Football is America’s most popular sport for two reasons, gambling and fantasy sports. Each are billion dollar industries on their own and have devout followers. Gambling is an American past time and football is the sport best set up for gambling. There is a week between games to do research, the lines are easier to set, and there is an incredible amount of prop bets on which to throw money away.
Fantasy sports is America’s newest obsession. It combines the illusion of being a GM with the thrill of gambling, an equation that explains its huge impact on the culture. Football is the most exciting fantasy sport. Again, the week between games creates great anticipation and plenty of time to research whom to pick up on the waiver wire, as well as whom to sit or start that week. Plus all the games, with two exceptions, are played on Sundays, a day most people have off, which means everyone in the league is watching. This makes it easy to talk shit to one’s opponent as Antonio Brown catches his second touchdown over 50 yards leading to a 40 point fantasy week and total domination.
I’ve played fantasy football since 2006, a year in which I rode the Colts offense to fantasy glory with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne all staring on “ManBearPig’s” road to fantasy glory. I chased that glorious first season and failed to come even close to matching it for the next five years, including the embarrassing 2009 season where I finished 9th out of 10 and I failed to have a receiver or tight end catch a touchdown. Then came the heartbreaking 2012 season where in two leagues I finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. The second place finish involved losing by 0.5 in the championship game thanks to a Miles Austin 19-yard touchdown catch with less than a minute to go. While the third place loss saw me turn around a 4-5 team to win my last five games, scoring the most points in the league each week, on the backs of Tony Romo to Dez Bryant only to lose in the semi-finals on the only week of the final seven that I did not score the most points in the league.
The devastating finish to the 2012 season served as the fire to mold the Iron Throne I built in the greatest Fantasy season of my life. Two Fantasy Football Championships in one season, easily on my Mt. Rushmore of life accomplishments. Better than winning the two championships was the way in which I did it, total domination. My teams were untouchable juggernauts that destroyed and embarrassed other teams like Brock Lesnar did to John Cena at Summerslam. Each Sunday felt like Christmas as I woke up with a smile on my face ready to conquer another pathetic fantasy opponent.
I finished the regular season with the most points in each league, a triumphant feat that was begging to end in disappointment. The playoffs were a nerve racking time as the sting from last season’s bitter defeats was still fresh. However, outside of a narrow seven point win in the semifinals of my Yahoo league, the domination from the regular season carried over to the playoffs.
The only downside to the glory of last Fall is that it will be impossible to ever top. It is hard to get motivated for another season of Fantasy Football after reaching the pantheon of the sport. The memories of last year will stay with me forever, but the determination that made me so great may never return. It is too hard to manufacture.
However, I have no choice, but to keep playing, keep chasing he impossible. As another season is upon us, it is up to me to dig deep and re-discover that fire. It may never lead to the euphoric place of the Fall of 2013, but there is a pleasure in trying. Here are a few fantasy tips to help reach that magical place.
- Embrace Luck – As Woody Allen wrote in Match Point, “People are afraid to face how big a part is dependent on luck.” Nowhere does this phrase fit better than Fantasy Football. A person can research for months, watch the combine, scout rookie’s college tape, tinker with a formula, but in the end the biggest factor in success is luck. Luck in avoiding major injury, luck in the schedule, luck in finding this year’s breakout player, etc. The lie between wins and losses is drawn almost completely by luck, just think about that while listening to the 100th different Season Preview Podcast.
- Know the League’s Scoring Settings – This is an overlooked aspect in preparation. Most leagues follow generic scoring guidelines, but a few have its own scoring quirks. Is it PPR, point per reception, league or a half a point per reception? Then receivers become more valuable and pass catching running backs as well.
- What are the defensive stats? How much are sacks worth? Defense is often ignored till the later rounds, but in some leagues they are more valuable than others. Sacks might be worth two points in some leagues or defensive bonuses, like shutouts or holding a team under 300 yards of offense may be worth a lot of points. In these instances, the top few defenses become immensely important as they may be able to drop 30+ points on any given week.
- Rate Pass Catching Running Backs Higher – This is an obvious rule in PPR leagues, but it should be standard regardless. The NFL is becoming a passing league, which is eliminating the workhorse back that carries the ball over 20 times a game. Only Adrian Peterson truly fits this mold. Instead coach’s prefer to throw the ball to their backs to get them easy touches out in space. A good route running, pass catching back will be on the field more often and be more likely to get over 20 touches a game, then a power back that just runs the ball.
- Quality over Quantity – Targets is a fantasy football buzzword. Each week during the season waiver wire articles will try to convince readers to pick up a receiver, tight end, or running back based on the number of targets, passes thrown to them, from the previous week. Most of these players will be top skill players on shitty offenses where they are the only skillful option. It is great that Andre Johnson will be thrown at 14 times a game, but when those throws are coming from Ryan Fitzpatrick, only seven of them will be catchable and only two of them will be over 10 yards. It is much better to own the third option on a top offense with a great quarterback like the Broncos, Saints, or Patriots. Six or seven targets from Peyton Manning or Drew Brees is better than 14 from Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brian Hoyer.
- Stockpile A Position in Auction Drafts – An auction draft is where a person nominates a player for auction than every team bids on him till the highest bid wins. This means that every player is available to every team. A secret to use in these drafts is to load your bench with one position. It doesn’t matter which one, preferably whichever is cheapest, but I prefer to focus on wide receiver because I feel most confident in my evaluation of them. The reason to do this is to have trade bait. Every year injuries occur and someone will be desperate to fill a thin position. When this happens you need to have the assets to make a trade for a top player at a different position. The reason this is important is the next rule…
- Always Make a Trade – A common mistake is fallen in love with a roster. It is easy to do since everyone wants to be the draft day wizard that came away with the perfect team. The problem is that rarely happens and a trade is necessary to strengthen the team. Last year I made one big trade in each league that helped me secure the championship. One was trading high on Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, as well as pass catching RB Pierre Thomas for Demarco Murray, Vernon Davis, and Zac Stacy.
- The reason I did this was one to protect myself against a bad week from the Bronocs, as it turned out this never happened, but also because I was already loaded at receiver and tight end with Antonio Gates, Alshon Jeffery, Dez Bryant, and Antonio Brown, but only had Lesean McCoy at running back. This trade strengthen my weakness, running back, while not taking away from my strength thanks to my depth at the position. Plus it was a nice bonus that Vernon Davis ended up with more points than Julius Thomas.
- In my other league, Russell Wilson was my quarterback and while not being terrible, his numbers were not consistent and he was not used much in the offense. I felt the need to get a top quarterback to round out my team and sacrificed a third round pick this year and Wilson for Drew Brees and a seventh rounder. Although I gave up a lot of potential in the future, the move turned out working as Bress helped me squeak by the semifinals when Wilson would not have, which lead to me taking home the trophy.
- Talk A Lot of Shit – Shit talking is the most important aspect of Fantasy Football. If you’re not doing it, then you’re missing out in a big way.
Follow these rules, or don’t, either way have a fun Fantasy Football season.