Fantasy Advice

Luck in Fantasy Football: Dealing With the Unpredictable

By May 9, 2014No Comments

As much as we preach proper preparation and doing your fantasy homework, sometimes all the preparation in the world won’t get you that win on Sunday, or worse, that championship at the end of the season. No matter what you do, lady luck can (and will) still get in the way.

You can work a picture-perfect draft and have your top-3 picks all get hurt during week 1. You can go up against someone who’s had an injured player in his lineup for the past two weeks and still not win. You can out-maneuver an opponent for a key waiver-wire pickup and still lose because his kicker puts up 20 points. It’s happened to us all, and, needless to say, it can be frustrating. But it’s okay! Luck is an integral part of fantasy football, and, once we realize that fact, we can use it to our advantage and make ourselves better for it.

Was it a bad decision or bad luck?

The first thing to do when something bad happens to you is to try to figure out whether you made a bad decision or just had some bad luck. Sometimes, this is easy. For example, “I lost by a point because Calvin Johnson put up 40 for my opponent,” is clearly a case where bad luck was the culprit. However, “I lost by a point and Donald Brown put up 10 more points on my bench than Ray Rice, my starting RB,” is a less clear situation. So how can you tell? Here’s the process I go through:

  • Did you have all the information?

Say Ray Rice had a sore hamstring going into the game and you didn’t realize that until after the week. You can’t blame that one on luck. It’s your job to know the relevant information about all of your players going into the week. If you didn’t know an important piece of info going into the week, then simply do your homework a little more thoroughly next time. Keep in mind that this isn’t just injury news. It could be off-the-field news, statements from coaches, etc.

  • Did something weird happen?

So you had all the information, that wasn’t the problem. Take a look at the game recaps, stats, a replay of the game on NFL Network, or pretty much any game info you can get your hands on. Maybe Donald Brown got most of his points on an 80-yard touchdown run when a safety missed an easy tackle. Maybe Ray Rice was dominant all game but had his touchdowns vultured by Bernard Pierce. If you think (for lack of a better term) something weird happened, then you can probably chalk this one up to luck.

There is one important caveat to this rule: if the something weird that happened has been happening regularly, it ceases to be something weird. Some WRs can score 70-yard touchdowns pretty regularly, and some RBs just don’t get those carries inside the 10. Make sure you check to see whether your weird findings are actually pretty common.

  • Would you make the same decision again?

Ok, you had all the information, and nothing particularly weird happened. This is where things get decidedly subjective. You need to look back at the situation and ask yourself, “If I had to make the decision again (not knowing the eventual outcome), would I make the same choice?” It’s very tough to look at this without bias, but it can be done. Examine factors like the defense each player was up against, their previous statistics, hot/cold streaks, etc. If you say to yourself, “I would’ve made the same decision every time,” then, hey, you got hit with some bad luck. If you decide that you should have played the other player, then figure out what the difference was in your decision-making process the second time around and implement that in the future.

  • Talk to someone

This one’s optional, but it never hurts to get a second opinion. If you have a friend you regularly talk fantasy with, and you respect his/her opinions, then see what that friend thinks. A lot of the time, talking things out with someone will allow you to see sides of the argument that you didn’t see before. Again, it’s not necessary, but it certainly can help.

What do I do about my bad fantasy football luck?

You’ve been through my little process above, and you’ve decided that Donald Brown outperforming Ray Rice was just bad luck. What’s the next step? First, take a deep breath. Realize that bad luck is part of the game, and it happens to everyone. Second, forget about it! If something wasn’t your fault, why would you change what you’re doing?

People have a tendency to over-react to bad luck and make rash decisions. That’s what this process is about: preventing rash decisions. I’ve watched friends lose a couple games and immediately try to make a blockbuster trade “just to shake things up.” Why?! Trust yourself a little. If you think you’re just getting bad luck, then keep doing what you’re doing.

What do I do about my bad decision-making?

This one’s a little tougher and requires some more reflection. If you’re making bad decisions, then try to figure out what’s making you do this. Maybe it’s bias for your favorite team. Maybe it’s optimism towards young players. Maybe it’s just going with your gut and not looking at the information available. Whatever it is, though, identify it and admit to yourself that you’re doing it (admitting you have a problem is the first step).

The next time you make a decision ask yourself if you’re being completely objective. It’s not always easy. The amount of times I’ve played the Raiders defense over the past few years because “They could totally have a good game this week” is both embarrassing and incredibly stupid. I’d like to think, though, that I’m past that point in my life and will look at things more objectively in the future.

Keeping it all in perspective

The moral of this whole story is simple: don’t let the things that are out of your control affect your mindset. Though I’ve concentrated on dealing with bad luck, it’s important to think about good luck as well. We tend to think that everything going against us is pure luck, and everything that goes right is pure skill. In reality, this is not the case. Not everything that works for you is because you’re a fantasy genius. Sometimes, good luck helps you out. In these situations, give a polite nod to the Fantasy Gods and go on your merry way.

Have some questions for me? Got a different perspective on luck? Want to tell me how stupid I am? Let me know in the comments below! As always, I’d love to talk fantasy football.

Nick Walsh