October 27, 2011

Is Fantasy the New Reality?

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Excuse me for sounding sentimental, but remember the days when you watched games to see which team scored and not which player scored? When a passing touchdown was six points for the scoring team, not four points for your fantasy team? When you switched between games on CBS and FOX to root for a good game rather than the unlikely strip-sack that will give you the edge in your fantasy matchup?  For many fans, the answer is no. Fantasy football has become such an inextricable part of NFL football that many fans nowadays claim allegiance to players rather than to teams. In fact, there are around 30 million fantasy football owners in the U.S., many of whom consider themselves “NFL fans” rather than restricting themselves to one team in particular, with good reason. Fantasy football offers fans the chance to sculpt their own league, manage their own team and stay invested (literally and figuratively) in their players. It gives seasoned couch potatoes everywhere the feeling of having ownership in what they’re watching because players are tradeable assets. If they do not perform well, it is time to move on to new investments. So the new age of fantasy football is upon us with good reason, but is it really as fulfilling as NFL traditionalism or attaching yourself to a particular team and holding on for the ride?Not for me. I am putting myself on a relatively small island by saying this, but I am not a fantasy guy. I have nothing against fantasy football itself — I think it is great and I love player statistics just as much as the next guy, but there is something impure about watching the game for player statistics rather than the greater body of teamwork. What is worse is when fans who grew up following a team and are now fantasy fiends try to straddle the clear divide between the two. Don’t come telling me you are a diehard fan of team X and also a win-at-all-costs fantasy owner. Plain and simple, that is impossible. There is something unsettling about rooting for a player on a rival team, even if you are sitting him when he plays against your team. A Jets fan with Tom Brady on his fantasy team, a Ravens fan with Troy Polamalu, or a Packers fan with Adrian Peterson — that’s disgusting. You should be ashamed of yourself.But, as reality would have it, it is becoming acceptable to be both competitive fantasy owner and diehard fan. Even if you sit that all-star playing against your team in week eight, I am not buying it, though most fans in the football fraternity are. There is no shame anymore in hedging the risk of your favorite team losing with a fantasy team that might ease the pain come Monday night. Even the NFL is hopping aboard the fantasy bandwagon — the league has directed teams to show fantasy statistics during games on the stadium video boards.Fantasy football is not a plague taking over the NFL. It is simply a new subculture that seems to penetrate the NFL fan base more and more each year, and may well be on its way to a supra-culture that overtakes the NFL world. SciFi-sounding scenarios aside, fantasy football has certainly blurred the lines between diehard fan and diehard owner, leaving football traditionalists like myself searching for ways to forgive fellow fans whose appreciation of a great football play is blinded by the name on the back of the jersey. It is unreasonable to ask fans to let go of fantasy football, but it is not unreasonable to ask fans to keep in mind the true beauty of the game, regardless of how many points it gets you. It is also not unreasonable to ask fantasy owners just how attached they are to their “favorite” team.  The next time you start talking about “your team,” are you talking fantasy or are you talking football?Lions at Broncos (-3) If Tim Tebow produces points at the same rate he did in the first 57 minutes of last week’s game, the Broncos will be shut out. If he produces points at the same rate he did in the last three minutes of last week’s game, the Broncos will score 75 points per quarter. Either way, that was a winless Dolphins team and you can bet Detroit is ready to bounce back from consecutive losses to the 49ers and Falcons. I am hesitant to pick against the Tebow magic, but I think Detroit plays a lot better than Vegas is anticipating.Lions by 9.Patriots at Steelers (-3)This has the workings of a great match-up. The Steelers play this season has dropped from recent years, and yet they are still sitting at 5-2. Not too shabby for the league’s oldest defense (average age of 31.5 years old), which is also one of the oldest of all time. The Patriots, despite their success, rank last in the league in pass defense — a great match-up for Roethlisberger, who has 10 TDs and only 2 picks in five regular season games versus the Patriots. My upset special of the week.Steelers by 3.Cowboys at Eagles (-3.5)The time for the Eagles to win is now. The Eagles have seen their dream team aspirations wither to the tune of a 2-4 record, but they are coming off a bye and a big division win the week before in Washington. I am not calling for the Eagles to right the ship just yet, but I do think they get the win at home this week in a close game. Look for Vick to have big numbers.Eagles by 4.

Original Author: Paul Picinich