Inside the Boxscore: The Craziest, Wildest Week of Fantasy Football...Maybe Ever

They say fantasy football is a game based on luck and skill, a social experience extending beyond the game itself. But as a seven-year vet coming off his most inconceivable weekend of play, it's hard to be so sure anymore. Yes, fantasy football is an unpredictable showdown involving hours of research, analysis, and anticipation; however, other intangibles like coaching changes, career histories, injuries, roster moves, and sabermetrics can also impact league outcome.

Personally, if you ask me, fantasy football is more a statistical war of attrition than a sum of luck and skill. But in case you prefer proof rather than taking some random guy's word for it, consider my week 14...a week in which three of my four bubble teams qualified for the playoffs in some of the most statistically improbable ways.

We’ll start off with ‘Green Initiative’, a team ironically void of its inspiration (i.e. AJ Green…who by now has been dropped with a season-ending injury).



In this scenario, my team is on a two game losing streak heading into a pivotal week. As a sixth seed one game back from the fourth and fifth seeds, not only do I need to win my matchup, but I need Daemon Blackfyre and FBEAN to lose. Not exactly an ideal narrative for a playoff berth, but a doable one given I hold the point advantage in case all teams tie at 7-7 (Thank you, Mahomes/Hill). Interestingly, Hulk Smash is also in the running, but a win by me would squash his playoff hopes due to point differential. 

As the noon slate concludes, the first domino emerges as FBEAN’s team flounders to Kerryon My Wayward J. With the Saints' offense sputtering again, FBEAN never stands a chance as Hilton’s big day gives Kerryon an insurmountable advantage. 

With FBEAN in check and Daemon early in competition, my focus switches to Jeffrey Bloom whose team, mind you, is three wins better despite a -40 point differential. Whether he held an easier schedule, had greater roster depth (i.e. staggered bye weeks, injury moves, handcuffs, etc.), or both, had we played in a prior week, he would have been favored on projected points; however, with his best player (i.e. Melvin Gordon) injured, our lineups are now equally pitted. If there's ever a week to face Jeffrey Bloom, this is it.  

As afternoon becomes evening, upset dreams begin to fade as Richard and Sutton combine for a measly 5.6 fantasy points. But then out of nowhere, this happens...


With Kittle plowing his way to ~30 fantasy points and the Bears D owning the Rams, my sins are now covered...my playoff fate resting entirely on the shoulders of Amy Jo (second worst in standing, but only -27 to FBEAN’s team)

Speaking of Amy Jo, let's recap her part in punching my playoff ticket. Yes, she was the opponent to Daemon Blackfyre as we’ll see in a minute; however, as a rookie with little experience and a lame duck squad, she had already done enough to help me out.


Just look at these trade offers she accepted from me...



…granted, none of these moves would have mattered had I not reached out...requesting the removal of Andy Dalton (on IR; the essence a point-less pick ;) from her starting lineup.

Still, while I, in no way, expected Amy Jo to reply after fleecing her in back-to-back trades...I knew the shot was worth taking.


As 'luck' would have it, at almost the exact moment I turned 33, my fantasy app revealed a surprising birthday present: After starting Dalton in weeks 12 and 13 (accruing zero points both times), Amy Jo dropped him for Kirk Cousins (I know, not the best play, but who else you going to add off the waiver this late in the season?).


With a punter's chance now raised to a puncher's chance, it all came down to a Monday night showdown between Amy Jo (Cousins) and Daemon (Dalvin Cook AND Chris Carson). 

Now, I know what you're thinking. With Amy Jo holding a single digit lead and one play against Daemon's two, surely I was a goner, right?


Well, not so fast. First, Daemon had a goose egg from Funchess, a receiver he should have benched for a streamer with more upside. Second, his star running back, Todd Gurley, the consensus #1 overall pick in fantasy drafts, only reached 34% of his projected value.

Of course, some of his plays worked out. Gronk, in particular, had a strong performance doubling his point projection in his best game of the season. Unfortunately for Daemon, with Gurley finishing at -14, his roster had a notable hole to fill. The question was whether or not the Vikings/Seahawks game script would be run-heavy.

As it turns out, both teams struggle for offense, the Vikings OC seals his doom,  and despite a gutsy comeback, Daemon is unable to catch Amy Jo thanks to Cousins capping Daemon's Cook TD to  +2.86 points...

 ...which means had Amy ignored my plea and not picked up Cousins, Daemon would have not only netted a +7.1 on Cook's score, but also a week 14 victory, and a playoff berth.

Maybe the social aspect of fantasy football is, in fact, the most underrated. 

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In our second scenario, the stage is flipped. Instead of needing to leapfrog two teams to clinch, my team, Cook to Perfection, is desperately trying to hold on to the third seed. The problem is I’m playing the fifth seed, Shocker’s Team, who secured a paltry point advantage in a week 13 126.52-125.64 victory during which Cousins decided to flop a plus matchup against the Pats, in turn, costing me a critical win (Quick note: It’s crazy how these first two cases may not have happened had it not been for a volatile Vikings coaching staff; if this doesn't support my opening premise, I don't know what will). 


Anywho, with the 3rd-5th teams represented in two matchups, the playoff pathway is simple: beat Shocker’s Team…and I’m in. Lose? And it all comes down to Sid’s Bad Boys, a team ravaged by injuries much like his opponent, Prestige Worldwide.



Sadly, unlike Prestige, Sid is playing lights out heading into the afternoon games...his victory and playoff berth all but clinched after Darius Slay’s 67-yard pick 6 and Pettis’ 1-yard TD boosts his lead to 33. 


Unlike Green Initiative, the pressure is now on me: win or go home. Forget roster comparisons. Forget the fact I was +183 in season points. If I don’t somehow find a way against Shocker, it’s over.

Fast-forward to Seahawks/Vikings kickoff and I’m in a pickle. With Shocker up 86.14-80.32 and [More Than a] Thielen on his roster, I’m torn who to start at my flex. Should I roll with the upside of Diggs or the consistency of Cook? For days I go back and forth, trying to forecast based on target and snap shares; however, after penciling Diggs in Sunday morning, I call an audible Sunday night after realizing the Seahawks were at home with an improving defense. Accordingly, I switch to Cook given the safer floor and expected game script, unaware how significant this substitution would turn out.  

Of course, a winning move in fantasy doesn’t guarantee a winning game in real life as evident by the 6-0 crapfest after three quarters and a Vikings’ offense that was…well…offensive. Yet, despite the Vikings’ ineptitude on third down, the fiasco between Zimmer and DeFilippo, and Russell Wilson’s puzzling life choices in the pocket, the game ultimately salvages itself in the final minutes.

Trailing 90.02- 96.44 with a less than 5% chance of victory following Justin Coleman's fumble return...


...my playoff dreams once again hinge on garbage time.
  
What I need is a miracle by way of a Cook redzone touchdown. Remember Daemon also had Cook so anything beyond ~20 yards would've resulted in enough points for him to beat Amy Jo. Talk about the ultimate needle thread! Not only did I need Cook to score, but score from a precise range of yardage. Usually when such precision is needed, the odds are rarely in your favor.

Yet, as the fantasy gods would have it…with only 70 seconds left in a 21-0 game, Cousins finds a wide open Cook for a +7.1 6-yard TD courtesy of Seattle’s matador prevent defense. 


With Seattle’s win already secure, Wilson could now kneel out the clock and assure my team name as the most prophetic in the league. 



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While the Vikings offense dominated storylines for Green Initiative and Cook to Perfection, for Drew Dat, the purple and gold are nowhere to be found.

With a 6-5 record heading into a ‘make or break’ finale, the recipe for success is clear: win and you’re in.

Upon first glance, the odds are encouraging. While higher seeds are locked in harder matchups, for Drew Dat, facing an 8th seeded Jordo whose team is averaging less than 100 points a game in 0.5 PPR, is a shot of confidence in not only winning, but winning convincingly.

Unfortunately, any hope for an easy win evaporates early as Jordo races to a commanding lead behind Brady and McCaffrey and Drew Dat,  like FBEAN, are undone by Saints and weak RB1 play. By time the early slate completes, regrets are triggered as both team projection and deficit falls over 30 points. And as Jordo’s winning probability hits 87% heading into the Eagles/Cowboys Sunday nighter, the outcome is all but certain. Trailing 90.74-105.62 with [Amari] Cooper and JuJu [Smith-Schuster] left to play, I need the fantasy equivalent of a Hail Mary touchdown with zero time on the clock.

But before I drop back, I call time-out...turning off my phone to take a mental break just as Cooper and Dak begin heating up. Little did I know by halftime my probability of winning had skyrocketed to coin-flip odds. Perhaps a second Music City Miracle was in store after all.
Sadly, by time I turn on my phone, whatever momentum was gained in the first half had stalled to the tune of a 110.44-122.42 deficit. True, Cooper had scored a TD keeping me in the game, but JuJu was also piling up receptions.

Figuring I had no chance with a few minutes left in each game, I relocate to my children’s room, looking to play the pain away. Fittingly, as soon as I hit the Hot Wheels, my phone lights up to the visual of Cooper not only scoring his second TD, but a notification signaling I had taken the lead for the first time...my winning odds now up to 62%.

Back in it, I head to the living room to buckle up for the unfolding barn burner when not even a minute later, JuJu scores his first TD, shrinking my odds back down to 37%. Add in a separate 43 yarder shortly after and surely my goose is cooked with the score now 124.44-134.62 with only 1:39 left in a 23-23 Cowboys/Eagles game.

By now, the only way I can stay alive is for the Cowboys to thwart the current drive (Hey, that rhymed!). While many Cowboys fans are rooting for Dak and Zeke to carry them into field-goal territory, I'm desperately rooting against this as a last second field-goal would squash the Cooper score I needed to win the game (at this point the odds of winning are less than 1...my only hope being the game goes into overtime)

Huddling their two-minute offense, I watch in horror as Dak and Zeke advance the ball across midfield with only 35 seconds left. With only one first down left to secure field goal range, I need an Eagles defensive stop on the next play. 

Thankfully, Fletcher Cox hears me, sacks Dak with 16 seconds, and forces the game into overtime.

For another ten minutes, I'm still alive.

Game reset, I now need the Cowboys to win the coin toss and go for the kill. A fair flip, a 12 yard Cooper reception, and a few minutes later, the lead narrows to 134.62-127.44. Yet, with Zeke once again hogging the offense, my comeback odds remain stuck at 1%. With the Cowboys milking the clock in field-goal territory, my fantasy hope is now as close to real life as possible. To win outright, I need a Dak to Cooper TD pass and the rest is history¹.

After the third ‘two minute warning’, it all came down to a 3rd and 8 with 1:55 left…


Incredibly, the yardage along with the TD secures just enough to points to vault over Jordo. With the walk-off concluding matters and roster plays on both sides, I had done the unthinkable. Not only did my team go from a 1<% chance of winning to a 100% chance of winning in one play, but the play also was the difference in my team clinching the playoffs.



It's been over a week since week 14 and the shock still hasn’t wore off. Yes, close games are a dime a dozen in fantasy and real life. But with so much riding on the line on one play, this, in a sense, was my MJ ‘shot’ over Cleveland in game of the 1989 quarterfinals.

Even in the presence of greatness, such wins are rare. ‘Tis the reason you play to live and live to play another day.

Footnotes

1.  Unlike the end of regulation, in NFL overtime games, the outcome can only end decisively off touchdowns. In this situation, I know the Cowboys are playing for the end zone. I just need Cooper to be the man one more time. With Dak struggling on his reads to Gallup (and other receivers) the entire game, I knew I had a decent prayer. Also, it's worth noting due to Yahoo’s win/loss percentage algorithms not factoring in overtime, the odds were technically stuck at 1%. In all likelihood, the real-life odds of winning were much lower than 1%.

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