Daily fantasy sports are the fastest growing segment of the fantasy industry. This column is going to discuss how I got into daily fantasy football, my experiences and the strategies I use.
How I Got into Daily Fantasy
Like most people, I got my start in fantasy football doing a season-long league locally with some friends. After several years, I found I wasnít going to win or even cash every single season. This led to me losing interest later in the season if my team was out of the running. With daily fantasy, I found I could participate every week in contests that held meaning, keeping me interested in games I otherwise wouldnít care about. The other main selling point was this: I could pick the players I wanted to each week. In a season-long league, if you donít have one of the first three picks in the snake draft, youíre almost guaranteed to not get the player you value most. Even in auction leagues, many times I found myself walking away from the draft disappointed I wasnít more aggressive going after a player I wanted. Daily fantasy offered me the opportunity to get that player on whom I missed out.
How I Started
Daily fantasy, whether football or any other sport, is a game of skill and not gambling. That said, the first rule I went by was the same rule I use whenever I walk into a casino: donít put a dime more at stake than youíre willing to lose. So I figured out how much money I wanted to start with and decided the percentage I was going to put in cash games, i.e., heads-up contests and 50/50s, and Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPP), i.e. tournaments. I decided I would play roughly 75-80 percent in cash games and the remainder in GPPs, including qualifiers. This meant if my cash games hit, it would be a profitable week no matter what happened in the tournaments. I also quickly learned Ė as do most players on a limited budget Ė those qualifiers were a great opportunity to get into the high-stakes contests without risking a lot.
How I Choose a Team
First, I make sure I know the format and all of the rules for the site on which Iím playing. Is it standard scoring or PPR? Are there bonuses for 100-yard rushing or 300-yard passing games? Does my lineup lock when the 1 p.m. games start, or can I make substitutions right up to each playerís individual game time? I need to know what each site allows or doesnít, as that will affect who I use in my lineup.
I also remind myself that each week of an NFL season is different. Every great player will have a bad game, and conversely a mediocre player will occasionally have a big showing. Plenty of DFS players will jump off the bandwagon of a star player who underachieves because they were burned the week before. But unless thereís an injury, a playerís skill set isnít likely to change.
Next, I see what Vegas projects for the games. The over/under (for number of total points) gives you an idea whether the game is projected as a shootout, or a grind-it-out war of attrition. And the point spread is a good indication as to whether a particular quarterback is likely to be throwing in the fourth quarter or watching his running back milk the clock. Moreover, taking players on teams that are heavily favored is usually a good play; logic says if a team wins by a large margin their main position players will have good games.
In addition, I always monitor the weather of the game locations throughout the week because conditions like high winds can have a huge impact. Finally, I always make sure I have access to my lineups right up to game time on my computer, tablet or phone, so I can watch for late-breaking news. I make sure everyone is not only active, but that they didn't get injured in warm-ups. Every season there will be an important player who is a late scratch, and I know I canít afford a zero at any position in my lineup.
Cash Game Strategy
Whenever I look at a cash game, i.e. 50/50ís and heads-up games, I focus on my lineupís floor rather than itís ceiling. To that end, I target players who should be sure things rather than taking a risk on long shots with upside potential. The key here is to grab established stars and look for cheaper players (often replacing injured starters) getting increased workloads to round out your roster.
I also target games with the highest point spreads and use the favorite. Iíll usually try to match my quarterback with one of his stud wide receivers. Using the combinations of Peyton Manning/Demaryius Thomas or Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson proved to be very fruitful last season, especially in PPR formats like DraftKings.
To pick a team for a GPP game, you need to think outside the box. I always try to figure out a player or two who hasnít performed well the previous week but also possibly the whole season. A good example of this came in Week 13 last season when I suggested in a weekly fantasy column for RotoWire to use the following in GPP play: Eric Decker, Alshon Jeffery, Ben Tate and Ladarius Green. All of these players fit the mold of being mostly dormant for fantasy purposes the previous weeks, and all went off Week 13. I also like to look at games with low over/under totals I think most players will avoid. Everyone knows to play Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning and LeSean McCoy, so even if they have big games, youíll have to be right about all your other players to win. But when under-the-radar players, who are rarely used, have strong games, you have a good chance to take down a tournament. I like to play tournaments with low buy-ins that allow multiple entries and put in two or three entries of the same team. Because tournaments usually pay out very top-heavy, this strategy can pay off if you get a top-10 team and take down a few of the top payoff spots.
Typically, I'll avoid players in Thursday night games, as thereís an overwhelming tendency for DFS players to want to watch their picks perform in a standalone format. The same goes for the Monday night game. I make sure I don't go out of my way to roster someone playing just to have some added interest in the game. I try to make my lineup the best possible, irrespective of the TV schedule.
It's nearly impossible to win each and every week. Losing at daily fantasy football can be tough because there are at least a few days to wait and mull over your loss until the Thursday night game. I've found getting back to research for the next week (matchups, player trends) is the best way to get over losing and onto what is hopefully going to be a subsequent winning week.