Back when I first started playing fantasy football, so long ago that Tom Rathman was relevant to the game, there weren't any websites to help with the record keeping, and score tabulation required on a weekly basis. We're talking the prehistoric, pre-Matthew Berry days of yore. Heck, it even took two years before we expanded from eight to 12 teams, so that I could invite more college friends to join the fun of this thing that was new to us, though far from new -- one of those being the Talented Mr. Roto himself, but I digress.
As my league's commissioner, I was essentially winging it. In those early days, everybody wanted to play everyone else every season. We also wanted to have divisional rivals play each other twice, just like in the NFL. Basic math dictates that in a 12-team league, with three divisions of four teams each, in order to achieve this goal, you need to play 14 games.
General consensus was also that we wanted six teams in the playoffs. That meant three weeks of games were required to crown a champion and, thus, it meant Week 17 had to be in play. At the time, I was definitely on board with this. My feeling was that we wanted to crown the fantasy manager with the best TEAM and not just the best STARS.
There was a time when the correlation between "winning the fantasy title" and "having drafted LaDainian Tomlinson" was essentially one-to-one. Similarly, this season, if you drafted Patrick Mahomes and Christian McCaffrey, odds are pretty good your team was still playing for something this past weekend.
However, Week 17 is always its own animal. Most teams have nothing to play for and may sit a solid veteran or two in lieu of seeing what some of their younger players can do. Teams already with a wild-card spot in hand, simply want to "get out of Dodge" without any injuries and are likely to quickly move fantasy-leaderboard mainstays to the sideline before the first quarter is out. Both of those scenarios can do major damage to a fantasy team's final score. Personally, I liked having those decisions become part of the skill in setting your lineup, but not everyone agreed.
This year, we're likely to see the Saints and Cowboys as the only two teams in full "rest your starters after only one drive" mode. While the number of teams locked into their playoff position varies from season to season, I think the game that pushed most of us, myself included, over the proverbial edge into "we just can't have a Week 17 title game" territory was the fiasco of the final Sunday night game of the 2001 regular season -- already annoying because it took place in the first week of January 2002.
Philadelphia was playing at Tampa Bay to round out the regular season, but due to the bizarre twist of fate that these same two teams were going to face off in the wild-card contest in just six days (with homefield for the Eagles locked up), neither coach wanted to tip his hand. As such, fantasy managers with the likes of Donovan McNabb, Duce Staley, Brad Johnson, Warrick Dunn or Keyshawn Johnson were essentially "drawing dead," and whatever television audience tuned in was "treated" to a battle between A.J. Feeley-to-Dameane Douglas versus Shaun King handing it to Aaron Stecker. In a word, yawn.
From that point on, we no longer had a Week 17 title game, choosing instead to simply have one team in the league that you just didn't play each season. It was the lesser of two evils, by far. However, this week's veteran move is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater and to make lemonade when given those lemons. I created a Week 17 "tournament" that takes into account the whims of coaching staffs in the final game of the season (or perhaps even their tenure with their clubs). I call it the Harrison Bergeron Cup, named after a Kurt Vonnegut story about the value of mediocrity.
For this competition, all teams except for the league champion field a Week 17 lineup. In order to win the prize, your final score must end up exactly in the middle, which for a 12-team league is sixth place. I looked forward to this every season, because it's a lot harder than you think. For example, do you start Todd Gurley II? And if you do, are you hoping he gets a carry or two to shake off injury rust before sitting? Do you start Teddy Bridgewater and hope for the best, or do you start Drew Brees and hope for a quick hook?
Week 17 may not be the best week for fantasy football leagues to determine which team is the best, but I've found it's the perfect way to determine which team is the most ordinary ... and it's an extraordinary amount of fun.