Once relegated only to the nerds and stat geeks, fantasy football has become a mainstream hobby enjoyed each season by nearly 30 million U.S. adults and is widely credited with the country’s increased interest in the NFL. It has become just as common to hear people talk about their fantasy football teams at family gatherings and at the office as it is to hear them talk about the weather. The game has given new meaning to Sunday football and has added a fun twist to the NFL season.
The basic concept behind fantasy football is to assemble a virtual team of real NFL players. You are the “owner” or “manager” of your team and compete in a league generally comprised of between 8 and 16 teams although 10 – 12 teams is most common. The other “owners” can be friends, family, co-workers, or complete strangers. Fantasy points are accumulated based upon the actual statistics of the players on your team. You compete each week against someone else in your league and the person who has the most fantasy points at the end of the week is the winner for that week. The teams with the best records at the end of the fantasy season make it to the playoffs and eventually the top two face each other in the Super Bowl (generally Week 16 of the NFL season).
Draft Your Team
Perhaps the most fun time of the season is Draft Day. This is the day that everyone picks the players for their team. The goal is to select the players that you think will be the most productive over the course of the season. In standard leagues, teams are comprised of 1 quarterback (QB), 2 running backs (RB), 3 wide receivers (WR), 1 tight-end (TE), 1 kicker (K), and 1 defense/special teams (DST). Owners take turns picking NFL players and an NFL player can only be on 1 team at a time. For example, if you have the first pick and take Adrian Peterson from Minnesota with that pick, nobody else can have him.
Drafting a solid team is imperative to winning a league. Never go into your draft without preparing yourself with player projections and rankings. Virtually every league management program (CBSSports.com, NFL.com, ESPN.com) has some sort of rankings built in, but you can also check out fantasy football rankings from sites like Fantasy Football Nerd and FF Toolbox.
In addition to your starting lineup, you will draft anywhere from 7 to 15 additional players. These players are referred to as your “bench”. During the season you can replace your starting lineup with one of your bench players depending on match up or injury.
If this is your first year playing the game and you want to win, the best advice is to avoid the newbie pitfall of drafting players from your favorite team well before anyone else would have. Use the rankings and projections from your research or your league’s software to help you make informed drafting decisions. Taking a kicker from your favorite team with your first pick might guarantee you the opportunity to cheer for him all season long but it seriously reduces your chances of winning games.
Scoring Systems
In order to draft well, you will need to know your league’s scoring system. Most leagues will have standard scoring (below), but some have extra twists. You may hear the acronym “PPR” which stands for “point per reception”. In PPR leagues, players earn a point for every catch. You may also hear the term “bonus points”. This refers to extra points given to players when they achieve certain thresholds. For example, Drew Brees might earn you an additional 5 points if he throws for 300 or more yards in a game.
Most standard scoring leagues award points for the following:
* 1 point for every 10 rushing yards
* 1 point for every 10 receiving yards
* 1 point for every 25 passing yards
* 6 points for every rushing/receiving TD
* 4 points for every passing TD
* 1 point for every extra point kicked
* 3 points for every field goal kicked
* 1 point for every reception (PPR
leagues only)
Playing The Game
Now that you have drafted a team of players, your league will create your schedule of match ups for the season. Each week you will compete against someone else where the two of you will attempt to “start” the best performing team. For example, if you drafted 3 quarterbacks and your league requires you to start 1, you need to decide each week which of those 3 QB’s will be starting and which 2 will remain on your bench. Bench players do not accumulate points for your team so your job is to determine who has the best chance of putting up the best stats. This may seem easy enough, but once the season is underway and injuries and on-field match ups become factors, the “sit/start” decisions can truly be difficult. If you’ve been paying attention to the season, some of these choices may force you to question yourself and flip-flop back and forth right up until kickoff. Making the right decision is incredibly rewarding, particularly if it results in a win for you that week!
Looking for help with your weekly lineup decisions? You won’t have to look far. There are literally thousands of websites from which to choose for fantasy football advice, rankings, projections, news, and more. Every major league platform has rankings to help you. Some sites like FantasyFootballNerd.com aggregate fantasy football rankings from multiple sources and combine them into one easy to use consensus. NFL Network and ESPN have dedicated fantasy football TV shows. You can find free pod casts from thousands of independent sites. Check the newsstand for magazines. The library will have fantasy football books. Sirius/XM Radio even has a dedicated channel for fantasy sports. It won’t be hard to find a plethora of advice and options.
Trades and Waiver Wire
Injuries (both temporary and long-lasting) are a near certainty in the NFL. When you combine injuries with the fact that not all of your players will live up to your expectations and other players who perform well above their low/no expectations (commonly referred to as “sleepers”), there is a very high chance that the team you have at the end of the year will not be the same team that you drafted. As an owner, you will want to upgrade your team when and where you can.
As an example, let’s imagine that you have 3 good quarterbacks and 2 average/below-average tight ends. Another owner in your league has poorly performing quarterbacks and 2 great/good tight ends. In this scenario, it would be a good idea to propose a trade of one of your quarterbacks for one of his/her tight ends. Trades are one way to upgrade your team.
The most common place to look for upgrades will be the waiver wire which is simply the term given to players who are not owned by anyone else. You can “pick up” one of these players at anytime during the season but you will be required to “drop” one of your existing players. If for example one of your running backs sustains a season-ending injury, it is no longer in your best interest to keep him on your team as he will no longer be playing. You can drop that player onto the waiver wire and pick up a replacement. This also can be done for players who have not lived up to expectations, particularly if there are better players available on the wire. Check your league for the rules on the waiver wire order. When the waiver wire opens up each week, some leagues have rules indicating who gets to pick and in what order. If two or more owners are all trying to get the same player, the waiver wire order determines which owner can lay claim to that player.
The commish job is perhaps the most under-appreciated job in the league but someone has to be in charge. The commish determines the rules of the league, organizes the draft date/time, and serves as mediator in all disputes within the league. If your league is playing for money, the commish is usually responsible for holding onto the money and handling the payouts at the end of the season.
The best way to learn to play the game is to jump right in. Grab a bunch of your friends and family or join a free public league. Once you’ve mastered the basics you will never watch an NFL game the same way again!

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