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The NFL season kicks off in nine days. Just as East Coasters frantically prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, hard-core football fans are taking every precaution to ensure a successful start to the season. Sunday Ticket ordered? Check. Satisfied with TV size and HD quality? Check. Pulling my infant out of his Sunday play group until February? Check.
This countdown to kickoff also means we're in the heart of fantasy draft season. While some early-bird drafts have already occurred, most are happening this week. Whether you've been playing fantasy since it was entirely uncool to do so or this is your first foray into the fantasy waters, here are 10 tips to set you on the path to a fantasy Super Bowl.
1. Get out the paper shredder: Suppose you're in a long grocery store line and you spot several fantasy football preview magazines. They look like they'd be helpful, especially with all that gloss. But step away. These publications are obsolete; they have been for at least a decade. The reasons should be obvious. Quarterback battles (Seahawks, Redskins), surprising transactions (Lee Evans to Baltimore), emerging players (Tim Hightower) and injury updates (on Peyton Manning and Arian Foster, among many others) are not reflected in these glossies. Stick to the Internet.
2. Learn the rules: Don't assume your league uses a standard format. Study the rules well before draft night. Things to check: Are quarterback touchdowns worth four points or six? Does your league offer bonuses for 100 yards receiving or rushing and 300 yards passing? Do individual players get points for yards and touchdowns made on special teams? Little quirks in your league's rules can dramatically alter your draft strategy.
3. Play the name game: Selecting a good team name can give you an instant confidence boost. There are many directions you can take: something that invokes your name (Melissa's Marauders), a play on words (Orton Hears a Boo) or something newsy (Terrelle Pryor's Tattoo Parlor). We'd love to hear your best names.
4. Mock it up: Most fantasy services don't allow you to enter your draft room until 30 minutes prior to the draft's start time. However, most offer the option to join a mock draft. This is a fantastic opportunity to become familiar with your draft room's mechanics, as well as to test out a variety of strategies on some randoms.
5. Show up on time: Nobody likes an owner who's late to the draft. It annoys the other owners and puts the commissioner in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to delay the proceeding or put the tardy owner on dreaded auto draft. If you are late, don't bother with excuses unless it's a true emergency.
6. Pick with your head: I can't tell you how many women (yes, women) I know who refused to place a waiver bid on Mike Vick last year. Unless your league deducts points for arrests or you truly don't care about winning, a player's character shouldn't be considered. You may argue that watching someone you consider shady wouldn't be pleasurable. But trust me, when your player is the leading scorer that week, you're not going to care what he did to dogs, his girlfriend or the elderly. For those who insist on drafting with their conscience, select Tim Tebow in the first round and make your fellow owners very happy.
7. Consider byes: You shouldn't obsess over bye weeks when drafting your starters. But you should take a gander once you're in the later rounds to make sure you have some reserve players with different bye weeks than your starters. Be especially careful of Weeks 5-8, when six teams are on a bye each week.
8. Throw some darts: If you are new to fantasy, you may be tempted to select your team on auto draft, or worse, always draft the highest-ranked player available. Don't be. By throwing some darts and taking chances on players, you'll be more invested in your team. Every year there are numerous guys buried deep in the rankings who emerge as fantasy superstars. (ESPN had Foster ranked 48th among running backs headed into last season!)
By freeing your hands from the computer's grasp, you'll spend more time contemplating lineups, playing the waiver wire, enjoying the intrigue of NFL action and ultimately putting yourself in a better position to win. And if you happen to pick up this year's Arian Foster, you can spend the next four months bragging about it.
9. Survey the fandom: Every fantasy owner is likely a fan of a particular NFL team. Some are savvy drafters who don't intentionally mix their drafting with their fandom. But there are always exceptions. For years, I've played in a league with an owner who drafts the Bears defense/special teams at least three rounds too early (even when Devin Hester has been the main kickoff man), and always selects Bears kicker Robbie Gould. Spot the homers and use their clouded judgment to your advantage.
10. Review the rosters: It's important to keep track of the rosters for all fantasy teams in your league. This is the best guide to your draft selections. Example: It's the fifth round. You have the 10th slot in a 12-team league and still need a quarterback. Do you take him with that fifth-round pick or wait four slots before the draft snakes back around for your sixth-round pick? Checking the needs of the teams in the 11th and 12th slots can help greatly with your decision.
Hope these tips have you ready to dominate draft night. If you'd like to add some of your own winning strategies, including your catchy team name, please do so in the comments section. We'd love to hear from you. Happy drafting!