How To Play Fantasy Football & How Does It Work?

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Developed in the 1960s, fantasy football is quite a bit younger than American and association football (more known as soccer). Despite this, over 21 million people played this game in the United States as of September 2013.

And now, you might also be interested in this undeniably fascinating game.

Fantasy football is quite a complicated game, though. It’s reasonably easy to get into, but it’s challenging to become successful at. Kind of like Football betting where you have to consistently keep an eye on betting odds, Fantasy football will have you be monitoring your players’ performances.

Well, below, newcomers to fantasy football will find guidelines on how to participate in the game along with a few tips for excelling at it! 

I’ll be using my experience as a football coach to supply you with some unique tips. But I’ll keep things simple for beginners!

What Is Fantasy Football? The Basics Of Fantasy Football

Let’s first have a look at fantasy football basics, shall we?

In the game of fantasy football, you take the role of an imaginary football team’s manager. So essentially, it’s more of a football manager simulator.

Fantasy football is played during football league seasons. American fantasy football (also called fantasy gridiron football) is played during the NFL league, for example. In contrast, association fantasy football is played during the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, and others.

No matter which football type we are talking about, fantasy football comes down to the following:

  1. You join a league and draft a team.
  2. Based on the performance of real players on the field, your team gains points. Criteria on which you get points include touchdowns, yards, or whatnot. What exactly is counted depends on the league.
  3. The player with the most points wins the week or the entire season, depending on the league.

Typically, fantasy football leagues consist of 8 to 14 players. You may acquire or trade athletes throughout the season to increase your point total by the end of the season or week—more on the intricacies of buying or trading players below.

As you might have already guessed, fantasy football is a great way to spice up your regular football-watching experience. Plus, you may start watching the games of teams that you have never cared about!

Aside from that, some fantasy football leagues offer monetary prizes to league winners. Whether or not it’s worth seriously investing in fantasy football to win prizes is up to you.

How To Play Fantasy Football

Fantasy football rules may differ between leagues. Below, let’s have a look at how NFL fantasy football is played.

Because rules may vary from league to league, I’ll keep the guide a bit more general. As for the specifics, you’ll need to take a look at your fantasy football league’s rules.

1. Choosing a league

So first up, you will need to choose a league. Fantasy football leagues have their own rules, entry requirements, and time demands. Make sure to have a look at your options and pick what best suits your expectations.

One thing to keep in mind – start researching fantasy football leagues well before the NFL season (or the American/association football season that your league is based on) starts. This will allow for more time for research and pondering.

If you want to play for free, then the NFL and Yahoo are good places to play American fantasy football. These platforms offer plenty of features, reliable stats, and the latest news throughout the season. With the NFL, you are also getting info straight from the source, so it’s as reliable as it gets.

2. Drafting players

Next comes perhaps the most crucial part – choosing your roster. At this stage, it’s essential to be familiar with the big names of football. Tracking recent player stats and knowing who is injured or on bye is crucial too.

When it comes to scoring, most leagues take into account things like:

  • Receptions.
  • Yardage.
  • Sacks.
  • Goals scored.

Your players’ real-world actions are converted into points based on these factors and added to your team’s total.

Leagues may set specific rules as to which positions you may draft. Typically, they require:

  • One quarterback.
  • Two running backs.
  • Two wide receivers.
  • One tight end.
  • One kicker.
  • One defense.
  • One flex position, which accepts a player of any position.

For the initial draft, try to get the best available players for each position. More experienced fantasy football players consider the picks of their opponents before drafting athletes, but those who are new to fantasy football should avoid such advanced strategies.

Some leagues employ the so-called serpentine draft, where people take turns drafting players. But usually, athlete acquisition is based on auctions where the highest bidder wins the auction.

Make sure that the drafted athletes are healthy and ready to play so that you don’t miss out on points. Ideally, you should avoid injury-prone players, too, since they may force you to think about substitution down the road. You should be able to find the latest info on athletes in most leagues on ESPN, NFL, or Yahoo.

Note that fantasy football teams have bench spots – usually up to 5. Players on your bench don’t earn you any points, but they may be used to replace other players in case of injuries or during bye weeks.

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Aside from the initial draft, fantasy football leagues usually allow you to acquire new athletes each week. Teams may “fire” players, turning them into free agents available for purchase. Player trades are possible as well. Leagues usually set imaginary budget limits for player acquisition. More on this later.

So, all in all, you should try to get your hands on the best athletes, but don’t forget to have a look at recent athlete stats too. Big names can’t stay big forever, and you need to be able to identify aspiring talent and experienced players who are starting to lose their grasp of the game.

3. Playing week one and beyond

Before each weekly game kicks off, you need to finalize your roster no later than 5 minutes before the match. Otherwise, your roster will be locked, potentially putting you in a disadvantaged position. Keeping an eye on the schedule is, therefore, essential.

Ideally, you would pick your starting positions and decide who stays on the bench way before the game – just so that you have time to ponder and avoid making a rushed decision right before the game.

4. Waiver wires

Managing the waiver wire is one of the most important things to do throughout the season. The waiver wire is the process of acquiring players that don’t belong to any team in your league – in other words, free agents.

Each team has a waiver wire ranking based on things like the win-loss record or the number of free agents already added by the team. The free-agent goes to the team with the highest waiver ranking among those who have claimed the agent. If only you claimed the free agent, then it is added to your roster.

Some leagues also have a Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) system that lets you buy players.

In NFL fantasy football, waiver claims are submitted on Tuesdays, and the free agents are assigned to teams on Wednesdays. Since teams have size limits, you may need to drop one of your players to get the free agent. With that in mind, waiver wires aren’t always beneficial for teams.

When to claim free agents is up to you, but this is typically done when someone on your roster is injured, on bye, or when you have a chance to get a good player.

Generally, you want to target free agents who have had a good week and are on an upper trend. However, you shouldn’t always try to acquire a player that has been let go of by some team. In some cases, it may be worth it – in others, you’ll need to try to analyze why the player was kicked out of the team.

5. Trading players

Aside from buying free agents, you may also trade athletes.

To acquire the desired player, people are often willing to give up several players. But it’s up to you to determine what the target player is worth – it’s all about negotiation.

Teams often rip off each other by asking for too much for a player. You will need to analyze the situation on your own to figure out if the player is worth it. And needless to say, you should always try to negotiate the costs down.

Don’t trade for a player just because. But if your team’s situation calls for changes, then go for it.

6. Bye weeks

Finally, let’s have a look at bye weeks.

In the NFL, every team has a bye week where the team does not have any games and can rest. Bye weeks should be taken into account because if a player in your roster doesn’t go out in the field in real life, you won’t be gaining any points for that player.

One thing to keep in mind when drafting players for your roster at the very beginning of the season is that you don’t want too many players to be on a bye week at the same time

If this happens and you don’t have enough substitutes on your bench, you may need to get new players. Not only is this associated with added spendings within the league, but you will also have little time to analyze your options if you haven’t considered bye weeks when first drafting your team.

But worst of all, if you neglect bye weeks and several players from your roster don’t play in the same week, your score will get devastated.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is fantasy football skill or luck?

Both skill and luck have a role in fantasy football. Injuries and sickness in players are up to chance, for example and can neither be prevented nor accurately anticipated.

But despite the unpredictability of fantasy sports, skill still plays a significant role in them. MIT’s study has found that fantasy players who better know statistics, game rules, weather effects, and other factors have a higher chance of winning.

The study doesn’t reveal what kind of skills a fantasy player needs to have to be successful, but it’s safe to say that you need to have high-level knowledge of the sport. Besides, you need to do your homework, get acquainted with some statistics, and recognize trends.

The ability to see the bigger picture is crucial for fantasy football. This game is essentially a team manager simulator, so you would want to have the kind of knowledge and skills that an experienced manager, coach, or even a seasoned football fan has.

Can you play fantasy football by yourself?

You need to join a league to play fantasy football. Leagues have their own rules and ways of converting real-world player performance into points. Besides, fantasy football leagues gather multiple teams, so you have plenty of other players to compete against.

You could play fantasy football by yourself with a group of friends, but you’d need to develop your own rules. It’s arguably just easier to join a league.

Can you play fantasy football for free?

Yes, many leagues do allow you to play fantasy football for free. Others require that you pay a buy-in to participate, which tends to be around $50. Aside from the buy-in, you may be required to make other payments as well.

To play fantasy football in paid leagues can be an expensive pastime, but these leagues also offer prize money for winners. But whether or not the investment is worth it is up to you.

How much money do you get if you win fantasy football?

Prizes vary significantly from league to league and may include cash and valuable items.

If we are talking about association football, then Premier League winners of the 2020/2021 season were offered things like:

– 7-night break in the UK that includes travel, accommodation, and VIP hospitality at two 2021/22 Premier League games.
– A week’s worth of expenses at popular tourist attractions.
– Hublot connected watch.
– A game console plus a copy of FIFA 21. I really hope the “game console” is a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S since they are all the rage right now.

As for American football, according to Yahoo Finance, the three biggest prizes in fantasy football are:
– $1 million in NFL Fantasy Perfect Challenge.
– $200,000 at the Fantasy Championship.
– $150,000 at the Fantasy Football World Championships.

So yeah, fantasy football can actually be not only fun but also very profitable. Not many people will ever get to win such big money, though.

Can I still play fantasy football?

Fantasy football (the American variety) is played during the NFL season. Likewise, association fantasy football is played during association football league seasons – e.g., Premier League fantasy football is held during the Premier League.

4th & 10

That’s it for my fantasy football guide for beginners!

Fantasy football is a very cool way of improving your experience as a football fan, but it requires a considerable investment of time and sometimes money. Aside from that, one can become addicted to fantasy football. In a sense, fantasy football can be as devastating for one’s well-being as gambling.

No matter how you approach fantasy football, do so responsibly.

Potential problems aside, remember that fantasy football requires you to see a bigger picture and identify trends. It is very analytical and requires significant knowledge of the sport as well.

That’s it, now you know how to play fantasy football!

Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Brad Smith has been coaching high school Football for 6 years in Florida. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children who he hopes will become the first Jaguars to win a Superbowl. Other than Football, Brad loves American litterature, parenting, gardening, and home remodeling.