This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
The staffers we talked to this week are Chris Feery, Andrew Garda, Jeff Haseley, Dan Hindery, Justin Howe, Devin Knotts, and Chad Parsons.
Hester: Last week was disappointing to many as injuries and surprisingly bad performances by highly-owned players yielded results much worse than what DFS players saw in Week 7. Give us an “inside” look at how you bounce back from a week like Week 8 where things may not have gone your way. Do you play more to cover your losses? Or do you proceed with caution in anticipation of trends we thought we could rely on changing?
Garda: I never try and win back what I lost in one week by betting more than I normally would. As this season has proven over and over again, you never know what's coming. Sure, you can win it all back, but you can also very easily double your losses. I don't think that's smart bankroll management.
I do think you proceed with a little extra caution, though, because of the volatility week to week. You have to work twice as hard and be twice as sure about what you think you're seeing. And if a player is iffy and/or a coach has a history of sudden deactivations, you might want to avoid that player.
At this point, we certainly have to be a bit more careful but the thing is, the vast majority of this year's oddities are injury related and frankly, there's no way to predict that. Adjust to changing trends, yes, but don't beat yourself up for not knowing half the running backs in the NFL go down at once.
Haseley: I also think you need to lick your wounds and move on. It wouldn't be a season without one week being a dud. Like Andrew said, you can't predict injuries. I also agree that you shouldn't necessarily double your normal spend to try to make up for last week's losses. Chalk it as a bad week and move on. Plan for Week 9 like you normally would. Do your research, keep your same strategies and try to come out on top.
Howe: Your bad week didn't "prove" your method wrong, nor did it fundamentally change the way DFS contests are won. In fact, in cash play, weeks in which the chalk goes bad and even single-entry 50/50s are crapshoots are cleansing in a way. They serve as wake-up calls for those who are expecting too much consistency from cash games, and they allow you a chance to succeed even if you've guessed the chalk wrong.
I could go on about this all day, but long story short, nothing changed DFS or any of its players. Your method of success is just as intact as it was last week. It's foolhardy to knee-jerk into a whole new way of thinking because of it.
Parsons: While I do believe in regression to the mean, chasing a hot streak with more money in play thinking one cannot lose or the opposite in this example is not prudent. Bankroll management is paramount to long-term DFS viability. An early-game injury, a long pass interference penalty instead of a touchdown, or a game script going awry can all torpedo the best-laid lineups and sound strategy leading up to kickoff. It happens, but chasing with more money in play the following week (or worst yet, less money being fearful of losing more bankroll) reduces the long-term bankroll strategies outlined in the best DFS publications, including the Footballguys DFS guides.
Feery: Last week was a challenging one, as numerous chalk selections failed to pan out or succumbed to the injury bug, and there were numerous instances of things going against script. In short, it happens. It’s one week out of a long season, but it’s important to view it for what it is. There seems to be at least one week each year where things go haywire, and that’s what we saw last week.
I’ll personally dust myself off and continue with the same process I go through, but I’ve also been there on the frustration side where a challenging week makes you feel like you want to shake up your routine. I would caution against that, especially if your process is something with which you’ve had consistent success. Stick to the process, as a sound routine will win out in the long run and more than compensate for the poor weeks.
Weeks like the one that just passed also present a good time to take a look at your bankroll management and overall comfort level. If you come across a week where you simply bust (and don't worry; that happens to everyone), take a look at how bad it stings overall. If it’s of the "ouch" variety, there’s a good chance you’re playing within your comfort levels. If you find yourself questioning everything and getting pretty angry about the blow-up, then there’s a good chance that you’re playing above your comfort levels.
Hindery: As with many things in life, it helps to focus on two things: (1) process over results; and (2) always trying to get better. In terms of process vs. results, the first thing to do is look back and figure out what went wrong and whether it was bad luck or bad decision-making/research on your part. If it’s bad luck, you just shake it off. If you missed something in your preparation and research, you need to try to get better.
For example, I have been on a cold streak in picking tight ends. In Week 8, my main play was Gary Barnidge. He had a quiet game (3 catches for 42 yards), but he also just missed a touchdown catch by landing with one foot on the stripe and on a separate play drew a pass interference call in the end zone. For an inexpensive player, he wasn’t necessarily a bad play, and he had the opportunities needed to put together a big game. The process wasn’t broken despite the poor results, so you have to just shake off the bad luck and continue to work. On the other hand, I also completely overlooked Travis Kelce and owned him in less than 5% of my GPP lineups. Looking back, he should have been a fairly obvious play. He had very favorable player props in Las Vegas (with heavy betting on the over for his 4.5 receptions), a bargain price and a dream matchup against Indianapolis.
I think a big part of my decision to pass him over was that he had hurt me when I played him in previous weeks, and those negative memories pushed me towards an illogical play. That is a textbook example of “bad process.” Instead of dwelling on it, the correct answer is to use it as a learning experience and try to get better. I can start by reminding myself not to cross Gary Barnidge off my list in future weeks just because he didn’t pan out for me in Week 8.
Knotts: I am a risk taker, so when I have a losing week, I will go a little bit bigger in the following week. I fluctuate my bankroll within 10-20% on any given week. The key thing here is that you don't change your process. Trust your process; if you start trying to change to someone else's process, you will end up being on the losing side of things because you will always be chasing a strategy that worked in the previous week with no guarantee to work in future weeks. Injuries are going to happen throughout the season, and they are inevitable with how the NFL goes.
Dealing with Injuries
Hester: In Week 8, Ty Montgomery was a surprise scratch for Green Bay. While he was listed as questionable all week, he was considered probable by many. In a situation like Montgomery’s how do you plan for both potential scenarios?
Garda: If I'm on a site that allows late swaps, I'll have a questionable player in if I love his upside, though I might have to make a lot of adjustments if he gets shelved late. So in a case where a guy has been shaky all week in practice, I will make sure I can make that swap if need be. That could mean anything from a whole different lineup to a few select changes to account for the increase (or decrease) of money spent at the positon of the player in question.
If I am on a site that locks with the first 1:00pm game, I'm only putting him in if he is in an early game. No way do I roll with a player who can be deactivated at 3:00, two hours after a contest locks. There are always other options, and I won't risk a zero. Nobody should. Upside is nice, but a zero is uglier than that upside ever could be.
Howe: Montgomery hurt me badly in one no-swap scenario, and that put a small but noticeable dent in my weekend. Still, what happened there was a very odd circumstance, one that isn't seen often anymore. Montgomery was overwhelmingly expected to suit up but didn't, not because of a mysterious injury or confusing coachspeak, but because of a sickle-cell illness that none of us knew about.
Almost every time there's a "will he or won't he?" storyline, we can spot the clues early. Today's media is no joke: they're wrong at times, but they hit the pavement hard looking for dirt. If he didn't practice once all week and the team brought up depth at his position from the practice squad, he's likely to sit or to be limited. If he was "limited" all week but beat reporters noticed he actually participated plenty, his chances are pretty strong. It's rare that we're truly faked out by these scenarios if we know where to look.
Montgomery was also an oddball scenario because he was set up to be a chalk monster. I'm willing to bet he was facing 40% ownership, depending on the site; in cash games, you virtually had to play him. When his news broke after 1:00pm, probably 30-40% of DFSers allowed swapping had to scramble to do so. That's not common; usually, the chalk plays are chalk plays because there are zero questions about their health. So we usually don't have to worry about this much at all, anyway, except to diversify our ownership.
Generally speaking, I'm fine rolling the dice on an ambiguous player in a tournament – even if there's no late swap. A truly questionable player will see rapidly declining ownership as Sunday morning wears on, and if it's a guy you're confident will play, you can benefit mightily. Again, this is unknown territory; who can trust what a player or coach says about health? But if we're reading the right signposts, we can see big payoffs.
Parsons: I am very risk-averse when it comes to player selection for DFS lineups on the injury front. While the rate of play is high for questionable players in 2016 considering the elimination of 'probable' tags and reading between the lines of practice participation, I break ties within tiers towards players not listed as questionable. I would be more apt to roll out questionable options on sites with late-swap options, but I strongly prefer to set-and-forget lineups before the opening kickoff at 1:00pm EST (or whenever the contest begins). I had Montgomery in zero lineups for Week 8 as I did not view him as such an attractive start. Andrew makes a great point to only risk players if they are clear optimal values with a 1:00pm kickoff, as there is ample coverage and time to restructure lineups before the action of the day begins.
Feery: I’m pretty conservative on the injury front in general. If a player appears to be truly questionable or limited if he even sees the field, I’m typically scratching them off my shortlist by the time I get around to finalizing lineups. That being said, Montgomery was a pretty surprising one last week, as all signs pointed to him being a full go heading into lineup lock. There were plenty of workarounds on late-swap sites, but you were toast on sites that locked rosters at the early kickoff.
I wasn’t as high on him as most so I wasn’t impacted too badly, but I can certainly feel the pain. The good news is that if you stick to the concept of shying away from those who are on the truly questionable side, you won’t be burned by a surprise inactive too often. That’s a good part of why I don’t hesitate in scratching them off of my short list despite any upside they may bring to the table, as I’ve been burned by those instances in years past.
Knotts: If there is a flex spot, put your latest starting player in that flex spot to give you an option to go to either with a running back or a wide receiver in that spot in case of emergency. If there is a late swap on the site, I try to leave a little bit of salary left over so that I have some options whether to go up to a certain player or down to a certain player. Finally, just plan out potential scenarios where if a player scratches what are you going to do. Think about your game plan prior to the situation occurring. Look at your scenarios and decide if you don't like the scenario create a different plan.
Hindery: In the specific example of Montgomery, there wasn’t much you could do if you were playing on a site without late-swap. There was absolutely no indication that he might not be able to play, and the general reporting on his illness throughout the week was that it was a minor thing. His ownership was as high as 31% in some tournaments I was in where lineups locked at 1:00pm. Perhaps you slightly discount players that are questionable and who aren’t playing in the early games, but it is tough when it is a player who was such a surprise scratch.
With sites that do allow you to late-swap, Montgomery provides a strong reminder that you need to have a source of news that you are checking each week before the late afternoon games start so that you don’t get stuck with an inactive player. A quick check of twitter on your phone is probably the easiest option, but there are also other great sources for breaking news. For example, Footballguys sent out an email on Montgomery as soon as the news broke.
Returning From Bye Weeks
Hester: We have a small sample of teams who have returned from bye weeks, but Week 9 brings us our largest group of rested teams yet – with six teams returning from Week 8 byes. Do you account for rested players in your weekly process? Do they get a boost due to the break or a bump down because they don’t have momentum being carried into the week?
Garda: I think it depends on the player and how he has performed. If he struggled early but just got going and then had the bye come up, I might worry the disruption of his newfound momentum could throw him off again. Contrarily, if he was struggling into the break, I would hope the time off lets him get things together. In that case, though, I might wait a week and see how he does. At the very least, I am reading the reports of his practice very closely. I want to get in ahead of other DFS owners, sure, but I don't want to jump in too early and burn myself.
I don't factor it in majorly, but I do weigh it, particularly with some guys (proven studs) less than others (rookies, up and comers).
Howe: I don't think I buy into it, honestly. As Andrew mentioned, you can sometimes use it as a mini-X factor and maybe break a tie between two guys by picking the most rested. But I don't see the results bearing out well overall for the theory. This year alone, the bye hasn't shown any real restorative properties.
The Packers seemed to get somewhat on-track after their Week 4 bye, while the Eagles have gone 1-3, and their offense looks very ordinary. The Vikings have looked awful since their break, and neither the Jaguars nor the Buccaneers look improved one bit, not even immediately upon returning to action.
Parsons: I look more into teams with "get well" strength of schedule shifts or touchdown regression candidates with positive matchups than returning from a bye week. Maybe once or twice a year, I will have a lineup decision between two players close enough to go all the way to the granular level of which had a bye week.
Feery: I may give a slight boost to a player coming off of a bye week, but it’s not an automatic decision maker in tiebreaker scenarios. For my weekly process, I’ll definitely look at it on a case by case basis, and I try to approach it from a big picture view. For starters, I’m looking at the player’s team as a whole.
Was the team playing well heading into the bye week? Do they appear like they’re set to come roaring out of the gate after a week off? Were they severely underperforming expectations prior to the break? Once I have the answers to these and a few others, I’ll move on to the player’s individual performance and matchup for the week.
For a hard and fast rule, I’m big on recent performance. If the player was performing at or above expectations prior to some time off, I’ll expect them to hit the ground running and see a little boost. For players performing at the opposite level, I’ll adopt a "show me" stance and not place too much credence into the week off being the kickstart they needed.
Knotts: I factor it in for the team's defense more than anything and as a negative for the opponent facing a team coming off a bye. If you give a team two weeks to prepare for any NFL team, that defense is going to play better than if they had just a week to prepare. Teams this season coming off the bye are 8-2, which tells me that they are preparing better for their opponent than they otherwise would be in just a given week. I downgrade the opposing offense more than I benefit the offense coming off a bye. The bye is also a factor if there is a health situation where a player has been struggling recently. For the most part, though, I really don't factor it in that much to my process other than special cases where a team is coming in injured or struggling to get right.
Hindery: The rule of hand for gamblers is that the better a team is, the more benefit a bye week provides. We’ve seen that to some extent with Kansas City, Green Bay, and Carolina. Each team has plenty of talent and an experienced coaching staff and came out with a key win after the bye. We could see something similar for Pittsburgh this week. The Steelers are probably a better team than Baltimore and thus should get a bigger boost with both teams coming off of the bye. Some of these AFC North rivalry games defy logic, but the bye week makes me slightly more likely to target the Steelers offense in this game. Sammie Coates Jr is especially interesting since the extra week off should have helped his hand heal. It’s also an intriguing matchup for him as the Ravens number-two cornerbacks have struggled, and the Ravens have been susceptible against deep balls in recent seasons.
Feast or Famine?
Hester: Of the 11 main slate games this week, seven of them opened with totals under 46, while only two (New Orleans-San Francisco and Indianapolis-Green Bay) have totals over 51. Surely, more DFS players will flock to those games. Will you be with them, or do you see any other games as an opportunity to “swim upstream” and be contrarian?
Howe: Aside from their two games against Denver, San Diego matchups have topped 63 points consistently dating back to Week 4. And over the last three weeks, Tennessee's games have produced 54, 60, and 58 points. Their occasional flashes aside, these are two generally subpar defenses that struggle to stop the pass and keep opponents out of the end zone.
That, of course, means there are fairly ripe pickings for contrarian GPP lineups. DFSers struggle to tell Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams apart; they boast similar target shares and ownership numbers, and neither ever looks likey to erupt fantasy-wise. But against the Titans Swiss cheese secondary, which has allowed big-yardage games to the likes of the Browns and Jaguars, either (or both) could make tournament noise. The speedy Benjamin probably best fits the mold of the wideouts that have given Tennessee trouble. In any event, Philip Rivers could be set up for one of his strongest games of the year, so he'll be a staple of my GPP portfolio.
Parsons: I will have at least some exposure to the top Vegas total games/teams on a weekly basis. However, Week 9 is a rough one finds attractive games outside of the top matchups mentioned. One aspect I look forward in targeting teams is a lack of pass rush on defense. For this week, I like the Denver offense against Oakland. The Raiders have just 11 sacks on the season, around 50% less than the league average. They are allowing nearly 300 yards per game through the air and have yet to log more than two sacks in a game. Trevor Siemian is a tepid DFS play most weeks, but after two total touchdowns over the last three games, he is a regression candidate with a positive matchup. Demaryius Thomas would be my preferred stack option with Siemian over Emmanuel Sanders.
Feery: I’ll definitely have some exposure to the projected high-scoring games, but I’ll balance my lineups out elsewhere. As Justin mentioned, the Tennessee-San Diego could be a good source of points, but the rest of the games on the schedule look to be pretty matchup based. The Dallas and Kansas City offenses look like some of the good targets on that front, and there’s also some intriguing divisional matchups on the docket. You never do know exactly how games between opponents that don't face off on a regular basis will shake out, but they're definitely on my radar to see if there's any value to be had or fantastic matchups just waiting to be exploited.
For roster construction as a whole, I may end up with one or two plays from the projected high-scoring games, four to five of the best matchup plays, one or two of the week’s top values, and probably a contrarian selection or two that I feel particularly strong about.
Hindery: For me, it will be a little bit of both. The four quarterbacks playing in the two obvious potential shootouts are each strong plays, and quarterback ownership usually ends up spread out enough that worrying too much about ownership percentage ends up being counter-productive. I will certainly be targeting these quarterbacks heavily in all formats. However, some of the receivers in these games could end up being over-owned and potentially worth fading. Assuming everyone is healthy, Green Bay will have four intriguing pass catchers (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Ty Montgomery). It’s unlikely that each will be a good play, and it’s difficult to project which will have a big game.
The Saints provide a similar challenge, with three very capable receivers. Plus, Drew Brees likes to target his tight ends, fullbacks, and running backs in the red zone as well. Based upon the uncertainty among which receivers will excel in these game, one easy way to differentiate your tournament lineup is to play one of these quarterbacks “naked” (unstacked). You can then chase some receivers from the other games who may have a lesser chance of ending up in a shootout but have a larger market share of their own team’s targets. You get exposure to a larger number of games and can really pick and choose your spots in terms of matchups.
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Ryan Hester - Moderator