Illustration by team illustrator Sakura Siegel.

The 2023 NFL season is nearing its end, which also means these next few weeks are the playoffs in fantasy football… aka a very stressful time for a record total of 12 million people who play.

The excitement of creating a clever team name and drafting a team is a distant memory at this point as other league members try to position themselves to make a playoff push. Some people may just play for bragging rights, but for the risk-takers, they may play in money leagues where real money can be won at various amounts. 

Fantasy football continues to be the most popular fantasy sport, coinciding with the NFL being the most popular sport in the United States. And, when you look a little closer, New Jersey was dubbed as the fourth-most obsessed state with fantasy football, according to a survey conducted by Shane.co. 

Despite not having a designated home team, the New York Giants and New York Jets play at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (that’s a story for another time…) Twitter data has shown that many NJ residents mainly root for the Giants, but there are more Philadelphia Eagle fans in South Jersey, who are just half an hour drive from the other state.

With Giants, Jets and Eagles fans scattered throughout the state, it makes for a prime hub of fantasy football fanatics. If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon sweeping the nation, let’s run you up to speed.

You’re In Charge

Drafting your fantasy football team is probably the most exciting part.

But winning your fantasy football league hinges on drafting well. Drafting the wrong player can end your season before it even begins. Your draft position can change your entire strategy based on who is available. 

This year at the top of the draft, league managers were most likely drafting either former LSU teammates Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings or Ja’Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals. 

After those players were selected, the next top players were between touchdown machine Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers, speed threat Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins or the best tight end in the NFL Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs. 

The bottom of the first round usually had fantasy football players deciding between Dallas Cowboys teammates CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard, rookie running back Bijan Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons, or the Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson of the New York Jets.

As fantasy football managers finish drafting their team, many will feel pretty confident in the team they’ve assembled. Maybe they look at some free agents, or perhaps they try to make a trade with another manager. But, usually the team a manager drafts is usually the team they will sink or swim with for the upcoming NFL season. 

Damage Control

The start of the NFL season saw many NFL injuries that not only ruined the Super Bowl championship hopes of their respective teams, but also the championship aspirations of their league managers. 

 

Future Hall of Fame Quarterback Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles in his New York Jets debut. Rodgers’ injury would directly impact wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who was not able to meet the production he was projected to have with Rodgers throwing him the ball. 

Quarterback Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals was struggling through the early part of the season to the point his former college teammate and current No. 1 target Ja’Marr Chase would tell the media “he’s always open!” Burrow found Chase 15 times for 192 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Bengals looked poised to make a playoff run. But Burrow injured his wrist and is now sidelined for the rest of the season, ending the Bengals playoff hopes. 

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who many may have taken first overall, injured his hamstring, making him inactive for a number of weeks. Jefferson’s quarterback, Kirk Cousins was having a very productive season, and after a slow start the Vikings were looking certain to make a playoff push, but then Cousins tore his Achilles, ending his season. 

But all hope isn’t gone for the Vikings as new add-on Joshua Dobbs has taken over as quarterback. Dobbs made headlines after scoring a last minute victory for Minnesota, just days after he was traded into the team. Dobbs began training camp with the Cleveland Browns, was then the starter for the Arizona Cardinals until starting quarterback Kyler Murray returned from his injury. 

Running back Nick Chubb was carrying the offensive load for the Cleveland Browns and, paired with a stingy defense, the Browns looked to be heading to the playoffs. That was until Chubb went down with a knee injury, which was the same one he suffered in college at Georgia. 

Cleveland’s Super Bowl hopes and fantasy football managers saw their dreams crushed by this injury.

All Or Nothing

Drafting a team sometimes is just about luck. 

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is already a perennial all-pro, but when superstar girlfriend Taylor Swift is present, Kelce’s numbers seem to double, as opposed to when the leader of the Swifties is not present. Kansas City is looking to win its third Super Bowl since 2020.

(Denny Medley | USA TODAY Sports)

With so many quarterback injuries, if you drafted C.J. Stroud, just like the Houston Texans, you may be looking at a playoff push. Stroud is the runaway Offensive Rookie of the Year, and looks to be one of the best quarterbacks to come from Ohio State. Rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua has been a pleasant surprise for both the Los Angeles Rams and fantasy football managers. Puka Nacua was able to be an open target for Matthew Stafford while all-pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp recovered from an injury.

Playing fantasy football may somewhat emulate what a real NFL general manager has to deal with constantly. 

Making trades can be extremely difficult in a league, even with friends. This is mostly because many people may value their players more than they are actually worth. So, the only real way to make a trade is for someone to undervalue their player a bit, in hopes of facilitating a trade. 

Money leagues can get extremely competitive because… well… real money is involved. 

To not fall behind, managers will do their research, and perhaps look at players and teams that otherwise would not be of real interest previously. This is mostly due to no one really wanting to lose the money they just essentially betted. 

Just like the real NFL, if your team doesn’t make the fantasy football playoffs, there’s nothing left to do but to regroup and try again next season.

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