If you're heading into the 2012 football season without a fantasy league to play in, or you're thinking about adding a second or third league to your docket, there are several types of leagues to choose from and plenty of things you have to consider.
There are several factors that should go into determining which fantasy leagues are right for you, such as how ardent of a football fan you are, how free you are on Sunday afternoons and Monday/Thursday nights to watch games and follow your players, whether you want to play for money or just for fun and how serious you are about wanting to win.
So here are five things to consider when picking your fantasy league type:
Do you like the idea of keeping players from year-to-year?
This is one of the major questions you need to ask yourself when picking a fantasy league. Many leagues start from scratch every single season. If you have a terrible season, no big deal. Next year you will have an entirely different roster, so all the nincompoops you drafted will be pink-slipped at season’s end.
But if you are joining a league with a lot of friends and acquaintances you know, you may be more apt to choose a dynasty league where you get to keep some, most or all of the players on your roster.
Dynasty/keeper leagues make things more intriguing from many standpoints. Drafting is more important because you can hold onto superstar players for several seasons. Trading is more interesting because you can swing deals to improve your team for a playoff drive by trading away future draft picks or keepers, or vice-versa. And then figuring out which players you're going to protect for the following season, if there is a set limit, also gives you something else to think about.
If you're joining an online league with strangers, a standard start-from-scratch league is likely better suited for you. If you think the league you are joining will be around for a few years, though, dynasty leagues can be much more fun—especially when you have a guy like Aaron Rodgers to build your fantasy squad around for five years.
Do you prefer drafts or auctions?
Standard draft leagues normally dominate the fantasy football landscape. The drafts are snake/serpentine where the draft order reverses every round. Hey, the NFL draft is more fun than watching Donald Driver dance, so most fantasy football leagues like replicating that atmosphere of guessing which players will be taken in which rounds.
But maybe you have tried the auction-style format in a fantasy baseball league, and you prefer it. Maybe you enjoy the art of managing a salary cap like NFL general managers do. Or maybe, you're just a Storage Wars fanatic, and you get a kick out of bidding up opposing owners up for players you have no interest in, like Randy Moss or kickers.
Drafts and auctions are both fun in their own special ways. You can prepare for drafts weeks ahead of time, while auctions are more of a seat-of-your pants way of filling your roster because you never know which players’ names will be thrown out for bidding and how the bidding will go.
What kind of scoring systems do you like and dislike?
Fantasy football is much simpler than say fantasy baseball or basketball in the category department. Fantasy football is as cut and dry as Bill Belichick’s press conferences. The majority of points you get will be racked up from yards and touchdowns.
Each league has different stats quirks and tweaks, however. Some penalize points for interceptions and fumbles. Some award more points for sacks and turnovers on defense than others. Some give bonuses for 100-yard-games for RB and WR and 300-yard-games for QB. And some give extra points for longer touchdowns or longer field goals.
Then you have two other scoring-related questions to answer:
1. Do you want to be in a head-to-head league where you play a different opponent every week or a rotisserie-style league where the stats you accumulate on a weekly basis get added up against all the other owners in your league?
Head-to-head leagues are generally used in fantasy football formats. You can trash talk one opponent all week, have a gentleman’s bet on your game and you do not have to cheer against 99 percent of the players in the NFL because you're only up against maybe 10-15 per week.
Rotisserie/cumulative stats leagues are for the person who thinks head-to-head leagues are unfair because you could have the best fantasy team all season and then have a playoff hiccup and lose out on a title and prize money.
2. Do you want to be in a touchdown league or a yardage league?
Touchdown leagues are a dying breed, sort of like fullbacks in the NFL. In these leagues, nothing else matters but touchdowns. Your RB could gallop for 275 yards, but his fantasy score is zero if he does not find the end zone at all. This is for people who want the easiest fantasy league to follow—and who are mathematically adept at adding plenty of sixes and threes together.
Most fantasy leagues are yardage leagues where players receive points for every 10 yards rushing or receiving and 20-25 yards passing, give or take some yards. They're generally more fun than touchdown leagues.
Do I want to use defenses or individual defensive players?
Many fantasy owners do not care for and/or do not have the time to be in leagues where individual defensive players are drafted just like offensive players. For many, it's hard enough to list 30 quarterbacks and 50 running backs on a cheat sheet. If you ask them to try and rank the top 30 linebackers, they might sack you like Justin Tuck.
But the popularity of IDP leagues is growing. It is another fantasy wrinkle that makes leagues more interesting and harder to win. Only the REALLY serious fantasy owners need apply. If you're a fair-weather fantasy fan, then it's highly doubtful you want to track how many tackles your safeties or how many interceptions your cornerbacks have gotten you every weekend.
But defense is a large part of football, so it needs a place in fantasy football. So if you do not want the hassle of memorizing who Carolina’s outside linebacker is, opt for a league where you play one or two team defenses a week. It's much easier to research and follow an entire defense like the Pittsburgh Steelers than it is to do the same for 6-10 individual defensive players on different NFL teams.
How much time will you spend on managing your team?
If you're single, only work 40 hours a week and have plenty of spare time on your hands (especially on Sundays during the fall), then you might favor a league with more bells and whistles than a Mike Martz offense.
If you're serious about playing and winning, and you are very knowledgeable about the players and teams in the NFL, then you should want to play for more prize money and prefer more intricate rules for the league you choose.
If you consider yourself a football expert, join a league where that expertise pays off. If you know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ punter’s name and Joe McKnight’s rushing yard total for 2011 off the top of your head, put that intelligence to use and try to win big bucks.
But if fantasy football is just a fun thing you want to spend a couple minutes of preparation on per week and you are just doing it to make football games, not involving your favorite team, more exciting to watch, you're probably better off joining a regular league that's either free or only has a small entry fee and just asks you to play a QB, two RB, two WR, a TE, a kicker and a defense every week.
Picking the perfect fantasy league will definitely make your Sundays from September to December even more enjoyable than they have been—especially if Drew Brees, Arian Foster and Larry Fitzgerald are on your roster. And if none of these names ring a bell, make sure you join a free league so you don’t lose any money.