In case you’ve been living in the Amazon for the last several months, these sites – dominated by DraftKings and its evil cousin, FanDuel – are spending like a Bush/Clinton PAC to convince you that $5 and your encyclopedic fantasy knowledge can make you an instant millionaire.
After all, how hard can it be to pick the best player at each position in any given week, under a not-that-restrictive salary cap? It seems so easy, until you realize that you aren’t playing against the guy in the next cubicle.
In fact, you have about as much chance of winning a weekly DraftKings jackpot as you do of winning your state’s lottery, since the “game” is dominated by deep-pocketed “sharks” who enter hundreds, sometimes thousands, of lineups with a dizzying array of player combinations using statistical algorithms specifically built to tilt the odds in their favor.
Actually, you may be better served playing the Lotto because at least the people buying hundreds of tickets have no idea if 15, 23 and 36 are more likely to hit than 8, 32 and 41. This weekend, you probably thought you’d be in the money if you started Marcus Mariota, DeAngelo Williams and Antonio Brown. But the sharks not only had those three, they played a few dozen variations that enabled them to randomly hit on Lamar Miller, Sammy Watkins, Cole Beasley and Delanie Walker, too.
I first tried FanDuel last year when a buddy challenged me to play him head-to-head one week. We each invested $5, and the winner (yes, me) walked away with $9. The house kept a buck.
It felt like going to Vegas and playing red or black on the Roulette wheel, though I had a better idea of which color would come up than the other guy. Not to mention FanDuel’s payoff is worse.
Where’s the fun in that?
Now, put $75,000, $250,000 or a mil on the line, and I’m interested. Just not interested enough to write a program that churns out all the possible combinations of winning lineups with Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton or Mariota as my QB. That’s not skill. That’s math.
Call me old school, but I still look forward to draft nights prior to the regular season opener. I prefer competing against people I know – for money, yes, but more for the sheer entertainment value afforded by a 16-week-long test of wits. I enjoy the trash talk, the thrill of the trade, the starting lineup conundrums, the joy of preening atop the standings and the satisfaction of clawing my way up from the cellar.
I hate seeing superstars like Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell go down, but I relish the challenge of tapping my bench depth and discovering a waiver-wire gem that leads me to the postseason. Jerry Jones can’t find a way to win without Tony Romo, but I sure can.
In short, I believe in a world in which people own and manage their imaginary players for an entire season, rather than renting them on a weekly basis. I believe you should suffer through Drew Brees’ early-season rut, so you can revel in his rebound. I believe it’s okay to do a discrete fist pump when your fantasy running back scores against your favorite NFL team, just as long as you tell yourself you’d give up those points if it meant your real team would win.
Stand up, America! Let’s take back the game we love and return to a more civil world in which game-day broadcasts are brought to us by beer, pizza and erectile dysfunction advertisers. The way our Founding Fathers intended.
FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS
To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here's a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else's lineup.
Catch ‘em while you can
Derek Carr, QB, Raiders. I rarely recommend the same guy more than once, but Carr is inexplicably available in roughly 40 percent of all fantasy leagues. Given all the byes and injured quarterbacks, how could a guy that embarrassed the Jets’ defense last week still be sitting on so many waiver wires? Perhaps after a three-game stretch in which he has amassed 923 passing yards, 11 TDs and one interception, Carr will get some respect.
Karlos Williams, RB, Bills. With Buffalo’s next game falling on Thursday night, Shady McCoy is a long shot to play with his injured shoulder. Williams showed what he can do when given the chance and can be a very handy short-term proxy.
Brandon Bolden, RB, Patriots. He’s the next man up if Dion Lewis (knee) is down for multiple weeks, as expected. LeGarrette Blount will likely see the majority of the carries, but Bolden should inherit Lewis’ change-of-pace role. Bolden won’t be starter-worthy most weeks, but he could be a decent bye-week or injury fill-in.
Don’t be fooled
Shaun Draughn, RB, 49ers. If this week was any indication, Draughn has earned the lead running back role until Carlos Hyde returns. But the 49ers are heading to their bye and Hyde is eyeing a Week 11 comeback. Draughn’s risk-return ratio is way out of kilter.
Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys. On the heels of two consecutive goose eggs, Beasley suddenly became Matt Cassel’s best friend on Sunday night. But the No. 3 wideout in Dallas is barely roster-worthy when Romo is under center. Let someone else take the primetime bait.
Vernon Davis, TE, Broncos. Owen Daniels made a statement with Sunday’s 102-yard, one-TD performance: You’re going to have take this job from my cold, dead hands, Vernon. Davis didn’t make the box score in his first game as a Bronco, and the chances of him contributing meaningfully any time soon are slim.