The Afternoon Before: Fantasy, gambling make NFL bulletproof

I continue to get closer to game time with this. This week, it’s because of a writing assignment for my day job, and taking down my Halloween decorations – which takes longer for me than it probably does for most. Regardless, I’ll try to scale this a little earlier in the week (i.e. not within 12 hours before the games start).


I work for a website devoted to a sport other than football, and it’s always the same routine when I work on Sunday. Everyone sits around and lobbies for the Colts to throw it to Pierre Garcon, or for the Giants to offer goal-line scraps to Brandon Jacobs, or some such.

Some might have been surprised by last Monday’s ratings, when a horrible Jaguars-Titans blowout beat a good Rangers-Yankees playoff game in the ratings, but it’s really not a shock if you think about it. Fantasy leagues and gambling have become the bedrock that forms the foundation for the entire sport of football.

I’m sure there are people who watch football because they find beauty in the strategy, or the brutality. But those are not the people the NFL markets to.

They market to the guy who buys an expensive jersey because the player depicted is on his fantasy team. To the guy with the Jets, Chiefs and Vikings in a three-team parlay. To the guy who desperately needs the Saints to win to stay in their suicide pool.

It’s apparent that fantasy is king in the NFL. If you go to on a Sunday morning, they lead their site every week with the “Inactives” and “Actives” from the 1 p.m. games. They preview the games themselves, but focus more on telling you who is and isn’t playing. Don’t get me wrong, those two ideas can be mutually exclusive, but this is done primarily so you know whether to start Michael Vick or someone else at quarterback, or whether to lay the points on the Eagles at all.

And that Jags-Titans game, which ended 30-3, was way out of reach of any point spread. It was obvious people were just watching to see if Chris Johnson or Maurice Jones-Drew would score. Jeff Fisher seemed to be channeling countless fantasy owners by bestowing numerous late carries on Johnson in a 23-3 game, until he finally broke one for a touchdown.

I’d say there are a good amount of people who only watch the games to see their fantasy players, or who don’t watch the games at all but check a “live box score” of their matchup for that particular week.

I don’t expect the NFL to simply ignore and not capitalize on the fact that like 85 percent of their sport has become a fantasy/gambling entity. It’s just that it calls the purity of the sport into question for me. Is anyone actually watching it just for the sake of watching a football game, especially if their favorite team isn’t involved?

I’m a Dolphins fan, as has been well documented here, and I scrutinize their games closely when I get to watch. But I do admit to pulling very hard for the five fantasy players I had active in last week’s Giants-Cowboys game, and watching for that expressed purpose. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good football game, it’s more that I had to see how Felix Jones would do.

I’m also in a weekly picks league, in which I’m currently second out of 15 teams. I also have to admit, it’s a rush when you see your games unfolding the way you predicted (or guessed) that they would. I don’t have much money at stake, $50 for the entire season, but you know there are plenty of degenerative gamblers hanging on every missed field goal to cover some carefully selected but still relatively arbitrary 12-point spread.

I remember being told once by a coworker that he no longer played fantasy baseball, and that he had never enjoyed the actual sport more.

I wonder if that’d be the case for me with football, and I’ve thought about abstaining from fantasy (baseball, too) just to see what it feels like. I know I loved the sport itself at one point; back in high school it was my favorite. But years and years have given me the crutch of fantasy players and point spread “pick-em” leagues, and besides the Dolphins, that’s pretty much what I go for now.

And given that I’ve picked three games below, as I do every week, I guess it’s obvious I’ve made my decision already.


  • The infamous caterer I’d be very interested to see what version of Randy Moss shows up in Tennessee, but I have to suspect it’ll be the future Hall of Fame version. More so than any athlete I’ve seen with the exception of Manny Ramirez, Moss has the ability to mail it in at will to get himself out of a situation and into another situation, usually with a new contract. He reached new levels of that this time, insulting some caterer or something to get the hell out of Dodge. I was personally hoping the Dolphins would sign Moss, primarily because he’s awesome, but also so they wouldn’t have to play against him next week. This is a guy who led the NFL in touchdowns last year. For a good Titans team to add Moss to a mix that already includes Johnson, when Kenny Britt comes back from injury, they have to be considered on the highest level of dangerous in the playoffs. This is assuming, of course, that Moss comes ready to play, but once he works himself into a situation he likes, he usually does just fine. And he’s too good to simply pull a Derek Jeter and drop off the table.

Here’s my personal Top 10 this week.

1. Patriots (6-1) (LW: 3) – In a watered-down league, best coach/QB combo looks strong.

2. Steelers (5-2) (LW: 2) – Loss at Saints doesn’t concern me; 3 straight road games does.

3. Giants (5-2) (LW: 4) – 4 straight wins. Seattle a trap game, but they’ll knock out Whitehurst.

4. Colts (5-2) (LW: 6) – Offensive system works even when ravaged by injuries.

5. Jets (5-2) LW: 1) – They’ll rebound from awful loss to Pack, but Lions won’t be pushovers.

6. Titans (5-3) (LW: 8 ) – Lost to Chargers, but come back after bye with Moss.

7. Ravens (5-2) (LW: 5) – Least interesting 5-2 team in a bit. Doing well with not-great Rice.

8. Falcons (5-2) (LW: 7) – You have to think Atlanta will take care of business vs. Bucs.

9. Saints (5-3) (LW: NR) – Huge home win over Pittsburgh keeps them dangerous, in running.

10. Eagles (4-3) (LW: 9) – Not giving up on them with Vick back after bye and wide-open NFC.


Here are 3 picks for Week 8.
LW: 2-1 (Hit on Rams, Lions; missed Cowboys)
Season: 14-7.

1. Bills +3 vs. Bears – Buffalo has lost by 3 last two weeks. They have to win sometime.

2. Cardinals (+8.5) at Vikings – Seems like too big a spread, even if Vikes win.

3. Chargers (-3) at Texans – San Diego is 3-5, but ranks No. 1 on both offense and defense.


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