The best apps and services to dominate fantasy football
It’s fantasy football season! In the coming months, millions of people will compete for the smartest football thinker in their group of friends. We will spend hours (too many hours) looking for sleepers, learning the names and playing styles of guys who will never even sniff the field, and with such a strong attachment to their game that the NFL players occasionally must remind us that there is actually, like, Real football happens here too.
But all you want is to win your competition. So I’m here to help you: with the right apps and platforms, you’ll be able to dive deep into all the news, stats, and information you need to take your fantasy league into obscurity over the next few months.
You know, in a fun way. Hop team! Let’s get into it.
Wait a minute, what is fantasy football again?
It’s football. It’s gambling too, a bit? You choose players; if those players do well, you win. And you can submit your friends to hilarious punishments if they come last.
There are tons of different ways to play fantasy football, but you only need to know two of them: draft leagues and daily fantasy. In a draft league, you pick a team of players and keep them all season. In daily fantasy, you pick a new set of players every week. There are also countless permutations of this – plus dynasty leagues and goalkeeper leagues and playoff leagues and a million others – but we won’t go into that here. Goods Surely not get into the NFL’s blockchain fantasy game.
The boom in online sports gambling has changed the way people think about many fantasy sports, football more than most. FanDuel and DraftKings are both hugely popular apps, and prop betting — betting on specific things that happen rather than just who wins — has become one of the most popular sports-related activities. But that’s something completely different, with very different stakes, and you have to approach any form of gambling with caution.
For our present purposes, I’m going to assume two things: that you want to play fantasy football with your friends and that you know a little bit about how both football and fantasy football work. (If you need help on those fronts, our friends at Vox have a very good explanation about fantasy football from a few years ago.) I’m not here to convince you to get into fantasy football – I’m here to make it great.
So where should I play?
The fantasy football platform wars may not be as intense as Xbox vs. Playstation and PC vs. Mac, but they’re close. There are a million options, but for most players there are four to choose from: NFL Fantasy Football, Yahoo Fantasy Football, CBS Sports Fantasyand ESPN Fantasy Football. They are all free and they all do the job well enough.
If this isn’t your first year of fantasy, you should probably just stick with whatever platform you have. You don’t even get to choose, as the competition commissioner is really in charge. (I’m about to enter the 10th year of one of my leagues on Yahoo, and while I’m just as surprised as you that I still have a Yahoo app on my phone, it does the job just fine.) tip, though: use your fantasy provider’s mobile app for everything you can. Many of these platforms have web apps from around 1993, but much more functional and modern apps for your phone.
That said, if you’re starting from scratch, I’d send you to a newer platform: Sleeper. Sleeper is a beautiful app, has solid chat and social features, and supports many different types of pretend games. It also has a host of customizable settings and rules for your league – it’s the kind of app you’d make after you lose your ESPN league because of some ridiculous technicality, and it’s wonderfully finicky because of it. Sleeper is free, like the others, but you do pay for some customization options.
And I must say that there are many ways to play football related games that are not strictly fantasy football. I like the app RunYourPool, which contains a million football-related games. A nice way to start is a survival pool: Everyone chooses a team, and if your team wins, you move on to the next week, when you have to choose another team. The last person standing wins. If your team loses, you have to pay/beg to get back in.
My competition has been set up, so how do I win it?
It all starts with the draft, when you and your friends/co-degenerate players pick the players you hope for throughout the year. The best way to draft well is to practice: the mock draft is a staple of any prepared fantasy player.
Many fantasy platforms have their own fake tools, but I really like the Concept Wizard App from FantasyPros, which is basically an endless concept simulator with real people. You participate in a concept, choose where in the order you want to choose, and then execute an entire concept as if it were the real thing. As I explain that, it sounds insane – a fake concept to prepare for your fake concept! – but it helps a lot if you research your players. Fantasy football calculator is another good option, although the platform costs $2.99 per month. (The 30-day free trial is enough to get you through the concept — just say so.)
When it comes to researching who to draft, I have good news and bad news. Good news: The internet is practically full of information and ideas about who to draft in fantasy and when. Bad news: nobody really knows anything! In general, I recommend getting a few resources together or finding a few experts that you think are smart and then follow their guidance and your gut. You really don’t have to pay to read expert analysis or player rankings as there is good free information all over the internet. (For example: our friends at SB Nation to have all the best picks for this year.)
For moments when you really can’t decide what to do, bookmark Numberfire’s Who should I draft? page. You hook up two players and it spits out a quick comparison of their expected stats for the year. It’s like flipping a coin, only… a little more educated.
Honestly, there’s only one thing you absolutely must do: always, always, always Google a player before drafting them. In the weeks leading up to the season, everyone is always traded, cut, injured or hung out to dry by their coach. You never want to be the one drafting a player 10 minutes after they announce their retirement.
Ugh, I didn’t read this fast enough, and my concept was bad. What now?
You will have to win the waiver threads. That’s the collection of all the players who aren’t currently on anyone’s team and where you can pick up new players once or a few times a week and the ones you’ve dropped. When a player gets injured and his backup is ready to rise, or someone suddenly catches fire and looks like the next big step, you need to get him first.
This is an information race, pure and simple. Your fantasy app will usually give you a news feed specific to the players on your team, but that’s not enough. You must join the r/fantasy football subreddit, sort by New and refresh it every few minutes (or seconds) throughout the season. And maybe you want an app like fantasy life, with a fast-moving News tab with lots of useful information. I’ve also heard good things about Sleeper’s custom push notifications, which are apparently very fast, but my Yahoo-using self can’t vouch for that.
Jets have officially signed OT Duane Brown and released WR Keshunn Abram.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 15, 2022
But for real-time information, there simply isn’t a better Twitter. I would start by following @32BeatWriters, an account that retweets messages from the reporters about every team in the league. It’s a good one-stop shop, but you’ll probably also want to enable tweet notifications for people like Adam Schefter, Peter King, Jay Glazer and Ian Rappaport. (Better yet, put them on a Twitter list, because those people tweet… a lot.)
Your other tactical advantage is that you become the leader of your league, the one who sees underlying trends and statistical anomalies as someone else. This approach also allows you to use phrases like “he needs some touchdown regression” and “are we talking total DVOA or weighted DVOA” a lot, which is nice. All you need is a $5 monthly subscription to: Football Outsiderswhich provides a practically bottomless source of football statistics.
At some point during fantasy football, you actually watch football, right?
Kind of! I know a lot of people who play fantasy football and don’t watch a lick of the NFL season. It’s kind of like March Madness, because there’s really no evidence that you really know what you’re talking about does not affect whether you win or not.
If you want to watch football, you want a streaming service. Or two. Or five. Look, I’ll be real with you: Streaming football sucks, and you probably won’t get everything you want. A good place to start is with NFL RedZone, a single live stream of all the interesting plays every Sunday that is practically designed for fantasy players. The cheapest way to get RedZone I’ve found is through the Sling’s Blue package, which costs $35 per month. However, the best overall options for watching real football games are probably YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV, as both come with broadcast channels, NFL Network, RedZone, and more. And if you really need all the games, do you want a Sunday ticket, what you can get with DirecTV subscriptions only starting at about $70 per month.
You may already have access to more football than you think. Thursday Night Football games are on Amazon Prime Video this year, Sunday Night Football is on Peacock and all CBS games are on Paramount Plus. And if you subscribe to the Disney Plus/Hulu/ESPN Plus bundle, you also get Monday Night Football games. You don’t get every game, but you do get a lot.
There is also the NFL Plus app for $5 a month, but that’s only local and primetime games, and you can only watch on phones and tablets. You’re much better off buying an antenna like the Mohu Leaf and capturing HD broadcast channels that way.
If you’re looking on a computer, you might want to download a Chrome extension called hype shot. It puts a sidebar next to your feed in Hulu, YouTube TV and some other streaming services and shows you fantasy matchups and scores. It doesn’t work with every platform, but it can be useful for watching games without also staring at your phone all day.
This seems like a lot. Do I really need all this stuff?
Not really no. You can just draft a team, check it once a week during the exemption time, set your lineup and enjoy football. There’s actually something to be said for not thinking too much about your team.
Just know that someone in your league has read all this, and they will use all this information to crush you. And then you should too Spending 24 Hours in a Waffle House.
I’m just trying to save you from Waffle House.