Fantasy Football Fiesta

With my fantasy baseball team more or less set for the second half of the season, it falls on fantasy football to help me forestall confronting reality for the next six months. Happily, the publishers of America are up to the challenge, releasing their 2007 guides several weeks before training camps open their doors. I saw one on a newsstand on June 18, which marks the first time that any such title has broken the July 1 barrier. That's the publishing equivalent of the four-minute mile, and an achievement that demands multi-title Magazine Rack exaltation.

The timing is just perfect, too, as I'm hosting some friends for the weekend and need to dumb down the bathroom literature. For my little exercise, I chose a smorgasbord of publications: the "official" fantasy football publication ( Fantasy Football 2007 Preview), the one thrown together by the fantasy world's best football Web site ( Presents Fantasy Football 2007 Strategy Guide), and one that looks like it was assembled on the cheap by someone with only a rudimentary grasp of Quark and PhotoShop (Lindy's Fantasy Football 2007).

From their stat-packed pages to their wildly charismatic titles, the mags are more or less identical. They print the same stats. They use the same photos of steroid-free (cough! cough!) behemoths with cylindrical balls tucked deep into their 'pits. They rank players by position and offer fantasy-focused blurbs for each of the league's 32 teams. They may well have been written by the same person.

The publication strikes me as the laziest and least useful -- surprising, given how the NFL rarely associates itself with anything less than A-list licensing partners. The mag offers wildly incisive advice like "Look for a top receiver, such as Coles of the Jets" and rehashes every LaDanian Tomlinson story of the past five years in its cover feature. A cover feature on the best player? Them's imaginamative thinkin'.

Lindy's may look the worst of the three titles, owing to its circa-1996 graphics and fonts. It also mucks up what should be straightforward analysis by assigning fantasy grades (5 is good, 1 is bad) to each position player, which reminds me of the similarly pointless/random color-coded terror-alert system. Throwing numbers (or colors) around without correlating them to objective reality is a silly idea, especially in a halftard pursuit like fantasy football. Where Lindy's excels is in its scouthead tendencies. In its player rankings, it offers a handful of nuggets that the casual fan/fantasy jockey won't pick up on his or her own (Ahman Green "is forced to take himself out of the lineup after three or four plays in a row because of asthma and other physical problems"). See, that's useful, especially given his recent relocation from the clear air of Green Bay to Houston's smogasmagoria.

Footballguys probably wins this savage three-way battle by, like, a ninth-inning three-point penalty shot. It's the smudgiest of the three mags, owing to its crummy paper stock. On the other hand, it's the only one that breaks a sweat, whether via an "exclusive" interview with Willie Parker (I love the final exchange: "FBG: Thank you for your time, Willie. / WP: "No problem, call me anytime, Cec!") or a handful of individual player spotlights and face-offs (debates on Reggie Bush, Larry Fitzgerald and others).

Footballguys also takes a much closer look at the numbers, explaining the math behind its "Value-Based Drafting" system and projections. Of course, most everything here is available in just-as-easily-perusable form on the Web site, so temper your expectations accordingly.

What each of the three magazines, and pretty much every other long-lead fantasy-football title, could use is some edginess. Obviously you're not going to see any Bengals/felons jokes in an NFL-stamped magazine, but there's nothing stopping the other two titles from taking a more cynical look at the game. In a 266-page ( or 144-page (Lindy's) publication, you can only stomach so many "X player looks poised to break out!!!!" blurbs. The NFL mag approaches giggle territory with its "Fantasy Follies of 1925" piece, but lines like "the Bears' runners suffered a loss when the team sold its starting center to Frankford for $300 and two truckloads of Ovaltine" pale beside the Deadspin-ish wit and sacrilege that younger fans now expect in their sports coverage.

There are things to like in each of these magazines, to be sure, and they all do a fine job of condensing a heap o' information in a single place. Ultimately, though, better, timelier and more snappily written material is just a click away on the Web. At this point in their evolution, fantasy-football magazines are only for completists and the chronically bored.

Instead, point your web-browser-like apparatuses (and your ad dollars) towards and for info, and CBS SportsLine for columns and league management (full disclosure: I write about baseball for the latter site). Advertise there, not here. If you're stranded without Web access, buy a copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2007, which costs only three or four bucks more than most of these magazines. It's out next week.

Also, draft Laurence Maroney.

MAG STATS Fantasy Football 2007 Preview
Published by: NFL Publishing/produced by Shoreline Publishing Group/published for the NFL by Time Inc. Home Entertainment. Get all that?
Frequency: Annual
Advertising information: Call 800-327-6388
Web site Presents Fantasy Football 2007 Strategy Guide
Published by: F+W Publications
Frequency: Also annual
Advertising information
Web site

Lindy's Fantasy Football 2007
Published by: D.M.D. Publications
Frequency: Annual as well. Quel coincidence!
Advertising information
Web site

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