Fantasy Football Playoffs: The Truth about the Elements
Quick, think back to your worst fantasy playoff defeat.
I bet you remember it very clearly. I sure do. In the 2007 Week 15 fantasy semifinals, I fielded a team with Randy Moss (1493 yds / 23 TDs), Terrell Owens (1355 yards, 15 TDs), and Reggie Wayne (1510 yards, 10 TDs), not to mention other late ’00 studs such as Ryan Grant, Willie Parker, and Carson Palmer.
I lost to Aaron Stecker. Remember him? He put up 32 fantasy points against me that week, and down I went. I admit, I had to look up the exact stats… but I will never forget Stecker’s name, ever. I think I was mad about that for… yeah honestly I still am.
The fantasy playoffs are just one of those things. You can mature as an adult, learn to be level-headed at work, and even raise a family (don’t trust me with that one quite yet); but losing in the fantasy playoffs – especially to a close friend / hated rival (both?) – lets out the kicking screaming child that’s still inside us.
The added pressure causes us to overthink lineups and sometimes make boneheaded decisions that we could look back on later and say, ‘what on Earth was I thinking?’ Further complicating matters are the introductions of late-season weather (wind, temperature, etc.) and real NFL playoff implications (team level of effort, resting starters, etc.).
This four part mini-series will help you navigate lineup decisions, whether they are for this week, for the fantasy playoffs, or even for daily fantasy leagues. The four parts of lineups I will look at are:
- Part I: The Elements
- Part II: Individual Matchups
- Part III: Team Matchups
- Part IV: Other Factors
My goal at the end is to create something of a ‘game barometer’ that will combine all of the factors discussed and give you games/matchups to target and to avoid. Let’s get started.
Part I: The Elements
Why Understanding the Elements is Important
In 2006, Tom Brady threw for 50 TDs. Fantasy owners who drafted Brady laid waste to everyone in their path. And then, week 15 happened: a muddy, rainy, cold, windy game against the New York Jets. The Patriots won, but Brady threw for just 140 yards and no TDs. If you were one of these Brady owners, chances are, you lost your playoff game. Perhaps you still remember it, just as I remember my bad beat above.
There are probably a few bold owners out there who benched Brady that week and lived to tell the tale. And that’s what we are working on here. Which types of weather – wind, temperature, precipitation – have the biggest effects on performance? How bad does the weather have to be to consider benching a stud player? And which specific parts of the game – rushing, passing, or both – are affected?
Thank You, Random College Student
Fortunately, this is an area that has been heavily researched. I found several reliable sources of information on this topic; however, the best one by far was this thesis from one Max Zipperman of Claremont McKenna College. Max analyzed a whopping 3,133 games between 2002-2013. Max, we have no idea who you are or where you came from, but we thank you very, very much for making your thesis public.
If you are super into data analysis, Python programming, or other nerd-alert areas of academia, you might enjoy reading his report; for the rest of you, though, here’s what you need to know. Some of these conclusions won’t surprise you, while others might:
Conclusion #1: Wind is more significant than temperature, and it has a significant negative effect on the passing game, especially for visiting teams
On average, a visiting team playing in 20 MPH winds will put up 20% less passing yards per game than the same team with negligible wind. That is a huge number, especially when you think about the compounding effects on receptions, touchdowns, and even rushing yards, when you consider the inability to sustain drives. Home teams are still affected, but only by about half as much.
Note that visiting teams had a slight increase in rushing attempts under windier conditions; however, there was no discernible increase in rushing attempt from home teams.
Conclusion #2: Freezing games have a negative affect on both rushing and passing, especially for visiting teams from warm climates & domes
The second part of this one is probably obvious to you: teams from domes and warm climates struggle to move the ball when faced with cold weather. Still, it’s encouraging to see the numbers back up our assumption.
The first part might surprise you. Cold weather negatively affects both passing and running games. The effect on the running game isn’t as strong as the effect on the passing game, but it’s enough for us to reconsider the blanket statement that “teams run the ball a ton in cold weather.” Starting RBs in cold weather games isn’t a fail-safe plan.
Conclusion #3: Visiting teams are affected twice as much (!!)
This is the most significant conclusion in my mind. I think we often look at weather affecting both teams equally, with perhaps a slight advantage to the acclimated home team, but I never envisioned that the effects would be twice as bad for the visitors. They are, so let’s not forget it.
Conclusion #4: Snow has almost no effect by itself
Alas, Max did not provide us with precipitation analysis, so I had to search elsewhere. I settled on this concise article about handicapping games based on the effects of weather.
This one also might not be intuitive to you. Snow, by itself, isn’t scary. A blizzard – which combines snow and high winds – is another thing entirely, but the important takeaway here is not to be deterred by light and medium snow forecasts as long as they aren’t accompanied by significant winds.
Rain is actually scarier than snow, but only by default; it’s still not as big a factor as wind or temperature. Plus, rain is less predictable, so we won’t be able to predict rainy conditions ahead of time with great accuracy.
Conclusion #5: Use kickers in domes / good weather
I’m not going to spend much time on this one, other than to say: yes, the kicking game is adversely affected by the elements. There are no such things as ‘stud’ kickers. Just pick the best kicker you can who is playing in a dome or somewhere mild (California, Texas, etc.). Don’t get cute with S. Gostkowski in a windy, cold December game just because he’s on the Patriots.
- Wind is the most important weather factor, and it negatively affects passing.
- Freezing games negatively affect both passing (more significant) and rushing (less significant).
- For both wind and temperature, visiting teams are affected roughly twice as much as home teams.
- Snow isn’t scary by itself.
- Use kickers in domes / good weather.
The fantasy playoffs are still a few weeks away, but this is information that we can use right now. Take the extra 5 minutes to look up the weather that your players will be experiencing. It’s worth it – even when the Weather.com app wigs out and floods your screen with ads.
Stay tuned next week for Part II.
Although I’ve completed my trade advice for the season, you can still Tweet me fantasy trades and I will share my thoughts (@JJRaleigh87). My best tips on trades can be found here (general strategies), here (evaluating trades), and here/here (examples/FAQs). Good luck!
Jack’s undying love for football dates back to his earliest days: bravely sporting Green Bay Packers attire in his hometown of Minneapolis, MN, while playing football every day after – and drawing plays on his notebooks during – school. After five years as a U.S. Naval officer, Jack has become a nuclear engineer for the Department of Energy by day and an aspiring football mind by night. Jack’s interests include fantasy football (both standard and daily leagues), weekly NFL point spreads, and the NFL draft. A steady advocate of data-driven predictions, Jack leverages his technical background to compile and analyze large football data sets, highlighted by an Excel spreadsheet of every single NFL draft pick since 1965. Jack can also be found drawing coverage away from fellow author Brian Jester in flag football leagues on the National Mall in Washington, DC.