Whether of your own volition or due to coercion from friends/family/coworkers, if you’re reading this article you’re likely playing fantasy football for the first time in 2017. Or if you’ve played before and are just looking for a little extra guidance, that’s fine too. I’m here to help you navigate these nerdy waters with a simple walkthrough on how to play fantasy football.
Overview: What is fantasy football?
So you finished your draft and are staring at a team of around 15 NFL players. Now what?
At its core fantasy is a math-based game based on the real-life production of NFL players. Each week you fill out a roster by “starting” players at the various positions allowed based on your league settings. These usually include one quarterback (QB), two running backs (RB), two wide receivers (WR), one tight end (TE), one kicker (K), one defense (D/ST) and one FLEX (usually RB or WR, but some leagues allow for a TE or even a QB to be played here as well). The statistics your starting players accumulate on the field (yards, touchdowns, etc.) contribute to their point total for the week. The point totals of all of the players in your starting lineup are tallied into your weekly score, and if you have a higher total than your opponent (another member of your league) you win that week! Players who you do not start are considered on your “bench.” They’ll still score points like everyone else, but those points will not be counted toward your weekly total.
Each week will proceed like this until the end of the fantasy regular season (usually Week 13 or Week 14, depending on your league). At this point, the teams with the best win-loss records will enter the fantasy playoffs for a few more win-or-go-home head-to-head matchups. Whoever wins the remaining games in the playoffs is typically crowned league champion following Week 16. (Again, these aren’t set-in-stone timeframes, as many leagues have different rules, so be sure to know yours!).
Week 1 and beyond
OK, so you understand the basics, but the NFL season kicks off next Thursday, September 7 when the Kansas City Chiefs visiting the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. What does this mean for you and your fantasy squad?
You’ll need to make sure you set your lineup at least five minutes before the kickoff of that game (8:30 p.m. ET on NBC). If you don’t, any players on your roster from those teams (Travis Kelce, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, etc.) will be “locked” wherever you have them at that time — either on your bench or in your starting lineup — and you won’t be able to move them until after all of the games have been played in that week. This will be the case each and every week with Thursday Night Football, so keep an eye on the schedule and be aware of when your star players are starting on Thursdays!
Other than that, you can tinker with your lineup all the way up until the games on Sunday, when you’ll want to again make sure your lineup is set by five minutes before the games kick off (1 p.m. ET). This gives you plenty of time throughout the week to check our analyst rankings, read our matchup and strategy columns, and keep up to date on player/injury news. We have everything you’ll need right here at NFL.com to get your lineup in tip-top shape each and every week.
Managing the waiver wire
Once Week 1 concludes after Monday Night Football, it’s time to turn your attention to Week 2. Hopefully, you’ve secured a win, but if not, this is where we enter one of the most crucial parts of the fantasy season: managing the waiver wire.
The waiver wire is the process used in fantasy football to acquire players who currently aren’t on a team roster in your fantasy league. You put in a “claim” on free agent players, and if you have the highest priority (based on the inverse of the standings) or no one else makes a claim on that player, they’ll be added to your roster. Of course, rosters have size limits, so if you wish to add a player you’ll have to drop another to make space. The game will generally make you pick a player to drop when you make your waiver claim, so don’t worry about that too much.
Using your priority effectively is a key strategy in fantasy. You may not want to waste it too early in the year on a random free agent — it’d be better to save it until someone on your roster gets injured, or you have a chance to pick up someone who is emerging as a bonafide starter.
Waiver claims are submitted on Tuesdays, and players are awarded to rosters on Wednesdays (in standard leagues). More adds and drops can be made throughout the week using this same process if news breaks that a player is injured or will miss time for whatever reason. If your league uses a free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) for waiver wires, I explain a bit more about how that works here.
Every team in the NFL has a “bye week” built into their season. This is a week where the team does not have a game schedule and can rest/recover. These weeks are important for fantasy owners to keep an eye on so they can add players if needed to still field a full starting roster.
To find out when your players have byes, click on their name on your team page and scroll down in the pop-up window to see their 2017 season schedule. These weeks will also show up as “BYE” on your team page under the “Opponent” section when your player is set to be off during the season. Make sure you have depth on your bench or can find a replacement on the waiver wire when these weeks pop up. It’s never a bad idea to be a week early in terms of adding a free agent from the waiver wire when a bye is coming up for a big player on your team. For a full list of which teams are on byes when, and some replacement options for quarterbacks and running backs, bookmark this bye-week guide.
Aside from the waiver wire, there’s only one other way to add players to your roster post-draft, and that’s by trading with another person in your league. Trades do not have to be of a one-for-one nature, often times they’ll involve multiple players or one team will give up a few players in exchange for an elite fantasy producer.
There’s no exact science to executing fantasy trades. It takes time and patience. A little knowledge of who you’re trading with doesn’t hurt either. To prevent collusion, however, most leagues enforce a trade deadline. This means all trades need to be completed prior to the set date, and no trades will be allowed after it. In NFL.com standard leagues, November 25 is the trade deadline (Week 12). So be cognizant of that and make the appropriate moves before time is up!
That’s it! As you can see, the basics of fantasy football are quite simple. Set your lineup every week, manage the waiver wire, keep an eye on bye weeks, make a few trades (if you want), and you’re good to go. The last and most important part about playing fantasy football is to remember to have fun. This is a game about a game, after all. Trash talk your league mates, but leave the players alone on social media. Keep your head up and hopefully you’ll be in the mix to hoist a championship trophy at the end of the season. If not, there’s always next year. And we’ll still be here trying to help you take home the gold.
Good luck this season.