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Using Projections to Your Advantage: 2016 Fantasy Football Strategy

September has begun – and with it, the fantasy football season has truly kicked off in earnest. Sure, Week 1 may not actually begin until Sept. 8, with the blitz of games hitting us in the face on Sept. 11, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t beat your competition right now.

You’re all staring down the same screens, which currently display some big fat “0.00”s next to everyone’s score. The thing is, you’ve probably also noticed those pesky projections that many sites really anchor your thoughts with. Don’t lie, we’ve all been there. Those moments where we’re pretty sure it’s wise to start Player X, but Player Y is projected to score three more points than Player X. So what's next?

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Making Weekly Start/Sit Decisions

Keep calm. Ask yourself why you’re making this decision, and by all means consider why the projections favor Player Y to Player X, but don’t shackle yourself to their thinking. You want to know who to blame? It’s likely this little thing called the anchoring heuristic.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut, which comes from evolutionary psychology, as our brains had to develop ways to make quick decisions back when most decisions resulted in survival or death. The anchoring heuristic is our tendency to heavily rely on the first piece of information that we encounter.

Pull up your team or your current matchup. Do it on your computer, your phone, your tablet, whatever you’ve got. The first number absorbed was that projected total. Whether you like it or not, you’re anchored. To what degree may vary, but you are. So how can you make the projections work for you?


Use Projections To Your Advantage

Leverage. Leverage and mind games. While you’ve attained enlightenment, your league-mates may be more prone to being swayed by them. This is also fueled by an appeal to authority, which is a logical fallacy where one believes something just because a perceived authority says so. A big website like Yahoo, ESPN or NFL is going to be viewed as authoritative when it comes to fantasy sports, no matter how many jokes one cracks about how silly their projections are.

Not only do you now realize how you may be swayed, but you should have a decent idea at how to make these drawbacks work for you. The first piece of information you offer up in a trade is crucial. It’s all the more helpful if it’s information that comes directly from an “authoritative source”. Other examples of this could be how players stack up on FantasyPros, or an article hyping a player up by a respected writer.

Guess what? This touches on another mental shortcut. We’ve stumbled on the “take-the-best heuristic”, which is when people make a decision based almost solely on the most important factor to them. If you’re in a long-standing league where you have a handle on your league-mates’ behavior/thinking, then congratulations. You probably already know each of their priorities when it comes to value. If you’re in a league with new competitors, then it’s important to get a handle on this early.

Perhaps you’re content with simply relying on your team’s performance in and of itself to win. That’s more than fine. But if you start a dialogue early with your league-mates then all you’re doing is gaining information. Information is power. You don’t need to utilize it, but why not have an extra weapon in your arsenal?

We won’t say you’re a “con man”, but let’s face it, working out a trade requires one to be a savvy salesman.


Don't Irrationally Make Your Decisions

Let’s examine another reason why the projections can really sway us. Go back to the “Player X vs. Player Y” start-sit debate. Say you started the player projected to score less points and it paid off, now you’ve got a post hoc justification for the decision. Don’t let that irrationally guide your future decisions (though it does feel good to “beat the system”).

More important is when the decision doesn’t pan out. Say that projection system wins, then that feeds into yet another heuristic. The “simulation heuristic” is how we determine how likely an outcome is based on how easily it can be pictured. Picturing an outcome doesn’t get much easier than when a matchup page literally spells out how your week will unfold before it has even begun.

A notable result of this heuristic is how much it fuels that pang of regret when the wrong decision is made. When the projections already “told us” that our benched player would outscore the current starter, yet we ignored it, then that near-miss will burn. We lose faith in our conscience selves and it further feeds into that appeal to authority.

So what's the end-game here? What can we do? None of this is meant to suggest you can totally override your brain, which has thousands upon thousands of years of momentum ingrained into its mechanics, but being aware of flaws can still give you a leg up. Don't let that benching decision that didn't pan out ruin a second week as well just because you can't let it go. It's a new week. It's a new decision. Be process-oriented instead of results-based. I promise you'll be happier, and you'll likely win a lot more too. You do like winning, don't you?


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