Dec 2, 2014 1:00 AM

It's a big weekend for fantasy football fans

The real NFL playoffs are still a month away, but for many fans of Fantasy Football, the playoffs get underway this weekend.

The Fantasy Trade Sports Association says over 40 million people play fantasy sports in North America-mostly Fantasy Football-and it's become a multi-billion dollar industry. So, if you're facing one of your buddies this weekend and want to avoid an offseason of smack talk about how terrible your team is, here are some tips:

Rules vary from league to league, but in most Fantasy Football matchups, people are looking to score points based on rushing and passing yards each of your players gains, and touchdowns they might score. If you play, you already know that quarterbacks like the Patriots' Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can pile up the points. It's the lesser-known players who can make or break your fantasy season.

For example, you might think starting a Patriots running back or wide receiver would guarantee your team lots of points, but that's not always the case. Coach Bill Belichick is infamous among Fantasy Football players for changing his strategy every week depending on the opponent. Three weeks ago, Jonas Gray ran for over 200 yards and scored 4 touchdowns-but in the 2 games since then he's only had a single carry. Other than Brady and superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, most Pats players are hard to count on for guaranteed points.

if you're looking for a diamond in the rough-here's a suggestion: Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. The rookie whose nickname is "Johnny Football' saw his first action of the regular season in last week's loss to the Bills, replacing former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer. and scored a touchdown. He's expected to start for the Browns this weekend and could be the spark you need to win your playoff matchup.

A few other tips:

Pay extra close attention to injury reports. If a starter on a team with a good offense is hurt and iffy to play, that player's backup is often available for you to add to your team. Falcons wide receiver Roddy White missed last week's game with an ankle sprain and is no lock to play this week-his backup, Harry Douglas, gained over 100 yards and a touchdown filling in for White on Sunday.

Pick a defense that's playing a team you know is terrible. Most leagues allow you use a team defense to score points on things like sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, and so on. Many players like to pick one defense and stick with it all year long-but in the playoffs, it could hurt you if that defense is playing a team like the Patriots or the Green Bay Packers. Find a defense that's playing a team known for making a lot of mistakes instead. The Minnesota Vikings play one of the league's worst teams this weekend in the New York Jets-they might be a smart play for you.


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