Thus far in the Exploiting Footballguys Tools series, I’ve shown you how I use various tools included with a Footballguys subscription to research unique statistics and help create optimized DFS lineups based on our site projections.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be covering several more Footballguys tools that deliver advanced stats and help you mine for DFS value, but this week I want to backtrack a bit and show you where my weekly research always begins.
Before I review pricing, analyze matchups and trends, or start building out lineups using the IVCs, I go over the Vegas lines -- specifically point spreads, over/unders, and team totals. I won’t spend too much time discussing why incorporating Vegas lines into your weekly research is important. If you’ve been playing DFS for any length of time, I’ll assume you’ve done some reading on the topic already (If you haven’t, check out the Cracking Fanduel eBook for complete details).
In a nutshell, the Vegas lines provide you with a guide to quickly identify the games the best oddsmakers in the world predict will be either high or low scoring. Some simple math allows you to derive implied point totals for each team. The team totals provide a theoretical script for how each game should play out. Once you can spot the teams expected to have the most scoring potential, you now have a starting point to begin forming your weekly player pool.
Fortunately, there’s no need to go elsewhere to find the current week’s opening Vegas point spreads and over/unders, or do any math to calculate team totals. Every Tuesday, our John Lee posts his Vegas Value Chart, which does all the heavy lifting for us. It even includes suggestions on which passing games, running games, and team defenses to target based on the lines and matchups.
I’ve taken the liberty of copying and pasting John’s chart below for reference, but I don’t want to simply rehash what you may have already looked at on Tuesday. Besides giving you the heads up to look for the Vegas Value Chart on the weekly DFS page (if you weren’t already), I have two goals this week:
Point out that while the Vegas lines are an incredibly useful guide to narrowing down your player pool, they are not gospel (check the Week 2 Saints at Giants boxscore for proof). In cash games, it’s probably best to trust the game script the Vegas lines imply, but you need to mix it up a bit in tournaments. When analyzing the lines for GPP play, decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the oddsmakers. If your opinions differ from what Vegas projects, script your own story for how the game(s) will play out. When your takes are correct, it’s likely you’ll land on a few players who will help separate you from the pack in tournaments. I’ll share a couple of spots where my research suggests Vegas has it wrong this week.
Introduce the concept of reverse line movement, where to track it, and what it could mean in DFS. The lines shown in the Vegas Value Chart are opening lines. They change over the course of the week based on a number of factors, most notably the number of bets the sports books are getting on each side. If the line moves in favor of the side the majority of the public is betting, it’s business as usual. The bookmakers are raising the line to get some action on the other side. But if the public is hammering a side and the line moves the opposite way? It should raise a red flag, and I’ll take a look at an example from last week to explain why.
Week 4 Vegas Value Chart
|TEAM||OPPONENT||ODDS||TEAM TOTAL||GAME TOTAL||PASSING||RUNNING||TEAM DEFENSE|
|San Diego||New Orleans||-3.5||28.5||53.5||+++||+++|
|New Orleans||San Diego||3.5||25||53.5||+|
Leaving Las Vegas
I’m with Vegas on players from San Diego, Carolina, Washington, and Pittsburgh this week, but there are some spots where my research doesn’t line up with their implied game scripts. In particular, I like two teams to exceed Vegas’ expectations:
It’s easy to see why the Raiders have such a low total on the road in Baltimore. The Ravens are 3-0 and have allowed only 14.7 points per game. But those wins have come against the sputtering offenses of the Bills, Browns, and Jaguars. Oakland represents Baltimore’s first real challenge.
The Raiders opened the season hot with 35 and 28 point outings against New Orleans and Atlanta, respectively. Their 17 point output in a road win against Tennessee last week was a letdown, but the boxscore doesn’t tell the whole story. If it weren’t for several dropped passes in key situations, penalties, and near-misses on deep sideline shots to Amari Cooper, Derek Carr and company would have dropped 30 points on the Titans, and our perception of Oakland’s offense would be different this week.
Cooper is the Raider I’m most interested in. Over the first three weeks, he’s been a fairly chalky play in GPPs, with ownership in the 15-20% range. But after combining for a 9-133-0 receiving line in his last two games, his price barely dropped across the industry. Expect Cooper to check in at or below 10% owned this week in a great spot against Baltimore’s suspect cornerbacks.
Jimmy Smith’s coverage has slipped badly since the start of last season and the Ravens starter opposite Smith, Shareece Wright, is graded as a bottom-12 corner by Pro Football Focus. Cooper should see slightly more of Smith this week, but it’s not a matchup to fear. Baltimore has now allowed back-to-back multi-touchdown games to opposing WR1s (Corey Coleman and Allen Robinson). The only time they’ve held the opposition’s top target in check was in Week 1 against a hobbled Sammy Watkins.
Like the Raiders last week, Cooper would be viewed much differently by the crowd if a few more breaks had gone his way this season. After an explosive 6-137-0 performance in the season opener, Cooper had his Week 2 stat line ruined by a 50+ yard touchdown being called back on an obscure illegal touching penalty. Then came the aforementioned near misses on several deep balls last week.
With the exception of red zone opportunities (he has none), the stats back up a blow-up game for Cooper. He leads the Raiders with a 24.6% target market share, which is up from 21.2% last season and Cooper is tied for second in the league with five receptions of 25 yards or greater. Baltimore fields a top-10 rush defense, but they’re a bottom-third unit in both opponent passing yards and passing touchdown percentage.
Michael Crabtree has played wonderfully through three games, and he’s never priced out of consideration. He should enjoy Wright’s awful coverage on the majority of his routes, making the Carr-Cooper-Crabtree combo one of my favorite triple stacks this week.
If the Oakland offense puts up a big game, it should necessitate plenty of opportunity for Joe Flacco and his pass catchers to at least meet their implied total of about 25 points. As the two wide receivers logging the most snaps and targets for Baltimore, Steve Smith, and Mike Wallace are both in play against an Oakland pass defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing wideouts.
Dennis Pitta will justifiably be the most heavily owned Ravens pass catcher. His price remains depressed despite leading all tight ends in combined targets over the last two weeks.
The DFS world is going to be all over Detroit players, which is understandable. Their implied total is north of the 24 points we should be targeting (potential for three touchdowns), and they face a decimated Bears defense that will be without at least four starters due to injury. But I’m guessing the top options in the Bears offense will go lightly owned (for the most part) despite being in a great spot themselves.
If the Lions -- who rank near the top of most passing categories -- have no trouble putting up points on the Bears as expected, it opens up the possibility of Chicago’s exceeding the 21.75 points their team total implies. The Lions defense might actually be worse than the Bears -- they’ve allowed 28.3 points per game this season. Opposing quarterbacks have completed over 68% of their passes and averaged 3.3 passing touchdowns per game against Detroit.
If we were judging strictly by fantasy points against, it would appear the Lions at least defend the run pretty well. But it turns out they’ve just been lucky not to allow a rushing touchdown yet. DeMarco Murray and Eddie Lacy both racked up over 100 total yards against the Lions, who have allowed opposing running backs to average 5.3 yards per attempt. Football Outsiders ranks Detroit 27th in their run defense DVOA metric, which accounts for down, distance and quality of opponent.
Brian Hoyer is priced at or near the site minimum across the industry. He’s coming off a game in which he threw almost 50 passes and logged a 317-2-0 stat line. It won’t feel good plugging Hoyer into your lineups, but he’s at home, in a great matchup, provides massive salary relief, and will be throwing to keep up with Matthew Stafford and the Lions.
I’m not suggesting heavy exposure to Hoyer and his scary-low floor, but I do plan on having more Alshon Jeffery than the field. Jeffery’s peripheral stats place him squarely in the top tier of fantasy wide receivers again. Among pass catchers with at least 15 targets, Jeffery’s 13.6 yards per target average trails only Marvin Jones Jr (14.1). Jeffery has also accounted for an elite 35.3% of the Bears receiving yards.
The problem for DFS has been a drastic reduction in Jeffery’s target share. Last year, Jeffery saw 18% of the team’s targets despite missing seven full games (and parts of others). This year he’s only seeing 19.6% despite being in on 97% of the Bears’ snaps. It either means his role has changed for good, or he’s due some regression to the mean. I’m betting on the latter.
Hoyer has a storied history of force feeding targets to his WR1. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if last week’s 14 to 7 target split in favor of Kevin White were to flip flop. Even if Jeffery draws shadow coverage from Detroit cornerback Darius Slay, it’s no reason to panic. Slay has allowed the tenth-most fantasy points per route defended per PFF, and a heavily targeted Jeffery is a matchup nightmare for any cornerback (provided he’s a full go with his knee and hamstring injuries).
The one popular play on Chicago’s side of the ball will be Jordan Howard. Howard was the only running back to see snaps for the Bears after Jeremy Langford went down, and he rolled up 92 total yards (including 47 receiving yards on six targets) in the blowout loss to Dallas. Howard gets a plus rushing matchup this week, and if the Bears go pass heavy to keep up with the Lions, he should remain heavily involved. Howard’s price point doesn’t reflect his expected workload on either site since the Bears played last Sunday night. He’s in play for both cash games and tournaments.
Lastly, it’s hard to ignore Zach Miller’s 8-72-2 line on nine targets against Dallas. It would be easy to write Miller off as a one-week wonder, but Detroit has allowed five total touchdowns to tight ends already this season -- one year removed from allowing a league-high 12 TDs to the position. Like Howard, Miller is priced close to the minimum on both sites, but unlike Howard, I’m not expecting high ownership. It’s clear Hoyer has a strong rapport with Miller, making it entirely possible he settles in as Chicago’s number two target behind Jeffery.
Reverse Line Movement
As I explained in the intro, reverse line movement is when the majority of the public (think 70% or more) is betting on one side of a line, but bookmakers move the spread in favor of the team getting the much smaller percentage of the action.
When this happens (barring a key injury to a player on the public team), it’s because a book has taken a large bet from a sharp bettor that makes them move the line away from the public side, despite a huge disparity in the number of bets on each side.
We got a perfect example of reverse line movement last week when Arizona traveled to Buffalo. The screen shot below was taken from www.TheSpread.com last Sunday morning. I’ve found this to be the best resource to track line movement, as well as the percentage of wagers being placed on each team.
The image shows Arizona opened as a 5.5 point favorite against the Bills and 79% of the wagers were on the Cardinals. But instead of raising the line to entice bettors to take the Bills, as would normally be the case in this situation, the line moved two full points in favor of Buffalo. Just as importantly, the line crossed one of the key numbers most NFL margins of victory land on -- in this case 4 (the others being 3, 6, 7, and 10). A line move that crosses one of those numbers is a strong indication of sharp money impacting the line because the bookmakers are willing to risk getting middled and losing money to both sides.
So how do we use this information to our advantage in DFS? If we know at least 70% of the betting public favors a particular team, chances are the players from that team will be highly owned in DFS tournaments. A reverse line move doesn’t necessarily mean you should automatically fade those players, but it should absolutely make you think long and hard about it.
If you had caught this news and gotten on the same side as the sharp bettors last week, it’s likely you avoided Carson Palmer’s 7.5 point dud and Larry Fitzgerald’s 9.5 points at $7,600 and 17% ownership on FanDuel. Of course, it might also mean you came off David Johnson’s 24.6 fantasy points. But would that really have been bad process?
Johnson is an exception to the rule due to his workhorse status and rare ability as a pass catcher. 90% of the running backs in the league would have gotten buried by the game script the Bills forced on the Cardinals. Besides, you could have replaced Johnson’s 24.6 points with LeSean McCoy’s 25.1, saved $1,700 in cap space, and gotten a player only 5% of the field was willing to roster (Johnson was around 18% in most large field tournaments last week). If the Bills were the sharp play and Sammy Watkins was out, who else were they going to run their offense through?
Reviewing the Vegas Value Chart is an essential first step in your weekly process, but opening lines aren’t the only information the betting lines offer that can be used to your advantage in DFS. If you weren’t already tracking line movement throughout the week, hopefully, you’re now equipped to make it part of your routine.