Informed Instinct

The new NFL season is just around the corner.  Training camp is over.  Fantasy drafts are almost complete.  And lineups are being set for Week One.  Many don’t realize it, but Week One is one of the toughest weeks in fantasy football.  Despite all the time to prepare for this first week, much of this preparation is based on speculation.  Yes, there are stats from last year and plenty of player history to research.  There is some preseason play and plenty of pundit talk to add to the mix.  But when you really think about it, the chemistry on many of these teams has changed – some perhaps more than others, but it has changed nonetheless.  How will New England’s players adjust to Edelman’s absence?  Will Landry or Parker be the top wide receiver in Miami now that Jay Cutler is behind center?  And what does the switch from Jordan Matthews to Alshon Jeffery do for the Eagles’ balance of attack on offense?  At some level, your decisions this week will be made based on either false assumptions, guesswork, or by informed instinct.  The latter is seldom developed and exercised to the degree it should in fantasy play.  But those who employ informed instinct correctly in their decision-making this week will likely come out the big winners in Week One.

“Instinct” is a nebulous term.  It is often deemed a “soft skill” in life, something that people shouldn’t put much stock into.  Then again, there are those who speak highly of anyone who possesses “strong instincts.”  The term “instinct” in fantasy football circles borders on the verge of “guesswork.”  In fact, everyone knows a guy in fantasy who thinks he “knows” exactly what’s going to happen this week or this season.  But those who truly understand instinct recognize the between the two.  “Instinct” is defined as “a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity had an instinct for the right word; a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason; behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level.”  “Guesswork,” on the other hand, is defined as “work performed or results obtained by guess, conjecture.”  There difference is found most distinctly in the phrase “below the conscious level.”

While instinct is different than and superior to guesswork in fantasy football, is it in-and-of itself sufficient to win this popular game?  My answer to you is, “No, absolutely not.”  Instinct alone can only take you so far.  In other words, it isn’t enough to go by your gut.  There has to be more than to instinct involved if you’re going to wildly succeed on the fantasy football field.  And I will explain why….

Guesswork may tell you that Ben Roethlisberger will have a great week because his name is recognizable.  Instinct, however, will go a step further.  It will tell you to go with him because he is known as a good quarterback and he is facing a terrible team known as the Cleveland Browns.  And, in this case, I would say your instincts serve you well – they are leading you down a good direction for the right reasons.  But what if I told you Ben Roethlisberger produces well-below average numbers when on the road (they play in Cleveland this week), that divisional opponents tend to be more difficult to fool (they know each other too well), and that his second-best wide receiver is suspended for the year (not the case this year, but it was last year)?  Your instincts might drive you to a very different conclusion at this point.  Why?  Because of the information informing it.

Instinct can serve anyone well in fantasy football, especially those with an aptitude for it.  But informed instinct is even better.  What does that entail?  It entails two things: 1) the ability to tap into your instincts.  If you don’t have this aptitude to begin with, stick to stats and facts – don’t fool yourself into thinking you can somehow summon it; and 2) research into the nuances involving each player’s style of play, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as their supporting cast.  Without this information, your instincts and subsequent decisions will not be properly informed.  Are you looking for examples?  Try these on for size: David Johnson exceeded 370 touches last season, which historically means he will miss significant time on the field this season and that you might want his backup (Kerwynn Williams) on your fantasy squad; Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, and Julio Jones have not historically put up significant numbers in the first week of regular season play (they ramp up over the first couple of weeks, perhaps a result of skipping out on training camp and preseason game participation); and finally, the Colts are missing so many key players on both sides of the ball going into Week One that they would be considered a potential 0-16 team if they were expected to last that way all year (their opponent’s players this week suddenly appear more appealing in fantasy).

Knowledge of this type informs your instincts.  It can clarify what you might otherwise dismiss a sheer guesswork, or it can help you realize when you are just making shit up in your head.  Informed instinct provides an extra edge over all those competitors who are either blindly making decisions, caught up in their historical biases, or stuck inside their head with analytics.  Informed instinct takes advantage of all the value analytics and sixth sense have to offer, while keeping you objective in your decision-making.  This is what will help you make that tough call between two equals on your roster.  It is also what will help you determine when to pivot off an obvious favorite to a more subtle, less popular choice in Daily fantasy play.  And it will help you navigate through the nebulous fantasy machinations of Week One.  If you know how to tap into the sixth sense, couple it with accurate, meaningful information, and watch your success in fantasy football skyrocket.  That is the power of informed instinct.


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