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Fantasy Football

How To Play Fantasy Football: Introduction to NFL Guillotine Leagues

Dave Loughran

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As someone who played in his first guillotine league last year, I can definitively say that they are a great time — but only if you can hang around long enough to make it worthwhile. We’re going to go over the basics of how to play fantasy football, guillotine style. See, Guillotine leagues are the fantasy football version of Survivor Pools, where the wrong pick in any week can result in your elimination. The guillotine format features the same draft as any standard fantasy league, but the lowest-scoring team is eliminated each week. Here’s the kicker: that eliminated team’s entire roster goes to the waiver wire where the surviving teams bid against each other to add those players onto their own rosters. This specifically is where strategy plays such a large role in your success or failure. But there are two other important considerations when jumping into your first guillotine league, and we’re going to hit on both of them. 

Waiver Wire

Properly managing your FAAB is easily the most crucial aspect of any guillotine league. In a regular redraft league, you’d have little problem spending every dollar of your FAAB on Ezekiel Elliott if he somehow hit the waiver in Week 5 — and a lot of people will do that in guillotine leagues too. Here’s why you shouldn’t … 

The problem with this approach is two-fold: First, you’ve added a top-five player, but won’t have any ability to add other good-to-great players later in the season as more teams are eliminated. It’s easy to get enamored with a marquee name early in the year when he becomes available, but by going all out on a single player, you’re kneecapping your ability to build quality depth. Remember, a team will get eliminated every week, and several teams will have nothing left in their budget by the time the middle of the season rolls around, or possibly even sooner. Here’s where the second reason to avoid overpaying early in the season comes into play … 

Guillotine leagues are similar to a 50/50 format in DFS through the first 16 weeks of the season; as long as you finish above someone else, you’re safe. Granted, in 50/50s you have to finish in the top half of the field, but of a field of 100, you’ll get the same payout by finishing first or 50th. You could finish one position ahead of the last-place team every week in a guillotine league and win it all. That’s an extreme example, but it doesn’t matter whether you finish first or second-to-last until the final week of the season.

This is important because if you can hang around all season long without going FAAB broke, you’ll be able to land almost any player you want later in the year when almost everyone else has exhausted their funds. Think about it — as the season progresses, top players from eliminated teams are added to contending teams, so each week the eliminated team’s roster is likely going to be better than the one from the week before. Assuming you just aren’t the worst team each week, you’ll have the luxury of spending way less FAAB on elite players later in the year. Your team will steadily improve throughout the season, but the teams who made an early splash by spending everything on a top-10 player will see their teams progressively get worse. They’ll go from finishing top three every week to barely hanging on by Week 10. You will go from hopefully hovering around the middle of the pack for most of the year to having the best team in the league by Week 16. 

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The earlier you are in the season, the more you’ll have to spend on everyone. Look to add good players but not necessarily elite players in the early goings of the season, so you’ll be positioned stronger than anyone else once the field narrows down. This obviously isn’t to say you shouldn’t bid on Christian McCaffrey if he hits the waiver in Week 2, but remember, if you bid everything you’ll have a much weaker overall roster by Week 10. While other teams are building depth from top to bottom, you’re left picking up the scraps that went unacquired in each week’s waiver period. That simply isn’t a winning formula.

Draft

Normally we’d be discussing the draft before the waiver wire, but in guillotine leagues there’s a lot more intricacies with the latter. Your draft is obviously of supreme importance, but you won’t win a guillotine league without very calculated use of the waiver wire. With that in mind, a better overall draft will make your life much easier throughout the season, especially if you’re in a position to conserve your FAAB over the first several weeks.

There are a few simple things to consider when heading into a draft: first, play for safety in the early rounds and don’t get cute. You can almost assure yourself that most players drafted in the first few rounds will be productive. Don’t take an aggressive stand by reaching in the early goings of the draft just because you feel good about a player. Remember, your goal is to not be last each week, not to win every Sunday. Sure, winning every week is a bonus, but it’s not necessary.

You’ll be in positions where taking chances is necessary and won’t want to pass up the opportunity if the risk isn’t extreme. It’s much harder to replace a second- or third-round value that busts than a sixth- or seventh-round player who fails to produce. If I draft Travis Etienne in the early rounds and James Robinson remains the top dog in Jacksonville, replacing that expected production will be much more difficult and a whole lot more expensive.

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Paying attention to bye weeks is important in any draft, but it’s particularly vital in guillotine leagues. Most guillotine leagues are played with 16 or 17 teams (depending on whether or not you want your league to run through the end of the season), so you won’t have the luxury of a deep bench for bye week substitutes. The main reason having several players with the same bye week is far more consequential in guillotine than other leagues is the weekly eliminations; in other formats you can sacrifice one week if necessary. A single week shouldn’t make or break your season. In guillotine leagues one disastrous week turns the lights out for good.

Ultimately it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Draft your team and work the waivers for the long haul. No one will remember the guy or girl who was perched in first place through the first 10 weeks, although I’m sure they’ll remind you every Sunday.


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Dave "Loughy" Loughran has been a fixture in the daily fantasy community since not long after its inception, quitting his career as a Drug and Alcohol therapist to become a full-time DFS analyst, player and media personality in 2014. Loughy is the host of "Awesemo Radio" on SiriusXM Fantasy, qualified for the 2016 DraftKings Fantasy Football World Championship, and was featured in the Washington Post and other publications for his success as a player. You can find him on Twitter at @Loughy_D where he'll likely be ranting about the miserable life of a Philadelphia sports fan, using "fella" in almost every tweet, or via email at [email protected].

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