This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Quarterback Injury Impact
Drew Brees may miss this weekend's game vs. Jacksonville. In a situation where the starting quarterback is missing, his teammates are most likely negatively impacted. But does a situation like this ever change your opinion of the opposing players as well? Perhaps the opposing running back should have a bump in projected value due to positive game script.
Discuss how you handle this situation from a cash game and from a GPP perspective.
Chris Feery: Losing one of the starting quarterbacks from a projected shootout could flip the entire game script and approach from a DFS perspective, depending on how significant of a drop off we are looking at from the starting signal caller to his replacement. Assuming it’s a substantial drop off, the opposing defense will suddenly become an attractive play due to the possibility of mistakes, hurried throws and missed reads from the backup. By extension, the opposing running back becomes that much more intriguing due to the chance that the projected shootout turns into a one-sided affair. Opposing quarterbacks and wide receiver stacks can still be viable targets, but they may be best left to GPP only at this point as we could be looking at a few quick strikes that build a lead, followed by the team calling the dogs off and playing ball control the rest of the way.
In the case of the Jaguars and Saints, the possibility of Brees missing the game doesn’t impact my interest level in rostering Blake Bortles or either of his two top targets, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Prior to last week’s dip in productivity against the Falcons, the young Jaguars offense was on quite a roll with 10 passing touchdowns over the previous three games. The Jaguars should find plenty of success on the fast track in New Orleans against a porous Saints defense and look like an excellent source of fantasy points in Week 16.
John Mamula: Yes. The quarterback position is the one position that can have a dramatic effect on the game script. Earlier in the season when Ben Roethlisberger was out, LeVeon Bell's value remained solid, but Antonio Brown's value took a nose dive. The Steelers were not scoring 30 points per game, thus their opponents were not forced to keep up their scoring. Therefore, the opposing passing game did not have as high of a ceiling.
The attractiveness of the opposing running back depends on a number of factors. Who is the running back, and what offense does he play on? How does the player match up against the opposing defense? I would still defer to the Vegas lines and totals before targeting an opposing running back. If the Vegas line has moved and is now sitting at a -6 to -10 line, then I would definitely be interested in targeting the opposing running back in the right situations.
For GPPs, a quarterback change usually means low ownership percentages for the offensive players. If the backup quarterback has a track record or is in a dynamic offense, targeting these players in a GPP can be a winning strategy. In cash games, it is best to usually follow the herd in these situations. What do you project this player's ownership percentage to be? If you project a low percentage, I would avoid the player in cash games. If you have a feeling that a quarterback change may dramatically alter a running back or receiver in an offense, I would only target those players in GPPs.
Scott Bischoff: I also think that a change in quarterback is a big factor in both teams' skill position players. Having said that, I do think it is critical to look at the backup quarterback's skill set to determine how much impact we'll see in a particular offense. I tend to look at a few things:
- Does the quarterback play a similar game in relation to the starter?
- Do the things he does well, and more importantly, do the things he doesn't do well change a game plan?
- Is the backup quarterback a rookie? How much of the offense should he be able to run?
Now taking these into account in the Saints situation, I'd say it's fairly easy to say that if Matt Flynn or rookie quarterback Garrett Grayson started, that would be a big negative to the Saints pass-catchers. I also see it downgrading both Hurns and Robinson from must-start types to players that will have to score early in this game to get to value. I'd still start both Jaguars receivers, but the expectation isn't nearly as high as it would be of the Saints were to force the Jaguars to score five touchdowns to win this game.
I definitely like the idea of rostering the opposing running back in this specific example as we could see a situation where the Jaguars are up in the second half and killing time off the clock. I think that the starting running back for the Jaguars is already in a nice situation this week, but I'd bump him a similar amount to the downgrade I'm giving the receivers. I also think the game script helps the Jaguars defense, and I’d consider starting them in a GPP format this week.
At the end of the day, I'd play either Jaguars receiver and Bortles in a cash format this week as their upside is somewhat limited. I'm looking at the Denard Robinson and Jacksonville defense as GPP plays that can pay off nicely this week.
John Lee: I have a general overriding principle that I use in situations where I have concerns regarding weather, backup personnel, and other related DFS questions: Ask Vegas. There is entirely too much money exchanging hands in Sin City for oddsmakers to have a less-than-precise assessment of situations like these.
In this particular scenario, the tentative Vegas game total for the Jaguars-Saints game is 52.5 points with the Saints being installed as 3.5-point favorites at home. If Brees is announced as inactive over the next few days, I will be watching the line movement on this game to help determine if I will still want to target players from it. My approach for this game (and others like it) is really quite straightforward: 1) wait for Friday practices to close and inactives to be announced; 2) examine adjusted Vegas odds; 3) adjust my projections to coordinate with adjusted Vegas odds; 4) determine value of each player, based on respective salaries; and 5) juxtapose value versus likely gamescript.
To address this particular game, I will be interested in Flynn if Brees is not able to play on Sunday. Flynn has not played extensively in the past two years, but he has had success in limited NFL action with the Packers in a similar role; in 2010, 2011, and 2013, Flynn had massive fantasy weeks late in the season that would have put Flynn owners squarely in contention for any fantasy contest (DFS or season-long). He is currently at the minimum salary across most major DFS sites, including FantasyAces, and could be interesting fodder for both cash games and GPP contests; in fact, I think Flynn is more attractive at $4,500 than a potentially less-than-healthy Brees is at $7,200. This entire game is fascinating and should be monitored closely as we enter the weekend because interpreting it correctly could go a long way towards a profitable DFS week.
BJ VanderWoude: The loss of Brees in particular would change my opinion of the game but not enough to discourage me from playing previously recommended plays like Robinson or Julius Thomas. The same can not be said for Ben Watson, Brandin Cooks, and Willie Snead though. My confidence in those three players stems from my confidence in Brees. If he is unable to play, it would be hard to recommend them as anything but GPP fliers.
Last Monday's game was a prime example of what happens when a team takes their foot off the gas and allows Brees the chance to mount a comeback. This means opposing teams are more likely to continue to be aggressive while leading with Brees as the opposition, then say, Flynn or Grayson.
I agree with Scott regarding both the Jaguars running backs and their defense. I would prefer to have the Jaguars lead back in cash games, but I am looking at their defense as more of a GPP play. The Saints secondary continues to be awful though, so Bortles, Robinson, and Thomas are still in play and should have a big hand in any lead that Jacksonville is able to establish.
Monday Night Strategy
This week's Monday Night Football game looks rather uninspiring from a fantasy perspective. So from a game theory point of view, if you have a Monday Night Football game that you aren't excited about, do you choose a slate that fades the Monday game entirely to avoid unexpected variance? Or do you seek it out and fade it assuming you'll gain points on opponents that choose players from the game?
On the other side of the coin, if the Monday Night Football game projects to be a shootout like Detroit-New Orleans last week, do you intentionally fade it in order to avoid a potentially luck-based situation of multiple fantasy assets providing big-time production?
Chris Feery: I don’t look to avoid the Monday Night game whether it projects to be a shootout like last week’s game between the Saints and Lions or a relatively low-scoring affair like this week’s matchup between the Broncos and Bengals. Regardless of the projections, there will be plenty of interest from a DFS perspective and plenty of DFSers who will roster players from the Monday Night game simply to have a little sweat equity in the festivities. Try as we might, there’s simply no way to totally avoid unexpected variance or luck-based situations, but with a sound process we can do our best to mitigate the damage they may cause to our standings on the leaderboards.
If it’s a week where I was employing a single lineup, I’ll let the process and projections be the guide and not look to force Monday Night players into the lineup or conversely intentionally fade players from that game. For a multiple lineup approach, I’ll consider a lineup that employs a Monday Night stack if the game looks to be a good source of fantasy points and possibly a contrarian stack for a projected lower scoring game if it’s a matchup I’m sold on and feel it’s flying under the radar.
John Mamula: If there is a Monday Night football game that I am not excited about, I prefer to seek it out and fade the game. These players will be higher owned than they should be due to the fact that they are playing for a national audience. The Vegas total in the Bengals-Broncos game opened at 42 points and is trending downward (now at 40.5 points). Ownership percentage of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should remain higher than they should due to the recency bias of their Week 15 performances.
I usually do not fade Monday Night Football games if they project to be a shootout. One strategy is to create multiple GPP lineups with different combinations of players in any game that projects to be a shootout. If you land on the right combination along with fading the other players in the game, this can shoot you up the leaderboards.
Scott Bischoff: I think both Chris and John have made valid points here, and I agree with parts of both answers. I agree with Chris when he points out that the process is what matters and if it dictates that starting a player in a low scoring game is optimal, then you have to trust it. I also agree with John's point about taking advantage of the field by fading one matchup while rostering combinations of players in shootout situations.
In there somewhere is a balance. I use these situations as tiebreakers between tiers of players. For example, if I have a Bengals or Broncos receiver projected to score "X" number of points this week, I may go away from him if I can find other WRs that are projected to score the same amount of points, especially if his matchup is significantly better. At the same time, I'm also using the low-scoring matchup as a means to get a special player at a lower ownership percentage, and I'm factoring that into whether a player should get rostered or not.
In a perfect scenario, I am paying attention to the most likely game script but I'm open to the possibility that players are still going to make plays.
John Lee: If I have zero interest in a Monday night game and feel confident that there is little-to-no fantasy value, I do not enter Sunday-only game slates because I am happy to have my potential competitors gain exposure to an additional set of players who I believe to be suboptimal. Some might argue that limiting the player pool should provide a bigger edge, particularly if I do not like the Monday night game, but (as others have already stated) too many DFS players want a "horse in the race" on Monday night and will build their rosters around players from that game just to have someone playing as the week's DFS games come to a close; with that premise in mind, I think it is advantageous for me to allow that behavior to continue by entering Sunday-Monday contests in those scenarios.
If, however, a Monday night game looks to be a shootout, I treat it the same as I would for a normal Sunday game. I roster as many players as I see fit. If the game is likely high-scoring and I cannot find an angle that I particularly like, I will avoid those DFS slates where that particular game is offered, as I often do for Thursday-Monday contests.
BJ VanderWoude: My opinion of the Monday Night Football game won't be the deciding factor in which slates I decide to play. If I am less than confident in the game being able to generate fantasy points, I would prefer for my opponents to have the opportunity to choose players in that specific game. Winning is not dependent on how many points you score, it is dependent on how many points you score relative to the field. This is why I am so big on contests that start on Thursday nights. They offer one more game that can potentially be a pitfall for my opposition, especially with the growing sample size of data that supports lower scoring on Thursday night games.
I want to roster players in games where the game script can be accurately predicted, or more accurately predicted than other games on the slate. While shootouts provide a high volume of fantasy points, they aren't always the easiest games to predict. The Seattle vs. Pittsburgh game of a couple weeks back comes to mind, with Doug Baldwin and Markus Wheaton offering GPP-winning production. I think a big part of whether or not you fade the game depends on the teams that are in play. Do the top players on their respective teams command a high usage percentage? Are there any key injuries that could have a butterfly effect on how production is divided? How much higher is the projected total than other games on the same slate? These are the type of questions that I will ask myself before deciding whether I want to fade the game, or target the game. If I am going to fade a high-scoring game, I would prefer not to play the slate due to the potential for inflated cash lines.
Many sources are assuming that Karlos Williams will start for Buffalo in LeSean McCoy's absence. However, it was Mike Gillislee who entered the game first for Buffalo following McCoy's injury and who began the next full possession post-McCoy. How do you view the Buffalo backfield this week?
Chris Feery: Assuming McCoy misses the game, both Williams and Gillislee become intriguing options in Week 16. The problem for me, as it will be for many DFS players, is which one? Williams has shown that he’s more than capable of handling a heavier workload and given us plenty of flashes of his talent thus far in 2015, while Gillislee has earned himself a role as the season has moved along and found the end zone in each of the past two games.
John Mamula: The Bills are a six-point home favorite vs. the Cowboys with a low total of 42.5 points. This line is a bit higher than I expected for this game. If McCoy is inactive, Williams should receive the bulk of the carries with Gillislee picking up a small share. I estimate the touches at 75% for Williams and 25% for Gillislee in this game.
Scott Bischoff: One thing to consider is that Williams came into last week's contest with a banged up shoulder which is still bothering him. He practiced today (12/23) in a limited fashion, and my thoughts are that Williams' injury is what gave Gillislee his opportunity last week. That makes this question difficult as we don't know exactly where Williams is from a health standpoint. Williams missed the previous two weeks and had only four carries last week, so he's hopefully getting closer to being ready for a full workload.
Do you see either Williams or Gillislee as roster-worthy? If so, would you dare take a gamble on their low prices in cash games, or leave it strictly as a GPP dice-roll?
Feery: In short, we may be looking at a committee situation in Buffalo, which is probably the right move on the field but not exactly a boon for either player’s fantasy prospects this week. Either member of the Bills backfield looks like too risky of a proposition for cash games, but I could certainly get on board with a GPP flier with either one, with Williams getting the nod if choosing between the two.
Mamula: Williams has a FantasyAces salary of $4,400 and is roster-worthy in GPPs If playing multiple GPPs, I would target around 20% exposure to Williams. I do not trust either player in cash games.
Bischoff: If Williams were to get his full amount of work, I'd think it's nearly 80-20 in Williams favor, and that makes him a very intriguing option in both cash and GPP formats. However, there is a tremendous amount of risk here as there is no certainty with Williams, and that really is a big limiting factor. I agree with both Chris and John and I'd play Williams in a GPP with a limited amount of exposure, but I don’t think I'd want him a cash game. The only way I'd have interest in Gillislee (cash or GPP) is if Williams were to not play in Week 16.
John Lee: Williams is a player that I would consider at $4,400 against this Cowboys' defensive front, but only in GPP formats because the Cowboys defense is fairly stout against the run, allowing only a single 100-yard rusher (Eddie Lacy) since the beginning of October. The gamescript (Buffalo -6.5 points at Ralph Wilson Stadium) is, however, in Williams' favor, which keeps him in the discussion.
As for Gillislee, I could be in the minority here, but I will be completely ignoring this weekend. Gillislee is only being considered because he has touchdowns in back-to-back weeks and folks tend to remember scores more than actual playing time. He has played in only 21.6% of the Bills' offensive snaps in his three games this season but is the only running back to actually score over that same span; furthermore, he has only 10 touches over the previous two weeks. Box score readers will conclude that Gillislee is the goal line running back in this Bills offense, but both of his scores have come on longer attempts (19 and 60 yards, respectively) where the Bills' offensive line generated huge holes for him. Given his limited snap count and the low likelihood that the Bills will continue to generate big running lanes, it would seem that Gillislee's $4,000 salary is just too high this week.
BJ VanderWoude: Scott did a great job summarizing the risk involved. The big question is whether Williams is healthy enough to withstand the rigors of a 15+ carry day. If he starts and Buffalo plans on giving him lead back volume, he is the obvious play over Gillislee and someone I'd recommend for GPPs. Much of his allure stems from the big plays he's been able to churn out, but that isn't exactly a recipe for cash game success, so I would stick to tournament play only, with Williams.
Over the last month, Dallas has allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. There is a fair degree of uncertainty surrounding how the carries will be divided up between Gillislee and Williams, which is disappointing considering how juicy the match up is for both backs. Williams has proven he doesn't need a high volume of touches to hit value, and while the sample size is small for Gillislee, his skill set is in a similar mold. I don't see the value at the running back position that I did as recently as last week, and in the situations where there is potential value (Christine Michael, Bilal Powell, James White) there is also a reasonable amount of risk attached. Given the potential for Williams to re-injure his shoulder and the weak Dallas defensive front, I think there is merit to taking a shot on Gillislee in GPPs. He should at a minimum of ten total touches, which is enough opportunity for him to break a long run or catch, and hit value in the process. As the situation stands right now, I can't recommend Gillislee as anything but a GPP flier, however if Williams was to sit out Sunday's game, Gillislee would become a top five value play and a guy I would want heavy exposure to.
Teams Lacking Motivation
It's Week 16, and teams only have two games left to play. Some teams have been counting down the days until the offseason since three weeks ago. Who is this week's "let's just go through the motions" team that will allow its opponent to have an easy win? Which player(s) will benefit most from their opponent rolling out the red carpet?
Chris Feery: For Week 16, the Browns look like the most likely candidate to fit the bill of the team that is just going through the motions and preparing to be on the clock for a top pick in the 2016 draft. The Browns were just mowed down by the Seahawks in a hostile environment to the tune of 30-13 and turn right back around to fly into another tough situation against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday. The Chiefs are on an absolute roll and playing outstanding football in all facets of the game. A strong defense should have little trouble imposing their will on a poor Browns offense, while the improving Chiefs offense can do plenty of damage when they have an opponent on the ropes.
The Chiefs should dominate the Browns on Sunday and cruise to their ninth consecutive win, making the Chiefs defense the top target from this game, with a very valid case to be made for an Alex Smith-to-Jeremy Maclin stack. Charcandrick West becomes one of the top running back targets of the week if Spencer Ware spends another week on the sidelines, while we can also consider swapping Travis Kelce for Maclin in the proposed Smith stack.
John Mamula: I agree that the Browns look like a team ready for the offseason. Another team that I think is counting down the days is the Ravens. The Ravens have been ravaged by injuries this season losing Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Crockett Gilmore and Terrell Suggs for the season. The Ravens have lost their last two home games by a total score of 69-20. At this point they are ready to move on to next season.
The Steelers still have a bad taste in their mouth after their Week 4 loss to the Ravens. During this game, the Steelers played without Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Vick had 124 passing yards and one touchdown. This week will be a different outcome. The Steelers are 10-point road favorites with a high game total of 47.5 points. Look for the Steelers to crack 30 points for the seventh consecutive week. I expect huge performances from Roethlisberger, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant in this matchup.
Scott Bischoff: I'm looking at the San Francisco 49ers as a team that fits the bill. They have to travel to play a 1:00pm EST game and come into this game having lost two games in a row. In Week 14, they traveled to Cleveland and lost by 14 points, and last week they took on the Bengals at home and lost by 10. It's been a long, ugly year for the 49ers as they've dealt with a significant amount of adversity in almost every way, from working in a new head coach to players retiring to a quarterback being benched.
The 49ers are 10-point point underdogs versus the Detroit Lions, and I expect the Lions defense to play well in this game. I'd consider them an intriguing GPP option. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is always a decent option when he isn't facing much pressure, and the 49ers aren't particularly good in this area of the game. I'd be comfortable playing Stafford in cash games this week. I think Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are also good cash game plays, but I'm willing to deploy Johnson in a few GPPs because of his most recent performances (two catches total in the past two weeks) will have his ownership number low. The 49ers have given up 18 rushing touchdowns and are tied for worst in the league (Lions and Falcons) in that statistic. I'm intrigued by running back Ameer Abdullah in cash games, and I like third-down back Theo Riddick in GPP play.
John Lee: I think the Steelers roll against a hapless Ravens squad in Baltimore this weekend. The Ravens are playing without any fervor after losing Flacco, Smith, Forsett, Suggs, Perriman, and Lorenzo Taliaferro to injured reserve this season. Now led by Jimmy Clausen (possibly, Matt Schaub), the Ravens have mustered only 11 points per game over their past three games, while allowing 33 or more points in three of their last four games. Enter the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose offense is rolling, having scored 30 or more points in six straight; the Steelers will keep their feet on the proverbial gas this weekend, as they look to snag the AFC North from Bengals or, at the very least, an AFC wild-card spot. The Ravens appear to have all but given up on their 2015 campaign and are just going through the motions at this point in the season. Some skeptics will thumb their nose at this notion because the Steelers-Ravens typically is a close game, but three of their last four games have been blowout wins for the victorious team.
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