From real-life to fantasy

Betting on professional football has to be the most diabolical invention ever created; if you’ve ever bought a sports-betting ticket, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It seems like no matter how many stats you peruse or solid tips you receive, the line between winning and losing is always razor thin and every game’s “sure thing” is never as guaranteed as you’d hoped.

Take, for instance, last year’s NFL wildcard weekend, the last time I bought a sports-betting ticket. As I made my picks, one game stood out as a sure thing — the defending Super Bowl champions the New Orleans Saints taking on the dismal (8-9) Seattle Seahawks in the early game on Saturday. Anyone I asked agreed it was a sure thing, and statistically Seattle came into the game as the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a record below .500.

If the mythological “sure thing” in sports existed, this had to be it.

And just like that, I put my money down and my fate was sealed. Seattle walked into the locker rooms at halftime up by four points. Not a commanding lead, but enough to get the sweat flowing.

Then Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch scored perhaps the most awe-inspiring late-fourth quarter touchdown run I will ever witness, putting the Seahawks up by 11 points — essentially ruining my gamble less than eight hours into the wildcard weekend. It didn’t matter that all my other picks came through; the ticket was toasted before we had broken into the second layer of the three-layer dip.

That’s the diabolical lure of sports gambling. When you come close to winning, you get sucked into betting the next week. I won’t go so far as to call buying sports-betting tickets each week an addiction, but I definitely found it to be habit-forming.
That’s why I decided to stop throwing my money away on gambling tickets and start putting money into fantasy football leagues!

Play in a fantasy football league involves some of the same principles as traditional sports gambling. Instead of placing your bets on which teams will win each week, you draft a team of players you expect will do well. You decide the players you want in your lineup and which ones you will be keeping on your bench. You then pit your fictional team against someone else’s lineup on a weekly basis throughout the regular season.

If your players perform well, you should win some games, amass a respectable win-loss record, make the playoffs and earn your payoff by taking the league championship. If you make a huge mistake in your lineup one week, it’s not going to cost you any money in the short term. I’m not saying you won’t get screwed over in fantasy by the unpredictable nature of sports — because you will — but at least when it happens you’ve got some very specific targets to vent your frustrations on: the players who failed you and the opponent who beat you.

Fantasy football can be played for free because you’re not required to put any money down to join an online league. But when you money does become involved, think of it as a long term investment — made over the course of an entire season — requiring you to make weekly “micro-gambles” on the stats players will put up week to week.

When I say micro-gambles, I refer to the weekly decisions you have to make in selecting your lineup. Which of your running backs will be most effective this week? Your most reliable wide receiver is banged up, do you take a chance that he’ll still be an effective weapon or find a replacement to take his spot in the lineup? Your quarterback’s bye week is coming up; better start scouring the waiver wire for a replacement for that week. Fantasy owners make these types of decisions every week of the season, and deciding which player might have better stats is generally easier — at least more forgiving — than putting cold hard cash down on which team you think will win.

You’re in the driver’s seat of your own fate when you’re in a fantasy league, as opposed to being at the whim of the sporting gods. This is usually a good thing, until you over think a decision and bench a player who puts up huge numbers.
Leaving points on your bench in a tight fantasy game is the worst feeling in the fantasy world. It’s a horrible moment when you realize you could have — and should have — won, and there’s no one to blame but yourself.

It’s almost as bad as the huge upset that ruins your betting ticket, in that one game you were so sure about — almost, but not quite.