Getting Started With Daily Fantasy Football
If you're new to playing daily fantasy football then you're going to need to gain some knowledge before you get started. You might feel comfortable jumping straight in if you already play season-long fantasy football, or even if you bet on football with a bookmaker, but you really shouldn't. Daily fantasy sports are a unique form of gambling, and it's important to know what's involved before putting any money at risk.
On this page we provide some information and advice that is targeted squarely at daily fantasy football players who are just getting started. We'll help make sure that you approach things in the right way, and also give you the best chance of making money from the moment you begin playing. At the very least we'll make sure that you lose less money than you would if you just started blindly.
How the Scoring Works
Scoring in daily fantasy football is one aspect of the hobby that doesn't differ much from the season-long variation of the hobby. There are minor variations between the different sites, but that's true of season-long leagues, too. It's very rare to find two leagues which have the exact
same scoring system, even though the general principles are always the same.
If you're completely new to the whole concept of fantasy sports, you might want to read our article explaining some fantasy sports basics.
Here are a few quick points you need to know about how daily fantasy football scoring works.
- You get points based on how the players on your fantasy team perform.
- Almost everyone on your team can score points.
- The most points come from the players who get the most yards.
- Players who are able to score also earn a lot of points.
This means that running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks are the key players. Some sites also allow the draft of a kicker, but that position isn't as important as those just mentioned. You'll almost always have a team defense, too. That's more important than a kicker, but it's less important than all the offensive positions.
Most leagues equate ten yards to one fantasy point. Touchdowns are worth six points. Most daily fantasy football leagues also award points per reception, too—making wide receivers especially important. Field goals are worth three points. Defense gets points based mostly on how many points they allow the other team to score. The fewer points the opposition scores, the more points the defense earns.
These are just the basics you need to know, and you can find more detailed information in our article on scoring systems in daily fantasy sports.
Somewhat obviously, the goal in fantasy football is to get more points from your lineup of players than your opponent does. This page provides an introduction to how to do that, but you'll want to learn a lot more about the strategy involved if your goal is to become a consistent winner. Like poker, daily fantasy football is a game you can study for a lifetime without ever truly mastering.
How the Lineups Work
Different DFS sites have different rules about exactly how a lineup must be put together. As an example, here are the positions required at one of the more popular sites.
A flex player is a position that can be filled with either a running back, wide receiver, or a tight end. Some sites might not offer this option, and instead require a kicker to be selected.
Unlike season-long leagues, the entrants in daily contests can put the same players on their roster as their opponents. In fact, it's even possible for two (or more) opponents to have the exact same roster. This makes things easier in some respects, as you don't miss out on preferred selections just because other contestants have picked them. However, sites compensate for this by the use of salary caps.
How Salary Caps Work
A salary cap is a budget that applies for the purposes of drafting players. Entrants to daily fantasy football contests are all given the same amount of money to spend on their rosters, and they must decide how to distribute that money across the different positions. How well the salary cap is spent ultimately determines how well a lineup does.
The size of the salary cap can vary from one DFS site to another. It's usually around $50,000 to $60,000. The value of the players can also vary, as each site has their own formula for calculating this. Their formulas take into account each player's performance for the season so far, along with their projected performance in an upcoming game.
The goal in daily fantasy sports is essentially to get as much value out of the salary cap as you possibly can. Value is measured according to how points are scored per dollar of the salary cap spent. Here's an example to illustrate this further.
- You're playing at a site with a $50,000 salary cap.
- Your team scores 200 fantasy points.
- Your cost per point is $250.
- Your opponent also had a $50,000 salary cap
- His team scores 300 fantasy points.
- His cost per point is $166.67.
When putting together a lineup, the idea is to try to predict how many points each player is going to score. That prediction should then be compared with a player's salary in order to determine whether or not he's a good buy at that price.
Finding value is a vital skill in daily fantasy football, as finding more value means winning more often.
How to Find Value
One of the tools you can use to get an idea of what's going to happen in a particular game is to look at the Vegas lines. No one handicaps football better than the books in Las Vegas.
Here's an example of how the Vegas lines can help.
- You're thinking about drafting a quarterback for a team
- The Vegas Line has that quarterback's team as a 14 point underdog.
- Chances are good that this quarterback won't score you many fantasy points.
The over/under for a particular game can also help. If the over/under is low, then that means the books expect the total score for the game to be low. The reverse is true, too—a high over/under means they're expecting a high scoring game. For the sake of a fantasy roster, you want offensive players who are involved in high scoring games and defensive players who are involved in low scoring games.
Based on the Vegas lines, you can make projections for how many fantasy points you expect players to earn. If you want to get really serious, you can track this via spreadsheet. You can use columns on a spreadsheet to track projections versus cost and come up with estimates for each player's value. You can also estimate what the overall dollars per point figure will be at the end of the game. This is the kind of detail you need to get into if you want to be a long term winner.
It's a good idea to pay attention to the winning scores in the contests you're playing. This information can then be used to set targets for how many points you need to score to win in the future. In turn, this can help you to budget your salary cap effectively.
Many daily fantasy football sites offer freerolls for new players. These are contests with cash prizes, but no entry fee. For example, one of the most popular fantasy sites runs a freeroll once a week for anyone who has made a deposit within the last 7 days. This weekly freeroll runs every Saturday and offers $1,000 in cash prizes.
Any time there's an opportunity to win money without having to put any money on the line, you should take it. It's the ultimate in positive expectation. These freerolls are therefore great for when you're getting started, and even after you've been playing for a while.
How the Different Contest Types Work
You can divide daily fantasy football contests into two broad categories; cash games and tournaments.
Cash games are where a lot of the serious players grind out their profits each week. The main cash games are called H2H (head to head) and 50/50 contests. The head to head contests are limited to two players each. You have a single opponent, and the winner takes the prize.
50/50 contest are similar, but they have a larger player field. If your score is in the top 50% of the field's, you get prize money. All the winners get the same amount—there's no difference between 1st place and 48th place in a 100 person contest for example.
Grinders play in as many of these cash games as possible. They look at their knowledge and expertise as an edge that they want to exploit repeatedly in exchange for small profits.
Here's an example.
- A player estimates that he can win 57% of the time.
- He starts the season with a $1,000 bankroll.
- He focuses on playing in $10 buy-in head-to-head contests.
- He's playing 100 contests a week.
If he performs according to his mathematical expectation, he'll win 57 contests and lose 43 contests. In these contests, he wins $18 for each win. After his first week, his bankroll is now $1,026.
That doesn't seem like much, but if his bankroll is $10,000, and he follows the same strategy with the same winning percentage, he's winning $260 per week.
And as his bankroll grows, he's getting more money into action each week, so the effects of compound interest start to kick in.
Tournaments are higher variance. If you're looking for a big jackpot, these are the contests to focus on. In a tournament, a large number of players compete for cash prizes that are progressively larger the better your team performs.
Here's an example.
- Total of entry fees is $10,000 ($100 x 100).
- Site takes 10% commission ($1,000)
- Total prize pool is $9,000 ($10,000 - $1,000)
- First place pays $3,500
- Second place pays $2,250
- Third place pays $1,250
- The remaining $2,000 is divided up between places 4-10.
In these contests, you'll almost certainly place in the money less often, but when you do, you'll see a larger return on your investment. One of the tricks to performing well in these tournaments is to embrace variance.
In other words, you'll have to get lucky and have lots of players who weren't widely chosen and who also had really great weeks in order to win.
The best tournaments to get involved in are the ones with guaranteed prize pools (GPP). These GPP tournaments might have more money in the prize pool than the entry fees will cover, which means that the fantasy football site is covering the difference. In this case, you have an overlay situation.
Any time you get involved in an overlay situation, you almost guarantee yourself a positive expectation.
Here's an example.
- 50 players enter.
- Total of entry fees is $5,000 ($100 x 50).
- Prize pool is still $10,000.
- Site makes up the extra $5,000.
The extra $5,000 added by the site is effectively "dead money". Just by being in the tournament, you have a shot at winning it—even if it's only a small one.
Busy sites rarely offer overlay situations, but you should keep your eyes peeled for them anyway.
They're too profitable to ignore.
Managing Your Bankroll
Suppose you estimate that your edge over the average player, after taking into account the site's commission, is 1%. If you enter a $1,000 contest, you expect to win $10. Let's assume you're playing a head to head or 50/50 contest.
That's a mathematical expectation, though. In real life, you'll either win $800 or lose $1,000. Your chances of either are fairly close to 50%, in fact—even if you're a skilled player with an edge.
On the other hand, suppose you entered 1,000 contests—each of which has a $1 entry fee. Your chances of going broke are practically non-existent. In fact, as long as you win a little more than 55.56% of your games, you're almost guaranteed a profit.
The player who puts his entire $1,000 bankroll on the line is engaged in a maximum boldness strategy. If you think you don't have an edge, this might be the most effective way to manage your bankroll. A 45% chance of almost doubling your money might be better than seeing your bankroll ground away by the commissions and the edges of the more experienced players.
But if you're a good player, you want to focus on a minimum boldness strategy. You want to minimize your chances of going broke. By entering a lot of contests, you're less likely to double up immediately with your entire bankroll, but over time, your bankroll should grow incrementally each week.
Everyone has a bad week, too. Just because you have a lower winning percentage than you expect one week doesn't mean you're a loser. It could just mean you had some bad luck.
You want to look at your overall winning percentage over the life of your career as a daily fantasy football player. You can become more confident of the accuracy of your results as the number of contests you've played in grows larger.
Your bankroll requirements vary according to your goals. If you're just doing this for a lark, putting all your bankroll down on one contest is fine. Just be prepared to go broke if you lose.
On the other hand, if you're playing cash games, try to keep your buy-in to between 1% and 2.5% of your bankroll. If you have $1,000 earmarked for daily fantasy football, this means putting between $10 and $25 on the line in each contest.
If you're playing in tournaments, you should be even more conservative. You might need $2,000 or even $4,000 to play for those same stakes. Since you're winning less often, but winning bigger prizes when you do win, you have to protect yourself from the vicissitudes of luck by not risking a large percentage of your bankroll on a single tournament.
Stacking players means taking multiple players from a single team. For the most part, you'll want to avoid stacking players in daily fantasy football. That's because there are only so many points to go around.
For example, you might choose to add the top three wide receivers for a team on your roster. Chances are that the teams WR1 is going to see the most action—the other two receivers will see a reduced workload.
The same holds true for running backs.
If you want to win daily fantasy football contests, you have to do well in multiple positions.
The only exception to this is stacking a quarterback with his #1 wide receiver. This makes the most sense when you're playing in a tournament, and you're looking for a wide receiver to have a really big breakout week. If he does, you get points for both the quarterback's passes and the receiver's receptions, and all the yards that both earn.
You also want to avoid having a lot of offensive players on your team at the same time as the opposing defense. You're guaranteeing mediocrity when you do this. If your offensive players perform well, your defense is guaranteed to perform poorly, and vice versa.
You want to focus on getting players from throughout the league for your team.
In poker, players refer to each other as "sharks" and "fish". Daily fantasy football also has sharks and fish—the sharks are the players who win and take money from the fish. When you start, you're almost certainly going to be a fish.
When you start H2H contests yourself, the sharks are lurking in the waters—waiting to jump into your contests. You're better off finding people who have already set up H2H contests and joining their tournaments. Try to avoid getting into multiple contests with the same opponent.
Daily fantasy football is more fun than you can imagine, and getting started is easier than you think. With a little bit of common sense and some thoughtfulness, you can enjoy this hobby without losing a lot of money at first. Eventually, with some practice and attention, you can become a winning player. All it takes is diligent application of the getting started advice here.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: October 2015
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