Zen and the art of fantasy football maintenance

(Note: This story appears in the 2010 NFL.com Fantasy Football Preview magazine, on sale at newsstands on June 11 and available to order now on NFLShop.com.)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . and no, I'm not talking about the cocktail of twisted emotions a native Buffalonian like me feels every time I see highlights of O.J. Simpson shredding a defense. Nope, I'm talking about my fantasy football campaign last year.

I have always taken pride in my ability to multitask my way through the busiest of slates and still find a way to devote millions of hours to managing my fantasy teams, but in 2009 I spent the majority of the NFL season isolated on location shooting a movie, day and night. A classy problem, true, but the endless workload far from DIRECTV sent me into withdrawal worthy of a Dr. Drew reality show. Red Zone Channel Sober House, anyone?

I play fantasy the same way Buddhists chant -- it's a great way to stop your thoughts, which at this point in my life are flying faster than a park bench stuffed with drifters off their meds. For the first time in my fantasy life, however, I couldn't over-manage my teams, hence the worst of times . . . with one nagging, Zen koan-like exception: Out of seven leagues (I know, I know, that's just gross), I made the playoffs in five, and I won the championship in four, including an expert-level league full of fantasy pros which had previously served me humiliation on a grade-school level.

Lessons learned? One of the great joys of this pursuit may be total immersion, but it may not be the best way to win. Let's be honest, week-to-week, there are only four things you must do:

» Tuesday: Assess injuries; declare benchings; note bye weeks and flame outs

» Wednesday: Place your waiver wire moves

» Sunday: Check the late inactives

» Sunday: Set your starting lineup

It can take you hours or it can take you minutes, and my results have me thinking less indeed may be more.

When you don't have time to outthink yourself, you tend to trust your lineup more. You can't waive your entire roster three times over, or bench your stars after two bad games, only to miss out on that breakout third game when they return to form. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. On the bright side for all my obsessive brethren out there, the key remains not short-changing draft preparation, and I'm not just writing that because of the theme of this fine magazine you hold in your hands.

A great draft is key to a low-maintenance team, because you may not have enough time to get the big mop out when your starters wet the bed. You also have to hit on your hunches. The obvious superstars are easy to spot, but last year I had great luck with my later-round favorites. I thought Miles Austin might become the Alpha WR in Big D. I suspected years of owner resentment would blur how well Cedric Benson ran for the Bengals down the previous stretch. That meant doing the research, and working a ton of live mock drafts online to get a firm sense of where these guys were generally getting picked. Mock drafts also revealed players who were chronically sliding into great value-pick territory, -- the Hines Wards, Brett Favres and Visanthe Shiancoes. (Tell me he wasn't sitting there twiddling his thumbs in round 12!)

It's been estimated that fantasy football costs the economy more than a billion bucks a week in man-hours lost, so doing less could even be a matter of survival at work. As for the home front, when was the last time you really took in that dead look in the back of your wife's eyes as she watches you check your blind-bidding waiver results during quality time? You can't really blame her, since you and I both know it's the ninth time you checked it since lunch . . . .

Stay employed, stay married, spend time with your kids, and who knows, you might just see your name engraved on that trophy, anyway.

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