This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Divisional Foes and Rematches
We've reached the part of the season where Divisional rematches are occurring? Do you have concerns using players against familiar divisional foes (especially those that they've already seen earlier this season)?
In your opinion, are certain positions more impacted (positively or negatively) in rematches than others?
John Lee: I will be honest here and say that I have never done an exhaustive analysis of fantasy scoring with divisional rematches; however, my good friend and FantasyLabs co-founder, Jonathan Bales, has done this type of study, and the data are compelling. A couple caveats before we dive in: 1) These data are not my own and belong to FantasyLabs, 2) These data are only for quarterback scoring; I do not know if the following trends are consistent across all skill positions, 3) These data are correlative, rather than causative, meaning that other interpretations are possible.
In graphical format, Bales showed that the ratio of actual versus projected quarterback scoring (fantasy points per game) against divisional opponents dropped dramatically after Week 12, which coincides nicely with the time of year when teams from within the same division face one another for the second time in a season (you can see Bales' graph in this tweet). So if quarterback scoring drops in the second game of intradivisional rivalries, how does scoring outside of the division correlate after Week 12? If anything, it actually rises nearer to the end of the season when playing non-divisional opponents, as depicted here.
The take-home? There are data to support the notion that fantasy scoring between divisional opponents is negatively affected in the teams' second game of a season. That said, it would be folly to fade those games entirely. The better approach would be to recognize the trend, account for the possible decline in performance, and build lineups that reflect those trends without omitting the best value-based players from those games.
Phil Alexander: I've also never done any research on how fantasy scoring is impacted by divisional rematches. My assumption is there would be a slight negative correlation (especially for quarterbacks) since opposing defenses have more film to study and should be generally better prepared. Still, I won't be paying this dynamic much mind. If there's a significant enough trend to emerge from divisional rematches, I'd imagine it would already be factored into the Vegas lines I'm using to guide my research. Cincinnati, Carolina, and Atlanta are all offenses I'm targeting this week, rematches be damned.
Jeff Haseley: I can see some interest in reviewing game logs from earlier matchups where a particular player will face the same defense or defender. This specifically applies to receivers who may or may not have had success against the opposing team's secondary. Forecasting a similar game script compared to the earlier meeting may be a bit far-fetched, but if a particular receiver had trouble or success against a specific cornerback, it's definitely worth having that knowledge. Prior success doesn't always translate to continued success. An example of this can be found in the Arizona at St. Louis game this week.
They'll play for the second time this year with this meeting being at St. Louis. In the earlier matchup (Week 4), three Cardinals wide receivers had at least five receptions (Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown each had seven; Michael Floyd had five). There was definitely some success, despite Carson Palmer throwing only one touchdown pass (to Chris Johnson). I'm not predicting a similar result this week however. The Rams are a stingy defense at home; over the last three games, no team has allowed fewer fantasy points to wide receivers than the Rams (13.0 FP per game). Only one wide receiver (A.J. Green) has had more than five receptions against the Rams in the last seven games. I anticipate a difficult match up for the Cardinals receiving corps this week, which means fantasy points will hard to come by.
John Mamula: I am not overly concerned with using the majority of players against familiar divisional foes. I will use the earlier season matchups as a reference, but it will not be a determining factor to whether or not I start the individual player. I will continue to trust the Vegas lines for the projected game scripts. If there is a matchup issue, it will be baked into the Vegas line or total.
I assume that some quarterbacks would struggle facing a defense for the second time. However, there are a lot of factors such as the time frame of the initial matchup. Did the teams play during Week 2, or was it just a couple of weeks ago? Injuries can drastically change the outlook on either side of the ball. The one that immediately comes to mind is the Carolina-Atlanta matchup that will occur in Week 14 and Week 16. That is close enough of a time period where the teams will look similar.
A matchup that will look very different is the Steelers and the Ravens, who played during Week 4 and will not play again until Week 16. Both teams look different due to injuries on both sides of the ball to stars such as Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Martavis Bryant (who didn't play for Pittsburgh in Week 4 but should in Week 16) and Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, and Steve Smith (who played Week 4 but are all out for the season now).
Will Grant: I agree with Phil that I haven't really looked at divisional matchups from a fantasy perspective. However, I have looked at it with respect to confidence pools and trying to pick the winner of the game straight-up and against the spread. It seems that the teams in these games play a little harder, and the games are usually closer than you might expect. It also seems like a big upset can happen in the case of a divisional matchup (like Chicago over Green Bay on Thanksgiving night). It didn't stop me from going heavy on the Packers, though, and it definitely hampered my games for the day.
This week, there are some division games that you might consider targeting and others you might consider fading.
Looking first at Carolina and New Orleans, the Saints defense is terrible, and they struggled again last week against the Texans. The Panthers are rolling, and Vegas has them as a big favorite this week in a game that could see 50 points. This looks like a good week for Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart. I don't know if I'd be quick to put any of the Saints in my lineups though as the Panthers have second-ranked defense in the league, allowing just 312 total yards per game.
Along the same lines, the Cardinals have the fifth-ranked defense in the league, with just 326 yards per game and only 91 yards on the ground. This may not be the week that you go heavy on Todd Gurley -- or any of the other Rams for that matter.
Cincinnati-Cleveland should be a slugfest, but the Bengals have an average pass defense, so starting players like Travis Benjamin or Gary Barnidge might be tempting. But I expect the Bengals to fire up in this game, and I'd be a little worried about starting anyone from the Browns this week -- especially on a short week and Austin Davis making the start. The Bengals defense might be the way to go in this game. Vegas seems to agree.
Phil Alexander: The only merit to fading Johnson as Arizona's starter would be the leverage you gain on about 50% of the field in GPPs if he somehow has a bad (or even average) game. While fading the chalk in large field tournaments is typically my standard operating procedure, Johnson is just too great a value to pass up at only $3,400.
The road matchup with St. Louis doesn't concern me for the following reasons:
- Johnson moves like a bulldozer with a Porsche engine.
- Johnson is an elite touchdown maker. No running back with at least 20 total touches has scored on a higher percentage of his opportunities than Johnson's 12.96%.
- The Cardinals are the highest-scoring road team in the NFL on a per game basis (32.5 points per game).
- When we last saw the Rams defense at home, they allowed Jeremy Langford to go berserk (40.2 fantasy points).
- Johnson's strong suit is catching passes out of the backfield, which plays nicely in this matchup (and DraftKings full PPR scoring system). Langford, Javorius Allen, and Giovani Bernard all managed at least 48 receiving yards against the Rams in their last three contests. On the season, St. Louis has allowed the third-most receiving yards to opposing running backs.
- Have you seen Nick Foles play recently? The Arizona defense should dominate this matchup and set up Johnson with plenty of short fields and scoring opportunities.
Having Johnson in your lineup makes it easy to pay up for Tampa Bay Bucs killer Julio Jones, who will be a mainstay in all of my cash game and tournament lineups this week.
John Mamula: Hard to follow up that response, Phil, but I'll try! Johnson is a must play at $3,400 in DraftKings cash games and should be a strong consideration in GPP tournaments. The Rams have lost four games in a row and are a complete mess. This does not seem like the same Rams team that beat the Cardinals back in Week 4. The Rams defense has trended downward over the past few weeks and are now allowing 111 rushing yards per game (12th-worst). The Cardinals have the 12th-best per-game rushing average at 115.2 yards per game.
The Cardinals are six-point road favorites at the Rams with a game total of 43 points. That sets up well for a game script where the Cardinals build an early lead and lean on Johnson throughout the second half.
Jeff Haseley: I agree with the consensus on Johnson for all the reasons stated above, but allow me to play the contrarian angle here and offer some thoughts about why fading him in DraftKings this week might be a move to consider.
First, his ownership is going to be through the roof. The chances of your success if he doesn't hit increase dramatically if you elect to go with another option. Secondly, the Rams defense at home has given up 12, 6, 6, and 37 points in the last four home games. Holding the Steelers to 12 points is impressive, but then allowing 37 points to the Bears is the exact opposite. Perhaps the Rams get up for big opponents. Moderator's Note: Ben Roethlisberger didn't finish that game, though he did play into the second half.
Arizona is definitely a big opponent and a divisional foe at that. I don't think we should be that quick to write-off the Rams defense in this game. Maybe putting all of your eggs in Johnson's basket isn't such a great idea. Call it a hunch, but I think St. Louis shows up for this game. So here are some other relatively cheap running backs I would target:
- C.J. Anderson ($3,500) - $100 more gives you a proven stud running back who is finding his groove. He's coming off a season-defining game-winning run that knocked New England from the unbeaten list. This week's opponent (San Diego) is among the bottom 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs over the last four games. I expect the Broncos to lean on the ground game and limit the usage of Brock Osweiler. Anderson could wind up with his second 100-yard game in a row and third of the season.
- Shaun Draughn ($4,000) - Draughn has 17 receptions in the three games he has appeared in for the 49ers this year. That's 5.6 per game, but unlike a pure pass-catching back like Theo Riddick, Droughn has shown the ability to be a threat on the ground as well averaging 86.3 yards per game. He is currently averaging 13.6 FP per game in DraftKings scoring which is over 3x his salary of $4,000. A strong game from Droughn could put you ahead of the competition, especially if Johnson fails to reach expectations.
John Lee: For cash games, I cannot see any reason to fade Johnson against the Rams this week. Phil already outlined some very savvy, stat-backed reasons to get him into your lineups, so I won't repeat any of those except to add that the Cardinals are a touchdown favorite, and Johnson's number could be called a lot in the second half to run clock. But from a game-theory perspective, it just does not make a lot of sense to avoid him in cash game formats. If he is 70% owned and scores 20 fantasy points at a $3,400 salary, you will want to be amongst that 70% because making up that ground against so many people will be near-impossible. On the other hand, if Johnson only scores eight fantasy points, he finishes only a few points outside of cash game value and has afforded his owners the ability to spend up elsewhere to secure a higher-priced player with a solid scoring floor. In other words, the risk is minimal with him, but quite high without him.
To achieve GPP value, Johnson needs to hit the 15-20 point plateau, which is likely given his implied volume and usage in the passing game but certainly not guaranteed against a stout Rams rush defense allowing only 3.9 yards per carry. While I will have 100% exposure to Johnson in cash game formats, I will try to limit myself to about 50% exposure in GPPs because I want to be about even with the field, and that is where I believe his ownership levels will fall in tournaments. Having 50% exposure will allow me to have significant upside if he falters (or is injured), but protects me in the event that he does hit that 15-20 point threshold.
Will Grant: I don't have much left to add here. Everyone really nailed this one. For cash games, Johnson is a pretty safe play. A ton of people will be starting him as well, but for cash games, you're strictly concerned about value. At $3,400, Johnson is approaching no brainer value. His salary will also allow you to leverage other players at other positions to achieve even better scores.
Looking at Jeff's alternatives, the only one that I don't like is Draughn. His salary is "only" $4,000. But the Chicago defense has been playing better as of late, and they have only allowed three rushing touchdowns this season. This will limit Draughn's upside and could possibly wreck your lineup if the Bears shut him down. I'd much rather have Johnson or Anderson.
Tell us which game on the slate you feel most confident will go OVER the projected Vegas point total. Which player(s) in that game will contribute the most to their owners' lineups?
Phil Alexander: When I made my first pass on this week's over/unders, I was surprised to see the line set at 44 for Kansas City at Oakland. Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins proved last week that the Chiefs haven't quite plugged up the holes in their leaky secondary, which bodes well for David Carr and company at home. 73% of Oakland's yardage and 84% of their touchdowns have come via the pass this season. On the other side of the ball, 71% of the yards and 77% of the touchdowns allowed by the Chiefs have resulted from passes. Carr ($6,200) is absolutely in play, as are Amari Cooper ($6,900) and Michael Crabtree ($6,500) even though their prices have come up a bit (of the two I prefer Cooper by a significant margin).
Kansas City is averaging over 30 points per game over their last three games, and they should keep it rolling against Oakland. Travis Kelce ($4,700) has the best "Defense vs. Position" (DVP) matchup, Alex Smith ($5,100) is a near-lock to reach his 3x multiplier in cash games (as usual), and Jeremy Maclin ($5,200) warrants a look in tournaments against one of the worst coverage units in the league. If healthy, my favorite play is Charcandrick West, who should fly under the radar due to uncertainty surrounding how Andy Reid will distribute carries in the wake of Spencer Ware's emergence. I'm only reading tea leaves, but my guess would be West receives the lion's share of the carries and all the work in the passing game. While West is no Jamaal Charles, he performs as a passable imitation and allows Reid to stick to his base offense. The Raiders allowed huge fantasy totals to Adrian Peterson (32.6 points) and DeAngelo Williams (41.5 points) before facing the toothless running games of the Lions and Titans in their last two games.
John Mamula: The game that I feel the most confident going over the projected Vegas total is Carolina-New Orleans, which has the highest game total of the week at 50 points. The Saints have surrendered a league leading 30 points per game at home this season. The Panthers offense should have no problem moving the ball on Sunday. The last time these teams met was during Week 3 when the Panthers won 27-22. (49 total points)
The Saints offense has been better at home both this season and in past years under Drew Brees and Sean Payton. Here are Brees split stats this season:
- Home (5 games): 74.4% completion percentage, 343.6 passing yards per game, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions
- Away (6 games): 65.0% completion percentage, 272.0 passing yards per game, 6 touchdowns, seven interceptions
Brees seems to be more comfortable playing at home in the Superdome. The Saints will have extra motivation this week as they will be trying to hand their division rival their first loss of the season. This game has the potential to turn into a shoot-out similar to the last two Saints home games (Week 8 Saints 52-49 Giants and Week 9 Titans 34-28 Saints), which comfortably both went over the Vegas total.
Jeff Haseley: I'm going to go with Jets "at" Giants, where the Giants and their fan base will play the role of the home team in the 2015 Battle of the Meadowlands. The current over/under is 45 points, and as of Thursday afternoon, Darrelle Revis is still in concussion protocol and may not play this week. This bodes well for Odell Beckham Jr and company, which should help put points on the board. Eli Manning struggled to find a rhythm last week at Washington, before turning on the garbage yards. He finished with a respectable 300+ yard game, his third in the last four games. The Giants appear primed to provide ample points towards the 45 total.
On the other side, Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off a four touchdown pass game against Miami where he connected with Brandon Marshall twice for scores, with additional touchdowns to Eric Decker and rookie Devin Smith. The Giants have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in the last three weeks and have been a defense to target for DFS plays all season long. In addition to a strong passing match up, the Jets also have a formidable running attack led by Chris Ivory, who is a top-10 fantasy back this season. I like the chances of this game going over 45 even if Revis plays, but if he's unable to go, Beckham should have less of a challenge and should see more production as a result. I would not be surprised to see this go over the 45 early in the fourth quarter.
Will Grant: Philadelphia at New England has some potential to go over the 49 point over/under this week. The Patriots will be without Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, but they seem to find a way and will be looking to keep things rolling after the disappointing loss to Denver last week. The Eagles have really struggled on offense, and their defense has been getting run over these last few weeks (giving up 45 points each to the Detroit and Tampa Bay the previous two weeks). Look for Tom Brady to have a big game and Brandon LaFell to be almost a lock for any cash game play. Scott Chandler will probably pick up where he left off last week and with Gronkowski out, he's big value at the TE position. I'd also consider the Patriots defense, as the Eagles have just 50 total points scored in their last three games. I won't be starting any Eagles this week.
John Lee: I am a little surprised that nobody has discussed the Colts-Steelers game yet. In order for a shootout to occur, we need two viable offenses to keep their collective feet on the gas; these offenses can certainly do that, and the Vegas gamescript favors a high-scoring game. Last week, the Steelers traveled west and put up 30 points against the Seahawks, a top five defense (at the time). This week, they will host a Colts team that is ranked in the bottom ten of both passing and rushing defense (yards per game). Ben Roethlisberger is practicing and should be a full-go entering the weekend, alongside DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant (Bryant is still questionable, but is likely to play).
If these players are healthy against the Colts, I think they should be able to build an early lead and press Matt Hasselbeck to throw the ball to T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. And given that Frank Gore is "beat to crap" per Chuck Pagano, the Colts might want to emphasize the pass, while also involving recent signing Dan Herron, who excelled with the Colts last season in a passing down role. Furthermore, given the Steelers' success in defending the rush this season (3.8 yards per carry, 93.6 rushing yards per game), Pagano has multiple reasons to call Hasselbeck's number. Hasselbeck should experience success against this Steelers secondary that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season (per DraftKings scoring), including 35.2 DraftKings points to Russell Wilson last Sunday. With the amount of passing that I expect in this matchup, I fully expect it to surpass the 47.5-point total in Vegas.
Houston and Hopkins
DeAndre Hopkins let many owners down last week. Part of what is hurting Hopkins is that Houston has only been trailing for 22.2% of their snaps and is running 10.8 fewer plays per game since they were crushed in Miami (hat tip Rich Hribar). Hopkins averaging 2.5 fewer catches and 34.7 fewer yards per game.
Considering the difference in game flow recently, is Hopkins ($8,800) still a strong cash game receiver this week at Buffalo?
Phil Alexander: The outstanding play of Houston's defense (8.75 points per game allowed to the Titans, Bengals, Jets, and Saints over their last four games) has definitely slowed down the Texans' league leading offensive pace, as Rich pointed out in his tweet. Even with that being the case, I don't have a problem with Hopkins in cash games (though I'd much prefer Julio Jones and Antonio Brown this week).
Three of the Texans last four games have come at home where they're giving up only 15.3 points per game this season (compared to 28.4 in away games), so it's fair to expect some regression from their defense on the road in Buffalo. Bills cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby are quality defenders, but one-on-one matchups aren't much of a concern for Hopkins (see the 5-118-2 line he dropped on the Jets two weeks ago while dealing with Darrelle Revis' coverage on the majority of his routes). Hopkins remains one of the most talented receivers in the league, and he'll continue to see over 30% of the Texans targets, making him cash game viable most weeks. However, there's no question he's a better play in tournaments after letting down over 50% of the Millionaire Maker field last week in a dream matchup with the Saints. We may not see Hopkins with lower ownership in GPPs again this year.
Jeff Haseley: We have seen a small downward trend in Hopkins production lately that really showed against an exploitable Saints defense. I wouldn't write off Hopkins at all, because I don't see his lull as a performance-based ordeal. He'll bounce back soon enough, but I don't like his matchup this week at Buffalo. He's been labeled as a match-up proof receiver, but I'd rather spend big on other positions this week. I don't trust Brown against Vontae Davis, but I'd take Brown over Hopkins in a cash game. Like Phil said, Hopkins would be an excellent low owned target for tournament play. One receiver I will be targeting this week is Brandon Marshall against the struggling Giants secondary. He's coming off a two-touchdown game and looks to have put his ankle woes behind him.
John Mamula: If you are paying up at the WR position on DraftKings this week, you have four options. Jones ($9,000), Odell Beckham Jr ($8,900), Hopkins ($8,800), or Brown ($8,600). For cash games, I prefer Jones, Beckham, and Brown all over Hopkins mainly due to their individual matchups.
The game total in the Houston-Buffalo game is the lowest of the week at 41.5 total points. Houston has the fifth-lowest team total at 19 points. Vegas is telling us to expect a low scoring defensive battle in Buffalo this weekend. Hopkins is in the most difficult situation to succeed, thus making him a much better GPP play than a cash game play.
John Lee: I am going to echo John's thoughts here and argue that the implied team total for the Texans takes Hopkins out of cash game consideration at his lofty $8,800 salary. With a low 19-point implied team total, the Texans are not projected to score more than three touchdowns with the likely scenario being less. Furthermore, as we saw last week, Brian Hoyer is more than willing to look for alternative receivers when Hopkins is double-teamed. For their part, the Bills run out two solid coverage cornerbacks in the form of Gilmore and Darby, who collectively boast a 6:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. When I spend up for a player in my cash games, I look for a solid scoring floor that includes the strong possibility of a touchdown. With a low team total, alternative targets to steal opportunities, a high salary, and a below-average matchup, I would relegate Hopkins to a GPP play on DraftKings this weekend.
Will Grant: Phil's point about Revis reminds me that the Jets are playing the Giants this week, and Beckham will likely not be on "Revis Island" because Revis did not practice on Thursday as he remains under the NFL Concussion protocol. Based on this, I would expect him to sit this weekend, making Beckham a solid cash play. He's cracked the 100 yard receiving mark in each of his last four games, and he had at least one receiving touchdown in three of them as well (including three against the Saints a couple weeks ago). If you're looking to pay up at WR this week, Beckham would be a better choice than Hopkins.
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Ryan Hester - Moderator