This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
The staffers we talked to this week are Phil Alexander, Will Grant, Justin Howe, and Devin Knotts.
Small Slate Strategy
Hester: Talk a little bit about how you handle small slate strategy. Do you allocate more funds towards GPPs rather than cash games due to potential roster overlap? Do you enter multi-entry GPPs and cover your bases with stacks of each team/game? Discuss these topics and any other strategies you feel are unique to small slates.
Alexander: I'm not a cash game player, but if I were, I'd expect a lot of overlap on a four-game slate and allocate a higher percentage of my buy-ins towards GPPs. While I will be multi-entering GPPs, I won't necessarily have stacks with each team or game. I can't see much good coming from a Texans-Raiders game stack for example, and I'm not particularly high on any Lions players (save for maybe Golden Tate).
I plan on doing my usual thing – identifying my core players and rotating quarterback-pass catcher combos (and some game stacks) around them. My heaviest exposure will be on the Steelers, Seahawks, Giants, and Packers – in that order. I also don't mind the running games in Houston (provided Lamar Miller continues to get good reports) and Oakland. How else are those teams going to score points?
The only bit of short slate advice I can offer is not to get too cute. Raw points are more important than points per dollar on these slates. For example, Le'Veon Bell is the highest priced player on both major sites, but he also projects to score the most fantasy points (quarterbacks included). If you fade him, there isn't a pivot you can make that will help you recoup Bell's points. It's pay up or get buried.
Grant: We've talked at length about how to build a bankroll by playing in 50/50 games and double-ups to build a base to finance your GPP games. Cash games (to me) are about building a chalky lineup and following the "rising tide lifts all boats" mentality; if the heavily-owned players all do well, you'll probably finish in the top 50%.
With a small slate like this, the margin for error in a cash game is very small. Picking one chalk player who underperforms probably means the difference between finishing in the money or out. For these final weeks of the season, I tend to focus strictly on GPPs.
I think the way that you attack a GPP this week is the same way you would during the regular season – use Vegas as your guide to determine the players/stacks that will score well and build combinations of lineups with those players, looking for one to hit.
I see this all the time on some sites; a player will use the same GPP lineup and enter it multiple times in the same contest. If it cashes, they win big, but if it doesn't, they lose big. I think this is risky but can work during the regular season, but doing it on a small slate puts you at serious risk. I would much rather enter 10 different lineups into the same GPP rather than enter the same lineup 10 times. It gives you the best chance to hit that top 1% range where you make serious money and can easily justify the other nine entries. It also gives you multiple chances to connect and win the whole thing.
Knotts: For cash games, let other people make the mistakes, I don't play the volatile players with the high ceilings but low floors, I will typically go with the players that are guaranteed to get touches. On normal NFL regular season weeks, I play the afternoon slate a lot which is in the four-to-six game range, and far too often people will try to get too smart in cash games and start highly volatile players with big upside but a very low floor.
For GPPs, differentiate yourself smartly. It makes very little sense to intentionally fade Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell as if they go off they can ruin your entire day. When I say differentiate smartly, what I mean by that is if there are chalk mid-range wide receivers such as Doug Baldwin who will be highly owned, perhaps fading those types and going with a different receiver can be a very smart play. Also, differentiating yourself in the defense and kickers (FanDuel) can be a very smart play as well because those positions tend to be quite volatile.
Howe: I absolutely agree with the gang here; GPP is the way to go on such a small slate. Cash contests provide a mirage here; the cash-game and GPP cash lines are abnormally close, so your 50/50 or double-up advantages begin to blur. Suddenly, you're seeing nearly the same risk in a 50/50 contest as you are in a smaller GPP, but with far less payoff. And, as Will pointed out, your floor calculations and accuracy are of utmost importance. Whiff on one player who didn't come in as chalky as you'd hoped, and you're in a massive hole.
This is definitely the arena to chase multi-entry success. For me, the shrewdest way to do it is to develop and chart your expected game flow outcomes before building lineups. This allows you to construct based directly upon your (reasonable) expectations - and also to differentiate cleanly. You can set aside a percentage of tournament rosters you'd like to keep semi-chalky, then build your deep-GPP dice rolls in the opposite direction. You'll wind up with organized, balanced game stacks that go both with and against the grain, allowing yourself plenty of ceiling but room to recoup a bit if the game scripts swing the non-expected way.
Tell Us a Story
Hester: So much of DFS success (particularly in GPPs) is being able to examine each game and predict how you think it will play out. With only four games this weekend, we get a chance to devote more time to this often overlooked part of the process. So pick one of this weekend's four games and tell us how you think it will go.
Alexander: My story is titled, "Detroit Lions: The Most Fraudulent Playoff Team in the NFL and How They Got Boat Raced Out of Seattle." And it goes a little something like this:
The Lions have one win all season against a team with a record above .500 – and it came against the 8-7-1 Washington football team. As PFF's Pat Thorman recently pointed out on Twitter, Detroit was 0-5 this year against the rest of the teams that made the playoffs. The first time the Lions won a game without having to come from behind in the fourth quarter was in Week 13. According to PredictionMachine.com., the odds of Detroit pulling off seven come-from-behind fourth quarter wins was 1-in-40,000.
Football Outsiders ranks the Lions defense as the worst in all of football. They're a team that's made the playoffs twice in Matthew Stafford's eight-year career and lost both times. Conversely, Seattle has appeared in 10 playoff games since Russell Wilson entered the league in 2012 and won seven, including a Super Bowl. Their record in home playoff games over that span is a perfect 4-0. This is Pete Carroll vs. Jim Caldwell for goodness sake! How 60% of the early tickets have come in on Detroit is mind boggling, but it should come as no surprise the spread has actually moved in Seattle's favor since it opened (which usually means there's sharp money moving the line).
The player I like most for Seattle is Wilson. He is priced well below Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers on both major sites, but his 30+ point ceiling is right there with both of them. Besides the ownership Roethlisberger and Rodgers figure to soak up, entrants will also be hesitant to click on Wilson after last week's stinker in what looked like a dream spot against San Francisco. While Wilson's 14.72 fantasy points (FanDuel) were a disappointment, it was a second meeting, in-division road game for Seattle (even if it was against the 49ers).
With the Seahawks returning home to take on a Detroit defense that somehow allows a 73% opponent completion percentage (worst in the league by far) AND 7.2 yards per pass attempt (26th), the setup is there for Wilson to hit his ceiling. As always, Wilson is a threat to pad his fantasy stats by escaping the pocket and picking up yards on the ground. Over the last six weeks, the only quarterback with more rushing yards than Wilson's 180 was Colin Kaepernick (208).
Assuming the typical roster construction is to pay up at quarterback (Roethlisberger or Rodgers), RB1 (Le'Veon Bell), and WR1 (either Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr.), fitting Doug Baldwin into lineups isn't easy. The same goes for Jimmy Graham, and no one ever wants to play Jermaine Kearse. But all three Seattle pass catchers have been seeing enough targets lately to profile as potential tournament winners in this matchup.
Grant: Phil is a much better story teller than I am. But my story is Oakland at Houston – the game nobody cared about. Matt McGloin or Connor Cook (likely Cook) vs. Brock Osweiler. I think I fell asleep just typing that.
But while most other DFS players are ignoring this game, there are a couple of players worth considering. Lamar Miller is supposed to be back for Houston. The Raiders just gave up 199 yards from scrimmage to Justin Forsett and Devontae Booker last week. If Miller is healthy enough to play, even at less than 100%, he's a sneaky play which a decent chance to do well and will be overlooked by a lot of people.
While most people will be looking to get Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown into their lineups, Michael Crabtree is criminally underpriced on the major sites for a guy who has been targeted 18 times in the last two games. Rishard Matthews hung 9 receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown on Houston last week with Matt Cassel throwing the ball.
On the other side, DeAndre Hopkins had 7 receptions for 123 yards last week and has 17 targets over the last two weeks. Hopkins should remain a focal point of the offense.
One easy pick is on defense. With both the Texans and the Raiders expected to score fewer than 20 points in this game and "showcase" some seriously questionable quarterback play, both the Texans and the Raiders make for solid plays on defense this week.
Knotts: My story is titled, "Trust the Matchup and the Quarterback." Eli Manning has been absolutely atrocious recently, throwing for 201 yards or fewer in five of his last six games. Many people are going to be scared based on this recent performance. Manning has the second-most Super Bowl rings in these playoffs and is facing an ideal matchup going up against the Packers, who over the last three games have given up 346 yards passing per game. That's an absolutely amazing number. This is a matchup that the Giants will look to exploit often in order to keep up in what will be the highest scoring game of the slate.
Looking deeper into the Packers, they have really struggled against the slot wide receivers as they allowed Adam Thielen to go for over 200 yards. Manning will connect with Sterling Shepard in this game early and often, and Shepard will go over 100 yards while scoring a touchdown. We know that the Packers are going to score in this game, which will keep Manning throwing often.
Howe: I've always loved Matt Moore as a sturdy on-the-field backup, but it's exceptionally hard to picture him playing well - and the Dolphins winning - this weekend. There are weaknesses in the Pittsburgh defense, but none Moore looks particularly likely to exploit. I'm fully expecting a grind-it-out Miami gameplan, with the hopes that Jay Ajayi can shred the Steelers on the ground and extend drives. But with Pittsburgh's top run-stuffing lineman, Stephon Tuitt, looking likely to suit up, and considering Vegas' 10-point line, I can't project huge things for anyone from here. There's potential for Jarvis Landry to catch eight balls and DeVante Parker or Kenny Stills could get free downfield once or twice, but I don't expect more than 14-17 points from this offense.
Across the field, though, the Steelers look poised to score early and often, so it's important we parse the touchdown opportunity here. They throw in the dark zone (inside the opposing 10-yard line) at a very strong clip, 58% of the time on the season, but that number dips with Le'Veon Bell on the field and sits at just 41% over this seven-game winning streak. Over that stretch, Bell and DeAngelo Williams have combined to draw a stout 50% of the offensive opportunities from inside the 10, a number Bell should reach (or top) if all goes to plan. He should dominate the ball on all levels of the field, then get first dibs at crossing the goal line. A final line around 180 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns would be a dream achievement for most backs on this slate but looks more like a midline projection for Bell. Even if the Steelers run away with this game and hit the brakes for the fourth quarter, it will probably only have happened on the legs of a Bell line similar to that one.
Building Your Rosters
Hester: Where are you having trouble when building rosters this week? What position is hardest to fill? Is it tight end due to limited options? Or maybe finding WR3 value after using some high-priced players to fill the first two spots? Conversely, is there anyone you're just plugging in right away and leaving the hard decisions to the other roster spots?
Alexander: While my irrational confidence is likely a kiss of death, I'm not having any trouble building rosters this week (on FanDuel anyway). I would have said RB2 is tricky, but with Lamar Miller "feeling fresh" after sitting out two games with an ankle injury, it's no longer necessary to choose from the likes of Zach Zenner and Rashad Jennings (Jay Ajayi is too expensive for my taste).
The Raiders allowed the eighth-most raw fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Their defense is fresh off a game in which they allowed 199 yards and two touchdowns on 38 touches to the previously dreadful combination of Justin Forsett and Devontae Booker.
Miller has more going for him than just the matchup. He's a clear lead back (21.36 touches per game), playing on a home favorite, against a team likely to start a fourth-round rookie at quarterback. Houston's top-five pass defense (per Football Outsiders DVOA metric) is too much for Connor Cook and could set Miller up with some of the short scoring opportunities that were lacking for the Texans this year. Miller-Houston defense is one of my favorite stacks on the slate.
As far as plug-and-plays, see my answer to question one. Le'Veon Bell might not be a free square on this slate (quite the opposite – he's the most expensive player), but there's nowhere to make up the running back points if you pivot. He can't be faded in any format.
Grant: I disagree on Bell, especially in a GPP format. Bell is so top heavy that I think you want a couple GPPs where you pivot away from him and pay up at other positions. Bell is the chalk play at RB1, but he takes up such a big chunk of your salary, you're looking at seriously downgrading your WR or TE options if you want him in your lineup. Yes, the Steelers are a 10-point favorite, and Bell could be in for another multiple-touchdown game, but if the Dolphins shut him down, or Ben Roethlisberger tosses a couple scores to Antonio Brown, you can easily make up for anything you lose by fading Bell.
The drop-off in potential production between Bell and the rest of the field is huge. So his cost has been increased to reflect it. If you want Bell in your lineup, you need to put him in first and try to build around him. I'd suggest going QB next since your top QBs are about the same price on the major sites. Next, I'd decide if you want to pay up at defense for Seattle or take a shot on a cheaper option like Oakland or the Giants. By then you'll have taken up a good chunk of your salary and you'll be able to fit the rest of your pieces in place around that core to create your lineup.
Knotts: Tight end is the position that I am really struggling with as there just are so few options that are viable on this slate. In cash games, Will Tye is incredibly cheap but is not a great GPP play as he does not score touchdowns. Jimmy Graham is the biggest name on this slate, and the overall numbers of the Lions against tight end looks to be favorable. But in reality, they have not given up a touchdown to a tight end since Week 9. C.J. Fiedorowicz is intriguing now that he gets Brock Osweiler back, but he only has two catches over his last three games.
I am plugging Le'Veon Bell in and just moving on for this slate. The Steelers are big favorites in this slate and are going up against a favorable matchup against Miami. Bell is the clear cut number one player, and I will have 100% exposure in both cash and GPPs.
Howe: Yeah, there's just no way I can fade Bell here. The only asset you'd be spending up on is among the top-flight wideouts, and I do get the appeal of rostering two of those. But Bell carries a top-flight ceiling and floor; if you're caught without him, even if he "only" produces 3x value, you're not especially likely to make it up elsewhere. That's especially true in your RB slots, where sure things aren't just a premium this week; they're nearly non-existent.
It seems the only way to fade Bell with any shrewdness at all is to set aside a small percentage of lineups - say, 5-10% - and take stabs at uncertain running back situations with palpable upside. But honestly, how many of your lineups do you want to lack Bell? Again, just a middle-of-the-road Bell performance is likely to top any other RB score that carries any real ownership. The only real, chalky threats are Zach Zenner, who faces the Seahawks on the road, and Lamar Miller, whose upside is muted at best.
Since I'll be looking to stack heavily this weekend, I'm simply plugging the Eli Manning-Odell Beckham Jr. pairing into a lot of my rosters. There's untold upside with arguably the world's most eruptive wideout - and a major, major touchdown producer - facing a shaky Packers secondary in a game projected to notch a solid 44.5 points. And Manning's discount from the top tier of quarterbacks allows me to fit Bell and sometimes even Jordy Nelson with comfort.
Breaking the Rules
Hester: Traditionally, there are some rules of thumb when making DFS lineups. For instance, choosing running backs and defenses from teams that are favored and playing at home tends to yield better results over the long term. However, with a short slate and just a couple weeks left in the season, we're not necessarily playing for the long term. Which traditional rule are you breaking this week, and which player(s) are you rostering to do so?
Grant: In cash games, you typically want diversity with players who have higher floors or more opportunities. GPP lineups tend to focus on stacks like QB-WR or RB-DEF to maximize the impact of a big game.
With a smaller slate this week, even your cash game lineups might contain multiple players from the same team, or you might consider stacking a quarterback with a receiver if you think the team is going to score a lot of points. Especially if you put Le'Veon Bell in your lineup this week, a lot of your RB2, WR3, and TE plays are going to look the same, simply because you're trying to save cap space. You won't have the luxury to diversify much. There won't be enough options. You can bet that other players will have to do the same thing, meaning your chances of building a diverse lineup from the bulk of the crowd will be very difficult.
Knotts: I am breaking the rule that I do not start running backs that are more than touchdown underdogs. Zach Zenner has been in two difficult matchups in consecutive weeks and has performed admirably, scoring three touchdowns in those two games. Typically we like running backs that are big favorites, and while Le'Veon Bell is the premiere option on this slate, there are not a lot of great options outside of Bell. Zenner has also increased his receiving ability over the last few weeks and should be able to catch a few passes this week. The Seahawks have been a very difficult defense late in the year, but Shaun Draughn was able to score two rushing touchdowns last week. And Zenner's price is still low enough that I will have a lot of them so I can spend up elsewhere.
Howe: I'll be doing a lot of cross-stacking this week, pairing the passing and running games from offenses that don't start distant-backup quarterbacks. There's absolutely potential for Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New York, and Seattle to post heavy across-the-board production, and when I project that, I'm not afraid to go the counterintuitive route and buy the whole offense. If I roster both Russell Wilson and Thomas Rawls, for example, and the Seahawks manage to hang 30+ points on the Lions, the missed value from one should spill cleanly into the other. Wilson may underproduce, but there's a strong chance that would only happen due to the Seahawks dominating from start to finish and Rawls racking up 150 yards and multiple scores.
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Ryan Hester - Moderator