Fantasy Football Dos and Don’ts From Over 30 Years of Playing Experience

“We play the game for fun, but it’s no fun when you lose.”
-Brian Kelley, hockey player and fantasy sports-manager

Ain’t that the truth? I don’t know about you, but if I put in time and effort studying stats, watching ex-jocks and fantasy nerds on TV and checking Twitter for a useful nugget from Matthew Berry or Adam Schefter, I want it to pay off. If I am going to spend my Sundays cursing at the TV and temporarily widowing my wife, it better be worth it, right?

That’s without even mentioning winning money and bragging rights, both of which are awesome.

I can’t promise you a rose garden, or even 3rd Place money, but this blog will share insights from over 40 years following football and over 30 years playing fantasy. The goal is to make you a better fantasy player than you are today and more successful than others who spend a lot more time on it. Most of us work. All of us have a life.

Winning fantasy is about quality, not quantity. It is not studying every stat, it is identifying the right stat. It is seeing the big picture, looking at football first from a broad perspective and then getting only the detail necessary to identify and interpret the performance trends that will impact individual player stats.

There are plenty of rankings and previews out already, but most rankings that are published before training camp are not worth the time you will spend reading them. Take most predictions of greatness or ineptitude prior to week three of the preseason with not a grain, but a shaker of salt.

Facts on the ground will change over the course of the season and course corrections will be important.

Where to start?

Rule #1: Know the rules of your league.

This seems obvious but know all your rules. How many points for a TD pass, 3, 4 or 6? What are the scoring values for yardage? What are the starting positions? Do you get bonuses for long scores? Do you have points per reception? How do defenses score points? Do you lose points for interceptions? How many players are on the roster? Many leagues have custom rules that have evolved over time. If you don’t know the rules inside and out and adjust your draft board accordingly, you’re already falling behind the managers that do.

Rule #2: If you don’t know how a team will do, you don’t know how their players will perform.

The first step toward winning your league is to read a bit about each team and decide how good they will be this year. What has changed since last year? There is no need to give everyone a W-L record but get an idea of who will be good (10+ wins, likely playoff team) middle of the pack (7-9 wins) and who will not be good (<6 wins).

As part of the analysis, rationale will emerge that will drive assumptions regarding the scoring opportunities the teams will generate for players. Wins and losses will have a huge bearing on opportunities and performance, as will each teams style of play.

A team with a bad defense impacts the game flow of their offense. For instance, a running back on a team with a bad defense will suffer unless he is very involved in the passing game, but the QB may be chucking it all over the field and piling up garbage time stats that will win fantasy games. Knowing who will be in those positions is crucial. Correctly assessing these kinds of situations leads to championships.

Don’t forget to look at schedules. Some teams look really good in a vacuum. For instance, Cleveland made a lot of moves, added some playmakers and is a popular pick for the playoffs. They have a lot of good skill players that should put up numbers, but before deciding where to draft their weapons, consider the following: They have home games against the Rams and Seahawks and are on the road against San Francisco and New England. They also go on the road to Denver, which is not generally an easy game. Every one of those games is in their first eight, and they have a rookie head coach. (SF was 4-12 and Denver was 6-10, but both should be improved.) The Browns also have four divisional games with Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Not saying they won’t be good, but their glide path to fantasy glory may get turbulent.

The next blog will be a thumbnail on each of the teams and their initial success projections.

It is by design that I wrote 900 words about Fantasy Football and did not mention the names of any players.

See you next week.

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About the author: When I started playing fantasy football, the 49ers dynasty was in full swing. Lineups were phoned in to the commissioner and the games were scored when USA Today came out on Monday morning. We got a fax with our final scores on Tuesday. My first ever fantasy draft pick was Jerry Rice because I understood the principle of relative value while the rest of the league was drafting quarterbacks. Flash forward to today, I‘ve competed with some of the original architects of the Yahoo Fantasy Football platform and other smart players for over 20 years while winning more than my share.

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