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A League of Your Own

What Fantasy Football is and how to play the game.

Bye:Joseph Levit

A Pastime Unsurpassed

If you've ever second-guessed an NFL coach's decision to yank his starting quarterback in the middle of a game, cajoled with or jeered at players on the screen after a big play, or shouted that you would have gone for two instead of sending out the kicker for the point-after, then fantasy football is for you. This is a game that allows football fans to 'put his or her money where their mouth is', oftentimes literally competing for cash, and always with bragging rights on the line. People get to "own" a football team, and draft players like NFL teams do. But in fantasy football, you are the general manager, owner and coach rolled into one. You get the chance to assemble a cast of stars at every position. Nowhere else can you play Ricky Williams, Peyton Manning, and Brian Urlacher together, capable as their boss of benching them on your slightest whim. Only in fantasy football can you enjoy all of this. But you must play to win, so get in the game!

In Short Initially, you'll join a league and then get to participate in an action-packed draft. Each week you will decide who plays and who rides the pine. Your starting players will score points for you, and if they do well enough each week, you can be in a position toward the end of the season to compete for the league championship.

League Type Determine from the start your style of fantasy football. Making an accurate assessment of your specific interest and available time will go a long way toward ensuring fun for everyone. You can decide to develop a league of your own, but it is probably a wise choice for beginners to join a league and learn the basics, much like a quarterback who learns on the bench for a year. Here are three types of league that may interest you:

o Redraft - This kind of league is the most common because it is simple in format and involves the smallest commitment. Team owners draft players for one season only. Any owner could produce the worst team one year and the league champion the next.

o Keeper - Keeper leagues allow owners to carry over certain key players to the next fantasy season. This rule permits owners to get some value from good decisions made during drafts, but still allows for player turnover.

o Dynasty - A dynasty league requires a lot from an owner. In these leagues, every player is retained from year to year. The NFL rookie draft and free agents from other professional football leagues provide the only fresh talent. Choose this type of league if you are in it for the long haul, and enjoy the opportunity to build a winning squad over time.

Owners After selecting the league format that's right for you, you get to find the people you want to compete against. Most fantasy football fans play with at least some of their friends or family, though the Internet enables people to participate in many types of leagues and remain nearly anonymous. There are advantages to either option. By playing with your friends or relatives, you create a closer and oftentimes more thrilling, league. However, playing with total strangers makes it easier to settle league rule changes or potential conflicts because personal feelings are less apt to become a part of the equation.

Teams The number of teams you choose to include in your league is important. Leagues with too few teams sanction every owner to sport a Pro Bowl starting lineup. Too many owners thin the talent too much - you don't want anyone to have to start Chris Weinke at quarterback each week. Most leagues settle on between 10-16 teams. The higher the number of owners, the more skill is involved in fielding a winning team, because people must research and take a chance on some sleepers* and unknowns. In win-loss leagues, there needs to be an even number of teams so that each owner can play an opponent every week. Point leagues can play an odd number of teams.

Commissioner Every league needs to have a commissioner. This person (who is usually also an owner) is in charge of scoring and judging disputes. Because the position demands dependability, be sure to pick the person wisely. Since being a commissioner can be so much work, you can rotate the responsibility yearly.

Draft Day The draft itself is the single most exhilarating experience in fantasy football - after winning the league. There are ways to improve your roster during the fantasy season (adding/dropping players, trades) but a solid draft is a solid start. Drafts can be held live or by email. With a live draft you can influence each other's picks by lauding or ridiculing previous selections. The best way to draft live is to get all of the owners together in one physical location. Live drafts can also be completed online by constructing chat rooms designed for that purpose before the draft. Email drafts are less personal and often take days or weeks to complete. The upside of email drafting is you can make your selections at your leisure, and this type of drafting works well in leagues with owners who harbor hectic schedules. After deciding how the draft will be held, owners should choose the draft format.

o Serpentine Drafting - Owners draw draft positions randomly, and then draft in the numbered order. To make the selection of players fair for everyone, the league reverses the drafting order in alternating rounds. So, round one would go from owner 1-12, round two from 12 to 1, and so on until every team has filled its roster. These drafts are usually efficient, but you will miss out on many of the players you pegged for success.

o Auction Drafting - During an auction draft, owners use a set cap of real or pretend money to bid on players to fill their fantasy lineup and bench. The beauty of this type of drafting is that you can acquire any player you want, if you have the money left and are willing to pay for him. This dynamic format can take a long time because of the bidding process, and be more difficult to track for the same reason. Key Tip: Set a predetermined time limit for selections during your draft. If you don't, someone will always take too long to choose each round - your time is precious.

Scoring There are myriads of ways to tally results in fantasy football. This limitless aspect of the game is one of its strengths. In your league, create the values for scoring with the following factors in mind:

o Method - If you have simple scoring rules, it is possible to score games by hand. However, lots of leagues choose instead to use an online service for scoring purposes. This option helps mitigate human error. Additionally, most online sites score fantasy matchups in real time. You can be behind in your match up for most of a Sunday, and then shoot ahead of an opponent after your last receiver does well in the night game!

o Types - Different scoring options suit different owners. Leagues can choose between three primary options:

o Basic scoring - Basic scoring assigns fantasy points to drafted players based on actual scoring values in an NFL game. Six points is awarded for touchdowns, three points for a field goal, and so forth. This mode is simple and straightforward, and these leagues favor players who score touchdowns.

o Performance scoring - Leagues that choose this option score the same way that basic leagues do, but also give points to yardage. Most leagues give one point to players for every 10 or perhaps 20 yards rushing or receiving. Quarterbacks must pass for 30 or maybe 50 yards to earn a fantasy point. Performance scoring is a nice balance between the effort a player makes on the field, and the scoring he produces. After all, some NFL players move the ball between the red zones, but don't get the opportunity to score.

o Bonus scoring - This option is a variation of the previous types of scoring. Additional points are allocated to players who attain certain statistical benchmarks in an NFL game. For example, points may be given to running backs or receivers who gain over 100 yards during a contest, quarterbacks who throw for 300+ yards, or kickers who connect on long field goals.

o Points - You can calculate points in whole or decimal amounts. For instance, if a receiver catches passes totaling 67 yards, some leagues count that as six points. Other leagues go by decimals, and award 6.7 points for the yardage. Most leagues also subtract points for certain player errors. For example, quarterbacks lose points for interceptions, and players who fumble are penalized. Defensive scoring differs vastly between leagues. Some leagues start entire defenses, and award fantasy points based on the actual points the defense gives up. Other leagues start individual defensive players and count sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries and tackles. It is up to you to determine the scoring that is right for your league.

Things to Consider In order for a fantasy league to run smoothly, it is imperative to establish sound rules. Raise questions about any issues you foresee and discuss them with other owners. You can vote for or against each option until the rules are thus set for the league. Some questions to think about:

o What player slots constitute a fantasy team

o How will the league draft

o How many players will be in the starting lineup

o What player slots will be required in the league

o When and how will starting lineups be submitted

o How will owners acquire undrafted players

o What will be the scoring method

o How are playoff teams determined

o What kinds of trades can owners pursue

o Who makes the playoffs

o What is the schedule for head-to-head matchups during the season and then the playoffs

o What are the league's tiebreakers

o Are there trade deadlines

o What is the league fee and are there other costs involved

o Who is awarded prizes and what do they receive Distribute the league rules after they are set so everyone remains informed throughout the season. Key Tip: In leagues that play for cash, insist that owners pay their league dues before the season starts. There is nothing worse than an owner who won't ante up after the losing starts.

Fantasy schedules Separate leagues into an appropriate number of divisions, and then create a schedule that allows each team to play every other team in the league at least once. The fantasy season should end after week 14 in the NFL. Most leagues then have two rounds of playoffs, during weeks 15 and 16, to determine the league champion.

The Season Fantasy football is a long and exciting race. During the season there is time to make up for a slow start, and leaders can falter if their players suddenly succumb to injury. Each week, owners must submit a lineup for that weekend's matchup. Lineups usually consist of one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a defense. Some leagues allow a flex player* or individual defensive players. To acquire free agents, owners should look to the waiver wire. To improve the competition in the league, set up a selection schedule which puts the teams with the poorest record at the top of the pecking order to grab new players. Some leagues decide instead to use a first-come, first-serve setup to determine who gets specific free agents. Trading is another way to improve your team during the season. Figure out where you have depth on your team and try to make a trade using players from that position. If you have lots of talented wide receivers, but are starting duds in the tailback slot, propose a deal to an owner who has a surplus of stud running backs but is thin at the wideout slot. Key Tip: Quality bench players can become terrific trade bait as the season progresses. Above all, remember to keep it simple and have fun. Once you have organized your league, go for the top with gusto! n Joseph Levit is a fantasy football writer who has written for fantasy football magazines and websites, and for major sports sites. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, and a devoted Detroit Lions fan. He can be reached for inquiry, praise or insult at

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