DFS For Dummies: Part I, Doing Your Homework

Gathering good information is key to winning in the daily space.

I discovered daily fantasy sports (DFS) nearly two years ago through the ongoing partnership between FootballGuys and FanDuel; back then, I was a subscriber with a passion for season-long fantasy football...today, I am on the FootballGuys’ staff and that passion for season-long has evolved into an absolute infatuation for daily games.  

That first season, I made rookie mistake after rookie mistake.  Looking back, I cannot believe that I actually kept playing daily fantasy football because of how consistently I lost.  I justified my losses as ‘entertainment expenses’ and just made my weekly PayPal redeposit to enter the following week’s games; yet, I continued to lose despite being very competitive in all of my season-long leagues.  At the close of the 2012 NFL season, I decided I would put in the work over the course of the off-season to find out how and why I continued to see the same names at the top of the leaderboards week after week.  I reached out to some of the guys doing DFS for a living and picked their brains, I read every article on strategy that I could find, and I did a retrospective analysis of my results to see where I had gone wrong and what I (rarely) did right.

In 2013, I entered the season with a far better understanding of DFS strategy and gamesmanship.  Within a few weeks, I was actually winning money...real money!  At the end of October, I managed to take down a guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournament that added $10,000 to my bankroll in one night!  In early November, I qualified for the DraftStreet Fantasy Football Championship (DFFC) to be held in Week 16 in December; two weeks later, I won my second entry into the same contest!  I had success on DraftKings, FanDuel, and on DraftDay’s bracket challenge, where I managed to advance 3 entries into the final 8 places (out of an original 8,000 entrants).  All the while, my bankroll was growing exponentially.  When the DFFC finally arrived, DraftStreet flew me to Vegas to compete against 38 other entries for the million dollar grand prize.  While I came up a bit short on the million dollar Sunday, I managed to take down 4th and 8th place against some of the best DFS players in the world.  When the smoke cleared, I had managed to turn my initial $800 September deposit into nearly $100,000 by the end of December...the look on my accountant’s face was worth double that amount when I showed him my W-2 forms in April!

This series of articles, entitled, “DFS for Dummies” details what I learned over the course of the previous 24 months while playing daily fantasy.  I will outline the habits and strategic thinking of successful daily players to help you make your learning curve far less expensive and much quicker than mine.  The series will be broken down into 4 smaller articles to keep things focused and to allow the reader to refer back to these articles as the DFS season progresses.  The first installment will provide an overview on “Doing Your Homework” in preparation for a weekly NFL slate.

PART I:  DOING YOUR HOMEWORK

In season-long leagues, drafting a solid team is only a portion of what it takes to succeed over the course of that season.  You must avoid injuries and handcuff where appropriate.  You must account for bye weeks.  You must use the waiver wire effectively.  You must plan for playoff matchups.  And it never hurts to get a little bit lucky.  In the daily format, however, your draft, alone, will win or lose your games.  Period.  Draft wisely and win...draft poorly and lose.  ...but there is no Draft Dominator for daily, so how does a winning player prepare for the draft?  In this first installment of a four-part series on playing daily fantasy football, you will learn how to effectively prepare for lineup construction in the daily format (aka, "the draft").

There is a city in Nevada that exists solely to take money from those who aren’t entirely attached to their own...that city, of course, is Las Vegas.  One quick stroll down the strip will tell you all you need to know about how much money pours into Vegas on a daily basis.  It is estimated that 95% of people visiting Vegas leave with less money than they came; the reason is that the odds are stacked against the gambler.  In the sports books, Vegas casinos hire the best and brightest statisticians to to keep that house edge...and you should be starting your homework, every week, with Vegas’ information!

Barring injuries to key players and/or the outcome of the Monday night game, Vegas will release opening odds by the end of Sunday night for the following week.  This is your first bit of information for developing your rosters for that week.  If you’re not a gambler, there are two components of every NFL game line: 1) the “spread,” which tells you how many points by which Vegas predicts the favorite will best the underdog, and 2) the “total,” which predicts the total number of points scored in the game by both teams.  In week 5 last year, the Cowboys were playing host to the undefeated Denver Broncos and Vegas had the opening line at Denver -8 with a total of 58.  A quick bit of math (who said you’d never use algebra?!) then gives us Vegas’ predicted final score:  Denver 33, Dallas 25.  Here is a cursory example for Week #1 of the 2014 season to demonstrate what you should be generating early in the week to get a feel for team totals and potential player selection:

Next, we can now develop what I call a “gamescript.” Gamescripting is one of the single-most important things you can do as a daily player and is a skill that is entirely underrated by people who habitually lose in the daily format.  Let's use the aforementioned 2013 Dallas/Denver game as an example:  In the week prior to the Cowboys/Broncos matchup, Dallas had given up over 400 yards passing to Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Charger passing game in a 30-21 loss; in Denver that same week, the Broncos laid a 52-20 beating on the Eagles.  Thus, it was logical to think this game had all the makings of a barnburner and that the Cowboys would likely be playing from behind much of the game because, to that point, they hadn’t shown any signs of being able to stop an above-average offense, let alone the Peyton-led Broncos.  The game played out in that manner, with the Broncos scoring at will against the Cowboys, but Tony Romo had the best game of his career, throwing for 501 yards and 5 touchdowns which would have been good enough for ~ 40 points in FanDuel’s scoring format.  ...and if you’re new to the daily fantasy football scene--40 points from a quarterback will make you a lot of return on your investment!  In short, use Vegas’ odds to help you gamescript and get an early feel for how the game will play out; roster QB’s and WR’s who will be playing from behind and be sure to grab those RB’s from teams who will be protecting a lead in the 4th quarter.  

After you’ve incorporated Vegas’ odds into your selections, you will need to ensure that you’re sourcing solid information throughout the week.  As a Footballguys subscriber, you should receive a daily email that details injury status, potential starter battles, and any other integral information that could ultimately affect your roster composition; be sure you are signed up for that email!  Furthermore, if you don’t have a Twitter account, sign up for one--Twitter is the best source for late-breaking news, by far.  After signing into your account, you should follow every beat writer for every NFL team (FootballGuy Jeff Haseley already did the work for you here: http://subscribers.footballguys.com/apps/article.php?article=NFLtwitter_2014) because they are the folks who are going to first break the news about injuries, starters, and other relevant information; if you’re relying on ESPN alone, you’ll be behind the “Twitterverse.”  For example, in Week 14 last year, I saw on my Twitter feed that Reggie Bush had slipped on a slippery, snowy field during pregame warmups in Philadelphia; this was all over my Twitter feed, but still hadn’t been reported on ESPN or any of the major networks.  By default, that injury meant that Joique Bell would receive the Lion’s share (pun intended) of carries on a day where passing would be restricted due to the weather conditions.  I quickly rostered Bell across the industry, because his price was discounted, which allowed me to spend the extra salary elsewhere; Bell finished the day with ~ 20 points at a minimal salary and, in the process, I won my 2nd seat that week to the DraftStreet Fantasy Football Championship.  Without Twitter, I would have never had the time necessary to make those last-minute changes and capitalize on the opportunity.

Sourcing information about players is certainly important, but it pales in comparison to having good projections for that given week.  If your projections are off, it is virtually impossible to become a winning daily player.  Luckily for you, you have access to some of the best projections in the industry in the form of David Dodds weekly projections (Don’t believe me?  FantasyPros has David ranked as the #3 most accurate prognosticator over the past 4 years, (http://www.fantasypros.com/nfl/accuracy/draft.php).  After I’ve earmarked the gamescripts that look appealing and analyzed player news information, I study Dodds’ projections closely; I want to identify those players who have the most “value,” which is an industry term used to describe the relationship between salary and expected performance (for in-depth discussion of “value,” please read Part II of this series entitled, “Understanding Variance & Value in Daily Fantasy”).  These projections should be the biggest factor in your homework and, therefore, merit the most attention from your end.

RECAP

  • Lean on Vegas.  Use current odds to identify gamescripts that can be exploited.
  • Source your information wisely.  Read FootballGuys and Twitter to keep your edge against the competition.
  • Examine projections.  Study weekly projections to identify weak salaries and consequent value at each position.

The next installment, Part II of "DFS for Dummies" will focus on understanding the two V's of daily fantasy:  Variance and Value.

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tipandpick 


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