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The How and Why of Fantasy Football

Every year the ranks of Fantasy Football owners increase by entire battalions of football fans, and yet the number of people enjoying this entertainment cannot compare to the corps of football followers who have never even engaged in the pastime. That majority of people who don't play don't know what they are missing. Picture for a moment something that is very satisfying in your life…and then twofold the gratification. That is what playing Fantasy Football does to someone who is already a die-hard NFL aficionado. Watching football without being in a fantasy league is like using dial-up to access the Internet -- the experience just isn't the same. Once you are ready to accept the conversion from football fan to full-fledged Fantasy Football fanatic, it is time to promptly educate yourself, so that you can reap the rewards of your passion that much more quickly. At its base, Fantasy Football enables you to manage a roster of stars in an attempt to win enough that you can get to the championship game. First, figure out what type of league is right for you. There are four main types of fantasy league to participate in, and though all are exciting they each offer a very different theme and require a different set of strategies.

Redraft -- This is the standard type of league. You will pick players based on how you believe they will perform in the current season, attempting to construct the best collection of players possible. Redraft leagues are popular because there is no long-term commitment. If you do well, you enjoy your success. If you perform poorly, you can always try your luck again next season, with entirely different players if you wish.

Keeper League -- In this type of league, owners generally expect the league to exist for a predetermined amount of time and draft accordingly. Typically, a keeper league may last for 3-5 years, though many keeper leagues continue indefinitely. In these leagues, you get to retain some players on your roster beyond the first season. Usually owners in these leagues keep 3-5 players. This means that you must draft initially with more than one season in mind, and it also means that first round picks in subsequent drafts are not as valuable as in the initial draft. For example, if everyone in a 12-team league keeps three players after year one, then the person with the first pick in the league's second year essentially has the 37th pick in the draft.

Dynasty League -- A dynasty league requires owners to make a commitment for a number of years. Every player an owner drafts is retained on his or her team from year to year, unless that player is traded, dropped, or retires. This hard-core league demands long-term planning to be successful, as owners can truly construct a dynasty if they trade and draft well. On the other hand, poor trades and draft picks could spell disaster for a fantasy team for more than one season. In these leagues, owners only have a rookie draft each year to create roster turnover.

Survivor League -- As on the reality show, owners in this league are competing to be the last team left standing. Each week, the team whose players accumulate the fewest points gets booted from the league. This is not a head to head competition, so one bad week can do you in. It is therefore important to draft both steady and streaky players. You need the steady guys to get you through the early part of the year, but the streaky players can help eliminate tougher competition later on. The owner with the highest point total each week gets "immunity" the following week, and cannot be booted until it comes down to the final two owners.

The easiest thing to do is join an established league or a contest as a random entrant. If you are interested in creating your own league here are the things to deliberate when constructing it:

1. Who will be the league commissioner? This is the person who runs the draft and provides the final judgment concerning all rule queries or disagreements during the season.

2. How will you choose to draft? You could choose to hold the draft with all of the members present physically in one place. Or, you can hold a live draft in an online chat room. Many sites are built specifically for this purpose. It is also possible to engage in an email draft. In this manner, owners are able to select their picks at their convenience. The other component of how to draft involves choosing a method of selecting the players. The two main modes of player dispersal are serpentine and auction drafting. The commissioner will randomly draw a draft order for a serpentine draft. Using the same 12-owner league example, everyone would pick when it is his or her turn, in order, from one to twelve. Then, the twelfth owner would select again at pick number 13, and so on, with the original draft order in odd rounds and the reverse in even rounds. An auction allows every owner the chance to acquire every player, provided they have the means necessary. Each owner starts out with the same salary cap, and must fill out a roster with the funds available. Players are nominated, and then the bidding ensues. The highest bidder for a particular player wins that player.

3. What are your league regulations? It is crucial to determine beforehand some ground rules so that everyone knows how to play and most arguments are avoided.

Take time to figure out the following: What the starting lineup will require, when starting lineups are to be posted, how owners can add and drop players, how owners can trade players, whether you will have an injured reserve option, how match-ups are scored, how playoff teams are ascertained, what the league schedule will be, and what fees and prizes will be required and bestowed, respectively.

The Right Rivalry

After deciding on a league, seek out an appropriate level of competition. Because a lot of the fun in Fantasy Football comes from ribbing someone after your team has beaten theirs, many people play Fantasy Football with family or friends. You might compete against your cousins, or strive to throttle your fellow fraternity or sorority members. The group doesn't matter, it's the relationships you foster that do. Fantasy Football alone is often the glue that keeps you in touch with people you would like to relate to but might otherwise fail to make the time for. Online or office leagues are a little less personal, but can be more competitive. The people playing in these leagues want to win. Nobody here will forget to enter a starting lineup. These leagues are where you can hone your skills if you want to try your hand at the third level of competition. A recent Fantasy Football phenomenon is the high stakes league. Similar to poker tournaments, owners must ante up a considerable amount of cash for the opportunity to win vast sums of money in these competitions. This type of league is a gambler's paradise but makes Fantasy Football as much about money as fun.

Preparation Pays

Before your draft, study the information available for free on many Fantasy Football websites. The articles offered there can provide valuable inseason strategies and drafting techniques. Pay attention to the preseason. Training camps offer clues about who might morph into a fantastic fantasy player. Don't put too much stock into the actual preseason games though. They are used by coaches as tune-ups, meant to evaluate depth. Purchase a few of the better Fantasy Football magazines that appear on the newsstands from May to August. You can tell which ones will benefit you by counting the number of thoughtful and articulate articles they display. Pay particular attention to expert mock drafts, especially ones where the experts involved explain why they drafted a certain player when they did. The analysis can confirm your own thoughts regarding a player, or give you pause to reconsider.

The Inside Scoop

To truly excel in Fantasy Football, it helps to know the lingo owners use to discuss players and make deals. As in any field, understanding the jargon will enable you to be more successful, faster.

Basic Scoring -- A scoring system that rewards fantasy owners with points based upon the actual points scored in pro football: 6 points for touchdowns, 3 points for field goals, 2 pts for a safety or 2-point conversion, and 1 point for an extra point.

Breakout Year -- This term is used to predict or review when a player will or did significantly increase his statistics from one season to the next. It often describes players who are entering their second or third year in the league and who have gained the necessary experience to allow their natural talent to equal production.

Bust -- a football player who fails to live up to his preseason statistical expectations.

Contract Year -- A term used to explain that a particular player is in the last year of his current NFL contract, and will probably play harder to earn more money. It is expected that he will then also do better statistically.

Flex Players -- An extra or alternate roster spot in a starting lineup. Instead of requiring the slot to be filled by a specific position, the owner can choose which position to use -- usually a running back, wide receiver, or tight end. This option allows owners more creativity and flexibility when determining their starting lineups.

Handcuffing -- When an owner selects a backup player later in a draft as insurance against injury for his or her high-profile fantasy starter. Usually, only running backs and quarterbacks are handcuffed. Often, other owners draft these backups to break up a handcuff opportunity and create potential trade bait for themselves. A good example of a handcuff player this year would be Rams running back Stephen Jackson, a talented player on the depth chart behind oft-injured star Marshall Faulk.

Individual Defensive Players (IDP's) -- Starting fantasy player slots on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs. Usually used instead of defensive teams.

Performance Scoring -- a scoring system that gives points for yardage and sometimes bonus points for hitting a particular statistical benchmark, in addition to basic scoring.

Possession Receiver -- In Fantasy Football terms, this means a player who can move the chains by consistently grabbing shorter passes underneath coverage but who is not considered a game-breaker on the fantasy scene.

Sleeper -- Any player who is selected much lower in a draft, or sold much lower in an auction, than the value he actually brings to a fantasy team.

Stud Running Back Theory -- A drafting strategy that suggests drafting running backs before all other positions in a draft, due to perceived scarcity.

Trade Bait -- When an unused fantasy player suddenly becomes a valuable commodity to be used in a trade to upgrade the owner's current starters.

Value Based Drafting (VBD) -- A draft system which espouses drafting players based not only on a comparison of their fantasy value relative to others at their own position but compared to all positions.

If you are truly addicted to football, as opposed to being a gridiron weekend warrior, then Fantasy Football should be your fix of choice. This game within a game puts ego and knowledge on the line all the time.

Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes Fantasy Football columns for and and articles for He has published articles in Grogan's, Fantasy Index, Fantasy Sports and Fantasy Football Pro Forecast magazines. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a devoted Detroit Lions fan who can be reached at

Our latest Cheat Sheets updated constantly through September.

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