#Trendspotting: Week 3 - Footballguys

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

Reader's Guide

As you read, you may run into some colors in the text. Green text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players. Red text is a bad matchup. Some other key items are below:

  • All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
  • All stats reference the full 2018 season unless otherwise specified.
  • All fantasy points rankings in the matchup graphics are on a per-game basis to account for bye weeks.

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

Follow the Targets

In this section, we'll look at the worst passing defenses and dissect how they allow their fantasy production.

The eight teams shown are the bottom eight in passing yards allowed, listed from most yards to fewest.

Commentary

  • Kansas City and Tampa Bay have allowed so much passing yardage that they appear susceptible to all positions. While these defenses will probably appear on this list all year long, more sample size will help us distinguish which position(s) they are especially terrible at defending.
  • New Orleans is profiling like Tampa Bay did last season. The vast majority of the success against them is via the wide receiver position, with other positions not (yet) doing much damage.
  • Since it's only two games, use context with this data. For example, Arizona is allowing 82 receiving yards per game to running backs, fourth-most in the NFL. But half of their data is against Washington, who is armed with renewed dink-and-dunk master Alex Smith and a great pass-catching back in Chris Thompson.

Action Items

  • Julio Jones doesn't score touchdowns. While there is some truth to that statement, it's overblown. Jones is the best cash game wide receiver play in DFS this week for those playing main slate contests.
  • When a wide receiver is at the top of a list, his quarterback merits consideration as well. Matt Ryan had a huge fantasy game last week, but much of that was on the ground. Expect that to regress but while the passing production increases. Ryan is a solid value play in DFS and is among the better cash game values. He's the best quarterback under $6,000 on DraftKings and is among the best quarterback plays on the main slate.

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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 typically occurs).

Team PaYd/Gm RuYd/Gm NYd/Att Yd/Rush %PassYd %RushYd
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 376.5 67.0 7.8 3.6 84.9% 15.1%
Philadelphia Eagles 309.0 58.5 7.5 2.9 84.1% 15.9%
Miami Dolphins 270.0 79.0 6.6 3.3 77.4% 22.6%
Denver Broncos 261.5 78.0 7.3 3.6 77.0% 23.0%

Commentary

  • A traditional funnel defense is difficult against the run and easy against the pass. But these teams are here mostly because they're so easy to pass on that opponents haven't tried to run much.
  • In Denver's case, they are likely to fall off this list with more sample size, but they're worth monitoring in case their actual accomplishments don't fall in line with their reputation of being an elite passing defense.
  • Tampa Bay's 84.9% pass yards allowed is the highest percentage in the NFL.
  • Oakland gains 75.7% of its total yardage via the pass, the 10th-highest ratio in the NFL. Miami allows 77.4% of its total yardage via the pass, the sixth-highest ratio.

Action Items

I may start up a #NumbersMeetNarratives hashtag for situations like this.

  • It's not on the DFS main slate, but if you're playing Monday night or season-long leagues, now is not the time to fade Antonio Brown. All of the main Steelers are in play, as are fringe players such as Jesse James and Vance McDonald (I prefer McDonald).

Reverse Funnels

Sometimes, the funnel effect can happen in reverse, where a team is very good against the pass but poor against the run.

Team PaYd/Gm RuYd/Gm NYd/Att Yd/Rush %PassYd %RushYd
Detroit Lions 168.0 179.5 6.1 5.6 48.3% 51.7%
New York Giants 164.0 137.5 5.6 5.2 54.4% 45.6%
Oakland Raiders 221.0 154.0 6.3 5.7 58.9% 41.1%
Atlanta Falcons 218.5 117.0 5.2 5.2 65.1% 34.9%

Commentary

  • Detroit's defense seems to stop playing every time an opposing rusher gets through the line of scrimmage untouched.
  • Houston is gaining 41.3% of its total yardage via the run, the fourth-highest ratio in the NFL. The Giants' 45.6% rush yards percentage is the second-highest.
  • Miami is gaining 42.6% of its total yardage via the run, the second-highest ratio in the NFL. Oakland's 41.1% rush yards percentage is the third-highest.

Action Items

  • Lamar Miller is running well but without much fanfare due to a lack of touchdowns. But he's the clear lead back on a team that should do well on the ground this week. He's an excellent points-per-dollar value in DFS and a low-end RB1 in season-long formats.
  • Kenyan Drake has a similar outlook to Miller this week. He has RB1 potential in season-long leagues and is a solid DFS play, though slightly more expensive than Miller.

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The Weakest Links

We're moving some of the "Developing Trends" we've discussed in previous weeks to this section. Those will be bolded below.

Commentary

  • QBs vs. Kansas City - The secondary is bad. And after Ben Roethlisberger had his way with them through the air, this is officially a matchup to target.
  • RBs vs. Buffalo - Melvin Gordon III had three touchdowns and took a half-day vacation. This week, Minnesota hosts Buffalo.
  • RBs vs. Atlanta - We mentioned last week that Atlanta has allowed the most receptions to running backs in three consecutive seasons. Christian McCaffrey then caught 14 passes for 102 yards. If a list of better receiving backs than McCaffrey existed, it would be short, and it would include Alvin Kamara.
  • WRs vs. Tennessee - The Titans have allowed three 100-yard receivers so far this season.

Action Items

  • Dalvin Cook is an RB1 in season-long leagues and a solid GPP play in DFS while others chase the elite tier and the recent production of the second and third tier of pricing. Don't forget about Latavius Murray, who could have deep flex value in a desperation situation for season-long leagues.
  • The debate between Kamara and Todd Gurley continues. Typically, Gurley's floor would be higher due to volume and his all-around skill set. But against Atlanta, is Kamara's over/under on receptions 7.5? Is it higher? Kamara is the overall RB1 this week.

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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

  • WR1s vs. Philadelphia - After allowing 10-169-0 to Julio Jones in Week 1, Philadelphia yielded 10-83-1 to Mike Evans in Week 2. They also saw DeSean Jackson accumulate a 4-129-1 line last week.
  • TEs vs. Cincinnati - Cincinnati has allowed 20 receptions to tight ends, tied for the most in the NFL. Those receptions have resulted in 99 yards per game, fourth-most and 25.8 fantasy points per game, most in the league.

Action Items

  • Philadelphia has been poor against WR1s. Indianapolis only has one viable wide receiver. Stay tuned...
  • Carolina rookie Ian Thomas played 64 out of 67 offensive snaps filling in for Greg Olsen in Week 2. It only resulted in three targets, but Thomas was running routes frequently. In a matchup where the opposing defense won't yield 14 receptions to a single running back, Thomas should see more targets. He's a solid GPP punt play in DFS and a reasonable streamer in season-long leagues.

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How Will They Score?

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, see the 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 entire team total. There are kicking and defense/special 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% Proj. Pass
Kansas City Chiefs San Francisco 49ers 31.50 75.0% 58.8% 21.08
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pittsburgh Steelers 26.25 64.0% 66.7% 17.15
Minnesota Vikings Buffalo Bills 28.75 67.9% 46.2% 16.40
New England Patriots Detroit Lions 29.25 63.8% 30.8% 13.84
Jacksonville Jaguars Tennessee Titans 23.00 58.8% 54.5% 13.04
Detroit Lions New England Patriots 22.75 54.5% 58.8% 12.90
Indianapolis Colts Philadelphia Eagles 20.75 54.5% 61.5% 12.04
Baltimore Ravens Denver Broncos 24.25 42.9% 55.8% 11.96

Commentary

  • There is so much talk around the industry this week about the seemingly inevitable regression for Patrick Mahomes II II and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Obviously, we can't multiply their stats by eight and assume that will be their end-of-year numbers, but who says they have to come to a screeching halt this week? Both teams score via the pass, and both have opponents who are weak vs. the pass defensively. Ride the wave.
  • Is Buffalo good at anything? The only reason to fade the Minnesota passing game is the thought that they score a defensive touchdown and two rushing scores in the first half and then don't have to pass for the rest of the game.
  • It's rare to see an underdog on either of these lists. By nature, underdogs are projected to score fewer points than their favored opponents. Therefore, seeing an underdog here means a strong combination of their scoring ratio vs. their opponent's ratio in the same department. When the underdogs appear here on the passing points list, it should have our antennae up. They like to score via the pass, their opponent allows points via the pass at a high rate, and as the underdog, the could be passing a lot.
  • Detroit and Indianapolis are underdogs and show up here. The Lions have talked all offseason about getting the running game going, but their personnel suggests that passing is still the best course of action. And their opponents are having enough success against their defense that the offense has been forced to throw often.
  • Indianapolis is interesting as well. More still to come...

Rushing Points

Offense Defense LV Total Off RuTD% Def RuTD% Proj. Rush
Pittsburgh Steelers Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27.25 41.4% 39.3% 11.00
Philadelphia Eagles Indianapolis Colts 26.75 61.5% 14.0% 10.10
Atlanta Falcons New Orleans Saints 28.00 41.9% 18.2% 8.41
Arizona Cardinals Chicago Bears 15.75 100.0% 0.0% 7.88
Cleveland Browns New York Jets 21.25 46.2% 16.2% 6.63
New Orleans Saints Atlanta Falcons 25.00 19.7% 28.6% 6.03
Chicago Bears Arizona Cardinals 21.75 12.8% 41.4% 5.89
Baltimore Ravens Denver Broncos 24.25 34.3% 14.0% 5.85

Commentary

  • The Pittsburgh running game showing up here might be misleading. While three of their seven total touchdowns have come on the ground, the team's yardage totals and personnel suggest they're a pass-first outfit. And we covered Tampa Bay's passing yardage allowed in a previous section.
  • Arizona is worth dismissing for a multitude of reasons. One of those is the idea that because they've only scored via the rush this season that they can be relied upon to do it repeatedly.
  • New Orleans hasn't rushed for many scores this year. But Atlanta has allowed a couple. That's even more ammo for Kamara.

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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.

Passing

Offensive Team Pass% Defensive Team Pass%
Pittsburgh Steelers 72.1% Tampa Bay Buccaneers 67.3%
Detroit Lions 71.7% New England Patriots 66.7%
Baltimore Ravens 69.6% Denver Broncos 61.7%
Minnesota Vikings 68.1% Buffalo Bills 60.0%
New York Giants 67.4% Houston Texans 40.0%
New Orleans Saints 67.3% Atlanta Falcons 63.0%
Indianapolis Colts 66.7% Philadelphia Eagles 70.7%
Buffalo Bills 66.7% Minnesota Vikings 57.1%

Commentary

  • The guidelines of this section indicate that Pittsburgh will pass a lot, but they tend to focus on the run when they're away from home. Knowing what is going to happen in Pittsburgh these days is a fool's errand. But logic suggests they'll produce plenty of fantasy goodness via the air and ground this week.
  • Indianapolis passes on two out of every three neutral-script plays. Philadelphia's opponents pass on 70.7% of neutral-script plays, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Indianapolis has run 96 neutral-script plays, second-most in the NFL, suggesting their sample size as strong as any other.

Action Items

  • It's been building for three sections now, so suggesting that T.Y. Hilton is a strong play shouldn't be a surprise at this point. The only argument against Hilton is that touchdown regression could work against him after having one in each of the first two games on 22 total targets. But the matchup here is strong, making Hilton a great GPP play and a WR1 in season-long leagues despite being ranked below that threshold in most places.

Rushing

Offensive Team Rush% Defensive Team Rush%
Washington Redskins 58.5% Green Bay Packers 37.1%
Tennessee Titans 57.1% Jacksonville Jaguars 38.3%
Los Angeles Chargers 54.2% Los Angeles Rams 37.2%
Dallas Cowboys 52.4% Seattle Seahawks 43.6%
New England Patriots 51.5% Detroit Lions 47.6%
Kansas City Chiefs 49.0% San Francisco 49ers 32.9%
San Francisco 49ers 48.9% Kansas City Chiefs 38.7%
Cleveland Browns 47.5% New York Jets 30.0%

Commentary

  • While Detroit will likely be passing often against New England, there's always a chance that the Patriots run the ball effectively enough to slow the entire game down and limit production all around.
  • It's interesting that Kansas City runs so many rushing plays but scores entirely via the pass. With San Francisco providing little resistance via the air, it will be interesting to see if Kansas City's play-calling mix skews toward even more passing.

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Kansas City (vs. San Francisco)

Commentary

  • San Francisco's total yards vs. yards per play suggests that their overall defensive numbers are a result of quantity rather than (lack of) quality.
  • Kansas City's total plays vs. their yards per play shows that they are a model of efficiency. Deep balls to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will do that.
  • Can the Chiefs maintain their incredible efficiency against a team that hasn't allowed many yards per play?
  • It's also interesting that Kansas City hasn't rushed for a touchdown, and San Francisco hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown. That's an oddity sure to change soon.

Action Items

  • Kareem Hunt continues to be a GPP play since he seems rather unsafe in his usage and production so far but is the running back on an explosive team that is favored.
  • Don't go away from Mahomes because of regression or because his DFS price tag increased. Wait for the matchup to catch up. This one is good enough to keep playing Mahomes -- if not for his ceiling, for his floor.

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Atlanta (vs. New Orleans)

Commentary

  • New Orleans allows 3.4 yards per rush, fifth-fewest in the NFL.
  • New Orleans allows 10.7 net yards per pass attempt, most in the NFL (second-most is 8.8).
  • In neutral situations, Atlanta likes to pass. And New Orleans' opponents have passed frequently against them.

Action Items

  • Ryan has been QB14 or better in eight of his last nine games against New Orleans, including four top-ten finishes during that stretch.
  • As mentioned above, Ryan's best target is a solid play this week as well. Ryan-Jones makes for a great "cash-plus" stack (copyright: David Dodds).

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L.A. Rams (vs. L.A. Chargers)

Commentary

  • The Rams are becoming the kind of team where every player is valuable. Last year, their receiving game was more concentrated on Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Todd Gurley. This year, they have more volume, and they're utilizing three receivers in routes instead of using Sammy Watkins to basically do nothing.

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Tampa Bay (vs. Pittsburgh)

Commentary

  • Pittsburgh's defense isn't strong at full strength, but it's significantly weaker without Joe Haden.
  • Speaking of weaker without a certain player, look what has happened to Pittsburgh's defense since losing Ryan Shazier last season.

Action Items

  • Keep an eye on this as the week progresses. It's a Monday night game, so we may not have the full story. But if Haden isn't practicing Friday or is ruled out Saturday, it's all systems go for Tampa Bay.

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San Francisco (at Kansas City)

Commentary

  • Kansas City's defensive players and coaches should be thanking their lucky stars that Mahomes and his band of offensive dynamos are setting the NFL ablaze. This defense is putrid.

Action Items

  • George Kittle was the chalk last week, and he disappointed mightily. Don't be afraid to run it back with Kittle this week in GPPs as his ownership should be lower. Matt Breida is also interesting. He is clearly the better talent and the better player on passing downs. And in a potential shootout where his team is expected to score but also expected to be behind, worse DFS plays could be made.

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Denver (at Baltimore)

Commentary

  • This game is difficult to read. Baltimore was a solid defense in 2017, but their data points in 2018 are: elite against Buffalo and thrashed by Cincinnati.
  • It's interesting that Denver's offense has played in so many neutral-script situations, while Baltimore's defense has played in so few. But that doesn't provide much indication on which fantasy plays are the best.
  • Baltimore's offense is well-balanced. In a surprising twist, Alex Collins looked like the better receiving back than Javorius Allen, but Allen was more successful at the goal line. And the receivers both have a solid floor but limited ceiling.
  • Denver's running back committee is a fantasy football nightmare. But the targets are so concentrated on the receivers that they are tempting in any matchups. As for who to play against Baltimore, consider this:

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