Barring some unexpected personnel moves, the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning won't be handing the ball off to the Houston Texans' Arian Foster or throwing passes to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders this football season.
But Reno resident Dustin Richards is hoping all three athletes work together to bring him a football title - fantasy football, that is.
"The first time I played, I was hooked," said Richards, 27. "I (like) the competitiveness, just being able to compete with your friends."
It was about five years ago that Richards started playing the game, in which participants assemble their own teams of NFL players and score points based on their performances in actual games. There are numerous websites devoted to not only managing and scoring leagues but also to informing fantasy general managers of the status of various and sundry players, from the biggest superstar to the undrafted rookie who could be thrust into service by an injury to a starter.
It adds another level of enjoyment to Caldwell resident Edward Davis' favorite sport.
"Instead of keeping track of the one team that you like, you keep track of all teams," he said.
Know your league
It seems simple, but you'd be surprised how many people don't account for their league's unique scoring and roster settings when they put together a strategy for draft day.
At CBSSports.com, for example, only 24 percent of leagues use standard offensive scoring - the rest use some form of customization. The most common modification, scoring points for receptions, is used in just 28 percent of leagues.
So be sure to check if your league doles out points for things like return yardage, milestone bonuses or other plays.
Even default settings are slightly different across fantasy's most popular platforms: CBS Sports scores six points for passing touchdowns while Yahoo, ESPN and NFL.com award four points; interceptions deduct one point from quarterback scores on Yahoo but two points on other sites.
Source: The Associated Press.
Potential fantasy football bargains:
QB: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis. Projections from several sources aggregated by FantasyPros.com predict Atlanta's Matt Ryan will be less than one point per game better than Luck. But Luck is being drafted an average two rounds later than Ryan in 10-team leagues. And even if Luck gets taken before you think he should, there are still several very serviceable quarterbacks going later.
RB: DeAngelo Williams, Carolina. Williams will likely see a bump in carries with Jonathan Stewart injured but is being drafted on average in the 10th round in 10-team leagues - after some top backups. Stewart was recently placed on the physically unable to perform list, forcing him to miss the first six games.
WR: Steve Smith, Carolina. Smith had a down year in 2010 but put up more than 1,100 yards in 2011 and 2012. FantasyPros projections calculate him to be the 19th best wideout with just under 1,100 yards and nearly six touchdowns, but he's going well after similarly projected Denver teammates Eric Decker and Wes Welker.
TE: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans. Yes, he's the NFL's top tight end. He could still be a bargain. It's highly dependent on your league's setup, and partly on the uncertain status of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Graham is averaging a late second- or early third-round pick in 10- and 12-team leagues, slightly lower on ESPN with an average draft position of 27.8. Yet Graham is projected to be more than 2 points per game better than every other player at his position besides Gronkowski, according to the FantasyPros consensus.
Source: The Associated Press.
"Even if the Redskins aren't on TV, I'll sit down and watch even the most meaningless game on paper and enjoy it just as much," Davis added.
For Reno resident Rebecca Lanning, 24, it's a chance to join in the sport she loves.
"It's my way of playing," she said.
Lanning has long been a football fan, but started playing fantasy football three years ago, joining a league her husband started. She said she didn't do very well the first time around.
"I didn't trade around players or pay attention to bye weeks," she said.
Lanning is apparently a quick study - she won the title last year, beating her husband in the final game. She said she didn't want to talk too much trash beforehand, in case she didn't emerge victorious. But when she had a commanding lead with two players set to go in later games to her husband's one, that stance changed.
"It got to the point where I knew I was going to win ... so then we started the trash-talking. Like, 'When are you going to order that trophy?'" Lanning said.
Richards said he struggled a bit in his first year playing fantasy football, selecting mostly players from his favorite team, the New England Patriots. But when the Patriots' off week came around, he was left with a lot of empty spots on his roster.
"You've got to separate it from the NFL a little bit," he said.
That means not only drafting players from other teams but also being willing to start someone who is playing against one's favorite team.
"When you're playing fantasy, you're trying to win," Davis said. "The chips fall the way they fall."
As a Redskins fan, Davis has a soft spot for players like Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon. But he's not going to spend a draft pick on them if better players are still on the board.
"If I had the choice of Tom Brady or Robert Griffin, I would have to take Tom Brady," he said.
Lanning can't completely divorce her feelings toward the actual games from her fantasy team. The two quarterbacks on one of her teams' rosters are Manning, her longtime football crush, and E.J. Manuel, the rookie signal-caller for her favorite squad, the Buffalo Bills.
But expected performance on the field still means Manuel will be riding the bench as long as Manning stays healthy.
"The only week that Peyton won't be starting is on his bye week," Lanning said.
Lanning, Richards and Davis all play in multiple leagues, although Richards said it's hard to keep up with too many.
"Typically I try to play at least three, but there was a year a couple years ago where I played eight," he said, noting he didn't win in any of them.
Richards said he spends a couple of hours a week on his fantasy team preparations. He sets his initial lineup Tuesday or Wednesday, then checks for injury news and other updates prior to the Thursday night and Sunday games.
Knowing the latest information about players is also important during the draft, since many online services don't remove players' names from the pool of available choices, even if it's highly unlikely they will take the field.
Davis said a player in one of his online leagues drafted Michael Turner, who had several good years as a running back for the Atlanta Falcons - but is currently without a team. Someone in one of Richards' leagues chose former Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez, currently being held without bail in a Massachusetts jail, charged with murder.
Beyond research, fantasy players have their own strategies for predicting how players will perform. Richards tabbed Pittsburgh's Emmanuel Sanders as his top wide receiver rather than drafting someone for the position earlier. Richards figures Sanders stock will rise after Mike Wallace left for the Miami Dolphins in free agency.
"I think he's going to have a good year just 'cause they're going to need someone to throw to," he said.
As for kicker, Richards picked Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski, due to his lack of confidence in the playmaking abilities of quarterbacks Matt Flynn and ex-Buckeye Terrelle Pryor. He figures teams that are weak at quarterback will be asking their kicker to make field goals more often.
"It's worked in the past," he said.