—that is dumb, and defeats the purpose). Say you won Money in the Bank a year earlier, but you ran into some bad luck this season and finished ninth out of ten teams. Never fear, because you pull your contract after Week 17 and challenge the new champ to a winner-take-all playoff! Both owners would draft three new players (a QB, a back, and a wideout) set to play in the first round of the playoffs. After the games, the fantasy points earned by those six players are tallied, and the champ either keeps the crown or is forced to hand it off to you, Mr. Started-from-the-bottom-now-we’re-here! Wow! This wrinkle would add a ton of drama, and it would be a hell of a lot of fun to watch a feisty underdog claw his way back to a title.

4. NBA Jam Rules

   There is a lot of WTF-ey stuff in fantasy, and most of it comes from stuff like, “How the hell can Julio Jones have two touchdowns one week, and then none the next with only thirty effing yards?!” The unpredictable hills and valleys suck, and they give owners absolute fits. If a player is hot, how come they can never stay hot?

But what if . . .
   . . . they could? Remember the good old days of video arcades, when a young Suns fan could rain jumpers with Charles Barkley, watch him catch on fire, and then just throw him the alley-oop with Jason Kidd every time you came down the court? I sure do. Man, the days of playing NBA Jam were insanely fun, and adopting some of its ways could give fantasy a huge boost of entertainment.
   Obviously, you would start with having a player “catch on fire.” In the arcade version of NBA jam, if one player made three shots in a row, they would literally burst into flame and become faster, more accurate, and completely dominant. Let’s light some football players on fire too! Now, having three insane weeks of football in a row is really tough, so what if we made it a little easier by establishing three-week benchmarks for each position? Quarterbacks would have to earn a total of 70 fantasy points, running backs would have to earn 35 points, receivers need 35 as well, etc. Once a player catches fire, their point total for the ensuing week sees a 50% boost, no matter what. Players would be able to stay on fire if they keep doing well (using single-game benchmarks—say, 20 points for QBs, 14 for RBs, and 11 for WRs), and the point bonus would carry over.
   Oh, and in case you were wondering, if Adrian Peterson had used NBA Jam Rules last season, he would have been on fire for four straight weeks, from weeks 8 to 12 (11 was his bye). Wow.

5.  Zombie Mode

   More often than not in fantasy, things just do not pan out. It has happened to all of us: sleepers never wake up, early picks have down years, stars suffer season-ending injuries—it comes with being an owner. When you have a bad year in fantasy football, it might not always be because you had poor draft strategy or you did not prepare well enough. It might just be pure dumb luck kicking you in the butt again.

But what if . . .
   . . . you could make your own luck? Zombie Mode is here, friends.
   Here is how it would work: after any of their draft picks, an owner could immediately choose to zombify one, and just one, of their players. When a player is zombified, they literally become the player they were at any earlier point in their careers—which point is up to the owner.
   An example will explain this best: say you draft Tom Brady in the third round this year. His receivers are gone, he is growing older, and you are worried he might not be the same quarterback he was in the past, so you decide to zombify him. Being a savvy NFL historian, you know that Tom Brady had one of the best statistical seasons ever in 2007, when he threw for over 4,800 yards and 50 touchdowns. You decide to create Zombie-2007-Brady. All of his stats carry over week to week, so when you start Zombie-2007-Brady on Week 1 for this year’s league, he would earn your team 23 points, because in Week 1 of the 2007 season, Brady threw for 297 yards and three scores against the Jets. Pretty sweet deal, right?
   It comes with some strings attached, naturally. First off, you can only zombify one player each year—more and it is just a little too ridiculous. Second of all, when you zombify a player in a draft, you forfeit your pick for the next round (maybe you can just take a kicker, or in auction leagues you forfeit $10 or something). You also must start the zombie every single week, even on their bye week. It is harsh, but it is only fair when you have an all-time great on your roster.
   Another wrinkle: if your opponent for the week has a player in the same position who ends up earning a higher total than the zombie, the zombie is unplayable for one week following (debated calling this being “shot in the head”). Suddenly, Zombie-2007-Brady has a problem. Smart owners would see that in Week 15 of his 2007 season, Tom Brady threw for only 140 yards, no touchdowns, and even had an interception. That is only three little points—incredibly easy to beat. Suddenly, Zombie-2007-Brady is inactive for Week 16’s game. He stays a starter, but his points are negated, so the roster spot is wasted on his team. Being the first week of the championship game, it might not be worth it to zombify Brady after all.
   A few things I personally love about this rule: it rewards research and preparation, and emphasizes strong finishes over strong starts—crucial in fantasy. It also has fantastic high-risk/high-reward flexibility. Do you play it safe and zombify Adrian Peterson this year, and ensure that he repeats last year’s heroics? You could, but if he is somehow even better this season, you wasted your zombify ability and that second-round pick you forfeited. On the other hand, if a player is hurt, it becomes irrelevant if they are a zombie. If you zombify them to a season when they played all 16 games, then they are guaranteed to play all 16 of those games for you.
   Finally, the sneak-factor of Zombie Mode is off the charts. Consider that LaDainian Tomlinson is in this year’s draft. Of course, he is all but irrelevant right now, but if you nab with your last pick and zombify him to Zombie-2006-Tomlinson, you do not have to relinquish any draft picks, and you just stole a player who is going to score 31 touchdowns and gain 2,300 yards from scrimmage for the season—in your third running back spot to boot, which would make the chances of him being shot in the head and unplayable for a week rather slim. Careful researchers would be able to find these players every year, and it totally redefines how you think of sleepers. Zombie Mode adds a whole other layer to fantasy football—it keeps the draft interesting in the later rounds, it produces some insane matchup potential (imagine Zombie-2007-Brady and Zombie-2004-Peyton Manning going ape on each other to try and survive the next week!), and it adds brand new depth to the degrees of strategy involved. It relies less on luck and more on perception. It brings fantasy back to its roots, and more importantly, it makes things way more interesting, way more entertaining, and most of all, way more fun.

   Good luck everyone.


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