If you are reading this page, then you are at least thinking about joining the wonderful world of fantasy football. Brace yourself -- you will never watch football the same way again!
So what's it all about? Here is fantasy football in a nutshell: You join a league consisting of family, friends, co-workers or just about anybody (you can join a public league on NFL.com in which you are competing against people from around the world who happen to have a computer). Then you draft a team of actual NFL players -- mostly skill-position players, along with a team defense (or in some cases, individual defensive players).
Each week during the regular season, you set a starting lineup based on who your players are facing in their actual NFL games (and, of course, based on injuries, bye weeks and other factors that might come into play). You'll go head-to-head each week against someone else in your league, accumulating points based on how your players fare in their real-life NFL games.
Just like your favorite NFL team, your goal is to win each week in an attempt to reach the fantasy postseason, which is held after the regular season. And just like an actual NFL general manager, you can make trades with other teams and scan the waiver wire in order to make moves to improve your roster.
The bottom line is simple: You are the head coach and general manager rolled into one, and your fantasy team now becomes a factor when it comes to watching the real action.
The rules of fantasy football will vary from site to site. Here at NFL.com, our free game comes with a standard set of rules, procedures and scoring system. In the League Manager game, it's all customizable -- you can make touchdown passes more valuable than touchdown runs, set up a league with different roster make-ups and set limits to the way teams can add and drop players. It's your league with your own rules.
It's not as if you need to learn a new language to play fantasy football, but there are some key words and phrases you need to familiarize yourself with. Put it this way: If you hear someone in your office talking about handcuffs, they are not being kinky. And that reference to a dynasty league has nothing to do with Joan Collins.
Fantasy football is a great way to follow NFL action while also competing with your family, friends, co-workers or even strangers for bragging rights. You field a team of real NFL players and accumulate points based on their actual game statistics. Scoring systems and competitive formats vary from site to site and league to league, but the ultimate objective is to field the best team based on players stats.
How do I join a league?
If you are invited to join a league, all you have to do is follow the link that is included in the email invite. You will be prompted to register and activate your team -- and choose a team name, of course. Creativity counts!
How do I draft my team?
There are a few ways to fill out your roster. The most popular way is via an online draft. Through your league's exclusive home page, your league's commissioner can set up a time for the draft, which allows all the owners in your league to follow the draft and select players in real time. The draft has a predetermined number of rounds, with teams picking in a predetermined order. The draft tool makes it easy for owners to scan players by position and place players in a "queue," so they can quickly be selected when your turn to pick comes around. Different leagues have different time limits in between each pick, and you can also set it so that the computer automatically makes a selection for you if you are not at your computer.
Some leagues prefer to hold their drafts off-line -- with all the owners gathering for a live, in-person draft. Others prefer an email draft, which can take much longer. Each owner is alerted via email when it is their turn to pick, and they have a longer time to reply than they would in a live on-line draft.
Once my team is set, what do I need to do?
The personnel moves aren't over once you draft your team. Quite the contrary, in fact. Most drafts are held at least a week or two before the regular season begins, and that leaves plenty of time for owners to tweak their rosters. Some owners prefer to improve their team via trades, and you can talk to other owners about making a deal. And every fantasy player must get comfortable using the waiver wire.
After your draft, you should follow your players throughout the preseason. If one of your players gets injured, or if they look like they might lose their starting job, you might consider dropping them from your roster and adding a player that is not yet on another team.
Tip: One thing that novice fantasy players don't think about during the draft is bye weeks. Let's say your two quarterbacks are Tom Brady and Matt Cassel. You'd probably start Brady every week, except when the Patriots have a bye. Problem is, Brady and Cassel have the same bye week this season. Cassel is too good to drop, but you can probably get a decent player for him in a trade.
Who is the commissioner and what does he or she do?
Unlike NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the commissioner of your fantasy league is actually a team owner just like you. The commissioner is the person who set up your league, and he/she is the one who has the ability to set up the rules, scoring system and draft for your league. If there is a problem with your team -- if something is not working or if you have a question, the commissioner is your first point of contact.
If everything is running smoothly during the season, there might not be much for the commissioner to do. But they should still keep an eye on transactions to make sure all trades are fair. Before the season starts, the commissioner will have set the schedule so that the playoffs begin in a certain week. So when the playoffs roll around, the commissioner will have to set the matchups in the system.
While fantasy leagues are set up so that the waiver wire process can be automated, some commissioners prefer to control the process, and so they require that owners notify them as to roster moves they want to make.
Bottom line: The commissioner is the ultimate arbiter of your league -- so stay on his or her good side!
How do I prepare for my draft?
There are all sorts of nuances to preparing for a fantasy draft, but the two prerequisites are to a) stay current on NFL news, identifying the best skill-position players throughout the league; and b) understand your league's scoring system.
The scoring system is critical because it dictates your draft priorities. If, for instance, your league awards more points for passing touchdowns than rushing touchdowns, you might prefer to take Brady with the first pick in the draft as opposed to Adrian Peterson. Standard leagues award points for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. However, some leagues also award points per reception -- which increases the draft value of a running back like Reggie Bush, who catches a lot of passes.
As for staying current on NFL news, obviously there are many places to go for that (we suggest NFL.com, of course. To take it a step further, there are also sites that specialize in fantasy information, including position-by-position rankings. It's always good to go into your draft with these rankings (or "cheat sheets") in hand.
Of course, rankings are just a fraction of the advice and information you can find in NFL.com's Fantasy Draft Kit.
What do I need to know once the season begins?
The two keys during the season are a) setting your starting lineup each week and b) improving your overall roster whenever possible.
Before setting your lineup each week, you should pay attention to who your players are matching up against in their actual NFL game. For example, if you're choosing between two running backs of equal talent, and one of them is playing against the Minnesota Vikings, a team that is usually among the best at stopping the run, then you'd probably start the other player.
It's also important to check the injury reports to make sure you are not starting a player who might not be on the field in a given week. And you really need to pay attention to bye weeks, so that you are not starting a player who is definitely not going to be on the field. If that happens, you are open to ridicule from other owners in your league.
A far as making improvements to your roster, that's why it is important to follow the performance of players throughout the league -- not just players on your fantasy team. Every year, players come out of nowhere to produce big numbers, and fantasy owners who follow the action closely can reap the rewards. In most leagues, the waiver wire opens on Tuesday morning during the season, so it pays to check your league's site at that time to see what players are available to add. Keep in mind: no fantasy owner in his right mind would have drafted Tyler Thigpen before last season, yet he was a coveted asset by the time the season was over.
What is the scoring system?
The scoring system is how the point totals are calculated in your league. As previously stated, there is a standard scoring system used in NFL.com's free game, but League Manager allows leagues to customize scoring, and other sites have varying systems.
Generally, points are awarded for yards gained and touchdowns scored. Sometimes there are bonus points awarded for special achievements, such as 100-yard rushing games or 300-yard passing games or field goals of 50 yards or more. Some systems take away points for things such as fumbles or interceptions. Scoring for team defenses can vary greatly, accounting for everything from yards and points allowed to sacks and turnovers.
What can I win?
Different sites offer different prizes for their fantasy games. NFL.com offers some great exclusive prizes, including VIP trips to events such as the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft and the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Private fantasy leagues might set and award their own prizing, separate of the site they use to administer their league.
Where do I go with other questions?
The commissioner of your league is always the place to start when it comes to administrative questions in your league. For other specific questions regarding NFL.com leagues, there is a "Help" button in the upper right navigation bar of your league's home page.