Sep 11, 2009
I’m sure you’re a good fantasy owner, but you could be better. Not exactly a way to win friends and influence people, but that’s not my goal. As you can probably imagine, I get quite a bit of email every day from people looking for fantasy football advice. The questions are wide ranging and I make a point to answer every one I get as quickly as I can. A solid majority are start/bench questions. Some want to know my opinion on a particular player, while others want to discuss draft theory. But, believe it or not, two of the most popular questions I get each week are:
1. What separates a good fantasy owner from a great one?
2. What can I do to become a better fantasy owner?
The truth is there are no easy, concrete answers to these questions. There’s a laundry list of improvements the average fantasy owner can make to become a great fantasy owner. For the sake of my laptop battery and my sanity, I selected 7 easy things the average fantasy owner can do to improve and become a great fantasy owner. Utilize one, utilize all 7, it doesn’t matter. Implementing any of these 7 habits will help you improve and take another step to annual league domination. So, without further ado, here are 7 Habits of Highly Successful Fantasy Owners.
1. Highly successful fantasy owners embrace technology.
You’re using the Internet. Congratulations! Sorry to say, but there’s a number of tools available via the World Wide Web that you’re probably not utilizing that could definitely expedite your evolution from fantasy chum to fantasy shark. First of all, if you’re not on Twitter, you should be. Yes, I am well aware that nothing in the history of the planet so amazingly cool has ever been so inappropriately named. And I know that “tweeting” sounds like something your wife does on Sundays while you’re watching football. The fact of the matter is that if you’re not using Twitter, you are getting information much later than the other owners in your fantasy football league who are wisely monitoring Tweet Town. Think about it. For NFL insiders like Peter King, Jay Glazer, Adam Schefter (personal favorite), and Chris Mortensen, Twitter is the fastest way for them to break a story. They may not have a camera or a laptop handy, but if they’ve got their iPhone or Blackberry, they can publish breaking news immediately to millions of people on Twitter. I’m not saying you have to tweet, but be warned that it is fun and kind of addicting. Just follow key football people and read what they post. And make sure two of those “key people” are @mattkamke and @BrunoBoys.
The second major Internet tool all great fantasy owners use is an RSS reader. You know that little orange square with the weird white lines you see popping up on more and more websites? That’s a link to that particular website’s RSS feed. An RSS reader allows you to “subscribe” to your favorite websites and automatically receive updates to those websites in one convenient place. The RSS reader I recommend (and personally use) is Google Reader. It’s free and, as you’d expect with Google, very easy to use. So please don’t be intimidated, it’s much easier to set up than it sounds and the time you’ll save going to one website for all your football news instead of 20 different websites will more than make up for any time lost setting up the RSS reader. Right now, my RSS reader has 36 subscriptions or feeds. 25 are NFL related and the other 11 are college football related. That means I get to read up to the minute pro and college football news from 36 different websites in one convenient place. If that doesn’t sound like something you should be using or something that could make you a better fantasy owner, I don’t know what will.
2. Highly successful fantasy owners consider the Vegas over/under totals line in starting lineup decisions.
I have a feeling this one may turn some heads and that’s a good thing. Don’t fool yourself, no one reading this column (or writing it for that matter) is more in tune with football than the guys who create betting lines on which millions of dollars will be wagered each week. These linemakers are not just good. They are wicked sick scary good. The drinks in Vegas are free for a reason and it’s not because of the plethora of winning football bettors. The NFL lines are arguably the toughest to beat in Vegas and deservedly so since the most money is wagered on them. So what does the over/under totals line have to do with fantasy football? I’m glad you asked. Everyone and their sister knows that Drew Brees is a good start this week against a pitiful, though improved, Detroit Lions team. That’s an obvious, no doubt about it, must start. But let’s look at some other games. Right now, I’m wondering why the over/under in the Minnesota @ Cleveland game is only 40 points. The Vikings have a high-powered offense and the Browns offense is better than people think. The Minnesota defense is above average and Cleveland’s defense leaves a bit to be desired. Couldn’t you see Adrian Peterson and company putting up 30+ and making a statement right out of the gate? So why is that line set at just 40 points? The other game that stands out is St. Louis @ Seattle. Both teams have some decent offensive playmakers and neither defense is anything special. So why is the line just 40.5 points? What does the linemaker know that I don’t? Probably quite a bit and it would certainly be worth my while as a fantasy football owner to find out. If you have a questionable starting lineup decision, I would advise taking a look at the over/under total lines for the games. You will probably find a game where more or less points than you thought are expected to be scored and you can try and take advantage of that by starting or benching players in those games. The most intelligent sports bettors will tell you the number one rule to successful sports betting is always respect the line. Fantasy owners would be wise to do the same.
3. Highly successful fantasy owners avoid conventional wisdom.
With all due respect to the Worldwide Leader In Sports, if you saw or heard it on ESPN, you can rest assured someone else in your fantasy league did too. Conventional wisdom downs fantasy teams like Kirstie Alley downs Twinkies. To be successful in fantasy football, you have to find or give yourself an edge. The information contained in most preseason fantasy football magazines is common knowledge. To alienate yourself from the average fantasy owner, you need to find information that the other competitors in your league will not. At the very least, get in the habit of finding the information before they do. The best places for this information are blogs that cover a specific team. Some of these blogs are operated by the local newspaper and the team’s beat writer. Some of them (usually the best ones) are created and maintained by a crazy but dedicated fan of the team. These blogs are going to give you important information that flies under the radar to the general fantasy community. I jumped on the Jermichael Finley bandwagon very early in training camp when the Green Bay Press Gazette Insiders Blog reported that Finley had matured, vastly improved his game, and was a one man highlight reel. Needless to say, I got a lot of strange looks at my early August drafts when I took Finley with one of my final picks. When most of the guys at your draft are asking, “who is that guy?”, you know you’ve done your homework and have found an edge. Fast forward three weeks later and instead of asking who that guy was, competitors in my league responded with vulgarities when I snatched Finley a few picks before they planned to. Now this is just one of many examples. In 2001, it was a rookie running back from Texas Christian University with the strange name of LaDainian Tomlinson that had my opponents wondering what I knew that they did not. You know the “It” fantasy players each season. I hear the word “sleeper” abused worse than Tila Tequila (too soon?). If every fantasy owner and preseason magazine is touting a certain player as a sleeper, is that player really a sleeper? Find the players that could give you an edge. Nobody said becoming an elite fantasy owner was easy, but it is well worth the effort.
4. Highly successful fantasy owners rarely make trades and do not abuse the waiver wire.
This is going to draw a few blank stares. Fantasy football is not Major League Baseball. I know this may be hard to believe, but you don’t have to make a blockbuster deal every week for your team to be good. No really, you don’t. Few things in fantasy football annoy me more than the owners who are constantly proposing trades, especially the ridiculous, insult my intelligence trades. Recently, a guy in one of my What The Hell Why Not Leagues was generous enough to offer me Ben Roethlisberger for (drumroll please)…Greg Jennings. And no, this league does not award points to a quarterback for getting sacked. I obviously declined the offer and told the guy that someone dumb enough to accept that deal wouldn’t have been smart enough to figure out ESPN’s Draft Room to get a team in the first place. Few fantasy owners would ever willingly admit that they drafted poorly and have a crappy team. And yet, owners who wheel and deal and abuse the waiver wire each year are unknowingly saying precisely that. Do I use the waiver wire in my leagues each year? Absolutely. I’ll make 3-5 moves per season to cover defense and kicker bye weeks and combat injuries. The owners I’m talking about are the ones who make 2-4 moves each week. These owners are always looking for the hot hand or the next big thing. In the process, they usually end up dismantling what could have been a solid team. Unless I am devastated by injuries, I will rarely need to make a trade or waiver wire move all season. Did you catch the key word in that last sentence? N-E-E-D. Very few fantasy teams ever actually need to make a trade or waiver wire move. If you prepared properly and dominated your draft, trading your players for other players will only weaken your team while strengthening the competition. Every day, I get email from fantasy owners wondering if they should pull the trigger on this deal or that blockbuster. In truth, most of the offers are pretty much a toss up, no real advantage or edge for either team. But to the average fantasy owner, that doesn’t matter. They want to make big, blockbuster (and unnecessary) trades. I can’t tell you how many fantasy football owners every year make trades that improve a position of strength instead of fixing a position of weakness. This is the complete opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish when making a trade. If you NEED to make a trade because you didn’t draft well and have very little talent or depth, you should trade players from a position of strength to acquire players that fix a position of weakness. Players are rarely traded for other players in the NFL. Why should your fantasy league be any different?
5. Highly successful fantasy owners do not overreact.
Elite fantasy owners maintain perspective and always look at the big picture. To the average fantasy owner, a 0-2 start is a fate worse than death. They immediately start looking to make changes when, in reality, no changes are needed. If your team is healthy and putting up good scoring numbers, there’s not a whole lot you can do and patience should be the flavor of the day. The absolute worst thing you can do is start a fire sale, yet I see it happen in nearly every league nearly every season. Fantasy owners seem to forget that a fantasy team can be the second highest scoring team EVERY week and still finish the season a Motownesque 0-13. If your team or a particular player starts out poorly, diagnose the problem before coming to a hasty resolution. Is your team posting solid numbers but coming up short to a better team that particular week? Did a particular stud player start slowly because he had to face two tough defenses to kick off the season? Too many fantasy owners are looking to fix something that isn’t broke. Overreaction will kill a fantasy football team as quickly as conventional wisdom. Don’t believe me? Just watch. Check out how the Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall owner in your league acts after this past Thursday’s game. One NFL game is officially in the books and there is a large majority of fantasy owners chomping at the bit to overreact to it. Right now, as I’m writing this, some guy can’t sleep because he can’t decide which running back he’s going to pick up when he drops Parker or Mendenhall this weekend. Patience is a virtue for a reason. The NFL regular season is 17 weeks long. While each week is important, the season is a marathon, not a sprint. Always maintain perspective and keep the big picture in mind. Fantasy football is like pretty much every other endeavor life has to offer. It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts.
6. Highly successful fantasy owners are not results oriented.
Too many owners take a bottom line approach when it comes to fantasy stats. Far too many fantasy owners consider only the numbers and fail to dig deeper to see the whole picture. They see that Vincent Jackson caught five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Pretty good numbers, right? What they miss is that 80 yards of that was the touchdown play, a blown assignment in the defensive backfield left Jackson wide open to stroll into the end zone. Take away that freak blown assignment and your receiver registered a pedestrian four catches for 22 yards. Obviously those numbers don’t look so impressive now. Whether out of laziness or ignorance, the vast majority of fantasy owners take a results oriented approach. Copy them at your peril.
7. Highly successful fantasy owners challenge themselves every year.
Challenge yourself and make a concerted effort to try new things each season. Join leagues you don’t think you can win. Play against people you know to be top notch fantasy football owners. Try out an auction league, a keeper/dynasty league, or a league that uses individual defensive players. You may find out that you absolutely love one of these variations. You will not grow and evolve as a fantasy owner if you continue to beat up your brother, father, and uncle in a family league every year. Not that family leagues aren’t fun, but get in other leagues that will challenge and push you to be the best fantasy owner you can be. Get out of the kiddie pool and dive headfirst into the deep end. That’s the only way you’ll ever learn to swim…