This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
The staffers we talked to this week are Phil Alexander, Dan Hindery, Chad Parsons, BJ VanderWoude, and Mark Wimer.
Hester: Week 12's Main Slate was one where many of the chalkier plays underperformed. Seattle's entire offense was poor, Carolina-Oakland was a shootout but not in the ways that many predicted, and New England's offense was just okay against the Jets.
How did you fare in Week 12? And how will you move forward into Week 13 based on those results?
Alexander: How did I fare in Week 12? Not so well considering the smoldering crater where My Contests page used to be.
How am I moving forward into Week 13? I plan on taking a less is more approach. Each week, I do a ton of research to produce my "Exploiting Footballguys Tools for DFS" article by Friday morning. Prior to Friday, I never read anyone else's work (or listen to anyone else's opinions) on players because I don't want it to influence my own analysis (and I don't want to subconsciously steal anyone else's takes).
But once my article is submitted, I typically spend the next two days immersed in DFS podcasts. Listening to some of the smartest and most successful DFS players in the industry can certainly be beneficial, but it also requires you to separate the signal from the noise and make additional decisions on which advice was good, bad, or otherwise. For all but the best DFS players, the more decisions you're forced to make, the worse your results will usually be. And that's without mentioning the dreaded "paralysis by analysis" that occurs when you're presented with too much information to make any decision at all.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not blaming my poor results last week on anyone but myself. It was me alone who clicked on the wrong players and put too much of my bankroll into play because I was overconfident in my feel for the slate.
Still, I feel the need to step back and "unplug" from the industry for at least this week. DFS is far from simple, but I'm hoping a keep-it-simple, trust-my-research approach will get me back in the black. That means using the Vegas lines to inform my research, creating my own game scripts, finding the games and players I want to build my core around, and intelligently rotating players and stacks around that core until I feel like I've covered all the bases.
VanderWoude: I had mixed results in Week 12, leading to a small loss for the week with some deep runs mixed in. Tyreek Hill, Michael Thomas, and Jonathan Stewart paid off to varying degrees, while Brandin Cooks, Jay Ajayi, Martellus Bennett, and Spencer Ware sunk some otherwise pretty good teams.
This has been the year of the chalk, but if I have learned anything over my fantasy career, it is that you can never depend on a trend to last an entire season. It is very easy to get comfortable using what has worked the previous 11 weeks of the year.
The Thanksgiving day slate really diminished Sunday's options. Without Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliot, Antonio Brown, and Jordan Reed, there was bound to be some wacky plays that determined whether or not you profited. The top tier at running back has dominated this season, but if you remove two of the top five running backs, lineup construction strategy changes drastically.
Moving forward, I won't be changing my approach based on my results from the previous week. Despite the fact that I failed to pick the correct matchups (and plays) to game-stack around last week, I will be continuing with that approach this week by building my lineups around the New Orleans vs. Detroit, Atlanta vs. Kansas City, and Arizona vs. Washington matchups. Two interesting, low-cost options in the Chiefs-Falcons game are Taylor Gabriel for Atlanta and the aforementioned Hill for Kansas City. Both are electric with the ball in their hands and are quickly becoming bigger parts of their respective offenses. Hill has averaged 18.1 points per game over the last five weeks, and Gabriel has averaged 18.8 points per game over the last four weeks.
Hindery: Week 12 was a good one for me. I was heavy on the Brees-Thomas stack in GPPs and had 100% David Johnson. While each of my lineups had a couple poor plays that kept me from the top of the leaderboards, the trio performed so well that each lineup was able to land in the money.
In cash games, my scores were ugly but good enough to land above the cash line given how bad scoring was across the board. The upside to weeks like this one is being able to survive a bad choice or two (for example, I was heavy on Thomas Rawls). The key to cashing was not being afraid to go with some non-chalky mid-priced wide receivers like Terrelle Pryor, Michael Crabtree, and Rishard Matthews. Like Phil said, sometimes you have to tune out the noise and go with the guys you have a good feeling about even if they are a bit riskier due to lower ownership.
Looking forward to Week 13, I'll again try to go with my gut on a few guys to differentiate my cash game lineups even if they aren't going to be highly owned. It's only Wednesday, and there's plenty of news to digest and research to do the rest of the week, but some guys who stand out early are Carlos Hyde, Willie Snead IV, and Marvin Jones Jr.
Hester: As of Monday morning, Week 13 has five games* with over/unders north of 49 points. None of these games have point spreads higher than 6, meaning they project to be back-and-forth affairs. Pick one or two games on the Main Slate this week in which you feel you absolutely must be invested. And tell us which players you'll build around.
*Those games are Kansas City at Atlanta, Detroit at New Orleans, Buffalo at Oakland, Washington at Arizona, and New York Giants at Pittsburgh.
Alexander: It's Giants at Steelers for me. It's become lazy analysis to cite Ben Roethlisberger's home-road splits as a reason to use him anytime he's at home, but we are now looking at nearly three full years of 346 passing yards, 2.94 passing touchdowns and over 30 fantasy points per game in his starts at Heinz Field. It amounts to a 74% (74%!) increase in Roethlisberger's fantasy points per game average compared to his games on the road. He is a lock at home and by extension, so is Antonio Brown. Period.
On the other side, The Giants are winners of six straight and have proven over the course of their streak that they're more than capable of putting up points when they need to. Eli Manning has 12 touchdown passes in his last four games, and shouldn't have much trouble against a middling Pittsburgh pass defense that has faced a soft quarterback schedule this season. It's especially troubling for the Steelers that Football Outsiders ranks them 30th at defending the opposition's WR1 with Odell Beckham Jr. coming to town.
While it's no easy task fitting Roethlisberger, Brown, and Beckham into a lineup this week, value running backs like Doug Martin (workhorse in a great matchup against San Diego) and Jeremy Hill (72% of Bengals backfield touches – including six catches – in his first game without Giovani Bernard) make it entirely possible to create balanced lineups around them. Ladarius Green is an interesting (and cost efficient) option to include in the game stack given Mike Tomlin's recent comments about Green's increased involvement in the Steelers offense and the Giants notable struggles against tight ends.
Wimer: I must have some Drew Brees and Michael Thomas vs. Detroit. Did you see what they did to Los Angeles last week? They have momentum, they are out of the weather in New Orleans, and Detroit hasn't sacked either of their last two opposing quarterbacks. If a team fails to bring consistent pass pressure to bear on Brees (as the Lions may well fail to do), he picks them apart. On the flip side, New Orleans has improved as a pass defense this year, albeit from putridly horrid to merely sub-par/mediocre here in December. If there is a week for Matthew Stafford to get back to throwing multiple touchdowns, it is this week, in this shootout.
Parsons: Brees at home is an easy choice when the matchup is right. Week 13 is one of those occasions against Detroit. However, I am stacking with Brandin Cooks, not Thomas. I am a fan of regression, and Cooks is coming off a game with zero targets and only has one score over the past month. I think eight targets is about Cooks' floor. He is actually cheaper than Thomas this week and sits at his lowest salary of the season by far.
In a similar story, I would be stacking Eric Ebron with Stafford on the Detroit side of the contest. Ebron had a zero in Week 12 out of nowhere, following three straight games of 2.2x or better showings. Ebron also has not found the end zone in two months.
VanderWoude: I am also a big fan of the Lions-Saints matchup, but the Redskins-Cardinals matchup is a close second on my list. It has a projected game total of 49 points, and both teams are fighting for playoff spots with no room for error.
David Johnson continues to pile up fantasy points. And despite his salary being very high, he makes for the perfect GPP and cash game anchor. Washington ranks 25th in rushing yards allowed (116.7) and have allowed 13 total touchdowns to opposing running backs on the season. Johnson will have no problem finding running room and should see plenty of red zone opportunities. Carson Palmer has averaged 45.4 passing attempts over his last five games, and his price continues to be soft across the industry. The Redskins have allowed four 300+ yard passers and five 100+ yard receivers this season, making Larry Fitzgerald a solid option to stack alongside Palmer and Johnson.
Kirk Cousins and the Redskins skill position players are all in play for me this week in a game that should set off fantasy fireworks. The Redskins receivers (DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed) are priced very soft because it is difficult to gauge which one might go off in any given week, but it is nearly a lock that one of them will. Over the last four games, Jackson, Reed, Garcon, and Crowder have all returned at least one 5x multiple on their salary. Arizona is ranked second in the league in passing defense, but I am willing to look past the tough matchup because the pricing and the upside are worth the risk. Rob Kelley is an interesting low priced option for GPPs. Arizona is ranked 11th in rushing yards allowed per game (98.9), but they have allowed three opposing running backs to score multiple touchdowns on them this year (LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Stewart, and Devonta Freeman).
I will have the most exposure to Johnson, Fitzgerald, Cousins, and Crowder, but will also be mixing in Jackson, Garcon, Palmer, and Kelley.
Hindery: The obvious answer is probably the correct one this weekend; Detroit at New Orleans is likely to produce some big fantasy performances. There are quite a few different ways in which to attack this game, however. First, the full-on game stack is certainly in play. Combine Drew Brees or Matthew Stafford with two of his top targets and then running it back with at least one pass catcher on the other side too. For example, my favorite game stack is probably Brees-Cooks-Willie Snead IV-Marvin Jones Jr.
The tough thing about this game, however, is that both offenses spread the ball around a lot, making it tough to figure out which receiver is going to lead the way in a given week. This is a mixed blessing because you could roster a player like the aforementioned Ebron or Jones or Coby Fleener, Josh Hill, or Anquan Boldin and get almost no production. However, those guys are all priced well below average and have 25+ point upside. They provide a lot of upside and the ability to pay up for top targets for other games. Thus, the second way to attack this game is to sprinkle one or two cheap pass catchers into GPP lineups that are focused on other games.
For example, if you think the Giants-Steelers game shoots out, you can roster Roethlisberger, Brown, and Beckham and target one or two cheap pass catchers from the Lions-Saints game to fill out the bottom of the roster.
The third way to attack this game is to play one of the two quarterbacks "naked" and avoid the hassle of trying to figure out who is going to score the touchdowns and focus upon receivers from different matchups with clearer roles. It is certainly possible with the way these offenses are designed that the quarterback has a big game without any of his targets having a huge day where you absolutely have to own them.
Hester: Which of the projected shootouts above strike you as fool's gold? Why do you see it that way? Whether it's because you don't think the game will be high-scoring, because you can't fit the key cogs into a lineup, or any other reason, tell us which game and why.
Alexander: For me, this is Washington at Arizona, and it's not even a little bit close. The over has hit in exactly zero of the Cardinals six home games this season. In fact, the average combined score in games played at University of Phoenix Stadium has been 11 points lower than Vegas' projected total on average in 2016.
The reasons are plain. Carson Palmer is a dried up husk, and the Arizona defense is a top-five unit by any metric. Kirk Cousins has been on fire, but he's always been a quarterback you want to play at home in plus matchups. He is not at home, this is not a plus matchup, and Jordan Reed's (very) questionable tag matters – a lot. In the four games Cousins has played without Reed over the last two seasons, his fantasy points per game average has dipped by 26%.
David Johnson is the only player I'm looking at from this game. Maybe Vernon Davis would warrant consideration as a salary punt if Reed sits, but even that play is pretty thin with Arizona ranked second in pass defense DVOA against tight ends.
Wimer: I'm with Phil on the Cardinals, especially since their receivers are plagued by drops (Michael Floyd, J.J. Nelson) and a mysterious hamstring malady (John Brown). Those factors have dropped the supply of reliable Arizona wide receivers outside of Larry Fitzgerald to near nil.
Another of the games I'm leery of is Buffalo at Oakland; Buffalo likes to grind down the clock, and LeSean McCoy comes into this game hot. On Oakland's side of the ball, Derek Carr has the pinkie injuries on his throwing hand, and Buffalo has 33 sacks this year. They will be going for strip-sacks out of his compromised grasp. This one looks to me like a game that could wind up medium-to-low scoring and not particularly explosive for either team. McCoy is on my list, but neither passing game is.
Parsons: I do not buy the Houston-Green Bay shootout potential. Houston has yet to allow a 300-yard passer this season and is one of the more stingy pass defenses by ProFootballReference metrics. Also, Houston's offense does not scare any defense. I like Will Fuller V's speed element back in the mix, but the run game is poor and Brock Osweiler is one of the worst "fantasy point guards" (players who distribute fantasy production to their more talented teammates) in the NFL. I would take the under easily with a total more in the lower 40s.
Hindery: I agree with Phil's call on Washington at Arizona. Palmer is creeping towards late 2014 or 2015 Peyton Manning territory. The weapons are there, the matchups look great on paper, but he just can't put it all together. Aside from Johnson, who is matchup-proof, that is a game that I am avoiding.
The game that I'm having the most trouble figuring out is the Giants-Steelers game. Ben Roethlisberger has been such a force at home in recent years regardless of the talent level of the defense on the other side of the field. I certainly wouldn't be shocked if the game ended up being another shootout. On the other hand, I respect the Giants pass defense. The pass rush has been tough with Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon coming off of the edge and the trio of starting cornerbacks is tough as well. This could easily end up looking more like a Steelers-Ravens or Steelers-Bengals game that usually ends up low-scoring and heavy on field goals. I will probably avoid this game completely in cash due to these concerns and treat it as GPP only.
VanderWoude: It looks like I am in the minority when it comes to game-stacking the Redskins-Cardinals matchup. As I said in the "Game Stacking" question, there are some good points made as to why that game won't reach the projected total, but I still think there is more than enough offense to produce the fantasy points you'd need when considering the salaries of the players in that game.
I don't have strong feelings against any of the shootouts falling way below their projected totals, but if I had to choose one, I'd go with the Giants-Steelers game. The Steelers offense averages 28.8 points per game at home, but they will have their work cut out for them against an aggressive Giants defensive front that has been getting a lot of pressure on quarterbacks as of late. The Giants also have a lot of talent in their secondary, and while it is difficult for any cornerback to match up against Antonio Brown, the Giants are capable of taking the rest of the Steelers receivers out of the game. The Steelers are not my biggest concern in this game, though. If one of the two teams does not reach its implied total, it will most likely be the Giants struggling to break 21 points.
If you take out the Giants vs Browns game, which the Giants won 27-13, they are only averaging 15.75 points on the road. Their offense has started to come alive as their running game has improved, however, Pittsburgh ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (95.3). If the Giants are unable to run the ball effectively and set up play action down the field, they could have a lot of trouble trying to keep pace with the Steelers. Additionally, Manning is prone to turnovers, having a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio this season. In the four games where Manning has thrown the ball 40+ times, he has a combined six touchdowns to five interceptions, which is not going to get it done against a Steelers offense that can put up points in a hurry.
Watch the Film
Hester: Tell us something you've seen over the past few weeks that can only be gleaned from watching the game, as opposed to browsing box scores.
Alexander: I'll take the low-hanging fruit here. If anyone is thinking about investing in the Bears passing offense with Matt Barkley at the helm after he went for 316 yards and three touchdowns against the Titans, you may want to rethink that strategy – even with the 49ers visiting Solider Field this week.
Barkley's Week 12 performance says much more about the Titans defense than it does about his prospects moving forward. Tennesee was unable to muster a pass rush against a Chicago offensive line that hasn't fared particularly well in protection this season. Given so much time to operate, Barkley was able to move the ball against one of the worst secondary groups in the NFL (two predictable interceptions notwithstanding).
Granted, the 49ers are worse than the Titans at rushing the passer, and San Fransisco's pass defense isn't markedly better than Tennessee's. But at least the 49ers will have some tape on Barkley, who struggled late in the game when the Titans started throwing blitzes at him.
Besides, this is Matt Barkley we're talking about. The same player who recorded four interceptions and three fumbles against zero touchdown passes in his first two NFL seasons.
Not that you were thinking of playing Barkley (at least I hope not), but I understand the tempation of punting WR3 with Marquiss Wilson, who is familiar, cheap, in a great matchup, coming off an 8-125-1 receiving line, and surrounded by no other wideouts capable of commanding targets. Just know there is a much better chance of this game being a complete washout for fantasy purposes (outside of Jordan Howard) than there is of any member of the Bears passing offense repeating their big Week 12 stat lines due to Barkley's terrifying downside.
Parsons: Whether wiped away by penalty or reviewed and reversed, etc., big plays that just missed stand out when I watch all the games. DeVante Parker is a player who stood out from Week 12 in this regard. His quality game could have easily been a mammoth one. Parker made a great play on an end zone fade route, only to be just out of bounds. Later, Parker high-pointed a deep sideline route pass, only to be reversed on replay. Logging opportunities like Parker's is a key aspect of watching every play of every game.
On an ancillary note, Brandin Cooks' doughnut last week was a function of two things. First, the Saints had a concerted game plan to "play big" with more tight ends than their typical week. As a result, Cooks was in the mid-60s of snap rate. Secondly, the Rams treated Cooks like a top receiver with extra defenders on most snaps. As a result, Drew Brees carved them up by wearing out Michael Thomas, Willie Snead IV, etc. like top quarterbacks do. I expect a bounce-back from Cooks this week against Detroit.
Wimer: Though Matt Ryan's box score last week was mediocre compared to someone like Brees (or some of Ryan's games from earlier in the year), his passing was spot on. He was hitting all kinds of small windows, and dropping the ball in over coverage nearly perfectly. Even though Julio Jones was off last week, Ryan's game was not. Those touchdowns to Taylor Gabriel were things of beauty.
VanderWoude: You can't judge speed from a box score, and the two fastest players I've seen with the ball in their hands this year are Gabriel and Tyreek Hill.
Hill has broken out at the perfect time for a Kansas City offense that has been struggling to move the ball for most of the season. Jeremy Maclin's injury, combined with Spencer Ware's sudden disappearance in the passing game, has caused fits for an already conservative and vanilla Chiefs offense. In past years, the Chiefs have relied on Jamaal Charles' big play ability to gain big chunks of yards because they lack that ability in the passing game due to Alex Smith's deficiencies as a downfield passer. Without Charles, they desperately needed a player who can gain yards after the catch and keep them afloat in games where they are forced to score 21+ points. Hill has been that player and then some. Last week, his speed was on full display, scoring on a kickoff (safety) return, as well as both a runner and a receiver. He has given a jolt to the Kansas City offense and is beginning to force opposing defenses to game plan against him, which should go a long way in helping their stagnant rushing attack.
On the flipside, Gabriel has provided the Falcons with a receiver who is capable of taking the pressure off of Jones and Ryan. Mohamed Sanu is best suited as a third receiver who doesn't need a lot of targets to make an impact, as he excels as a run blocker and possession receiver. Gabriel is a perfect fit in the Falcons offense. He has the speed to take the top off of the secondary, which forces teams to account for him, which makes it much harder for double team Jones. You can see in a box score that Gabriel has big-play ability, as he is averaging 18 yards per catch on 28 receptions this season and has scored four touchdowns in his last four games. What you can't see is his shiftiness and fast-twitch athleticism, something that he showed last week when he scored on a pair of wide receiver screens. He jumped off the screen on both of the plays, the last of which he superman-dove into the end zone from six yards out. His emergence has given the Falcons offense the extra punch they needed to make a serious Super Bowl run this season.
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