How can I get better at making trades in fantasy football?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’ve been playing fantasy football for a few years now and I think I’m pretty good at it. One thing I can’t do though is get people to trade with me. Either they don’t want to trade or what they’re offering doesn’t seem like anything I would want to do. How can I get better at making trades in fantasy football?


Dear Rosalie,

There’s an art to trading in fantasy football. In this post, I’ll describe some of the basic principles and tactics I use to trade when I play fantasy football.

Both sides should “win” the trade

The driving principle of being a good trading partner is to want the person you’re trading with to succeed. This may seem silly in a zero sum game like fantasy football — after all, if your trading partner succeeds, won’t they threaten your team — but it’s actually the most important part of making a trade. A good trade should benefit both teams and you should want it to be that way. There are a few reasons why this is important. First, fantasy football is a long game. It’s played over the course of 13-17 weeks and in many leagues, over years or even decades. Most leagues have 10 or 12 teams, each run by a friend or colleague of yours. You want to make trades that are good for your trading partners so that they want to deal with you in the future. Even if you could trick someone into making an incredibly lopsided trade, you probably shouldn’t. They’ll never trade with you again and the rest of your league-mates will notice too.

Don’t just target the weak. The overflowing team is ripe for the picking too!

Conventional wisdom suggests that a team at the top of the standings will be difficult to trade with. That’s not always the case. Often, teams at the top have been successful because of surprisingly good performances from unexpected places. If a team’s fifth running back turned out to be one of the best in the league, this may mean that they find themselves with more good running backs than they are able to make use of on a week-to-week basis. If you can offer a team overflowing with high performing players in one position a slight improvement in another position, they might be willing to trade one of their many successes to you. One of the most agonizing parts of fantasy football is making start/sit decisions each week. Fantasy owners who have a surfeit of talented players at one position may want to trade a player away just so they don’t have to drive themselves crazy each weekend trying to guess who is going to be better between two or more good options. Lastly, success is not an antidote to anxiety in fantasy football. Some owners will interpret their own success as a harbinger of doom and want to “sell high” on high performing players because they are scared of a fall from grace.

Identify unlucky players

Touchdowns are worth much more than yards in most fantasy football leagues. The most standard scoring system makes touchdowns worth 6 times more than ten yard gained for running backs, receivers, and tight ends, and 15 times more for quarterbacks. Fantasy points, the clearest and most meaningful measure of a player’s worth to a fantasy team, are therefore highly dependent on touchdowns. In reality though, touchdowns are much more random than yards. The average NFL team scored between two and three touchdowns a game. That’s a much smaller sample size, even over the course of several games, than the 50 or so yard-gaining plays that happen each game. Although there are some players whose style or abilities make them less likely to score touchdowns than others, there are more out there whose lack of touchdowns are simply bad luck. Find these players by sorting a list of players by yards gained as opposed to fantasy points and target them for a trade. Their owner may be fed up with their inability to score touchdowns and therefore generate fantasy points.

Help people heal their bye week blues

Every NFL team takes a single week off during the NFL season. On most weeks during the middle of the season, four teams will not be playing. Less common is the two-team or six-team bye weeks, but they do happen too. Most of the time, fantasy teams will have enough players on their bench to fill a starting lineup without any problem. There’s usually one team per week whose players happen to have byes that line up in an unfortunate way for that owner. Maybe they have five wide receivers on their roster but four of them have Week Seven bye weeks. They won’t want to drop the players, because they might not be able to get them back, but they also won’t want to go a week without enough players in that position to field a starting lineup. If you can offer roster flexibility in a trade, they may be willing to make a trade that even they think would otherwise be slightly (just slightly, don’t get crazy) slanted in your favor.

Deep? Get shallow. Shallow? Get deep.

There’s a kind of platonic ideal for fantasy football teams: a few star players, very good players at every other position in the starting lineup, lower-performing players with high potential on the bench. In reality, few teams match that ideal exactly. Most teams are either deeper, meaning they have more good players but perhaps not any true stars, or shallower, meaning they have a few stars but then there’s a steep drop-off in terms of talent on the rest of their roster. Owners generally want to shift their teams toward the ideal. If you have a shallow team, find a deep team and see if you can construct a trade to help both of your teams get closer to the ideal. In this example, that would mean trading one of your stars for two or three very good players. These types of two or three for one trades are a common gambit in fantasy football. The trick is to suggest them strategically. A shallow team won’t want to trade you two or three players for another star. A deep team won’t trade you their star player for two or three of your very good players. Find a team whose shape you can improve.

Work at it

My last suggestion is that you do your due diligence every week. Open up each team’s page once a week and look to see what their situation is. Examine their teams for the trade openings we’ve described here. Are they too deep? Too shallow? Are they suffering with the bye week blues? Are they overwhelmingly strong at one position, perhaps to their own detriment? Do they have agonizing start/sit decisions each week? When you’re done doing that, run through a sorted list of each position by fantasy points AND yards gained. Look for unlucky players who you think are likely to play better in the coming weeks. See who their owners are and if there’s potential to make a trade. Send a few offers out every week. You’ll be surprised at what your fellow fantasy players are interested in doing. Don’t send anything patently unfair though – lopsided offers give you a bad reputation and depress counter-offers and negotiation.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Sports reads: Experiencing football

Each fall, football colonizes the minds and hearts of sports fans around the country. Football is simultaneously one of the most compelling and confusing sports. It has so many different layers – the player experience, the coaching experience, the television or in person viewer experience, the gambler’s experience, the fantasy football experience, and more. Today we’re featuring three stories that peel away a few layers of football and examine one in great and exciting detail.

The Oral History of Joe Theismann’s Broken Leg

by Luke Mullins for Washingtonian

The breaking of Joe Theismann’s leg, which happened during a nationally televised football game 30 years ago, is one of the most famous sports injuries ever. This oral history covers not just the ordinary gruesome fascination but also some behind-the-scenes and after-the-fact areas that are completely new.

“From the day I got hurt, people have always come up to me and asked me about the injury. All the time. They ask, ‘How’s the leg?’ And I say, ‘It’s a little crooked, it’s a little short, but I’m able to use it.’ And whenever someone suffers a severe leg injury in sports, I always get phone calls from reporters to discuss it… What the injury did for me, it basically became my identity. I’m basically the godfather of broken legs. “If somebody breaks a leg, I usually get a phone call from the media. And by remaining relevant in this way, it gives me a chance to hopefully help people through a very difficult time. Doctors will clear you when your body is physically ready to go, but then you have to clear yourself through the mental hurdles. And that’s really where I try to offer assistance if I can.

The Comprehensive Illusion of Football

by Nicholas Dawidoff for The New Yorker

Dawidoff spent a year researching his book on one of the least accessible layers of football – the one coaches obsess over, which virtually only they have access to. He gives us a tiny fascinating hint of it in this article.

Football on television is an entity unto itself: the comprehensive illusion of football, far from the full picture. As a result, there may be no activity that draws closer public scrutiny that the public knows less about.

To see the full truth of a football game, you’d have to enter an N.F.L. facility on Monday morning and watch the game film along with the coaches. Coaching film has no audio and is shot from end zone and sideline angles at sufficient depth that coaches can see what all twenty-two players are doing. Football involves large, fast men navigating a limited patch of land over and over again, with a map designed for each one of these brief excursions. The coaches have made the maps, and they spend their film sessions scrutinizing every player’s every movement, assessing what worked, what didn’t, and why.

My Fantasy Football Nightmare

by Jason Gay for The Wall Street Journal

I’ve written a lot about fantasy football and I hope I’ve been able to make it more understandable but I imagine it’s still a subject of curiosity for most non-fantasy football owners. In this article, Jason Gay, a long-time sports columnist, describes his first experience with fantasy football with humor and a great deal of insight.

And see this is another thing: Fantasy Football makes you do crazy stuff. You now have a stake in meaningless contests you’d never consider watching in the past. That Vikings-Niners game was about as entertaining as watching a goat take a nap. And yet there I was, as the clock pushed midnight, because it suddenly mattered. Sort of. Even worse, I am irrationally mad at Torrey Smith for giving me no fantasy points Monday night. Until now I had no beef with Torrey Smith. Sorry Torrey!

(Fantasy has also lent clarity to a lot of NFL coverage. In the past, I didn’t realize why things like Dez Bryant’s busted foot got covered like a mission to the Moon. But now I know: because there are a bazillion fantasy players who want to know exactly how Dez Bryant’s injury impacts their fantasy team—if they, you know, need to swing a deal for Jerry Lee Pasadena. One week on fantasy has lent great clarity as to why Adam Schefter is now more powerful in this country than the Supreme Court.)


Should I play daily fantasy sports (DFS)?

Dear Sports Fan,

Yesterday you wrote a post explaining how daily fantasy sports work. Thanks! My question is, should I play daily fantasy sports (DFS)? I love fantasy football, so it seems tempting.

Fred (who isn’t me just lobbing a question back at myself. No, really)

Dear Fred,

No. You should not play daily fantasy sports (DFS).

Daily fantasy sports are a hot topic these days. If you watched football at all during the first weekend of the NFL season, you were inundated by ads for the two major daily fantasy sports companies, DraftKings and FanDuel. The two spent more than $27 million combined on television advertising during that period! In the days following that media blitz, there’s been a quick backlash against the industry. This wave was led by Joshua Brustein and Ira Boudway of Bloomberg Business, whose article, You Aren’t Good Enough to Win Money Playing Daily Fantasy Football described a landscape full of predatory professional gamblers armed with advanced statistics and personally designed spreadsheets. Their well researched and convincing argument was picked up by a horde of other newspapers and blogs, all quick to jump on the bandwagon and point out to their readers that they shouldn’t play daily fantasy sports because they won’t win. It was an important article, because it pierced through the advertising campaigns that suggest easy money is just around the corner. But, with apologies to Brustein and Boudway and the many people who agree with them, they are missing the point when it comes to deciding whether or not you should play. Gambling can be fun, as long as you don’t risk more than you can afford to lose. Long odds are not a sufficient argument against daily fantasy sports. The reason why you shouldn’t play daily fantasy sports isn’t because you’re almost certain to lose money, it’s because it’s not fun.

Daily fantasy football takes virtually every element of traditional fantasy football that’s fun and strips it from the game.

  • In traditional fantasy football, you play against your friends. Last weekend I beat my friend Brian in our fantasy league. This weekend, I face a tough game against my friend and old boss, Jack. In my only foray into daily fantasy sports, I came in 158,247 place out of 331,428 entries in a contest for $100,000. Who won? I have no idea, but it certainly didn’t contribute to any friendships. Traditional fantasy football leagues provide a way for distant friends to stay connected and close friends to get even closer.
  • Traditional fantasy football creates lasting ties to players. One of the arguments against getting involved in traditional fantasy football is that it changes a fan’s focus from their favorite team to the set of players who are on their team. Daily fantasy goes even farther in divorcing your rooting interest from the sport itself. In daily fantasy sports, you pick players for your team and discard them the next day. There’s no time to build lasting affection, like I have for some players who I’ve had for full seasons or more on my traditional fantasy team. For example, I might not know that Brandon Marshall is a mental health advocate if I hadn’t been following him carefully because he was on my fantasy team. Daily fantasy sports wouldn’t inspire me to celebrate when one of the young players who I’ve stashed on my bench for weeks gets an opportunity in the starting lineup or feel sad when an elder statesman loses his job.
  • Traditional fantasy sports encourages interaction between people and teaches basic negotiating skills. In a traditional fantasy league, if you want to improve your team during a season, you need to trade with another owner in your league. You need to look at her team and think about what she needs compared to what you need. Most trades happen when one person identifies something the other person needs and offers it to them for something they have a surplus of. It’s not about tricking the other person, it’s about analysis and negotiation. Daily fantasy sports are between you and your computer and that’s it.

So yes, you shouldn’t play fantasy sports because it’s a money pit, but so is taking up ice hockey, owning a boat, or having kids. At least those three things are fun!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

One thing: Why was the late Steelers touchdown important?

When the Pittsburgh Steelers took possession of the ball on their own 30 yard-line with 2:59 left in the game, they still had a glimmer of a chance to win or tie the game before time ran out. They were down 28 to 14 and would have needed two touchdowns and two extra points to tie or two touchdowns, an extra point, and a two point conversion to win. Time was not on their side, but they did have all three of their timeouts and the two-minute warning left to stop the clock. They also have a great quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and a potentially even greater wide receiver in Antonio Brown. They had a chance even if it was a slim one, but they needed to score quickly, leaving enough time on the clock for an onside kick (a kickoff play designed to get the ball back instead of giving possession to the other team) and a Hail Mary (a last-ditch attempt to score a touchdown from very far away.)

One thing is a series of posts that examine a small part of a sporting event to explain and explore its meaning in a way that’s accessible to sports fans and laypeople alike.

They moved the ball well down the field but thanks to a phantom penalty call that took back a 29 yard pass play and a sack that lost them another seven yards and valuable time, by the time they used their third timeout, it was clear to everyone involved that they were not going to win. With only 11 seconds left, the Steelers still needed to score a touchdown, successfully convert an onside kick, and then score another touchdown. That’s almost an impossible task. Still, the Steelers kept trying, and with seven seconds left, they did manage to complete the first of those three tasks: they scored a touchdown.

Unfortunately, the NFL doesn’t allow websites to embed video, so you’ll have to watch the play on YouTube. Go watch it, but come back! Brown, the excellent wide receiver mentioned above, runs a corner route (football speak for running straight up the field and then angling diagonally toward the sideline or corner of the end-zone) and catches the ball before his momentum takes him out-of-bounds. It’s a beautiful play, but it took five seconds, leaving only two seconds on the clock. Even though the extra point attempt is officially untimed, meaning it doesn’t take any time off the game clock, two seconds is still not enough to run an onside kick and still have enough left over to run even a single pass play. The game is logically over, the Steelers have lost, the Patriots have won.

But listen to the announcer, Al Michaels. Here’s what he has to say, “That might make a couple of people happy in a minute here, ’cause Malcolm Butler gets beaten and makes it an eight point game here for the moment. There are a couple of things that are going to be in play here right now.” And a few seconds later, “Well, speak about tangentially interested, there are a few people more than tangentially interested right now.”

What is he talking about? Why would this play, which could not possibly change the outcome of the game, be important to people? The answer lies in two activities that have an important symbiotic relationship to the NFL: fantasy football and gambling.

For fantasy football owners, (if you don’t know how fantasy football works, read the Dear Sports Fan post explaining it) a touchdown counts just as much in the third to last second of the game as it does in the middle of the game. A touchdown in a lost cause counts as much as one in a close game. In fact, garbage time, as time in a lost cause is called in fantasy football language, can be an important tactical consideration. Players on teams that are often losing by large margins tend to accumulate fairly good statistics as their opponents care a little less on defense or even rest some of their better players.

As for gambling, the Steelers late touchdown was an even bigger deal. One of the most popular ways to gamble on football is betting a line. When you do this, you’re betting not on one team to win or lose the game, but on one team to exceed the expectation that a bookmaker has set for them. Before the game started, most bookmaker’s expectation for the Patriots was that they would win by seven points. Therefore their expectation was that the Steelers would lose by seven points. When the Patriots were up by 14, with only a couple of minutes to go, people who had bet on the Patriots (to exceed their expectations and win by more than seven points) were in a position to win money. That last second touchdown, brought the score to 28-21, a difference of exactly seven points. This matches the pre-game expectation or line set by bookmakers. This is called a push, when the result matches the line, and no one wins anything! Gamblers get their money back and the bookmakers are out whatever their overhead for facilitating the transaction is plus marketing costs, etc.

The last second touchdown by the Steelers was meaningless to the outcome of the football game, it was important to fantasy football players and gamblers, two very important groups of people who follow football.

Dear Sports Fan's Football Fan and Friend Fantasy Football League

Joining a fantasy football league can be an intimidating prospect. It’s a big commitment – usually 16 weeks. Fantasy football seems to require a great deal of knowledge about and passion for football. Then, you add a level of game-play on top of that. Fantasy football is also challenging from a social perspective. Leagues are closed societies with their own culture and expected behavior. The people in them look like they are having a ton of fun but it’s almost impossible to share their enjoyment if you’re not on the inside. All of this adds up to making fantasy football a difficult thing for beginners to break into. This fall, we’re going to try to find a soluton!

Dear Sports Fan’s Football Fan and Friend Fantasy Football League (the DSFFFFFFL for short) is a brand new kind of fantasy football league. Teams will be owned and operated by pairs of people: one a football and fantasy football veteran; the other, someone who is brand new to fantasy football. Throughout the process, we’ll be open and attentive to explaining anything that needs explaining. Both sides will learn a lot and have fun too! I’ll write about the league in Dear Sports Fan and will likely ask for each pair of owners to do a podcast with me about the experience sometime during the year.

  • If you’ve ever wanted to play fantasy football but were afraid to try, find an experienced friend of yours and get her to join with you.
  • If you’re an experienced fantasy owner who has always wanted to share the experience with a friend of yours, invite him to join the DSFFFFFFL.

Send an email to with a little bit of information about who each of you is and how you know each other. We will be taking applicants until Saturday, August 29.

The best sports stories of the week

No theme this week, just a selection of wonderful articles about sports that I flagged throughout the week. One of my favorite parts of writing Dear Sports Fan is reading other great writers cover sports in a way that’s accessible and compelling for the whole spectrum from super-fans to lay people. Here are selections from the best articles of the last week on the subject of attitude:

Wilt the Stilt Becomes Wilt the Stamp

by David Davis for the New York Times

I just love that these stamps are extra long. Fitting for a man who was 7’1″ and loved to (ahem) rack up statistics.

Chamberlain, the only man to score 100 points in an N.B.A. game, will become the first player from the league to be honored with a postage stamp in his image. And fittingly enough, the two versions being issued by the Postal Service are nearly two inches long, or about a third longer than the usual stamp.

That time an NFL team used truth serum on an injured player

by Andrew Heisel for Vice Sports

This article wins the award for craziest sports story of the week. And the craziest part of it is that the contract the Buccaneers were trying to get out of paying by proving that their employee was malingering was not even a big contract. If they went as far as injecting him with sodium pentothal, how far would they have gone to avoid paying a player with a bigger salary? 

In a drug-soaked environment where the ends almost always justified the means, is it really shocking that an NFL team doctor would shoot a player full of a substance that was used by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s as part of a top-secret mind control program? As McCall emphasized about Diaco, when a player enters a team’s training facility, he’s not dealing with his doctor but “their doctor.” There’s a difference.

When dyslexia blocked his path to college football, Maryland high school player took unusual route

by Dave Sheinin for the Washington Post

Wait, did I say the last story won the prize for craziest sports story? Hmm… let’s just say it’s a tie then. I’m actually surprised false identities don’t happen more often in order to get around the academic requirements to play top-level college football or basketball. I guess there are so many quasi sanctioned ways to cheat the system that going this far out of the box is rare.

He wasn’t a former power-lifter who turned one season of football at a prep school in Maine into a scholarship to Kansas State. He was actually a former all-state lineman from Maryland who, after failing to qualify academically for the NCAA, assumed the identity of his best friend — John Knott — and, using Knott’s transcripts and some forged documents, went off to chase his NFL dreams.

Yes, there was a real John Knott. But instead of the 6-foot-5, 280-pound black man who showed up in Manhattan, Kan., in January 1996 — touted by the National Recruiting Advisor as the “sleeper of the class,” because he was big and fast and nobody knew much about him — the real John Knott was actually a 5-9, 140-pound former high school teammate. And he’s white.

Thunder At Dawn, Or Prayer Of A Rugby Dad

by James Howdon for The Classical

Children often find ways to separate themselves from their parents’ avocations. For some children of sports fans, that means learning to play music or joining the debate club. For others, like the son whose father lovingly describes in this article, that means choosing a sport to play which his father knows nothing about.

There are outbursts of loudness, sudden messes, emotional extremity and inexplicable decision-making in our house, part of life with a bright and hasty teenaged boy. In rugby, it’s reversed: he’s the recipient, the object of constant chaos. Especially during the first few workouts, it must’ve felt like life in a tiny random universe: balls came his way without warning, bodies careened and bumped, and the flow of play suddenly reversed or stopped or accelerated in ways utterly surprising to him.

He is learning a sport about which his old man definitely doesn’t know better. He digs that part of the deal with a really big shovel, to be the one teaching.

Fantasy Football Isn’t Just a Man’s Game

by Courtney Rubin for the New York Times

As I wrote about earlier this week, the fantasy football playoffs start this weekend in most leagues. That means people all over the country, not just men, will be going crazy — screaming with joy, frustration, and staring fixedly at their phones, hoping for miracles!

Unflattering stereotypes abound about the female fantasy football player — does it only because of her boyfriend/husband, picks based on how cute the players are — but these days, young women are turning to fantasy football as a way to bond with friends, especially faraway ones with whom they communicate about their hobby on social media and GChat.

She [Adrienne Allen] is so competitive that she refuses to name her favorite research sources, lest she tip off the competition. But she will reveal that her diligence includes scanning the Internet for articles about players’ personal lives because drama can affect performance. “It’s a huge soap opera,” she said of the N.F.L.

Why do fantasy football playoffs start so soon?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’m playing fantasy football for the first time this season and I’m doing well. I’m 8-5 and heading to the playoffs! But I have a question — why do the fantasy football playoffs start so soon? It feels funny to have our playoffs start while the NFL regular season still has a while to go.


Dear Brandon,

Congratulations on your first successful regular season of fantasy football! Making the playoffs is quite an achievement in your first year. Interesting question about the timing of the fantasy football playoffs. The overarching answer is that the fantasy playoffs are scheduled with the goal of making them occur during a time that the NFL is behaving roughly the way it has been since the start of the season. Let’s take a closer look at this.

The first thing about fantasy football and its schedule is that you can’t align fantasy football’s schedule with real football’s schedule. It would be smart, in many ways, if the fantasy football playoffs could be during the NFL playoffs because that would  mean the peak of many people’s motivation to watch football would occur at the same time as the most exciting time in the NFL calendar. It can’t happen though, because fantasy football teams rely on players from all 32 teams and only 12 make the playoffs. In order to play fantasy football during the real playoffs, you’d need to completely recreate your fantasy teams with only players from playoff teams. This breaks the continuity of fantasy football which is based on having roughly the same players on your team from week to week during the season. So, the fantasy playoffs have to be during the NFL regular season when all the teams are still playing.

That leads us to the second factor that goes into the scheduling of the fantasy football playoffs. During Week 17, the last week of the season, it’s common for teams that have already clinched a place in the playoffs and are stuck in the same seed, whether they win or lose, to rest some of their best players. Those players are often some of the best fantasy statistic accumulators as well as NFL players. So, many fantasy leagues, but not all, try to end their fantasy seasons before Week 17 of the NFL schedule.

That pushes the fantasy finals to Week 16. Working back from there, the way the majority of leagues do it, that means the semifinals are in Week 15, and the quarterfinals — usually the first round of the fantasy playoffs — are in Week 14.

  • NFL Weeks 1-13 — Fantasy regular season
  • NFL Week 14 — First week of the fantasy playoffs
  • NFL Week 15 — Fantasy semi-finals
  • NFL Week 16 — Fantasy championship game
  • NFL Week 17 — Too unstable because NFL teams might rest their best players, so no fantasy
  • NFL Playoffs — 20 of 32 teams don’t play, making fantasy football, at least the way we know it, impossible or very, very impractical

There are some common variations to this standard schedule. One that I think is smart is a fantasy playoffs where each round of the playoffs takes place over two weeks. Instead of a single week’s worth of games deciding who wins between your fantasy team and your fantasy opponent, you play over the course of two NFL weeks and whichever fantasy team has the most cumulative points at the end, advances. This is cool for two reasons: first, it makes the fantasy playoffs a little more statistically significant than an often fairly random one week competition; second, it makes the game more tactically interesting because it pushes fantasy owners into decisions about going for broke after the first weekend if they are behind or playing it safe if they’re ahead. Another common variant is to use Week 17, either within a two week fantasy championship or as a one week final game. This means that as you’re assembling your final roster, you need to think about teams that might have no reason to play their best players on the final week of the schedule and about the players that might replace them. Sometimes those replacement players can be very important. The best example of this was back on January 1 of 2012 when the Green Bay Packers rested quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the last game of the season. His replacement, Matt Flynn sauntered into the game and threw 480 yards and six touchdowns or roughly 55 points in standard fantasy scoring! I prefer leagues that do not play on Week 17 because the confusion of that week cheapens the rest of the season just a little bit but it definitely adds an interesting tactical wrinkle.

Good luck in the playoffs,
Ezra Fischer

What is a trade in fantasy football?

Dear Sports Fan,

What is a trade in fantasy football? And why do people who play fantasy football get so excited about trading?


Dear Noah,

We’ve written a few posts on how fantasy football, two of which are good preparatory reading in order to understand trades: How does fantasy football work? and What does it mean to start or sit someone in fantasy football? In those posts, you’ll learn how fantasy football teams are constructed (by selecting real world football players in a fantasy draft) and then evaluated each week (by the statistics that a select group of the starting players on each team accumulate.) After the initial selection of players onto teams, the only way improve your team’s fortunes is through swapping players with the “bank” of players that have not been selected by any team — this is called adding/dropping a player — or by swapping players with another team. This is called trading.

Every fantasy trade is the product of negotiation between players. Two fantasy owners get together in person or over the internet and go back and forth suggesting different ways of swapping players until they both agree. At this point, they can enter the trade into the website used to run the fantasy league. Every fantasy league is a little different, but there is often some kind of review period so that the rest of the fantasy league or the person who runs it can confirm that this was a “good” trade where both people think they’re getting the better deal. It’s important to avoid trades based on collusion (you trade me your good player for my bad one and I’ll buy you a pony) because it subverts the honesty of the competition.

Fantasy football is almost but not quite a closed system. In a true closed system, we’d be able to simply add up all the points from the players involved in a trade at the end of the season and whichever person ended up with the players with more cumulative points would have “won” the trade. In fantasy football though, there are positional requirements that make things more complicated. Each week, a team’s starting lineup has to consist of (for example) one quarterback, two running backs, and three wide receivers. If my team has two good quarterbacks but no good running backs, I will benefit from a trade that moves my good quarterback for your decent running back even if the quarterback will end the season having scored more points than your running back. There are a wide variety of reasons to make trades and looking for a trade partner, assessing their team, deciding which type of trade to approach them with, and then working back and forth with them to make it is great fun. All of this makes trading one of the most enjoyable parts of fantasy football. Here are some of the most common types of trades:

  • One position for another trade — this is the scenario we just talked about. If I’m rich at one position but poor at another, I’ll look for teams in the opposite position and talk to them about making a deal.
  • Two or three for one trade — this is a common trade made between one team at the top of the standings and another team towards the bottom or middle. If one team is so strong that they can give up two or three good players for another team’s great player, both teams can profit. The good team just got better by adding a great player to their roster and the not-so-good team improves in several different spots. The risk for the better team is that they’re putting more of their eggs in one basket and as we all know, an NFL player is an egg basket that frequently gets injured and breaks.
  • Dissatisfied like for like trade — the ultimate grass-is-greener logic. I’m annoyed at the performance of my tight end and you’re annoyed at the performance of yours, so we just swap them. This is relatively rare because in order to do it, both people need to think they’re winning the deal. This type of trade truly is zero sum.
  • Bye week trade — bye weeks (read the post on what a bye week is here) can hit fantasy football teams hard. On some weeks there can be up to six real NFL teams that don’t play. If you see that a team in your league is stuck with a lot of their players not playing that week, you may be able to induce them to trade you some of them for players who actually have games. Using this logic, you might be able to get slightly better players in the deal just because you’re willing to wait a week to use their statistics.
  • Keeper league trade — some fantasy leagues allow fantasy owners to retain players from year to year. By the time the middle of the season comes around, teams at the bottom of the league may be willing to give away good players this year for players that are more attractive candidates for next year. This type of trade may seem like collusion because it is intentionally imbalanced in terms of how good the players are but if you think of fantasy football as a multi-year instead of a single year competition, it makes sense.

Trading in fantasy football is an art and a skill. It involves analysis, negotiation, and risk taking. If you’re in a fantasy league, give it a shot. If you’re just around people who are in the midst of making fantasy trades, ask them what type of trade it was.

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

When fantasy football gets real

Fantasy football is so commonplace that we never stop to think about how funny it is. Luckily two NFL players recognized the humor for us…

Fantasy football has become such a popular game that it’s become quite commonplace. We rarely stop to think about how weird it all is. Millions of people play a game based on the statistics generated from hundreds of people playing a different game. That’s weird! It’s especially weird for the couple hundred people who are notable enough football players that their names and statistics are the ones being used in fantasy football. Two NFL players made news recently by playing with the comical boundary between fantasy and reality this past week.

Glenn Davis of the USA Today reported that New York Giants Tight End Larry Donnell lost his fantasy football game last week because he chose to start 49ers Tight End Vernon Davis over himself! Little did he know that he was going to catch three touchdowns in the Giants game versus Washington while Davis was going to leave his game against Philadelphia early with an injured back. Whoops! As a fantasy owner, it’s comforting to know that even the player involved has no idea before the game whether or not he’s going to do better than another player.

Barry Petchesky of Deadspin reported recently on another NFL player having fun with fantasy. San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Stevie Johnson has been perpetrating a running joke on his twitter feed. He pretends that he is fielding a “Fantasy Work team” and his twitter followers reply with clever reasons to be included on or excluded from his team. It’s an incredibly clever gag. Here are a few of my favorites:

Johnson himself continues to be a surprisingly useful fantasy player himself. In the past three weeks he’s had one game with 100 yards receiving and two other games with a touchdown. As good as he is at football, he’s probably even better to have in a fantasy good-natured-comedy league!

Cue Cards 9-23-14

Cue Cards is a series designed to assist with the common small talk about high-profile recent sporting events that is so omnipresent in the workplace, the bar, and other social settings.

Yesterday —  Monday, September 22

  1. The Bears ground the Jets — There’s really only one thing in the sports world that happened yesterday which will create conversation today, and that’s the Chicago Bears beating the New York Jets 27-19 on Monday Night Football. It wasn’t an unexpected result, the Bears seem like they are pretty good and Jets seem like they’re tragically flawed in many of the ways they often are: mediocre quarterback, unreliable wide-receivers, slightly dysfunctional organization. The most notable aspect of the game last night was how many injuries there were on particular positional groupings. By the end of the game, the Bears were scraping the bottom of the barrel for their defensive backs but the Jets were missing their best wide receiver so it was hard for them to take advantage of it.
    Line: [Jets quarterback] Geno Smith shows just enough promise to keep luring you in without delivering.
  2. Fantasy, fantasy, fantasy — Tuesdays after otherwise quiet Mondays are the perfect time for fantasy football owners to crow or gripe about their teams. They “absolutely crushed” their league this week or they “lost by a fraction of a point because [name of player] had a touchdown called back because of [penalty, usually offensive holding]” or because they started [player] when they should have started [other player.]
    Line: [Nod head, make sympathetic noises, and then launch into telling them about your hobby of fishing/crocheting/model trains/historic reenactment. Fair is fair.]