The NFL regular season starts on Thursday, September 9th with a high-profile game between the Minnesota Vikings and the defending champion New Orleans Saints.
So many story lines to choose from here. There's Brett Favre's return, again. It's Reggie Bush's first professional game since being stripped of his Heisman. It's Minnesota's first game since losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Saints and New Orleans' first game since winning the Super Bowl.
But all of these story lines pale in comparison to the one that actually matters:
The start of the 2010-11 fantasy football season.
It's a stressful time of year for owners everywhere.
Whether you're putting the final touches on your roster or getting ready to draft your team, here are five tips you should always follow.
If you're serious about winning your league, then you should know that it's going to take more than one try to get it right.
That's the beauty of mock drafts. You can do as many of them as you want!
Whether you plan on maintaining one, two, or more competitive teams, the mock draft is always the first step.
You can sign up for them early in the preseason to get a rough idea of where players are valued and then have another one closer to your "real" draft to help finalize what your game plan will be.
Practice may not necessarily make perfect, but it's certainly a great start. A mock draft will help reveal which players are overrated, underrated, or unrated. It will also help you find some sleepers that you may not have even thought of.
How else would you know that someone like Wes Welker may be available in the fifth or sixth round despite leading all NFL receivers in receptions last season?
This happens in every fantasy football draft.
An owner selects a running back (or any position), and then the next owner, not wanting to miss out on all of the elite backs, selects another running back at a higher spot than the player is worth. Soon other owners are joining the trend, and all of the top backs are gone several rounds before they should be.
Don't join the trend!
Stick to your personal valuation of players as best as you can. If you really need a running back, then it's OK to reach a little bit to round out your roster. But don't waste a second-round pick on someone who is a seventh-round talent.
Instead, stockpile your roster at other positions. Add a second elite wide receiver, or take the best defense on the board.
Remember, other owners will have holes on their teams if they panic and select a player earlier than they should have. You will have a surplus of good players at another position, so you will be able to make a trade.
The difference between you and the owner you're trading with is that you hold all of the bargaining power. Use that advantage to get a good deal.
Some people who do fantasy football for the first time think winning their league is all about luck. It's not.
There is a lot of research and preparation that goes into having a strong draft and competing week to week. Unlike other fantasy sports (baseball in particular), drafting a team and then not updating the roster on a weekly basis is a sure-fire way to miss your league's playoffs.
If you want to stay competitive, then immerse yourself in the game. Watch for training camp battles to make sure you don't draft a bench player (Steve Slaton) instead of a starter (Arian Foster). Read scouting reports to determine who you should start and who you should sit.
At the very least, watch highlights and read the box scores. You may find a player you've never heard of who can become the piece that pushes your team over the top and to your league championship.
Every year there are several undrafted players who go on to have remarkable fantasy seasons. Sometimes they come completely unexpected, and sometimes they were just a matter of time.
It's not worth a draft day selection on a player who may or may not have a breakout year. Every spot on that roster is important, and you can't risk having your fifth wide receiver or fourth running back stuck on the bench all season.
But that doesn't mean you should hold on to that five-time Pro Bowler when there is a hotshot rookie who just had back-to-back 100-yard games.
Don't overreact to one strong week. Watch for consistency. Watch for an injury that could vault a role player to being a full-time starter.
The chances of you winning the league at the end of season with the exact same roster you originally drafted are slim to none. Don't be afraid to take chances and mix things up if your current roster is struggling.
It sounds obvious, but not everyone does it. Most casual football fans only watch their favorite team play but shut off the TV when a different team is playing. But a true fantasy football owner is no casual fan.
Watching every single NFL game each week is a major time commitment and is probably overkill. But watching the occasional game to see some of your team's top performers play is still a good idea.
The live football game may reveal details about certain players that you can't see by just reading the box score. For instance, is Kevin Kolb the real deal, or is he being bailed out by a strong offensive line and a reliable wide receiver (DeSean Jackson)?
That's the kind of question you can't answer without seeing Kolb in action.
Besides, it's football. If you're into fantasy football, chances are you won't mind watching a few NFL games each week.