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Monday, August 25, 2008
Updated: August 26, 6:33 AM ET
Losing your fantasy football league isn't as easy as it seems

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

What you are about to read is the result of nearly 10 years of last-place or lower-division finishes in my ESPN fantasy football league. A record like that doesn't come by accident.

And now, for the first time, I'm willing to share my secrets. How to lose your NFL fantasy league:

DARE TO BE CHEAP
NFL fantasy league entry fees can be expensive. I've saved up for the fees the usual ways -- selling bogus "church" raffle tickets to neighbors, forcing the kids to attend junior college, hacking into state Lotto computer mainframes -- with admittedly mixed results.

I've also tried sneaking the entry fees past the Ball and Chain by writing NFL Charities in the checkbook register. And it worked -- until the following March, when she asked for a receipt so we could claim a deduction on our taxes.

So to lessen my fantasy league financial exposure, I like to recruit a co-owner. Maybe even two.

Smart like Detroit Lions president Matt Millen, eh?

The strategy worked great last year, except for the part where my tri-owned franchise was paralyzed when it came to draft day selections, making trades, adding and dropping players, or determining starting lineups.

Luckily, we agreed on at least one thing: no way would the injury-prone rookie Adrian Peterson beat out Chester Taylor for the Minnesota Vikings starting tailback job.

OVER-ANALYZE EVERYTHING
In the second round of the 2007 ESPN John Elway Barcalounger League, I had this choice: New England quarterback Tom Brady or New York Jets running back Thomas Jones?

Duh. Jones, of course. Like you wouldn't have done the same thing?

Brady had four new wide receivers, including the human rain cloud, Randy Moss, who used all his cell minutes in Oakland phoning it in to the Raiders. Plus, an injured Moss hadn't played in any of the four New England preseason games. Come to think of it, Brady didn't play in the last preseason game, either.

Based on my exhaustive research, I took Jones, who was fresh from a 1,210-yard, six-touchdown season with the Chicago Bears. A really good running back always trumps a really good quarterback in fantasy.

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Two picks later, another owner selected Brady. I took Lions quarterback Jon Kitna right after Brady. And bragged about it. Kitna had offensive coordinator Mike Martz, a cornerstone receiver in Roy Williams, and newly drafted WR Calvin Johnson. Cha-ching.

Sadly, my research failed to reveal that several Jets offensive linemen couldn't block United Way volunteers, much less Richard Seymour. Or that only five other teams would have fewer TD passes than the Jets' 15. Or that Martz would last exactly two seasons in Detroit.

Anyway, Jones became one of the few players I can remember who rushed for 1,119 yards and scored ONCE! Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora had as many TDs as Jones.

Meanwhile, Kitna thanked me by throwing just 18 touchdowns in 561 attempts. If nothing else, we'll always have those 20 interceptions.

Brady? He nearly tripled Kitna's TD total (50), ran for two others, and completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 4,806 yards. His owner won our league and used the winnings to buy Gisele's love.

And yet, as this season's draft fast approaches, I'm worried about Brady's foot injury. Could it be J.T. O'Sullivan time? After all, Martz is the new offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers.

ALWAYS DRAFT ROOKIE WIDE RECEIVERS -- THE HIGHER, THE BETTER
I can't emphasize this enough. If you want your team to leave a crater mark in the standings then selecting a rookie wide receiver is a must, preferably in the first five rounds.

As always, I ignore the recent and overwhelming statistical evidence that first-year wideouts are generally more useless than Bill Belichick press conferences. You say that Robert Meachem, Ted Ginn Jr., Santonio Holmes, Matt Jones, Vincent Jackson, Steve Smith, Mike Williams, Roddy White, Troy Williamson, and Calvin Johnson were all high (or relatively high) NFL draft picks who flopped, sort of flopped, or had minimal impacts as rookies? I say that maybe they weren't nurtured properly.

YOU KNOW MORE THAN DR. JAMES ANDREWS
He's a world-renowned surgeon to the sports stars.

You're a carpet sales rep who once sprained your ankle playing flag football for Sigma Chi. But you'll take a flyer on the Miami Dolphins' Ronnie Brown (and his surgically reconstructed knee) because, as you say, "You can't measure heart." I like that kind of thinking, which is why I always like to draft one, possibly two players coming off of major knee surgery. Hello, Deuce McAllister.

KNOWLEDGE IS GOOD
I usually buy no more than 6-8 different fantasy football publications in preparation for my draft (there are seven sitting on my desk right now). Plus, I spend hours online. That way I'm totally locked in when it comes time to choose Jones over Brady.

PRESEASON MATTERS
The Jets finished the 2007 exhibition season 3-1, so I loaded up on their players. But I didn't touch any New England (2-2) or Indianapolis Colts (1-3) players with a 10-foot goal post.

How'd that work out for me? Not so good.

But I believe in my system, which is why I'm once again staying away from Patriots (0-3 this preseason), Colts (1-3) and Dallas Cowboys (1-2) in our draft. Winning is a habit, and I'm worried about the carry-over effect once the regular season begins.

And I don't think I have to tell you the vital importance of drafting preseason passing and rushing leaders. Last year I was able to scarf up the top four exhibition season quarterbacks (Detroit's O'Sullivan, Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb, Seattle's Seneca Wallace and Indy's Jim Sorgi) and the top two running backs (San Francisco's Thomas Clayton and Pittsburgh's Gary Russell).

This year? I'm going hard after the Colts' Quinn Gray and Washington's Marcus Mason. That, my friends, is how you get it done.

DRAFT BACKUPS
A lot of so-called experts recommend drafting a key player's backup. For example, take Dominic Rhodes in case Joseph Addai gets hurt for the Colts.

But here's a fantasy tip from Matt Millen: draft the backup of the backup. That way you're totally covered. Needless to say, I'll be crossing my fingers that Kenton Keith is still on the board.

Thanks, Matt, for that super great advice. Your techniques and philosophy have been invaluable to me over the years.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.