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How to play fantasy football: Your 101 guide for the 2021 NFL season

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By Brandon Niles, 4for4

Special to Yahoo Sports

Fantasy football is awesome. For those new to the experience, it's the opportunity to create your own personal NFL team, without the drawback of paying out millions of dollars or dealing with player agents. You can mold your roster into exactly the kind of experience you want. Draft your favorite players, choose your ideal roster construction and crush the competition!

Simply put, fantasy football is the accumulation of fantasy points based on real-life statistics. Score more fantasy points than the other players in your league, and you win. Simple as that.

There are many different guidelines and variations to the game, but the principle remains the same: Your job as the fantasy manager is to draft, manage, and adjust your team (in whatever ways your league allows) that will net you more fantasy points each week than your opponents.

Scoring and rules can vary from league to league, but generally speaking, you have to compile a team of NFL players that will score points every time they accumulate statistics. These can range from standard offensive leagues where touchdowns and yards reign supreme, to more advanced defensive formats where tackles, sacks, and interceptions can guide your team to victory.

The more points your team scores, the greater chance you have to be victorious.

As you may already know, fantasy football can be played for money, with investments ranging anywhere from a few bucks to thousands of dollars. It can also be played just for bragging rights.

Regardless of the monetary stakes for your league, fantasy football is a fun experience that brings together people from all walks of life.

How Does Scoring Work in Fantasy Football?

Here's a typical scoring format:

A typical fantasy football scoring system. (Photo by 4for4.com)
A typical fantasy football scoring system. (Photo by 4for4.com)

Sites often differentiate between point-per-reception (PPR) leagues and standard-scoring leagues. PPR leagues used to be a rarity, but are now even more prominent than standard scoring leagues. Nowadays, standard scoring is often replaced with the term Non-PPR, as its lost its default status. Yahoo's default is half-PPR.

You may see variations in scoring that include points for individual defensive players, special teams, tackles, and just about everything else, but the system listed above is the most common.

All league types and scoring systems are fun, and there’s no right or wrong league type, but be sure to know which kind of league you’re in before your draft, and be aware that many reference sources use the above scoring system for rankings and advice.

Which NFL Players Will Be On Your Fantasy Team?

Typically, a fantasy football league includes drafting somewhere between 16 and 20 players. Fantasy teams have starters and backups, just like real NFL teams do.

The Yahoo default is 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 FLEX, 1 K, and 1 Team Defense. A FLEX can usually be filled by your choice of a RB, WR, or TE. With subtle variations, this is most likely the type of league you’ll be involved in. There is also a growing popularity for leagues that start 2 QBs or a Superflex position, which can be a QB, RB, WR, or TE.

As with all things, fantasy football leagues have evolved over time into many different types. A common variation is a salary cap league, where a player's services are awarded to the highest bidder rather than drafted, with a pre-determined amount of salary allowed for each manager to spend on their entire roster.

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Here is a full list of non-traditional league types

  • Salary Cap: Instead of a draft, managers are given a salary cap to bid on players with.

  • 2QB: Managers designate two quarterbacks for their starting lineups each week.

  • Best Ball: Draft-only league where managers do not set lineups or make roster moves.

  • Daily/DFS: One day/week leagues where rather than a draft, managers are given a salary cap with which to make a lineup.

  • Dynasty: Managers can maintain their entire team from one season to the next.

  • FAB: Same as a standard league but managers have a free agent acquisition budget for acquiring free agents.

  • IDP: League where individual defensive players are drafted.

  • Keeper: Managers can keep a designated number of players from one season to the next.

  • SUPERFLEX/OFLEX: Managers have the option to use a quarterback in their flex position.

The Draft

Typically, most standard fantasy drafts follow a snake format. Basically, if you get the first pick in the draft, you'll then have the 13th pick in Round 2. Some leagues and commissioners can also change draft settings as they see fit, or award players draft positions in a given season. Typically, this is the most fun part of playing fantasy, as this is when you'll be able to build the team that will carry you throughout the season. Of course, the team you draft and the team you finish with will look completely different by season's end, thanks to trades and waiver-wire/free-agent additions.

Play Fantasy Football Because It's Fun!

While all fantasy sports bring a certain level of enjoyment to a person’s life, with fantasy football this is especially so. Since the NFL is structured in such a way that most of the games occur on one day of the week, and over a third of the regular season games are nationally televised, you'll have the opportunity to watch many of the players on your fantasy team score fantasy points for you live throughout the season if you so choose.

Fantasy sports have invaded not only people’s personal lives, but families, workspaces, and friend circles, and their popularity is still growing tremendously. The Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association (FSGA) estimated that in 2017, 59.3 million people in the USA and Canada were playing fantasy sports. The FSGA states that number has grown from an estimated 500,000 players in 1988.

Fantasy football can also be a way to bring people from all different walks of life together. No longer dominated by men, FSGA estimates that currently, 34 percent of players are women.

Fantasy football brings together people who love statistics, technology, sports, and/or competition all into one fantastic activity where everyone has a shot to win. You don’t need to be the biggest, the strongest, or the smartest person in the room to win your fantasy football league. You just have to do a little homework, build your team and have a great time.

Don't Stop Managing Your Fantasy Football Team After the Draft

Some new fantasy managers stop paying attention to their team after their draft. They prefer to watch for injuries and bye weeks and stick to the roster they chose and the starters they established.

This is a mistake. The team of experts at 4for4 and Yahoo Fantasy love fantasy football and want to do everything possible to ensure you win your league! Both sites will be providing advice all season long to help you set your weekly lineups, make pickups and understand the trade market. 

Brandon has been a regular contributor to 4for4 since 2006. He's an experienced writer with a background in communication, business, and alcoholic beverages.

This article appeared in its full form on 4for4.com

More from 4for4.com: Which teams invested in their offensive line?

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