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Fantasy Football vs Sports Betting: Which Should You Choose?

One of the most popular ways for football fans to get into the action, so to speak, is through fantasy football. By taking part in fantasy football games, especially with a group of friends, players can really feel like their passion for the sport is about more than just watching games, but is about using real football to play an entirely separate game yourself.

Even if you don’t know exactly how it works, fantasy football is a phrase that you’re bound to have heard in tons of TV shows and movies, and you may well have even heard about it at work or with friends. But what exactly is it and how exactly does it differ from another football related activity: betting on the NFL games themselves?


Fantasy Football: What It Is and How It Works


Very simply, fantasy football allows you to create and manage your own imaginary football team and to pit them against your friends’ own fantasy football teams. How does this work, exactly?  

Well, to start off, you create the team out of NFL players that are playing in the current season, preferably towards the beginning of the current season. It’s crucial that they’re current players because the way you score for your league is based on the actual, real-world performance of each of these players. At the end of the week, you tally up your score by adding up all the touchdowns scored by each of the players on your team, and the team with the most points wins the week.

But there’s more to it than that. First, fantasy football is usually played in leagues of a dozen or so teams. After each week, you can release players from your team that are under-performing and can make trades with other teams in your league. In terms of your initial drafts, there are two main drafting methods that are used: simple, whereby each “team owner” in the league takes turns picking a player (not unlike sports in PE classes), and auction, whereby each owner is allocated a certain amount of money (say, $100) and then bids on each player until all the teams are filled.

Fantasy football can be played with friends for bragging rights or small cash prizes or it can be played more professionally for pretty serious money.    

NFL player playing

Sports Betting: What It Is and How It Works


Sports betting (or, specifically in our case, football betting) is similar to fantasy football in that you predict how a team will do in any particular game and you “win” or “lose” based on that. That’s virtually it for similarities, though.

First, football betting is a more traditional gambling game, whereby you place a bet on a certain outcome and you win money if you guessed the correct outcome and forfeit your wager if you don’t. While betting on individual players certainly isn’t uncommon, the general rule is that you bet on a specific team to win a game, usually by a minimum amount of points in spread betting or just by winning on a simple moneyline bet. You can, theoretically, place a repeat wager on a team to win each game they participate in, but the vast, vast majority of the time, bets are done on a game by game basis.

The primary similarity between football betting and fantasy football is that in both you hope for a specific outcome in one or a series of football games, based on your own knowledge of the game. The differences are far more significant.  


Differences Between the Two


Factor Fantasy Football Football Betting
Played for money Often but not always. Always.
Main focus Fantasy football is all about the performance of individual players, across an entire season.  Football betting is usually about the performance of a team in a particular game, based on their previous performances. 
Who you play with Play in a league of other fantasy football team “owners”. Sometimes strangers, often friends. Solo, “against”, so to speak, the sportsbook.
How you make money Players with the most points win the tournament, either on a weekly basis or once the season is over. Conventional bets on one of the teams playing a game winning that game, sometimes by a certain amount of points, sometimes just by winning or losing.
Knowledge required Understand the game, understand the players, understand how to manage your fantasy team. Understand the game, understand the players, understand the ins and outs of sports betting.
Participation Very active. Keeping on top of the whole NFL season and each game your players participate in. Actively and constantly manage your fantasy team and the players in your draft. Minimally to moderately active. Betting on numerous games requires keeping up with the season, but each bet is basically independent and is based on knowledge of only the two teams playing. No participation beyond placing your bet.
Accessibility Requires a more in depth knowledge of the sport, generally and how to manage your team. Can be played by minors, but not professionally.  Easy enough to learn once you’re familiar with the way the betting works. Minimum age of 18 or 21. 
Legality Legal in slightly more states, professionally. But playing in a league for fun or for charity is, if not always 100% legal, not really monitored.  Becoming more widespread, but is illegal still in many states.


So, Which to Choose?

Simply, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a fun, usually very social activity that you can play for money, but can just as easily play for bragging rights, charities, or for physical prizes, fantasy football is 100% the way to go. It’s not even close. If making a quick buck on a single game based on your own knowledge of the sports is more your thing, then football betting is definitely the way to go. It’s entirely up to you.

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