Play to Win

The game of fantasy football can be played by anyone: fantasy experts, football enthusiasts, and even those with little-to-no interest in sports.  No matter who you are, you can play and you can win.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of luck.  In fact, there is almost always an element of luck involved; stuff happens on the real field of play that no one expects.  But you can increase your odds of winning under any circumstance and in any style of fantasy football by following one simple formula: Play to Win.

Now that may sound like a no-brainer, but that phrase is much more nuanced than it may appear to be at first glance.  To improve your chances of winning in fantasy football, you must first understand the type of fantasy game you’re playing, and then grasp the rules and settings of your particular league or contest.  Without this knowledge, you can roster the best players in the NFL and still finish last.  But once you know what you’re dealing with – what it takes to win in your league or contest – your goal is to tailor your fantasy decisions to that end, no matter how unconventional some of those decisions may seem.

Understanding the type of fantasy game you’re in comes first because this is where you will find the biggest divergence in how you Play to Win.  If you are playing in a season-long league (the traditional form of fantasy football), you will find yourself competing each week against someone else in the league using a core group of players you drafted before the season began.  In this case, your goal is not to score more points than everyone else in the league.  Instead, it is to score more points than your opponent on any given week.  That means there is no need to get outlandish in the way you set up your roster each week.  You will simply start your superstars each and every week.  And you will choose which less-talented players to fill the other voids on your roster based on their real-life match-ups.  Plain and simple.  No need to pick up a nobody and start him hoping he might have a breakout game.  Slow and steady is the rule of thumb in league play.

When it comes to daily fantasy play (DFS), however, your approach should be very different.  In this type of fantasy play, you are typically trying to out score hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, of other competitors with every player out there available to everyone.  And money is at stake, both in terms of entrance fees and prizes, so the competition is usually somewhat knowledgable and current about real football.  This means you might not beat the competition if you have Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott in your lineup and they score big that week.  So what?  If everyone else saw that coming too, you are just keeping up with the crowd.  If you want to win in DFS, you usually need to roster a few players that your competitors are not likely to use in their lineups.  That takes some extra thinking each week, and it means taking a risk on players.  You may end up dead last in your contest as a result of it, but it’s also what gives you the best chance of winning big in DFS.  So as you can see, the style of fantasy football you play really matters in how you approach the game.

Now let’s talk about rules and settings.  If you are going to Play to Win, understanding this aspect of the game is critical.  For instance, if your league awards one point per reception, then the value of pass-catching running backs increases.  You will want to target them in your draft.  But if no points are awarded for receptions, then the value of those running backs, not to mention the wide receivers in your league, decreases, and your approach to drafting and rostering them should be different.  Not too long ago, I was in a league that awarded a ton of points to defense/special teams (DST’s) for return yards, so-much-so that it became advantageous to own a DST that gave up plenty of touchdowns and field goals every week because of all the fantasy points they would score during the subsequent kickoff return.  So each week, I picked up and started the DST that was expected to play the worst defense that week.  It took the other owners over half the season to realize they should be taking this unconventional approach to DST’s, but by that time, I was well on my way to winning the league championship.  Play to Win.

As you can see, playing to win in fantasy football means tailoring your decision-making and risk-taking to the style and settings under which you are playing.  It doesn’t matter that it may not make sense to everyone else; it just has to make sense to you and the construct of your league/contest.  It’s called playing smart.  And when you do, you will find yourself gaining some degree of control over “luck” and winning more often than losing.  Play to Win.  It will serve you well in fantasy football, and in real life too.

Good “luck” this week everyone! 

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