How to play fantasy football: A beginner’s guide

By NFL Fantasy staff

If you’re reading this, you’re likely playing fantasy football for the first time. Or if you’ve played before and are looking for a little extra guidance, that’s fine too. We’re here to help you with a simple walkthrough on how to play fantasy football.

Overview: What is fantasy football?

You finished your draft and are staring at a team of around 15 NFL players. Now what?

At its core, fantasy is a math-based game based on the real-life production of NFL players. Each week, you “start” players at the various positions based on your league settings. These usually include a quarterback (QB), two running backs (RB), two wide receivers (WR), a tight end (TE), a kicker (K), a defense (D/ST), and a FLEX. Usually, that flex player is a running back or wide receiver. Some leagues allow for a tight end or even a quarterback as a flex. The statistics your players accumulate on the field (yards, touchdowns, etc.) contribute to their point total for the week. The point totals of all the players in your starting lineup make up your weekly score. If you have a higher total than your opponent (another member of your league) you win that week! Players who you do not start are on your “bench.” They’ll still score points, but those points will not count toward your weekly total.

Each week will proceed like this until the end of the fantasy regular season. That end comes in Week 14 or Week 15, depending on your league. The teams with the best win-loss records will enter the fantasy playoffs. Whoever wins the remaining games in the playoffs becomes the league champion. Most leagues will play their “Super Bowl” in Week 17. Yet, many leagues have different rules, so be sure to know yours!

Week 1 and beyond

Now you understand the basics. The season begins Sept. 9 when the Dallas Cowboys visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What does this mean for you and your fantasy squad?

You’ll need to make sure you set your lineup at least five minutes before the kickoff of that game (8:20 p.m. ET on NBC). Any players on your roster from those teams will be “locked” wherever you have them at that time. Whether they’re on your bench or in your starting lineup, you won’t be able to move them until all that week’s games end. This will be the case each week with Thursday Night Football, so be aware of when your star players are starting on Thursdays!

Other than that, you can tinker with your lineup all the way up until the games on Sunday. You’ll want to again make sure your lineup is set by five minutes before the games kick off (1 p.m. ET). This gives you time throughout the week to check our player rankings, read our strategy columns, and keep updated on player news. We have everything you’ll need right here at to get your lineup in tip-top shape each week.

Managing the waiver wire

Once Week 1 concludes after Monday Night Football, it’s time to turn your attention to Week 2. This is where we enter one of the most crucial parts of the fantasy season: managing the waiver wire.

The waiver wire is the process used to get players who currently aren’t on a roster in your fantasy league. You make a “claim” for a free agent. If you have the highest priority (based on the inverse of the standings), or no one else makes a claim on that player, you can add them to your roster. Of course, rosters have size limits, so if you wish to add a player you’ll have to drop another to make space. The game will generally make you pick a player to drop when you make your waiver claim, so don’t worry about that too much.

Using your priority effectively is a key strategy in fantasy. You may not want to waste it early in the year on a random free agent. It might be better to save it until someone on your roster gets injured. Or until you have a chance to pick up someone who is emerging as a bona fide starter.

Fantasy managers submit waiver claims on Tuesdays, and those are processed on Wednesdays. You can use this process during the week for more adds and drops if news breaks that a player will miss time.

Some leagues use a free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) for waiver wires. At the beginning of the season, the commissioner sets a budget that owners have to use for the entire season. Each week, owners must make blind bids on players they want to add. This gives all managers a better chance at getting top-quality free agents.

Bye weeks

Every team in the NFL has a “bye week” built into their season. This is a week when the team does not have a game scheduled and can rest/recover. These weeks are important for fantasy owners to keep an eye on. It may be necessary to add players to field a full starting roster.

To find out when your players have byes, click their name on your team page and scroll down the pop-up window to see their season schedule. These weeks will show up as “BYE” on your team page under the “Opponent” section. Make sure you have depth on your bench or can find a replacement on the waiver wire when these weeks pop up. It’s wise to think ahead in adding a free agent from the waiver wire when a bye is coming up for a big player on your team.


The only other way to add players to your roster post-draft is by trading with another person in your league. Trades do not have to be of a one-for-one nature. Often, they’ll involve many players. Sometimes, one team will give up a few players in exchange for an elite fantasy producer.

There’s no exact science to executing fantasy trades. It takes time and patience. A little knowledge of who you’re trading with doesn’t hurt either. To prevent collusion, most leagues enforce a trade deadline. This means all trades need to be completed before the set date. In standard leagues, November 26 is the trade deadline (Week 12). Be cognizant of that and make the appropriate moves before time is up!

Have fun

That’s it! As you can see, the basics of fantasy football are quite simple. Set your lineup every week, manage the waiver wire, keep an eye on bye weeks, make a few trades (if you want), and you’re good to go. The last and most important part about playing fantasy football is to remember to have fun. This is a game about a game, after all. Trash talk your league mates, but leave the players alone on social media. Keep your head up and, hopefully, you’ll be in the mix to hoist a championship trophy at the end of the season. If not, there’s always next year. And we’ll still be here trying to help you take home the gold.

Good luck this season. Until next time …

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major