After an offseason of conditioning and film study, more than a month of grueling practices in the summer heat and four exhibition games, NFL players are now ready to start playing games for the benefit of fantasy football leagues.
"We know how seriously people take fantasy football and we want them to know that we take our role in it very seriously, too," said LaDainian Tomlinson, a highly-ranked fantasy running back.
Tomlinson and other players say making their fantasy owners happy motivates them all year.
"Every weight I lift, every drill I run it's all because I want to provide those who own me with as many points as possible. I try to grind out every extra yard for those leagues that use decimal point scoring," said running back Frank Gore. "If I make my owners happy and help them win their fantasy football league, then I've done my job. Team goals are secondary."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league's focus has shifted in recent years.
"Winning games and Super Bowls is nice," he said. "But we all know where our bread is buttered now. The amount of money that fantasy football brings in, the amount that fantasy football has expanded our fanbase and increased the interest of our existing fans fantasy is far more important to the NFL than reality."
That's why Goodell put in place many additional safety rules this season.
"We can't have fantasy stars like Tom Brady going down every year. It hurts one NFL team," he said, "but it affects thousands of fantasy teams. And that's bad for our brand."
Steelers running back Willie Parker says he knows firsthand how fantasy football trumps real football.
"I have been a major contributor to two Super Bowl teams," he said. "Only a handful of running backs in NFL history can make that claim. Yet most fans think of me more as a guy whose fantasy impact is limited by the fact that I don't get a lot of touches near the end zone. I can't tell you how much that hurts. I'd give up all of my championships to switch careers with a consistent fantasy performer like Steven Jackson."