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Gray Matters

#3 Know when and when not trust your gut

The idea that you think with your stomach probably goes back to the Ancient Greeks. It sounds crazy, but food was definitely on people’s minds in a way it isn’t today. There was no disproving it either, since if you took a thunk in the head a couple thousand years ago, you probably didn’t live long enough to tell many people about it. Your real gut does offer signals now and then — my stomach definitely gurgled after watching J.T. O’Sullivan‘s 11th interception make it’s way to the end zone before halftime — but your gut is nothing mystical. It’s all stuff you know, you just don’t know that you know it.

Thankfully, you do know what situations you’ve been in, and what you’ve actively watched and read. These memories are like a table of contents of your experience, which can help you find the gaps in your knowledge. If you’re a casual fantasy player, and you don’t cast an analytical eye to the games you watch, your gut isn’t going to help. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place for advice, here you’ve got the forums, weekly projections, and a bunch of regular features including mine every Thursday and late Saturday and Who Sharks Are Starting – all of which can help you decide who to start or trade.

If you’ve got the experience as a student of the game on the field and on your computer, your gut decision can be as good as those you sit and think about. Your experience collects ideas and builds patterns and associations you’re not aware of to help you make decisions, and your brain is constantly patching these together, even while you sleep. Just remember to feed your gut regularly with new ideas, not just with the Sunday bar menu, and fill the gaps between what you know.

#4 Don’t look for trends where there aren’t any

Your brain is hard-wired to find patterns. This is why people see animals in clouds and biblical figures on toast [9]. Even worse, you may be more likely to see false patterns when you’re under stress, or feel like you’re out of control [10,11,12]. Fantasy football shouldn’t be stressful, but in a game I’d say is at least 70% luck, you’re usually not in control. No individual player is in control either, which probably accounts for the many myths and superstitions in sports. You should probably avoid making any decisions you might regret when you’re feeling stressed or out of control, but false patterns offer bad excuses.

Stress and lack of control is what makes you drop a player on Tuesday morning, right after a bad performance. If you’ve ever done this, you made a mistake, whatever he did the rest of the season: one is not a trend. Once you’re into a few repeats, you may be on to something, but by then it’s too late. Because it takes time for trends to develop, your best information is in the situation. Let’s pick on Marvin Harrison again. He’s back from knee injury, Peyton Manning started the year with a bad knee, and until recently you’ve had a career backup running the ball with Joseph Addai injured, all of which is bad for the passing game. All signs point to struggles. What short “trends” can’t tell you, the situation can.

You’ve also no doubt heard some wacky stats during football games:

In his last 25 starts on natural grass, against teams named for mammals, on days of the week ending in “Y,” this player has scored a gazillion points, and we expect the same today.

As a fantasy owner, you’re thirsty for positive information about the players on your team. Unfortunately, “facts” like this example only offer false hope that you only want to believe. Teams change dramatically from year to year, and the game of football creates data that’s very hard to analyze. Only trust detailed analysis that admits its limitations, and demand proof that a supposed “trend” isn’t just a coincidence.

You can only see through the noise and make good decisions about what and what isn’t fact if you’re in the right state of mind. Also remember that your average NFL player is only on the field for about eight hours on the clock each year, and so the numbers are rarely enough. When considering a possible trend, make sure you have enough information, proof that it works, and that the information is still relevant today. Consider other factors and more likely explanations, like being a 36-year-old wide receiver with a repaired knee.

#5 Do your homework, and learn from your mistakes

As I’m writing this, I can’t help but look back at my own drafts and decisions, and see where I went wrong. I hope you too have learned some new ways to use information and check your judgment, and will look back at bad bye week fill-ins, lineup decisions, or guys you passed over during the draft for the wrong reasons. Look for decisions you’ve made, or failed to make, that show the pitfalls we’ve covered:

  • Favoritism and anti-favoritism

  • Seeing things much better or worse than they really are

  • Overlooking all or part of the situation

  • Ignoring your gut if you have a good one, or trusting your gut without the experience

  • Avoiding the unfamiliar

  • Going with the pack, or on just what you’ve learned last 

  • Making bad decisions in a bad mood

  • Seeing false patterns

  • Believing because you want it to be true

Just as you should demand evidence behind trends, rumors, and projections, you should also demand evidence from stat geeks dabbling in neuroscience. There were just too many references to include along the way, so here you’ll find links to other websites with more information on the specific concepts. If you’re reading this on, you can also click on the image at the top to read about a study that showed simply including a pictures featuring brains in neuroscience-related articles seemed to make them appear more credible [13,14]. Sounds like a sleazy thing to do if you ask me.

If you want my suggestions for where to learn more about mental fundamentals, or if you have feedback on this article, stop into the

Article Feedback Forum here at — and do your homework. It takes time, but you’ll probably enjoy it, and you’ll be more confident in your decisions. You may even learn some things you never expected to find.


1. Parents Foster Significant Misperceptions Of Children’s Weight (with related stories) –

2. Unskilled and Unaware of It –

3. How Don’t I Love Thee –

4. The A-11 Offense –



High School‘s Offensive Scheme Adds Randomness to Football –

6. Hick’s Law, “choice reaction time increases as the logarithm of the number of alternatives.” –

7. Missing – Still digging through notes for this one. Will post in the forum if/when I find it.

8. The Power of Political Misinformation, Shankar Vedantam –

9. Faces, Faces Everywhere, Elizabeth Svoboda –

10. Brain Seeks Patterns Where None Exist –

11. Superstitious Behavior Makes Evolutionary Sense –

12. Magical Thinking, Matthew Hutson –

13. Brain Images Make Inaccurate Science News Trustworthy –

14. Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning –

15. All-Time Franchise Records –

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