How to Win your Fantasy League in 2014

Hey guys and gals!

Sorry for my writing “hiatus” the last couple of weeks, but sometimes “life” gets in the way. Nothing big, just annoying stuff.

At any rate, I have been watching the playoffs like everyone else. Yes, I wish the Panthers had fared better, but considering where they’ve come from over the past two seasons, I’d say Ron Rivera has proven himself to be a worthy NFL Head Coach and then some. Hopefully, Dave Gettleman can get him some explosive help on the offensive side to give Cam some weapons to work with and with a championship-level defense already in place, I expect the Panthers to be even tougher next season.

If you’re not sure, this should help with my track record: “Five Fantasy Football League Players to Avoid for 2013″ as they all turned out to be correct, although for different reasons when I mentioned the last one in the piece!

Here’s another link to a different pre-2013 story on it: “How to draft your 2013 Fantasy team” and “Tips on How to Draft.” I think they should help give you a frame of reference especially for people who might be newcomers to the likes of fantasy football leagues.

In full disclosure, I missed on the first two here, “Five Fantasy Football Stars on the Rise for 2013,” but so did most people. The last three I had correct to some degree. What this all means is there’s not just science involved but is, in fact, an “art.”

I got to thinking about how things happen in the NFL every year and how some number of “nobodys” become stars. Look at the Rams’ Zac Stacy for example. Teams have to find players to fill in for injured ones, and that’s a large part of your own success in fantasy football leagues.

I can speak with some authority on the subject now. This past season, I won the league championship in a 14-team PPR league where nearly every owner actually participated up until the bitter (for them hahaha) end. My team, the Carolina Rifles, went 11-2 in the regular season then 3-0 in the playoff brackets for a whopping 14-2 record and the league crown….AND I managed to turn a 6th-round pick into a 4th-round pick in NEXT year’s draft.

So, not only did I win the championship, I put myself a step ahead of the game for next year as I’ll have TWO 4th-round picks (no 6th-rounder) and in the catbird’s seat for acquiring my best five players in 2014.

Dec 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions fan holds a sign showing support for Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (not pictured) during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the secret?

No “secret,” truthfully. First off, it’s gonna take a little bit of luck to win a championship. Face it – not everyone plays like they should each and every week and I did have a couple of under-achievers on my team vs. what they were thought to produce on the field. No, I didn’t draft any fantasy “duds” like say Miami’s Lamar Miller, thank goodness, but I did have Dez Bryant. Dez was SO up and down….he’d have a great game and vanish for a game or two.

Here’s my own formula for success:

DO YOUR PRE-DRAFT HOMEWORK!

I can’t stress this enough. The league draft is going to make or break your team especially in the first six weeks or so when everyone’s healthy and playing the game. I like to take young and rising WRs after the obvious stars are gone. This past year, I had the #1 overall pick in a snake draft and was forced to take Adrian Peterson coming off a year being nine yards shy of the all-time season yardage record. While I knew he was unlikely to repeat the feat, there was no other RB that should go ahead of “All Day.”

I waited on my QB – yes you WAIT on those guys nowadays! You really want two bell-cow RBs, as they are a vanishing breed, but in a 14-team snake draft, they were gone by the end second round when I had my 2nd and 3rd picks back-to-back. In that case, I took WRs Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall. When teammate Alshon Jeffery emerged with a couple of monster games of his own and Jay Cutler got injured, I traded Marshall for some RB depth and is where I swapped my 6th rounder for a 4th as a package in that trade. While you can’t count on trades to happen (owners usually vastly overvalue their guys and ask for WAY WAY too much), I was willing to take a spot starter/FLEX RB in exchange, with the jump in next year’s draft, for insurance and balance on my squad.

Trade if it makes sense!

The other reason is I still had Bryant and in the 11th round, I had drafted a guy named Josh Gordon. He was, without a doubt, the “steal” of last year’s draft, so I had great production at WR in the first place and could afford to make the move while Marshall’s stock was still high. The trade helped neither team, frankly, personnel-wise as Marshall’s season ended more with a fizzle if you look at his production the last six weeks. I think he had one Marshall-like game; the rest were average. My RB, Patriots RB Stevan Ridley, fumbled in his first game with me and stayed in the doghouse more or less the rest of the season, but at least I had him in case of injuries. I even won one of my playoff games benching A.P. since he was injured and won that playoff game, obviously.

Dec 22, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy (30) leaps into the end zone for a one yard touchdown during the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Watch that waiver wire!

What I’ve found, over the years, is that the KEY to fielding a competitive fantasy league team is to watch that waiver wire and try and anticipate a week before who is going to start seeing more opportunities on the field and snatching them up before other managers can do so. If all else fails, at least keep updating your roster, dropping players who aren’t producing and/or have lingering injuries and putting healthy bodies in place. Again – Zac Stacy? Who knew?

I didn’t grab him; someone ELSE did, but at the time I didn’t really need another RB. Along the way, I did pick up Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington and used him some, bringing me to my next point:

Play the match-ups and draft that way!

I can’t emphasize enough about waiting on QBs and also drafting TWO of them. Why? Well, injuries for one thing. If you draft only the one QB and have a huge drop-off to your bench QB, it won’t help you in bye weeks much and your season’s over if you lose your star QB. The NFL is a passing league, so these days you have a LOT of QBs that are going to produce fantasy numbers for you. I took Matt Ryan in the 5th round and had to wait a long time for the draft to “snake” back to me, but as my pick got closer and closer, one name stood out like a neon sign: Tony Romo.

Romo’s gotten a bad rap for choking or whatever you want to call it, but the guy puts up fantasy numbers. In fantasy football, a game-ending INT such as Romo enjoys throwing, still only counts as an INT in the stats. It’s often MORE than balanced by the performance the other part of the game (see: Denver) where he had 5 TD passes and I won that week going away.

Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys fan holds up a sign about missing Tony Romo (not pictured) during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT

What winds up happening is often players like Romo get pushed down the draft board just because many casual fans hear all the talk and just avoid him without looking deeper into the stats. This is FANTASY football. While you might not want a Romo starting for your NFL club, the FF numbers are there and he usually winds up around the top-five in fantasy numbers. Drafting 2 QBs alleviates many issues. No injury bug to worry about, and remember, I WON MY LEAGUE having drafted Matt Ryan before Romo, and Ryan only started about 4 games for me when he had lost so many weapons on offense after the first month. I just saw his weapons depleted and used Romo, but even if Ryan’s WRs and Steven Jackson were healthy, sometimes you want another QB in a particular match-up.

PLAY YOUR STARS!

One owner actually was so scared of Carolina’s defense that he benched Drew Brees, playing AT HOME against the Panthers, in favor of Nick Foles playing outside in a blizzard. I’m still thankful for that “move” – but don’t overthink things. You ALWAYS START YOUR STAR PLAYERS unless they just aren’t playing due to injury. And NEVER start a QB playing in a blizzard, even if it’s Peyton Manning, over another star QB playing at home in a dome. Use some common sense here, but unless you have a driving reason NOT to play your stars, play ‘em. That’s the game you’ll be glad you did when their “sub” you would have played in his place falls flat on his face.

Keep abreast of NFL news

This goes back to one or two of the points above regarding the waiver wire/injuries. You have to keep your squad fresh. A few years back, I won a league title picking up a little-known RB named Maurice Jones-Drew. All he did for me was get me a TD a week for a long stretch and 100+ yards from scrimmage game in and game out. So, keep your ear to the ground around each team and listen out for who is performing well and, just as importantly, who is on the decline because of a “minor” injury or a nagging one.

Sometimes it might make sense to keep an “open” bench spot on your roster, or one with a very high upside “boom or bust” near-term potential because you simply never know. I did that with Ben Tate because of Arian Foster’s hamstring injury. A hamstring injury won’t mean much to a guy like Peyton Manning, especially if it’s in his left leg (not his plant leg), but that same injury to an RB in EITHER leg means trouble as hamstrings are notorious for hanging around. I grabbed Tate because he’s one of the best backup RBs in the NFL and of the uncertainty regarding Foster. Sure enough, Foster went down, but Tate broke some ribs and wasn’t the effective runner he had been in the past. So the idea was right; you won’t always get the solution correct but at least try.

Yes, match-ups do matter

The NFL is a “match-up” league. Any player or coach will tell you that. I realize it’s difficult to keep track of multiple individual match-ups for 32 teams (or 28 if bye weeks) each week, but at least keep an idea in mind of overall team match-ups. Would you really want to start your RB2 against the Panthers’ rush defense? Or the Niners or the Seahawks? Or, say, against a team they’ll likely be down multiple scores early on and who won’t see many carries?

Do you want your WR2 guy lining up against Richard Sherman (attitude with Erin Andrews’ interview notwithstanding) or your WR3 guy facing a rookie CB? Who has a better shot at a monster game? Duh!

Dec 22, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) breaks up a pass intended for New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes (10) in the first half during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

These are all things that factor into the “start ‘em or sit ‘em” columns NFL.com and others have each week. If it’s Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles or Shady McCoy, yes, you start them ANYWAY. If it’s a guy like Chris Ivory? Sit the fellow in favor of, say, an Andre Ellington against the Jaguars or other sieve-like defense. It’s more “art” than science, but if you keep at it, you’ll begin to get the hang of it.

Do your pre-draft research, rank your players, don’t OVERDRAFT anyone (as a friend of mine did with Mike Wallace – too many question marks for me to grab him in round 2 or 3), WAIT on a QB as you fill your RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2 positions, draft a kicker last, and depending on your league scoring rules, don’t draft a team defense TOO early. When I got my defense, most of the good ones – Carolina, Seattle, San Fran, and others – were gone. I got the Arizona Cardinals’ D when I did likely because their offense was so bad, but I knew with their pass rush and secondary, they’d be a fantasy points scoring machine…and I rode them to victory.

Drafting players in the right order, just like the NFL draft, is key. Again – getting Josh Gordon in the 11th round of a 14-team PPR league, are you KIDDING ME?!?!? Sure, he’s in Cleveland which pushes him down a few rounds, but look at what he did as the year progressed. He set an NFL record with 2 consecutive 200+ yard receiving games and added another well over 100 yards after that. I think he was eschewed largely because of his standing with the NFL’s substance abuse – one more strike, and he’s gone for a year – but in the 11th round, yeah, a guy like that is certainly worth the “risk” at that point. Everyone on the planet knew he was Cleveland’s #1 WR….but the drug thing and the Cleveland thing made him fall. Good for me.

You really need to make sure your ducks are in a row, whether or not their alma mater is Oregon, and put a plan in place similar to what I described above, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll at LEAST make the playoffs of your fantasy league. While anything can happen on any week (“Any Given Sunday…”), I still say “luck” is where opportunity meets preparation and is NOT just the name of a solid NFL fantasy QB!

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Topics: Fantasy Football, How To Win Your Fantasy League

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