by Joseph Mattern - 09/16/2005
By Week 2 in the NFL, fantasy football players are scrambling to pick up the latest "breakout" player from Week One (see Willie Parker), and scavenging the waiver wire for any little perceived edge to bolster their team. This attention to the minutiae of NFL machinations could serve the sports bettor well, but the truth is that doing this amount of research can be quite tedious outside the context of fantasy football. Within the confines of a fantasy football league, though, it can be a fun exercise and help both your fantasy team and your NFL betting. How? Well, I'm glad you asked.
1) Fantasy Football Forces You To Learn the value of individual players on offense.
Even though fantasy values are skewed from actual value, the stats can give you a clue about a player's value to the team, and the way in which the team uses that player. Brian Westbrook's rushing stats, for example, are nothing to write home about, but when you combine them with his receiving stats, you can understand what an important role he plays in Philly's offense. Fantasy makes you pay attention to the teams' focus on individuals.
2) Fantasy forces you to learn the value of team defense.
Who are the best defensive teams in the NFL? Who holds teams to the least points allowed? Which team had the most picks last year? These are some important considerations, especially for totals betting, and some of the teams you come up with may surprise you.
3) Fantasy keeps you updated on injuries.
It's easy to follow injury news in a fantasy league. In fact, it's almost impossible to miss injury news just by virtue of being in the league. The player news is prominently posted in several places on league websites, and in combination with knowing the value to the team of the injured player, can give you an idea of which side you want to bet. If you've already bet the favorite early in the week, and the dog's starting RB is sidelined later in the week, then your position is strengthened, ahead of the line move. In the same scenario, you might want to bet the dog close to game time if the public money (and the line) overreacts to the injury, or if you think the backup is legit.
4) Fantasy introduces you to lesser-known players with hidden value.
This can be very valuable, especially in the case of receivers and tight ends. If an unheralded guy has a nose for the end zone, and a good working relationship with the QB, then he could become a go-to guy in the red zone and be an important factor for betting sides and totals. Likewise, if a team has a good short-yardage back, that could mean the difference between punching it in at the goal line and settling for a field goal, or deciding to go for it on 4th and short instead of punting.
When deciding who to start and who to sit, you are forced to consider match-ups, receivers vs. corners, RB vs. run defense, etc. Match-ups are integral to handicapping, because, hopefully, the team getting the best of it with regard to match-ups should have an edge, with all else being equal, and that discrepancy may or may not be reflected in the spread.
6) Access to squares
Tons of people play fantasy football, and many of those people bet the NFL on at least a recreational level, and that makes playing in a league more valuable for two reasons. First, you'll want to have access to the same information that everyone else has (and more), and second, you are better able to gauge the conventional wisdom (i.e. Understand the thought process of the "squares") and therefore make better decisions, often contrary to their moves. Jay Kornegay, who runs the sportsbook at the Las Vegas Hilton, gets a couple of his buddies to come in and consult with his oddsmaking group when he is putting together his props for the Super Bowl. He says that this "square" veiwpoint is invaluable to him in setting his numbers. This angle can also help you with your wagers.
7) It's a lot of fun
Fantasy football makes you pay attention to games that you don't bet and would not interest you otherwise. That's a good thing, because watching the NFL is a good time, and who knows, you might even gain an insight or two on a team that wasn't previously on your radar. Plus, it gives you an excuse to hang out with your buddies on Sunday and Monday and then talk trash on the league website the rest of the week.
Fantasy football is not gonna make you a sharp bettor, or answer all of your handicapping prayers, but it can't hurt as a small part of an overall betting curriculum (including books, articles, mentors, experience, etc.) and it can be a fun way to supplement your handicapping education, not to mention the joy provided by the opportunity to crush your friends in yet another contest.