Better Fantasy Football Scoring and Rules

When fantasy football first began over forty years ago, the rules were quite simple based in large part to what statistical information was available at the time. It was really quite basic: yards gained and touchdowns scored by a few position players, along with how many points a kicker contributed, and points allowed for a defense; all information that was readily available in Monday morning’s sports section that was then tabulated by hand.

Times have changed though. The internet and sophisticated software allows for much more complex scoring and rules, but most people are loath to change. “It’s traditional” and “that’s the way it’s always been” are the most common refrains – although I have a hard time following how a football score of 110 – 90 is ‘traditional’ – and frankly, no matter what the topic of conversation is, I’ve never been one to buy the argument that things should stay the same simply because that’s the way it has always been done.

The first problem I have with traditional fantasy football scoring is that there is not enough of a parallel between a quality performance in a real game and a quality fantasy football performance. For example, there is the player that carries the load between the twenties that ends up with fewer points than his backup who gets the ball on the goal line. Likewise there is the quarterback who has a near perfect day, completing over 80% of his passes with no interceptions, but because the team ran it his numbers are low. Conversely there is the quarterback who got his team in trouble with turnovers early; because they were behind his team is forced to throw often and he ends up with a ton of yards – but he gets no penalty for completing less than fifty percent of his pass attempts, and outscores that first quarterback in fantasy points by a wide margin.

The software available today makes it very easy to customize a league’s scoring system and rules, but very few bother to do it. That leads to the second issue that I have with traditional scoring: too much of the outcome is luck, and not enough is based on skills of the team owners. To me those skills should be able to come through in three specific areas: the initial draft, where players are evaluated both with rankings by position as well as with the value of one position to another; roster movement whether it be by drop/adds or trades; and selecting which players to start from your roster each week.

With that in mind here are some suggestions which you may want to consider; I’ve tried each one of them more than once in recent years and have been more than satisfied that utilizing them enhances the fantasy football experience.

Number Of Teams
I have seen – and tried – large format leagues with 14, 16, even 20 teams. Each time the experience was poor. When you have that many teams what typically ends up happening is several teams have no shot because of their QB, several more have no shot because of their starting running backs, and others are doomed because of an injury. When you have that many teams, you end up with 300 or more players on rosters – which means there is almost nobody worthwhile to pick up off waivers over the course of the season. Aside from removing one of the three skills I mentioned above, the league very quickly becomes a two-tier fiefdom: about four haves, and up to sixteen have-nots. For those have-nots interest quickly wanes, and then the league has several abandoned teams – which, for anyone that has ever played fantasy sports before, knows is a bad thing in head to head leagues. From my experience ten is the optimal number; twelve is the maximum and eight is the minimum.

Roster Size
Similar to above, you don’t want rosters to be so large that decent players are not available on waivers. Limit the number of backups on a team to about half the number of starters. Otherwise what ends up happening is teams end up hoarding players that they never have any intention of ever starting. This serves no useful purpose and will only frustrate other owners.

Starting Positions
QB – one. I’ve seen leagues with two, and the end result is similar to that of the twenty-team leagues. Inevitably somebody ends up having to start a backup, which is just plain dumb.
RB – either two, or one plus a flex (i.e., either RB or WR, or RB/WR/TE). A lot of running backs get injured over the course of the season so my preference is to utilize the flex position; this gives a team with injuries and/or bye weeks an option over being forced to start a backup. On top of that it adds more strategy to the third skill I mentioned, start/sit decisions.
WR – standard scoring uses two, but my preference is for three or even four (including flex).
TE – standard scoring uses one, but my preference is to make the minimum zero and instead incorporate the TE position into a flex position. In my opinion there is just too much random luck with a TE happening to have a touchdown or two in an NFL game, and then that ends up being the deciding factor in the final score of a fantasy football game. To me there are just not enough consistent tight ends to warrant a non-optional position on a fantasy football starting lineup.
K – personally I would just assume that there be no kicker in fantasy football, because this position is a complete crapshoot. Guys that lead the league among FF kickers are not in the top ten the following year. Too much is based not on what the kicker does, but what his team’s offense does or does not do. Trying to guess what team has an offense that is good enough to get into scoring position, but bad enough to stall in the red zone seems silly to me. This is one that I’m willing to begrudgingly give in to others and include, only because for whatever strange reason others still seem to want to include a kicker.
D/ST – one, obviously
IDP – I like the concept of individual defensive players because, as with the example of two quarterbacks above, it creates more of an alignment to actual NFL games. However, in my experience adding this at the same time you incorporate changes to the scoring (which I’ll get into next) will be a bit too much for others to grasp in one season, and they’ll end up not returning the following year. So take baby steps, tweak the scoring a bit, let your fellow league mates get used to the change – and then add IDP a year or two later.

Scoring
This is the area that begs for the biggest changes in fantasy football. As I mentioned previously, the purpose of these changes is twofold: make the game rely more on skill and less on luck, and make the game in terms of who scores more closely resemble good quality play in the NFL.

Passing – Standard scoring gives a QB either 4 or 6 points for a touchdown pass, and minus 2 points for a turnover. Yet one of the primary stats in the NFL is TD/INT ratio. Shouldn’t a turnover count the same, or closer to the same as a touchdown? Typically a turnover results in one of four things happening: the opponent scores a TD (7 points); the opponent scores a FG (3 points); your team misses out on scoring a TD (7 points); your team misses out on scoring a FG (3 points). That’s 20 points, divide by four scenarios, an average of 5 points; minus 5 point for a turnover. Okay, sometimes the turnover is the fault of another player on the team, make it minus 4 if you want – but minus 2 is too low.

Let’s take a closer look at the two QB examples above. QB1 goes 20/25 for 198 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT; his standard FF score is 13 points. QB2 goes 26/54 for 326 yards, 3 TD and 4 INT; his FF score is 23 points. Somehow ten more points for a worse performance doesn’t seem right.

How to correct that? Besides more negative points for turnovers, utilize points based on completions versus incomplete passes. Basically give the QB one point for every completion, and minus one point for every incompletion. Now that first QB gets 15 additional points, while the second one get 2 fewer points.

Yardage – For the other positions, I like adding one point per reception (PPR). I have tried other options such as bonus yardage for going over a set number of yards, bonus for big plays, and even first downs, but I have found them to all be redundant with yardage. However, I firmly believe there is too much emphasis on touchdowns and not enough on yardage in fantasy football scoring. How to correct that? Lower the yardage per point from one for every ten yards rushing or receiving to one for every five yards; lower the passing yardage from one for every 25 yards to one for every 15 yards. If that’s too drastic make touchdowns count seven points rather than six. In addition, to remove more luck use fractions; no more games decided by a point when Team A had all their players’ yardage ending in a 9 while Team B got a full extra point at all positions when his starters’ yardage were just enough to get that one extra point a piece.

Special Teams – If a player advanced the ball on a punt or kickoff return, why doesn’t that count? One point for every five punt return yards, one for every 15 or 20 kick return yards works out well. Again, a little extra strategy one needs to consider when developing a roster. Kickers I could do without, though I’m in the minority here. If nothing else the rules above will make the proportion of points they score in relation to a team’s total much less, reducing that luck factor. Defense should primarily be based on points because that is the ultimate goal, but I can see including points for total yards allowed as well to help compensate a team that is constantly in the hole because their defense turns the ball over.

Schedule – This I just happened to have happen due to pure luck. One year I was in an online league and at the last moment one person dropped out. The software wouldn’t let us change the draft, and we were stuck with a league with an odd number of teams. The commissioner of the league tinkered with the available settings, and we ended up playing multiple games each week. You still only set one lineup; the software does the rest. It worked extraordinarily well, as there were far fewer instances of a team with the week’s second highest point total losing, or another team with the week’s second lowest point total winning.

The next year I took that one step further – I had every team play every other team every week. On top of that we went with no playoffs; just each team playing nine games from Week One through Week 16. It was fantastic. Eight out of ten teams were still in the race up until almost the end, and in the final weekend five teams – half the league – still had a chance of winning the league title. The interest level from top to bottom remained much higher than I had ever seen before because so many teams had a legitimate shot, and the standings changed so much week to week.

With all that in mind, I’ve gone ahead and created a league incorporating some (but not all) of these advanced rules. Hopefully there will be enough interest here to form a fun, competitive league. Here is the info:

NFL.com
League: AllThingsPats
League ID: 509924
Password: gillette
Live Draft on Saturday, September 3 at 4:00 EDT
Even if you are unable to attend you can pre-set your draft rankings.
Custom url: http://AllThingsPats.league.fantasy.nfl.com
Teams: 8 (if more are interested that can easily be increased to 10 or 12; if still more are interested a second league can be formed.)
No maximum adds per season or per season; no maximum trades per season
Trade deadline: November 25
Waiver Period: one day
Waiver Type: resets every Tuesday to inverse order of standings
Rosters lock at game time

Roster Positions:
QB: one
WR/RB: one
WR/TE: three
RB/WR/TE: one
Kicker: one
Defense/Special Teams: one
Bench: six

- Regarding those flex positions: what it works out to is that you five positions, of which you can start (0, 1 or 2) running backs; (0 to 5) wide receivers; and (0 to 4) tight ends – whatever combination best suits you.

Offensive Scoring
Pass Completions: 1 point
Incomplete Passes: -1 point
Passing Yards: 1 point per 15 yards
Passing Touchdowns: 7 points
Interceptions Thrown: -5 points
Every Time Sacked: -1 point
Rushing Yards: 1 point per 5 yards
Rushing Touchdowns: 7 points
Receptions: 1 point per reception
Receiving Yards: 1 point per 5 yards
Receiving Touchdowns: 7 points
Kickoff and Punt Return Yards: 1 point per 10 yards
Kickoff and Punt Return Touchdowns: 7 points
Fumbles Lost: -5 points
2-point conversions: 2 points

Kicking
PAT made: 1 point
PAT missed: -1 point
FG made 0-19: 3 points
FG made 20-29: 3 points
FG made 30-39: 3 points
FG made 40-49: 4 points
FG made 50+: 5 points
FG missed 0-19: -3 points
FG missed 20-29: -3 points
FG missed 30-39: -2 points
FG missed 40-49: -1 point

Defense and Special Teams
Sacks: 1 point
Interceptions: 5 points
Fumbles Recovered: 5 points
Safeties: 5 points
Touchdowns: 7 points
Blocked Kicks: 3 points
Kickoff and Punt Return Touchdowns: 7 points
Points Allowed 0: 12 points
Points Allowed 1-6: 10 points
Points Allowed 7-13: 8 points
Points Allowed 14-20: 4 points
Points Allowed 21-27: 0 points
Points Allowed 28-34: -4 points
Points Allowed 35+: -8 points
Less Than 100 Total Yards Allowed: 6 points
100-199 Total Yards Allowed: 4 points
200-299 Total Yards Allowed: 2 points
300-399 Total Yards Allowed: 0 points
400-449 Total Yards Allowed: -2 points
450-499 Total Yards Allowed: -4 points
500+ Total Yards Allowed: -6 points
Other
Use Fractional Points: Yes
Use Negative Points: Yes

 

 

In addition, for those prefer to stick with more traditional scoring there is also another league setup on NFL.com
League: Pats Fans Standard
League ID: 510007
Password: gillette
Live Draft on Sunday, September 4 at 3:00 EDT
Even if you are unable to attend you can pre-set your draft rankings.
Custom url: http://PatsFansStandard.league.fantasy.nfl.com
Teams: 12
Divisions: 3
Playoffs: Weeks 15 & 16 – 4 teams
No maximum adds per season or per season; no maximum trades per season
Trade deadline: November 25
Waiver Period: one day
Waiver Type: move to last after claim; never resets
Rosters lock at game time

Roster Positions:
QB: one
RB: one
RB/WR: one
WR: two
TE: one
WR/TE: one
Kicker: one
Defense/Special Teams: one

- Regarding those flex positions: what it works out to is that can start either 1 or 2 running backs; 2, 3 or 4 wide receivers; and 1 or 2 tight ends – whatever combination best suits you, for a total of 6 starting roster spots between all your RB, WR and TE.

Offensive Scoring
Passing Yards: 1 point per 20 yards
Passing Touchdowns: 4 points
Interceptions Thrown: -4 points
Rushing Yards: 1 point per 10 yards
Rushing Touchdowns: 6 points
Receiving Yards: 1 point per 10 yards
Receiving Touchdowns: 6 points
Kickoff and Punt Return Touchdowns: 6 points
Fumbles Lost: -4 points
2-point conversions: 2 points

Kicking
PAT made: 1 point
FG made: 3 points

Defense and Special Teams
Sacks: 1 point
Interceptions: 4 points
Fumbles Recovered: 4 points
Safeties: 2 points
Touchdowns: 6 points
Kickoff and Punt Return Touchdowns: 6 points
Points Allowed 0: 12 points
Points Allowed 1-6: 9 points
Points Allowed 7-13: 6 points
Points Allowed 14-20: 3 points
Points Allowed 21-27: 0 points
Points Allowed 28-34: -3 points
Points Allowed 35+: -6 points

Other
Use Fractional Points: Yes
Use Negative Points: Yes

 

 

Other Leagues

Apologies in advance for utilizing espn, but it was the one site that I found that had both several other styles of games as well as the ability to form a private league.

 

Eliminator
Link
League Name: PatsFans.com
League ID: 1720
Password: gillette
Concept: Select one winner each week in an NFL game; however, once you use a team, you cannot use that team again for the rest of the season.
 
Gridiron Challenge
Link
League Name: PatsFans.com
League ID: 2279
Password: gillette
Concept: Salary-cap based fantasy football. No draft; you’re free to choose whomever you want on your team – but you have to stay under the cap, just like in real football. The cap money must be maximized across a nine-player roster (two quarterbacks, two running backs, two wideouts and one each of tight end, kicker and team defense/special teams), with each talent having a specific price on the market. Players tally points based on performance, with the scoring legend similar to most fantasy formats.

Based on performance and thus shifting demand for a particular player, pricing can fluctuate up or down in a given week. The goal of the game being to balance your budget and blend both costly stars and discounted sleepers in order to create margins and dividends. Invest in an inexpensive talent and if he capably produces, his salary will rise, but you continue to pay him the price you originally agreed on for as long as he is in your player portfolio.
 
Pick ‘Em (non-spread)
Link
League Name: PatsFans.com
League ID: 5050
Password: gillette
Concept: Pick who you think will win each NFL game every week. This one does not utilize a spread; all you have to do is pick the winning teams.
 
Pick ‘Em (versus the spread)
Link
League Name: PatsFans.com2
League ID: 5055
Password: gillette
Concept: Same as above, but in this game you are picking against the spread.
 
College Pick ‘Em
Link
League Name: PatsFans.com
League ID: 3756
Password: gillette
Concept: Pick the winners, but this time it is for college games rather than the NFL. The twist to this one is that you are ranking your picks based on the game you have the most confidence in getting the winner correct, to the one you have the least confidence in getting right.
 
College Football Challenge
Link
League Name: PatsFans.com
League ID: 2562
Password: gillette
Concept: No salary cap, no draft; just pick an 8-man roster among any college football players using a standard fantasy football scoring system each week. Two QB, two RB, a WR/TE, K and D/ST.