This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
The staffers we talked to this week are Phil Alexander, David Dodds, Andrew Garda, John Mamula, Chad Parsons, and Jeff Pasquino.
Hester: There are just four games (out of 12) on the main slate this week with Vegas totals of 49 or higher. Are you going to build the majority of your GPP lineups using "core" groups from these games, or will you select a game with a lower total that you think will surprise us with a high score?
If you're using the projected high totals, which players make up your favorite game stack? If you have a game you think will surprise, which players are you targeting there?
Alexander: I plan on investing heavily in Steelers, Patriots, and Packers this week, but the game I'm most interested in stacking is Titans at Colts. The point totals in each of Tennessee's last five games are 54, 60, 58, 78, and 72. Meanwhile, the Colts have allowed at least 26 points in seven of their nine games this season. It's not difficult to fit either Andrew Luck or Marcus Mariota with DeMarco Murray, Delanie Walker, T.Y. Hilton, and Donte Moncrief into the same FanDuel lineup. Rishard Matthews (at least one touchdown in five out of the last six games) is also in play at a still affordable salary.
If I had to pick one team to go over their Vegas-implied team point total, I'd choose Seattle at home against Philadelphia. With Russell Wilson finally looking healthy, the Seahawks have scored 31 points in back-to-back games and will return home where they have a huge home field advantage. The Eagles have a strong pass defense, but they haven't been the same on the road, especially in their last two games. Dak Prescott scored 28.3 fantasy points against Philadelphia in Week 8, and Eli Manning threw for four touchdowns against them in Week 9. Since Seattle played last Sunday night, the major DFS sites could not adjust Week 11 pricing on Wilson and Doug Baldwin to account for their respective three touchdown performances. Both stand out as values this week, and Jimmy Graham should go overlooked coming off a pedestrian 4-48-0 receiving line.
Mamula: I will continue to build my "core" group of players from the highest projected team totals. This week, my first priority is to target Patriots, Steelers, and Titans-Colts. My Patriots stack will have LeGarrette Blount with Tom Brady. That will ensure I have a piece of most of the Patriots touchdowns. Blount should be popular as the 49ers have allowed a ridiculous 180.4 rushing yards per game and 5.1 yards per attempt. To put those numbers in perspective, the second-worst team, the Browns, are allowing 143.7 rushing yards per game. The Steelers are playing in a must-win game vs. the 0-10 Browns. Expect them to lean on Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown extra heavily this week. My Steelers stack will have Ben Roethlisberger with Bell and/or Brown.
Phil nailed it with Tennessee's point totals over their last five games. Mariota is playing up to his number two overall draft stock with multiple touchdowns in eight out of 10 games this season. I missed the boat by starting Jay Cutler over Mariota last week. That is a mistake that will haunt me for the rest of the season! My preferred stacking option with Mariota is Walker. But rostering Mariota naked (without a stack) is perfectly acceptable. On the other side, my Colts stack will have either Hilton or Moncrief.
Hester: Great stuff so far, guys. Does anyone worry about the prospect of two divisional teams facing each other for the first time? Defenses tend to be to adjust to an opponent the second time they face each other. Does that make you pause for Tennessee at Indianapolis?
Pasquino: I am with Phil on the Titans-Colts clash. That should be a bonanza of offense with how Mariota has been playing and Luck having to throw his team forward to keep the game close. I don't see a problem with defensive adjustments since Indianapolis lacks a defense in general.
Another game I really like is Green Bay-Washington as Green Bay will have a chance to move the ball through the ground or the air, but I certainly want to see what Kirk Cousins can do against the Packers and their porous defense. Tennessee just lit them up with Walker (and just about everyone else), so look for Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis to get several chances.
One other contest I have an eye on is Jacksonville at Detroit. Both teams are not that good, and that can often turn into a shootout. Detroit can’t stop tight ends, and Julius Thomas just scored a touchdown last week. Blake Bortles is starting to find Allen Robinson with regularity, but I also like Matthew Stafford to move the ball through the air. I would not be surprised at all if this is a 31-28 game when all is said and done, and both quarterbacks push for 300+ yards and 2-3 touchdowns.
Garda: I'm not worried about Tennessee-Indianapolis being the second time they've clashed. Offenses adjust as well too, and Mariota feels like a different animal than he was back in Week 7. And as was pointed out, Luck has to throw, and he finds ways to produce every time he's out there this year.
I also love Seattle this week at home. While Philadelphia has been good at times this year, defensively they have been all over the place lately. As mentioned in our Passing Matchups feature, they let Manning drop 248 net yards passing and four touchdowns on them just a couple of weeks ago. They have averaged 22 fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks and 29.6 fantasy points per game wide receivers (fourth-most). I love Seattle this week and think Wilson is going to produce a huge game.
Dodds: In the last four weeks, the worst teams at stopping an opponent's quarterback have been the Colts and Titans. Now they go against each other. I will be playing three players from these teams (the stack + opponent) in GPPs in hopes that this has a possibility of going over 60+. I like all of these combinations:
- Mariota + Matthews + Hilton
- Mariota + Matthews + Moncrief
- Luck + Hilton + Mathews
- Luck + Moncrief + Mathews
I have avoided using Walker in those stacks because Martellus Bennett is way too cheap this week (on nearly all sites).
Parsons: I primarily build my rosters out from the highest Vegas totals. My favorite stacks are ones where the offense predictably funnels through a single pass-catcher. While the Titans-Colts game is an attractive matchup on both sides, I do not feel the comfort to pinpoint the optimal stack. While not the highest over/under of the week, I like Roethlisberger + Brown for a stack. The Browns are a top-10 matchup for wide receivers over the past five games, and with Sammie Coates Jr a diversion more than anything, the passing game should funnel through Brown.
Hester: What is your favorite way to identify contrarian plays to help you in GPPs? Give us a little glimpse into your process, and then discuss some potential GPP-winning plays for this week.
Alexander: I don't necessarily worry about picking specific contrarian players in GPPs as much I focus on contrarian roster construction. The first thing I do when pricing is released each week is to make a few lineups full of the players I feel are the most obvious plays based on price, matchup, Vegas, etc.
I'm confident that these first-pass lineups I end up with will be similar enough to the ones most casual players will build. Once I feel I've nailed the popular roster construction, I look at the positions where I spent up most and set out to construct rosters by allocating the majority of my salary cap to the other positions. So for example, if it's a week where the obvious play is to spend up at wide receiver because a couple of studs are in great matchups, I'll look for value at wide receiver, then spend up on running back. The running backs I pick might both be popular plays, but very few lineups will include both of them.
Hester: That's a great strategy, Phil. After all, the high-priced players are priced there for a reason. So instead of spending dollars where the masses are spending, get the elite players in different positions. How would you employ this tactic this week?
At this point, it seems like most people this week will look to spend at quarterback (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Marcus Mariota are all in great matchups) and running back (Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and DeMarco Murray).
If my early read is correct, it will be contrarian roster construction to spend up on two elite wide receivers and at tight end. With that in mind, I like the idea of pairing Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr, and Jordan Reed (note what Delanie Walker did to Green Bay last week) and then finding value at quarterback and running back. At quarterback, I'd stack Reed with Kirk Cousins, who remains affordable in a home matchup with the Packers. And then I'd look to cheap running backs in games with high over/unders that will likely go underowned at the expense of their team's quarterbacks and wide receivers. Frank Gore and James Starks come to mind as low-priced running backs with high touchdown upside, who will likely go underowned in great spots.
Hester: Excellent calls. Those backs could easily fall into the end zone once or twice after their offenses drive the ball deep down the field. Does anyone have a different strategy?
Mamula: I typically start with a "core" group of three or four players spread across all of my lineups. I don't necessarily consider whether the players will be chalk or not. I simply want my "core" to be players in a great matchup that can exceed their DFS salary by at least 3-4x. I then build around my "core" with game stacks that have shootout potential. I don't think that you need to go contrarian with more than one or two players in your lineup. You will already be putting yourself in a great position if you nail your "core" group and you hit on a game that shoots out (like Dallas-Pittsburgh from last week). Game selection and building a "core" group of players is more important to me than spending too much time trying to get fancy with contrarian plays.
Hester: Does anyone do "price-pivoting" – where instead of choosing a chalky player, you simply choose an alternative at the same (or similar) price? He'd be lesser-owned for any number of reasons (perhaps mostly due to matchup), but he could still produce and would provide more uniqueness.
Pasquino: I really don’t worry about being too contrarian unless I’m in a big, big tournament or a qualifier. Only then will I try and find at least one player that will be owned under 10%, but that’s about it. Doing the math, you are unique enough if all your players average out to about 25% ownership, so normally I do not worry about it too much. (For those curious about that math, consider 25% multiplied by each other nine times, which is the same as saying that only one in four teams owns that player. Repeating that nine times equates to 2^18, or 262,144 – about as large as any GPP in the industry).
Then again, in GPPs, I typically think more about game script than ownership. I start with a stack I like and then build around that with either a complementary wide receiver from the other team (a game stack) or just more cash / chalk players around the stack. Value is value, and if all nine of your players hit GPP production levels, it should be good enough to finish at or near the top of most any GPP.
Phil’s look is similar to what fellow Footballguys Staffer Dan Hindery likes to do. Dan flips the money spend on its head. If cash screams “spend up on wide receiver”and you have three or four lower-priced value options that look reasonable, that’s a great way to be contrarian. Favorable coverage situations is another method (such as teams bad against tight ends, or if a defense is going to blanket the WR1, we should expect the WR2 option to see more targets).
Garda: Jeff's math made my head hurt! As with many here, I don't go out of my way to get contrarian, but I will look elsewhere when I know or see a player getting saturated in lineups.
I tend to build a roster or three that I really like (not unlike Phil) and then start playing with a few positions. I try to identify who might be getting played more and see if there is a replacement. That can involve a little price pivoting, but I won't change for the sake of change. If I like a guy who is a little less owned and I am torn between two players, price and ownership percentage might push me to take a chance on the cheaper guy so I can spend the money elsewhere. If I like the main guy more, I go with him and maybe I try to pivot elsewhere.
Dodds: I like to use the IVCs to see what it's trying to do. This week, it's all in on Martellus Bennett (who is way too cheap), and although that is 100% the correct cash game play, you can get low ownership by going against the grain with someone like Delanie Walker, Greg Olsen, or Jordan Reed. A differentiation like this can make your whole roster end up radically different since you are allocating a different amount of money to the same positions.
I also like to look for players that all three projectors (Sigmund Bloom, Maurile Tremblay, and I) all rate a player slightly lower for a similar price. This week, Odell Beckham Jr. has a smaller projection than Antonio Brown from all of us. On FanDuel, where Brown is cheaper by $100, he will be massively owned. Beckham, meanwhile, will have a fraction of the ownership but still is in a great situation to perform well.
Parsons: My favorite plays of the week often include a handful of players who are sparsely-owned. I do not have to force them into tournament lineups just for the sake of uniqueness. Among my tournament lineups, I do divest in the stacks I use to hit on the multiple touchdown upside of choosing correctly with two big scores.
My contrarian calls fall into two different buckets. First, there are the lackluster talents with optimal matchups. Second, there are elite talents whose stock is beaten up for the week due to a tough matchup.
This week someone like Mike Evans qualifies as a contrarian play due to his matchup in Kansas City. However, the Tampa Bay pass game funnels through Evans most weeks with high volume. Tampa Bay can also easily get behind by multiple touchdowns and log garbage time production in the second half.
On the middling player with an elite matchup front this week, Charles Clay qualifies. Clay has been a marginal producer this season, but Cincinnati is the top tight end matchup over the past five weeks, allowing 140 yards per game to tight ends.
Cash Game Process
Hester: Discuss how you build your cash game rosters.
Alexander: This isn't the best question for me to answer since I rarely play cash games, but I'll try my best to give some insight into the process I used a few years back.
When constructing cash game lineups, the first names I clicked on were the clear value plays – underpriced options who should see enough opportunity to exceed their salary-implied value. Then I would add my favorite defense (and kicker if required), and see where I had money left to spend up to the studs that would anchor my team.
I was always in favor of creating a single cash lineup, and accounting for variance by playing mostly head-to-heads against different opponents. This way if my lineup missed the cash line in 50-50s and double-ups, I would still have a coin flip chance my head-to-head opponent played a worse lineup than I did, allowing me to recoup at least some of my losses. Also, my thinking was that if I truly felt I had created the best possible lineup (and when didn't I?), then creating multiple lineups would limit my upside to sweep my cash games and have a huge week.
Mamula: When playing cash games, I typically play three cash lineups on each site to reduce my variance. I always try to stack my QB with a WR or TE to maximize my points. For these stacks, I start by looking at the highest projected team totals of the week. I then look to build my stacks from these games. For example, If I am interested in rostering Ben Roethlisberger this week, chances are that I am interested in Antonio Brown as well. By creating three separate stacks in your cash games, it provides you with outs if one of your offenses happens to flop.
For example, let's say I stack Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett, Roethlisberger and Brown, and Marcus Mariota and Delanie Walker this week. If my Mariota-Walker cash game stack flops, then I have my Brady and Roethlisberger stack to fall back on. Similar to investing, you don't want to have all of your eggs in one basket! I then build these stacks around complimentary players that I like at the remaining positions. If certain players stand out as a must play, such as Jacquizz Rodgers in Week 7 vs. the 49ers, I will roster these players across all three of my cash lineups.
Pasquino: I tend to do as John does, and go with three cash lineups. I try and start with three different quarterbacks to push me towards three different sets of players, but often I wind up with 100% exposure to two or three players on all three lineups. That can be dangerous, but if I feel strongly about that player and/or I believe he will be highly owned, I do not worry about it too much.
I actually care about ownership percentages more in cash games because I tend to want to be with the masses with my player choices. If I know the three or four players that will be owned at 40% or higher, I want all three so that I never fall too far behind the crowd, regardless of how these three players perform. If I had faded David Johnson last week when he was 75% owned, that could have been a nightmare. Those are situations to avoid.
One option I like to do sometimes is to “bet against myself”with a GPP lineup. For example, let’s say I’m all in on a running back. If that player fails to perform, what would the game script be for that player to not do well? His team could fall behind big and have to throw. So if I’m all in on Johnson one week, a GPP contrarian to that plan could surround an Arizona passing stack like Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. These are even more attractive when the team is not particularly well-known for throwing, such as liking Spencer Ware and throwing an Alex Smith-Travis Kelce-Tyreek Hill GPP lineup. It’s sort of like cash game insurance.
Garda: Like John and Jeff, I go with a few varied lineups which can cover my rear end if one goes south. Sometimes they all go south, but if you have three or four lineups that shouldn't happen.
I try to make them fairly unique, but I am often going to have some of the same players on each roster. Unlike GPPs, you aren't worried about being unique (one might say you want to avoid too much of it), and if I like a guy to go off, it's silly not to have him across the board.
I do like the scroll through the bargain bin at times and make sure I'm not missing someone, but largely the guys are priced the way they are for a reason. Sure, nobody is playing Jeremy Kerley much, and he could perform well like he did last week, but he's also just as likely to not have a good game. And that's regardless of who he is facing. So in a cash game, why risk it? I go with the proven commodity. In a cash game, being in the herd isn't always bad.
Dodds: I like to use the IVCs to see who the top values and H-values are for all of the projectors by position. I usually settle on two to three "chalk" players, and they will appear in all of my lineups. My cash game strategy usually involves multiple lineups with stacked players + chalk + the IVC filling out the rest.
Here's how I would setup FanDuel lineup this week:
Then I'll match them up with stacks I like, which include:
- Marcus Mariota + Rishard Matthews
- Cam Newton + Kelvin Benjamin
- Aaron Rodgers + Jordy Nelson
- Ben Roethlisberger + Antonio Brown
- Tom Brady + Julian Edelman
- Andrew Luck + T.Y. Hilton (or Donte Moncrief)
From there, I'll let the IVCs autocomplete.
Parsons: I play more cash games than tournaments, so this is right in my wheelhouse. It is a multi-step process as I look for the elite matchups for each position and then the salary structure if any of the great matchups are minimally-priced. Finally, I check out touchdown regression candidates. This will result in a handful of optimal plays as roster filling options beyond the chalk plays of the week (like Johnson in Week 10 for example). Rarely will I have a week where multiple skill positions spots are open to a true rotation in my lineups for cash games. I will rotate multiple kicker and defense combinations as it is tough to get those positions right due to all the external factors at play.
Tell Us a Story
Hester: Pick any game on the main slate this week, and tell us how it's going to go.
Alexander: Nobody should pay much attention to Buffalo at Cincinnati this week, which makes LeSean McCoy a great play in GPPs. If you look at only seasonal fantasy points against, Cincinnati looks like a neutral matchup for running backs. But Austin Lee's Normalized Strength of Schedule shows the Bengals have given up the fifth-most schedule adjusted fantasy points per game to running backs over the last five games.
Through the first six weeks of the season, McCoy ranked the cumulative RB2 (FanDuel scoring), which has been largely forgotten as he's struggled through injury ever since. McCoy looked healthy enough in Week 9 against Seattle's tough run defense, racking up 120 yards from scrimmage on 25 touches. Now that he's had a bye week to rest his injury, I expect McCoy to return to his early season form and take advantage of the plus matchup.
I'm not too concerned with Vegas' implied game script. McCoy can do damage as a receiver if Buffalo is trailing, but I'm not convinced Vegas posted the right opening line (Bengals -4.5). Cincinnati's defense will be tired on a short week, and Buffalo will be well-rested coming off their bye. Aside from spanking the hapless Browns in Week 7, what have the Bengals (3-5-1) done to deserve more than the standard three point home field advantage against the 4-5 Bills? McCoy's upside this week is the overall RB1, and you can get him at a fraction of Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott's ownership for a discounted price.
Mamula: Gather around as I tell you a story about the 0-10 Cleveland Browns and their division rival, the under-achieving Pittsburgh Steelers. I will steal the name of this story from George R.R. Martin and call this week "A Feast of Crows." The Steelers enter this game having lost four straight. They lost their best defensive player, Cam Heyward, who was ruled out for the season this week with a torn pectoral. When Heyward was out earlier this season, the defense struggled mightily. On the season, the Steelers are allowing 4.3 rushing yards per attempt and 102.7 rushing yards per game. Without Heyward, those numbers escalate. Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns, and LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns without Heyward earlier in the season. While Heyward was hurting in the second half last week, Elliott ran wild for 209 total yards and 3 touchdowns.
Enter "A Feast of Crows," in particular Isaiah Crowell. All eyes will be on the Steelers offense this week, but few will consider the correlating Browns options if the game should happen to become a shootout. Crowell has struggled since the early part of the season, but he showed a high ceiling with 142 total yards and a touchdown vs. Washington in Week 4 and 148 total yards and a touchdown vs. Baltimore in Week 2.
While those games seem like a distant memory, I would be shocked if the Browns don't try to exploit the Steelers run defense this week. Hue Jackson and the Browns are desperate for a win. They will go "all-in" this week in an attempt to knock off the Steelers. This story does not have a happy ending for Steelers fans. Crowell controls the game going for 150 total yards and two touchdowns, and the Browns win a 30-27 shootout to get their first victory of the season!
Garda: Once upon a time, there was a running back by the name of James Starks. Now Starks worked very hard, but no matter how hard he tried, he was always overshadowed by his...ahem...larger backfield friend Eddie Lacy.
One day Lacy got hurt, but poor Starks had been hurt as well. While he tried to get healthier, he watched his team struggle to run the ball.
Finally, Starks was ready to go. While his first game back was not as good as he had hoped, because his team forgot to show up to the game and fell behind 21 points in one quarter, he knew he would get another chance.
And so it came to be that he went up against Washington, who had just beat the heck out of the Minnesota Vikings ground game.
Starks was not deterred, however, as he had seen the Cincinnati Bengals clobber Washington two weeks before to the tune of 152 yards and 3 touchdowns! He also knew, because he read the Footballguys Rushing Matchups article, that Washington allowed an average of 115.2 rushing yards per game (23rd in the NFL) and had allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns so far in 2016 with 13.
Finally, he knew something was not right with his quarteback Aaron Rodgers, who had become pretty innaccurate over the past few weeks. In order to win this game, the Packers were going to have to run.
And run they did.
I think you see Starks do what he has traditionally when he has the chance – run hard and well. It never happens for more than a game or two and overall, Starks is a very average back. But the Washington defense can be run on and the Packers need to get a run game together. Ty Montgomery may not play and was an afterthought last week, and Don Jackson is on Injured Reserve. Christine Michael has been in Green Bay basically a minute.
This is down to Starks, and I think he'll perform well. I could see 100 or so combined yards and a score very easily and people won't have him in lineups because it's the Packers, because of Rodgers, and because most people are unfamiliar with Starks.
Pasquino Chip Kelly sees an opportunity to shock the world on Sunday. After watching the Seattle-New England game, he spies a few places where the New England defense is vulnerable – namely, depth and speed. The 49ers take the opening kickoff and march down the field 75 yards in 11 plays, capping the drive with a Colin Kaepernick to Jeremy Kerley touchdown. The Patriots stall at midfield, then punt to San Francisco. With no Jamie Collins, Kaepernick tucks the ball and runs for 45 yards to set up a short field. A few plays later, Carlos Hyde turns the corner on a read option and finds the end zone. 14-0 49ers in the first quarter.
Tom Brady looks unphased, but he cannot get on the same page with Martellus Bennett and his other receivers. LeGarrette Blount finds the end zone just before half and it is 14-7 at intermission. Kelly takes the Patriots by surprise to start the second half, calling for an onside kick which the 49ers pounce on immediately. The 49ers remember that Torrey Smith is still on the roster and he gets open deep for a quick touchdown, making it 21-7 San Francisco.
Now Brady is completely fuming on the sidelines. He marches the Patriots down the field for a Gronkowski touchdown, and then Blount makes it 21-21 on their next possession. Kaepernick continues to run like mad, using Hyde and Kerley to quickly move the offense up and down the field against a gassed New England defense. The teams trade touchdowns before a 2:00 drill has the 49ers at the Patriots’ 30-yard line with the score knotted at 28-28. The ageless Phil Dawson connects on a long field goal, completing the biggest upset of the season. Madness.
Follow the contributors of this Staff Roundtable on Twitter using the buttons below!
Ryan Hester - Moderator