#Trendspotting: Week 2 - Footballguys

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

Thank you for joining another version of #Trendspotting. We only have one data point for 2018 so far. And while some of the data is nonsense that could be proven wrong as early as this week, some can be used to get an advantage on our fantasy football competition. Let's take a look at some Week 1 data and figure out what we should use and what is "noise."

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

The Weakest Links

We'll touch on some of these below, but here are some matchups/items that were weak in 2017 and appear to be starting 2018 the same way.

Kansas City vs. Quarterbacks

Tampa Bay vs. Wide Receivers

Michael Thomas scorched this team in Week 1, and they allowed the most fantasy points to wideouts last season as well. Tampa Bay couldn't cover him.

Action Items

  • Ben Roethlisberger is an obvious play, but his pass-catchers shouldn't go overlooked. While Antonio Brown gets the spotlight, don't forget about JuJu Smith-Schuster, who quietly went over 100 yards in Week 1.
  • Both Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace are interesting this week for a Philadelphia passing game that needs to get going after last week's dud. Wallace makes for an interesting GPP play, and Agholor is even safe in cash games for DFS or as a flex in season-long leagues.

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Developing Trends

Not all trends last for an entire season. And the best fantasy owners can spot trends as they develop. So this section will discuss newly-developing trends.

Commentary

Below are the trends we discussed last week, along with some commentary on how they fared in Week 1.

  • QBs vs. Kansas City - As covered above, this looks like it will continue to be a thing we should exploit.
  • RBs vs. Buffalo - No Baltimore back did too much damage, but production was there to be had. And game scripts vs. Buffalo will continue to be friendly.
  • RBs vs. Atlanta - Atlanta has allowed the most receptions to running backs in three consecutive seasons. Philadelphia didn't exploit it much, but they didn't do anything well. Atlanta also lost safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones, suggesting that their ability to cover running backs could be even worse than usual. Is there a running back more equipped to exploit this matchup than Christian McCaffrey?
  • WR1s vs. Baltimore (without Jimmy Smith) - Buffalo and their comedy of offensive errors made this grade the same as most of Nathan Peterman's passes -- incomplete. A.J. Green will stress-test this one on Thursday night.
  • WR2s vs. Arizona - Washington was balanced offensively, but success from Jordan Reed (4-48-1) and Chris Thompson (6-63-1) showed that anyone not covered by Patrick Peterson is viable.
  • TEs vs. N.Y. Giants - The entire Jacksonville passing game was bad. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was hurt entering the week and had a touchdown overturned. This matchup is still on the target list.
  • TEs vs. L.A. Rams - To say that Jared Cook did plenty of damage for Oakland would be understating it. Without allowing a touchdown to the position, the Rams allowed the most fantasy points to tight ends in the NFL in Week 1. Their elite cornerback play will force opponents to use tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

Action Items

  • Melvin Gordon III is on the road, but will an 0-1 playoff contender really get trapped against the worst team in the NFL? Gordon should be in the top tier of any running back list this week.
  • On McCaffrey, the preseason usage appears to have been Carolina's regular season plan.
  • It's Thursday night, so DFS main slate players won't care, but don't be concerned about A.J. Green. Some sites have his projection quite low, assuming that Baltimore is a difficult matchup. But last season without Smith, WR1s feasted on the Ravens. Don't get cute and bench Green for a trendy WR2-type.
  • "Anyone but the WR1" is going to be a theme against Arizona pass defense this season, including running backs. And if the Cardinals offense remains putrid, they're even more of a target for runners. No one needs to be told to play Todd Gurley, but from a raw points perspective, Gurley is the only player whose projection should rival that of Alvin Kamara this week.
  • The Rams spread their targets around in Week 1 (Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods each had nine, while Brandin Cooks had eight). But the player likely to see the least of Patrick Peterson is Kupp, which makes Kupp the best pass-catching points-per-dollar value on the team with the week's highest projected total.
  • Ricky Seals-Jones had a lackluster box score, but his usage was high (49-of-53 snaps), and he had an end zone target (many are calling it a drop, but it was a low throw). The Rams aren't going to allow a lot of wide receiver production, and Arizona doesn't have quality wide receivers. Seals-Jones should see plenty of targets, as should David Johnson. Seals-Jones is cash game worthy in DFS and shouldn't be dropped from season-long rosters.
  • Also from a season-long perspective, if we see that Johnson's passing-game usage is as lackluster after Week 2 as it was in Week 1, the level of concern for his outlook will be through the roof.

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Playcalling Preferences

In this section, we'll look at how teams call plays. Because game script and red zone can skew pass-to-run ratios, the percentages below only show plays called when the game is within seven points in either direction and plays run between the 20s.

There is some small sample size noise in here, but with context, one game can provide some worthwhile data.

Passing

Offensive Team Pass% Defensive Team Pass%
Baltimore Ravens 73.3% Cincinnati Bengals 71.0%
Detroit Lions 72.7% San Francisco 49ers 62.9%
Pittsburgh Steelers 72.7% Kansas City Chiefs 50.0%
Atlanta Falcons 71.7% Carolina Panthers 53.8%
Indianapolis Colts 71.0% Washington Redskins 62.5%
New Orleans Saints 70.0% Cleveland Browns 72.7%
Seattle Seahawks 69.2% Chicago Bears 61.5%
Buffalo Bills 66.7% Los Angeles Chargers 48.1%

Commentary

Baltimore played a game in rainy, windy weather and passed nearly three out of every four offensive plays when the game was within a touchdown. Of course, with their blowout win over Buffalo, their sample size of "neutral script" situations is a minuscule 15 offensive plays. Keep an eye on how they handle their playcalling Thursday night against Cincinnati.

Remember, this is neutral game script, so Detroit's inflated number is not because they were getting blown out. They passed on 16 of the 22 "neutral script" plays they ran.

Pittsburgh (44 plays), Atlanta (46), and Indianapolis (69) had the most neutral plays in this group. It's not surprising to see Indianapolis there given their personnel (Andrew Luck or bust), but it's a nice confirmation nonetheless. Last season, Pittsburgh was among the pass-happiest teams in neutral situations. And a 72% passing clip on the road in the wind and rain tells us they'll stay that way this season as well, especially without Le'Veon Bell.

Cleveland's defensive number was probably more a product of Pittsburgh's offensive philosophy (again, more games against more opponents are needed). But their personnel is such that teams should feel comfortable passing against them. New Orleans didn't run the ball well in Week 1, and they probably feel more comfortable preserving Alvin Kamara's health in the wide open space of the passing game than the between-the-tackles grind of the running game.

Action Items

  • Pittsburgh wants to pass, they'll be without Bell, and Kansas City's secondary is weak. Ben Roethlisberger's home/road splits are a thing. Roethlisberger is the QB1 in all formats this week.
  • In DFS, however, salary matters. Why not save some of your cap and look to Patrick Mahomes II II? If he can torch the L.A. Chargers, he should be able to perform well against a lesser Pittsburgh secondary, especially with Joe Haden nursing a hamstring injury. Mahomes is among the best points-per-dollar and H-value plays in DFS.
  • It's not 2017 anymore. We're back to feeling good about Drew Brees in the Superdome.

Rushing

Offensive Team Rush% Defensive Team Rush%
Washington Redskins 63.0% Indianapolis Colts 36.7%
New England Patriots 52.2% Jacksonville Jaguars 35.1%
Kansas City Chiefs 51.9% Pittsburgh Steelers 51.9%
Cleveland Browns 51.9% New Orleans Saints 37.5%
Tennessee Titans 51.1% Houston Texans 52.2%
Los Angeles Chargers 50.0% Buffalo Bills 26.7%
Houston Texans 50.0% Tennessee Titans 45.2%
Chicago Bears 50.0% Seattle Seahawks 46.0%

Commentary

Kansas City had plenty of passing success, but they also ran the ball frequently. No one is talking about Kareem Hunt after a lackluster Week 1. In a game bound for plenty of GPP exposure, Hunt might be the best leverage play on the slate.

New England's mix could remain rush-heavy against a reverse-funnel Jacksonville defense. For those new here, that means their pass defense is so good that teams put extra emphasis on running the ball. Additional emphasis could be placed on attacking the short and middle parts of the field in the passing game.

Buffalo's 26.7% of neutral plays against being rushes will be going up in the near future. And even if it doesn't their inability to keep games neutral makes them a target for opposing running backs. Can the Chargers overcome being a west coast team playing at 1:00 pm EST?

Action Items

  • Rex Burkhead was in the concussion protocol as of Wednesday. Even if Burkhead can play, Jacksonville's defense sets us a high-target game for James White. White is an RB2 (or better) in PPR leagues and a flex in standard leagues. In DFS, White makes for a strong GPP play, and a case can even be made for cash games in a Week 2 slate shorter on value than Week 1.

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L.A. Rams (vs. Arizona)

Commentary

Again, we're dealing with small sample size here, but the blue circle is worth mentioning. First, it's a refresher for you - dear reader - on what you should be looking for on these graphics and tables. Blue vs. blue should have your attention. Secondly, it's worth noting that the Rams had the eighth-most rushing yards in Week 1, and Arizona allowed the most rushing yards in Week 1.

The fact that L.A. averaged the second-most yards per rush and scored zero rushing touchdowns points to some positive regression in the rushing touchdown department as well.

The Rams are last in the NFL in fantasy points by their tight ends. That's because they targeted their tight ends zero times in Week 1. Nothing to see here.

As discussed in the "Developing Trends" section above, anyone not facing Patrick Peterson is worth playing against Arizona. Chris Thompson had a 6-63-1 receiving line at Arizona in Week 1; even Adrian Peterson had 2 receptions for 70 yards. As the slot receiver, Cooper Kupp is the least likely wideout to see Peterson.

Action Items

  • Do fantasy GMs need to be convinced to play Todd Gurley? In DFS, they do. Because of his involvement in the passing game and the game script that should lead to enhanced rushing production, Gurley is the only challenger to Kamara in terms of raw points projection this week.
  • He's often overlooked, but Kupp is the best passing game value on a team with the second-highest projected total in the league this week.

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Pittsburgh (vs. Kansas City)

Commentary

The passing attacks in this game have been covered in a couple sections above. But the blue circle shows that the Pittsburgh running game shouldn't be overlooked. James Conner proved that he can be a multi-dimensional workhorse, and the team will use him as such for the foreseeable future. Conner won't be submarined by game script and could benefit from multiple trips deep into the red zone, even if it's not him that got the team there.

In last week's column, we discussed how teams liked to attack Kansas City via the deep pass in 2017. In Week 1, that didn't change, as the Chargers attempted 14 deep passes vs. the Chiefs, the most in the NFL. While this isn't the Kansas City offense section, it's worth noting that the team with the second-most deep pass attempts against was Pittsburgh with 12. Bombs away in this contest.

Action Items

  • In season-long fantasy football, you're starting Roethlisberger, Conner, Brown, and Smith-Schuster. The only way you have better choices is if you're in a four-team league.
  • As for DFS, Roethlisberger is good for both formats; Conner in GPP due to the passing game focus; Brown is a cash lock and GPP chalk; Smith-Schuster is a GPP play with his big-play ability and the fact that he's always named fourth in this offense.

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Washington (vs. Indianapolis)

Commentary

This is where one game of data can be helpful instead of small sample noise. We had a feeling that the Indianapolis defense was poor, and the yards per play they allowed (shown by the blue circle) confirms this. The reason that looking at yards per play is so important is because when a team like Indianapolis faces a slow-paced team like Cincinnati, total defense can be misleading. Yards per play takes the pace out of the equation and shows how effective an offensive or defensive unit can be.

Action Items

  • A case can be made that Alex Smith is the overall QB2 this week. With a DFS salary outside the top-12 at both DraftKings and FanDuel (where he's QB16!), Smith represents the best value play on the board.
  • Because of Jordan Reed's skill set, the Washington wide receiving corps lacking a target hog, and Smith's penchant for throwing to his tight ends, Reed will always remain a solid play when healthy.

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San Francisco (vs. Detroit)

Commentary

There is a lot of red near San Francisco's offensive ranks. One game on the road against Minnesota will do that. Meanwhile, Detroit was worked over by a rookie quarterback.

In Week 1, George Kittle had nine total targets (4th among tight ends) and 28.1% of his team's targets (3rd in the NFL among tight ends). But his line was 5 receptions for 90 yards without a score. Some of that could be attributed to Marquise Goodwin leaving early, but this team has always wanted to utilize Kittle. He also dropped a touchdown and was overthrown on another potential end zone visit. Encouraging-but-not-exceptional counting stats combined with high-end peripheral stats is where fantasy football value lives.

Action Items

  • Every DFS lineup should begin with Kittle this week. If you have more money, go up. If you don't have enough, move down, but do so with caution.

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Denver (vs. Oakland)

Commentary

Denver's offense ran a lot of plays -- and not just in neutral scripts. Oakland's defense showed some leaks, as three different L.A. Rams wide receivers -- all of whom have different skill sets -- had productive games against them. Oakland can be beaten by multiple types of players, and their numbers would look worse if not for two pass interference penalties that yielded 87 yards.

Action Items

  • There is no shortage of attractive quarterback plays this week in DFS, but don't forget about Case Keenum. In season-long leagues, he's the best Rent-a-Quarterback in a somewhat weak set of streamer-worthy passers in Week 2.
  • No matchup suggests that Emmanuel Sanders is a better play than Demaryius Thomas -- or vice-versa. That makes Thomas the better DFS value if looking for a Denver pass-catcher to roster.

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Atlanta (vs. Carolina)

Commentary

If we had four or more games of sample size here, the blue circle would be concerning for any Atlanta player. Perhaps even one week plus the #NarrativeStreet of Atlanta's red zone woes makes the Falcons players tough to roster this week. But don't forget that Julio Jones has a history of success against Carolina.

  • Average statistics in last 6 games: 7.2 receptions, 137.3 yards, 0.3 touchdowns, 11.0 targets (15.7 FPs)
  • Average statistics in last 3 games: 7.7 receptions, 166.0 yards, 0.3 touchdowns, 12.7 targets (20.8 FPs)
  • Average statistics in last 3 home games: 8.7 receptions, 186.0 yards, 0.7 touchdowns, 12.3 targets (22.6 FPs)

Action Items

  • Ignore #FalconsRedZoneNarrativeStreet. Jones is a solid leverage play off the other high-priced wide receivers in DFS.

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