Obligatory and Random Quotation

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”
— Warren Buffett

Something That Looks Like an Introduction

I still need to write the positional breakdowns for the NFL dashboard, so this piece will be fairly quick (for me).

Sometimes I write about Warren Buffett. Sometimes I write about the Dallas Cowboys. In this piece I’ll write about both.

What I have to say about Buffett and the Boys doesn’t bear directly on daily fantasy sports, but it does touch on the way that people think, prioritize, and make decisions — all of which are important to DFS. So I’m coming at you from the side door. I thought that was better than coming at you through the back door.


I thought that’s how you’d take it.

The 5/25 Rule

There’s some story floating around the internet about a conversation Buffett had with some person. My specificity here is impressive. What’s important in the story aren’t the precise details but the guidelines that Buffett gives.

In the story, Buffett is talking to a younger man who’s an employee. Buffett likes the guy and wants him to succeed in life, so he asks the man to write down the 25 things he most wants to accomplish but is yet to do. The guy creates a list with 25 all-important items. Then Buffett tells him to identify the five items on the list that are of the highest priority. The guy reviews his list and circles the five most crucial items.

Buffett then says to him something like this: “The five items you circled — those are the things you focus on 100 percent. You devote your entire life to the accomplishment of those five items. The other 20 items . . . f*ck ’em.”

The guy says, “Wow, I didn’t know that Warren Buffett ever used the F-bomb,” to which Buffett says, “I say ‘f*ck’ whenever I f*cking please, especially when I’m a fictionalized version of myself in a short instructive FantasyLabs story written by Freedman.”

You get the idea.

Let’s consider Buffett’s 5/25 Rule:

  1. The 5/25 Rule is all about prioritization. It doesn’t pretend that only the five items are important. It acknowledges that there are many things that are important. It’s simply a heuristic technique intended to separate the essential from the desirable.
  2. The 5/25 Rule is based on the unspoken assumption that focusing on more than a few core items is not conducive to success. In the words of Frederick the Great, “He who defends everything defends nothing.” As humans, we have neither the resources nor the time to do everything we want to do. Many great businesses fail because they attempt to do too much too quickly.
  3. The 5/25 Rule also implies a doctrine of asceticism. Buffett is one of the richest people in the world — and he chooses to live in a nice but modest home in Omaha, Nebraska. He has some wonderful ‘proclivities,’ but the guy is a billionaire in part because he’s discovered that one of the greatest monetary edges is the refusal to spend money that doesn’t need to be spent. Buffett’s 5/25 Rule is about investing in what we need and forgoing expenditures in what we want — because what we want might not actually be what’s best for us. In fact, it might be what we need to avoid.

Although Buffett is a businessman, his 5/25 Rule poetically resonates. It’s a practical carpe diem admonishment. It understands that, had we but world enough, and time, we’d take both roads in a yellow wood — but we don’t.

Ultimately, the moral of the Buffett parable is that in many cases — probably in most cases — the low-priority items don’t just distract us. They destroy us. They prevent us from becoming the successful versions of ourselves.

The Dallas Cowboys and the No. 1 Seed

I recently explored the 2016 NFL playoff picture and what it means for Week 17. Here’s an excerpt of my Cowboys blurb:

A f*cking decade ago, with a different head coach and an almost entirely different team, the Cowboys entered Week 17 as a locked-in 13-2 No. 1 seed — just as they are now. They didn’t compete to win the game (which they lost). They merely endeavored not to suffer any serious injuries. Many starters rested in the second half of the game.

The Cowboys lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Giants, who went on to beat the undefeated Pats in the Super Bowl.

The lesson that devil owner Jerry Jones learned from all of this is that the Cowboys shouldn’t have rested their players in Week 17.

I sometimes vent about the Cowboys. That’s sort of what I’m doing here.

The Cowboys (in my opinion) are (potentially) attempting to accomplish too much. They’re focusing on 25 items when they should instead be committing themselves to an essential five. They’re failing to prioritize.

Per our NFL News feed, they’re planning to play their starters against the Eagles in Week 17. We don’t know how long the starters will play, but for weeks the rhetoric coming out of Dallas has been something like, “In 2007, we didn’t focus on Week 17, and then we lost in the playoffs, so that’s going to impact what we do this year.” Let’s ignore how f*cking stupid it is to allow an unrepresentative sample of one to impact present decisions. Instead let’s focus on the essential tasks the Cowboys have.

To give themselves the best chance of winning a Super Bowl, they need 1) to enter the playoffs with their core players healthy and 2) to prepare as much as possible for the teams they’re likely to face in the divisional and conference rounds. They need to maximize health and preparation.

The No. 1 seed should allow them to do that.

Resting Starters

The primary benefit of having the No. 1 seed (or any seed) locked up entering Week 17 is that it allows a team to rest its essential players.

Theoretically, there’s an edge to be gained by using Week 17 to ‘stay sharp’ — but not really. That edge exists only in a vacuum. In reality, the potential benefit is outweighed by the risk of injury.

That’s why Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin plans to rest key players in Week 17. As someone who has, you know, won a Super Bowl and been to another one over the last decade, Tomlin understands that Week 17 is a distraction from the playoffs.

The Cowboys, though, who for the past 20 years have won primarily derision, are talking as if they plan to give significant playing time to important players: Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dez Bryant, for instance.

Why would the Cowboys refuse to rest these players? What value is there to giving them snaps in Week 17 on the road against a division rival who isn’t going to the playoffs but is indirectly incentivized to see the Cowboys not win a Super Bowl? Why unnecessarily expose valuable players to the risk of injury when competing against someone who might actually want to hurt those players?

As it is, the benefit of playing in Week 17 is probably overstated for players who have been active all season. For someone who hasn’t played at all — maybe someone like Tony Romo — the benefit of live action is probably greater, since in his case he actually might be rusty. (Literally. At this point isn’t like 65 percent of Romo’s body metal?) Naturally, Jones has stated that the Cowboys won’t play Romo — because of the risk of injury.

The Cowboys won’t play their backup QB — because he might get injured. So instead they’ll play the starter and risk his suffering an injury — because in 2007 the Cowboys (led by the guy who’s now the backup) looked rusty in the playoffs.

If the Cowboys don’t prioritize health in Week 17, they won’t give themselves the best chance of postseason success.

Matchup Preparation

An understated benefit of having the No. 1 seed locked up before Week 17 is that it allows a team extra time to prepare for the playoffs and their potential opponents.

Right now, the Cowboys don’t know who they will face in the division or conference rounds of the playoffs. But they do — or should — know these facts:

  1. They are likely to face either the Falcons or Seahawks at some point in the playoffs.
  2. They are 100 percent not going to face the Eagles in the playoffs.
  3. The remaining NFC playoff teams are going to be some combination of the Giants, Packers, Lions, and Redskins with a probability of 99.9 percent.
  4. This year, the Cowboys have already played against the Giants, Packers, Lions, and Redskins.
  5. The Cowboys haven’t played against the Falcons and Seahawks this year.

An idiot should be able to infer from these facts what the Cowboys should do.

They absolutely should not spend at any point in Week 17 even one hour preparing for the Eagles, who are a distraction. Preparing for the Eagles now will not help the Cowboys win a Super Bowl. On top of that, the Cowboys have already played the Eagles this year. And they’ve played them two times per year for like the last 200 years. And they’re facing a rookie QB.

  1. How much time do the Cowboys actually need to prepare for this game anyway?
  2. The Cowboys shouldn’t prepare for this game at all because the Eagles don’t matter.

Leading up to their Week 17 game, the Cowboys should be preparing for . . . the Falcons and Seahawks. And then in the week leading up to the wild card round, the Cowboys should be preparing for the Falcons and Seahawks.

If they faced one of those teams in the divisional round, their advanced preparation would provide an enormous edge — and then in the conference championship they’d get to play at home a team with which they’re already familiar.

If they faced another team in the divisional round, then they’d at least have home-field advantage and the normal week to prepare — and if they won and faced the Falcons and Seahawks in the conference championship then their edge would be intact.

But the bigger point is this: Any time the Cowboys devote right now to preparing for a team not in the playoffs is wasted.

If the Cowboys are game planning for the Eagles, they’re focusing on not the Top Five but the remaining 20.

Bringing It to DFS

If the Cowboys are focused on the Eagles, they’re bringing a cash-game knife to a tournament gun fight.

I have only a vague idea as to what that last sentence actually means, but it sounds good so it’s probably right.

Buffett’s 5/25 Rule is instructive for DFS. Most people research a slate and create a list of players they’d like to roster. Sometimes that list might actually be 25 players long. Generally people will trim the list down to a core for cash games or guaranteed prize pools. The mechanics of the prioritization process are identical.

Additionally, the 5/25 Rule applies not only to players but also to perspectives. It’s possible to have too many DFS points of view.

At FantasyLabs, you can use our Trends tool to identify the factors you should prioritize. For instance, you can run a backtest to see how Vegas data impacts salary-based performance (measured via our Plus/Minus metric) and also historical ownership. Once you do the research, you can know for sure which factors to rely on regularly and which to deprioritize.

Ultimately, Buffett’s 5/25 Rule isn’t just about picking five things to do and ignoring everything else. It’s about forcing yourself to go through the process of finding out what’s actually important.


The Labyrinthian: 2016, 95

This is the 95th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation. Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page.