The Zone Read: Can fantasy football ruin your Sunday?

Fantasy football makes you root for weird things. If it didn’t exist, you couldn’t get me to root for a Gardner Minshew touchdown pass to DJ Chark if you tried. But once you fill your virtual roster with players from every corner of the NFL, your priorities on Sunday skew quickly. 

As a supporter of the Dallas Cowboys, and a slightly less fanatical supporter of the San Francisco 49ers, I already find my attention and loyalties split. Then you add my love for the league as a whole, and I find myself queuing up the marquee games of the week. A lot to absorb for sure, but if you watch football as much as I do on Sundays, it’s doable. 

But then you add fantasy football to the mix, and all of a sudden my day is turned upside down. I watch the Browns to cheer on my running back, the Packers for my wide receiver, the Ravens for my tight end and the Rams for my gosh-darn kicker. On any given Sunday, I could care about as many as 7–8 games, and they could all be happening at once. 

In an age where we overstimulate ourselves with information, a Sunday of watching teams — real and fantasy alike — can dominate normal obligations. Outcomes can become diluted too. Yes, I care that the Cowboys held Saquon Barkley to zero touchdowns, but if he’s on my fantasy team I feel torn. Which takes priority? Do I root against my dear Cowboys if I’m unfortunate enough to roster players from the Giants or the Eagles?

If you aren’t careful, outcomes can become muddled in a mix of emotions. Multiple leagues could come into play, and suddenly that David Montgomery touchdown run makes me feel good, bad and meh all at once. 

What’s my personal solution? Take fantasy a little less seriously. I like to have fun with it. I know rostering Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot on the same lineup is suboptimal and bias-driven, but it’s fun. It adds some extra oomph when Zeke runs for a long touchdown. And that’s what watching and engaging with football is really about. 

Fantasy — in small doses — can heighten your Sunday to a roller-coaster ride of emotions, so at the end of the day, it’s about finding what works best for you. If a 27-yard run from Leonard Fournette triggers an existential crisis, maybe put the phone down, and go outside for a bit.

Quick hits: Here are five games and what I’m watching for in them.

Cardinals (0–3–1) at Bengals (0–4)

Kyler Murray has a legit chance for a true breakout game against this poor Bengals defense. Let’s see if he can give the Cardinals fan base some hope for the coming years.

Buccaneers (2–2) at Saints (3–1)

The Buccaneers look a lot better than last year, albeit inconsistent. If they can go into New Orleans and make this competitive, I’m willing to buy them as wild card contenders.

Vikings (2–2) at Giants (2–2)

Kirk Cousins has looked bad this year despite having two of the league’s best receivers — Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen — lined up for every play. If he doesn’t bounce back against this porous Giants defense, that big contract he got is going to look a lot like buyer’s remorse.

Packers (3–1) at Cowboys (3–1)

The Cowboys took the L this week versus New Orleans, and their offense needs to bounce back against a better Green Bay defense. My confidence will be renewed if I can see Zeke make a truly huge return on that big boy contract from the offseason.

Colts (2–2 ) at Chiefs (4–0)

Any team that plays the Chiefs will have to flex its offensive muscles. If Jacoby Brissett can match Patrick Mahomes, he may be a good fit as Andrew Luck’s long-term successor.