NFL Fantasy and the availability heuristic

I’d heard A. rave about the NFL Fantasy over the last few years, so I thought I’d give it a shot this year. I nearly missed the start, but one Sunday afternoon I read somewhere that the first game of the season had happened on Thursday. I checked the website – there was about an hour left till the Sunday games began. No more time for research and orientation, quick click on the Fantasy link on the NFL website, and there it was, the “enter a draft” knob. Had not much of an idea what a draft is, but I figured it’s where you select players. Right. It eased my mind seeing that I don’t have to select 45 players, or so, just a few offensive players and a full defense (which I wasn’t sure what it was about but could assume). Good.

How to select? Given lack of time, I decided to go for the availability heuristic. I had watched a few games over the last 2-3 years, 2 years ago just play-offs, last year also a few games from the regular season, so looking at the names on the list I recognized some. I figured: if I know them, it means they’re either pretty good, or very bad. And since I didn’t remember any particularly bad player (except for Trent Richardson, but even there there is an angle), I thought I could well rely on the bias. (more on that here)

So I entered the draft. I quickly noticed that I cannot pick all players at once, like in the soccer fantasy game I played long ago (would have been too easy), but I was kind of expecting it having heard of “draft rounds” in “real life”. I guess I should start at quarterback, but whom to pick? It was quite an easy decision, actually. I knew the Falcons had a bad season last year, and a very good one the year before. I remember reading that Matt Ryan played quite well, but his roster wasn’t great. So I made the assumption that, if this year will be like the last, most of the points Atlanta will score will come from Matt’s passes. Which should be good for fantasy. Taken.

With the second round came the big gamble. The player I’d heard most about last year was… Trent Richardson. I guess I happened to watch two Colts games, one of them being his first after the move from Cleveland, and commentators kept talking about how a surprising deal it was for the Browns to let go a potential star player. Hmm. By the second game I watched he had not settled in and met expectations, so my gamble was that it would take him an off-season with the team to prepare properly, and that he will shine this year. (he didn’t, I reluctantly benched him after a few weeks)

The rest of the pick were simply the few players I’d heard about who were available on each position, the likes of Steve Gostkowski, Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks, Roddy White, Marques Colston, Golden Tate (remembered his funny name), Kansas City defense. Backup QB – Andy Dalton, another gamble.

The feedback from was sobering: “projected record 1-13” (1 win 13 losses). “Do you want to hire a coach?”
A. shared the NFL website opinion, so I set my hopes to just exceed expectations, and be happy.

In the first game my projected points were 71 against 98 for the opponent. The result – 98-93! My boys outplayed themselves whereas my opponent slightly underperformed.

It was a scenario about to repeat many times. Of the 14 games, I had a losing prediction in 7, winning all (!), losing only two games, where I’d held a winning prediction. So much for stats.

How was it possible? I think it was a combination of 4 factors:
1- the availability heuristic works in most cases – most of my players were quite consistent
2- after week 3, A. helped me improve the roster with the likes of Mo Sanu, Shane Vereen, Eagles defense (jackpot!)
3- I sometimes looked at the free advice available on the NFLF app and made some lucky picks – Odell Beckham the most prominent
4- sheer luck. Star players  in my opponent’s teams underperformed exactly against me. I have by far the fewest “points against” in my league, while having scored only the 4th most.

It was enough though to win the division with a 12-2 record.

Then came the semifinal. A losing prediction again. And I won.

Now in the “superbowl” though, I have a winning prediction, which could mean luck is turning away. But no matter. This is why I’m writing this now, before the event. Winning is not everything, for me. Exceeding expectations is. There’s no shame in losing if you gave your very best, leaving nothing out. “My players” did, and I want to thank them. Thank you Matt, Jeremy, Joique, Eric, Odell, Golden, Antonio, Steve, Shane, Trent, Roddy, John, Mohamed, Dwayne, all you Eagles D and special teams (Darren Sproles, yeah). You have given me a blast over the course of this season.

As for today – may the best and luckiest win.



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