Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is considered the consensus top pick for fantasy football drafts before the 2020 NFL season, which could be frequently disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Nell Redmond/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Like most events in 2020, the fantasy football season will provide unique challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic. The popular virtual game launches Sept. 10, the same day as the start of the 2020 NFL season.
An estimated 45.9 million adults played fantasy sports last year in the United States, according to the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association.
Fans around the world -- young and old -- have bought into the craze, which consists of creating virtual lineups of real-life players and competing against friends, coworkers and family members in head-to-head contests based on sports competitions in real time.
The NFL-based game is the most-popular format, as football fans use ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, NFL.com and other websites to compete in season-long leagues. Fans also compete annually in increasingly-popular daily fantasy football betting platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel.
UPI will offer pre-season rankings for wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends, as well as overall player rankings to help with draft preparation. We also will provide weekly positional fantasy rankings to help fantasy football team owners decide which players to put in their lineups.
Typical full-season formats start with research and a fantasy football draft in which leagues meet in person or use the Internet to select players for their individual teams.
In-person meetings for large groups likely will be difficult to arrange this year due to the pandemic. The NFL also will face challenges all season long as the league attempts to prevent coronavirus outbreaks among its 32 teams.
Nearly 70 NFL players have opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to safety concerns tied to the pandemic. While the NFL had a deadline for players to opt out in early August, more players can opt out later if they receive a new diagnosis that they have a high-risk condition or if a family member dies or is hospitalized because of COVID-19 or a related condition.
Players who miss NFL games this season also will miss fantasy football matchups. Some fantasy football service providers have made alterations to their settings in response to the possibility of COVID-19-related interruptions.
Most fantasy sports platforms will allow players placed on their teams' reserve/COVID-19 lists to be designated for injured reserve on their websites, if that league allows for an injured reserve lineup slot.
That allows fantasy football team owners to pick up an additional player for their lineup while the player on injured reserve remains on their roster.
League commissioners might need to adjust league settings to compensate for players who miss time due to COVID-19 this season. Leagues also should prepare for NFL season disruptions, such as postponed games.
A shortened NFL season also would mean shortened fantasy football campaigns, which would end leagues before the playoffs and likely require them to adjust winner payouts and entry fees.
But when it comes to strategy for fantasy football teams before COVID-19-related interruptions, fantasy football team owners should plan for the future based on what transpired this off-season.
NFL teams were unable to meet in typical fashion this off-season because team facilities were closed due to COVID-19 safety precautions. The altered schedule meant rookies and players new to NFL teams did not have the chance to meet with their teammates and coaches as much as in previous years.
That lack of preparation could result in veteran players having a slight advantage over the newcomers at the start of the season. Those veteran players also could be better options for fantasy football squads as they are more familiar with playbooks and personnel on their teams.
Rookies and new signees likely will carry additional risk for slow or poor production because of limited practice during the off-season.
Fantasy football team owners also should consider which players have opted out on particular teams and how those opt outs will impact the team's performance going forward.
Teams that had several prominent offensive linemen opt out could struggle early and likely won't be as strong on offense in 2020. Teams that lost pass-catchers might see a drop off in quarterback production and be less balanced on offense.
Teams that had many key defenders opt out might not have as strong a defense in 2020 as they did in 2019.
NFL Week 1 -- Times in EDT
Texans at Chiefs at 8:20 p.m.
Jets at Bills at 1 p.m.
Packers at Vikings at 1 p.m.
Eagles at Washington at 1 p.m.
Browns at Ravens at 1 p.m.
Colts at Jaguars at 1 p.m.
Raiders at Panthers at 1 p.m.
Bears at Lions at 1 p.m.
Seahawks at Falcons at 1 p.m.
Dolphins at Patriots at 1 p.m.
Chargers at Bengals at 4:05 p.m.
Cardinals at 49ers at 4:25 p.m.
Buccaneers at Saints at 4:25 p.m.
Cowboys at Rams at 8:20 p.m.
Steelers at Giants at 7:15 p.m.
Titans at Broncos at 10:10 p.m.