Weekly Fantasy Football: A Snapshot Into Legal Wagering

I'm 48 years old and have seen society change quite a bit, but nothing quite so quickly and efficiently as "internet gambling." That being said, the term "gambling" and the legal definitions and status seem to be closer to 50 Shades of Grey than it is to the black and white television I grew up with. It had a 13-inch tube, no cable, no remote, and had to "warm up" for a few minutes. Getting up at 6:55 on Saturday mornings to watch Bugs Bunny was da BOM back in the day!

Time Stops for Nobody

Yeah, the so-called "Arrow of Time" is one of life's few undeniable laws. Right up there with death, taxes, and politicians telling lies. Technology emerged to go from having to call someone on a landline to another landline to wireless internet and smartphones. Fantasy football, invented well before Al Gore "authored" (see what I mean?) the Internet (DARPA). Ever since that time, the legal implications have been quite slow to keep the pace with all this new technology.

Legal "gambling" online in the form of fantasy teams is big money. The "word" is that it's a bigger business than the NFL its, but nobody really knows. The real (and relevant) deal is that the game of poker has been ruled to NOT be a "game of chance" and thus is legal to gamble by some jurisdictions. That's a very important legal pivot point to fantasy football.

Poker is not a "game of chance" according to some and the players of that game don't even get to pick their cards...for obvious reasons. The difference here is why it's so important a point. In fantasy football, you do get to pick your cards, in a metaphorical sense. If you're unaware, each player is given a value each week according to their predicted value in the next game. You stay under the salary cap, pick your team, and the results depend on the teams playing in the NFL that week. The "fantasy" team who has the best numbers on the field wins.

This point gives "gambling" on fantasy football (and other games, like MLB or the NHL) a legal cushion to remain legal, as the game is tilted more in the player's control than is poker. Random chance (or as the players say, "lady luck") is what matters in poker in that you "play the hand you're dealt." In fantasy football, you "play the hand you chose!"

An In-Game Snapshot of a Fantasy Team's Progress

I think I've gotten my own "secret to winning money," such as it is, on FanDuel, where I play. I tried a few of the "millionaire" contests, but it's a much, much steeper curve for actually winning any money. There, you have to finish in the top 5% or so to actually score some cash. The "50/50" games are where you can double (or almost double) your bet on your team, and all you have to do there is finish in the top 40%-50% depending on how the rules and winnings are set up. I'm like 10-2 or something obscene like that in those...and this week I'm hoping to win a big windfall and double five bucks. It's currently Monday morning, so bear that in mind when looking at the bigger picture:

I wanted to show the difference in the games I'm talking about.

The top game, where I'm apparently right on the edge to win/not win, is essentially a "50/50" game. Top 30,000 of 68,000 double their money, the others lose the entry fee. You can click on the window to expand it to view.

I said I was "apparently" on the edge of winning because I still have QB Phillip Rivers in action tonight. Odds are that most of the players have finished their weekly fights, and Rivers' production should quite easily outpace that of the game itself on the fantasy pool. If not, it means the Pittsburgh defense has completely shut down the Bolts' offense in San Diego (unlikely). Rivers entered the week tops in the NFL in passing yardage. Hmm.

But What's Inside?

This roster:

Week 5 chosen roster

Notice that there really is only one "big stud" on this team. They cost the most - around $8,500-$9,200 - in fake money while draining your team of resources overall, so I typically eschew paying up for guys. This is where the term "upside" enters the thought process...wondering who might step up and actually produce when most casual NFL fans are unaware of a particular situation.

It's very difficult to avoid taking a stinker especially when you're not even really looking at the top of the heap much in talent and past production. The idea is to look closely at the match-ups and grab a relatively unknown guy or a known guy who may be due for a big game. Here, I took V-Jax thinking that he might be able to put up some numbers in a cellar-dweller match-up game. He disappointed me. Oh well, it happens, and we all learn.

For instance, I learned the hard way last week....or was it the week before when Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Newman laid a goose egg? Anyhow, it's why I don't draft him...and this week he had something like 1.9 FP so there ya go. TEs not named Gronkowski are very difficult to read if you don't have the money for a Martellus Bennett.

Add V-Jax to the list of guys who just aren't producing in FP.

Otherwise, I fared quite well so far with QB Phillip Rivers to go, and I'm sitting pretty well.

Ideas Behind the Choices

First of all, you need to know how to draft and how *I* draft. Since I'm not taking a "fantasy stud" at all, I generally pick my DEF team and my TE first. This is because for those two positions, the difference between the second-tier selections and the top dogs often aren't all that big. I'll just say that selection order to me is dictated by remaining money (the "Salary Cap"), so getting those two out of the way first helps keep things simpler at the end when the money is gone. Everyone should be able to figure their own style out after working it a few tries.

- Phillip Rivers, QB - Taken at/near the end of the selection process. He's leading the NFL in passing yardage entering the week and playing at home against a questionable secondary with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jamaal Charles, RB - He's my first pick after getting the back-end done with the DEF and TE picks. I figured in the home game and opposing defense, but Charles got hurt in-game. It happens and nothing you can do about it. He's a great example of why you don't put too many chips in one spot - even for one week. As it turns out, I don't think Chicago's defense is so good rather the Chief's offense is that bad. Mental note there to check the RB costs vs. KC's opponent and likely starter next week. He'll likely be quite inexpensive.

- Todd Gurley, RB - He's no secret among fantasy players but more of a player right now who has nearly unlimited "upside" and comes cheaply at his price. The biggest thing in his way is his team's play since they are, once again this year, often playing from behind which can limit his touches. That's always the rub to playing RBs from bad teams - you never do know which week is going to be the 10-carry week. Gurley was gold again, and on my short list of guys to start next week and in following weeks.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR - Sanders is one of the pricier WRs on the list but in this week I took him more because I thought his downside was low, not because I thought he'd have a massive game. This is not how you win, folks, it's playing not to lose and is dumb in general. However, my reasoning was that I couldn't really see any 3rd WR that was going to be what I thought of as a bargain this week, so his selection was me simply "circling the wagons."

Vincent Jackson, WR - Going against another horrible team, I correctly figured it would be a high-scoring contest. However, Mr. Jackson here still managed to avoid the ball for almost all of the game. Mental note of another guy not to trust under any circumstances.

Allen Robinson, WR - This is the guy I was highest on this week, and indeed was one of my top-five fantasy sleepers for 2015 overall. He certainly rocketed past my expectations this week while demonstrating what type of production I hope to see. This is "value drafting" defined, and is how you win these contests. Keep a really good eye on his pricing.

Delainie Walker, TE - The team played at home against Buffalo and the idea was that the D would shut down big plays to the WRs while Walker hauls in underneath tosses and racks up FP more in the catches category than anything. I had a moderate upside to him and his price was right. Unfortunately, his FP weren't there...but again, the lack of depth in the NFL overall at this position makes seeing low scores more likely than not. I couldn't afford Martellus Bennett so I nabbed a guy who lost the coin toss. 

- Stephen Gostkowski, K - Simple. New England against Dallas meant lots of scoring. In fact, I've taken Gostkowski or NYG K Josh Brown every week. The money differences here are small, so no reason to not go ahead with a known commodity with a lot of upside potential.

Arizona Cardinals, DEF - I look for team defenses in a bit of a different way than most do, I think. What I do is say "Who is playing the Jags/Lions/Bucs/...?" In other words, what defenses are seeing the easiest time of things this week? I then go from there. Defenses are like kickers in that they don't seem to have such big differences in pricing between them that the position players do. I knew the Lions were on the road. I've been an NFL fan for almost fifty years now, and that's one of the few things that change. Lions on the road = disaster for the Lions. Been that way for eons and decades, and Arizona has a defense with some breadth to it. When they get turnovers and the blood is in the water, I've seen this defense go fantasy-crazy. This week, they certainly did against an age-old punchline.

I just wanted to share some info for those of you thinking about (or already do) participate in these online games and the thought process behind the drafting. As always, comments are welcome. I'd love to hear your experiences!

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