Playing to Win: Regular Season Battles in the Shadow of Playoffs

13 09 2010

QUESTION:

Hi. I play in a league with only 8 games per season (less with rainouts).  Our team has not played that much together, but we don’t want to take a lot of chances during regular season because losses might hurt our playoff seed. Should we take risks during the season or play defensively? Thanks     – Johnny

“Fear of the open road weakens both hand and head.”

                                                                                                           – Trileon’s  Adages for his Heirs

Johnny:

Playing “defensive football” all season is a surefire way to ensure mediocrity.  Particularly if you are a new team, you will have a very difficult time accessing the players’ true potential and tapping the pockets of talent in your team without taking risks and making mid-season changes as needed.  

 The two most important things to remember about playoffs are:

  1. If your team makes it to the playoffs, you’ll have to beat the best team to win the championship.
  2. If you don’t make it to the playoffs, you’ve already spent too much time thinking about it.  It’s time to re-tool and look to next season.  Your system doesn’t work.

The first question to ask is how likely is it that your team doesn’t make the playoffs.  Some leagues let all but the bottom one or two teams in the playoffs, but others only allow four teams.  Know your league rules before the season starts, but once you’ve got a general idea of where you need to be to qualify, ignore the playoffs for the first half of the season.  Sitting at the computer refreshing the standings screen multiple times a day is a mistake, and drilling into your teammates’ heads how crucial it is to win X games before you step onto the field is likely to have destructive consequences.  Play to win and play to improve, but don’t obsess over the win/loss count and where you stand in the rankings.  Your team will benefit much more by having worked out the kinks (through wins or losses) than it will from having so carefully tried to manage wins and losses (which may not work anyway) that half of the players could be adding more.   

That said, there may come a point with one or two regular season games left, where a win or a loss determines whether you advance to the playoffs. Play that game like it’s the championship game – nothing else matters that day except a W. 

 And as for the first issue, yes you may not have to play in the first round, and yes you might skip over having to play a strong second seed, but in the end, your team will win or not win the championship by virtue of being the best team out there.  Does it help to be the first seed? Of course,  but if you’re so focused on playoff berths that you’re afraid to experiment with a spread set of receivers or to try the guy who keeps reminding you he played QB in high school or to run man coverage with an extra blitzer, you missed out.

– NINJA

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