Good luck getting a hold of me tonight. I'll be glued to the TV set as my hometown Miami Dolphins head out to Pittsburgh, taking on the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers to kick off the 2006 NFL season. It won't just be the fan in me tuning in. As a fantasy football addict, I'll also have a special rooting interest in seeing Fins running back Ronnie Brown have a good game.

I've been playing fantasy football for a dozen years now. It's a breeze now that sites like Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Sportsline have helped popularize the rotisserie gridiron action online. I'll admit that the Internet may have taken the fun out of the annual draft parties and the live ribbing for whoever dared to pick up Trent Dilfer, but cyberspace has also made fantasy football a more perpetual experience with round-the-clock trade offers and free-agent pickups.

What's that? You couldn't care less about football, much less fantasy football? Stick with me here. With these tips, I will show you how simple winning techniques in the popular pastime will make you a better stock market investor.


1. Avoid platoons like the plague
Everyone will tell you that the running back position is the key to a good fantasy football team. Sure, quarterbacks and even defensive units may score more fantasy points, but they're a dime a dozen compared with the true stud halfbacks. You know this, because you will see half a dozen backs taken in the first round before someone scoops up Peyton Manning or Carson Palmer.

However, what you may not know is that you should avoid situations that lack a true featured running back. Will Kevan Barlow, Derrick Blaylock, or Cedric Houston be the man for the New York Jets this season? You shouldn't care. Once you see a "running back by committee" approach develop, you don't want any piece of that. It's hard to bank on one guy to deliver the goods consistently when a team is committed to backfield rotations.

That lesson can be applied to Wall Street, too. You don't want a dilutive situation where a few players are clawing for scraps. Consider the portable-music market. Companies like SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) and Creative Labs are fighting for the 25% slice of the market that doesn't belong to Apple Computer's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod. Making matters worse, the iPod is a feature back. It's the Larry Johnson or Shaun Alexander of digital music. Apple's iTunes Store downloads are exclusive to the iPod, anchoring the consumer to the platform.

Yes, SanDisk has a cost advantage over its non-Apple peers thanks to its flash memory production. Creative is a seasoned vet with decades of making media-based peripherals. It doesn't matter. You draft Apple in the first round instead of settling for SanDisk in Round Three or picking up Creative on the waiver wire.

2. Speak softly and carry a big measuring stick
Know your depth charts. I'm a schmuck: I can forget a cousin's birthday, yet I can tell you the depth chart of every skilled position player on any team, down to the second- and third-string squads. That's information that matters, because you want to know what will happen when accidents or demotions take place. If Byron Leftwich goes down in Jacksonville, I know that David Garrard will be a capable replacement lining up behind the center. I can't say that I have that same kind of confidence in the signal-calling caliber for teams like Detroit or Buffalo.

Investors need to brush up on their depth charts, too. I'm not talking about weighing second-tier executives, though kudos to you if you can swing that. I'm talking about knowing a company's pipeline. A one-product company can be a ticking time bomb. Iomega (NYSE:IOM) had a revolutionary breakthrough with the Zip in the mid-1990s. The real-money Rule Breakers portfolio made a killing then by riding Iomega's coattails. However, David Gardner was smart enough to eventually pull the plug on the storage specialist after the company's higher-capacity Jaz failed to win over a more competitive market that would ultimately yield to cookie-cutter flash-memory keychain drives.

3. History repeats itself
You want to know why Fred Taylor is still on your draft board by the third round? Everyone knows he's going to get hurt by the fourth week of the season. Let me know whether DeShaun Foster or David Boston make it through a 16-game schedule unscathed. Some players are extremely talented but just too brittle. Yes, a player like that is a draft-day bargain for you, but it's a weekly headache until you're put out of misery -- and contention -- when your starter is hobbling on the sidelines in crutches by the second quarter.

I don't need to tell you how important this is when it comes to investing. Serial disappointers are everywhere. If a company misses its quarterly profit target once, it's probably going to miss twice. If a company warns once, you may as well brace yourself for the sequel. Yes, the markdowns seem to provide attractive entry points, but they're often a prelude to further markdowns. You can avoid those situations, but you can also capitalize by cashing in on the healthy picks. If a company is consistently blowing past earnings -- like Apple or Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter pick Steiner Leisure (NASDAQ:STNR) -- its stock may not seem cheap at the time, but it will prove to be a juicy bargain as the market-thumping results continue.

4. Pay attention and get in early
Every year, fantasy football gurus love to list their sleeper picks. However, they usually wind up being either the obvious ones or the comeback candidates that will only succumb to injuries again. The real steals actually happen weeks into the season, when an unlikely superstar comes off the bench and makes waves. Check your 2005 draft -- you may have seen eventual studs like Larry Johnson or Joey Galloway or Kurt Warner actually go undrafted. The key to a winning season is to be attentive and opportunistic on the waiver wire. Something as simple as a suspension can catapult a Chester Taylor into a household name. Every Sunday or Monday night matters, but so does Tuesday morning, when you reassemble your team based on the current conditions.

As an investor, you can maintain a long-term bent but still stay on top of developments that will affect the value of your holdings. It's not just about following your own portfolio. If a rival has a product that may find your stock warming the bench, it's better to react sooner rather than later, when everyone realizes the power of a competitor's disruptive introduction. I believe that one of the reasons why Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM) has gone on to triple since being singled out to Rule Breakers subscribers last year is that it was savvy enough to recognize its nearest competitor and acquire it before it became more of a threat. The same can be said of fellow newsletter pick The Knot (NASDAQ:KNOT) deciding to swap vows with

5. Boot your kicker
If you drafted a kicker in the first 10 rounds, what were you thinking? I don't care if you think that Adam Vinatieri is a clutch player; you just don't need to draft a kicker early when you would be better off scooping up backup running backs and quarterbacks. Jason Hanson will always be there for you, my friend. Prioritize the selection process.

You know where the kickers take the field on the trading exchange? It's when an analyst upgrade or downgrade moves a stock. It's when an article in Barron's moves a stock. It's when an analyst on CNBC makes some waves. If there is a point worth weighing in the analysis, by all means toss it on the scale. If not, ignore the fluctuation. Fundamentals are what ultimately value a company. Don't let the daily gyrations of sensationalism distract you from the actionable news that matters.

Getting into the game
Is it kickoff time yet? I apologize. I'm getting ahead of myself. Football can do that to you. I'm just glad that gridiron contests are limited to non-trading hours so I can dedicate myself to dissecting just one sport at a time.

When tonight's game is over, I'll get back into stock-hunting mode. That's where I'll put the same skills that I've honed playing way too much fantasy football toward lending a hand in David Gardner's efforts to pick out the Hall of Fame stocks of tomorrow in the Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service.

I love this game.

You can join Rick, David, and the rest of the Rule Breakers team as they seek to uncover promising growth stocks with a free 30-day guest pass that will grant you access to the many interactive features of the service, long enough to take you to the fifth weekend of the NFL season. You may also want to read up on a recommendation for a fast-growing NFL gear specialist in the August issue.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys his Dolphins, but he's enough of a fan to enjoy any two teams that line up. He doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned in this story. Yahoo! is a Stock Advisor pick. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.