This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Stacking in Cash Games?
We generally stick to upcoming matchups in this space, but let's insert a "game theory" question this week. Many DFS players talk about the concept of "stacking." Usually, this strategy is used in GPPs. But do you think it can also be viable for cash games? If so, how would you do it differently in cash games than in GPPs?
Phil Alexander: In theory, stacking a quarterback with one of his pass catchers in a cash game is a bad idea because it increases the volatility of your lineup. However, I've found myself stacking in cash games (particularly head-to-heads) fairly frequently this season. I don't mind inviting a little more volatility in head-to-head lineups because I'm looking to win all of my contests, and the sum of the scores I have to beat are going to be near the top percentiles each week. To compete with those scores, a lineup needs the upside a stack can provide. In 50-50s, where tenth place counts the same as first, I'm less likely to stack unless I absolutely feel both the quarterback and wide receiver have significantly higher floors than similarly-priced players, or are among the best points-per-dollar values at their respective positions.
It bears mentioning that the receivers I choose for cash game stacks are invariably WR1 types who are all but guaranteed a huge percentage of the team's targets (think Antonio Brown), whereas in GPPs, I might try to capitalize on a big game from a quarterback by stacking him with one of his secondary targets instead (think Martavis Bryant). So while the stack provides some volatility if the offense struggles to score touchdowns (or the quarterback fails to connect for a touchdown with that particular receiver), the receiver should still see enough volume to provide a reasonable scoring floor. Moderator's Note: I'm coining the term "Power Stack" for when an elite WR1 is involved in a stack. It's a stack where the volatility doesn't destroy the floor but also raises the ceiling, similar to what Phil is describing here. Lastly, I wouldn't go out of my way to stack in cash games (or GPPs) just for the sake of stacking. If I have a quarterback projected for a big game, but it's difficult to pinpoint who will be the biggest beneficiary (think Russell Wilson before Doug Baldwin's recent explosion), I'd much rather play him "naked" (without a pass-catcher on his same team) than force a stack.
Dan Hindery: This issue comes down to theory vs. real-world reality to me. In theory, if you have QB A and WR B from the same team projected to score the same amount and at the same price as QB X and WR Y from another team, it makes perfectly good sense to diversify your lineup and go with QB A and WR Y or QB X and WR B. It decreases your risk of having both players bomb and sink your lineup completely. It is easier to overcome one poor performance than it is to overcome two.
In reality, you very rarely have two players at a position with identical projections (or identical points-per-dollar projections). And even if the projections end up identical, you are probably going to have a better gut feeling about one player versus the other. So for example, if you really love an elite receiver with a high salary, you probably like his chances of putting up well over 100 yards and at least one touchdown. Thus, unless you are projecting nearly all of a team's pass production going through that receiver, you probably like his quarterback a great deal as well. I see absolutely no problem going with the players you like best even if you end up with a stack in a cash game. If you really love Brown, then Roethlisberger is probably going to be one of your top options at his position also, and there’s nothing wrong with stacking them in a cash game. Moderator's Note: the "Power Stack" lives!
Does it add a little bit of variance to your projected score to stack? Of course. But even if we assume that the added variance is a negative, it is only a slight negative and to me is less of a negative than playing a sub-optimal lineup just to avoid the stack. You are very rarely going to hit your target cash game multiples with each individual player. To win, you are going to need some players to exceed the minimum multiples to make up for the lower than expected scores from some other players.
As a slightly off-topic aside, it seems to me that one of the major mistakes made in cash games (and my major mistake as a beginner) was focusing too much on “floors” when making picks and not enough on “ceilings.” To use another hypothetical, let’s say Player A and B are both projected to score 17 points, but Player A has a floor of 14 points and a ceiling of 20 while Player B has a floor of 11 and a ceiling of 28. Some would say you go with the “safe” option of Player A in a cash game. However, I’d argue that Player B is a better option despite the lower floor. You need some individual upside built in to your cash game lineups to win most weeks because you need a couple guys to really exceed value to make up for a couple guys who don’t hit value. Personally, I try to stack my lineups with as much upside as I can because it’s then possible to win if just a few of your players have huge weeks.
Jeff Pasquino: I have to disagree with Dan. If your team projects to score greater than the cash line, that's all you care about. You don't want downside risk, which only comes when you look for upside. If the team projected score was a bell curve with the average score of 160 (a cash on FantasyAces, most weeks) then the ideal bell curve would be very narrow. You don't want much chance of scoring under 150. You want most of your probability to be between 151 and 170, or even between 159 and 161. If you had a perfect projection that was a lock for 160 but no variance, I would take that every single time and hope we don't have a big week where everyone seems to score (like last week).
The right way to mitigate downside risk is to avoid all correlated players -- or even to invite negatively correlated players to your lineup. Consider a QB/K stack (not something that can be done on FantasyAces, of course, due to the lack of the kicker position). If the quarterback doesn't get touchdowns, odds are the kicker gets field goals. The same idea applies when taking two stud running backs that oppose each other. One might get 100 yards and a touchdown, but odds are that both won't. But, on average, you will get 175 yards and a touchdown, which is just fine and what you projected.
Putting a quarterback with a receiver invites risk you don't need. If you like two stacks, I would swap receivers in a cash game. If the receiver is a stud, even a backup quarterback that enters due to injury is going to target him. A bad QB, however, will torpedo your stack.
Look at Baylor in College Football last week. Baylor ran out of quarterbacks and gave up on throwing the ball. Nearly every receiver was then out of play for Baylor. If you stacked KD Cannon or Corey Coleman with the starting quarterback, you were out of luck.
Hindery: I want to touch on your example real quickly, Jeff, to try to illustrate my point about theory vs. reality. You point to the Baylor QB-Baylor WR stack as a bad option. But there was also the Western Kentucky QB-WR option on the same slate as the other very high team total. Western Kentucky WR Taywan Taylor was probably the consensus top play of the week. Based upon the theory that you never stack in cash games, you would have missed out on arguably the top quarterback play as well with his quarterback, Brandon Doughty. In the example you gave, passing on the best play at either QB or WR simply out of fear of correlation likely would have cost you money.
This is just my opinion, and reasonable minds can disagree. But I think if you are passing on players you like more (because how often are two guys really “flip a coin,” 50/50, completely tied in your mind?) just to try to avoid correlation with another player in your lineup, it ends up costing you money in the long run. Ride or die with the guys you feel most strongly about, and only worry about correlation in the rare cases where two players really are tied and you have no preference at all between them.
Pasquino: Dan, I think that the debate here is a reasonable one. If you are going to stack QB-WR, you have to think long and hard about the "what if the other guy gets hurt" aspect of that decision. That's what I am trying to illustrate with that example. Going back to the NFL, let's look at Roethlisberger and Brown. If Brown gets hurt, Ben is still going to throw the ball to Bryant or Markus Wheaton, so he can still be productive. If Roethlisberger gets injured, his backup should still get Brown the ball. In that case, I don't see an issue with that stack. If I look at a different team with a weak backup quarterback or an offense that will sputter if the WR1 gets sidelined (say, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones), I would not be in favor of a stack there in a cash game.
If I believed that the passing game would be diminished if either the star quarterback or receiver were injured, I would avoid the stack in a cash lineup without question. I can see that it is a reasonable option to stack if you believe that the backup is still a reasonable option and that the offense and passing game won't go in the tank if the starter gets injured.
Chris Feery: I'm perfectly fine with stacking in a cash game and in fact prefer to have a QB-WR or QB-TE combo if I'm really sold on a specific quarterback for the week. I’m fully aware of the downside risk of tanking two spots if the expected production fails to materialize, but if I’m generally confident enough in a quarterback to consider him a cash game target, I’ll want some exposure to a top target as well. Therein lies the caveat: when stacking for cash games, I generally look for a clearly defined top target. Moderator's Note: Power Stack! It's a thing. Just using some general examples, if I were sold on a Matt Ryan or Marcus Mariota for the week, I would look to roster Julio Jones or Delanie Walker as well. If I were interested in a quarterback with several viable targets like Ryan Fitzpatrick, I would do a little digging on the specific matchups for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and either settle on one of them or run Fitzpatrick without a target. If I for some reason decided I wanted to select whoever the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback may be for the week, I would probably pass on a stack as Brian Hartline, Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge have all seen their fair share of targets over the past three games.
John Lee: I won't add much to the dispute here--I think you can make a legitimate argument on both sides of the bill. I, myself, try to avoid multiple skill players from the same team when putting together a cash game roster because I want to avoid a scenario where a poor performance from a team costs me a chance at winning. However, if two players seem to have a high implied floor (Cam Newton and Greg Olsen last week), I will gladly roster those individuals. For me, I want to diversify my lineup as much as possible without affecting the reliability of my players' offensive output; finding the balance is a delicate nuance. The best way to circumvent the risks associated with taking a stand (either way) is to generate more than one cash game roster. I tend to employ that practice more often than not to ensure that too much exposure to a singular player (or team) is leveraged at another spot on the roster.
Playing Out the String
Often, this time of year, teams that are well out of contention lack motivation and give poor showings, leading to huge performances from opponents. Pick a situation that you think is going south and let us know which opposing player(s) should benefit the most this week.
Dan Hindery: Shaun Draughn ($4,750) could be in for a big week against Cleveland. Against the Bengals in Week 13, it appeared that the Browns players simply did not want to be there. The final score was 37-3, but the Bengals could have basically named their score if they wanted to. The Bengals beat writers commented that they had never seen a worse home crowd in their years covering the NFL than what they saw in Cleveland as a somber, depressed, and half-empty stadium added to the listlessness of the team. Was it a one-week aberration after the crushing Week 12 Monday Night Football loss to the Ravens, or have the Browns truly packed it in? I lean towards the latter. The organization is a mess from top to bottom and the team lacks leadership, talent, and motivation.
San Francisco seems headed in the opposite direction; the promotion of Blaine Gabbert to the starting quarterback job has provided a bit of a spark, and the 49ers have been playing tough, competitive football for the past month. Draughn has been a key figure in the team’s return to respectable play and has had at least 18 touches in every game since he took over the starting job. He should see his heaviest workload yet against the beat up Browns defense and seems a good bet to find the end zone at least once as well.
Phil Alexander: It's tough to argue against the Browns, but St. Louis has lost five games in a row and has been outscored by a combined 78 points in the process. Getting rid of offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti is not going to fix the abysmal Rams offense. Neither is Case Keenum, who should be back from a concussion this week. The Rams defense was once considered a poor matchup for opposing offensive players, but they've struggled without stud defensive end Robert Quinn who remains sidelined with a back injury. To make matters worse, St. Louis could be without two starting cornerbacks (Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson) and a safety (T.J. McDonald) due to injuries this week.
The Lions visit St. Louis on Sunday, and they've looked like a different team since Jim Bob Cooter took over play-calling duties. Detroit has won three of their last four games (and would have made it a clean sweep if not for Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary last week). Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson rank fifth and sixth at their respective positions in cumulative fantasy points scored over the four game stretch and make for an interesting low-owned tournament stack. The majority of entrants are likely to overlook the duo based on the Rams' season-long ranking against opposing passing games.
Jeff Pasquino: I was just going to mention St. Louis, Phil. Good call. This slate in Week 14 looks abysmal, from top to bottom. Where exactly are the "good" matchups? Bills-Eagles? Raiders-Broncos? Maybe Steelers-Bengals, but that's about it. The odd thing is that so many teams are wallowing in mediocrity, that plenty of teams still have shots at the postseason (I'm talking about you, NFC East and AFC South). While I don't think that the Chargers have completely given up, they (and the Ravens) are running out of warm bodies. Seattle and Kansas City could roll all over both teams come Sunday.
The most interesting team to me is the Falcons. They have lost five games in a row, and there's no path I see that gets them to right that ship. Throw in that they go to Carolina this week, and I see Atlanta getting blown out, leading to Jonathan Stewart having a very big day.
Chris Feery: The guys have listed some great options so far. I’d just like to expand on Jeff’s nod to the Chiefs a bit. The Chiefs have been absolutely rolling over the course of their six-game winning streak, and the offense may be catching up to the strong defensive play that initially sparked their run. Alex Smith has been his usual efficient but unspectacular self throughout the streak but has come alive with five total touchdowns over the past two games. The two-headed monster of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware was not terribly productive last week, but look for both to bounce back against a Chargers team that has had their fair share of struggles against the run. The biggest beneficiaries should be the top target in the passing game, Jeremy Maclin, who has been targeted 23 times over the past two games and has translated that into 18 receptions for 255 yards and three scores.
John Lee: The Chargers are an absolute mess. Steve Johnson has not practiced this week and is doubtful to play on Sunday; Dontrelle Inman is in a similar situation after being carried off the field on a stretcher last weekened; neither Melvin Gordon nor Danny Woodhead has amassed more than 100 yards in well over a month. Meanwhile, the Chargers are 3-9, have lost eight of their last nine games, and are in the hunt for the first pick in the 2016 draft. Just a few weeks ago, the Chiefs shut down the Chargers in San Diego and allowed only three total points of offense. This week, they travel to Arrowhead and will be in rough shape.
The biggest beneficiary of the Chargers implosion should be the Chiefs running game; however, it is near-impossible to separate the implied value between Charcandrick West and goal-line specialist, Spencer Ware. Either could thrive against this defense, but the one DFS play that stands out is the Chiefs defense. The state of the Chargers offense makes the Chiefs defense seem like a great play, especially after allowing only three points in a prior matchup in San Diego just a few weeks ago.
Tampa Bay Offense
Since their Week 6 bye, Tampa Bay is averaging 40.2 yards per drive (second in the NFL only to Pittsburgh's 41.3). Tampa Bay gets the legendarily bad New Orleans defense in a Week 14 home game. Who is the best value of what should be many highly-owned Buccaneers this week?
Hat tip to Rich Hribar once again for the stat.
Phil Alexander: In terms of projected points-per-dollar value, my first thought was Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but he's the TE10 on FantasyAces -- a steep price for a player who may not exceed 50% of the team's offensive snaps. I'll go with Vincent Jackson, who costs $800 less than teammate Mike Evans despite leading the Bucs in receiving yards since returning from injury in Week 11. Jackson has averaged only one fewer target per game than Evans over the last three weeks and has the same number of looks in the red zone (four). Based on Tampa Bay's usual formation tendencies, Jackson figures to lineup opposite Delvin Breaux (ProFootballFocus' eighth-ranked cornerback) slightly more than Evans, but it's no cause for concern. Jackson has four inches and 34 pounds on Breaux, who has given up the ninth-most points per route defended this season, despite his lofty ranking. Jackson will also enjoy plenty of coverage from this year's top cornerback punching bag, Brandon Browner.
Jeff Pasquino: I think Phil called Jackson out well, but if you want to play this most safely, Jamies Winston is the way to go. Whether he runs it in himself or throws to any of four options (Jackson, Evans, Seferian-Jenkins, or Charles Sims), you get those points. I could see a big day for Winston, and at $6,600 (QB9) that's a solid choice for me.
Dan Hindery: Tampa is in a nice spot, but FantasyAces did a nice job of pricing up most of their players given how favorable their matchup with New Orleans is. Looking at the specific pricing:
- Winston is QB8 and only $400 less than Cam Newton as QB3.
- Doug Martin is RB6 and only $250 less than Matt Forte as RB2.
- Evans is WR7 and only $400 less than Julio Jones as WR4.
- Jackson is tied for WR24 with Doug Baldwin but just $200 less than Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, Eric Decker, etc.
- Seferian-Jenkins is TE9 and only $200 less than Travis Kelce.
Based upon their prices viewed in the context of the players in the same pricing tiers, I’m not sure any of the group makes for a great play this weekend. However, if I had to pick one, I’d lead toward Winston. He comes in sixth in H-Value according to our projections, and he has a nice mix of safety and upside. It would be a shock if he doesn’t have at least a solid day against New Orleans. He has also scored a rushing touchdown in four of his last six games, which adds some serious upside if he can run one or more in along with putting up the usual passing stats that every opponent has against New Orleans.
John Lee: On defense, the Saints secondary gets the spotlight because of the number of touchdowns they have allowed (35) and the manner in which those plays have occurred (14 plays of 40+ passing yards). But the Saints rush defense is equally horrendous, allowing 4.9 yards per carry and a league-high 137.8 rushing yards per game. In fact, only the Atlanta Falcons allow more fantasy points to the running back position this year (and it's really close: 27.2 versus 27.1 fantasy points per game allowed, respectively). With that in mind, I think Martin represents the best value on the team this weekend because we can be fairly certain that he will see 20-25 touches, whereas Evans, Jackson, and Seferian-Jenkins will cannibalize one another's fantasy value to some degree. In Tampa Bay's last five wins, Martin has 126 touches (25.2 touches/game); with this game projected to be a shootout in which the Buccaneers come out victorious, I like Martin's chances to see 25 touches once again this week while compiling over 100 rushing yards and a score.
With regards to the receiving corps, all are certainly in play against this secondary, particularly with the Saints best cornerback, Delvin Breaux, still not practicing and looking iffy for the weekend. The problem will be selecting the receiver who gets the most attention from Winston, and it legitimately could be any of them. Thus, it makes the most sense to look towards the individual(s) who are guaranteed touches and those players are Martin and Winston; I prefer Martin because I think there is more value at the quarterback position than running back to help round out my rosters.
Chris Feery: I’ll echo John’s call on Martin as I think he represents the best value on the Buccaneers this week. As the others have mentioned, Winston’s throws will likely be spread fairly evenly among Evans, Jackson and Sefarian-Jenkins, making it tough to pinpoint which one of them offers the most upside for a potential shootout. Martin offers us a fairly predictable workload at a reasonable price and as John mentioned, a date with an equally poor run defense. This factor will be overlooked by many as Winston and the passing game will capture the imagination of the majority of DFS players, giving Martin the added benefit of a hopefully low ownership percentage.
We don't often talk about team defenses in this space, but they're clearly part of DFS success. Tell us who is your favorite GPP defense this week and why.
Phil Alexander: At only $100 more than the minimum, the 49ers defense (admittedly one of the worst in the league) frees up salary and at least offers a reasonable floor. In the three games Johnny Manziel has thrown more than 20 passes this season, opposing defenses have averaged 13.3 fantasy points per game against the Browns. Manziel has been sacked 14 times despite starting only three games, and he’s completing under 60% of his passes. At least one turnover to go along with two or three sacks is a given, and there’s upside for more with the 49ers defense playing respectably in their last few games.
Dan Hindery: I’m with Phil in loving the 49ers this week at the bargain price of $2,600. The Cleveland locker room seems split, and there have been leaks that many of the veterans have lost faith in Manziel and don’t think he should see the field. The coaching staff does not seem to trust him either, but there is pressure from above (and from the fans) to play him. With a beat up receiving corps and an interior offensive line that has been struggling mightily (gave up 11 quarterback pressures last week to Geno Atkins alone), Manziel doesn’t have much to work with either.
The other factor that makes San Francisco a nice GPP play is that the Browns have really struggled to run the ball and thus have been forced to pass more than they want to (over 70% passing plays over past two weeks). In targeting GPP defenses, you want a team going against a pass-heavy offense because that is where you are likely to get your big plays (interception touchdowns, strip sacks, etc.).
Depending upon how my roster construction looked, Seattle is also an interesting option. The price tag ($3,400) is tough to swallow, but it should help to keep tournament ownership low. Seattle can suffocate bad offenses and shut down the opposing running game. They should also jump out to an early lead. Forcing Matt Schaub to try to win the game with 40+ passing attempts (to a miserable crew of receivers) is a great recipe for turnovers and a possible D/ST score.
Jeff Pasquino: San Francisco is a good call. Overall though, the big picture of defenses is that they range from $2,500 to $3,400 (Seattle), with most at $2,500 to $3,000. Picking any of those in that range should be just fine.
I am looking hard at Kansas City. The Chiefs have won six in a row, are at home against the Chargers, who cannot run and have a M*A*S*H unit at wide receiver. I am not sure how San Diego is going to even get 10 points, and they could get shut out. If Rivers takes a chance or two, I could see a pick-six, but even if that doesn't happen, a few sacks and a few turnovers gets you that 10-12 points you want. That price of $2,950 is solid, and I think I'll find more unique roster components elsewhere.
John Lee: I agree with Jeff on Kansas City. The entire Chargers offense is a mess right now. Philip Rivers barely practiced on Wednesday, Dontrelle Inman was carted off the field last week and is unlikely to play this game, Steve Johnson was shut down by Aqib Talib last week (zero targets) before leaving the game with a groin injury and is questionable leading up to Sunday, and the ground game is an absolute disaster. They scored three points against the Chiefs at home three weeks ago, and now they have to take this injury-ravaged 3-9 team to Arrowhead to match up against a red-hot Chiefs team that has won six in a row and are actively seeking a wild-card birth? This could get very ugly for the Chargers, and the oddsmakers in Las Vegas backed up that premise when the set the Chargers' team total at a Week 14 low of 17.5 points.
Chris Feery: The 49ers are a great call, but count me in the camp of Kansas City supporters. The Chiefs defense was the catalyst for the team’s turnaround and has scored double-digit fantasy points in five of their six consecutive victories. The Chargers are a mess and walking into a potential hornet’s nest this Sunday at Arrowhead. This one could get ugly quickly. You can confidently roll with the Chiefs defense and focus your research efforts on other positions.
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Ryan Hester - Moderator