#Trendspotting: Week 13 - Cooking Up Fantasy Goodness

Examining player and team trends to identify valuable DFS options and start/sits in season-long leagues

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Coming off Thanksgiving, it's appropriate to thank my readers and all our Footballguys subscribers. I can't believe it's already Week 13. Thanks so much for enjoying the ride of another great NFL and fantasy football season with us!

Because of this special occasion, I'm introducing a new section to the column. It's called "How Will They Score" and is at the bottom of the article. Note that the goal of this column is to provide data to help you make fantasy decisions but also actionable commentary from the stats provided.

Graphics Tutorial and Reader's Guide

I've gotten feedback that my graphics aren't as self-explanatory and intuitive as I think they are, so I provided a guide at the beginning of a past version of this article.

  • Green text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players.
  • Red text is a bad matchup.
  • All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
  • All stats reference the full 2017 season unless otherwise specified.

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

Follow the Targets

The table below looks at bad pass defenses and shows how those defenses allow targets, yards, and touchdowns. In previous weeks, we've looked at the eight worst pass defenses by yards per game over the course of the season. But with trends and teams changing, we narrowed that look to the most passing yards per game allowed from Week 7 forward. The numbers on how they've allowed those targets, yards, and touchdowns, however, are a season-long look.

Here are some quick notes on how to decipher the chart:

  • Tampa Bay allows 64.3% of their targets to wide receivers, and they're last in the NFL in yards per game yielded to wide receivers
  • They've surrendered 14 touchdowns to wideouts.
  • The New York Giants have yielded nine (9) touchdowns to tight ends.
  • Houston allows 24.6% of its total targets and the seventh-most (i.e. 26th-ranked) yards per game to tight ends.
  • However, they only allow 17.4% of their targets and the fourth-fewest yards per game to running backs.
Team RB Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD WR Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD TE Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD
Green Bay Packers 23.2% 23 3 59.7% 29 13 17.1% 3 1
Houston Texans 17.4% 4 3 58.0% 27 13 24.6% 26 6
New York Giants 19.8% 14 2 55.4% 23 10 24.7% 30 9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20.1% 18 2 64.3% 32 14 15.6% 6 3
Oakland Raiders 23.8% 25 4 54.9% 16 11 21.3% 22 4
Pittsburgh Steelers 22.4% 15 1 54.0% 8 9 23.6% 8 2
Dallas Cowboys 20.4% 25 2 59.3% 22 15 20.4% 20 4
Chicago Bears 19.9% 6 1 57.7% 10 10 22.4% 18 3
                   

Action(able) Items

  • I was ready to call Tampa Bay at Green Bay a sneaky shootout, but Tampa Bay lost two very good offensive linemen to I.R. this week.
  • We've picked on Tampa Bay vs. wide receivers in this column multiple times this season. In fact, last week, our cover boy made us proud. Later, we'll look at them again and how it relates to Green Bay's receivers.
  • The Giants held Vernon Davis to nothing on Thanksgiving, but that is likely an anomaly. Considering Oakland's lack of receiver depth and his success already this year, Jared Cook is in a great spot to outproduce expectations.

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Funnel Watch

A "funnel" defense is one with a stout run defense but a suspect (or worse) pass defense. These units "funnel" production to the exterior and deep parts of the field (places where passing games focus) and away from the short middle (where the running game occurs).

Team PaYd/Gm RuYd/Gm NYd/Att Yd/Rush %PassYd %RushYd
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 284.6 110.9 7.6 4.1 72.0% 28.0%
Indianapolis Colts 266.3 109.5 7.5 4.0 70.9% 29.1%
Oakland Raiders 244.8 108.8 7.1 4.1 69.2% 30.8%
Green Bay Packers 244.1 107.1 6.9 3.8 69.5% 30.5%
Houston Texans 243.9 96.3 6.9 3.8 71.7% 28.3%
Philadelphia Eagles 226.5 65.1 5.4 3.5 77.7% 22.3%
             

I've mentioned before that some "funnel" defenses are such because they are very good vs. the run and/or bad vs. the pass. Others make this list because game situations dictate more passing than rushing. This increases the passing stats against and decreases the rushing stats against. Because of this, it can be good to look at situation-neutral stats.

Teams like Green Bay and Oakland are "funnels" because they're very bad against the pass. A team like Philadelphia, though, has gained its status in the table above due to game script.

"Runnel" Defense

The funnel effect can also happen in reverse, where a team is very good against the pass but poor against the run (hence, "runnel" defense). Side note: I didn't create this term; I saw it on Twitter last season, but I can't recall who posted it. If you know, drop me a line so I can give proper credit.

Team PaYd/Gm RuYd/Gm NYd/Att Yd/Rush %PassYd %RushYd
Jacksonville Jaguars 168.7 113.1 4.6 4.4 59.9% 40.1%
Baltimore Ravens 189.9 115.8 5.4 4.0 62.1% 37.9%
Cincinnati Bengals 203.8 126.6 5.4 4.0 61.7% 38.3%
Los Angeles Chargers 206.0 133.5 5.5 4.9 60.7% 39.3%
Los Angeles Rams 212.7 123.3 5.8 4.7 63.3% 36.7%

Action(able) Items

  • If you play Monday Night Football DFS slates or traditional leagues, Le'Veon Bell is worth paying up for. Not only is Cincinnati worse against the run than the pass, but Pittsburgh plays a more run-centric style on the road.
  • Adrian Peterson is a dart-throw GPP play in DFS. The Rams could be in a let-down spot after a big win over New Orleans. Peterson has been effective in neutral and positive scripts.

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The Weakest Links

Last Week, we discussed Kansas City vs. running quarterbacks. After allowing 27 rushing yards to Tyrod Taylor, they have now allowed 20+ rushing yards to a quarterback six times. We also discussed Tampa Bay vs. wide receivers. Let's get another look at that table:

Player Wk Rec Yd TD FPs
Julio Jones 12 12 253 2 53.8
Mohamed Sanu 12 8 64 0 20.4
Kenny Stills 11 7 180 1 34.0
Jarvis Landry 11 6 95 1 20.5
DeVante Parker 11 4 26 0 6.6
Robby Anderson 10 4 85 1 18.5
Jermaine Kearse 10 4 35 0 7.5
Ted Ginn 9 4 59 1 15.9
Michael Thomas 9 8 65 0 14.5
           

Julio Jones broke the color-shading system in the "FPs" column. By putting up 53.8 DraftKings points, he made games of 18-10 look "ho-hum" and games of 14 and 15 look "whatever." This week, Tampa Bay gets Green Bay, so let's dive into which Packers wideout is the best start.

  Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12
Player Snaps Tgt Yds Snaps Tgt Yds Snaps Tgt Yds Snaps Tgt Yds
Davante Adams 94.9% 26.3% 21.6% 81.8% 33.3% 42.5% 95.5% 28.6% 52.7% 87.3% 34.6% 33.5%
Jordy Nelson 83.1% 18.4% 14.3% 97.0% 16.7% 9.4% 92.5% 17.1% 10.0% 94.5% 19.2% 4.5%
Randall Cobb 83.1% 13.2% 23.7% 56.1% 16.7% 24.5% 71.6% 17.1% 14.2% 69.1% 15.4% 23.7%
Team Total 59 38 245 66 24 212 67 35 239 55 26 245
                         

That's a lot of numbers jammed into one table, but the colors are enough to illustrate the Davante Adams is the clear WR1 in Green Bay lately. Going back to Brett Hundley's first game where he entered in relief of Aaron Rodgers, the story is the same. Adams has been the apple of Hundley's eye, and he gets a mouth-watering matchup this week. Adams is a reasonable cash play in DFS if you can't spare the couple hundred dollars more to get up to Michael Thomas, Devin Funchess, or Mike Evans (DraftKings pricing referenced).

Historically Bad

Football Outsiders ran an article this week illustrating some of this season's worst defenses against the worst defenses they've ever tracked.

WORST RUN OFFENSE DVOA, 1986-2017   WORST PASS DEFENSE DVOA, 1986-2017
Year Team DVOA   Year Team DVOA
2017 (11 G) ARI -34.10%   2015 NO 48.10%
1991 IND -30.20%   1996 BAL 42.00%
2017 (11 G) MIA -31.20%   2017 (11 G) OAK 41.90%
2005 ARI -29.10%   1999 SF 41.70%
2002 HOU -27.40%   1996 ATL 38.00%
2013 BAL -27.20%   2017 (11 G) MIA 37.20%
2013 JAC -27.10%   2009 DET 36.50%
2016 LARM -26.60%   1989 DAL 36.40%
1986 NE -26.50%   2016 DET 36.20%
1995 ARI -25.10%   2009 JAC 35.80%
2015 WAS -23.50%   1991 LARM 35.40%
2016 MIN -23.30%   2000 MIN 35.20%
             

The left side shows the worst offenses, but let's focus on the right side, where Oakland and Miami have been among the worst teams in history against the pass. And since Miami can't run the ball offensively, they don't sustain drives, thus putting their bad defense back on the field more often. This may not be the most actionable piece of advice this week because Miami is playing Denver, and Oakland is playing the Geno Smith-led New York Giants. But if looking for contrarian DFS options, Denver might be a good place to start. Both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have appeal due to talent and matchup. And if you think Smith can be competent, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard should continue to see volume.

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Hi, I'm New Here

Let's take a look at some newly-developing trends.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Player Wk Cmp Att Yd TD Int FPs
Joe Flacco 12 20 32 141 0 0 9.8
Blaine Gabbert 11 22 34 257 3 2 21.6
Jared Goff 10 25 37 355 3 0 29.5
Jacoby Brissett 9 20 30 308 2 0 23.5
Russell Wilson 8 26 41 452 4 1 39.1
Kevin Hogan 6 20 37 140 1 3 10.2
Alex Smith 5 29 37 324 3 0 29.9
               

The two quarterbacks who have failed recently against Houston are the two struggling the most this season. This week, Marcus Mariota gets Houston. Mariota isn't having a great year either, but positive touchdown regression should be on his side soon.

You Didn't Think This Would Last All Season, Did You?

New England's defense started the season on a historically bad pace. While the won't be confused with the '85 Bears any time soon, they've leveled out nicely.

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New England Patriots (at Buffalo Bills)

NE at BUF

Commentary

New England's running back usage is a fantasy factor every season. They're such a good team that they can turn any back into a fantasy asset due to positive game scripts. And this matchups has historically been a fast-paced, high-scoring affair. But deciding which back to deploy in your lineup is the hard part. Last week, both Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis were viable. Yet, if Lewis gets the short touchdowns this week instead of Burkhead, he holds most of the fantasy value.

It's likely that at least one touchdowns comes on the ground. Buffalo is allowing 36.9% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the highest such ratio in the NFL. If you own Lewis in a traditional league, it's hard to imagine you have better options this week. Burkhead is a wild card, high-floor/low-ceiling play I'd only recommend in DFS GPPs or if you're a big underdog in your traditional league matchup.

Additionally, there's this nugget about Rob Gronkowski, who is always a candidate for at least one touchdown when New England has a high team total.

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Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Cleveland Browns)

LAC vs. CLE

Commentary

Cleveland had been in the "Funnel" section of this column for weeks, but they've been poor against the run lately. They have yielded over 100 yards to an individual back in two straight games and a rushing touchdown in three of their last four. They also allow 2.0 passing touchdowns per game, tied for second-most in the NFL. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers has thrown for multiple touchdowns in three straight games and four out of his last five.

Cleveland allows 45.7% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the 10th-highest ratio in the NFL. The Chargers score 48.2% of their total points via passing touchdowns, the eight-highest ratio in the NFL. Keenan Allen has been white-hot lately, but on paper, this matchup doesn't look good for wide receivers.

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Los Angeles Rams (at Arizona Cardinals)

LAR at ARI

Commentary

By now, we all know that Patrick Peterson is a force at limiting (or stopping) fantasy production from opposing WR1s. But other receivers have had success against the Cardinals. The game logs of receivers vs. Arizona show as much. Peterson is likely to shadow Sammy Watkins, and Robert Woods likely to miss another week. That leaves slot man Cooper Kupp and rookie receiver Josh Reynolds.

Last week, Kupp led the team with 11 targets, while Reynolds had 6. In Week 7 vs. Arizona, Kupp saw 10 targets and caught 4 passes for 51 yards and 1 touchdown. In traditional leagues, Kupp is a flex-worthy starter. But in DFS, I'd rather have 6 Reynolds targets at his salary than 11 from Kupp. On DraftKings, Reynolds is $2,900 cheaper.

Arizona allows 3.7 yards per rush attempt, sixth-fewest in the NFL, making Todd Gurley a volume and game script-dependent option. With less expensive options in better matchups, Gurley isn't an elite cash game play this week.

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Seattle Seahawks (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)

SEA vs. PHI

Commentary

This game is so intriguing. From a real football perspective, it's two teams with playoff and championship hopes. It's also two capable offenses going against two capable defenses, which brings us to the fantasy angle. We all know Seattle has no running game. Against Philadelphia, should they even bother trying to establish one? Look at how these teams gain and allow yardage and score points.

  • Seattle gains 71.7% of its total yards via the pass, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • If you remove Russell Wilson's 401 rushing yards from Seattle's total yards number, their passing yards-to-rushing yards ratio would be 79.7%, which would be the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia allows 77.7% of its total yardage via the pass, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Seattle scores 51.9% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia allows 44.0% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the 11th-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia allows 3.5 yards per rush attempt, fourth-best in the NFL.
  • Seattle gains 3.9 yards per rush attempt, ninth-worst in the NFL. 
  • If you remove Wilson's 65 rushes for 401 yards, Seattle's other players average 3.2 yards per rush, which would be second-worst in the NFL.

We showed in the "Funnel" section that Philadelphia pass-to-run ratios are caused by game script. But the way Seattle plays offense will lead to plenty of passing and little rushing, regardless of how this game goes. The other intriguing part of this game is the point spread. Though Philadelphia is the hottest team in the league and we saw Seattle lose their last primetime game at home, it's still a very difficult place to play. Seattle being a six-point underdog surprised me. Them winning this game outright would surprise me less.

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Minnesota Vikings (at Atlanta Falcons)

MIN at ATL

Commentary

We've picked on Atlanta here before for their inability to stop pass-catching running backs. Atlanta is yielding 13.0 receiving fantasy points per game to running backs, fourth-most in the league. They allow 6.5 receptions per game to running backs, most in the NFL. Considering those factors and the game script (Atlanta is a home favorite), Jerick McKinnon is the better play of the Minnesota running back tandem (they are similar DFS prices). McKinnon makes for a GPP play in DFS and is flex-worthy in traditional PPR leagues.

At wide receiver, keep your eye on injury reports, as Desmond Trufant may sit out with a concussion sustained last week. This might make Stefon Diggs a palatable play as Trufant plays outside. But regardless, Adam Thielen surpassed Diggs as the more preferred and more productive target long ago.

  Week 8 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12
Player Snaps Tgts Yds Snaps Tgts Yds Snaps Tgts Yds Snaps Tgts Yds
Adam Thielen 91.8% 23.3% 37.7% 90.2% 41.4% 54.8% 93.6% 23.7% 44.7% 90.4% 36.7% 31.6%
Stefon Diggs 75.3% 14.0% 10.4% 83.6% 17.2% 25.7% 67.9% 15.8% 11.6% 90.4% 23.3% 23.4%
Team Total 85 43 260 61 29 303 78 38 275 73 30 282
                         

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How Will They Score?

I have a confession. What you're about to see and read is not my idea. This is a concept created by Ben Gretch at Rotoviz and now published on FantasyLabs. However, it's one I wanted to share as it is an interesting way to think about how teams score and allow points and can lead to some surprise/contrarian lineup decisions. For some background, check the intro to Ben's Week 1 column from earlier this year, or get a bullet-point summary below.

  • Take each team's implied Vegas team total
  • Average the percentage of points that team scores via passing touchdowns and the percentage their opponent allows via passing touchdowns
  • Multiply that average percentage by the implied total
  • Do the same for rushing touchdowns
  • An asterisk denotes a home team
  • Passing + Rushing won't add up to the total. There are kicking and defense/specials teams points as well. However, those aren't as predictable, so we're focusing on offense only.

You'll get the hang of it with the help of the charts and some examples.

Passing Points

Offense Defense LV Total Off PaTD% Def PaTD% Pass Pts.
L.A. Chargers* Cleveland Browns 28.00 48.19% 45.67% 13.14
Oakland Raiders* New York Giants 24.75 45.33% 49.44% 11.73
Philadelphia Eagles Seattle Seahawks* 26.25 47.86% 36.79% 11.11
Miami Dolphins* Denver Broncos 19.25 58.62% 51.43% 10.59
Kansas City Chiefs New York Jets* 23.75 41.91% 46.69% 10.52
New Orleans Saints* Carolina Panthers 26.00 29.81% 49.28% 10.28
Green Bay Packers* Tampa Bay Bucs 22.75 46.55% 43.51% 10.24
New England Patriots Buffalo Bills* 28.75 48.00% 23.08% 10.22
Seattle Seahawks* Philadelphia Eagles 20.75 51.88% 43.98% 9.95
Pittsburgh Steelers Cincinnati Bengals* 24.25 46.51% 33.49% 9.70
           

The surprising one here is Miami. With a total right above over 19 at opening, Miami is projected for nearly two touchdowns through the air. Denver allows plenty of production and targets to tight ends but very little to wide receivers. Julius Thomas isn't a bad desperation steamer in traditional leagues or intriguing contrarian play in DFS.

Oakland is another surprise appearance here, especially this high on the list. The Raiders will be without Michael Crabtree and likely without Amari Cooper. While Oakland's ratio of points scored is not aware those players won't be missing, the smart folks who set the lines and total are. Derek Carr and Jared Cook are good plays this weekend.

Rushing Points

Offense Defense LV Total Off RuTD% Def RuTD% Rush Pts.
New England Patriots Buffalo Bills* 28.75 14.77% 36.92% 7.43
Jacksonville Jaguars* Indianapolis Colts 25.00 24.54% 22.00% 5.82
Los Angeles Rams Arizona Cardinals* 26.25 20.06% 23.74% 5.75
Tennessee Titans* Houston Texans 24.75 34.71% 10.53% 5.60
Green Bay Packers* Tampa Bay Bucs 22.75 25.86% 22.90% 5.55
New Orleans Saints* Carolina Panthers 26.00 29.81% 11.59% 5.38
Philadelphia Eagles Seattle Seahawks* 26.25 15.38% 25.47% 5.36
Baltimore Ravens* Detroit Lions 21.50 17.80% 31.82% 5.33
Minnesota Vikings Atlanta Falcons* 22.25 26.57% 20.87% 5.28
Atlanta Falcons* Minnesota Vikings 25.25 22.64% 18.46% 5.19
           

As mentioned in the New England section above, they will score a rushing touchdown or two this week. Talent, game script, and improving health all point to Leonard Fournette having a big game. It's bizarre seeing Seattle in a home game showing up on these lists, but the Philadelphia offense has been a machine. It wouldn't be surprising if Seattle pulled off that upset, though. Beware the road favorite in the NFL.

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Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com