Fantasy Football: Fix Your Brain

This week I am starting weekly column to fix one of your biggest challenges, your brain. What is this some kind Mr. Robot mind game? No, no it is not. I have noticed myself and others falling into a trap and I would like to help you avoid the same fate.

Every week in fantasy football we usually have one decision per league that we spend most of the week thinking about. This makes sense on a well drafted team, we should have some good bench options. There are few reasons why I think this is a mistake. 

Based entirely on outcomes, you’re going to make the wrong choice half of the time. This assumes your choice is a true 50% coin flip. The simulation also needs to run long enough to allow us to make a large number of these choices. That would mean we can avoid small sample size variance. The simulation is ceaseless and soulless, embrace it. If you are going to be wrong half the time, why spend so much time thinking about the choice? You are wasting your brainpower. Go with your gut or first instinct. We all know a player on your bench goes nuts every week, it is part of the fun. 

Instead you should be using your brain to think about challenging some of your assumptions elsewhere in your lineup. I am not saying you need to get all contrarian and set some crazy lineup with all under the radar players. That would smack of fancy play syndrome, a poker term which means you are just trying to show the rest of the league you are smarter than them. Here’s the thing. No one cares about your lineup or your alleged superior fantasy football ability. So don’t try to be some savant with your work league lineup.

Here are some example decisions from my leagues for this week. I know no-one cares about other people’s leagues, but this will illustrate my point as the season progresses. After the week is over, I will go over the results of these choices. After a few weeks it will likely be very clear that thinking about these was kind of a waste of time.


Cowboys Dez Dryant

Tom Pennington – Getty Images

My first 50/50 call on my brain is at the flex, Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas.  This is a good problem to have, obviously. Most analysts (and myself) like Thomas more than Dez this week.

Dallas at Denver is a marquee matchup in the late window. Both receivers are tremendous at their craft., and really enjoyable to watch. There is no difference in their talent. I think most agree Dez has the edge at quarterback. Dak Prescott is better than Trevor Siemian, fact. Well what about opportunity? Denver is playing at home but are a 2.5 point underdog according to Vegas. to be honest that is a little surprising. Las Vegas sportsbooks have yet to go broke, so they need to be listened to.  

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line and offense in general is superior to Denver’s. I am guessing that is why they are favored. The spread implies a close game, and the over / under for the total points is currently around 42 points. That total is near the average total but slightly lower. Denver’s defense is very well regarded and rightfully so.

Last week Denver held Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin to a combined line of 8 catches for 97 yards and one Touchdown. The Denver defense is a strong negative for Dez Bryant. Meanwhile Dallas exposed an Odell Beckham less Eli Manning. Sterling Shepard had 7 catches but for only 44 yards and Shane Vereen actually led the team in receptions. I give the edge to Demaryius, meaning that Dallas’ secondary is a little less imposing to me than Denver’s. As a Steelers’ fan I am well aware of the home field advantage in Denver; I think the Broncos win here. Because of home field, quality of defense, and my prediction that the Broncos will win, I am going with Demaryius Thomas. There is concern amongst other analysts about Dez Bryant this year, but I am not concerned about him for the season. We will see how this plays out. 

Steelers Martavis Bryant

Joe Robbins – Getty Images

Another tough choice came down in my PPR league, Martavis Bryant or Jeremy Maclin. This is an impossible decision for my puny brain. I am huge Martavis Bryant stan (minus the crazy) so it will be very difficult for me to bench him at home. I know Bryant disappeared last week, but I expect that the Steelers will need to throw in this game. Reviewing the same factors as my first decision, Bryant has a large edge at quarterback. The Steelers / Vikings game has a projected total of 44.5 compared to only 39 for Browns vs. Ravens. I think Maclin has a good game but the Ravens are over a touchdown favorite in a low scoring game.

Usually when that happens it screams to play the Ravens running backs not their wide receivers. I have Maclin in a ton of best ball leagues and I think he has a good game. There are worries about Joe Flacco and his back.  The Steelers are favored by six points at home, again that usually means play the running backs. The picture from Las Vegas is a bit muddy here, but favors the Pittsburgh offense slightly compared to the Ravens. Comparing opponents defenses obviously favors the Ravens (vs. Browns) over the Steelers (vs the Vikings.) There is no need to look at last week in this case. Flacco didn’t throw much last week and he won’t have to this week either. The Steelers offense is better at home. Everything to me leans in Martavis Bryant’s favor. I also believe he is a better TD threat then Maclin; even if his ridiculous TD % regresses. If something comes out Sunday about Xavier Rhodes shadowing him, that might move me to Maclin. 

QB Jacoby Brissett


My final coin flip is in the greatest QB superflex league, the Fishbowl, found at this website fishbowl. You can use a QB as a flex and I have Jacoby Brissett for the Colts. It is a really ugly spot because he hasn’t even had a one full week of practice with the starters. I like him alot as player, but he is raw and is on a new team. The reason I am considering using him is my other option is Jared Cook. Also, there are no penalties for turnovers of any kind, that is important when I consider using a QB flex in a bad offense. So I am trying to decide between Jared Cook and Jacoby Brissett. Cook is in the better offense and has a solid matchup versus the feeble Jets. Whereas, Brissett is staring straight at negative game script in a previously anemic offense and possible large pass volume. The Rams defense is formidable and just got Aaron Donald back. Can the Colts get a first down? You tell me. Right now I have Cook in there, everything is in his favor. In this league we also get a point per first down, and I think Cook can reasonably be predicted to hang a 6 for 72 yards and four first downs line against the Jets. This is going to be a Sunday morning call for me and my brain but it is Jared Cook for now. 

Well all this is fun stuff, but now it is time to get your brain working optimally.  To maximize the resource of thought (my 14th album) I suggest the following approach. Sometimes, real life will interfere with these things; so this is adaptable. Early in the week, either Tuesday or Wednesday, set your lineup right away. Don’t overanalyze, just go with your gut.  During the middle of the week, read up on research and articles here at and elsewhere. One article almost all of us read, is Evan Silva’s weekly matchups article. It is appointment reading. Thursday, you clearly need to check your Thursday night players and make your decisions early on those players. 

Then late in the week, on Saturday or Sunday, revisit your lineups with the latest injury and analysis information from your mid-week reading. Make your decisions on your tough calls that were on your brain. This way you aren’t spending all week thinking about it. That switch on your brain is really hard to turn off. I suggest you also think about the “easy” decisions you made and challenge them. One example of an easy decision for me would be playing Cam Newton over Eli Manning. There is no need to waste a lot of space or your time, but obviously I am leaving Cam in. The point here is that I least took a double-take at the easy calls. Also, my brain is screaming at me to drop Eli but first I need to see him in a game with all his weapons available.

That is using your brain at its best, don’t sweat the coin flips, trust your gut, reassess other position choices, and lock and load (figuratively please.) I hope this article helped, and good luck this week!

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