This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Week 9 has six teams with a bye week, the most so far this season. Does strategy change at all with more teams not playing? Do you change your approach in terms of playing more or less games?
Justin Howe: With a smaller slate, I like to concentrate my ownership on a small handful of NFL games. There are fewer games, fewer game scripts to project, and therefore fewer storylines, so I'm more likely to target two or three specific matchups. After all, the chalk plays are going to funnel that way, so I'll be looking to sink or swim with the crowd on a lot of my cash plays. And almost as importantly, I just have fewer narratives to make sense of. We all know that Vegas projections are an ideal jumping-off point to create a pool of options, but every week we have a handful of low-to-mid-projected games to make sense of. This week, I have fewer of those ambiguous matchups to sort through.
John Lee: Daily fantasy is, and will forever be, about value. If there is sufficient implied value across a smaller slate, I have zero problems playing the same amount of action across that slate. The exception to that rule is when the slate is too small. In slates like the Monday-Thursday ones, it makes overlap between rosters so dramatic that the difference between winning and losing is contingent on the performance of just one or two unique players. This is exactly why I urge new DFS players to steer clear of those slates because the skill component of roster composition is less pronounced when there are only two games from which to select players. On bye weeks, however, those issues are non-existent for the most part because there are still plenty of games. I never hesitate to play my full docket of games as long as I feel strongly about my players and their implied value.
Scott Bischoff: I'll look at the slate of games and pick a game or two that I feel good about, and then I'll focus my lineups around that game. For example, this week I'm looking at the Oakland-Pittsburgh matchup, and I want a piece of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to go with either wide receiver Antonio Brown or Martavis Bryant. But I'm also stacking tight end Heath Miller in that lineup. I wouldn't normally go all in with one team like this in a cash game, but in a week with fewer options, I feel good about Miller and being able to project his usage against the Raiders.
Jeff Pasquino: To me it feels a little easier to figure out things with fewer contests. It isn't as hard as a Mon-Thurs or Sun-Mon two-game slate, but with fewer teams, there are fewer things to miss when you look at the contests. A missed player in a two or three game slate will crush you, but with still 10+ games you should be OK as long as you build a quality lineup.
Also with a slightly reduced slate, you have to consider every team and not just scratch off a game with a low total or an unattractive contest.
Does the mix of cash games to GPPs change?
Pasquino: I don't really vary my play with one less game with 10+ games to consider. Ideally I want one player per team in big GPP lineups (unless I am stacking) and with 10+ games that isn't that difficult.
Howe: I'll also bump my GPP play on a smaller slate like this. My low-owned and punt plays will be owned a little more than usual, so I've got some added margin for error when I take a stab.
BJ VanderWoude: Well said, Justin. My course of action is very similar. Injuries and bye weeks shrink the player pool, making it much more difficult to construct unique lineups. Focusing on a smaller subset of games makes it easier to project, but it also increases your risk of ruin. My solution to this is to decrease my total buy ins, but increase my volume by focusing on GPP's in the lower spectrum of my buy in range. This gives me more lineups to craft around my core guys, as well as the opportunity to take some shots on what I perceive to be low owned players. Game selection is super important on the short slates, so stepping down a level or two is nothing to be ashamed of. I would much rather lock in a small profit at lower stakes, than to roll the dice at higher stakes just because those are the limits to which I've grown accustomed.
Bischoff: I echo Justin's sentiments on focusing on a smaller range of games. I want as much certainty as possible in weeks with fewer players in the pool. But it's for that reason that I'll go the opposite way and tend to opt for more cash game play over GPP play. I'll definitely have less action going in weeks like this as I focus on really projecting the few games I feel strongly about.
We talk a lot about scripts and using Vegas lines as a guide for our decisions. However, not every game goes according to plan. Which Week 9 game(s) do you see going against the way Vegas is projecting them?
Justin Howe: The line isn't particularly kind to Miami-Buffalo. It's sitting at 44, despite the fact that: a) these are two big-play-oriented offenses; and b) they scored 55 in their first matchup.
With Tyrod Taylor under center from Weeks 1-4, the Bills tied with the Cardinals for the league's most plays of 20+ yards (22). That's more than the 49ers or Titans have registered all year. Taylor is healthy again, as are Buffalo's top two runners and perhaps even Sammy Watkins. Taylor shapes up as a decent GPP stack with Charles Clay, his top target by a mile, and Karlos Williams comes back into relevance as a high-usage secondary back at a $4,100 price tag.
On the other side, the Dolphins responded to their coaching changes with a thoroughly dominant two-win stretch before faltering to the Patriots. I saw enough evidence in Weeks 6 and 7 to assume that this offense responds better to what Dan Campbell is doing than to Joe Philbin and that its talented pieces can better maximize their talents now than during the low Philbin points. It would be great if this offense had predictable enough roles to make a cash game splash; guys like Lamar Miller, Jarvis Landry, and Rishard Matthews vacillate from useless to GPP-winning from week to week. But Jarvis Landry looks to be in line for one of his better weeks out of the slot. The Bills have allowed big slot performances to Julian Edelman and Dwayne Harris, and non-WR1s have overachieved against them in general.
Scott Bischoff: I'm looking at the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings game with a line of 39.5. The Vikings are currently giving up 4.4 yards per carry to opposing running backs (tied for 24th in the NFL), and Todd Gurley comes into this game on fire. The Rams are tied for first overall with the Miami Dolphins with an average of 5.0 yards per carry. I look for Gurley to have a very good day running the ball, and we have seen him break off huge runs if he's given any daylight at all. I see Tavon Austin getting some looks as a ball carrier in the red zone which will boost his value. His price is $4,200, and he is worthy of cash-game play although he does carry some risk.
The Vikings are struggling to get Adrian Peterson going and this doesn't look like a great matchup on paper, but the Rams have given up some big plays against the run (seven runs of 20+ yards). Only six teams in the NFL have surrendered more runs of 20 or more yards than the Rams. This is a crazy stat as the Rams are stout versus the run, allowing only 3.7 yards per carry. I see Peterson busting off a big run or two in this game, and once he gets into the secondary he is very difficult to get to the ground.
Both teams can make plays happen via the play action game, but I think the Vikings can get more done through the air than the Rams. I'd expect Stefon Diggs ($4,850) to continue to see enough volume to warrant selection. The Vikings are going to get the ball out of Teddy Bridgewater's hands quickly, and that favors a player like Diggs.
Jeff Pasquino: After writing For the Win (shameless plug), I see several underdogs that can win this week. Miami is one of them. Justin already touched on the Miami-Buffalo contest, and I could also see the Bears win in a shootout in San Diego, Oakland challenging the Steelers, or Jacksonville winning at the Jets. But the game I will focus on is one I like the most and the line I think is the most wrong. I think Tampa Bay can not only cover the three points Las Vegas is giving them but also win outright at home against the Giants.
New York just scored 49 points last week, but let's not forget that they gave up 52 points as their defense looked non-existent. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers took it to Atlanta in an upset on the road. The Tampa Bay defense frustrated Matt Ryan, forcing several turnovers, and I can definitely see Eli Manning struggling more this week with his receivers with Odell Beckham Jr banged up. I think Mike Evans and Jameis Winston could be a very sneaky stack this week.
John Lee: The St. Louis Rams have the lowest implied team total on the Sunday-Monday game slate, and I think there is reason to believe that they will score more than 18 points and possibly even win the game against the Vikings. First, the Rams are 3-1, losing only to the Packers, since Todd Gurley became the bellcow running back in this offense. The Vikings have allowed 4.4 yards per carry to opposing running backs despite having faced only one running back (Matt Forte) currently ranked in the top ten in rushing yardage. Next, the Rams boast a sound defense that admittedly plays better at home but have allowed only 20 points per game as the visiting team, which was against opponents (Redskins, Cardinals, Packers) who have all scored more points than the Vikings this season. The outcome of this game will be contingent upon which defense can stop the opposing running back. I think Todd Gurley is the more likely victor, but his $6,400 price tag on FantasyAces is probably enough to keep me away from him, particularly when Devonta Freeman has a better matchup and gamescript at a $200 discount.
Darren McFadden got 26 touches and eclipsed 100 total yards. Dez Bryant returned but didn't do much. It was a tough Week 8 matchup against Seattle, but the high-volume Philadelphia offense comes to Dallas in Week 9. Is anyone on this team useable this week?
Justin Howe: McFadden remains a solid cash play as the team's only trusted back on all three downs. But I may be putting some faith in Dez Bryant as a transcendent talent in a fast-paced matchup. He has caught the ball well enough from every Tony Romo backup except Brandon Weeden, from whom nobody catches well. Since entering the NFL in 2010, Bryant has produced 1.77 FantasyAces points per Tony Romo target, and a respectable 1.41 from Romo's various backups. So if you want to crudely project a game in which Bryant sees 12 targets, you'd expect 21.24 points with Romo but a workable 16.92 with a backup. Matt Cassel is atrocious, yes. But Cassel or no, the bottom line is that if health and game flow lead to 12+ targets, it's easy to see Bryant's talent winning out and providing GPP value. And it's easy to project a high-volume game against Chip Kelly's Eagles. Bryant's ownership will be driven way, way down by his invisible Week 8 and the overwhelming Matt Cassel-ness of it all, so he could make for a savvy tournament play.
Scott Bischoff: I think that Justin has this one covered fairly well. The Cowboys released running back Joseph Randle this week, which has to be considered a positive sign as to what the the Cowboys think of McFadden's ability to be a lead back. I agree with Justin that he is a solid cash play.
I also agree with Justin's thought process on Bryant, but my only concern is that this game turns out to be a low scoring affair (Vegas has it at 44.5 with the Cowboys at 20.5) in which Bryant doesn't get to 12+ targets. The Eagles offense will dictate what kind of volume Bryant sees, and I don't have a lot of faith in the Eagles ability to score bunches of points right now. The Cowboys have only given up eight touchdowns through seven games in 2015, and I can't see the Eagles going off here. However, given how bad the Eagles secondary has played, I agree that playing Bryant in a GPP is a potentially savvy move at his price of $5,300. He carries significant risk though, Matt Cassell and all.
Jeff Pasquiono: Good coverage on the topic so far, guys. Keep in mind that Bryant lit up the Eagles for three touchdowns last year, but that was against Bradley Fletcher, who is long gone from Philadelphia (and last I checked, every other team). I would also hesitate to use McFadden as the Eagles have done pretty well against the ground games this year. Only Mike Tolbert has scored on the ground against Philadelphia so far this year, and no back has piled up 100 yards except Jonathan Stewart. The Cowboys are not the Panthers, so slow your roll on McFadden here.
On the other side, Philadelphia may offer some value, but it is tough to predict who to pick in any given contest. After a week off, Chip Kelly is capable of anything. Ryan Mathews would be my first choice in the backfield and Jordan Matthews at receiver, but I don't see either as a stable cash choice, so they are in the GPP only bucket.
BJ VanderWoude: On opportunity alone, I think McFadden is worth consideration this week in what should be a close game against Philadephia. Jeff made some good points regarding the Eagles defense. McFadden has had three games as the lead back for Dallas, and in two of those three games, he failed to score a touchdown and go over 100 yards. In those two games he averaged 13 points, which would be a (2.7x) return on his current salary. That is below what you should be targeting for cash games, and I think 12-14 points is a fair projection. He is much better suited for cash game formats that award a full point per reception.
Bryant is an interesting play. As Justin noted, his ownership should be very low, and his price is attractive. If they use him as a possession receiver in conjunction with the run game, I could see him finishing with totals similar to what Odell Beckham Jr (7/61/1) and Pierre Garcon (7/55/1) put up against the Eagles, with the outside chance at a multiple touchdown game. I have absolutely no faith in Matt Cassel's ability to push the ball down the field, which significantly lowers Bryant's ceiling. That is disappointing because Philadelphia has let up monster receiving games to the likes of Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks, Brandon Marshall, and Julio Jones.
I think the wild-card for Bryant is the Cowboys defense. Philadelphia has committed the fifth-most turnovers (10 interceptions, five fumbles), so if Dallas can force one or two deep in the Eagles territory, Bryant will have more opportunities to take advantage of his red zone prowess, without having to depend on Matt Cassel's arm or McFadden breaking a long run.
John, if you were to look at the perfect game script for Dallas to win this game, how do you think it would read?
John Lee: If Dallas is to win this game, they have to take the air out of the ball (no offense, Tom Brady) and go back to what worked for them early this year and all of 2014 -- control the time of possession. In Week 2, when the Cowboys were healthy, they ran an even split of runs to passes and controlled the time of possession over the Eagles by a 2:1 margin. Since Tony Romo's injury, neither Brandon Weeden nor Cassel have been able to run the offense in a similar manner. Now that Darren McFadden has established himself as an every-down running back behind this monstrous offensive line and Bryant is finally healthy, look for the Cowboys to try to go back to that ball-control mentality against the Eagles.
I suspect we will see a heavy dose of McFadden with a series of short passes to get first downs, while occasionally stretching the field and keeping the defense honest with Bryant. The only two players I would consider from this crew are Cassel (GPP only) and McFadden (borderline cash game play) because of their heavy involvement in the offense. McFadden has the higher chance of success, while Cassel's $5,000 salary make him extremely attractive for a GPP; if you do roster Cassel, Bryant is a logical stack, but I do not think Cassel requires a stack in this instance because the likelihood of him throwing multiple touchdowns to the same receivers is unlikely with the gamescript I propose here.
San Diego Pass-Catchers
Among the many injuries in Week 8 was Keenan Allen's kidney injury. With Allen out indefinitely and Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green also hurting, which San Diego offensive players represent the best value in a "plus" matchup against Chicago on Monday night?
Justin Howe: Steve Johnson is not only back in relevance, but he's a weekly WR2 going forward. He and Philip Rivers formed a major connection this summer, and while Allen dominated targets and the tight ends dominated the red zone, Johnson stayed firmly in the mix in both categories. He proved very useful in the underneath game before his injury, drawing six or more targets in five of his six games with most of the offense intact. With Allen out of the picture, his usage potential is through the roof. Malcom Floyd is little more than an outside threat with (typically) low volume, so Johnson should see the lion's share of wide receiver opportunity in an offense I'm projecting to throw 44.7 passes. He'd make for a dynamite play even without the cherry matchup.
Scott Bischoff: This game looks to be a potentially high-scoring game as both teams have struggled to stop the run in 2015. The Bears are tied for 26th in the NFL allowing 4.7 yards per carry, and the Chargers are tied for last in the NFL allowing 5.0 yards per carry. Complicating matters for both teams is that they are giving up a slew of passing touchdowns in 2015. The Bears have given up 16 touchdown passes, and the Chargers have allowed 14 through seven and eight games respectively.
Someone has to pick up the slack for the Chargers Allen sidelined for the year, and I also believe that Johnson will be the guy to do just that in Week 8. Points are going to be scored in this game, and Rivers won't be afraid to target Johnson early and often Monday night.
The other beneficiary of the Allen injury is Danny Woodhead. Allen was used close to the line of scrimmage, with Rivers delivering the ball quickly because of San Diego's protection issues. Woodhead will pick up a significant amount of these targets going forward, and he'll be heavily involved on Monday night.
Jeff Pasquino: Woodhead and Johnson are the obvious answers, but the two players that will likely see bumps and less GPP ownership are Melvin Gordon and Malcom Floyd. Floyd was on the field a ton last week stretching the field for Phillip Rivers, and I expect more of the same as the Chargers go three-wide with their tight ends ailing. Gordon would be the tailback on first and second down, and with Chicago's issues against the run and Branden Oliver out, this could finally be the week Gordon gets to 100 yards.
BJ VanderWoude: You guys have this topic well covered. I agree in that both Johnson and Floyd have value as cheap options in a high volume passing attack, but I would defer to Woodhead and Gates as the two best values. This is due in large part to their red zone targets, as well as the high percentage routes they run. When you factor in the matchup and the spread of Allen's targets, I really like the idea of several different combinations of Philip Rivers super stacks.
John Lee: I'm in agreement with the majority that Johnson is the biggest beneficiary of the injury of Allen, but if Floyd's salary drops to $4,000 (or below) at any point on FantasyAces, I would definitely fire him up as a GPP flyer. Because of his 6'5" frame, Floyd will always be a redzone target and as last week demonstrated, he possesses multiple touchdown upside on any given Sunday. His salary is currently $4,500, which is a bit high given that Floyd is the fourth receiving option behind Johnson, Woodhead, and Gates, but his redzone prowess keeps him GPP-relevant, if the salary is low enough.
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