Exploiting FBG Tools for DFS Success: Game Predictor

Using David Dodds' Game Predictor to improve your tournament roster construction.

“Tell a consistent story.”

This was the sage advice given by Footballguy Maurile Tremblay in our Cracking FanDuel eBook, when he explained that the success of your DFS lineups should never depend on mutually contradictory occurrences.

It turns out, I recalled Maurile’s wisdom one week too late. I’m coming off my worst week of the NFL season, which is especially frustrating because I picked 11 games correctly against the spread and many of my contrarian takes were spot on (check the coverboy of last week’s column). When I reviewed my lineups on Monday to find out what had gone wrong, I found my biggest problem was failure to tell a consistent story.

On last week’s Power Grid, I said Matt Ryan was going to struggle on the road in Philadelphia. I made sure to avoid Ryan, but when I was finalizing my GPP lineups on Sunday morning, there I was rostering Devonta Freeman in nearly 50% of my multi-entries. Similarly, I wasn’t buying the industry groupthink on Jay Cutler, who I felt was just as likely to struggle as he was to put up a big game in Tampa Bay. But despite my lack of faith in Cutler, Alshon Jeffery found his way onto 35% of my lineups. Could Freeman and Jeffery have hit their respective ceilings without strong games from their quarterbacks? Sure. Was it likely? Not very.

With the importance of telling a consistent story at the top of my mind headed into this week’s contests, I wondered what percentage of DFS players even bother to tell a story for each game on the slate. And if a decent chunk of entrants are scripting games, what tools are they using to help them do it accurately? Vegas betting lines provide a guide for the most likely game scripts, but they don’t clearly project exactly how each team will attempt to play their game (run/pass) and arrive at their respective point totals.

This is where David Dodds’ Game Predictor is most useful. It accounts for strength of opponent, year-to-date data, recent games played, critical injury information, and home-road splits to simulate passing stats, rushing stats, and point totals for every game on the schedule.

Since the Game Predictor is just as useful for season-long fantasy as it is for DFS, you won’t find it on our weekly DFS landing page. Instead, click the current week’s in-season page, where you will find a link to it in the Game Forecast section.

Below is Dodds’ Week 11 Game Predictor Chart for your reference, along with a few key takeaways to help you build tournament lineups this week:

TeamsPass CompPass AttPass YdsPass TDsPass IntRush AttRush YdsRush TDsScore
Tennessee Titans 22 34 263 1.7 0.9 29 139 0.9 25.4
at Indianapolis Colts 25 39 286 2.1 1 24 100 0.8 28.3
Jacksonville Jaguars 25 39 267 1.6 1.2 22 95 0.4 19.5
at Detroit Lions 23 35 257 2 0.8 25 104 0.8 27.3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 38 243 1.3 1.2 26 110 0.6 17.7
at Kansas City Chiefs 22 35 239 1.6 0.8 26 115 0.9 24.9
Chicago Bears 22 36 248 1.3 1.2 24 95 0.7 18.8
at New York Giants 24 38 283 2.1 0.9 24 82 0.6 26.5
Arizona Cardinals 23 39 271 1.4 1.1 24 101 0.8 20.7
at Minnesota Vikings 22 34 238 1.4 0.9 25 84 0.5 18.8
Buffalo Bills 19 31 217 1.2 0.8 29 142 1.1 22.6
at Cincinnati Bengals 23 35 273 1.6 0.8 27 113 1 25.4
Baltimore Ravens 26 41 280 1.4 1.1 22 82 0.5 18
at Dallas Cowboys 21 33 245 1.5 0.8 30 122 1.3 27.5
Pittsburgh Steelers 25 38 300 2.1 1 26 112 0.9 29.4
at Cleveland Browns 23 37 255 1.4 1 22 89 0.6 19.6
Miami Dolphins 20 31 228 1.2 0.8 26 114 0.8 19.6
at Los Angeles Rams 20 34 226 1.3 1.2 28 98 0.7 19
New England Patriots 23 35 285 1.9 0.6 30 134 1.3 32.8
at San Francisco 49ers 19 33 216 1.2 1 26 116 0.7 18.1
Philadelphia Eagles 22 35 231 1.3 0.9 25 99 0.6 18.5
at Seattle Seahawks 22 35 265 1.8 0.8 24 92 0.8 25.5
Green Bay Packers 25 40 275 1.8 0.8 24 105 0.7 24.4
at Washington 25 38 300 2 1 24 96 0.7 26.5
Houston Texans 21 35 242 1.5 1.1 29 134 0.6 20.2
at Oakland Raiders 23 37 263 1.7 0.7 28 121 1 26.4

Quarterback

Eli Manning - With Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Marcus Mariota all in outstanding matchups this week, it’s a safe bet Manning will be extremely low-owned in a home matchup against the Bears, despite the Game Predictor projecting the Giants for the fourth-most passing yards and most passing touchdowns on the main slate.

One way I like to use the Game Predictor to inform my GPP roster construction is to see which of Dodds’ projected scores differ most from the opening Vegas lines. The Giants opened as six point favorites this week, but the Game Predictor likes them to win by more than 7.5, which is one of the largest differences on this week’s slate. I’m confident Dodds’ algorithm has the right of it based on Manning’s recent performance and both teams’ home-road splits.

Manning has thrown for at least three touchdowns in each of his last three home games, while the Bears defense has been significantly worse against quarterbacks on the road. Chicago has allowed at least 300 passing yards and multiple touchdowns in each of their last three games away from Soldier Field. If the Giants are going to score three touchdowns this week, as the Game Predictor implies, it’s a safe bet Manning -- who has accounted for 79% of the Giants total touchdowns this season -- will be participating in most of them.

The obvious stacking partner for Manning is Odell Beckham Jr., who is responsible for over 30% of the Giants receiving yards and 40% of their receiving touchdowns this season. Beckham will be plenty popular this week, but I don’t expect Manning-Beckham to be one of the five most common QB-WR stacks.

Kirk Cousins - Washington is one of only two teams on the main slate the Game Predictor projects for at least 300 passing yards, which isn’t surprising considering Cousins is averaging more than 340 passing yards per game in his last three games.

Green Bay is another team with significantly worse splits vs. quarterbacks on the road. Blake Bortles (320-1-1), Sam Bradford (286-2-0), Matt Ryan (288-3-0), and most recently Marcus Mariota (295-4-0) have had considerable success against the Packers in games away from Lambeau Field this season.

Much like Manning with the Giants, most of Washington’s scoring is generated by Cousins, whose 15 total touchdowns account for 75% of the team’s total. Cousins also has significant home-road splits. Since the start of last season, his fantasy points per game average is 15% higher in 13 home games than his 12 games on the road.

Cousins will be a more popular option than Manning for those not looking to pay top dollar for a quarterback, but ownership at the position should be especially flat this week with the surplus of big names in great spots.

Running Back

LeSean McCoy - Running back ownership will be concentrated on three players this week - LeVeon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray, which will leave McCoy -- who has been every bit an elite running back when healthy this season -- under-owned (and underpriced) across the industry.

The Game Predictor has Buffalo pegged for the most rushing yards and the highest rushing touchdown probability this week, which makes sense given the Bills have the fourth-highest rush play percentage in the league (47%) and their opponent, Cincinnati, has been sneaky bad against the run lately.

If you look only at seasonal fantasy points allowed, the Bengals look like a neutral matchup for running backs. But Austin Lee's Normalized Strength of Schedule shows they 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 as the cumulative RB2 (FanDuel scoring), which has been largely forgotten as he's struggled through injury ever since.

But McCoy looked healthy enough in Week 9 against Seattle's tough run defense, racking up 120 yards from scrimmage on a full workload (25 touches). Now that he's had a bye week to rest his injury, expect McCoy to return to his early season form and take advantage of the plus matchup.

It’s encouraging this is another situation where the Game Predictor disagrees with Vegas’ opening line. Buffalo at Cincinnati opened with the Bengals as four point favorites, but Dodds’ projections have them favored by only 2.8, which tilts the game script from potentially negative to neutral for the Bills running game.

Ezekiel Elliott - Elliott is the chalk you don’t want to fade this week. The Game Predictor has the Cowboys tied for the highest rushing touchdown projection and the fourth-most rushing yards on the main slate.

After totaling at least 148 yards in all games but one since Week 3, Elliott now leads the NFL in both rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage. You won’t be sneaking him past anyone in tournaments, but there’s a good chance he won’t be as highly owned as his production warrants. Baltimore has the top-ranked rush defense per DVOA, and LeVeon Bell’s dream matchup with the Browns makes it likely most entrants will look his way before Elliott’s when paying up at running back.

Matchups simply don’t matter for Elliott. The crowd shied from him when he visited Green Bay’s (former) top-ranked rush defense in Week 6, and Elliott responded with 157 yards on 28 carries. Elliott is also beginning to get more involved as a pass catcher. The Ravens -- whose defense funnels action to the passing game -- rank 23rd in pass defense DVOA vs. opposing running backs.

The Game Predictor is calling for a 9.5 point Cowboys win (a full 2.5 points greater than the current Vegas line), which points to a game script where Dallas dominates time of possession by running the ball down Baltimore’s throat. A 120+ yard, multi-touchdown performance is well within Elliott’s range of possible outcomes in this matchup (and every other one).

Wide Receiver

Antonio Brown - Brown is another play who should be fairly popular, but might not receive the ownership he deserves. Pittsburgh is one of only two teams the Game Predictor projects for 300 passing yards, and they’re tied for the highest passing touchdown projection.

If Ben Roethlisberger throws for multiple touchdowns this week, it’s not difficult to surmise who is most likely to catch them. Brown ranks fourth in the NFL with a 28.6% target market share, and has seven receiving touchdowns, while the next closest Steeler (Jesse James) has only three.

There are three reasons Brown might go slightly under-owned in tournaments this week. First, he carries an exorbitant price tag across the industry, and the majority of owners will also be trying to squeeze in a high priced quarterback and running back. Second, with Vegas (and the Game Predictor) calling for a near-double-digit Pittsburgh win, the implied run-heavy game script for the Steelers will push more ownership towards Bell. And last, at least some entrants will be scared off by Brown’s matchup with Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden.   

The fact Brown is cost prohibitive in a week where the popular roster construction will be to pay up at quarterback and running back is a feather in his cap in GPPs. While I fully expect Bell to have a huge game, it doesn’t diminish Brown’s chances of going off too. The Steelers offensive production is so heavily concentrated on both players, there will be plenty of counting stats to go around. If it were 2014, I might be concerned with Brown’s one-one-one matchup against Haden. But even though Haden is graded favorably by Pro Football Focus, he’s not the player he once was. Despite his strong coverage grade, Haden has allowed 0.30 fantasy points per route defended this season, which is a similar rate to cornerback punching bags like D.J. Hayden and Darius Butler.

Besides, the Browns defense is so bad in aggregate, Haden’s performance shouldn’t matter either way. Cleveland has allowed the most schedule adjusted fantasy points to opposing wide receivers by a mile this season. I love the idea of pairing Brown with Odell Beckham Jr. (the next highest price receiver) in a week where very few people will pay up for two elite wide receivers.

Julian Edelman - Since Tom Brady returned from suspension Edelman leads the Patriots with a 26.3% share of the team’s targets. Perhaps more interestingly, he’s also seen the same number of red zone targets as Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett over the same span, and leads the team in targets from inside the 10-yard line.

Wide receivers dominating targets and scoring chances in the league’s best offense usually don’t come as cheap as Edelman. The problem is he ranks as the cumulative WR46 (FanDuel scoring) since Brady’s return, and hasn’t reached a 3x salary multiplier at his current price tag all season.

It’s safe to assume some statistical progression towards the mean for Edelman this week in San Francisco, especially with Rob Gronkowski’s expected absence leaving a target void in New England’s offense. The Game Predictor has the Patriots projected for a league-high 32.8 points. While a good portion of those points are likely to be accumulated on the ground against San Francisco's 31st ranked run defense (DVOA), the 49ers have allowed more touchdowns to wide receivers than any other team.

San Francisco has been consistently abused by wide receivers who spend most of their time in the slot, including Doug Baldwin (8-164-1) and Larry Fitzgerald twice (combined 18-214-2 in two games). Based on the matchup, expected target volume, and scoring opportunities, Edelman is shaping up as one of the top point per dollar wide receivers on both major sites.

Tight End

Jordan Reed - Reed is priced as the TE1 on the main slate (provided Gronkowski sits out) on a week where most people will be looking to pay down to Martellus Bennett. There may also be some recency bias holding down Reed’s ownership after he went for only two catches and 41 yards last week against the Vikings.

The Game Predictor (and common sense) suggest you should take any break you can get on Reed’s ownership in this week’s matchup against Green Bay. As previously mentioned, the Game Predictor has Washington as one of two teams projected for 300 passing yards. While Reed saw a season-low four targets last week, his playing time remained steady (79% of snaps).

There’s no reason to think Reed -- who has seen between 7 and 13 targets in every other game this season, won’t see his usual volume against Green Bay. Delanie Walker (9-124-1 on 11 targets) showed us last week how vulnerable the Packers can be to a heavily targeted tight end.

The Game Predictor is calling for three total Washington touchdowns this week, and it’s a solid bet Reed is on the receiving end of at least one. He scored 10 red zone touchdowns last season (second to only Tyler Eifert), converting on roughly 44% of his targets from the 20-yard line or closer. This season, Reed has received nine red zone targets in seven games, but converted only two touchdowns (22%). Touchdown progression for Reed is on the way at some point this season, and a home shootout with Green Bay (who he dropped a 9-120-1 receiving line on in last year’s playoffs) seems like a logical place to start.