DFS Roundtable: Conference Championship Round

One last chance at NFL DFS glory

One Last Shot

With the only remaining NFL slate of the season being the combined slate of the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, this is the last slate of the 2016-17 season full of games that actually matter. Because of that, we're taking a "go big or go home" mentality this week.

When I asked each contributing staffer our four questions of the week, I told them to be in the mindset of multi-entry GPPs only and assume they're building 20 or more lineups to enter into those GPPs. The responses should be slanted towards that aggressive-yet-wanting-to-diversify mindset.

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

The staffers we talked to this week are Justin Howe, John Mamula, and Keith Roberts.

Men on Fire

Hester: Both Green Bay and Atlanta enter this week on unbelievable rolls, with their offenses firing on all cylinders. It's no surprise the projected over/under of the NFC Championship Game is around 60 points. Of your 20+ GPP lineups, what percentage will contain two or fewer players from this game in an effort to be contrarian and differentiate? Will you be so bold as to include zero players from this game in any lineups?

Mamula: With only four teams on the slate, the overlap will be tremendous for players such as Randall Cobb, DaVante Adams, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers. Even Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be on everyone's radar this weekend. In some places, the Packers-Falcons game total has risen up to 61.5 points. Rather than trying to be contrarian and differentiate by not rostering players from this game, another strategy is to target one or two players that are projected to be low owned but still have the potential to find the end zone. I would then spread these players along with your "core" group of three-to-four across all 20+ GPP lineups. You want to be overweight with these players as compared to the field. That will put you in a position to possibly score a big cash if your core group and your one-to-two low owned players all perform well.

Roberts: When building your GPP lineups, there are a number of approaches to take. One of these strategies is to build based on expected game flow — a relatively common and extremely effective approach regardless of which sport you are playing. A great indication of game flow is, of course, to start with the Vegas lines, which brings us to this 60+ point total game. It is very hard to conceive a situation in which someone does not put up huge fantasy numbers from each team here. These are two of the best quarterbacks in the game facing bottom tier defenses in a dome with their season on the line. None of my lineups will fade this game entirely; that is not contrarian, but just silly. The upside is simply too high to fade it all together.

I do think there is an argument for picking only two players who you think will go off. The other game this week still has a solid total of 51 — a game that would be heavily targeted in any normal DFS week. Tom Brady is in a premier spot, with plenty of his receivers available to target in addition to the Patriots defense as a top play and Chris Boswell with a leg hotter than the sun right now. If I had to pick only two players from the NFC Championship Game to put in a lineup like this, they would be Ty Montgomery and Tevin Coleman. Both of these guys should be relatively low-owned, and the two of them going off would take away from scoring through the air — something you will need if this lineup is going to hit big in a GPP.

The Falcons will and should be focusing almost all of their marbles on stopping Rodgers, which will leave the door open for Montgomery to find room to run. Coleman will continue to be ignored by DFS players despite playing almost as many snaps as Freeman while getting a very respectable workload with plenty of looks through the air. However, on a percentage basis, I will not have more than 10% (two) of my 20 GPP lineups with only two or fewer players from that juicy NFC Championship Game -- it is just too ripe to fade.

Howe: To answer the final question first: yes, absolutely, if playing exclusively one game were permitted. A two-game slate should generally be GPP-dominated, with multi-entry reigning supreme. And that’s not an exercise in only identifying the most likely players to produce; rather, it’s about covering as many bases as possible. Remember: despite our pregame expectations, absolutely any outcome is conceivable. This is why one of the first things I do in each week’s preparation is to organize all of the game flow possibilities that I consider most and least likely to pan out. From there, I build a GPP portfolio accordingly, with roughly 50-75% devoted to the most likely, and the remainder scattered among the lower, suboptimal probabilities as I see them.

Were I to enter 20 unique lineups into a tournament, I’d probably devote one or two of them to being strategically light on GB-ATL. That chunk would include, probably, the lead running back and defense of each team, since I’d be prepping for the possibility of a grind-the-clock blowout. Still, one or two is all I'd be willing to try. Keith is right: this game is just so, so juicy.

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Dealing with Overlap

Hester: With only two games on the slate, the player pool is obviously very shallow this week. Give us a surprising hero who will be low-owned that will help to separate your roster from the masses. How much exposure will you have to this player in your 20+ lineups?

Roberts: This week, even the most novice of DFS players will have eyes far deeper into the player pool than they normally would simply because there is so much less to research with only the two games going. As a word of advice, don’t try to get too cute. Sure, maybe toss out Aaron Ripkowski into one lineup hoping for a couple goal line carries. Or maybe you think Antonio Brown will be “punished” from his little film fiasco, opening the door for Sammie Coates to finally get some love in the Steelers offense. With 20+ lineups in a GPP on a two-game slate, I won’t fault a flier here and there, but keep that kind of stuff to "onesies-twosies" only. Do not get carried away building cute lineups only to see that you have 40% exposure to Geronimo Allison and Levine Toilolo because you think nobody will be on them. Be smart, and take your shots selectively. Remember, GPPs are not all just about ownership percentages. More importantly, they are about choosing the guy who has the absolute highest ceiling possible.

One guy I like this week who has both the ceiling and bonus for below-average ownership projections is LeGarrette Blount. Everyone saw what Dion Lewis did last week with three total touchdowns, and recency bias will play a huge factor in pushing his ownership above that of Blount. Can Lewis put up huge numbers again this week? Sure, he can. But do we really expect him to out-carry a healthy Blount again? Absolutely not. Blount was a touchdown machine this season, leading the league with 18, and has the workload to show for it as he averaged 18.7 carries per game in the regular season. Much of Lewis’ upside last week came because Blount had missed a couple days of practice due to an illness. As long as Blount practices this week and is deemed good to go, look to him as a guy with 20+ carry and multi-touchdown upside in a game that New England most certainly will want to keep the ball away from the high-powered Steelers offense.

Mamula: The first point that I want to stress is to play within your bankroll this week. With only a two-game slate, there is significantly more luck involved this week. Go into the weekend with the mindset that there is a good chance you will lose the majority of what you put in play. Whatever you come away with, consider it a bonus. If playing 20+ lineups, the second key point is to build a "core group" of three or four players and roster these players across all 20+ of your lineups. Target the players that you believe have the highest ceiling this weekend. If you used this strategy last weekend with Dez Bryant and Dion Lewis, you probably did well. With the high amount of overlap with ownership percentage, you want to be overweight on what you believe are the key players.

The guy that I believe will be a surprising hero this weekend is Ben Roethlisberger. Many will shy away from rostering Roethlisberger due to his home/road splits. The ownership will flock to Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers this week. The Patriots will expect the Steelers to lean on LeVeon Bell and the rushing attack. The Patriots defense will sell out to slow down Bell. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley will counter by passing early and often. What many aren't discussing is the fact that the Patriots defense has played one good quarterback all season. That was Russell Wilson in Week 10 when Wilson had 348 passing yards and 3 touchdowns in Foxborough.

Here is the list of quarterbacks that the Patriots have faced this season: Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler (twice), Tyrod Taylor (twice), Charlie Whitehurst, Andy Dalton, Landry Jones, Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick (twice), Jared Goff, Joe Flacco, Trevor Siemian, and Matt Moore. They have been lucky enough to face six backup quarterbacks this season! The Patriots defense is overrated and will be exposed this weekend. Roethlisberger will hang 300+ and at least 3 touchdowns on this defense.

Howe: The other guys are all over the key point here: "low-owned" doesn't have to mean 10% ownership or less, and those are typically guys with strikingly small chances to produce. That said, I'm on board with Allison as a potential difference-maker from the lower edges of both ownership and salary. He's worked his way into the Packers' banged-up receiver rotation down the stretch and produced (11.3 yards per target). And that group has never been more bloodied than it is now. Jordy Nelson is unlikely to see the field Sunday with multiple broken ribs, and Davante Adams has missed practice all week (the team has expressed a lack of a grasp on his status).

That diverts most DFS ownership to Randall Cobb, which makes sense but doesn't help us to differentiate. There's a decent chance Rodgers' general pecking order goes Cobb, followed by split duties between Allison and Jared Cook. Obviously, we'll have to monitor Adams' (and to a lesser extent, Nelson's) condition throughout the week. But Allison carries a strong ceiling for next-to-nothing as Rodgers' third-in-line.

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Tight Ends

Hester: With Atlanta's lack of usage at the position, it's not a stretch to say that there are only three tight end choices on this slate. How will your tight end portfolio look in your 20+ entries?

Roberts: Jared Cook is the undoubted chalk option this week, yet I will still have at least a 75% share of him even in tournament formats. Atlanta has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, the worst mark among teams on this slate. Cook has had an amazing run in the playoffs so far, amassing 11 receptions on 20 targets for 152 yards and a touchdown. Cook had a huge game last week and has been known to put up big numbers in the past (including a very similar stat line against Washington earlier in the season). His red zone usage has been very impressive, and Aaron Rodgers has been throwing in Cook’s direction on a number of downfield routes — something you don’t see too often with big tight ends like him.

Aside from Cook, the pickings really are slim as it is tough to even go contrarian here with so few options. Richard Rodgers is a big drop in price from Cook, but the volume just is not there, and he will be over-owned due to his touchdown from last week. If Ladarius Green plays, he will be a great pivot down from Cook and worth around 20% exposure. Martellus Bennett is a wild card option, as he was only targeted four times last week despite playing all but five snaps. We have seen a huge ceiling from Bennett in the past, but he has been dealing with a slew of injuries lately and has become extremely unreliable. Bennett will be on no more than two of my lineups as a stack play with Tom Brady.

Mamula: Of all the positions this week, TE has the fewest options. Basically, it's a decision between Cook, Bennett, and Jesse James only if Ladarius Green is inactive. Bennett has been wildly inconsistent this season. However, without Rob Gronkowski, Bennett always has the potential for 100+ yards and/or a touchdown. Gronkowski has owned the Steelers defense over the past few seasons. Earlier this year, Gronkowski had 4 receptions for 93 yards and a score. Last season in Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh, Gronkowski had 5 receptions for 94 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Cook has emerged over the past few weeks with injuries to the Packers wide receivers, while Jesse James had 5 receptions for 83 yards last week in Pittsburgh's win over Kansas City. When building 20+ lineups, every one of my teams will have Bennett, Cook, or James. It is risky to take a hard stance on any of the three, though. 50-60% ownership on Cook, 20-30% on Bennett, and 10-20% on James is a perfectly acceptable range at the TE position. Rather than slotting in this position first, build the rest of your lineup and then see which of them fits.

Howe: Cook will carry over 70% ownership in any cash contest you enter, so he’s generally the play. He’s the only option with a floor above 0-2 points, after all; any of the others could easily go catchless. Cook is a strong cash play – if you’re taking that leap on a two-game slate – who should easily catch a minimum of four or five passes. Throw in the matchup with a Falcons defense that struggles against the position, and he’s the no-brainer.

Digging deeper required some – well, some deeper digging. But there’s touchdown potential in play, and that’s all we want from our dirt-cheap tight end punts. Especially on a two-game schedule. The AFC game also projects to be high-scoring, and both Bennett and James are touchdown producers of a high rate, if not high-volume, order. Bennett scored on 12.7% of his receptions in his first year as a Patriot, while James flashed dominance of the Steelers passing game in the red zone. Of those two options, I have to give the edge to Bennett, whose team is favored. And this is a position that can seriously tilt DFS contests with touchdowns, so it’s a solid place to differentiate, if not an ideal one. If I’m playing 20 different GPP lineups, I’m probably going with this kind of exposure:

  • Cook 9
  • Bennett 6
  • James 4
  • Misc. 1

Yes, that says "miscellaneous." I’ll throw Austin Hooper into a lineup, another talented guy with little positional competition and a strong touchdown rate as a rookie.

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Dealer's Choice

Hester: Talk about anything you want. It could be specific to this week, last week, the playoffs so far, a lesson or two you learned throughout this season or just a general life lesson. It's the last question of the season; have fun!

Roberts: This week is a fitting end to what has been another great NFL DFS season. We have a couple of spectacular games to watch that should present a ton of fantasy fireworks to root for, which is a DFS player’s dream. As we close out the year with only one more NFL slate remaining (Degenerate Bowl, yes!), I’d like to encourage everyone to take some time to reflect on your NFL season. One of the biggest lessons I learned this year was how important game selection is to having a steady, profitable year. I am sure we have all been guilty at one time or another of spending Sunday morning tinkering with our lineups only to realize that you have yet to enter a single contest, leading to the mad dash to eat up games until we are happy with our bankroll exposure.

This is not the way to have consistent success; your lineups will not hit every week, but if you enter the right type and mix of contests, you can at least limit the damage on weeks that you might miss. Take a look back at your results from this season and see which contests you excelled most in. What was your profit rate in 50-50s, double ups, head-to-heads, and tournaments? How does contest size factor into this? Do you succeed more at multi-entry or single-entry contests? It is questions like this that can help you to target where you are a better player. I did this mid-way through the season and quickly noticed my success rate spike as I started to cash more and more consistently. So take an hour to dive into these details; I promise you will thank yourself when next season rolls around.

Howe: For those brand-new to DFS and just curious about playoff contests, I’d advise you to treat this weekend as a sheer dice roll and not equate it to traditional DFS in any way. From an ROI standpoint, this week is ideally GPP-dominated. It won’t be representative of anything strategic that you’ll face in any regular season – not even the more predictable two-game slates from September – so don’t go into it with typical expectations. So don’t draw many (if any) conclusions. You won’t be playing Week 1 of next season like you play this weekend, and you won’t play this weekend like you played Week 1.

Beyond that, I’d like to echo Keith’s words on game selection, and to stress (again) what we learned about cash DFS: it’s not safe, and it’s not sanitized. The wider payout pool is enticing and tells us we’re 50/50 to cash with a basic process, but it’s not that simple. You’re still not able to hit many mines and walk away unscathed; cash game portfolios are actually more intensive and process-based than GPP ones. I’m not here to convince anyone to abandon cash and invest heavily into tournaments, even though I nearly did that myself down the 2016 stretch. Just know when setting up your portfolio that your cash contests will carry similar risk to GPPs and are not necessarily the safe alternative. And this is especially true in the NFL.

Hester: Seeing as how this is the last question of the last Roundtables of the season, I think I'll break a rule and provide a response here. My DFS-centric advice is to devote time during your preparation process to consider how each game will play out. Some may be dismissed immediately (think if the Rams were playing the Vikings at some point this season), but others need to be examined.

Ask yourself how the game will go, and give an honest answer consisting of two main choices: a) according to plan -- i.e. near the Vegas line and total; or b) off plan -- i.e. a surprise shootout or a "pitcher's duel" we don't see coming. If playing in GPPs, the "b" games are ones to focus on for player exposure, or lack thereof. But even the "a" games have some value. For example, if this week's NFC Championship Game were on a regular season slate, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan would be highly-owned across all formats due to the expected explosion of the passing games.

However, a good passing game can often set up running backs for success as much as quarterbacks and receivers. How many times does a pass interference penalty set up a team inside the five? How many times is a receiver tackled at the one on his way into the end zone only to see the running back pick up the "cheap" touchdown? These leverage plays are contrarian but can actually be somewhat easy to find if you can simply tell yourself a story about the game.

So don't just cling to things like Vegas totals and Fantasy Points Against. Allow yourself to be open to the possibility that games can go off-script. After all, if everything in the NFL (and sports as a whole) happened according to plan, how much fun would they be to watch?

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Justin Howe

John Mamula

Keith Roberts

Ryan Hester - Moderator