For many of you, this will come as no surprise: I have an addiction.

I wouldn’t say that this addiction is necessarily debilitating, but it is an addiction nonetheless.  As far as I know, there aren’t any recovery groups or “meetings” for this addiction, but I believe that the fantasy football community can provide the support needed for me to overcome my addiction and move forward. So in the spirit of 12 step recovery programs, my name is Phil and I am addicted to Family Feud.

You might think I’m kidding, but I really do love game shows. I grew up glued to Game Show Network, watching $100,000 Pyramid, Match Game, Family Feud, and many others. I also watched a lot of MacGyver on TV Land. Don’t judge me. Anyways, as the years have passed, I haven’t outgrown my affinity for the classy game show hosts, the nervous (sometimes blubbering) contestants, or the thrill of witnessing someone win a large amount of cash. However, in reflection, I have found that there are things that we can learn from game shows, specifically Family Feud, that might provide us an advantage in fantasy football.

For those of you who don’t know how Family Feud works, here’s a good video that should give you an idea of what’s going on. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but the main objective of Family Feud is to come up with responses to survey questions that the general population would give.

There are not enough fingers in the world to count the number of times Family Feud contestants have given absurd answers to simple questions. As an example, let’s say a family has to come up with answers to the question “Name a word that starts with the letter D”. Instead of saying “dog”, “door”, or any slew of normal “D” words, Dave Dumbass says “Didgeridoo”. In the two seconds before his utter failure is revealed, Dave thinks he has given a great answer. He has a huge smile on his face and the rest of the Dumbass family is smiling and clapping in agreement.

Needless to say, didgeridoo is not one of top six answers. Didgeridoo is a unique answer and it is not an answer that many people would have thought of. Sure, didgeridoo is a cool word that starts with the letter D, but that’s not the point. Regardless of his last name, Dave is still a dumbass. It’s not because he gave a bad answer, but because he doesn’t fully understand the game but thinks that he does.

This same type of logic is something that I see every day in fantasy analysts and fantasy players alike. There’s a popular tendency for people to think about fantasy football in the context of unique, inventive strategies. This is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, I even advocated for nonconformity here. However, it easily becomes detrimental when players take their unique strategies and project them onto their opponents.

This might make you chuckle, but (BELIEVE IT OR NOT) I utilize a draft strategy based in value and waiting to draft a quarterback. What website is this again? While it is good for me to have my own strategy, everyone I compete with has a different one.

It would be completely in error for me to think that all of my opponents approached their drafts or weekly gameplay in the same ways that I do. That would be equivalent to me answering that Family Feud question with “didgeridoo” and expecting that a majority of 100 random people gave the same answer. That’s just plain wrong. It’s not going to happen.

Projecting your strategies on your opponents will continually lead fantasy football heartbreak. This isn’t because the opponent has a superior strategy, but it is because they have a greater chance at surprising you. When you think they are going to make the same decisions that you are, you’re locked into your own strategies, whereas you should be focusing on what their strategies are.

It should be noted that, many times, this isn’t something that one does consciously. This is something that many people do without really thinking about it. However, that doesn’t mean that this is an uncontrollable behavior that cannot be helped.

Let’s talk about a concept called “Groupthink”. Groupthink is traditionally rooted in behavioral sciences, but can be applied to a variety of situations. According to PSYSR.org, Groupthink occurs when a “group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of ‘mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.’” This definition pertains specifically to behavioral science. To put it in other words, Groupthink is when people make poor decisions because consensus opinions and group pressures dictate that certain decisions are correct, regardless of actual results.

Groupthink is so damn common in fantasy football. How many people do you know that make decisions based on what Expert A and Expert B say? It is quite uncommon to find the people that are challenging the norm and utilizing new, innovative strategies. I’m not going to sit here and tell you certain fantasy writers are wrong or that certain fantasy writers are right. I will tell you, however, that when you challenge the norm, chances are that your opponents are not doing the same.

Now, as I said earlier, strategies will vary between your league mates. There very well might be people in your league that use strategies that no one has thought of before. However, at the end of the day, your league’s draft is not significantly different from other leagues’ drafts. JJ Zachariason delves deep into this topic in his recent article, Conforming to the Norm: Why ADP is Significant.

It would be an easy answer to say that you should just expect everyone to conform to age-old strategies that are predictable. Unfortunately, it is more complicated than that. There are players out there that are using new strategies. This is why you have to do everything you can to understand the decisions that your opponents are making. That is what will take your fantasy decisions to the next level. That is the crux of what I’m getting at in this article, too. You can’t just come up with a new strategy. You have to know what everyone else is doing. 

You have to remember that when you have a strategy that is different from the consensus, you can’t count on other people making the same decisions that you would make. That being said, you have the opportunity to understand and take advantage of other player’s strategies. Taking fantasy football to the next level involves discovering your opponents’ strategies and making decisions in a way that will use their strategies against them.

It is not enough to come up with a cool, innovative strategy. We can see how “didgeridoo” worked out for Dave. Sure, he came up with a cool answer, but if he had just stopped and thought about the way others would have answered, he would have realized that “dog” or “door” would have been a better answer. It is a good thing when you develop and refine your own strategy, but that can only take you so far. You will beat your opponents more easily when you understand how they’re thinking and making decisions.

It is the combination of knowing both your own strategy and your opponent’s strategy that will take your fantasy decision-making to the next level. Once you know the decision that an opponent is going to make, you can take advantage of it. This is something that takes time and effort, but I can assure you that it will be worth it. Be sly. Be savvy. Take advantage of weaknesses. Rake in the winnings.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,
you will succumb in every battle

- Sun Tzu, The Art of War