The NFL should make it a point to send a nice gift basket to Bob Winkenbach’s family every year. And not a cheap one either, one of the really nice ones with exotic cheeses and caviar, and maybe a tasteful, but understated bottle of champagne. Winkenbach may not be a name that many are familiar with, but tens of millions of football fans owe him an appreciative nod, and a totally appropriate smack on his rear each and every Sunday as they sit down to watch their fantasy picks take the field.
Back in 1962, Winkenbach, then a limited partner with the Oakland Raiders, went on a three week road trip with Raiders PR guy Bill Tunnell, Oakland Tribune reporter Scotty Stirling, Tribune sports editor George Ross, and Winkenbach’s friend Philip Carmona. Winkenbach mentioned the idea of a fantasy type league where you could track your favorite players and score points based on their performance, and the group eventually came up with the idea for what would eventually become fantasy football.
It wasn’t until the last decade or so, when the internet made tracking players easier, and the league grew to the point that games could be followed from almost any location, then the idea really caught on. There were other factors as well, including the push by Robert Barbiere and Brad Wendkos of Phoneworks, who helped popularize the fantasy idea in 1989 with what they called the “Pigskin playoff”, an open fantasy football league that was picked up by several major newspapers. As the technology caught up, the tracking and drafting of players online made fantasy football into an easy and accessible way to play. Now it is an intricate part of the game, and most major sports broadcasts incorporate fantasy scoring into their broadcasts.
Fantasy Football has changed the way people watch the game. Now everyone potentially has a reason to watch the Lions! Well, that might be going too far, but the point remains. By giving fans a vested interest in games that they otherwise wouldn’t have cared about, FF is making fans better and more attentive spectators. Plus, it is fun. So there’s that.
The scoring and the format might vary slightly by league, but the idea is the same. Choose the best players that you can, and play who you think will do the best each week. For those looking to try it for the first time, or for veteran players looking to try new fantasy football websites, we have compiled a list of our five top websites. There are plenty of fantasy sites out there, but these are our favorites, in no particular order.
The season begins on Thursday September 9, so get your league together, or sign up and join one now!
Pros: One of the most detail-packed fantasy football sites on the internet, there are several options for all levels of fantasy fans. If you are new, there are plenty of leagues to join, from the standard leagues, to the more intense- there is an option for every level of fan. If you want to make it more interesting, you can join the premium games for a chance to win cash. Whether you want to randomly join a league, start your own, or branch out and just pick the teams you think will win each game, then the CBS site is your one stop shopping website. Having the backing of CBS Sports also helps, as the analysts, predictions, and stats are all as good as you will find.
Cons: The downside is that the website can be overwhelming. There is so much going on that it is easy to get lost within the site. Once you find a league to join, or start your own, be sure to bookmark your page or there is a chance you may never see your team again. That might be overstating it a bit, but the site is bloated with information, and the words “sensory overload” come to mind. Sure I want to know that Minnesota receiver Sidney Rice is out, but knowing the hundreds- even thousands- of trades in random fantasy leagues that involve Rice is more information than most people will ever care to know. There is also a downside to having too many analysts- they will all contradict each other, frequently and totally. It is easy to second guess your own instincts when three people say you are wrong, one agrees with you, and two have a counter point to make on whatever the original issue was.
Pros: It is hard to go wrong with ESPN. It is a name you know, and as far as sports go, you probably trust them. If you don’t know their da-na-na jingle, then fantasy football is clearly not the game for you. Their analysts are among the best in the industry, and if you are watching a game on ESPN, the network frequently has segments dedicated to fantasy football, so you can always have at least a rough idea of what your team is looking like. While other sites might tell you a player is inured, ESPN will already be discussing how his replacements are doing, against which defenses they should be played, and who might be a good waiver pick to replace the injured player.
Cons: The downside to the ESPN network is that heavy traffic can cause glitches and slowdown at bad times. Most long time FF players probably have at least one story of a last minute change in lineup that either saved them or doomed them, but with ESPN, there is the chance that the last minute pick will time out, then not register. It is a manageable risk, but an annoying one. Also as a news-first organization, it is in ESPN’s interest to report every rumor and possible scenario, especially regarding injury. Because of that, you will probably want to get a second opinion before dropping a player that ESPN is reporting will be out for the year.
Pros: One of the most comprehensive fantasy sites around, the Fox Sports website will make it easy to start your football morning at the site, then just leave your computer on the page all day as real time stats and scores are reported. The fantasy side is easy to navigate and with all of News Corps. resources, the website has some of the most interesting and informative stories to read. You can, and likely will lose hours just reading the NFL news that the site offers. The partnership with MSN just makes it easier to stay on the site. Easily one of the most informative sports websites around, and the integration between text and video is top notch.
Cons: Now, this isn’t meant as a joke, or as a rub against Fox News fans, but the bulk of the stories are negative. For some reason, almost every story will have a negative slant. While one headline story extols the 10 pounds of awesome in the five pound bag that is Adrian Peterson, it will quickly veer off to discuss how much Brett Favre sucks. Another article discussing the Patriots will inevitably discuss every bad thing that ever happened to the team and present it as something you need to know. In short, beware of opinion pieces that masquerade as news.
Pros: If anyone has better intel on players for the upcoming week, the NFL will probably sue them or buy them. While the official fantasy football league of the NFL may have only a handful of analysts compared to some of the other sites, there is no more accurate place to check the condition of your players. If someone is questionable, keep an eye on the NFL site and you will be the first to know if they are playing or not. There are also prizes to be won, and the interface is easy to use.
Cons: Like the ESPN site, the NFL site is a bit sluggish and glitch-prone at times. The home page also lacks the sheer amount of information that some of the other sites pack, and the format looks very similar to Yahoo’s, just without the same number of bells and whistles. The analysts, while generally astute, are also few and far between.
Pros: One of the oldest and largest fantasy football sites, people already signed up on Yahoo will love the integration between the fantasy site and the rest of Yahoo’s features. The leagues are customizable, so players can choose how they want to score, and the tracking of players is top notch. The interface is well honed and easy to use, plus it is convenient and easy to get info on each player.
Cons: One criticism that is prevalent is the Yahoo fantasy analysts, who have a reputation for being wrong. Then again, you should never draft based on what other people say, but it is worth noting. Plus the news generally comes second hand so the analyst’s predictions could be flat out incorrect.