Navigating the Short Slates of the NFL Playoffs
As we get into the NFL playoffs the number of teams playing is slashed considerably. During the regular season there are 32 teams playing most weeks and at a minimum 24 even if there are a lot of byes. However, for the next two weeks we will only have 8 teams playing each week. This causes a significant decrease in the level of quality players to choose from.
If you haven’t played some of the short slate games like 4PM only or Primetime games on Fanduel this year you may not be familiar with how different short slates are compared to full game slates. First of all, with the lower amount of players there is often a shortage of great values. This makes it more difficult to afford some of the stud players that you may be accustomed to rostering without taking a hit at one or more other positions.
However, the even more important dilemma for those of us going for big GPP wins is that the lower the number of quality options the more the key players will be targeted. For example, during the regular a highly owned player might have 15% ownership. If he is one of the best deals around like Donald Brown was early in the season he might go over 50% but in a short slate there will be quite a few players going over 50% ownership.
This is where I want you to remember back to my Week 1 article where I talked about contrarian thinking and how important it is to compare your player’s ownership to their odds of successfully reaching their target score. Here is an excerpt from that article but I recommend looking at it in a little more detail.
The reason we have to be contrarian in GPPs is because it takes extreme outlier scores to win. The best way to get some of these outlier scores is by differentiating ourselves from our competition and hoping our players hit while their players fail. If we have more opportunities to do this then we are going to be better off.
Let’s look at an extreme example. I am going to ask the next 1,000 people I meet if they want to be in a winner take all DFS tournament for $10. But this isn’t a typical DFS tournament. Here there is only one player selection and both players cost the same price.
My hunch is that you and the other 999 people have Brees projected at a higher score so it is a no brainer to take Brees right? Actually I am going to take Palmer and here is why. Variance. If we actually played out this tournament a thousand times Palmer would win somewhere around 10% of the time. This doesn’t sound very good for me, or does it? Let’s calculate our potential payouts in each case assuming there were 10 other players just as crazy as me.
If Brees wins I lose $10
If Palmer wins I win my share of the $10,000 prize pool or $1,000 ($10,000/10 people selecting Palmer)
My expected value from this game is actually $91 every time I play which is an incredible return on an investment of $10! Certainly better than any DFS game or stock market investment that I can find.
This is calculated as ($1,000*10%) - ($10*90%)
If there is one thing I have learned over the years about fantasy football it is there is a lot more random variation than you or I can anticipate in any given week so these contrarian hunches like Palmer outdueling Brees will work out a lot more often than you expect until you start to get a good grasp at the variance at hand.
This is so important in these short slates because the ownership levels get so high that there is nearly no way that the player can achieve his goal at the level of his ownership. No longer are we asking our star players to score 3 times their salary 25% of the time. Now we are asking that they achieve that level 75% of the time which is nearly impossible. This makes fading these popular options all the more important.
That doesn’t mean to fade all of the obvious picks and go all with lowly owned players. I think that is a recipe for disaster but I do think that you should fade at least one or two of the players that are going to be highly owned if you plan on winning during these short slates. This week’s picks are going to be a little more contrarian than normal based on this fact. That means I would be hesitant to just use these four players as core players and fill out your roster around them but they should all be on a fair amount of your GPPs.
Fanduel GPP plays
Below are my weekly GPP plays at Fanduel. Throughout the season I will be employing strategies mentioned in Week 1 about contrarian plays. My goal will be to highlight players owned less than 10% to give you a contrarian option unless the player is such a good value that you should play him anyway. But remember that if you think a player will score three times their salary at a higher rate than their ownership level they are still a good buy. It is also important to remember you don’t need to go contrarian on everyone one of your positions. Additionally I will take the approach outlined in my preseason article about the best approach to allocating money in my lineups. In this article, I showed that in general it was best to spend on studs at wide receiver and to a lesser extent quarterback and save your money at running back and tight end.
Cam Newton $8,300 –The quarterbacks are all closely priced this week with all of them but Andrew Luck and Ryan Lindley priced between $7,800 and $8,800. My expectation is that Ben Roethlisberger is the most popular play and probably rightfully so as he has averaged the most points of anyone in that price range by a decent margin. On top of that he may be forced to pass more with a limited or out Le'Veon Bell. However, his ownership levels and the potential weather in that game is going to curb my enthusiasm slightly. Instead I prefer to fade Roethlisberger and go with Newton who has really started to run again once the Panthers backs were against the wall as he has averaged 65 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD as well as 26 Fanduel points during his last three games. The Cardinals defense is better than the defenses that Newton has faced over this time frame but so is their rushing defense which may force Newton to drop back more often than normal. This could lead to an increase in passing yards or some more Newton scrambles. NFC West counterparts Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick averaged 70 rushings yards against the Cardinals. Newton could rival these numbers. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Newton led all quarterbacks in points this week.
Jeremy Hill $7,400 – Just like quarter back there is only really one stud running back this week which means that there will probably be a lot of people scrambling to own Demarco Murray but I am going to pass for some cheaper options and use running back as my position to save money. Hill represents a perfect spot for that. Over the last 3 games Hill has averaged 23 rush attempts and turned those into 395 yards and 3 TDs over the three games. The Bengals should continue to rely on Hill this week as Andy Dalton has historically been less than spectacular in big games and the Colts rush defense has been 5% worse than league average over the course of the season. The biggest fear for Hill is Andrew Luck on the other side of the ball. If the Bengals fall behind like they on November 6th to the Browns Hill could be relegated to another 12 carry day but I don’t expect that to be the case. Unfortunately, Hill will probably be highly owned himself but I think his price justifies the ownership. Daniel Herron on the other side of the ball looks to be another good cost saving option that may be a little lower owned.
Martavis Bryant $5,600 – Unlike running back where the options are less than optimal there are plenty of wide receiver options that are great. I have no problem paying for any of the expensive wide receivers this week. Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, and T.Y. Hilton are all some of the best ways to spend your money this week. Of these my two favorites are Brown and Johnson. There are also some good mid tier options as well. With all of the good options available at wide receiver I suspect Martavis Bryant may be flying under the radar and he is a great option to win a GPP. Bryant has been up and down all season but has two touchdown potential and has reached GPP value in 4 of the 10 games he has played this year. Admittedly, Bryant has been quiet the last few games but given his expected ownership levels no one else will offer more upside. I wouldn’t put Bryant in all of my games but definitely give him a shot in a few.
Greg Olsen $6,400 - The tight end options are pretty slim this week so I suspect many players are going to be trying to save on their tight ends. However, Greg Olsen has the best path to creating separation from the rest of his position because of this lack of quality depth. The Cardinals have been one of the easiest matchups for tight ends over the last two years. According to Footballoutsiders adjusted coverage charts the Cardinals give up 28% more yards to tight ends than the average team. In the past, Bruce Arians has basically said they don’t worry about the tight end coverage as long as they can shut down the wide receivers. This philosophy may limit Kelvin Benjamin and project for a big game for Olsen and makes him a good under the radar the stacking option along with Newton.