Fantasy Football Strategy

How To Play Fantasy Football

Millions of people play fantasy football (NFL) every year. You are one of those people, and if you want to improve in your leagues or DFS contests, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll cover the basics here as well as some subtle and often overlooked more intermediate and advanced strategy concepts – all in plain language anyone can understand.

Welcome to RotoWire’s official NFL Fantasy Football Strategy Guide!

Understand the Value of Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks typically dominate the total points leaderboard in most formats, but their values depend on several things including your scoring system, the number of teams in your league, the number of starting quarterbacks (including quarterback-eligible flex positions) and the required number of starting position players (RB, WR).

Scoring System

Whether quarterbacks get 3, 4, or 6 points per passing touchdown, whether and how much they get docked for interceptions and how many points they get per passing yard all matter. Your league's scoring for passing yards and TDs also affects the value of quarterbacks who run – the less credit given for passing stats, the more the running quarterbacks stand out relative to their peers. Point-per-reception (PPR) leagues add more relative value to position players and remove value from all quarterbacks.

Take What the Draft Gives You

People often ask whether they should go RB/RB at Pick 9 in a 12-team standard league, or if it would be better to go RB/WR. The answer is "It depends."

Each individual league is like its own separate economy. If running backs are flying off the board, then you should push up the values of the remaining backs and push down the value of players at other positions who will necessarily be available at a relative discount. If receivers are pushed up, it’s the opposite. Every prior valuation system should be adjusted to the specific dynamic of your particular draft.

Assuming neutral inflation, i.e., neither backs nor receivers are unduly pushed up beyond ADP, you should go with the best RB or WR available in the first two rounds, and any combination thereof is permissible. Even so, different choices here will have consequences which you must address later in your draft.

RB/RB

Running backs typically score more points than receivers. That's because they usually have more opportunities for touchdowns and they rack up both passing and rushing yards. Also, given their higher volume of touches, their scoring is less volatile than that of receivers, i.e., you can count on more consistent week-to-week production from them than you can from receivers.

But by losing out on elite receivers, you're rolling the dice on mediocre ones who are almost impossible to predict on a weekly basis. Moreover, running backs are more injury prone, so your most precious investments are more likely to lose their value if you go RB/RB.

WR/WR

Receivers are typically more durable than running backs, but they're limited (with rare exceptions) to receiving yards and scores, they see fewer than half the touches that comparable backs do and their production is more volatile.

However, top receivers are reliable over the long haul, and by drafting them, you avoid the nearly impossible task of choosing which mediocre ones to start week to week. Moreover, should one or two of your middle or late-round backs win a starting job, it's far easier to count on their production than it would be for a comparable receiver.

WR/RB or RB/WR

This is a fine option, too, and gives you some added flexibility.

Where Should I Draft a Tight End?

Elite tight ends are difference-makers, so it’s perfectly fine to draft a George Kittle or Travis Kelce in Rounds 2-3, depending on your format. Our policy is to pay up for elite tight ends if they come at a fair price or slight discount, but to avoid the mid-tier in Rounds 5-8, barring a significant discount.

Usually, you can find a couple high-upside players at the position cheaply in the double-digit rounds, so unless the player is virtually assured of 100-plus targets and red-zone work, it’s better to wait and speculate. Typical leagues require only one starting TE, so even off you miss at the position on draft day, there are almost always quality options on the waiver wire.

Understanding League Formats

The format of your league can have a big impact on your strategy:

PPR Leagues (Point-per reception)

In leagues that award a point-per reception, possession receivers and pass-catching running backs get a significant boost. All good receivers get a modest boost. Backs who don't catch passes and quarterbacks merit downgrades.

Auction vs. Draft

More leagues have begun to use auctions to acquire players, the strategy for which requires a separate and lengthy discussion you will find later in this guide. The same principles regarding the value of various positions apply, however, with dollars substituting for rounds in your calculus. But bidding and nominating strategy, i.e., how to maximize your budget in the auction, requires a different skill set than that of a draft.

Best Ball Leagues

In best ball leagues, the contributions of the highest-scoring players you drafted are automatically counted by the host software you play on. Each week you earn the points of the best performers from the players you have. The winner of a Best Ball league is the player whose team racks up the highest overall point total when the season ends. Best Ball takes the guesswork out of setting your lineups each week, and the strategy is a bit different than in regular leagues.

Dynasty Leagues

Another keeper format is referred to as a "dynasty" league, in which owners select large rosters of players and can keep many of them from year to year (thus, building a dynasty). The fun of these leagues is being able to take risks on players who have not fully reached their potential, and then to follow their careers without having to worry about having to re-draft or use one of your limited keeper slots on those players each year. For example: In one Rotowire football league, which we drafted at a yearly staff retreat in Vegas, we were each allowed to select one college player that we could keep on our roster once they made it to the NFL.

One common question regardless of keeper format is how many players should be kept from year to year. There are leagues that let you keep one player per year to those that let you keep up to three quarters of your roster. Many of us like leagues that let you keep more players than fewer, just to create a greater incentive to trade for prospects and gamble on upside during the season. But leagues that allow too many keepers can de-emphasize the draft and make it harder for the bottom half of the league (or, in many cases, new owners who take over for bottom half drop-outs) to contend from year to year.

IDP Leagues

Individual Defensive Player leagues are more common these days, with so many varied starting requirements it's nearly impossible to say what's standard. As a rule, defensive players get one point per tackle, several points for sacks and interceptions and six points for TDs. As such, players who make a lot of tackles – typically middle and inside linebackers – are the most valuable commodities, followed by outside linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks and defensive ends. IDPs rarely score enough to merit anything better than a middle-to-late round pick, but there are some exceptions for particular scoring systems.

When to Draft a WR or QB Early

If this is your first year doing fantasy football, or half of your league is new to the game, you should probably ignore much of the advice below.

In leagues like that, just take two running backs out of the gate, wait on quarterbacks, and stock up on back up running backs and wideouts in rounds three through six. Just as when you're playing poker against beginners, there's not much point in doing anything fancy.

But fantasy football has been popular for a while now, so we imagine most of you have lots of experience in leagues, and also that your league-mates aren't fools, either. For that reason, the "automatically draft two-RB strategy" won't work for everyone, especially in deeper leagues with 14 or 16 teams.

Consider that if everyone employed that strategy, then there would necessarily be one owner who had the worst combo of backs. And so in most experienced leagues where everyone is using their early picks on backs, it's going to make sense for some of you to grab a wideout or quarterback early on occasion.

Late in the first round, you might want to draft a superstar wide receiver over an aging running back. Or maybe snag a top-tier quarterback over a risky running back with a late first round ADP. In that case, you'll grab a solid starting back early in Round 2, and then fill in with multiple upside plays at running back in the middle and later rounds.

If one of those guys hits, and there's a good chance one will, you'll have your two backs and a superstar at QB or WR, to boot. The key point is that a top-3 wide receiver is more reliable than any but a handful of backs. There might be slightly more week to week variance among receiver stats, but year to year, the top wideouts are far more reliable than a late first-round running back.

If you pick early in the first round, you pretty much have to take a premium running back because you're not likely to get one you want on the way back. But late in Round 2 and early in Round 3, it's a great time to lock down two excellent receivers. Again, you can draft multiple upside backs in the middle rounds, and you'll most likely be better off than someone who gambled on an aging or unsettled second back early.

Some proponents of the must-draft-backs-in-the-first-two-rounds theory will point out that running backs are more reliable because they touch the ball 20 times per game at a minimum, whereas wideouts only get the ball four or five times. But running backs touch the ball with lots of players between them and the goal line. Receivers sometimes get it with none.

Consider also that receivers average 14, 15, and sometimes close to 20 yards per touch. A top running back averages close to five, and workhorse backs often produce less than that.

We might also consider a failed run – one of less than two yards when there's more than seven yards to go for a first down – the equivalent of an incomplete pass. There's really no difference fantasy-wise, so running backs don't get as many more touches as it seems. And even a successful short-yardage conversion isn't worth anything if it's not around the goal line.

Moreover, running backs are more likely to get hurt due to their large number of touches. In fact, running backs get drilled on all 20 touches even when they get nothing for it, whereas receivers don't get hit all that often on incomplete passes (going over the middle, maybe, but otherwise, they usually get off scot free).

Finally, because running backs get the ball so reliably, it's easier to expect production out of a fill-in starter, than a fill-in receiver who might see just two passes thrown his way. If you don't have reliable receivers, you're much more likely to get a zero from a roster spot with a guy you just picked up off the waiver wire. In a league with experienced owners, then, you're much better off taking what the draft gives you and going for value than blindly adhering to the strategy that everyone else is following.

Auction Draft Strategy

Why bother having a time consuming auction when it’s easier just to draft?

Unlike drafts where you’re wedded to a particular slot, auctions are fundamentally more equitable because they allow everyone a chance at the entire player pool. If you want to get that elite running back, you simply have to pay up for him and manage your diminished budget as you fill out the rest of your roster. Auctions allow far more strategic flexibility, too, as you can roster several would-be first-round picks and a bunch of cheap players, or build your team around solid, unspectacular contributors all of whom have established roles (not recommend except in deeper leagues.) You are no longer locked into the players available on a round-by-round basis.

Here are some guidelines and principles that have worked for us in fantasy auctions (draft players pay attention as well; there is some overlap in the strategy):

Come to the table with a plan, but make sure it's a flexible one.

At times owners make definitive judgments and final decisions on their auction strategy (or drafting strategy) long before the event takes place, and then they refuse to budge from those principles once the game begins. This is an enormous mistake! Sure, you might want to fool around with some dollar values beforehand,  look back to how things went last year or form a general design of where you want to spend your money.

But just because your Running Back Valuation Index says a player is worth $28 does not mean you can't bid $32 on that player on auction day. Maybe you really need that specific player because he's the last legitimate RB left. Maybe the market value on the top backs was more than you expected, and that player is really a bargain because the RBs ahead of him all went in the $40s. It can work in the other direction, as well. Maybe you planned on skipping some top wide receivers because you thought they'd be too expensive, but in your particular auction they’re far too cheap.

You have to adjust to the economics in your league on the fly. The best auctioners are often the ones who recognize the dynamics and adjust quickly.

You have to be an accountant.

Track every owner during the auction if you want to have any success in the midgame and endgame. It's essential you know what they've spent, how many roster spots they've already filled and what they still need to get. It's possible to track this without using the actual players bought (simply make a position grid and X-out the appropriate spot when a player is sold), but we recommend using the actual player names. It's up to you. Accounting 101 turns into Accounting 202 when the midgame and endgame set in. Get in the habit of figuring out what a team's maximum bid is left – it's not a hard calculation to make, and often the software does it for you. In an auction that uses dollar increments, if your opponent has five players left to buy and $13 to do it, his maximum bid on any player is $9 – he could buy four players for a buck, then max out for $9 on the final player. For you algebra fans, it's (m-p) + $1, where m equals money left, and p equals players left to buy.

Constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the player pools.

This is very important in any league, draft or auction – make sure you stay in touch with the "personality" of every positional pool. Are all the stud quarterbacks gone? Do you still see 10 running backs you'd bid up to $5? How many of your breakthrough receivers are still on board? Without being aware of the remaining inventory, you won't know when to jump in and out of the marketplace. Try to see the trends and patterns before they become blatantly obvious to everyone else. Always be asking yourself, "if I don't get Player A, what's my Plan B? If I can't work Plan B, what's my Plan C?" Don't get thrown for a curve – be ahead of it. Just like the champion poker player who is always evaluating something, or someone, you really don't want to stop thinking at the auction table (other than a periodic break to refresh yourself).

The smaller the league, the more top-heavy your roster can be.

Fantasy football rosters are a lot smaller than say baseball ones, and a star football player makes a far greater impact on your bottom line than you might think.

The balanced-roster theme doesn't always translate to football. If you don't have one of the primary studs, you usually can't win a football league – unless you play in an unorthodox league with gigantic rosters. In an NFL auction, players need to have some of the upper crust to have a chance. Successful players are more likely to be aggressively bidding when top names come out, even at the risk of having scrubs fill out the end of the bench. The smaller the league, the more important it is to get those blue chips.

Now let's focus on some of the strategies specific to bidding:

Bidding Principle 1 – Never leave money on the table.

It’s nice to wait for bargains, but all the bargains in the world won’t help you if you leave 10 or even 20 percent of your budget unspent. Put your dollars to work on players you like, and don’t get too fussy about the price of superstars. The time to get fussy is in the middle and end game where there are many substitute choices for the players on whom you’re passing. One strategy that has worked for us is to spend one half to two thirds of our budget early on a few stars, making sure the money is going to difference-makers, then waiting in the mid-game for people to catch up to (and often surpass) our spending before cleaning up with bargains late. This achieves three objectives: (1) No money left on the table; (2) A roster with difference makers; and (3) The ability to choose among the best values and cheaper options late.

Nominate some stars that you want, and toss out the name of a so-so player, or even a scrub, in the early game. Keep them guessing. Don't be too easy to read.

Bidding Principle 2 – Consider buying the first few players up for auction.

Usually people nominate star players right away, and they go for less money than they should. Why? Because everyone is waiting to see what they go for, and then buy bargains relative to the established market rate. But there is no market rate to which they can compare the initial bids, so many owners are overly cautious. Instead of bidding against 11 other people, you are often bidding against only a few. Secondly, no one is desperate to get the first few players are there are many other options available, reducing the likelihood of a bidding war. Often, the best bargains are on the stars that come out right away.

Bidding Principle 3 – Vary your nomination style.

We realize you probably talk football a lot with your buddies, so to some degree they probably know what players and teams you like and don't like. That said, there's nothing wrong with keeping your cards concealed at the auction table. Try to avoid being predictable if you can when it comes to nominating the next player up for bid. Sometimes nominate players you want to acquire, and other times nominate players on whom you want others to spend money. Make all the price-enforcers think twice before bidding you up the extra dollar – let them discover there’s a risk of getting stuck with the player if they try to do so.

Don't be too easy to read.

Bidding Principle 4 – If you're going to overpay, do so on a stud (or a known quality).

Okay, so maybe you had a running back set for $35 on your grid, and you wound up spending $41. You overpaid by $6 – fine. We guarantee you feel better than the guy who had a quarterback set for $11 and wound up paying $17 for him, not to mention the guy who dumped into $8 on a lower-tier RB when other backs of that ilk went for a deuce.

Every auction will bring you some bargains and some tremendous discounts, but you'll probably have to overpay now and again, too. And with that in mind, be sure to use that overspend luxury on someone who's a difference-maker. Don't blow it on someone you're not sure of unless there's absolutely no way around it.

Bidding Principle 5 – Bid because it helps you, not because it hurts someone else.

This is closely related to the fourth bidding principle. Yes, it's tempting to play "mess with your opponent." Sure, we understand that your competitor will overpay anything for a certain backup quarterback, say, because the team's starter is also on the squad.

But what are you going to do when he leaves you holding the bag for the backup at $8, you have no need for another quarterback (and a backup at that), and that cash is not available to you for the positions that you desperately need to address? Don't assume that your opponents will run to you with trade options later in the year just because you have something they, in theory, desperately need. Owners often refuse to trade for a logical position-fill player or backup for any number of rational and irrational reasons.

Dynasty & Keeper Leagues

Trading

One of the primary benefits of a keeper league is that it allows teams that aren't in contention for the current year to stay involved to try and improve their team for the future. One of the primary means of doing so is by trading players with current value to teams in contention for players or draft picks with future value (known not-so-fondly as "dump trading").

Unfortunately, this one essential (and fun) aspect of keeper leagues seems to create the greatest amount of conflict among owners. Invariably, different owners will have different ideas about the future value of young, unproven players. When a top player is traded for future value, competitors often think (correctly or incorrectly) "What a terrible deal, I would have given up more for him."

For those new to keeper leagues, these trades might even seem offensive. In most fantasy football leagues, in which the last few weeks of the season dictate who wins and who loses, these trades can have tremendous impact. In our experience, nothing engenders more disagreement and tension among owners than these dump trades.

Free Agents

There are a few unique considerations related to free agency in keeper leagues. Should you allow players selected as free agents to be kept? Should you allow teams to pick up and keep injured players dropped by other teams? If your league uses long-term contracts, and a player on a long-term contract is dropped, should the team that picks up the player assume the contract? If the same team picks up a player that it drops, should it get the player on a new contract or still be responsible for the long-term contract?

For the most part, there is no "right" way to do it – just decide what fits best for your league.

Being Keeper League Commissioner

So now you've set up your keeper league. That was the easy part. You just wrote ten pages of rules, and now you have to enforce them.

In no particular order, this includes closely scrutinizing yearly keeper lists (to make sure owners can actually keep the players they submitted in the draft slot or for the contract price they listed), enforcing year-to-year penalties (such as when players are dropped in the middle of long-term contracts), keeping track of traded draft picks, keeping track of which players on rosters are keepable and which are not, and ensuring that teams aren't picking up ineligible free agents (and unwinding those pick-ups when they happen).

You're never going to have perfect compliance, but make sure that everyone knows and is familiar with the rules. If you have new owners, give them a mulligan or two. If there is an unbalanced trade involving a new owner, explain the keeper implications before letting the trade move forward.

And, of course, be flexible with your rules and consistent in your application of them. Every once in a while, during the season you'll determine that one of your rules results in unintended consequences. If that happens, consider changing the rule.

Generally, for in-season rule changes the vote to change the rule should be unanimous to keep owners from voting for rule changes just because it will benefit them that season. Otherwise, wait at least until the offseason to change the rules. If a rule change affects decisions teams have already made, make the changes applicable further in the future (good examples are major changes to the draft or keeper structure).

And listen to your fellow owners: if everyone supports a rule change but you, then maybe you shouldn't hold up that rule change.

IDP Leagues: Another Way to Play

We'll give you one good reason you should play in a league with individual defensive players: J.J Watt. Any league that won't let you dig on monsters like Watt is a league not worth being in.

Want more reasons? Read on.

Being able to cheer on ridiculous snake-like interception returns for touchdowns and three-sack games with that little added gusto is what this is all about.

There are a few essential profiles for defenders:

LINEBACKERS

4-3 MLB: These are the guys who surpass 100 tackles and add some sacks and picks for good measure. Given the choice between 120 fantasy points from more tackles and less playmaking versus low tackles and higher playmaking, go for the tackler because his stats are more stable from year to year, and his production is more consistent from week to week.

3-4 ILB: Some inside guys drop back into coverage on pass plays, and others are slotted to pass rush, so take a look at news reports and stat sheets to see who's doing what among the two inside guys.

4-3 WLB: With less blocking in front of them, but fewer plays coming their way, weaksiders tend to get fewer tackles than their middlemen, but see a bump in sacks or picks.

3-4 OLB: We're talking about edge rushers who'd be defensive ends in a 4-3 alignment. They tend not to get the tackles needed to rank very highly among linebackers, but can be some of the best linemen in leagues that count them as such.

4-3 SLB: You don't want to touch these guys for the most part because they see far too much blocking to rate very well among linebackers.

SECONDARY

SS: Strong safeties are almost like linebackers in that they make a ton of tackles (upwards of 80-90) and are in position to grab some sacks at a relatively consistent clip. Their leg up on linebackers, of course, is the increased occurrence of interceptions. Picks are notoriously fickle from year to year, but the top safeties each year rank right up there with the best linebackers.

FS, CB: Although free safeties are more likely to tackle well than corners, the profile here is pretty much the same. The good corners get as many tackles as free safeties and make up the difference with interceptions. There are always free safeties and corners in the top 20 among defensive backs, but it's usually different ones each year since picks can be so random. With linemen and linebackers, there's a core of usual suspects you can rely on each year, but in the secondary, where careers peak and fizzle far more quickly, that group is much smaller.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

4-3 DE: These are your premier sack artists. Some do it with speed, some with strength, but the best ones get 50-plus solo tackles and double-digit sacks. Most are in the 35-45 solo-tackle range, however.

4-3 DT: The impact of tackles does not often show up in the stat sheet, though some are very good at tackling and are fantasy worthy with 50-plus solo stops and five-plus sacks. Some are every bit as productive as ends. But for the most part, these guys aren't too interesting statistically.

3-4 Linemen: These guys are better known for their ability to plug holes and eat blockers while the rushing linebackers get the glory. Take a pass on these.

Overall, look for middle and weak side linebackers for your linebacker slots, safeties for your defensive back slots, and defensive ends for your lineman slots. With flexible slots, you'll want to concentrate on linebackers and safeties, since they score far more points than linemen.

Best Ball Strategy

In this format, focus on taking the best running backs you can with your first three picks.

In a normal league where you have to set your lineup each week, not having star receivers is a big problem. Not only do they score the most points in a PPR format, but you need more of them. Moreover, once you get outside the top 15-20 or so, it's hard to predict which week a WR will go off. It's actually hard to predict which week even a Julio Jones or an A.J. Green will go off, but because they're so good, and you never remove them from your lineup, you don't have to worry about that. But for mid-level receivers, you might sit them after a few games with low-target totals and production for someone who put up a couple 7-for-70 lines and watch them catch a 50-yard TD or two from your bench. Simply put, if you're messing around with mid-level WR, it's hard to time them, and they're not good enough simply to keep active no matter what.

However, this problem goes away in best ball leagues. You don't have to guess when a mid-tier WR goes off because the software will make sure they're in your lineup on those days. Receiver volatility is no longer a liability, but an asset. You can make up for not having a star on whom you can count by having 7-8 volatile types that collectively will blow up enough to carry you.

For running backs in best ball, the opposite dynamic is at play. In regular leagues, drafting mid-level running backs isn't a problem because you usually know in advance whether they're getting touches in the short term. If you have a Derrick Henry, you can be fairly sure what his role is most weeks, so long as he's healthy. There's not a ton of guessing whether he’ll catch a few passes and get a handful of carries. But while running backs are more stable game to game, they're less stable year to year. Running backs are bigger injury risks, and few mid-level ones are good or established enough not to get replaced by coaches when their production dips. In standard leagues, you can deal with that problem by picking up their backups, working the wire, and making trades. In best ball, you're stuck with the ones you picked all year. For that reason, you need to have the safest of the bunch – they're still riskier than top wide receivers, but they're much less risky than mid- and later-round backs.

As for TE, QB and defenses, just take three of each, mostly in the second half of your draft, though it often makes sense to take an elite TE over a marginal third running back. Ideally, you’d have three star RBs, 8-9 receivers with an excellent shot at 90-plus targets and 2-3 QB, TE and defenses (three where the players are worse, two where they're better.)

Daily Fantasy Football (DFS)

Daily fantasy sports contests differ from season-long leagues in that the "season" only lasts a single week.

Use tools like RotoWire’s lineup optimizer (which generates optimal lineups for contests based on parameters you set) to build lineups you can compete with on sites like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Fantasy Football Contests on DraftKings

The advantage of playing on DraftKings is simple: the site's popularity allows it to host a wide variety of contests, including some with massive payouts at the top. The weekly NFL "millionaire maker" is the largest regularly running tournament in the DFS industry, typically containing a prize pool of more than $3 million, including a $1 million prize for first place.

Contest offerings have expanded to include a "Tiers" game and a "Showdown" mode, but the traditional salary-based game still accounts for the vast majority of their business. The setup here is pretty simple: we get $50,000 to fill out a nine-man roster with 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 FLEX (RB/WR/TE) and 1 D/ST. Player salaries generally land in the following ranges: $4,000-7,500 for QB; $3,000-10,000 for RB; $3,000-9,500 for WR; $2,500-7,500 for TE; $2,000-4,000 for D/ST.

Compared to other large DFS sites, player pricing on DraftKings tends to be a bit sharper, quickly responding to role changes in a way that limits the number of obvious bargains. On the other hand, huge price gaps between the top and bottom players can lead to some really stunning values when an injury to a starter initially goes unreported or occurs during a mid-week practice. This is particularly true at running back, where the gap between a starter and his backup can, in some cases, approach $6,000.

DraftKings will raise a backup's price for the next week if the starter in front of him gets injured during a Sunday afternoon game, but there's nothing the site can do if the injury isn't public information until after contests for the following week have opened. Given the otherwise sharp pricing, it's important to jump on these opportunities when they arise – particularly in cash games where you tend to target higher-owned players.

The term "cash game" covers a few different types of contests, including head-to-heads, double-ups and 50/50s. What all these games have in common is relatively good odds to make a small amount of money. The goal is simply to create a lineup with the highest mean projection – a.k.a. the one you expect to score the most points – without worrying too much about inter-player correlations or which players will be significantly under-owned by a majority of the field.

In a 50-50, for example, half the participants will receive a payout, with the highest-scoring lineup receiving the same amount of money as a lineup that finished in the 51st percentile. Each prize is a bit less than double the entry fee, as the site takes out a "rake" of 10-15 percent. A double-up contest does exactly what its name implies, but it only pays out 42-46 percent of the field to leave room for the rake.

For those chasing a bigger payday at slimmer odds, large-field tournaments – referred to as Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs) – are the way to go. This is the main attraction on DraftKings and most other daily fantasy sites, with descending prize structures that allow for huge rewards in the 99th percentile, though they only pay out to the top 20-25 percent of lineups.

Tournament strategy demands a more risk-tolerant approach, most notably encouraging the use of multiple players from a single real-life game (also known as "game stacking"). With no financial difference between a mediocre lineup and a lousy one, it almost always makes sense to use at least one pass catcher from the same team as your quarterback. There's also a good argument for using a wide receiver or tight end from the other side of that game, hoping to take advantage of a shootout that forces both teams to continue passing throughout the second half. Long story short, we're focused on the upside scenario without giving much thought to the downside if things don't work out.

There's also an element of game theory to tournament strategy, as the relative value of a huge individual performance isn't nearly as big if the player is in a high percentage of our opponents' lineups. While you may not think this is an integral part of the overall DFS strategy, it may be one of the most important aspects when it comes to large-field tournaments. DraftKings scoring is full PPR (point per reception), with 25/10 yardage and 4/6 touchdowns – basically the general standard across the fantasy football industry. However, there is one major difference in the form of three-point bonuses for 300+ passing yards, 100+ rushing yards or 100+ receiving yards. Between the PPR scoring and yardage bonuses, players can put up big point totals without scoring touchdowns. Generally speaking, the format encourages volume hunting over TD hunting, though in many cases those two goals are one and the same.

For example, an 8-110-0 receiving line is worth 22 points on DraftKings compared to 15 points on a half-PPR site without yardage bonuses like FanDuel. A 6-80-1 line would be more valuable on FanDuel (17 points), but it's actually less valuable than the first line on DraftKings (20 points). The relative de-emphasis on touchdowns encourages us to roster high-volume players in bad offenses for our DraftKings lineups, while we might favor a medium-volume player on a better team on FanDuel.

You might notice that D/ST scoring doesn't include yards allowed and doesn't account for much of a difference between yielding 14 points or 34. This isn't atypical, but it is a bit of a change for anyone who was weaned on ESPN standard scoring. As is the case on many other fantasy sites, we should focus on defenses with the best chance to pile up takeaways, rather than worrying about points or yards allowed.

Fantasy Football Contests on FanDuel

FanDuel is one of two titans in the DFS industry, offering a wide variety of contest types, prize structures and price points. The quantity of options seems to grow each season, but the core product mostly remains the same: large-field tournaments with top-heavy payout structures. These contests offer the allure of turning $3 or $10 or $20 into tens or hundreds of thousands, though it requires a near-perfect lineup to finish at the top of a massive field.

Once known for its use of kickers as well as lineups that locked at the start of the first game, FanDuel now offers late swap and also has joined the #bankickers movement. The basic salary-cap game gives us a $60,000 budget to fill out a roster of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 FLEX and 1 D/ST.

Player prices land in the following ranges: $6,000-10,000 for QB; $4,500-11,000 for RB; $4,500-9,500 for WR; $4,000-8,000 for TE; $3,000-5,500 for D/ST. Of course, those ranges include stuff like Todd Gurley or Patrick Mahomes during a hot streak; the normal price for a star player would be around $8,000-9,000 for a QB or $8,500-9,500 for a RB.

A $60,000 budget divided by nine spots gives us $6,667 per player, though it jumps a bit higher to around $7,000 for position players after we account for the low cost of a team defense. FanDuel's pricing is considered "softer" than most other DFS sites, allowing for lineups littered with superstars. The player went cheap at running back and D/ST to make it work, deploying the stars-and-scrubs approach that's widely seen on FanDuel.

Most weeks it's a safe bet that any decent DFS lineup optimizer will spit out a top-heavy, star-laden roster construction for cash games on FanDuel. This is usually the best approach for tournaments as well, but there's more variability on what makes sense week to week.

Cash Games vs. Tournaments (GPPs)

The term "cash game" covers a few different types of contests, including head-to-heads, double-ups and 50/50s. What all these games have in common is relatively good odds to make a small amount of money. The goal is simply to create a lineup with the highest mean projection – a.k.a. the one you expect to score the most points – without worrying about interplayer correlations or which players will be over/under-owned by the rest of the field.

In fact, it's often a sign we've made a mistake if one of our players has a single-digit ownership percentage in a 50/50 or double-up. That's not to say our lineup should strictly be based on ownership expectations, but there is some real value in the wisdom of the crowd, especially as a learning resource for anyone new to DFS. Generally speaking, the players with the highest ownership rates in cash games are the same ones with the best odds to outperform their respective salaries. Studying these ownership rates at the end of the week is a good way to develop an understanding of the thought processes of more experienced opponents.

In a 50-50, half the participants will receive a payout, with the highest-scoring lineup receiving the same amount of money as a lineup that finished in the 51st percentile. Each prize is a bit less than double the entry fee, as the site takes out a "rake" of 10-15 percent. A double-up contest does exactly what its name implies, but it only pays out 42-46 percent of the field to leave room for the rake.

For those chasing a bigger payday at slimmer odds, large-field tournaments – sometimes referred to as Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPPs) – are the way to go. This is the main attraction on FanDuel and most other daily fantasy sites, with descending prize structures that allow for huge rewards in the 99th percentile, though they only pay out the top 20-25 percent of lineups.

Tournament strategy demands a more risk-tolerant approach, encouraging the use of multiple players from a single real-life game (a.k.a. "game stacking"). With no financial difference between a mediocre lineup and a lousy one, it almost always makes sense to use at least one pass catcher from the same team as your quarterback. There's also a good argument for using a wide receiver or tight end from the other side of that game, hoping to take advantage of a shootout that forces both teams to continue passing throughout the second half. Long story short, we're focused on the upside scenario without giving much thought to the downside if things don't work out.

There's also an element of game theory to tournament strategy, as the relative value of a huge individual performance isn't nearly as big if the player shows up in a high percentage of our opponents' lineups. For FanDuel in particular, this might push us toward a balanced roster over the stars-and-scrubs approach when we expect the latter to be far more popular among our opponents. If everyone else wants to use Saquon Barkley plus the trendy cheap RB of the week, we might counter with a mid-range duo along the lines of Mark Ingram and Marlon Mack.

This consideration is particularly important on FanDuel, where the pricing algorithm favors superstars and is rather slow to respond to injuries and role changes. A typical week will feature a handful of high-owned superstars ($8,000+) combined with a handful of high-owned bargain players ($4,500-6,000). This leads to an awful lot of lineups looking the same, making it easy to differentiate if we can find a lineup that utilizes a bunch of players in that overlooked 6-8k range.

Ownership rates aren't something to worry about when first playing daily fantasy, but they're a worthwhile consideration once you have a strong grip on the basics. With more experience comes better knowledge about which players will be popular choices in a given week.

The Scoring System

FanDuel scoring is half-PPR with 25/10 yardage and 4/6 touchdowns – a pretty typical fantasy setup that splits the difference between those who prefer PPR and those who prefer standard scoring. Unlike their main competitor, DraftKings, FanDuel doesn't offer bonuses for reaching specific benchmarks for yardage (e.g. 100 rushing/receiving or 300 passing).

This makes touchdowns relatively more valuable on FD, whereas DK's scoring system places a premium on catches and yards. The FD setup also increases QB scoring relative to RB/WR/TE scoring, though the difference is accounted for in the pricing algorithm, so it still makes sense to use a discount quarterback in many cases. In practical terms, the FD scoring would tend to favor medium-volume players on teams that put up a lot of points, while DK works better for volume hogs even if the context isn't great for those opportunities to be converted into touchdowns.

Let's take a look at two receiving lines to illustrate the difference between FD and DK:

10 catches for 110 yards and no TDs = 16 points on FD; 24 points on DK

4 catches for 50 yards and two TDs = 19 points on FD; 21 points on DK

Players always have higher raw totals on DK, but the second line (4-50-2) is far more valuable on FD in relative terms.

Fantasy Football Glossary

Add/Drop
The action of an owner adding a free agent to the roster while cutting another player.
ADP
Average draft position. The average spot where a player is being drafted in a season. ADP varies depending on various league factors such as PPR/standard or redraft/dynasty. Commonly used by owners to determine a player’s value in a vacuum.
Backup
A bench player on an NFL team who would become an immediate starter and gain fantasy relevance if a player in the starting lineup were to miss significant time.
Bench
Players who are on a fantasy roster but not in the starting lineup.
Best Ball League
Leagues that require no in-season management after the inaugural draft. Each team’s weekly starting lineup is automatically made up of the players on the roster who score the most fantasy points.
Blind Bidding
An auction-esque way of allowing owners to claim free agents. Owners assign a hidden amount of FAAB to bid on players they wish to claim, with the highest bidding team claiming the player.
Bonus Scoring
Any scoring system incorporated by a league that rewards extra fantasy points to a player that reaches certain positional metrics. E.g. bonus points to quarterbacks for 400-plus passing yards or 75-plus QBR.
Boom Or Bust
An inconsistent player with a high ceiling and low floor. Generally reliant on big plays or touchdowns, without having consistent weekly touches or yardage.
Breakout
A player who greatly exceeds his expected fantasy production.
Bust
A player that greatly underperforms compared to expectations and draft capital.
Bye Week
An NFL team’s rest week. When a player’s team is on bye, they cannot score weekly fantasy points.
Bylaws
A league’s unique rules, which are drafted prior to the league’s inauguration. League settings like scoring, prizes, deadlines, etc. are determined by league bylaws.
Ceiling
The best-case scenario for a player’s fantasy week or season.
Cheat Sheet
A draft tool made of stats and rankings for a variety of formats meant to assist owners when making picks.
Collusion
The act of one or more fantasy owners acting illegally or unethically to gain an unfair advantage, i.e. purposely throwing games or making lopsided trades.
Commissioner
The owner in charge of officiating a fantasy league. Duties include writing and enforcing all bylaws.
Consolation Bracket
An optional competition in a league that takes place for teams that missed the playoffs.
Contract League
A league where players are assigned yearly or multi-year contracts, for the duration of which they remain on an owner’s roster. Often combined with salary-cap leagues.
Deep League
A league with any combination of large rosters, large starting requirements or more than 12 teams.
Draft Board
The digital or physical record of a league’s draft.
Dynasty/Keeper League
Leagues in which the entirety of every owner's roster carries over between seasons.
FAAB
Free-agent acquisition budget. The seasonal budget that owners may use when bidding for players on the waiver wire. Some leagues allow for FAAB to be traded. Dynasty leagues sometimes differentiate between the off-season FAAB and in-season FAAB.
Flex
An optional wild-card position in a starting lineup that allows an owner to start either WR, RB or TE. A starting lineup can include multiple flex spots.
Flier
A player who is added to an owner’s roster at minimal cost. Considered to have a small chance to produce, but high upside if everything falls into place.
Free Agent
A player that is not held on any team’s roster.
Future Draft Pick
A tradeable commodity in dynasty and keeper leagues. A team’s success in a given year determines its position in the ensuing year’s rookie draft: a team that wins a 12-team league will receive the 12th pick in each round of that year’s rookie draft; a team that finishes last in a 12-team league will receive the first pick in each round.
Game-time Decision
When the decision of whether an injured player will play during a given week isn’t announced until just before the beginning of a game.
Goose Egg
When a player underperforms during a given week, scoring a low amount of fantasy points.
Half-point PPR
As with PPR scoring, except that players score 0.5 points per reception.
Handcuff
The perceived immediate backup to a starter, usually a running back, who would gain significant fantasy value if the starter were to miss time.
Head-to-Head Matchup
When each team in a league directly competes with another in a given week of the season.
IDP League
Individual defensive player. Rather than using team defenses (DST), IDP leagues have lineup spots for positions such as linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback and safety who accumulate fantasy points via defensive statistics.
Injured Reserve
An optional facet of rosters. Allows an amount of injured or suspended players to be placed on IR without counting towards the total roster limit.
League Size
The amount of teams in a league. 12-team leagues are a fantasy football standard. Larger leagues (14-team, 16-team, etc.) emphasize the importance of depth due to the increased amount of rostered players.
Lineup
The positional starting requirements in a fantasy league. A typical starting lineup might require one quarterback, 2-3 running backs, 2-3 wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one team defense (DST) to be started each week.
Mock Draft
Practice drafts that allow owners to prepare for their league’s draft.
Owner/Manager
A person managing a team in a fantasy league. Co-ownership refers to fantasy teams managed by one or more persons.
Playoffs
The final weeks of a fantasy season, when the top teams of a league compete in elimination matchups.
Positional Premium
An addendum to league scoring formats that boosts the value of a certain position. A tight end premium league, for instance, might reward TEs with increased fantasy points for yards and receptions.
Positional Scarcity
The concept that certain positions in fantasy football (running back, tight end) are scarce with reliable top-end scorers, while others (quarterback, kicker, DST) are comparably abundant with serviceable options.
PPC Scoring
A scoring system in which each carry a player receives is worth a base amount of fantasy points, e.g. 0.25 PPC or 0.5 PPC.
PPR Scoring
Point-per-reception. Scoring system where players score a full fantasy point for each reception, in addition to points scored via yards and touchdowns.
Projections
Statistical estimates of the stats and fantasy points a player will accumulate, either in a single week or entire season.
QB1/RB1/WR1
A player who finishes as a top option at his position. A QB that finishes top-12 in a 12-team league is considered a QB1, whereas in a 10-team league only QBs that finish within the top 10 are QB1s, etc. As follows, a QB2 in a 12-team league finishes between 13 and 24 in scoring, etc.
RBBC
Running-back-by-committee. When an NFL team splits carries fairly evenly between two or more running backs, making it unclear which player will score more fantasy points in a given week.
Rebuild
A dynasty team that is building for the future, heavily prioritizing youth and draft capital while forsaking production in the current season.
Redraft League
A league that resets rosters after the conclusion of each season. Redraft leagues hold a new draft every year.
Regular Season
The weeks of a fantasy season in which wins and losses serve to determine playoff berth and seeds.
Return Yards
Yards accumulated on kick and punt returns. Some leagues opt to allocate fantasy points for return yards.
Rookie Draft
A yearly draft in dynasty and keeper leagues where owners draft rookie players.
Roster Size
The amount of players each owner in a league can roster at once. Leagues with small roster sizes are referred to as shallow, while leagues with larger rosters are considered deep.
Salary Cap League
A league where owners begin the season with a salary cap and fill their roster by assigning players a portion of their cap space. Often combined with the contract league format.
Set-and-Forget
Refers to a player so reliable on a week-to-week basis that they never need to leave an owner’s starting lineup, regardless of matchups.
Sleeper
A low value player that owners target in the hopes of outperforming the acquisition cost.
Snake Draft
A draft wherein the pick order is reversed each round to facilitate balanced rosters. If an owner in a 10-team league picks second in the first round, the owner will pick ninth in the next round, second in the third round and so forth.
Standard Scoring
Scoring systems where a player's weekly fantasy scores are determined by yards and touchdowns.
Stack
Starting two or more players on the same team. Most often refers to a QB and his No. 1 WR.
Starting Lineup
The players that a fantasy team designates each week to start. A team’s weekly score is equal to the combined fantasy points of the starters.
Startup Auction
A league format where initial rosters are determined not by a draft, but by an auction. Owners each receive an equal amount of funding and bid on players to fill their team’s roster.
Startup Draft
How a league’s initial rosters are determined. Owners take turns selecting players.
Stream
A position that a player plans to address via the waiver wire or free agency on a weekly basis. Allows the player to abstain from addressing the position early during the draft, if at all. QB and TE are the positions most commonly referred to as streamable.
Stud
A player who scores top-end fantasy points on a weekly basis. See also: set-and forget player. A top option at that position.
Superflex
A flex spot that expands allowed positions to include quarterback. Starting lineups generally do not include more than one superflex position. A superflex spot dramatically increases the value of quarterbacks within a league.
Taxi Squad
Dynasty and keeper leagues with taxi squads allow owners to store a small number of players, usually rookies, without them counting toward the roster limit. Players on a taxi squad cannot be assigned to the starting lineup without being removed from the taxi squad.
Third-year Breakout
Refers to a wide receiver entering his third NFL season. Many owners believe that wide receivers are increasingly likely to break out in Year 3.
Tiebreaker
The deciding factor when teams in a head-to-head match score the same amount of fantasy points. Tiebreakers include calculating points to the next decimal, each team’s win-loss record, etc.
Tiered PPR
A tiered scoring system in which positions receive differing amounts of fantasy points per reception. A common example of tiered PPR is for running backs to score 0.5 points, wide receivers to score 1 point, and tight ends to score 1.5 points.
Tiers
A common way of ranking fantasy players by organizing them into groups of similar projected seasonal production and value.
Touchdown-only Scoring
A scoring system where players only receive fantasy points for touchdowns. Yards and receptions do not carry value. Less common than standard and PPR scoring formats.
Trade
An exchange of players between two or more teams in a league. In dynasty and keeper leagues, future draft picks can also be included in trades.
Trade Block / Trade Bait
Players listed by an owner as available for trade.
Trade Deadline
An optional date in fantasy leagues. After the trade deadline has passed, teams cannot exchange players or draft picks with other teams. Trade deadlines are meant to prevent unfair trades from being made towards the end of the season, when some teams have already been eliminated from contention.
Transaction
Any action that brings change to a roster; trades, drops, waiver claims, etc.
Two-Copy League
A league with 24 or more owners and two copies of each player available to be rostered. Generally, owners cannot roster two copies of the same player.
Undroppable
In a redraft or keeper league, a player who cannot be dropped from the roster. Generally applies to players drafted within the first two or three rounds of a year’s startup draft.
Vulture
A player, usually a running back, whose presence on his team’s roster decreases the red-zone utilization of the most valuable fantasy asset. Vultures sometimes achieve match-specific fantasy relevance based on touchdown upside.
Veto
The act of blocking or reversing a trade deemed unfair by the commissioner. Trade vetoes can be controversial, leading many owners to believe that vetoes should not be allowed under any circumstances except collusion.
Waiver Order
The order priority of teams in a league when placing waiver bids. Orders are often determined by either win/loss record or bid history.
Waiver Wire
The holding place of free agents of a league. Owners may claim players on waivers via either blind bidding or waiver order, depending on league settings.
Win Now
A dynasty team with a roster optimized to score points in the current season, usually at the expense of future capital such as draft picks or young players.

Handicapping Football: Beating The Book

Whenever you bet against the house, whether it be sports betting or craps, there's some kind of vig or percentage they take out (As opposed to a "rake" in poker rooms or on DFS sites like DraftKings).

With sports betting, (on even propositions) it's usually ten percent added on losses, i.e., you have to risk $55 to win $50. Football games with point spreads are even propositions. The points make the favorite and the underdog equally likely to cover the spread, at least in theory.

You may disagree with that and prefer one side over the other. If you feel strongly about it, you may even be inclined to bet. But you have to remember that over time, it's hard to win consistently enough to overcome that extra ten percent that you kick in on all losing bets.

In fact, in order to beat the book, you have to win roughly 52.5 percent of the time. To understand this, assume you made 100 $1 dollar bets. If you won 53 of them (or 53 percent of the time), then you would win 53 dollars. You would also lose 47 dollars, plus an extra $4.70 (the vig), for a total of $51.70. So you win 53, lose 51.70, and come out ahead $1.30.

(1) Never bet more money than you can comfortably lose.

If you're risking more than you can lose in good conscience, then you will worry over picking the games. There's no way you can go with a big underdog, because they could get blown out. How can you risk all that money on a bad team? There's no way you can go with a big favorite because there could be garbage touchdowns.

After a while, you're not picking based on what you've observed, but trying to pick safely. But there are no safe picks.

Every game is 50/50! Hope and fear will take over and kick you around. You will be cut off from your observation-based intuition and instead turn to superstition and, if it gets really bad, religion. When that happens, you may as well have your paychecks forwarded directly to the Book.

Have some discipline here and play with affordable amounts.

(2) Leave your superstitions at the door.

If you think that wearing a certain pair of pants while watching your game will help, or you think that talking about your bet will jinx you, please stop. Superstition is a primitive form of thinking based on associating two events that have no causal relationship.

It arises in early childhood when you don't have the logical and linguistic tools to understand why mommy isn't with you or how long it will be before she comes back. Your superstitious beliefs help you stave off the fear of abandonment and loss. If you jump around in your crib the way you did just before mommy came back last time, maybe she'll come back again this time. It's just something to occupy you and distract you from your fear.

While few of us have outgrown the habit entirely, we should understand that it no longer serves any useful purpose. If superstitious beliefs arise in your mind, let them. Have a good laugh about them with your friends. But, do not take them seriously, and do not let them affect your betting strategy.

(3) No one knows what will happen.

So you think the Packers will definitely blow out the Jaguars. There's no way a team that bad can possibly hang with one that good.

Essentially, the conclusions you draw based on what went on in previous weeks are neither right nor wrong. They are merely some verbal propositions that you carry around in your brain.

The game is played on the field by human beings with billions of brain cells, molecules, stray thoughts, motivations noble and petty, nagging, unreported injuries and pending criminal charges. Anyone's analysis that necessarily reduces the game to a few factors like the quarterback, the ability to pressure the quarterback, and the strength of the secondary is partial.

It is impossible to take into account all of the factors that influence the outcome of a game. So the first thing to do is admit your ignorance. If you do, you'll be open to all the possibilities, and you'll need to be if you expect to tap into your intuitive sense of how the teams will perform. (Why intuition is important is explained below).

(4) Never blindly take anyone's advice.

It does not matter if we go 40-0 to start the season, absolutely do not bet our picks without examining our logic. (Well, if we go 40-0, maybe you can start doing that, but the odds against are more than a trillion to one.)

The reason we say this is that you have no access to our intuitions, our hunches. If the reason we pick the Browns +14 over the Titans is that we both feel strongly that the Browns will keep the game close, you won't be able to tell if that feeling is real or imagined. (It's hard enough to tell when it's your own feeling.)

You don't have access to another person's feelings, so you can't tell whether they have tapped into the ebb and flow of the NFL that week. Any handicapper can get out of sync. That's why it's essential when you read our column or anyone else's, you allow it to seep into your system and see how you feel about it.

How does the Browns' pick sit with you? If it doesn't resonate, don't bet it. There's nothing worse than disagreeing with what some "expert" has to say, betting on his pick instead of your own and discovering that your initial intuition, and not his, was right.

(5) There's no such thing as a good or a bad team.

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one team is "good" and another "bad."

The point isn't simply that good teams can become bad and vice-versa, but that all teams, all the time are constantly in a state of becoming. Players are aging, learning, meshing, losing their minds, and laundering drug money. You can't just say the Browns are horrible and the Bears are average, so there's no way the Bears can lose to the Browns.

Football teams are like forces of nature, losing or gaining power over time. Just because a hurricane was strong last week over the ocean, doesn't necessarily mean it will be strong when it hits your area. This is an obvious point, but the human mind always wants to draw conclusions, it always wants certainty.

Most people don't want to consider the possibility that the Browns could play a close game with the Ravens next season, and they will always be behind the curve. They will always wait for the results to happen before changing their minds. But the seeds of a team weakening are always planted well before the results are apparent.

The seeds of weakness are always present even in the strongest teams, and vice-versa. If you don't buy into the myth of "good" and "bad," you can see the possibilities, the many directions in which any team in the NFL might go before they actually get there.

As Wayne Gretzky's father told him when he was a kid: "skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been." The same can be said for the ever-shifting power dynamics in the NFL.

(6) When in doubt, take the underdog.

When you have to pick every single game, there are inevitably some about which you simply have no idea. No matter how much intention, attention and analysis you bring to it, no hunch, no heart-felt or sensible conclusion comes to your spread-picking aid. In cases like this, where you're essentially offering a guess, take the underdog.

It is said underdogs historically have covered slightly more often than favorites, and it makes sense.

For the most part, people don't want to stake their money on a lesser team. It's much more enjoyable to get behind the "better" team, the one that's more likely to win.

Because the book wants to eliminate its risk, it will tailor its lines to have an equal amount of bets on both sides. It wants the wins and losses to cancel out and thereby derive a guaranteed, riskless profit from the vig. If more people are jumping on the favorite, the sports book will move the spread in favor of the underdog until the bets even out on both sides.

We suspect that spreads are, on average, ever so slightly underdog friendly to combat this tendency before the betting even starts.

(7) Don't be afraid to change your mind.

Just because you told everyone that you like the Colts and their explosive offense doesn't mean you shouldn't bet the Seahawks if at the last minute you feel strongly that they're the right bet. There's no prize in life for blind consistency, and there's no penalty for changing your mind.

Don't get superstitious about it, just make the bet that you're most comfortable making at the time, regardless of what you've said or decided in the past.

(8) Watch as many games as you can.

There is absolutely no substitute for watching games.

Knowing stats, tendencies, players, and whatever else is not the same thing as observing the actual contest! Observation is at least as important to picking games as analysis as the numbers rarely tell the entire story.

Watch as much football as you can, and your understanding of the teams will seep in the way a rookie quarterback learns the offense by carrying a clipboard. It's never enough just to study the plays.

In the end, these principles are only guidelines, which are much more easily advised than applied. There are so many distracting factors like hope, fear, laziness, superstition, forced hunches, the tendency to depend solely on reductive analysis, the desire to be consistent, and the desire to rely on some "expert" rather than think for oneself.

But if you can guard against these tendencies and give your full attention to choosing games, we believe you can enter a zone whereby it's no longer you picking the games, but the Sports Gods betting through you. At least, that's what we're trying to do.

From all of us at RotoWire, good luck this season.