#Trendspotting: Week 5 - 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.

RBs WRs TEs
Team Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23.2% 31 2 54.2% 23 9 22.6% 32 2
Kansas City Chiefs 22.0% 32 2 60.1% 11 5 17.9% 30 1
New Orleans Saints 16.5% 9 1 64.7% 32 10 18.8% 5 0
Pittsburgh Steelers 13.4% 1 2 59.9% 31 7 26.8% 29 3
Cincinnati Bengals 19.2% 21 1 59.9% 29 5 21.0% 25 3
Houston Texans 24.2% 16 3 58.4% 22 4 17.4% 24 3
Miami Dolphins 26.5% 28 2 51.7% 17 3 21.9% 18 0
Atlanta Falcons 32.5% 30 1 50.3% 18 7 17.2% 12 1

This section appears every week, so let's mesh the commentary and actions together to save you, dear reader, some time.

Commentary + Action Items

  • Kansas City is poor against the pass, but they don't allow much production to wide receivers. Don't forget about Austin Seferian-Jenkins. In DFS, you can probably do better, but in season-long formats, where tight end is a wasteland, he is a decent desperation steamer.
  • Pittsburgh's defense is far from the Steel Curtain. But don't expect Atlanta's running backs to do too much in the passing game. Pittsburgh allows the fourth-most passing yards but the fewest to running backs. Pittsburgh allows 5.8% of its passing yardage to running backs, the lowest ratio in the NFL.
  • On the other side, however, Atlanta allows the third-most receiving yards per game to running backs. More on this later.

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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 358.0 87.8 8.7 3.9 80.3% 19.7%
New Orleans Saints 311.0 79.5 8.7 3.2 79.6% 20.4%
Houston Texans 288.0 94.3 7.1 3.5 75.3% 24.7%
Minnesota Vikings 277.5 104.0 7.8 3.9 72.7% 27.3%
Philadelphia Eagles* 271.5 63.8 6.4 3.4 81.0% 19.0%

Commentary

  • Tampa Bay is off this week, but let’s not forget about them next week. This is the quintessential funnel defense to target.
  • New Orleans allows 79.6% of its total yardage via the pass, the third-highest ratio in the NFL. But Washington only gains 64.1% of its total yardage via the pass, the seventh-lowest ratio.
  • There are plenty of games with high over/unders on the week, but the sneakiest potential shootout is Minnesota at Philadelphia. The Eagles allow 81.0% of their total yardage via the pass, the highest ratio in the NFL, while the Vikings gain 83.9% of their total yardage via the pass, tied for the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Meanwhile, the Minnesota defense allows 72.7% of its total yardage via the pass, the seventh-highest ratio in the NFL. Philadelphia offense is middling in terms of its pass-to-rush yardage gained, but that is driven by two games of Nick Foles at the helm and plenty of injuries to offensive weapons.

Action Items

  • All of Minnesota’s pass-catching weapons are in play, especially their wide receiver duo considering the concentration of targets they see.

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 171.8 157.8 6.1 5.3 52.1% 47.9%
Seattle Seahawks 204.3 122.5 5.7 4.6 62.5% 37.5%
New York Giants 228.8 126.0 6.7 4.8 64.5% 35.5%
New England Patriots 226.3 121.5 6.2 4.5 65.1% 34.9%
Green Bay Packers 218.5 107.8 5.9 4.5 67.0% 33.0%

Commentary

  • Detroit allows 157.8 rushing yards per game, most in the NFL.
  • Detroit allows 5.3 rush yards per attempt, third-most in the NFL.
  • Detroit allows 47.9% of its total yards via the rush, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Carolina gains 166.0 rushing yards per game, most in the NFL.
  • The Giants allow 126.0 rushing yards per game, fourth-most in the NFL.
  • Carolina gains 5.5 yards per carry, third-most in the NFL.
  • The Giants allow 4.8 yards per carry, seventh-most in the NFL.
  • Carolina gains 44.9% of its total yardage via the rush, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • The Giants allow 35.5% of their total yardage via the rush, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Seattle allows 122.5 rushing yards per game, sixth-most in the NFL.
  • The Rams are rushing for 125.3 yards per game, seventh-most in the NFL.
  • The Rams are scoring 17.1% of their total points via rushing touchdowns, the 15th-lowest ratio in the NFL.
  • Seattle allows 37.5% of its total yardage via the rush, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Seattle allows 7.4% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the fifth-lowest ratio in the NFL.

Action Items

  • Aaron Jones showed last week that he is Green Bay’s most dynamic runner. While it’s still a three-man committee, Jones’ usage increased, and he converted a goal line carry into a score. He’s not a cash game play due to the presence of his running back teammates, but Jones is a solid GPP play due to the upside the matchup provides.
  • The six lines above about Carolina and the Giants should have made this obvious, but don’t look too far past Christian McCaffrey this week. The Panthers are favored at home by a touchdown, and the matchup is juicy.
  • Seattle should start yielding more rushing touchdowns soon to catch up with the yardage they are allowing. Similarly, the Rams are gaining plenty of yards on the ground but not rushing for many touchdowns. That could begin to correct itself as well. Todd Gurley always has multiple-touchdown upside, but it’s especially true this week.

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The Weakest Links

In this section, we'll discuss the matchups that should top your list every week. And because even the strongest trends don't last all season long, we'll break this into two sections -- ongoing trends and developing trends.

Ongoing Trends

  • QBs vs. Tampa Bay – Tampa is off this week, but we’ll revisit them in this space next week.
  • QBs vs. Kansas City – Kansas City allows an average depth-of-target of 8.8 yards, the ninth-highest figure in the NFL. They have also allowed 745 total yards after the catch, most in the NFL. The Kansas City defense is so poor at covering pass-catchers that not only do quarterbacks throw deep against them often, the receivers have room to gain more yardage after they secure the catch. This bodes well for Blake Bortles this week, who is a top Rent-a-Quarterback candidate.
  • RBs vs. Buffalo – Green Bay’s backs collectively had a solid day against Buffalo. This week, Tennessee’s duo will look to do the same. Figuring out which one to play is the difficult part. If Tennessee controls the game, it suggests Derrick Henry. If they need to pass more, Dion Lewis has dominated work in the passing game.
  • RBs vs. Atlanta – Atlanta’s presence here was mostly tied to fantasy production yielded in the receiving game. But when Giovani Bernard had a big fantasy day despite “only” catching four passes, it cemented Atlanta’s place here at least one more week. This week, they face a struggling James Conner, who can’t seem to get anything going on the ground. A floor is in place, though, due to Conner’s continued involvement in the passing game.
  • WRs vs. Tennessee - We saw Alshon Jeffery return for Philadelphia and immediately accumulate over 100 yards and a touchdown against Tenneesse. They even allowed Jordan Matthews to get deep for a long touchdown. While it can't be safely recommended to exploit this situation with Buffalo this week, it's still in play for the future.
  • WR2s vs. New Orleans - Sterling Shepard was mentioned here (and in many other places) last week. And he came through for those who used him. This week, the stars don’t align quite as well due to Washington’s more balanced attack and wide-spread target distribution. Both Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed are in play, though, as de factor WR2s in what could be a shootout on Monday night.
  • RBs vs Arizona - Arizona has allowed at least three receptions to four running backs this season. They have also allowed eight total touchdowns (seven rushing) to running backs, most in the NFL. This week, they face San Francisco, whose offense still looked like it had a spark despite the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo. Matt Breida is one play away from a long touchdown on any given touch, making Breida a GPP candidate for DFS purposes and a flex in season-long formats – especially PPR.
  • WRs vs. Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh is being destroyed by the deep ball. They are one of three teams (New Orleans and Philadelphia) allowing over 200 yards per game to wide receivers, yet they “only” allow 13.5 receptions per game to wide receivers, 16th in the NFL. The second-most yards to wide receivers on the 16th-most receptions suggests a team getting beaten deep frequently. 100 or more yards from Julio Jones almost seems like a given, which means the ever-elusive touchdown is the only thing between Jones and a potential overall WR1 finish.
  • TEs vs. Cincinnati – Despite not allowing huge numbers to tight ends vs. Atlanta (mostly due to the Falcons preferring their receivers to tight ends), Cincinnati is still bottom-five in receptions per game and fantasy points per game allowed. This week, they get Miami, which should improve Cincinnati’s per-game numbers. But when facing a team with a viable threat, this is a good matchup to target.

Developing Trends

  • 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. After a decent week against T.Y. Hilton (5-50-0), the Eagles were back to their generous in Week 4, allowing a whopping 9 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown to Corey Davis. Minnesota essentially has two WR1s. Imagine was Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs can do to this defense.
  • TEs vs. Pittsburgh – They yielded over 100 yards and at least 1 touchdown in Week 2 and Week 3. Baltimore doesn’t utilize its tight ends frequently, which kept the Week 4 numbers modest. But in a shootout game, Austin Hooper is a decent cheap DFS piece and a desperation season-long streamer this week.

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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

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
Atlanta Falcons Pittsburgh Steelers 27.00 51.7% 62.1% 15.36
Los Angeles Chargers Oakland Raiders 29.50 59.5% 39.0% 14.53
Los Angeles Rams* Seattle Seahawks 28.75 47.1% 51.9% 14.23
Pittsburgh Steelers Atlanta Falcons 30.00 47.1% 44.3% 13.70
New England Patriots Indianapolis Colts 31.00 56.8% 30.0% 13.46
New Orleans Saints Washington Redskins 29.50 35.0% 54.5% 13.21
Minnesota Vikings Philadelphia Eagles 20.75 66.7% 51.9% 12.30

Commentary

  • Atlanta scores 51.7% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Pittsburgh allows 62.1% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Minnesota scores 66.7% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Minnesota is one of seven teams with 10 or more passing touchdowns this season.
  • Minnesota is the only team in the NFL without a rushing touchdown this season.
  • Philadelphia allows 51.9% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.

Action Items

  • The entire Atlanta passing game is in play, but all roads lead back to Matt Ryan. His ownership might be high, but it shouldn’t be too prohibitive with so many high team totals on the board and the “Roethlisberger at home” narrative on the opposing side.

Rushing Points

Offense Defense LV Total Off RuTD% Def RuTD% Proj. Rush
New Orleans Saints Washington Redskins 29.50 30.7% 27.3% 8.54
Pittsburgh Steelers Atlanta Falcons 30.00 23.5% 29.5% 7.96
Carolina Panthers New York Giants 25.75 33.8% 25.3% 7.60
Denver Broncos New York Jets 20.75 42.9% 27.0% 7.24
Cleveland Browns Baltimore Ravens* 22.00 47.1% 18.5% 7.21
Baltimore Ravens* Cleveland Browns 25.00 29.3% 23.1% 6.54
San Francisco 49ers Arizona Cardinals 22.75 12.0% 44.7% 6.45
Cincinnati Bengals Miami Dolphins 28.00 19.0% 26.7% 6.40

Action Items

  • Carolina's rushing offense vs. the New York Giants rushing defense was covered at great lunch above. Seeing again here is further reminder to not forget about McCaffrey coming off his bye week.

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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%
Indianapolis Colts 69.6% New England Patriots 63.8%
Pittsburgh Steelers 69.2% Atlanta Falcons 66.5%
Minnesota Vikings 68.6% Philadelphia Eagles 70.5%
Baltimore Ravens* 67.8% Cleveland Browns 64.4%
Cincinnati Bengals 67.4% Miami Dolphins 54.9%
New Orleans Saints 66.7% Washington Redskins 58.1%
Detroit Lions 65.3% Green Bay Packers* 58.1%
Atlanta Falcons 64.7% Pittsburgh Steelers 56.8%

Commentary + Action Items

  • Minnesota at Philadelphia was mentioned above. Just look at all of the blue shading there. Minnesota likes to pass, and Philadelphia won't discourage them.
  • Expect Pittsburgh to pass quite a bit against Atlanta. But as the rest of the column suggests, that's not necessarily reason to neglect Conner.

Rushing

Offensive Team Rush% Defensive Team Rush%
Washington Redskins 58.2% New Orleans Saints 36.3%
Dallas Cowboys 52.9% Houston Texans 47.2%
Tennessee Titans* 50.0% Buffalo Bills 46.3%
New England Patriots 50.0% Indianapolis Colts 40.8%
Los Angeles Chargers 49.2% Oakland Raiders 34.3%
Carolina Panthers 49.1% New York Giants 45.5%
Seattle Seahawks 45.3% Los Angeles Rams* 35.4%
Arizona Cardinals 44.9% San Francisco 49ers 35.2%

Commentary + Action Items

  • Just because Dallas' offense is poor doesn't mean we should forget about Ezekiel Elliott without a plum matchup like last week. Dallas loves to run the ball, and opposing teams are calling plenty of runs against Houston.
  • It was mentioned above, but if Tennessee plays according to script at Buffalo, expect Derrick Henry to get plenty of work. It's a thin play, given his usage and the fact that it's a road game for Tennessee.
  • One last mention of Carolina vs. the Giants feels necessary here. McCaffrey is obviously in play, but Cam Newton contributes to Carolina's rushing yardage and scores as well. There's a tendency in DFS to forget about players who didn't play last week, but don't let that happen with Carolina's main guys.

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Pittsburgh (vs. Atlanta)

Commentary

  • Atlanta is allowing 29.5% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • James Conner has seen 94.0% of his team’s rushing attempts by running backs, most in the NFL.
  • Conner has seen 92.3% of his team’s running backs targets.
  • Conner has seen 100% (four out of four) of Pittsburgh’s rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line.
  • Pittsburgh hasn’t had a rushing attempt inside the 10 in either of the last two weeks.
  • James Conner has a target market share of 13.0%, which ranks 17th among all running backs.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster hasn't played fewer than 75% of the team's snaps in any game this season.
  • Smith-Schuster has seen over half of the team's red zone air yards in each of the last three weeks.

Action Items

  • James Conner in a GPP? Sure, he’s struggling on the ground, but the pass-catching usage and the snaps are still there. The team has lacked goal line looks recently but used him there in the first two games. It’s never a bad leverage play to have a goal line back or a pass-catching back in a shootout. Conner is both for Pittsburgh, the team with the second-highest team total this week.
  • Antonio Brown is the more accomplished player, but Smith-Schuster has been eating into Brown's typically robust target share this season. Atlanta tends to perform better against WR1s. Tyler Boyd's 11-100-0 on 15 targets last week highlights that. Expect Smith-Schuster to have a big day. He's a locked-in WR1 in season-long leagues and a better points-per-dollar DFS play than Brown.

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Atlanta (at Pittsburgh)

Commentary

  • Atlanta gains 23.4% of its total yardage via the rush, the sixth-lowest ratio in the NFL.
  • Pittsburgh allows 27.5% of its total yardage via the rush, the 12th-lowest ratio in the NFL.
  • Atlanta calls a passing play on 64.7% of its neutral-script plays, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Atlanta has run 173 neutral-script plays, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL.
  • Pittsburgh’s defense has faced 282 plays this season, third-most in the NFL.

Action Items

  • Atlanta is going to pass in this game. As stated above, it’s what they want to do. And it’s also what Pittsburgh’s opponents have been able to do successfully this season.
  • Look at the discrepancies in fantasy points rankings at the passing game positions between the Atlanta offense and the Pittsburgh defense. Matt Ryan and anyone who might catch a pass from him are all viable plays.

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Minnesota (at Philadelphia)

Commentary

  • Philadelphia’s defense faced 71 plays last week in an overtime game in Tennessee.
  • Adam Thielen has seen 56 of Minnesota’s 186 possible targets, which represents a 30.1% target market share, fifth-highest in the NFL (only six players are at 30% or above).
  • Stefon Diggs has seen 44 of Minnesota’s 186 possible targets, which represents a 23.7% target market share, 25th-highest in the NFL.
  • Only Pittsburgh (Antonio Brown 9th, JuJu Smith-Schuster 15th), New Orleans (Alvin Kamara 8th, Michael Thomas 13th), and the L.A. Rams (Robert Woods 18th, Brandin Cooks 22nd, Cooper Kupp 23rd) also have multiple players in the top-25. (Yes, the Rams have three players in the top-25. They have three players with over 30 targets, Todd Gurley with 20, and no one else with more than 5).
  • Thielen is tied for the team lead with four red zone targets. He has zero red zone touchdowns.

The graphic above shows the Minnesota offense vs. the Philadephia defense. The yellow circles highlight that Minnesota's offense gets the vast majority of its targets, catches, and yards by its wide receivers. The blue circles show that the Philadelphia defense allows the vast majority of production in those categories to wide receivers.

  • The percentages of targets, receptions, and yards allowed by Philadelphia to wide receivers are fourth-highest, sixth-highest, and fifth-highest, respectively.
  • The percentages of targets, receptions, and yards accumulated by Minnesota's wide receivers are sixth-highest, eighth-highest, and eleventh-highest, respectively.

Action Items

  • In a game with huge over/unders all over the board, this one is surprisingly low. However, this is an explosive (and semi-rested) Minnesota playing against a tired Philadelphia. This game could easily go over the total and is the sneaky shootout of the week.
  • Thielen and Diggs make for solid plays due to their dominance of Kirk Cousins targets, but Thielen is the clear number one here and is a GPP-winning play.

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