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Alternatives to using byes in fantasy football playoffs

If you're a fantasy manager who rosters George Kittle, you really enjoyed his amazing first half on Sunday ... unless your team was on a bye, of course. AP Photo/John Hefti

For the majority of fantasy football managers, the season is already over. After all, most leagues started their playoffs with Week 14 action, so unless everybody gets to participate in your postseason, simple mathematics would dictate the truth of that first sentence.

Sure, there are still consolation ladders to climb, and if you're in a league with rules inspired by Matthew Berry's "tattoo review," then I certainly understand why some non-title contenders are still very actively interested in fielding a winning lineup. That said, I expect a large number of fantasy managers may not be all that invested in their team's performance in these essentially meaningless affairs.

Especially in redraft leagues, the difference in finishing 10th versus 11th is not an achievement to get all that excited about. On top of that, if you're battling it out in a winner-take-all playoff contest, odds are good you might not even notice if someone taking part in one of those "booby prize" games still had Colt McCoy, Alex Collins and Christian Kirk in their starting lineup. At the very least, you certainly wouldn't be brought to the same level of outrage as you might have in Week 13, had said team been as negligent while facing a side you needed to lose in order for your squad to make the playoffs.

However, I want to discuss what I feel is a major flaw in fantasy football at the other end of the league standings. In our ESPN.com fantasy staff league, my Huddled Masses won its division and with it came the privilege of a first-round playoff bye. This is far from a humblebrag. Due to the bizarrely unbalanced results this season, my team's 6-7 record was good enough to squeak out first place in my six-team division. It would have landed me sixth in the other division.

As such, while watching Sunday's slate of games, anything and everything my intrepid band of fantasy footballers did on the field meant absolutely nothing. Amari Cooper comes just shy of 50 fantasy points and instead of getting excited, I'm actually a bit sad. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad my team will be in the semifinals, but nevertheless, I play fantasy football in order to add a little extra fun to watching NFL games. This week was far from fun.

Look, I'm not asking for sympathy. Go ahead and put your tiny violins away. All I'm suggesting here is that bye weeks aren't really the right reward to bestow in fantasy football. As a longtime league commissioner, there are two things I've done in the past to rectify this situation, neither of which involves playoff expansion to eight teams.

First, if you're playing in a league for more than just pride, taking a portion of the league's prize pool and allotting it for the top-three single-week scores for the season can give all teams -- even the win-starved ones -- incentive to field their best lineup, even into the consolation ladder games. Even with no game on my Week 14 schedule, I'm still cheering loudly when the ball deflects off of Rasul Douglas and into Cooper's grasp in overtime of a game that, as a Giants fan, I'm otherwise hoping doesn't end that way -- if only for the chance that my final score can be among the best of the season.

Secondly, and much more "outside the box" I will grant you, is that instead of an outright bye in Week 14, the top two teams get to start what I call the "pace-setter" lineup. Whatever score these "bye teams" get in Week 14 automatically becomes their minimum score for Week 15's semifinals. In other words, their reward for regular-season prowess is two bites at the apple in their first playoff game. You want to beat them and advance to the championship? Then you've got to first win your Week 14 playoff game and then have a higher Week 15 score than both their Week 14 and Week 15 results.

If you think that's a ridiculous idea, then don't adopt it. Nobody is forcing you to do anything you don't like. However, the veteran move is to always at least consider new ideas and ways to make playing fantasy football a fun endeavor for your entire league ... and for the entire season.

Of course, you should never make a rule change like this retroactively, so by no means should you enact this idea this season. But if you're getting any negative feedback from a "guy on a bye" who is cranky because he gets absolutely no benefit from having a starting lineup with Derrick Henry, George Kittle, Kenny Stills and Dede Westbrook -- all with their season-best outings in Week 14 -- just remember that, with a little creative thinking, there's always a solution to be found.