Every week of the season, we make judgment calls on who to start and who to sit, who to pick up and who to let go, who to trade and who to hang onto.  Some owners rack and stack players by fantasy points; others by statistics; and yet others by matchups.  Whatever tool or combination of tools we use to manage our teams, the essence of our fantasy football decisions-making can be summed up in one word: expectations.

When a fantasy owner picks Ryan Tannehill to start over Alex Smith, it is not simply because Tannehill’s has more Yards Passing despite fewer fantasy points this season.  It is because that owner has an expectation that Tannehill will score more fantasy points than Smith this weekend or throughout the rest of the season.  Likewise, fantasy owners didn’t draft Calvin Johnson in the first round this year just because they thought he’s a great player.  They did it because they expected him to put up some serious fantasy points relative to all other wide receivers this season.  It’s our expectations (sometimes strongly influenced by our biases) that drive our decision-making in this game

“Yeah, okay,” you say, “Well duh…”

Duh is right – it sounds so simple.  And yet it’s not.  Why?  Because many of us have a tendency to build our expectations about fantasy football on the wrong supporting data.  I recently read an article that spouted off a number of fantasy football tips, such as using an opposing defense’s Passing Yards Allowed as a tool for deciding which quarterback to play on a given week.  But information like that can be so flawed, especially this early in the season.  Did 500 of those yards come from a one-game shootout?  If so, how did that defense fare in their other games?  Keep in mind that simply looking at Average Yards Allowed/Game won’t necessarily cut it either because that figure can also be skewed by a one-game hiccup over a small sample.

Reasonable expectations are built on sound and meaningful pieces of information, such as accurate injury status, statistics that take into account garbage time and meaningless plays (see Football Outsiders), and matchups dissected by comparative formations and personnel.  Variables such as weather and the possibility that Peyton Manning might only play halfway into the 3rd quarter of a blowout need to be considered.  All of these factors ought to be weighed in relation to one another to determine whether you should raise or temper your expectations for a fantasy player.

That is not to say that all of this research and analysis will guarantee you success.  Remember, this is PROFESSIONAL football we’re dealing with.  Anyone can breakout or bomb on any given week.  The other thing to keep in mind when developing expectations is that NFL success does not always equate to fantasy success.  A lot depends on your fantasy league’s settings.

A look at some of the fantasy results to date in 2013 shows how difficult it can be to “predict” performance just by player reputation and basic stats.  The Top 12 QBs in Week Five (standard league): 1. Tony Romo, 2. Peyton Manning, 3. Russell Wilson, 4. Jay Cutler, 5. Ryan Fitzpatrick, 6, Geno Smith, 7. Philip Rivers, 8. Sam Bradford, 9. Terrelle Pryor, 10. Drew Brees, 11. Matt Ryan, and 12. Eli Manning.  Note that all of these quarterbacks finished ahead of popularly projected 2013 Top 12 Fantasy QBs Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, and Matthew Stafford.

Who would have predicted these results?  Owners that took into account multiple pieces of sound data to form their expectations.  And even that is not always enough.  For my part, I was able to raise my expectations for Eli Manning, Terrelle Pryor, and Sam Bradford last week while lowering them for Tom Brady (see my Week 5 post).  But I totally missed it on Russell Wilson, who ran for over 100 yards and threw for 2 touchdowns.  Which leads to my last point…

Too many owners get in the habit of looking at projected numbers and rankings as “predictions” on how the week or the season is going to.  You can’t do that – well, you can, but it will keep you from managing your fantasy team at its best, and it leads to frequent heartbreak and disappointment.  Keep in mind that those projections are a reflection of someone’s expectations.  Consider them and ask yourself if their expectations have any good basis behind them.  If not, find some that do or conduct a bit of well-founded analysis of your own.  And after that, just keep it real – no one is going to get it right all of the time.  But you can sure get close….

More to follow soon on how to play it Week 6.


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