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What is Fantasy Football?
By John Dietz

 

You’ve heard your friends talking about it. And not just talking about it, but obsessing over it.
You’ve seen them cheering for players on teams they hate, and rooting against players on their favorite teams.
And you’re thinking, “They’ve lost their minds!”
In some cases, that may very well be the case. But in watching your friends, you also realize how much fun they’re having year after year after year. So, perhaps it’s time to become part of one of the fastest growing games in America – fantasy football.
What we’re going to give you in this article is a road map to getting started and, hopefully, becoming successful at this wildly popular phenomenon that began in 1962, according to Wikipedia.
We’ll start with the basics and move on from there, so grab a drink, sit back and get ready to join a movement guaranteed to give you the biggest rush of adrenaline on the planet - without putting a single thing into your body!

What is it?

The basic concept of fantasy football is simple:
League owners (this means you!) try and put together a roster of NFL players that will produce as many touchdowns and yards as possible. (Some leagues are draft individual defensive players, but neophytes should get their feet wet by sticking to offense-only formats).
Team rosters are assembled at a league’s annual fantasy football draft. They can be held on-line, in people’s houses, at restaurants or even in Las Vegas casinos.
A typical draft works like this: Whoever gets the first pick (and likely the best player) will not pick again until the end of the second round. This is called a “serpentine draft” and it’s used so that -- theoretically -- it evens everything out. The person going last at the end of Round 1 goes first to start Round 2.

Generally, you will draft:
• 2-3 quarterbacks
• 4-5 running backs
• 4-6 wide receivers
• 0-2 tight ends (some leagues create a separate category for TEs, some don’t)
• 1-2 place-kickers
• 1-2 team defenses

Each week, you must decide on a starting lineup. Every format is different, but for the most part, you will start 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 2-3 wide receivers, a tight end, a place-kicker and a team defense.
Then, come Sunday, it’s time to keep track of your points. In the Dark Ages of fantasy football, teams would generally receive points only when their players scored touchdowns. But people got bored with that and now you can find leagues where every yard is worth a tenth of a point!

Generally, though, a league’s scoring system will look something like this:
• 1 point for every 20 passing yards
• 1 point for every 10 rushing or receiving yards
• 6 points for a rushing or receiving touchdown
• 3-4 points for a passing touchdown
• -1 or -2 points for an interception or lost fumble
• 1 point for an extra point
• 3 points for field goals (more for longer kicks)
• 2 points when your team defense gets a turnover
• 1 point for when your team defense gets a sack
• 2 points for a team defense safety
• 6 points for a team defense touchdown

Some leagues also give bonus points for big games (100 yards rushing or receiving = 3 points; 300 yards passing = 3 bonus points).
Just like in real football, if you score more points than your opponent, you win.

Compiling a winning team
Of course, you can’t simply build a winner by showing up on Draft Day completely unprepared. But by using Web sites like ffmastermind.com, paying attention to ESPN and reading the newspaper, you should be able to arrive with a sense of what you’re doing.

The No. 1 priority is to put two stud running backs on your team. This is getting more and more difficult to accomplish (because NFL teams are going more to two-back systems), but it should remain your goal. The reason is simple: After the top 5-10 tailbacks, the drop-off in production is often precipitous. With quarterbacks, however, the No. 3 or 4 guy won’t be that much different than the No. 14 or 15 guy in terms of overall points during the season.

As the draft goes on, trust your player rankings and do what NFL teams do - get the best available players. There’s nothing wrong with stashing five solid running backs on your team while being thin at wide receiver. A month into the season, teams will be dying to trade you a stud wideout for a middling running back.

Another thing to keep in mind is that when your friends or co-workers just keep drafting kicker after kicker or defense after defense in the middle rounds, feel free to grab your fourth RB or second QB. Kickers and defenses are the most volatile in the NFL, and what looks good in August can turn into horse manure by Oct. 1. But that second QB may actually start for you more than your No. 1 guy, depending on the circumstances. And that darkhorse running back may turn into Green Bay’s Ryan Grant.

Generally, you want to wait to draft kickers or defenses until the last 2-4 rounds.

After the draft, here are two other things to keep in mind:
1. Grab quality, undrafted players during the first month of the season. Every year players go undrafted who end up in the top 10 or 15 at their position by year’s end. Don’t revamp an entire roster after Week 1, but also don’t be afraid to go after the Wes Welkers and Brian Andersons of the world.
Undrafted players are known as free agents, and adding them can be done in a variety of ways. Some leagues allow the team with the worst record to have first choice at free agents, others use a first-come, first-serve method and still others let you bid for players.
In this last method, owners submit a bid to their commissioner (my league has a $4 minimum and no maximum), and the highest bid wins. Once a player is added, you must then decide whom to drop back into the free-agent pool.
2. Execute a trade or two that puts you over the top. Every team has holes. Filling yours with a stud or even a serviceable No. 2 wide receiver can make all the difference.
When you notice a weak spot on your team (say wide receiver), figure out which other teams have a surplus of wideouts. Then work from your position of strength (say you have four solid RBs) and try to swing a deal.

It’s sometimes a good idea to put two or three offers out at once and see who comes back with the best counter-offer. And when you are approached about a deal - especially one involving multiple players - try to make a counter-offer yourself. Think of it as buying a house or a car - the first offer isn’t usually the last.

Selecting a starting lineup

My general rule here is, when in doubt, start the better players. Match-ups are important, but rare is the case that you will sit Peyton Manning in favor of your backup quarterback. One rule I try to adhere to is (for the most part) to keep the same starters for the first three weeks of the season. Flip-flopping second running backs or third wide receivers is a recipe for disaster.

But as the campaign goes on, you will figure out who’s hot and who’s not, and which defenses allow every running back to gain 100 yards or every quarterback to throw for 300. Another “tiebreaker” when it comes to selecting a starter can be picking the player who is at home - especially quarterbacks. If everything else is equal, a QB at home tends to have a better day than one on the road.

You’ll figure other trends as you gain more experience, but as long as you stick to the “start your studs” theory in the early going, things should work out.

Salary-cap leagues: Some leagues are set up where every team gets 100 or 200 units to spend on Draft Day on players. Owners bid on players, and the highest bid gets that player. It’s a good idea to stay away from these leagues at first because it’s often tough to gauge how much you should be spending. (However, if you are dying to join one of these leagues, ffmastermind.com will have an article next month on salary-cap drafting strategies).

After the draft, your team will follow a regular-season schedule, just like the NFL. Most leagues have 13- or 14-week seasons and then use the end of the NFL season to determine a champion. (Word of advice: Don’t hold your title game in Week 17. Over half the NFL is sitting its regular players, which means the studs that teams rode all season are watching games from the sidelines with a ball cap on).

Leagues can set up playoff formats in myriad ways. One popular method is to allow 6 teams into the postseason and give division winners a “bye.” The other four teams battle it out, then face the top two teams in the semifinals and those winners advance to the title game.

One thing to keep in mind: ALWAYS have a tiebreaker system in the playoffs. And make sure it’s a good one. If a game is tied, it’s not always good enough to pick the highest-scoring bench player or a “tiebreaker player” that each team designates when lineups are turned in. What if those end up tied? Make sure to carry out tiebreaking procedures about 4-5 levels (highest scoring bench player, second-highest, third-highest, fourth-highest, etc.). This will avoid some potential major headaches.

Joining a league:
This is easy. If you want to get your feet wet first, plenty of Web sites (Yahoo!, for instance) offer free leagues with real-time, on-line drafts. Otherwise, ask around with friends and co-workers and see if any members are dropping out, or if they are looking to add teams.

Tips:
1. Make sure your league has a reliable, fair commissioner. Putting someone in charge who has an 80-hour-a-week job is a recipe for disaster.
2. Make Draft Day fun. I see 90 percent of the people in my leagues just this one time, but it’s one of the best days of the year. Go golfing beforehand. Play cards afterward. Hold the draft in the owners’ house with the coolest basement or in a sports-friendly environment like a sports bar.
3. Pay attention! In other words, don’t fall asleep after Draft Day. We all lead busy lives, but taking just 30 minutes every day or every other day to check Web sites or watch ESPN will help your odds of succeeding.
4. Do unto others. Fantasy football should be fun, but longtime players can tell you about dozens of disagreements - some minor, some that have fractured friendships. Don’t take it too seriously. One thing I always say is when a fellow owner offers a trade, ALWAYS RESPOND. Even a “no thanks” lets the sender know you received their e-mail or voice mail. When trade talks stall using e-mails, pick up the phone. I’ve completed many trades by talking directly to the owner. Things often are misinterpreted in e-mails.
5. Seek advice. Bounce trade offers off friends or co-workers who have played fantasy football for a while. You don’t want to be the guy who traded LaDainian Tomlinson for three middling wide receivers.

Finally - and at the risk of repeating myself - have fun! Your first year should be a learning experience. It can take time to learn the nuances of this game - but once you do, enjoy the ride!



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