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5 Ways the 2021 Rule Changes Could Upend Fantasy Football

There are a few proposed rule changes for the 2021 season that could have some mild to major implications on your fantasy football team. While each rule change’s chance of being ratified ranges from probable to not on your life, let’s break down the five that you might want to be aware of just in case.

2021 NFL Rule Changes - Ride or Dynasty

Remember 1994? Forrest Gump was in theaters. Friends debuted on something called “network television.” In more football-related news, OJ Simpson set the rushing yards record in a Bronco uniform SUV. In actual football-related news, the 2-point conversion was brought into the NFL (thanks college football and CFL) as a rule change with some interesting fantasy football implications. Kicker value took a hit, naturally, but a few RBs benefitted from some extra points starting in that season. It wasn’t a huge change, but over the years, the popularity of going for two has skyrocketed, leading to fewer points for kickers overall and more points for the offense.

Every year, there are proposed rule changes by various teams that the owners vote on, which is tremendously unfair to us fantasy owners who apparently don’t get a vote even if it drastically affects our draft, or our trades, or our dynasty league built around QBs flopping for roughing the passer calls. That’s right, we can football too, soccer.

There are a few proposed rule changes for the 2021 season that could have some mild to major implications on your fantasy football team. While each rule change’s chance of being ratified ranges from probable to not on your life, let’s break down the five that you might want to be aware of just in case.

1. The 17 Game Season

This will most likely be a done deal before the start of the 2021 season. Sorry old records and turf toe injuries, there’s more network money to be squoze, er, football to play! This change will have the most drastic impact on your fantasy football leagues, especially on the logistics end, as the playoffs will be pushed out an extra week.

This would actually be a great time, if your league doesn’t already have this, to establish that 2-week championship matchup over weeks 16 and 17. This way, there’s a better chance of avoiding that flukey monster week one team may have, and an overall better representation of the strength of the winning team (and the smarts of the winning owner).

If the plan is for NFL teams to alternate each year, whether they have 8 or 9 home games, that’s something to factor into your plans. Does a QB you like have better numbers under his home dome? Well, this year, he’s getting one extra game in there, so you may want to take him over another points-wise-similar QB who doesn’t.

Also, there will probably be no extra bye weeks. Might that affect your aging studs? Perhaps the reduced preseason games may make up for this, but it’s something to think about, especially for dynasty league owners still somehow hanging on to Frank Gore.

Oh, and the best part is that no 8-8 scrubs will eek into your fantasy playoffs. The new source of ridicule will be 8-8-1 teams. Yuck.

2. Reviewing Roughing the Passer

If this proposed rule change passes where the roughing the passer penalty can be reviewed, then we expect the Jets to make the playoffs because hits like this are much less likely to stand.

The Jets were actually flagged a league-leading 14 times in 2020, and while they weren’t all this ridiculous, the new rule could give defenses more breathing room when trying to chase down QBs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, New England had zero roughing the passer penalties called on them last year, ostensibly because the refs were still trying to protect Brady but were confused at how big he had gotten.

Overall, if this rule goes into effect, expect defenses to record better numbers and for many pocket QBs to potentially get fewer downs as a bunch of roughing the passer penalties are negated after review.

3. The Onside Kick Alternative

This proposed rule change is a fun one: in the fourth quarter, instead of an onside kick, the would-be-kicking team would have the option of attempting to convert a fourth-and-15 just one time. And according to statistics, the recovery rate of onside kick attempts is 13.2%, while the conversion rate for fourth-and-15 is 16.8%.

So the odds of converting are historically a bit better, but in today’s offensive league, we’d bet that the odds are even higher than that. The Chiefs basically converted 3rd/4th and longs like they were inch long QB sneaks:

3rd and 4th Down Conversion Rate
Stats through 2019

So not only will this rule change absolutely decimate the value of one Younghoe Koo, which in itself is a travesty, expect QB/WR/TE combinations to see a modest boost in their fantasy numbers. Sure they can only try this once per game, but that’s an additional 16 long passing plays in a season if you’re the Jaguars or any other team usually playing from behind.

4a. Back to Sudden Death in Overtime

One proposed change to the overtime scoring rule is to revert back to how it used to be played, where the first team to score wins. We’re assuming this change won’t happen. Not many want to go back to the time when winning the game almost literally came down to a coin flip.

But if it did revert, we’d be back to how fantasy football was like before 2012. This means shorter overtime and fewer plays overall to boost up some extra fantasy yards. Not the most exciting scenario, but one to keep an eye on.

Now the other OT idea…

4b. The Spot-and-Choose Overtime Rule

This one is fun. With this rule, one team would choose the yard line where the drive would start in overtime, and the other team gets to choose whether they want to play offense or defense. This is Queen’s Gambit level of play right here. Sure, a team could choose the 99 yard line, but that means the other team would pick offense for the easy score. Or they might choose the 1 yard line but then be forced by the other team to drive 99 yards to win.

This is such a fun concept, and while the first team to score still wins, there is a strategy to pick the starting spot that statheads will love to sort out… in ten years when enough OT games have been played under this new rule for any meaningful analysis.

For fantasy football players, though, this proposed rule change won’t mean a lot. There may not be any more plays than in the decade-ago sudden death style, and we’ll definitely see less plays than today’s “both sides touch the ball” style. But there may be big moments of hold-your-breath drama if the points totals are close and owners are waiting to hear whether the offense or defense will be taking the ball at the ludicrous 10 yard line.

5. Expanded Wildcard Berths in the Playoffs

This change will probably be contingent on the league adding the 17th game, but the plan is also to expand the playoffs from 12 teams to 14 teams, adding an extra wild card slot in both conferences. This comes with an additional tweak, too: only the conference winners will get the 1st round bye.

This may force a dramatic change to your fantasy football management. With more teams able to make the playoffs, the end of the season will become that much more competitive. So the big change will be that a bunch of studs will probably be playing in meaningful week 16 and week 17 games.

What does it mean when your opponent’s best players aren’t sitting out as usual in previous years in the last regular-season game? Will you need to manage your bench better to compensate? How much of your FAAB will you need to keep longer in the season. And for league managers, should there be more FAAB allocated at the start of the longer season now?

Of course, there’s the chance it swings the other way. With half the league now making the playoffs, will more teams coast through the final weeks as they’ve already made it? We’re guessing not since the win percentage will be so similar in the middle of the pack, but it all depends on the divisions your players are in. When it’s technically easier to get into the playoffs now, will we see more studs sit in the last game?

NFL rule changes can often be disruptive events for fantasy football players, especially dynasty leagues. While most of these will have a hard time getting enough votes to pass, you never know, so it’s good to keep these potential changes in mind as you get back into the swing of things.

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