Fitz on Fantasy: Julio Jones and the Fickle Fate of Fantasy

Where were you, Julio Jones owners, when you learned that your star receiver would miss the rest of the season? How did it compare with other semi-traumatic events in your recent past?

On Tuesday night I polled the Julio owners in three of my leagues. One learned about the season-ending injury when a prominent sports website sent a breaking-news alert to his phone. One heard about it from a coworker who also plays fantasy football. One was blissfully unaware of the bad news for several hours, eventually hearing about it on the radio while picking up his daughter from school. (“Daddy, why are you crying?”)

I asked my three friends to compare the news of the Jones injury to a similarly traumatic event in their lives. Their responses:

— Getting a C grade on an important college final that was presumed to have been aced.

— Coming out of a divorce and starting to see other people, only to be dumped by an attractive woman after just two dates.

— Discovering a flooded basement. (Note: This friend owns Jones in two leagues.)

A competitor in one of my leagues has a theory that he calls “The 33 Percent Theory.” The premise is that each year, one-third of all owners are destined to be screwed by the fickle fates of fantasy football, to have their championship hopes irrevocably trashed by events beyond their control, no matter how masterfully executed their drafts might have been or how deftly they manage their teams in-season. The theory holds that the unfortunate 33 percent are doomed to fail, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.

Some owners are crushed by injuries. Some face hot teams week after week and lead the league in the points-against category. Some never catch an opponent with a key player injured or on bye.

A bad call can cost a team a win, and that win could be the difference between making the playoffs and missing out. Late in the Jets-Falcons game this past Monday, an awful defensive-holding penalty against the Jets flipped the outcomes of a pair of games in one of my leagues.

The Falcons would have turned the ball over on downs after a 4th-and-3 incompletion with under 2 minutes left, but the wretched call by a flag-happy zebra gave the Falcons a first down, and two plays later they scored a touchdown. The extra point gave Atlanta the lead, but the Jets then drove for the winning field goal. The owners of Matt Ryan and Geno Smith won their games by the slimmest of margins on points accrued after the blown call. Had the defensive-holding penalty not been called, the Jets would have taken possession and would have attempted to run out the clock. There was a good chance that neither quarterback would have attempted another pass, and their owners would have lost.

Regular seasons last only 13 or 14 games in most fantasy leagues, which means a razor-thin margin between success and failure. An 8-5 record will probably get you a playoff berth. A 7-6 record probably gets you bupkus, and the owners of 7-6 teams can usually look back on the season and pinpoint any number of events that conspired to deny them playoff berths.

But sometimes you land on the sunny side of a thin margin.

A couple of years ago, one of my teams needed to win its final two games to make the playoffs. In the second-to-last game, my team clung to the smallest of leads late in a Monday-night game between the Saints and Falcons. The Saints were nursing a late lead and trying to bleed the clock with handoffs to RB Mark Ingram, who was starting for my opponent. Seven more rushing yards for Ingram, and I’d be eliminated from playoff contention.

Ingram ran the ball once, twice, three times. On each carry, the Falcons’ defense closed quickly and stopped Ingram after only a yard or two. Ingram gained five yards on those three carries, leaving my opponent two yards short. The Saints punted, the Falcons turned the ball over on downs, and the Saints finished the game with a couple of quarterback kneel-downs. My team had survived.

The next week, my team won again to secure the last available playoff spot. I won in the wild-card round, then upset a powerhouse team in the semifinals. In the title game, I trailed my opponent from the start and never led until one of my wide receivers, Denarius Moore, caught a 17-yard pass from Carson Palmer near the end of a late-afternoon contest. All of the other starters for my opponent and I were done for the week. Palmer threw an interception on his next pass, and the game ended a minute later.


Had Ingram gained those seven yards, someone else would have been champion. The opening of a single crease in the Atlanta defense could have changed the final outcome of our league. A misstep by an Atlanta defender, a more effective block by a New Orleans lineman, a different split-second decision by Ingram about which direction to go — a small difference in the way any of three plays unfolded — could have produced a different champion. My team also benefitted from some very fortuitous matchups in the playoffs, and the championship game was won at the last possible moment. There’s no denying it: I was absurdly lucky.

One cannot achieve success in fantasy football without good fortune. An owner can put together the most formidable of rosters, that owner won’t win a championship unless most of the players on that roster avoid injury in a sport where injuries are commonplace.

Owners tend to enter each season with the assumption that a championship is theirs for the taking. But a fantasy football season is a minefield of misfortune.

Accept the fact that you will not go undefeated and win the championship every year. Your successes are defined by your failures. If you don’t experience failure, success will deliver no joy.

I’ve been blessed with some pretty good luck so far this season. Playing in four leagues, I’m 5-0, 4-1, 3-2 and 1-4. (I’ve even been lucky in that last league — my team is an abomination, and I’m lucky to have the one win.) The over-.500 teams have had no significant injuries, and I somehow managed to avoid drafting any of the disappointing players I was high on in August — particularly players with the last name “Wilson” or the first name “Chris.”

On Monday night I decided to have some wine with dinner. The options were a cheap bottle of Shiraz, a cheap bottle of Merlot, and a nice Zinfandel that I was saving for the next time I grilled steaks. But with wins in three leagues wrapped up, and with the spiteful fantasy gods temporarily preoccupied with other owners, I celebrated by uncorking the Zinfandel.

It tasted just as good with a meatball sandwich as it would have with steak.