August 30, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) runs in the first quarter of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

How Fantasy Football Enhances the Overall Fan Experience by Jeffrey Littrell

Sep 5, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; General view of pre-game ceremonies at MetLife Stadium between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys . Mandatory Credit: Jim O

I love the NFL and I almost love playing fantasy football as much as watching the games themselves. If I am in the lower half of my league standings (which is almost never) it drives me absolutely crazy. I always put the time in required to succeed, by checking the action on the league waiver wire daily, and by watching ESPN and the NFL network relentlessly. In my eyes, Chris Mortensen and John Clayton have both risen to a status not unlike demi-gods, and I have developed an unhealthy obsession with ESPN injury analyst, Stephania Bell. I watch, enraptured, as she elaborates on ACL tears and concussion tests and sends my heart pounding and my head swooning. I also constantly review injury reports, depth charts, and player rankings. My diet becomes one of strictly beer, pizza, chicken wings, and potato chips (O.K. you got me… That’s always my standard cuisine). My daily exercise program is reduced to running out for MORE beer, pizza, chicken wings, and potato chips. My life has become unmanageable. It’s time to admit that I’m powerless.

My name is Jeff…..and I’m a fantasy football addict.

In some ways though, fantasy football can be detrimental to the actual viewing of the games, if you let it. For instance, I’ll often start by watching one of the early games that I happen to have the most interest in. Either one of my favorite teams is in action or a game may feature some of my fantasy starters. Suddenly, the ticker across the bottom of the TV screen shows the Cowboys have scored a quick TD in a game that I’m not viewing. They neglect to inform us just HOW the points were scored. I’ve got Dez Bryant ! Did he return a kick for a TD ? Catch a bomb from Tony Romo ? Grabbing the clicker, I quickly switch to the NFL network, where they constantly update scores and stats in real time on Sunday. Darn, it was DeMarco Murray who ran one in. That does me no good. I switch back to the Raiders game I was watching, only to see that I just missed a 44 yd. TD off a reverse by Jacoby Ford. Just my luck. Perhaps, I can also get the Eagle’s game on the computer and follow how LeSean McCoy is doing. You get the idea, right ? It can end up that you’re just chasing stats instead of actually WATCHING any of the games. I try not to fall into this trap.

Aug 25, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) drops back to pass during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at FedEX Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Also, you can end up in a conflict between your personal allegiances and what’s best for the good of your fantasy team. I’m faced with this dilemma right out of the gate this year. My favorite team, the Oakland Raiders, happens to be playing the San Diego Chargers in week one on MNF. I have Charger QB Philip Rivers as starter on two of my fantasy teams. RG3 is my back-up to him in both leagues, as well. I hate to play Rivers against the Raiders, but I know that he will probably fare better against Oakland than the young rookie will do against New Orleans. I’m going with Rivers. I’ll then root for the Raiders as usual, while knowing that I made the most logical choice for my fantasy QB (Now, just watch RG3 explode in his game and prove me wrong !).

Even with the ways that I have outlined how fantasy football can detract from the games, I still know it adds to my overall enjoyment. It sometimes provides interest in games that I would otherwise not watch. Outside of having Beanie Wells and Stevie Johnson on my fantasy team, the only way that you’ll get me to watch an Arizona Cardinals vs. Buffalo Bills game is if they’re showing a “Keeping Up With The Kardashians“ marathon on E !, Taylor Hicks is on “Austin City Limits“, Howie Mandel is on Comedy Central, Piers Morgan is interviewing Tara Reid on CNN, and every other station is tracking an approaching thunderstorm.

It is also very satisfying when one of your sleeper picks, taken late in the draft or plucked off the waiver wire, comes through and has a great game. Or even better, a big year. Anybody can list Calvin Johnson as the number one WR, but are you savvy enough to find jewels within the trash heap ? To further this line of thinking, I’ll list a few players you might target that I think could be a nice surprise in the coming year. If your league draft has yet to occur, consider them sleepers in the last few rounds. If you already have your team, as most of us do, then check their availability in your league, should you need to add a new player.

Brandon LaFell WR, Carolina Panthers – LaFell, now in his third year, could be poised for a breakout season. He is an every down player now, who should get plenty of looks from Cam Newton, with WR Steve Smith and TE Greg Olsen drawing the attention of opposing defenses.

David Wilson RB, New York Giants- RBs seem to thrive under Tom Coughlin’s tutelage ( remember “Earth, Wind, and Fire”, a few years back ? ) and I expect this rookie to make a solid contribution. An excellent handcuff, if you happen to own Ahmad Bradshaw, although I think Wilson will produce as the second back in this offense, regardless.

Jacquizz Rodgers RB, Atlanta Falcons- The Falcons are employing a new up-tempo offense and have pledged to get Jacquizz more involved this year. He had a good preseason and may even fit their style better than Michael Turner, at this point. Another good handcuff that should also produce immediately.

Kendall Wright WR, Tennessee Titans- A rookie with tremendous upside. He also was impressive in the preseason and will get a chance to shine early with Kenny Britt suspended for Week One. He is very quick and has the potential to be a star.

Robert Turbin RB, Seattle Seahawks- Marshawn Lynch has been plagued by back troubles already, and his status is very iffy for this Sunday. If you own Lynch, it would be a wise move to pick up Turbin. He’d be a good fourth or fifth back on any fantasy squad.

As for players to avoid, I’d stay away from the circus that is the Washington Redskin’s backfield. While Alfred Morris appears to be the front runner, the past clearly shows you that you never know what coach Mike Shanahan will do. Shanahan has been known to name one player No. 1 on the depth chart, only to give most of the carries to another back once the game starts, in an attempt to befuddle the other team. RBs can also fall out of favor quickly with the fiery Shanahan.

In closing, I’d like to tell you a bit about myself. I love playing fantasy sports and I take it seriously, while still pointing out the humor in it, the sports media, and life itself. Of course, I make bad decisions from time to time, as anyone does, but I think you’ll find that I’m very reliable. I hope you’ll follow my columns throughout this season and also check out our weekly player projections prior to each week’s games. I’ll be helping out with those, too.

My very first fantasy football draft was back in 1989 with a small group of co-workers. Most folks hadn’t even heard of this thing that would develop into the craze it has become today. My first team featured Barry Sanders, Don Majkowsi and Sterling Sharpe of the Packers, and a Falcons defense that included a rookie named Deion Sanders. I was the commissioner and I went on to win the league. I’ve played every year since, most often making the playoffs, and many times winning my league championships. Take away my fantasy football and I’d be shaking and scratching like Courtney Love waiting for the methadone clinic to open. I gotta have it !

Tags: 2012 Season Preview Fantasy Football Fantasy Football Sleepers

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