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How to Play Fantasy Football

By Craig Berman

Owning an NFL football team requires millions of dollars and a willingness to spend all your time worrying about which backup lineman to cut and what you can do to increase beer sales at the stadium. Fortunately, owning a fantasy football team is a much more cost-effective way of putting your knowledge of the game to the test and competing against friends or strangers. A few simple techniques can help you make the most of your fantasy football experience.

Find a League

While there are large national fantasy football leagues where thousands of players compete for weekly awards, the classic fantasy football league is a group of 8-14 teams that have head-to-head matchups every week to determine who wins. You can either form a league with friends or co-workers, or sign up at a website that will group individuals into a league. The fewer teams in the league, the more talented the rosters. Larger leagues make the player selection more challenging, which for big fans of the NFL may make the experience more fun.

Pick Your Team

Most fantasy football leagues select their players via a draft. Typically, this takes the form of a snake draft, where the person who drafts last in one round gets to select first in the next. Auction leagues also are popular. In an auction draft, each team starts off with the same amount of dollars to use for their players, and each nominated player goes to the highest bidder. Regardless of your league's player selection process, choose your team wisely. As a general rule, running backs and elite quarterbacks should be picked early, while the greater depth at wide receiver means that position can be filled later.

Select a Lineup

Each league has different positions that start each week, and you’ll select the best combination of players available. Picking your lineup wisely is critical. Note who on your team is injured and may be out or ineffective, and which teams aren't playing and thus unavailable for you. It's smart to set your lineup at the beginning of the week, then make changes as necessary as the weekend looms. That way, you'll avoid the painful losses that can come from simply forgetting to switch out your players in time.

Manage Your Roster

Nearly every team has to make changes to its roster during the course of a season. You can pick up players who aren’t on another roster during the waiver period every week, but in deeper leagues the pickings can be slim. To get the talent you need, you may need to contact other owners and see if you can work out a deal. Part of the fun of playing fantasy football is making trades, and the most effective way to do so is to find a team whose needs complement yours. If you have an extra quarterback, for example, seek a team who just lost their starter to injury and use your backup to get a starter at another position.

Winning Strategies

Knowledge is power. The more you keep up with your team and the rest of the league, the better you’ll do. If you can spare some time just before the NFL games start each week to scan the news, you'll know which of your players is likely to be a late scratch and can change your lineup accordingly. Pay attention to factors like matchups and weather. If you're choosing between a pair of similar quarterbacks, and one is playing outside in the rain against the NFL's top passing defense, you'll probably want to strongly consider the other option.

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