31 December 2013

A season of wēijī: (3/3) A Trip 'round the Gravity Well

Wēiyī:  Mandarin for "crisis."
Welcome back to the longest post in the history of this little blog.  For those just tuning in, Part 1 of "A Season of Wēiyī" describes how Time and Again, the team that would become my first fantasy-football champion, got started for its 2013 season.  Part 2 chronicled the Timers' "monents of wēiyī," a series of crisis points that strengthened the team.  At the end of Part 2, I teased the arrival yet another crisis in Week 9.

Entr'acte: How LeSean McCoy missed out on an MVP award

Time and Again RB Le'Veon Bell (26)
carries the ball for Pittsburgh.
(Image via sportsmole.co.uk.)
Before I detail that final crisis, let me go back to one of the moments of wēiyī from Part 2.  LeSean McCoy just ended the Eagles' 2013 regular season as the NFL's rushing champion.  The case for naming him the Most Valuable Player for any fantasy-football team is as strong as it is clear.  On Time and Again, however, Le'Veon Bell's Week 6 pickup assured the team's security at the running-back position.  Without Bell, the Timers would have depended too much on McCoy; with him, I could turn my attention to other positions.

In that light, it makes sense to make Bell, not McCoy, the Timers' MVP.

Moment of wēiyī, Weeks 9-12

By early November, most of the Timers' final roster had been assembled.  The last game of Week 9 was an affair between the Packers and the Bears.  With QB Aaron Rodgers still to play, the 7-1 Timers had already clinched their game that week.

Then, as the cliché goes, disaster struck.  On the Packers' first series, a devastating tackle left Rodgers with a broken collarbone.  No one knew how bad the injury was, but now the Timers didn't have a quarterback.

In desperation, I replaced tight end Martellus Bennett (yay! a Bear!) with Tennessee QB Jake Locker, who was returning from injury himself.  Locker, who had been hot earlier in the year, faced Jacksonville in Week 10.  What could possibly go wrong if I used him to replace Rodgers?

A lot, it turned out.  Locker lasted less than a half in his first start for the Timers.  He left the field having actually subtracted a point from the Timers's total.  Time and Again managed to win, but only because it faced a bottom-of-the-table opponent.

Fortunately, I had also picked up Philadelphia QB Nick Foles in Week 10.  He didn't start for the Timers because, frankly, I still had doubts about him.  Also, Foles still had his bye week ahead of him.

No worries.  When Foles's bye did come in Week 12, I just picked up Josh McCown, who himself was relieving Jay Cutler.  [Yay!  A Bear!]  Until Cutler came back, I enjoyed the luxury of choosing between the NFL's two hottest quarterbacks not surnamed Manning.  McCown's acquisition would be the team's last.

In the end, this crisis had the same effect on Time and Again that a celestial body has on a spacecraft flying by it.  Such a ship enters the body's gravity well, picks up tremendous speed, then, with a well-timed rocket blast, escapes.  Just as that vessel re-enters space much faster than before, the Timers emerged from this crisis as a virtually unbeatable team.

Time to par-teeeee!

Enjoy the celebratory soundtrack.  You know you want to!

How powerful had Time and Again become the end? Consider that, in standard fantasy-football scoring, 100 points is usually good enough to win. 110 is considered excellent, and anything above 125 is outstanding.

  • In Week 13, the finalized Timers scored 150, and could have scored 180.
  • In Week 14, the regular-season finale, they scored 144 and could've reached 171.
  • In the playoff semifinal, the actual and maximum scores were 154 and 162.
  • The Timers won the championship game with only 107 points, but could have finished with 134. 

It certainly did feel nice to have to select wide receivers and running backs from this roster. In fantasy-football terms, Time and Again included three top-ten receivers (including the top two), along with three top-ten running backs, two top-five quarterbacks, and the second-best tight end. Here's the final Timer depth chart, with the six players who were originally drafted shown in colored italics.

  • Quarterbacks: Nick Foles (Philadelphia), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Josh McCown (Chicago)
  • Running backs: LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia), Le'Veon Bell (Pittsburgh), Zac Stacy (St. Louis), Andre Brown (New York Giants)
  • Wide receivers: Josh Gordon (Cleveland), A.J. Green (Cincinnati), Alshon Jeffery (Chicago), Danny Amendola (New England) 
  • Tight end: Vernon Davis (San Francisco) 
  • Kicker: Justin Tucker (Baltimore) 
  • Defenses/special teams: Kansas City, Buffalo

This will probably be the final season for Time and Again. Next year, I will be commissioner in a new family league. My team there will probably have a different name. If that team is even as remotely good as the Timers, I'll be thrilled.

28 December 2013

A season of wēijī: (2/3) It's One Surprise after Another

Wēiyī:  Mandarin for 'crisis.'
Yesterday, I described how I formed Time and Again, my best fantasy-football team this season.  For what ended up being no special reason, I put the Timers through a computer-run draft, disallowing any players who played for Florida NFL or college teams.  On that objective, the draft was a smashing success.

On the imaginary gridiron, unfortunately, Time and Again had a weak bench.  The good news is that weak drafts can have a huge upside:  if you've been stuck with one, you should plan to scan the waiver wire every week.  Keep this in mind as the Timers' story progresses from one instance of wēiyī to another.

Wēiyī Moment, Week 1

Danny Amendola, who was supposed to be my #2 wide receiver, took an injury in Week 1.  At the time, the free agent from St. Louis was regarded as New England's new top receiver, so dropping him was out of the question.  To address what looked like a temporary gap, I added Amendola's Patriot teammate, Julian Edelman, who played well enough to earn a permanent roster spot.  Fortune would have other plans for Edelman, but the Timers made it through this crisis.

Wēiyī Moment, Week 4

Kansas City WR Dwayne Bowe, the only Florida native on the Timers' roster, proved to be a bust, and needed replacement.  The first move to replace Bowe had to also address the Packers' bye week.  Enter the Kansas City Chiefs, who would score in double digits for the Timers six times.  Their superior performance allowed me to eventually drop a fading Packer defense.

That move patched a temporary hole, but to handle this crisis, I still needed a new wide receiver.  For that, I needed Josh Gordon.  No one in the Timers' league had seen much in Gordon.  He missed the first two games under a drug-related suspension.  Even worse, he played for Cleveland.  Still, several fantasy-football experts recommended him, and I was desperate enough to pick him off the waiver wire.  He started for the Timers in Week 4, scored a creditable 7 points, and secured his spot at WR2.  Eventually, Gordon became the NFL's top-ranked fantasy receiver.

Now the crisis was solved.

Wēiyī Moment, Week 6

I would need both Gordon and the Chiefs in Week 4, just to squeak by for a 5-point win, because I was also looking for a new running back.  LeSean McCoy was humming along, but his Timer teammate, Ahmad Bradshaw, had encountered bad injury trouble  after Week 2.

My first attempt to replace Bradshaw led to the acquisition of James Starks (yes, another Packer) -- but Starks took a major injury the same week.  It turned out that Atlanta's Jason Snelling couldn't fill the Timers' RB2 need, either.  Time and Again had somehow managed to advance to 5-0, but unless I could find a second running back, the team was in trouble.

Snelling's Week 6 replacement, Pittsburgh RB Le'Veon Bell, ended up being one answer.  By now, Bradshaw had been formally placed on injured reserve, so I also picked up Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.  [Yay! A Bear!]  Both started immediately, making small contributions as the Timers turned in the first of four 130-point performances.  Both would also reach the NFL fantasy-leader board by season's end.  Crisis solved.

Non-wēiyī Moment, Week 8

With the wide receiver and running back positions secure (and Aaron Rodgers still online), it was time to start improving my flex position.  Week 8 brought an opportunity to snag another rising star, St. Louis RB Zac Stacy.  He also proved to be a critical success; from here on, he, Bell, Jeffery and Amendola would be fighting for the RB2 and flex positions.  [And the perfectly capable Julian Edelman would end up the odd man off the Time and Again roster.]

As the Packers and Bears started play on Monday night, 4 November 2013, the Timers had already assured themselves another win.  With three major crises successfully resolved, they were about to go to 9-0, with no one to challenge them.

In the conclusion:  Time and Again confronts its most dangerous moment of wēiyī.

27 December 2013

A season of wēijī: (1/3) Bizarro Protest Staging

The graphic above shows the Mandarin word wēijī, which translates into English as "crisis."  In a famous 1959 speech, John F. Kennedy propagated an old, inaccurate American meme, correctly identifying the left-hand character (wēi, in pinyin spelling) as a symbol of "danger," only to then mistake the right-side character (jī) as "opportunity."  A more accurate translation of  would render something closer to "turning point."  No knowledge of any Chinese words is needed to view a dangerous turning point as a crisis.

When I won my first fantasy-football championship last week, my first thought was that I deserved it.  Time and Again, which started its second season as my 'C' team, averaged 113 points over its 15-1 season.  At season's end, the Timers were so deep at wide receiver and running back, top-flight players like A.J. Green, Zac Stacy, LeVeon Bell and Alshon Jeffery were fighting for three starting spots.  Their only loss came when their starting quarterback sustained a season-ending injury early in his game.

On further reflection, though, Time and Again didn't start out with such power.  In fact, it was only through a completely silly origin, followed by several turning points that could have easily doomed them to oblivion, that the Timers gave me what may be the best fantasy-football season I'll ever have.

Join me, then, on a trip through this season of wēijī.

As miserably as the Timers struggled in their debut season on the NFL site (missing the playoffs before dropping two consolation-bracket games), I decided to use them as an experimental team for 2013.  I wasn't sure what the experiment would be, but the Timers would be the platform.

Enter the Trayvon Martin fiasco.

It would've been possible to form a fantasy-football team as a protest against the Martin-Zimmerman case, which had ended just weeks before the fantasy drafts.  I would punish the entire State of Florida by excluding from my team any player who (a) played for the Buccaneers, Dolphins or Jaguars; or (b) entered the NFL from a Florida college.

Let me start counting the reasons why this protest proposal was stupid.

  • Why wait for a racially-charged murder trial?  Botching a Presidential election, electing Lex Luthor's evil twin, and just being Florida hadn't already provided excuses?
  • A serious "protest" would also exclude players who grew up in Florida.  [But as I'll show presently, that additional exclusion would have made almost no difference.]
  • Many, if not most, of the excluded players would be African Americans.  I'm not sure how that helps anyone.  A case could be made that exclusion could hurt the affected players -- but said players would have to care in the first place.
  • Even setting those aside, an effective protest has to at least inconvenience the protester.  Moving player names around on a smart phone every week is not an inconvenience.

On these bases, a 15-1 championship team constitutes -- how do they say it in 2013?

Oh yeah: EPIC FAIL.1

But still...

Blowing away the pretext for a no-Floridan team was a satisfying exercise, but it didn't actually affect the idea of a team without Floridians.  Why not exclude Florida-based players for its own sake?  Whatever the merits and faults of Floridans as a whole, there's no denying that Florida (a) has e NFL teams2 and (b) sends many, many players from its colleges into the NFL.  Theoretically, a fantasy-football team without Floridians should struggle.

Having already created a custom draft list for my 'A' and 'B' teams, I copied it for Time and Again, then removed all Dolphins, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Florida college players from the copy.  Finally, I submitted the reduced draft list to NFL.com for an autopick draft.

When draft day finally came, NFL.com gave me the following team, in draft order:

  1. LeSean McCoy, RB1, Philadelphia
  2. A.J. Green, WR1, Cincinnati
  3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
  4. Dwayne Bowe, WR2, Kansas City
  5. Danny Amendola, WR3, New England
  6. Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco
  7. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB2, Indianapolis
  8. Green Bay defense/special teams (DST)
  9. Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore
  10. James Jones, WR4, Green Bay
  11. Tavon Austin, WR5, St. Louis
  12. Kenny Britt, WR6, Tennessee
  13. Ben Roethlisburger, QB2, Pittsburgh
  14. Isaiah Pead, RB3, St. Louis,
  15. Shonn Greene, RB4, Tennessee

As a Bear fan, I wasn't happy to have this many Packers on the team.  Also, past versions of The Ghost-Grey Cats, my 'B' team, had taught that Packer players could give a team enough points to reach the fantasy playoffs, but not enough to advance.

Of course, my previous Packer experience hadn't included Rodgers.  Perhaps things would improve with him at quarterback.  Then again, after Davis, the team looked about as appetizing as a plate of week-old garlic fries.  As constructed, Time and Again would struggle to reach the playoffs.

I had to keep reminding myself that, with no nominal Floridans allowed on the team, the result no weaker than expected.  The only individual player with any connection at all to Florida was Bowe, who grew up in Miami.  He lasted only three weeks, and no native Floridian would replace him all season long.  Even if the Timers didn't win a single game, I had achieved my primary objective.

Next time:  Let the wēijī begin!

1.  Well, I had to use the phrase 'epic fail' soon, before the Internet outlaws it.
2.  Miami and Tampa Bay account for one team apiece, but Jacksonville contributes only about 78.18% of a team.  That's 2.718 teams.