Unabated to the QB, Week 7: Ending the Fantasy

“So it was with me as I peacefully died of my cure.”

—Albert Camus

This weekend finally sealed it. At season’s end, I am officially retiring from fantasy football.

I have made this threat before. In fact, it’s been kind of a mid-aughts Favrian period from me along these lines, where I consider retirement without ever making the leap (thus the distinction between mid-aughts Favre and late-aughts Favre).

I have long deplored the aesthetics of fantasy sports. In fact, I’ve already explained this earlier in the season. To wit:

“Now, I despise the idea behind fantasy football. To me, it’s a compensatory hobby designed to manufacture allegiances when you don’t otherwise have one. I don’t care who wins this game, so I will root for Aaron Rodgers to throw a touchdown pass to Donald Driver for Green Bay, and for LeSean McCoy to have a nice performance for the Eagles. This will make me happy. Fantasy football, then, is something I patently don’t need. I love the Giants, and therefore I have a strong rooting interest in almost any game that includes an NFC team. Over time, I have developed a hierarchy of affection in the AFC, and so I have mild rooting interests in its games as well. I cannot think of a single time I have watched an NFL game completely indifferent to its outcome.

“And yet I play fantasy football. I have Aaron Rodgers, Donald Driver, and LeSean McCoy on my team. At the same time that I’m rooting for Green Bay to beat Philadelphia (and handily), I find myself saying things like, “But if the Eagles do score here, I would much prefer it be on a LeSean McCoy run.” This isn’t an exercise in my own hypocrisy as much as it is one to display the ubiquity of fantasy’s influence on the typical football fan. Even I, self-proclaimed as one of the good fans above its pulls, have fallen prey to it. Every year, I tell myself that I will retire from fantasy football, and yet, each August, there I am on some idle Sunday pumping myself up for the draft.

Now, in order for the rest of this post to continue, I am going to have to address something every male knows but chooses to occasionally ignore: No one cares about our fantasy teams. No one. We all know this and understand it completely when someone else starts talking to us about their fantasy team. Conversations about someone else’s fantasy team are the worst. It is the only time that, as a man, I wish I weren’t a sports fan — that there were some easy, Oh, I don’t really pay attention to the football match way out of this. This is why I don’t watch The League: In theory alone, I do not care about anyone else’s fantasy team unless it is constructed of the exact same players as mine.

But we of course choose to forget this absolute, 100 percent truth when we ourselves talk about our own fantasy team to someone else. In that conversation, nothing is more interesting than how clever we were to pick Dustin Keller — who totally was coming on at the end of last season and has really developed a nice rapport with Mark Sanchez, too. I think they did some off-season work together — and how gosh-darn difficult it will be to decide between Jamaal Charles and Beanie Wells at the second running back position — because Charles has been more productive but you see, he’s not really the starter. And Wells is, although I don’t know what the Cardinals are doing at quarterback, and Tim Hightower might get some of those TDs. Although Thomas Jones gets the TDs for the Chiefs. Man, this is hard. All this is not to mention the complications thrown in by the notorious bye week.

In this way, fantasy football conversations are no different from the illusions we have about speaking over the telephone, as elucidated in Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace:

“Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation […] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided.” (via)

So I wanted to get that out of the way. I understand the dynamic at play here, and I am flaunting it to make a larger point about fantasy sports.

I decided to finally fulfill this long-held retirement threat sometime around 4:15 on Sunday, when my all-afternoon-held suspicion that I had indeed benched Kenny Britt in favor of Danny Woodhead was confirmed. Kenny Britt scored 40 points in the Titans’ win over the Eagles; Danny Woodhead had four in New England’s win. This decision that I made sometime earlier in the week — no doubt factoring in things such as Woodhead’s scoring a TD in three straight games and Kerry Collins’ starting at QB for the Titans — and even then ignoring Kenny Britt’s benching, cast a pall on what was otherwise a very happy event: the Titans’ dismantling of the Eagles.

So I was upset at something I wouldn’t have otherwise been upset at. This discomfort only grew on Monday night, when I realized early in the fourth quarter, that even though my Giants were absolutely obliterating the Cowboys,* I had a chance to lose my fantasy week if Dez Bryant continued to have a strong game.** Of course, Dez Bryant continued to have a strong to quite strong game, handing me my third consecutive fantasy loss.

*We will discuss this game below and why that verb is totally justified.

**I only had a chance to win because my opponent had not properly adjusted his roster to reflect the injuries to David Garrard and DeSean Jackson and the bye week for Santonio Holmes. Yes, he beat me six on nine.

Now, I had returned to fantasy football this season for two reasons. The first is that I had tricked myself into believing I was good at it. This is, again, something males are very good at. I had played in 13 fantasy football leagues before this season, and I had finished in first only once. Yet, in the last two seasons, I had finished in first, second, and second in my three leagues, leading me to believe that I was on a bit of a roll. Furthermore, after storming the league late to win the title in convincing fashion in 2008, when my team began its comeback late in 2009 (en route to second), the scribe behind the league’s increasingly entertaining weekly recap mentioned something to the effect that I was a “lurking giant” with some pedigree. Yes, I told myself, we do play better down the stretch of seasons.

This, of course, is an absolutely absurd thing to think. I don’t know what is worst: the application of the first-person plural; the idea that there is any kind of togetherness within this “team;” or the idea that this “team,” which comprises entirely different individuals from last year’s “team,” and is the same, literally, in name only, has developed any kind of modus operandi. Furthermore, the idea that I was a kind of prime mover behind this development was similarly flawed: I had been a fairly laissez-faire owner. I had not attended the draft (in either season, mind you), and I had made a few moves that weren’t based on any original insight and worked out roughly half the time. And yet this was all the evidence I needed to determine that I was a good fantasy football owner.

Second, during the Giants’ collapse at the end of the 2009 season, fantasy football provided my only happiness derived from football, precisely because my team made its predictable-for-no-reason late-season run. And so I thought entering this year, that even as I suspected the Giants to be in it until late in the year, that it might be nice to have fantasy football just in case they aren’t. It can provide happiness.

But I neglected to see this ugly flip side. That it can make me unhappy when I should be happy. That I can be upset when the Eagles allow another long touchdown because I think I wasn’t playing the guy who caught it. That the main reason I’m upset about the Cowboys’ late rally isn’t just that they scored, it’s who scored for them.

It angered me that Dez Bryant scored those touchdowns. But what really pissed me off, is how angry I was because Dez Bryant scored those touchdowns. And that’s why I’m done with fantasy football.

On Giants-Cowboys: We can all agree that the final score of that game should have been like 52-10, right? Dallas’ only means of stopping the Giants was on a tipped pass, and the Cowboys could only score if that tipped pass took place deep enough in New York territory. In fact, the entire first half, I thought about how the Giants were out-Cowboysing the Cowboys, keeping another team in the game with bad turnovers and poor special teams while outgaining them by a remarkable margin.

The big story for me out of that game is, as Steve Young said, how bad the Cowboys are. It’s funny because everyone — myself included — has talked about how talented Dallas is at so many positions that we’ve overlooked the significant gap between being talented and being good. Felix Jones is talented, but Ahmad Bradshaw is good. The same can be said of Dez Bryant and Hakeem Nicks, or Mike Jenkins and Corey Webster.

And of course, all that talent at the “skill” positions doesn’t mean much when you get beat at the line of scrimmage. Seriously, how many more times can the Giants hand it to Bradshaw out of the shotgun before Anthony Spencer even considers the possibility that the play will be a run? My goodness, guy is slow.

As for the G-Men, any of this “Best in the NFC” talk has a lot more to do with the void in the conference than any particular strength in the team. I don’t put too much stock into what the Giants do in the season’s first half. This is, staggeringly, the seventh straight year the Giants have been 5-2 or better through seven games.* Under Tom Coughlin, their season is defined by what they can do in the final eight games, and while I’m confident they’re a good team, I’m not confident they’re a great one.

*I follow the Giants religiously, and this stunned me when I put it all together.

If I had to pick one NFC team to go to the Super Bowl right now? Ugh…

Believe it or not, that was the first MNF game I watched all of since Jon Gruden replaced Tony Kornheiser. I’ve heard a lot of strong reviews of Gruden’s work, but it was mediocre to me. He gives you his customary “This guy” and “That guy”s, but he got a number of facts wrong. In one remarkable sentence, he managed to say that Ahmad Bradshaw went undrafted (he was picked in the seventh round), that he ran for a touchdown on his first carry (he didn’t), and that it was a 71-yard touchdown against the Bills (it was 88 yards). None of these errors were ever corrected.

That said, he’s still better than Kornheiser was.

Speaking of Kornheiser, I’d like to dispel a common myth he and a lot of the MSM perpetrates about the Giants; namely, that the loss of Plaxico Burress is what killed the franchise for the last year and a half. I will grant that losing Burress is what derailed the Giants late in 2008; the offense didn’t have enough time to remake itself in time for the playoffs, where New York lost to the Eagles.

But last season, the Giants sported one of the best passing games in franchise history. Steve Smith compiled far and away the best season by a Giants’ wide receiver ever. I mean, it isn’t even close. New York’s issues in 2009 derived from the mysterious decline of its offensive line and the explicable collapse of its defense. None of it had to do with Plaxico Burress.

Raheem Morris is moving up the Cool Coaches List with his declaration that the Bucs are the best team in the NFC and that “stats are for losers.” But, he’s also moving up the Paranoid and Unstable Coaches List, which is currently topped, of course, by Bill Belichick.

I also don’t think Morris understands math, considering he said, “You are what your record says you are in this league, and right now we’re tied for the fewest losses, so that makes us the best team.” Tied, Raheem. Tied.

I was again behind Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 at midfield up three in San Diego on Sunday. But, I would never have handed the ball off to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. This is not just because Green-Ellis is a poor running back, but also because I never hand the ball off to a running back that has more than three capital letters in his name.

What was going on in that Redskins-Bears game? Why did the Bears keep throwing the ball at DeAngelo Hall? It’s not like they’ve got a great receiver over there. And how did Washington manage to fumble six times but only lose one? I’d call that the Stat of the Week, but I’m not a loser.

You know who’s got the best point differential in the league? Betcha didn’t guess the Tennessee Titans, at +82.

You know who’s got the worst point differential in the league? Betcha didn’t guess the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are 3-4 despite being outscored by 79 points.

The Chargers average more yards per play than any other offense. They give up fewer yards per play than any other defense. They’re 2-5. Stats are for losers.

In a discussion of some of the high-profile coaches that will be available this off-season, Peter King made sure to include Carolina’s John Fox, who just about everyone knows is going to be fired/not retained after this season. Fox, of course, is very well-regarded in NFL circles and almost certainly will get another job right away. So why is Carolina going to fire/not retain him? In an alternate universe, where John Fox was not currently coaching the Panthers but was available this off-season, he would be regarded as a perfect fit and a great hire for Carolina. So why not keep him?

Jets Bash of the Week: Seriously, if the Jets were Boise State, how much would we be ripping them this week for barely beating Denver last week? Oh right, this is why that system is flawed.

Chiefs Plug of the Week: Two games up in the loss column, with two games left against winning teams (Tennessee and Seattle). I am penciling in the little x next to Kansas City in my AFC West standings already.

AFC Listicle:

16. Buffalo

15. Denver

14. Jacksonville

13. Cleveland

12. Cincinnati

11. Oakland

10. San Diego

9. Houston

8. Miami

7. Kansas City

6. Indianapolis

5. New England

4. Tennessee

3. New York

2. Baltimore

1. Pittsburgh

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