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Fantasy Football, Real Life Jesus. Part One: Preparation

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

No, it’s not Christmas.  It’s not the Ides of March.  It’s not Canadian Boxing Day.  It’s fantasy football season, baby.  <insert wife’s grimace here>

The anticipation is back.  The strategy consumes my thoughts.  The competition starts churning in my veins.  For a fleeting moment at the end of the fantasy football championship season, there are thoughts of relief that you don’t have to set another lineup for nearly nine months.  Then you realize…that’s a long way away.  That’s like…enough time to create a kid.  The NFL draft in April is just a tease, but it’s nice to have talk of football again.  The summer is a struggle.  There’s no reason to watch SportsCenter from the end of the NBA season until the NFL preseason.

But, fantasy football is back.  And it feels good.  Really good.

Some people are a bit obsessive with fantasy football.  These people make spreadsheets.  These people talk about it to anyone who will listen about their upcoming drafts.  These people are in multiple leagues.  These people stress over their draft position and naming their team.

I am one of these people.

I can’t just enter a league for fun.  I have to win.  I love strategy games.  I’ve tried explaining to my wife that this is nearly 20 weeks (including draft prep) of nothing but strategy.  When you win, it’s fantastic.  It’s rewarding to triumph after five months of planning, risk, luck and over-thinking.  When you lose, it’s crushing.  It’s terrible to fall after five months of planning, risk, luck and over-thinking.

If you’re reading this and have no idea what fantasy football is all about, I’m sorry.  Here’s all you need to know:

  • You pick real NFL players to be on your “fantasy” team.
  • You have a starting lineup and a bench.
  • You largely draft only offensive positions like quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end.  You also will draft a kicker and team defense.
  • You get points for their performance.  Many leagues award 6 points for a rushing or receiving touchdown and one point for every 10 rushing or receiving yards. For example, if Adrian Peterson runs for 100 yards and scores a touchdown you might score 16 points (based on your league’s scoring, of course).
  • You can trade players with other teams and pick up players who aren’t currently on a roster, just like the general managers in the pros.

I think most fantasy football players will agree that our favorite time of the year is the draft.  There’s nothing like a live draft.  All your buddies sitting in a room filled with unhealthy snacks for hours at a time while ribbing each other with each pick.  For years, I’ve been in multiple leagues and have at least one that drafts in person.  I usually buy a draft board, like the one pictured below.  There are color-coded stickers by position with every player’s name on it.  When it’s your turn, you grab the sticker of the player you want and put him on the big board.

draft

There are a number of considerations to make while preparing for the draft.  How many people are going to be on my roster?  How many bench spots?  Is there a flex position?  How does the scoring work?  How deep is the league?

I’ve also found that there are a number of considerations to make while preparing to serve as a follower of Christ each day.  When is the last time I shared my faith with someone?  Have I had my quiet time lately?  Have I diligent in my prayer life?

Over the next several sections, I’m going to attempt to draw parallels between preparing for a fantasy football draft and preparing for working for a real life Jesus every day.

Format

Fantasy Football

I’ve been in fantasy leagues for over 13 years now.  I’ve been in leagues of many formats.  There are salary cap or auction leagues where everyone gets a set amount of “salary cap” to spend on their players.  It’s up to each manager to decide how they want to spend their money.  Do they want a balanced team or a “stars and scrubs” team?

There are keeper & dynasty leagues which allow each manager to keep a certain amount (either just a few or all) of their players from year to year.  This is very similar to owning your own franchise.  A few years ago, I drafted Aaron Rodgers very late in the draft.  He sat on my bench for several years, just as he did in real life with the Green Bay Packers.  But, then Brett Favre retired…kinda.  The Pack gave the ball to Rodgers and he blossomed into arguably the league’s top QB.  Luckily for me, he was on my team every year and helped me with back-to-back championships.

Redraft are another option.  Redraft leagues start over each year.  Selecting players happens in a “snake” draft.  This means that if you have the last pick in the first round, then you also have the first pick in the second round.  Redraft leagues are a great equalizer and put a lot of emphasis on drafting a good team immediately, rather than building a good team over time.

Real Life Jesus

Just as it’s important to know what kind of league you are getting yourself in to, it’s important to know the type of team we’re playing for.  As Christians, not only are we on a dynasty team, we’re on an eternal team.  Everything we do has a forever impact.  The team we’re playing for is not only the winning team, but it’s the team that has already won.

Ephesians 1:13b says, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”

God drafted us to his dynasty team when we placed our faith in his son, who died to forgive our sins.  It’s nice to be wanted.

Scoring

Fantasy Football

My favorite kind of league are PPR scoring leagues.  PPR stands for point-per-reception.  PPR leagues add a different twist to standard scoring leagues awarding a point for every time a player catches the ball.  PPR scoring makes certain running backs and wide receivers immensely more valuable than they might otherwise be.  Wes Welker, now with the Broncos, is a great example of a standout PPR player.  Welker spent the last several years catching balls from Tom Brady in New England, which made him valuable.  But, it has not been uncommon for Welker to catch 7-10 balls in a game.  For five out of the last six years, Welker had at least 111 receptions.  His abundance of catches makes his value skyrocket.  This scoring model really makes you think about each player you draft.

From 2008-2012, Michael Turner has been a touchdown machine for the Atlanta Falcons, scoring at least 10 TDs each year.  But, the most passes Turner caught during that time was 19, and that was just last year.  As a result, there have been a number of other running backs drafted before Turner each year because of his futility scoring in a PPR format.

This year, I’m in a scoring-only league for the first time.  Simply, this means that yardage doesn’t matter. It’s down and dirty and only scoring matters.  This is another huge twist in how I needed to prepare.  Remember that remarkable season Calvin Johnson had last year?  Megatron had 122 receptions, 1964 reception yards and 11 games with over 100 yards receiving (including 8 straight).  He was a complete monster.  But, 39 other players had more touchdowns than Johnson, including Scott Chandler, TY Hilton and Santana Moss.  So, in this scoring-only league, none of Johnson’s yards and receptions would not have mattered.

Real Life Jesus

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The points don’t matter.  That’s right.  Once I put my faith in Jesus, there is nothing else that I could do to earn my spot in heaven, gain his favor or change his mind about me.

I could go to church every Sunday, have lots of Scripture memorized, put lots of money in the plate and help dozens of old ladies cross the street, but without belief in Christ and the willingness to follow him, nothing else matters.

Strategy

Fantasy Football

As of this writing, all drafts have happened and Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season is nearly in the books.  The Eagles & Redskins are on TV and the new Philadelphia high-octane offense has run 19 plays in just about five minutes.  The Redskins have had the ball for eight seconds.

A few days ago, Peyton Manning threw for seven touchdowns.  Some guy named Julius Thomas scored two touchdowns for the Broncos and Julian Edelman scored twice for the Patriots.  Heck, the Jets won a game.  These are things that you can’t predict.

Some leagues do a random drawing just minutes before a draft to pick which draft spot you’ll have.  I hate not knowing.  Knowing in advance which spot you draft from is kind of like knowing the gender of your child.  You get to pick out a name, pick the paint for the room and start looking at bedding (or toys).

When I prepare for a draft, I do several mock drafts and take notes of the which players go in which round.  I will chart each player I take by round based on different strategies.  Do I start with two running backs?  Do I take a tight end or quarterback early?  Where do I want to grab my #1 wide receiver?  I’ll add up all the projected points and then move forward with a strategy.  But even my strategy has level of other strategy.  I identify up to three players I want in each round for the first six or seven rounds.  You could say I get in to it.

Real Life Jesus

I have realized over the last several years how “involved” I’ve been with fantasy football and I’ve stripped back a lot.  (Yes, I used to be even more involved.)  A few years ago, I was in up to six or eight leagues.  Two of them were dynasty or keeper leagues with very active owners.  I spent too much time analyzing trade scenarios, scouring the waiver wire and projecting starting lineups.

I had to shift my priorities.  I’m only three leagues that take up much less time.  I’m trying to make sure that I have a quiet time each day and I’m striving for a strong prayer life.  Rather than sorting through spreadsheets, I need to be involved in the lives of other Christians.  Instead of studying stat lines, I should be memorizing scripture.  I need to substitute conversations about lineups with conversations about Christ.

See, if we’re going to be disciples and grow in our faith, we have to have a strategy.  We have to be aware of who we are hanging out with (our roster), how we are going to be effective (our point potential) and even have a list of people we want to share our faith with (our waiver wire).

Reality

Fantasy Football

Well, going in to the last couple games of Week 1, I’ve locked up a win in one of my three leagues and I’m desperately wanting Robert Griffin III to score me some big points (not looking good so far) in order for me to catch up in the other two.

On paper, I have very good teams.  On paper, my opponents might not.  In reality, big things happened on the field this week and I’m down so far.  I have no control over these players.  I can’t prevent them from throwing interceptions.  I can’t help them turn the corner and blow by the defense.  I just have to sit back and watch and pray everything comes together.

Real Life Jesus

The only thing stopping me from reading more, praying more, sharing more and giving more is me.  My fear of rejection, my selfishness, my comfort level and my ego get in the way.  Unlike my fantasy teams, I have some level of control.  I can determine who I speak to, what I read and what the condition of my heart is.  I just have to commit, take action and pray everything comes together.

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