#Trendspotting: Week 9 - 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. Blue text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players. Red text is a bad matchup. Some other key items are below:

  • All red/blue highlighting in tables is relative to the entire NFL, even when showing only a limited number of teams.
  • 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 examine how the worst passing defenses in the NFL allow their production.

RBs WRs TEs
Team Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19.5% 26 3 58.6% 29 13 21.8% 32 4
Atlanta Falcons 31.6% 32 3 51.3% 25 11 17.1% 15 3
Kansas City Chiefs 21.3% 31 3 59.6% 23 7 19.2% 30 3
New Orleans Saints 19.5% 15 1 62.7% 32 12 17.8% 2 1
New England Patriots 21.7% 25 3 55.9% 16 9 22.4% 22 5
Cleveland Browns 17.5% 18 0 61.7% 26 9 20.9% 19 2
Philadelphia Eagles 22.5% 28 0 63.1% 28 9 14.4% 1 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 14.9% 2 2 60.9% 27 11 24.3% 29 4

Commentary

  • New England is the only team on this list not in the bottom-10 of per-game yardage allowed to wide receivers.
  • New England is allowing 63.1 yards per game to tight ends, 11th-most in the NFL.
  • New England is allowing 0.6 touchdowns per game to tight ends, tied for third-most in the NFL.

  • The L.A. Rams wide receivers are responsible for 67.5% of the team's receptions, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • New Orleans allows 63.2% of receptions against to wide receivers, the fourth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • The L.A. Rams wide receivers gain 79.9% of the team's total passing yards, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • The L.A. Rams wide receivers have gained 1,865 receiving yards, second-most in the NFL.
  • New Orleans allows 73.0% of total passing yards to wide receivers, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Atlanta allows 10.0 receptions per game to running backs, most in the NFL (second-most is 7.5 per game)
  • Kansas City allows 74.5 yards per game to tight ends, third-most in the NFL.

Action Items

We know that Todd Gurley is one of the best fantasy assets of the last decade, but the Rams overall scheme and skill around Gurley contribute as much to his success as his own talent. It's Jared Goff and the passing game that have the better matchup this week against New Orleans. A player of Gurley’s talent in this scheme will almost never fail, but if he scores one touchdown and the passing game produces three (or more), Goff will end up as the more valuable fantasy asset this week.

Between the WR-by-committee that emerged with Green Bay last week, his narrow miss of a touchdown, and the weakness of New England, Jimmy Graham shapes up as a nice play this week. If looking for a stacking partner with Aaron Rodgers in a potential shootout, Graham makes the most sense.

Adrian Peterson is not the same type of player as Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey, so expecting him to catch more than a handful of passes is a stretch. But he's also a more rugged inside runner and perhaps a better goal line option than those players. Peterson is an RB1 in season-long formats this week. And if Chris Thompson is out for Washington, Peterson has top-five RB upside.

Kansas City is yielding plenty of yardage to tight ends despite not allowing a high number of receptions. David Njoku is a player with the skill set required to get down the field and make big plays. For DFS purposes, Njoku is a nice GPP play with his ownership likely down due to his donut last week and the coaching staff turmoil in Cleveland.

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Playcalling Preferences

In this section, we'll look at how defenses have plays called against them. 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%
Green Bay Packers 62.8% New England Patriots 66.7%
Oakland Raiders 59.1% San Francisco 49ers 65.8%
Washington Redskins 47.8% Atlanta Falcons 65.6%
Kansas City Chiefs 63.5% Cleveland Browns 65.3%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 67.2% Carolina Panthers 64.2%
Los Angeles Rams 56.9% New Orleans Saints 63.7%
Detroit Lions 61.1% Minnesota Vikings 63.0%
Baltimore Ravens 65.3% Pittsburgh Steelers 62.7%

Commentary

  • Tampa Bay calls a pass on 67.2% of its neutral script plays, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Carolina has passes called against it on 64.2% of neutral script plays, the sixth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Green Bay calls a pass on 62.8% of its neutral script plays, the twelfth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • New England has passes called against it on 66.7% of neutral script plays, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Baltimore calls a pass on 65.3% of its neutral script plays, the seventh-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Pittsburgh has passes called against it on 62.7% of neutral script plays, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.

Action Items

Volume will be there for the Tampa Bay passing game. And Ryan Fitzpatrick has utilized his wide receivers more than his tight ends this season (more on this later). Mike Evans is always a matchup nightmare, making him a realistic cash game play. The players with salaries in his same range, though, might feel safer, making Evans perhaps a better GPP asset.

John Brown is Baltimore's WR1. He doesn't get as much pure volume (i.e. raw targets) as a typical WR1, but the quality of his targets provides him that kind of ceiling every week.

Rushing

Offensive Team Rush% Defensive Team Rush%
Minnesota Vikings 35.1% Detroit Lions 51.8%
New York Jets 45.0% Miami Dolphins 47.9%
New England Patriots 40.5% Green Bay Packers 47.3%
Tennessee Titans 48.5% Dallas Cowboys 46.9%
Denver Broncos 41.3% Houston Texans 45.4%
Los Angeles Chargers 44.8% Seattle Seahawks 44.3%
Dallas Cowboys 48.6% Tennessee Titans 43.0%
Cleveland Browns 40.2% Kansas City Chiefs 42.6%

Commentary

  • Minnesota doesn't run much, but they might want to change that against Detroit.
  • Detroit faces a running play on 51.8% of its neutral script plays, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Detroit allows 39.3% of its total yardage via the run, tied for the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Detroit allows 5.1 yards per rush attempt, tied for second-most in the NFL.

Action Items

Detroit only allows 16.1% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the ninth-lowest ratio in the NFL. But the yardage they allow suggests more touchdowns should follow. And there's always this:

Don't hesitate to play Latavius Murray as long as Dalvin Cook is out. He's not exactly a PPR specialist, but his five catches last week showed that he's capable.

Expect plenty of running in the Tennessee-Dallas Monday Night Football battle. That speaks to Ezekiel Elliott's viability, but it also might hurt the Dallas Defense/Special Teams in what appears to be a good matchup. It's typically better to face teams who will be passing, as that generates sacks, strip-sacks, interceptions, and potential scores.

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The Weakest Links

In this section, we'll discuss the matchups that should top your list every week.

QBs vs. New Orleans

  • Trend: New Orleans allows the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks on both a raw Defense vs. Position (DvP) basis and a Normalized Strength of Schedule (NSoS) basis.
  • As you can see below, New Orleans has yielded at least 3.0x points-per-dollar value to four quarterbacks this season. The only players that have failed to reach that threshold are players who wouldn't have been considered valuable plays anyway.
Passing Rushing
Player Wk Comp Att Yds TD Int Car Yds TD FPs Sal. FP/$
Kirk Cousins 8 31 41 359 2 1 2 3 0 24.7 $5,900 4.2
Joe Flacco 7 23 39 279 2 0 1 4 0 19.6 $5,400 3.6
Alex Smith 5 23 39 275 0 1 2 7 1 15.7 $5,700 2.8
Eli Manning 4 31 41 255 1 0 2 5 0 15.7 $5,600 2.8
Matt Ryan 3 26 35 374 5 0 4 12 0 43.2 $5,700 7.6
Tyrod Taylor 2 22 30 246 1 1 4 26 0 15.4 $5,900 2.6
Ryan Fitzpatrick 1 21 28 417 4 0 12 36 1 45.3 $5,000 9.1
  • This Week: Is this finally the week the Rams passing game outshines Todd Gurley? If you're playing DFS GPPs, that's the strategy you should be using. Goff should also benefit from the return of Cooper Kupp, which will shift Robert Woods back outside and put all three of the Rams receivers back in their most comfortable positions.

RBs vs. Atlanta

  • Trend: Look at what running backs have done vs. Atlanta this season:
  • This Week: Most of those players are pass-catching backs, and if you've read this column any time in the last couple of years, you're aware that we like to mention pass-catching backs vs. Atlanta. Monitor Chris Thompson's health. If he can play, he's a sneaky DFS GPP play or RB2 in season-long leagues. If he can't play, fire up Adrian Peterson. Don't expect the ceiling that the multi-dimensional pass-catchers had, but with the backfield to himself, Peterson is a worthwhile play this week.

WRs vs. Houston

  • Trend: Houston is 10th-best on a DvP basis against wide receivers, but they have played one of the weakest schedules in the league. Our NSoS has them as the 26th-best team vs. wide receivers.
  • The players in yellow below represent either bad players who exceeded expectations (Donte Moncrief, Zay Jones, Phillip Dorsett) or the few high-end players Houston has seen (T.Y. Hilton, Odell Beckham Jr).
  • Not shown is Week 5 against Dallas. No Dallas receiver did anything notable against Houston, but on a run-first team with a WR-by-committee approach, that's to be expected.
Player Wk Rec Yds TD FPs Sal. FP/$
Donte Moncrief 7 7 76 0 14.6 $4,100 3.6
D.J. Chark Jr 7 4 31 0 7.1 $3,400 2.1
Zay Jones 6 3 35 1 12.5 $3,500 3.6
Kelvin Benjamin 6 2 43 0 6.3 $3,400 1.9
T.Y. Hilton 4 4 115 0 18.5 $7,000 2.6
Chester Rogers 4 8 85 0 18.5 $3,300 5.6
Zach Pascal 4 6 56 1 17.6 $3,000 5.9
Ryan Grant 4 5 64 0 11.4 $4,200 2.7
Odell Beckham Jr 3 9 109 0 22.9 $8,200 2.8
Sterling Shepard 3 6 80 1 20.0 $4,500 4.4
Taywan Taylor 2 3 32 1 12.2 $3,600 3.4
Corey Davis 2 5 55 0 10.5 $5,100 2.1
Phillip Dorsett 1 7 66 1 19.6 $3,700 5.3
Chris Hogan 1 1 11 0 2.1 $6,100 0.3
  • This Week: Denver will continue the stretch of average-to-poor passing offenses faced by Houston this season, but there is enough talent in the Denver receiving corps to provide fantasy goodness. Emmanuel Sanders has been a valuable asset all season, and Courtland Sutton has a clear path to targets after the Demaryius Thomas trade. Sutton is one of the best points-per-dollar DFS plays on the slate, while Sanders isn't far behind and has WR1 promise 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
  • 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.

Passing Points

Offense Defense LV Total Off PaTD% Def PaTD% Proj. Pass
Carolina Panthers Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30.25 43.8% 51.5% 14.42
New England Patriots Green Bay Packers 31.25 40.2% 45.1% 13.32
Minnesota Vikings Detroit Lions 27.25 48.7% 48.4% 13.23
Seattle Seahawks Los Angeles Chargers 24.75 56.1% 47.9% 12.87
Los Angeles Rams New Orleans Saints 29.25 38.6% 49.2% 12.84
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carolina Panthers 23.75 56.7% 51.3% 12.83

Rushing Points

Offense Defense LV Total Off RuTD% Def RuTD% Proj. Rush
New Orleans Saints Los Angeles Rams 30.75 30.8% 19.4% 7.71
Kansas City Chiefs Cleveland Browns 30.00 14.5% 34.3% 7.32
Los Angeles Rams New Orleans Saints 29.25 25.0% 23.0% 7.01
Carolina Panthers Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30.25 23.6% 20.6% 6.68
Cleveland Browns Kansas City Chiefs 21.50 32.0% 29.3% 6.58
New England Patriots Green Bay Packers 31.25 20.1% 20.8% 6.39

Commentary

  • Cleveland scores 32.0% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Kansas City allows 29.3% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.

Action Items

If Cleveland is going to score, it appears they would do so via the run. Who knows what the new coaching staff has in store, but it stands to reason that Nick Chubb would see the goal line carries. Chubb's upside is limited, however, by a lack of involvement in the passing game and the team's overall low ceiling.

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Going Deep

The goal here is to unearth some DFS GPP plays and some "what-the-heck flex" types for season-long leagues by examining which offenses like to throw deep most often and which defenses see the most deep passes attempted against them. We'll look at the five teams who throw deep the most and the five teams who see the most deep passes against them.

Offenses

Offensive Team Att./Gm. Deep% Defensive Team Att./Gm. Deep%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10.6 25.3% Carolina Panthers 7.6 20.6%
Buffalo Bills 7.5 24.8% Chicago Bears 5.9 16.7%
Cleveland Browns 8.9 23.1% Kansas City Chiefs 9.4 22.3%
Chicago Bears 7.7 22.5% Buffalo Bills 5.1 14.6%
Kansas City Chiefs 7.8 21.8% Cleveland Browns 7.5 18.1%
Los Angeles Rams 6.4 20.0% New Orleans Saints 6.9 18.9%

Commentary

  • The L.A. Rams attempt a deep pass on 20.0% of their attempts, the sixth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • New Orleans faces a deep pass on 18.9% of attempts against, the 12th-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Brandin Cooks leads the team with a 14.2-yard average depth of target (aDOT).

Action Items

Defenses

Offensive Team Att./Gm. Deep% Defensive Team Att./Gm. Deep%
Green Bay Packers 8.3 19.9% New England Patriots 9.5 23.3%
Baltimore Ravens 8.3 18.7% Pittsburgh Steelers 9.0 22.3%
Cleveland Browns 8.9 23.1% Kansas City Chiefs 9.4 22.3%
San Francisco 49ers 4.6 14.3% Oakland Raiders 6.4 21.0%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10.6 25.3% Carolina Panthers 7.6 20.6%
Minnesota Vikings 5.5 12.9% Detroit Lions 5.9 20.5%

Commentary

  • Baltimore attempts 8.3 deep passes per game, third-most in the NFL.
  • Pittsburgh faces 9.0 deep attempts per game, third-most in the NFL and faces a deep attempt on 22.3% of all pass attempts, tied for the highest ratio in the NFL.

Action Items

John Brown has an aDOT of 18.4 yards, second-highest of all players with 20 or more targets on the season. Brown also has 1,122 air yards, second-most in the entire NFL. Brown makes for a reasonable GPP play and a WR2 with WR1 upside in season-long leagues.

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Thank you, readers, for stopping by #Trendspotting every week. This column's following is growing by the week. And the twitter presence from its readers helps decide which topics to explore.

Because of that presence, we're expanding the "Dealer's Choice" section into multiple sections due to some great topics submitted and a plethora of action items resulting from those.

Dealer's Choice: Shootout of the Year?

Let's take a look at each team from an Offense-vs.-Defense perspective.

Rams Offense vs. Saints Defense

Commentary

This feels like a nice opportunity to refresh your memory on how these fancy charts read.

  • For example, the yellow circle shows that the Rams are first in the NFL in terms of rushing yards gained per game. It also shows that New Orleans is first in the NFL (i.e. the fewest yards) in terms of rushing yardage allowed per game.
  • The blue circle at the bottom shows that the Rams wide receivers have the second-most fantasy points of any receiver group in the NFL. It also shows that New Orleans has allowed the most fantasy points per game to wide receivers.

Saints Offense vs. Rams Defense

Commentary

  • New Orleans is seventh in total running plays per game but 26th in rushing yards per play.
  • New Orleans scores 30.8% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • The Rams allow 17.0 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, sixth-fewest in the NFL.
  • Over the last five games, the Rams have the 19th-best NSoS vs. quarterbacks.
  • The Rams allow 36.1 fantasy points per game to wide receivers, 11th-fewest in the NFL.
  • Over the last five games, the Rams have the 20th-best NSoS vs. wide receivers.

Action Items

Looking at the two offenses vs. defenses, it would appear that Los Angeles should have the easier time scoring. After all, they rank third in points per drive while New Orleans ranks 28th in points per drive allowed.

But the Saints are favored in the game, which suggests they will keep pace. The Rams are also not quite as good as their raw fantasy points against numbers indicate due to an abundance of weak opponents.

Who are the plays?

  • Quarterback: Both are viable and have similar salaries and projected percent rostered.
  • Running Back: In GPPs, Alvin Kamara is the best running back to use. His ownership will be lower than Gurley's, and the Rams passing game has the better matchup than their running game.
  • Wide Receivers: For the Rams, Cooper Kupp is the cheapest, but Brandin Cooks and his deep ball ability (plus #NarrativeStreet #RevengeGame if you're into such things) is the preferred GPP play. For New Orleans, Michael Thomas will be rostered heavily, making Tre'Quan Smith an enticing cheap option.
  • Tight Ends: Neither team utilized the position much. Ben Watson is more interesting than anyone on L.A., but better options can be found from other games.

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Dealer's Choice: Can Two RB1s Co-exist?

This is a great question, and some tools here at Footballguys can help us answer it. First, let's look at usage since Mark Ingram II returned in Week 5. Remember, New Orleans had a bye in Week 6, so this shows their last three games.

New Orleans Running Back Usage: Last Three Games

Snaps Carries Targets
Player Wk5 Wk7 Wk8 Wk5 Wk7 Wk8 Wk5 Wk7 Wk8
Alvin Kamara 47.0% 54.9% 71.7% 27.3% 58.6% 50.0% 14.3% 7.1% 36.4%
Mark Ingram II 54.5% 49.3% 43.4% 72.7% 41.4% 50.0% 10.7% 7.1% 13.6%
Team Total 66 71 53 22 29 26 28 28 22

As you can see, Kamara's snaps are increasing each week since the dip in Week 5. The carries are likely going to stay within a 60/40% split in either direction. But the targets look to be where Kamara will separate himself.

It's also worth noting here that Week 5 was a blowout in which the team clearly had Brees' passing record on the mind. Ingram had just returned from suspension, and Kamara had just seen an increased workload for four weeks. It made sense to use Kamara sparingly in Week 5.

What Can 2017 Tell Us?

Using the excellent "How Many Finishes" tool we have here at Footballguys, we can see that Kamara had nine top-12 running back weekly finishes last season. All nine of those came from Week 4 on. Only Gurley and Le'Veon Bell had as many in that stretch.

In that same stretch, Ingram had seven top-12 finishes. But Brees only had three.

While the team's defense is weaker this year, which could lead to more shootouts, history suggests it's very difficult to support a QB1 and two RB1s in the same offense, especially in the same week. With how this season is going and how teams typically ratio at passing touchdowns compared to rushing touchdowns, it's likely that the running backs see fewer top-12 finishes and Brees sees a couple more.

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Dealer's Choice: Cheap Quarterbacks and a Fool's Gold Shootout?

Tampa Bay at Carolina has the third-highest total on the board, but Will is skeptical that it will be a shootout. Let's assume that it will be and figure out the right players to look at from the game.

Buccaneers Offense vs. Panthers Defense

Commentary

  • Tampa Bay gains 80.5% of its total yardage via the pass, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Carolina allows 72.7% of its total yardage via the pass, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Tampa Bay scores 56.7% of its points via passing touchdowns, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Carolina allows 51.3% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the sixth-highest ratio in the NFL.

The difference Fitzpatrick has on his pass-catchers compared to Jameis Winston is striking. Both Evans and DeSean Jackson are in play. Considering Jackson's increased efficiency and the 9.1-yard aDOT allowed by Carolina, the fifth-highest in the NFL, Jackson makes sense. He doesn't play the amount of snaps or receive the floor-boosting targets to make him a comfortable cash game play, but he's a GPP dart. Fitzpatrick is also in play in all DFS formats and is a top-five quarterback option in season-long leagues. If you are struggling at quarterback in your season-long league, Fitzpatrick needs to be a priority.

Panthers Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

Commentary and Action Items

It's interesting that Carolina is so effective at running the ball while Tampa Bay has been good at stopping the run. And Tampa's 10th-ranked per-game rush defense isn't simply due to facing a low number of rushing plays (though they do). They're also 13th-best in rushing per attempt.

The telling stats here are the red zone offense (Carolina seventh-best, Tampa Bay dead last) and the points per drive (Carolina 9th, Tampa Bay 30th). Cam Newton should be quite popular in DFS this week. He can even be used without a stacking partner due to his rushing ability. Christian McCaffrey also makes for an elite play due to his workhorse status.

With Carolina more willing to pass the ball lately and Tampa Bay's penchant for airing it out and inability to stop the opposition, this game absolutely has shootout potential. And it's one that could be overlooked with other more enticing games on the slate.

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


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