I’ve been playing season long fantasy football ever since I was six years old. If my calculations are correct, that means that I started playing in 1992. Now, I may still be a fairly young gentleman, but in that time, we didn’t have computers and the Internet to draft and to change our lineups. Our annual draft was held at my uncle’s house, and since my family lives all over the country, most of the league members had to phone-in for the draft. So we’d draw names out of a hat and start the drafting by hand. When it was time for one of the out-of-towners to pick, we had to call them individually and tell them who was still available.
My fondest memories of that league were trying to set my lineups every Sunday morning. As a kid, I was dragged to church every week (sometimes literally dragged), so I had to wake up as early as possible, watch the preview shows on ESPN, pick my lineup for the week, and then call it in before 11 am (MST). If you didn’t call in your lineup on my uncle’s answering machine before the first kickoff, you were stuck with last week’s lineup. No exceptions.
After each week, my uncle would tabulate the scores and send out a weekly recap in the mail. And no, not the fast kind of mail that we know today; the kind that goes into an actual mailbox. You may not remember what mailboxes are, but today they are mostly used as a storage space for weekly ads that no one looks at.
Anywho, I bring up this story to point out how drastic fantasy football has changed over the years. Not only in terms of the technology, but also the availability of fantasy sports, specifically daily fantasy sports. It’s truly incredible how many different people are going to win life-changing type of money this football season.
Before we get into the individual lessons, I thought I’d give quick introduction to weekly fantasy football. The first and possibly most important subject is bankroll management. The NFL is a completely different animal than most sports in that their entire season consists of 16 games. That’s basically one-fifth the size of the NBA season and one-tenth the size of the MLB season.
With such limited opportunities, it can be very tempting to over-extend your bankroll each and every week. There is a massive amount of money to be won each week, but you have to stick to your guns when it comes to bankroll management. Everyone’s strategy should be personalized, but the general rule of thought is to never play more than 10 percent of your bankroll (the maximum amount that you are willing to put towards DFS).
Football is an extremely volatile sport that relies on a few outliers each week (long touchdowns and big plays) for a large portion of total fantasy production. No matter how great of a weekly fantasy football player you are, you are going to have losing weeks. That’s just the nature of the business. Bad bankroll management practices can lead to chasing losses, added financial stress, and poor decision-making. The key is to develop a bankroll management plan that works for you, and then do everything that you can to stick to it throughout the entire NFL season. Having a rule where you put a certain percentage into play each week allows you to play more when you are winning and to cut back after a couple of down weeks.
The first few weeks of the NFL season may be the hardest to predict. There are new players, new coaches, and new systems in place. There is more turnover and parity in the NFL than in any of the other major league sports. All of these changes can make it tough to predict fantasy performances early on in the season. The good news is that everyone is in the same boat as you are. There is a massive profit potential these first few weeks, but you have to be careful to not rely too heavily on last season’s statistics.
One of my early season strategies, especially for cash games, is to use the consensus ranking on FantasyPros. You can sort these to include all of the expert’s picks or you can select a few that you trust the most. While I’d love to say that I’m smarter than everyone in the world, I’m not that naïve. I am more than willing to put my pride aside and use consensus rankings as a guideline for my picks. Some will argue that there is some herd mentality in consensus rankings, which may be true to a certain point. However, the rankings are a great tool to use in cash games, as we aren’t concerned with player ownership nearly as much as we are in tournaments.
After we get into the first few weeks of the season, you will hear a ton of buzz about DvP rankings, players who have performed well early on, and players who are already deemed busts for the season. It’s important to remember that a sample size of two or three games is extremely small. You wouldn’t judge LeBron James after a bad three-game stretch to start the season, would you? As hard as it may be, try not to overreact after each week. Our ultimate goal is to create a team that will have the most opportunity to play well that week, and focusing too much on the performance in the first few weeks is shortsighted.
If you are going to use statistics such as Defense vs. Position, I highly recommend using a combination of last season and this season’s data when breaking down matchups. Obviously, changes to personnel or defensive philosophy will make some of last season’s numbers mute, but using the bigger sample will give you a better idea of how each position should fare against a certain defense.
My final piece of advice is to trust the process. You should always strive to improve the process, but you shouldn’t make massive adjustments to your strategy after one or two weeks. As long as you get the process right, the results will soon follow. If you are too results-based in the short run, you may cast aside a viable weekly fantasy football strategy.