Fantasy Football Basics, Part 1 – Leagues and Teams

What is fantasy football? Good question! To Dr. Sheldon Cooper, (The Big Bang Theory), fantasy football might be defined as a competitive enterprise comprised of leagues and teams which extols the virtues of victory through self-perceived expertise and is enhanced by a subsequent and virtually obligatory mocking of the team so vanquished. To the rest of us, it is a game and for many, it is also an obsession. To those who experience success (a thrill in itself), it is incredibly fun, because with winning comes the right to mock your opponents. (Just consider that an added bonus!) And that is what FANTASY FOOTBALL IMPACT is all about – helping you win and have fun!

Participants in fantasy football are called team owners. Team owners are organized into fantasy football leagues. Leagues can be of any size, but the vast majority is composed of eight, ten or twelve teams.

Types of Fantasy Football LeaguesFantasy Football Basics, Part 1 - Leagues and Teams

There are two basic types of fantasy football leagues:

  • Head-to-head
  • Points-only

Head-to-Head Leagues – In this format, one fantasy team competes against another fantasy team in the league each week according to an established schedule – just like in the NFL. Each week every fantasy team earns a WIN or a LOSS depending on the outcome of the match-up. Most head-to-head leagues play a “regular season” through week 14 and then incorporate playoffs in week 15 and 16. (There are a total of 17 weeks in the NFL regular season.) The best four teams in the league (based on their win-loss record) compete in a championship bracket while the next best four teams participate in a consolation bracket.

In the championship bracket the #1 seed plays the #4 seed and the #2 seed plays the #3 seed in week 15. The two teams who win in week 15 will face off for the league championship in week 16. The two losing teams from week 15 will then compete for 3rd place.

Likewise, in the consolation bracket, the #5 seed plays the #8 seed and the #6 seed plays the #7 seed in week 15. The two teams who win in week 15 will face off for 5th place in week 16. The two losing teams from week 15 will then compete for 7th place.

There are other playoff variations that include more teams and even extend to week 17, but the scenario described above is the most common.

Points-Only Leagues – In this format, every fantasy team in the league attempts to accumulate more fantasy points over the course of the season than all the other teams. The team with the most accumulated fantasy points at the end of the season wins. In this format, week 17 becomes very interesting in that many starting fantasy players may be rested by their NFL team in preparation for the playoffs. If the point standings through week 16 are very close, then week 17 becomes very important and many players who have contributed significantly to a team may not be available when needed the most. This is when it becomes all the more important to have strong players on the bench. Otherwise you will need to carefully select free agents to replace the resting starters. (Read my article, “In-Season Managment, Part 3 – Free Agents” and “Free Agents – The Hype of the One-Week Wonder” for more information on free agents.)

Fantasy football can be played in public or private leagues on the internet at sites such as Yahoo!,, ESPN, CBS Sports, etc. These sites provide free leagues, drafts and in-season management tools. I have been participating in Yahoo! fantasy football leagues since 2002 and have been impressed with the evolution of their features and options over the years. I recommend their site without qualification. (This is a non-paid endorsement.)

Fantasy Football Rosters

Each fantasy football team is composed of a roster of actual NFL players. There are limitless roster variations in fantasy football, including individual defensive positions (IDP). Each league’s rules determine the composition and size of team rosters, but a common roster format includes the following 15 roster positions:

  • One Quarterback
  • Two Running Backs
  • Three Wide Receivers
  • One Tight End
  • One Kicker
  • One Team Defense / Special Team
  • Six Bench / Reserve positions

The six bench/reserve positions serve as back-ups or replacements for the other nine starting positions listed above.

Only starting positions (non-bench/reserve) earn fantasy points for the purposes of determining the winner of a head-to-head match-up or for accumulating points in a points-only league.

The decisions you make as to which NFL players will be on your roster ultimately determine your level of success as a fantasy football team owner. Therefore, you need to know which players to avoid and which players you can ride all the way to your league championship. Fantasy Football Impact will give you the tools to make those good decisions, so please, keep reading! My next article in this series is entitled, Fantasy Football Basics, Part 2 – Scoring.” Check it out!

Related Articles at Fantasy Football Impact:

Return to the Fantasy Football 101 overview page

Fantasy Football Basics, Part 1 - Leagues and Teams


Disclaimer: Fantasy football is a game of speculation; therefore, Fantasy Football Impact disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, regarding player performance or results associated with its opinions or advice.