Even after a successful draft, deciding to who to start and who to sit each week can be the difference between a successful and a not-so-successful fantasy football season. So how should you choose starters in fantasy football?
Fact is, choosing your starting lineup is the most important decision you’ll make in fantasy football. Let’s assume you have had a reasonably successful draft, and you have decent reserve players. Maybe you’ve made some trades to bolster your lineup. Whatever the case, you’re going to have choices every week and you don’t want to start thinking about them when you wake up on Sunday morning
Choosing starting lineups on your online fantasy football site demands statistical analysis, an understanding of team and player matchups, and careful attention to factors outside of the usual, like weather and the kind of team rivalries that can change the calculus for many teams.
How do your starters stack up against the defense they’ll face?
Sure, a solid running back grinding out yards and TDs may have been a key piece of your fantasy football starting lineup so far. But don’t just automatically keep putting him in as a starter—examine the defense he’ll face and find out what they’re most effective at preventing.
If it’s a defense that can stuff a running game, it may be time to play a lesser running back against a poorer opponent. Think the same way for all the starting positions—that hot quarterback you’ve been riding might have trouble against a defense that has established an ability to limit passing yards, or that receiver may have trouble getting deep like he has in previous weeks.
Whatever your analysis shows in a particular week, matchups matter. They need to be considered when you choose your starters on your online fantasy football site.
Know the cornerbacks.
Let’s say you’ve been riding a hot receiver for a bunch of games, boosting your point totals as he racks up receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Just keep putting him in? Maybe, but you’ll want to analyze his team’s upcoming opponent, and most importantly, take stock of the cornerback who will be his primary matchup.
There are shutdown corners who can make it a tough day for even the most potent quarterback-receiver combinations. Every week, pay careful attention to this matchup and don’t be afraid to replace a hot receiver in your starting lineup if he’s going to be covered by a top-notch corner.
Is the offensive line banged up?
They may not be a part of your starting lineup, but a healthy offensive line is critical to the success of your players. Even the best running back in the game will start to struggle if a couple of key linemen went down with injuries in the last game. Make sure you know if the tackle your starter usually runs behind is going to be playing—the offensive line is often a rotating cast as the season goes on and injuries pile up.
Of course, it’s not just running backs who are affected by a second-string offensive line. The quarterback might find himself throwing under pressure a lot more, and his receivers are likely to see their numbers dip if he’s scrambling the entire afternoon.
What is the weather forecast?
Sure, you can’t control the weather, but you can study it. Certain teams fare better in certain conditions, and you’ll be wise to pay attention to forecasts when you’re choosing your collection of starters.
If your players are on a California-based team headed to Green Bay or Buffalo, make sure you study the records of key performers in cold or snowy conditions. Some NFLers, even on warm-weather teams, will thrive, while others will struggle when the environment is less hospitable. And use the weather as a guide when you’re choosing your defense—points are harder to come by for any offense when the temperature drops into single digits.
Study longtime rivalries.
Sure, we’re talking about professional athletes. They are trained and paid to produce no matter who is on the field facing them. But don’t underestimate how the serious, longstanding, true blood feuds can affect play in the NFL.
Is it a big-time division matchup between two teams with soft defenses? Might be a good time to pull the trigger on some reserves who could put up big numbers. Or the inverse can happen—a fired-up defense shuts down a red-hot offense. Suddenly, that wide receiver who has done so much for you all year struggles to get open and doesn’t get many touches.
Yes, trust the analytics when you’re choosing a lineup. But study the old-school rivalries and find out what history might tell you about the game this week. Don’t underestimate rivalries like the Packers-Bears, Eagles-Giants, or Patriots-Bills—even pros can feel the tension and their play may be different than it’s been all year.
Don’t trust the coaches.
So you watched a press conference and the head coach said his quarterback was 100% healthy and ready to go. Great news, you think, since he’s been finding your best receiver all season and racking up points for you.
But read between the lines. Coaches don’t want to give anything away, and are typically less-than-truthful in pre-game media scrums. Find out if the player has been practicing all week, or if the backup has been taking snaps. Check the team’s schedule—if it’s a soft team or a matchup with a team that’s not in the same division, a head coach might elect to rest his star player or pull him early. So even when you hear, “He’s a competitor—nothing is going to keep him off the field this Sunday,” approach the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. If there’s a chance someone in your starting lineup might sit out the game or get pulled from it early, look to replace him.
You may think the draft is the most important element of fantasy football success. But choosing the right lineup each week on your online site can make all the difference. While some fantasy players adopt a basic “go with the studs” approach, bringing fresh thinking and doing some research can produce starting lineups that really produce. But don’t settle and just let it ride. Weighing some key factors—matchups, weather, history between the teams, impact of injuries—will make you a smarter and more successful fantasy football player.