This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
The staffers we talked to this week are Andrew Garda, Will Grant, Justin Howe, John Mamula, Alex Miglio, and Jeff Pasquino.
Hester: This time of year, teams have differing motivations. Discuss a narrative-based situation that can be exploited this week.
Garda: I think the obviously exploitable situation, at least given what we saw on Monday night, is starting anyone against the Jets defense. It was shocking to see that many veteran players just quit and stop playing, but it happened.
We already knew this was an awful secondary, but even the vaunted run defense offered little in the way of success as they allowed the Colts to total 139 yards on the ground, 79 of which was Frank Gore.
The defense allowed 421 total yards, and while this week's San Francisco 49ers team isn't all that hot to trot (and Colin Kaepernick was awful this past weekend), it could be a week to use some of their offensive players as a way to create a more unique lineup. It sure doesn't seem like the Jets care anymore.
Mamula: Understanding team motivations is critical during the final four weeks of the season. Some teams have already packed it in for the season as Andrew mentioned with the Jets. Some teams are playing for the playoffs or seeding in the playoffs. One matchup that stands out is Chicago at Detroit. Each team is playing for something different this week. Expect the 8-4 Lions to continue to play hard to ensure they keep their division lead. The 3-9 Bears are a MASH unit right now with 15 players on Injured Reserve! Over the next four weeks, the Bears will be conducting auditions for players like Matt Barkley to see where they fit in next season. Expect the Lions to be relentless in this home division matchup. Many Lions, such as Matthew Stafford and the Lions defense,will fly under the radar this week. If Marvin Jones is out again, Golden Tate is an excellent DFS target.
Pasquino: As John said, motivation is key for NFL players. We are about to enter the last quarter of the football year, and NFL teams look at the schedule in four game blocks. This final chapter for many teams will make or break their seasons, both for individual players and for the team.
One game that I am looking at is Cincinnati at Cleveland. The Browns certainly do not want to go 0-16, and this might be their only realistic shot at avoiding that unwanted record. Do I trust them Browns? Certainly not, but if I was to pick a tournament type of player, I would not be opposed to either a Robert Griffin III-Terrelle Pryor stack or (even better) an Isaiah Crowell and Browns defense stack. They are expecting snow in Cleveland, and the Browns have had two weeks to get ready for this last-ditch effort to get a win.
Looking a little more realistically, DeSean Jackson returns to Philadelphia this week, and rumors are swirling that the Eagles may want to bring back their former star wide receiver. This would be the perfect opportunity for Jackson to showcase his wares in front of his former team to entice an offer next offseason. I would not be surprised at all for this boom-bust receiver to “boom” this week in Philadelphia.
Howe: I'll second Jeff's expectation that Griffin has some motivation. That's a rudderless, quarterback-less team, and he's auditioning to justify a $9.3M cap hit for next year. There are weapons in place – dynamic, stackable weapons as Jeff pointed out – and it wouldn't surprise me to see him throw 35+ passes and run 5+ times if he starts.
Beyond that, I'll say that I believe Jerry Jones' claim to keep Dallas rolling in spite of any playoff scenarios they clinch. With a multiple-game lead, there's virtually no chance they'll lose the division or home field advantage, so there's all the motivation in the world to play turtle-ball while limiting their key guys' playing time. But Jones is a man of (some degree of) vanity; he's mindful of both the perception and the psychology of an 11-1 team lurching into the playoffs at a clumsy 12-4. Besides, they're likely interested in prepping Dak Prescott for a postseason run. He's thrown more and more lately, but they'll want to enter the playoffs confident that Prescott can beat quality teams in shootouts. The last thing they'll want is to chase the Super Bowl one-dimensionally.
Grant: When doing the #NarrativeStreet article, I look at division matchups. The Dallas-New York Giants matchup has all kinds of implications on both sides of the ball. Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot; the Giants are stinging from a tough loss to the Steelers on the road last week; and the Giants gave Dallas their only loss this season. Back in Week 1, the Giants beat Dallas 20-19 in Dallas. If the Giants can win at home this weekend, they'll own all tie-breakers against the Cowboys when it comes to division and playoff seeding.
If Dallas wins on the road, they clinch the division. If they win and Seattle or Detroit lose, Dallas gets a first round bye. Both teams are highly motivated to win this game, and it's going to be a dogfight from the word go. I agree with Justin that if the stars align and the Cowboys win this week, they'll have strong motivation to dial down their star power, but they need to put the Giants away first to clinch the division and take a step closer to home-field advantage.
Miglio: I am loving that Lions defense this week. Everyone will be on Cincinnati or Minnesota, but Detroit is probably going to squeeze Chicago's depleted, flailing offense, as John mentioned.
If we are looking at specific players going down narrative street, how about Christine Michael? He exploded out of the gate this year only to get suddenly cut as soon as Thomas Rawls was healthy. Ironically, the Seahawks could use him this week given the injuries to that backfield. Instead, Michael suits up as a Packer in a revenge game of sorts. Granted, it's an awful matchup, and Green Bay has done a terrible job running the ball the entire season. But that's just what makes Michael a nice GPP option – few contestants will have him in lineups due to that matchup.
Hester: We do so many features here at Footballguys. And you guys all do amazing work outside of these Roundtable sessions. Take some time to tell our readers about any of the features you do.
Moderator's Note: any items appearing in bold underline will have this week's version of the article linked once it is live.
Garda: At this point in the season, aside from the occasional season-long Roundtable, I am all about the Thursday news wire. I spend all day flipping between the feed, our rankings and other news sources to make sure our readers know what the impact of a missed practice or a stubbed toe will be. And if there is a snarky pop culture reference in there on Thursday, that's definitely me.
I'm also hip-deep in the news wire and a few other things at Hoopsguys.com, our basketball DFS site. The guys over there do incredible work, so make sure you check it out if you play daily fantasy basketball.
Mamula: My main weekly article is DraftKings Starting Stacks, which publishes by Friday morning. In the article, I break down the main cash game stacks in the Fat Stacks section. These are usually the top quarterback-receiver/tight end pairings to use in your DraftKings cash games. In the second half of the article, I include some GPP tournament stacks, hence the name "A Dollar and a Dream." These often include correlation plays, which provide multiple-touchdown upside.
As an avid NBA fan, I am proud to say that I also provide content for Hoopsguys.com. I write the Matchup Analysis article a couple days per week. Hoopsguys provides some of the top projections in the DFS industry and a daily Interactive Value Chart for both FanDuel and DraftKings. If you are thinking of trying out NBA DFS, we would love to help you out!
Pasquino: There is so much to choose from; where do I begin? In all seriousness, I start off my week with doing the waiver wire work and hitting the Money Talks, where I start to find some secondary talent that may be great GPP punt plays for a given week. After that, it all moves towards the game scripts for each game of the week. I try and guess the Las Vegas lines and then write up a probable outcome in For the Win, including some favorite choices each week.
That helps me to prepare to talk about all the games on our DFS Power Grid show (available on Fridays). Then I wrap up the week with The Daily Grind, released on Fridays, which is a weekly look at the DFS scene, some advice on which contests to play, and how to approach them. It might be how to evaluate a new contest with my 1%/2% rule, or a general philosophy on approaching slates, or my personal favorite – DFS Tetris. I see DFS rosters as a puzzle that we all try and put together each week, and the pieces are the players we use to construct each roster. Give the DFS Tetris a read to see where I am coming from, and then join me each week on both the Power Grid and the Daily Grind.
Grant: Between the FanDuel Consensus Rankings article, which publishes on Friday, and the DraftKings Consensus Rankings one that posts on Thursday, this gives DFS players plenty of "chalk" plays to choose from at every position. Rankings are based largely on H-Value, which takes into account a player's overall performance and pricetag on the respective sites, and it's a great way to help finish off your cash game lineups each week.
If you're looking for the GPP slate and you need variation, or you're looking for that one punt play because you need a minimum value WR to fill out your roster, this article is a great place to look for ideas. We include comments from staffers who submit them, but the real value of the piece is in the tables of value-based plays. It's a quick read and a great time-saver as well.
Howe: Each week I provide two NFL features, both of which are available every Friday. One is my Cost Efficiency Breakdown, where I scour the DraftKings Sunday and Monday slates for roster-squeezing value. It's not focused on just the ultra-cheap punts, though. I utilize our H-value grading on my projections to identify the top-valued plays from up and down the salary tiers. When LeVeon Bell costs an ungodly amount but is actually worth it for the matchup, H-value and Cost Efficiency tell us so.
I also provide a Short-Yardage Breakdown each Friday, in which I examine recent and season-long trends from near the goal line. The objective here is to find the players with abnormal usage and/or efficiency from the dark zone – 10 yards and in – and identify those with GPP-tilting touchdown abilities. If Melvin Gordon has scored on 8 of his last 10 goal line runs and faces a defense that can't prevent short touchdowns, he carries a lot more GPP value than many are expecting. The Short-Yardage Breakdown is here to keep you abreast of those things.
And for those interested in NBA DFS, please do yourselves a favor, if you're one of the few who hasn't, and take a peek at Hoopsguys.com. Devin Knotts has assembled a great team, with several of us Footballguys staffers who play NBA nearly every day, and the content we provide is strong and constant.
Hester: If you'll allow the Moderator a little self-promotion as well, please give my personal article a read. It's called Trendspotting. I take a look at eight offenses and the defenses they are facing that week using stats such as yards per play, percentage of yards gained and points score via pass vs. rush, fantasy points against, points-per-dollar value calculations of past opponents, and more.
Hester: After having zero divisional games last week, there are five on this week's main slate. How do you factor in divisional opponents into your weekly decision-making process? Do you avoid teams facing each other for a second time because the defense might "catch up"? Do you use it as a tiebreaker between similar players? Or is it no issue at all for you?
Garda: It depends on the divisional foes, but this week there are two which stand out to me as worth keeping an eye on.
First, the Oakland-Kansas City Thursday night game is one I'm concerned about, specifically for Derek Carr. While Carr has been really hot the last three games, the Chiefs were able to pressure him in the second half of the initial meeting this year, forcing one interception (and would have had a second if the linebacker had held onto the ball). So I am a bit concerned that the Chiefs were able to pressure him and have over a month's more tape to find ways to do that. Not only does that make Carr a concern, but Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, and Latavius Murray all could see a down-tick in production.
One I like is Tampa Bay against New Orleans. The Saints defense is awful, and Jameis Winston has really been playing well. Cameron Brate was able to step up when Mike Evans stumbled this past week, and while the production wasn't Winston's best, he he was able to pick the team up when it needed it. The Saints are the second worst past defense in the NFL, statistically speaking, allowing 276.8 yards a game, with 19 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. They also allow an average of 27.9 points per game, though over the course of the last three they have only allowed 24 per game. Still, they aren't good. The two teams haven't met yet this season, so it could put the Saints defense further back on their heels to start and allow for some productive days for the Tampa Bay offense. I like Winston, Evans, and Brate in this game.
Mamula: It depends on the division matchup and where each team is at this point of the season. In the previous post, I described the different motivation for the 8-4 Lions as compared to the 3-9 Bears. Expect the Lions to play hard at home to ensure they keep their division lead. The Bears will be auditioning talent for next season over the next four weeks.
New Orleans and Tampa Bay will matchup twice over the next three weeks. This was a matchup that I was targeting as far back as the preseason as I have multiple teams with Winston and Evans in my season long leagues. I've waited 14 long weeks, now it's time to cash in those Winston shares! Vegas has the game total at a whopping 51.5 points, a full 3.5 points more than the next closest game. Expect little defense to be played in this game, and it will be on everyone's radar this week for DFS.
Dallas-New York Giants is an interesting divisional matchup as both teams are in the thick of the playoff race. The 8-4 Giants are essentially playing for a wild-card berth as it will be very difficult to catch the 11-1 Cowboys. The Giants have done an outstanding job against opponents rushing attacks this season. Last week, LeVeon Bell was the first opposing running backs to gain over 100 rushing yards against the Giants defense. Ezekiel Elliott will have success but don't expect 150-200 rushing yards with multiple touchdowns this week. It would not surprise me to see the Giants pull off the home upset in this matchup.
Miglio: Like the guys have said, it depends on the division. The NFC North tends to produce some riveting games that aren't necessarily fantasy boons, while the NFC South can have defense-optional matchups.
Case in point for John's answer, the Saints and Buccaneers are slated for a huge offensive game. These teams haven't met yet this season – a season in which the Bucs are much better than they were a year ago – and both teams can light up the scoreboard. As John said, everyone will have their eyes on this game, which will make this a chalky affair.
Baltimore and Pittsburgh know each other like Two Face, and the games between those two tend to be defensive slugfest. This matchup has only gone over 43 points twice in the past 12 tilts and three times this entire decade, so beware of too much exposure to fantasy stalwarts like Bell and Brown in matchups like this that are historically low-scoring.
Pasquino: Both Dallas and the Colts are looking to avenge a tough loss from earlier this year, with the Cowboys suffering their only loss to the Giants in Week 1 and the Texans shocking Indianapolis with a late rally and overtime victory in Week 6. Thursday’s clash in Kansas City between the Raiders and Chiefs is going to be an epic one, probably loaded with some fantasy goodness, as it will be a battle for first in the AFC West. The Raiders have won six games in a row, with the last loss coming to Kansas City when they came out of their bye week. As for the Bears meeting the Lions for the second time, Detroit is so much better this year, and Chicago is playing practically a full second string, so the rivalry is going to be more of a beat down than anything else.
The guys have this one right – divisional foes know each other well, which means that the opposing defensive coordinators are going to key on the main cogs of the offense. Those same coordinators know the opponents, so they spend less time on film studies and trends, since they know them, and work more on play calling and “what ifs” than in most weeks. That usually leads to more usage for secondary targets in the passing game and even some extra gadget plays, just to throw the familiarity off with a play that they may not have seen on film. This is especially more common in second (or third) matchups in a given year, as with Dallas and the Giants this week.
One exception can be for a team’s new weapons, such as a rookie exploding on offense or a lesser-known player emerging. That’s why I have my eye on the Tampa Bay - New Orleans matchup and both Cameron Brate and Michael Thomas. The Saints and Buccaneers have not met yet this season (in fact, they meet again in just two more weeks) so Thomas will be playing against Tampa Bay for the first time. Brate may be in his third season, but he was barely used his first two years, so he will be relatively new for the Saints secondary to tackle.
Grant: I don't have much to add here. I'm sure everyone has heard that plenty of coaches circle the division games on their schedules the minute they come out, and a 2-14 season seems significantly more acceptable if the two wins are against your hated division rival. So division teams play each other a little tougher, they scheme a little more, and they go for the throat for 60 minutes, no matter what their record or score is.
The Giants and Dallas are a good example but a better one is actually Washington and Dallas back on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys went into the fourth quarter with a solid 17-6 lead. Suddenly, Washington came alive and put 20 points on the board, forcing Dallas to score 14 of their own to hold on for the win. These teams hate each other and will play that tough no matter what. That's what a division game means to each team, and DFS players should focus on the studs of each team to see who might be playing with a little extra motivation that week.
Howe: I'm sure I've come across good studies of this over the years, ones that demonstrate a dip in fantasy production for divisional games. Or maybe it's all anecdotal. As a Steelers fan, I'm quite familiar with awesome Pittsburgh offenses facing Baltimore or Cincinnati and ending in scores of either 45-7 or 10-9. As a result, I tend to treat crucial divisional matchups as generally unpredictable. The boys have discussed why: the teams have additional motivation, they're familiar with each other's personnel and game plans, etc. But in any event, I don't consider them quite as wide-open. That doesn't mean I fade their participants, but I might use that slant to break a tie in my roster-building.
Hester: Out of 14 games on the main slate, seven have the road team favored. Games with short road favorites tend to produce some surprising results. Discuss a game on the slate you feel could produce a result that Vegas isn't forecasting. How will the way this game plays out impact your DFS rosters this week?
Miglio: The Cardinals are not one of those road favorites, but I wonder if that game isn't going to be a blood bath in their favor.
The Dolphins surprised everyone with a six-game winning streak that crashed and burned against a mediocre Baltimore Ravens team last week. Arizona hasn't been good this season, but a date with Miami's defense could mean some offensive fireworks. We already know how good David Johnson is, and he could have a massive game against a Dolphins defense that has trouble covering anyone in the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, Miami's offense sputtered last week, but the Dolphins score just over 29 points per game at home. The over-under is just 43.5 – about what each defense gives up on average, combined – but this could wind up being a 50-point game.
All that to say Johnson is a chalk play this week, even at his lofty prices, and several players catch my eye in GPP formats. Jay Ajayi is close to one, too. The one person I would caution against is whoever Patrick Peterson is covering. Unfortunately, that part is a little unclear – DeVante Parker or Kenny Stills figure to get the blanket treatment.
Pasquino: I just finished writing For the Win this week, and I picked Green Bay as a home underdog in a game that could easily be in the snow at Lambeau come Sunday afternoon. Seattle torched Carolina last week, but the Panthers are just not that good. Green Bay, however, took it to Houston and has been improving lately on offense.
It is not that often you can get Aaron Rodgers as a home underdog, and there is a key injury for Seattle that might be exploited by him and his receivers. With safety Earl Thomas breaking his leg, the deep middle and other areas of the secondary will have openings for Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and DaVante Adams to get open and break off big plays. Even Ted Ginn took advantage of that for the only Carolina touchdown last Sunday. I think this game has all the makings of an epic shootout in the snow with Green Bay prevailing, 31-27.
Garda: I really like Jeff's Green Bay pick and think Alex is onto something with Arizona-Miami. My game is Atlanta at Los Angeles. I like the over/under, and generally I like the Falcons to win, but the Falcons defense is flimsy, and the Rams defense — while not as good as of late — can be stout. Jared Goff can stretch the field vertically, and if the Rams open the playbook, this could end up more of a game than the Falcons would like.
Kenny Britt could see some solid production, as could Brian Quick, and I think Goff could be a nice punt play as well. Again, Atlanta should win this game, but its defense allows 27 points per game. The Rams should be able to get a piece of that action.
Mamula: The game that stands out to me is Pittsburgh as a 1.5 point favorite at Buffalo. As many of us already are aware, Ben Roethlisberger has played much worse on the road as compared to at Heinz Field over the past few seasons. This season, Roethlisberger is averaging 28.4 fantasy points per game at home as compared to 16.0 fantasy points per game on the road. To put that number in perspective, let's compare some other quarterbacks on the road. Case Keenum has averaged 15.8 fantasy points per game, Tyrod Taylor has averaged 16.2 fantasy points per game, and Trevor Siemian has averaged 17.2 fantasy points per game.
Do we consider any of these players in the same class as Roethlisberger? Simply put, Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense is a different animal on the road. Often, they play out of rhythm and not with the same level of aggressiveness as compared to at home. Buffalo's defense has allowed the eights-fewest amount of passing yards this season. Also, the current weather forecast is calling for snow at kickoff with a temperature of 28 degrees. After three consecutive Steelers victories, this feels like a let-down spot for the offense on the road in Buffalo.
Grant: Seeing the Broncos as a one-point underdog to Tennessee just seems a little off to me. I have a feeling that the line is conservative based on the Paxton Lynch or Siemian decision that the Broncos will need to make by Sunday. Siemian is back at practice but still not 100%. Lynch didn't look great this weekend, but the Broncos still managed to put up 20 points and hold the Jaguars to just 10 on the road.
Tennessee is a better team than Jacksonville, and they are coming off a bye week, but I still don't see them having enough firepower to beat Denver. I think the Denver defense gives them more trouble than they've faced in their last few games against Chicago, Indianapolis, and Green Bay. Both Denver and Tennessee have looked strong in certain weeks and suspect in others. This feels like it could turn into a shootout with Denver taking an early lead and the Titans having to throw to catch up. I think Denver wins this game straight up, and the 43.5 point O/U has a decent chance of being too low.
Howe: I think 49 points could prove a bit low for the San Diego-Carolina matchup. Both offenses are dynamic, both defenses are susceptible to the big play, and both teams are routinely capable of hitting their overs. The Panthers, in particular, have recently topped 30 points against better defenses than the Chargers boast. I still don't want any part of Cam Newton at his newly bloated salary; in fact, Greg Olsen (in GPPs) is the only Panther I'm targeting much of.
On the other side of the ball, though, we can project big value for the Chargers. Their games have hit or exceeded the over/under in 8 of 12 games thus far. Philip Rivers has thrown multiple touchdowns in five straight games, and only eight teams have allowed more air scores than the Panthers. This looks like the kind of game that could doom Melvin Gordon, but set up Rivers and his receivers to hook up multiple times. Who the top targets are is unclear and will be best left for GPP purposes, but the recent past suggests that wideouts are the ones to look for against a pitiful Panthers secondary. Tyrell Williams has been so efficient of late and draws tons of work in the red zone. So he seems like the strongest stack. A line around 5 receptions and 90 yards could be in the cards, paired with great touchdown potential.
Follow the contributors of this Staff Roundtable on Twitter using the buttons below!