#Trendspotting: Week 16 - Footballguys

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

Nearing the End

If you're still reading this and playing season-long fantasy football, congratulations on your success. Go get that championship! If you're down to DFS only, hopefully the advice below helps you win some holiday cash. Regardless, as we near the end of the season, I wanted to thank you all for reading. That's especially true to those who have been along for the ride all season.

We'll have one more column next week, but with this being the final week of "traditional" fantasy football, the thank you felt more appropriate here.

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.

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

Strengths vs. Weaknesses

Here, we'll look at how teams gain yards vs. how their opposing defense allows yards. The goal is to average the ratios of yardage allowed in order to identify which passing and rushing attacks should fare best this week.

Passing
Offensive Team PaYd% Rank Defensive Team PaYd% Rank Avg. %
Pittsburgh Steelers 76.9% 1 New Orleans Saints 76.9% 32 76.9%
Atlanta Falcons 76.1% 3 Carolina Panthers 71.1% 28 73.6%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 76.5% 2 Dallas Cowboys 70.6% 26 73.6%
Philadelphia Eagles 72.1% 6 Houston Texans 74.5% 31 73.3%
Kansas City Chiefs 73.2% 5 Seattle Seahawks 68.8% 21 71.0%
New York Giants 70.7% 10 Indianapolis Colts 69.7% 24 70.2%
Minnesota Vikings 73.5% 4 Detroit Lions 66.7% 14 70.1%
Oakland Raiders 71.2% 9 Denver Broncos 68.2% 18 69.7%
"PaYd%" = the percentage of total yards gained or allowed via passing yardage
"Rank" = where that percentage ranks (1 is highest for offenses to signal the best; 32 is highest for defenses to signal the worst)

Commentary and Action Items

The following facts are quite coincidental:

  • Pittsburgh gains 76.9% of its total yardage via the pass, the highest percentage in the NFL.
  • New Orleans allows 76.9% of its total yardage via the pass, the highest percentage as well.
  • Pittsburgh and New Orleans happen to be playing each other this week.

We'll get into this battle more in the final section of the article.

Atlanta vs. Carolina is notable here. The Falcons won some sharp DFS players some serious money last week because many were against the Atlanta passing game going against Arizona's sad run defense and Patrick Peterson, who was predicted to blanket Julio Jones. This includes our own Steve Buzzard, who won the FanDuel live final. Steve also won a million-dollar first place prize earlier in the season. Way to make FBG proud, Steve!

Once again, Atlanta enters a week with doubts around its passing game (Jones is hurt) and a potentially bad-for-passing game script (Cam Newton won't play for Carolina, who is out of playoff contention). But the passing game is worth a look because passing is what Atlanta does. And with doubt among the receiving group, all signs point to Matt Ryan.

It's worth noting here as well that Ito Smith was placed on Injured Reserve this week, making Tevin Coleman a volume-based RB2 in season-long leagues and even a high-ceiling GPP candidate in the event that Atlanta controls a game that Carolina approaches disappointingly.

Rushing
Offensive Team RuYd% Rank Defensive Team RuYd% Rank Avg. %
Seattle Seahawks 44.3% 1 Kansas City Chiefs 31.0% 10 37.6%
Miami Dolphins 37.3% 6 Jacksonville Jaguars 37.6% 30 37.4%
Tennessee Titans 41.2% 3 Washington Redskins 32.6% 17 36.9%
Buffalo Bills 42.5% 2 New England Patriots 31.2% 11 36.8%
Denver Broncos 35.0% 12 Oakland Raiders 38.0% 31 36.5%
Los Angeles Rams 30.6% 21 Arizona Cardinals 40.6% 32 35.6%
Jacksonville Jaguars 35.1% 11 Miami Dolphins 36.0% 29 35.5%
Dallas Cowboys 37.8% 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33.1% 18 35.5%
"RuYd%" = the percentage of total yards gained or allowed via rushing yardage
"Rank" = where that percentage ranks (1 is highest for offenses to signal the best; 32 is highest for defenses to signal the worst)

Commentary and Action Items

While Seattle wants to run, banking on them being able to do so for the entire game against a team as skilled as Kansas City is a coin-flip proposition at best. Chris Carson is still worth the play based on volume, though (more on this later).

On the other end of the skill (and motivation) spectrum, Miami faces a Jacksonville team that allows 37.6% of its total yardage via the run, the third-highest percentage in the NFL. Since Miami gains 37.3% of its total yardage via the rush, the sixth-highest percentage, it's worth diagnosing their run game, especially since Jacksonville appears to have mailed in the remainder of their season.

Last week, Frank Gore was injured in the first quarter and was put on I.R. this week. Below is a summary of Miami running back usage in the game:

  • Kenyan Drake: 53% of snaps / 1 carry, 6 yards / 3 receptions, 28 yards, 3 targets
  • Kalen Ballage: 49% of snaps / 12 carries, 123 yards, 1 touchdown / 1 reception, -2 yards, 1 target

Drake hasn't seen more than eight carries since Week 8 and is averaging 5.5 carries per game since then. And before you think Miami's passing game running back is a valuable role, note that Miami targets its running backs on 21.4% of its total pass attempts, the 13th-highest percentage in the NFL. Miami has targeted its running backs just 87 times on the season, the 12th-fewest in the NFL. Ballage is a DFS GPP candidate and will outscore Drake this week.

[return to top]


Looks Can Be Deceiving

Viewing raw "defense vs. position" stats can be misleading, as it makes no consideration for the strength of opponents. So, in this section, we're going to compare our Normalized Strength of Schedule (NSoS) vs. raw Defense vs. Position (DvP) and find notable deltas between the two. The idea is to find defenses to target that other DFS players might not.

In past weeks, we compared NSoS over the most recent five weeks vs. DvP for the season, but that felt somewhat "apples to oranges." Therefore, this version compares both measures over the past five weeks.

vs. Quarterbacks
Team NSoS DvP Delta
New England Patriots 25 14 -11
Tennessee Titans 24 13 -11
Pittsburgh Steelers 15 9 -6
Green Bay Packers 30 25 -5
Buffalo Bills 8 3 -5
Washington Redskins 22 18 -4
"NSoS" = Normalized Strength of Schedule ranking over the last five weeks
"DvP" = Defense vs. Position (raw fantasy points allowed) ranking over the last five weeks
"Delta" = Difference between rankings (NSoS minus DvP)

Commentary and Action Items

New England leads the way this week in terms of teams who are misleadingly tough on quarterbacks. And that's not the only reason the arrow is pointing up for Josh Allen.

Rushing fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks often isn't a predictable stat. Some quarterbacks never run, regardless of opposing pass rush or opportunity. Some may often try to run, regardless of those same factors. But the following seemed notable for Allen's prospects this week:

Last week, Allen faced Detroit, who allowed 350+ passing yards but fewer than 20 rushing yards to Cam Newton and Mitchell Trubisky. Their scheme seems to be one that limits rushing opportunities and production to opposing quarterbacks. It worked against Allen, as he rushed for fewer than 20 yards. He did still score a rushing touchdown, though.

This week, Allen gets a team that doesn't allow rushing production by scheme but does by efficiency. And that has been Allen's thing! Buffalo rarely designs runs for him, but he's been the most productive rushing quarterback for the past month (and the most productive fantasy quarterback overall because the rushing cheat code is real). Allen has QB1 upside. Dak Prescott and Tom Brady are cash game alternatives at the same DFS price range, but Allen is the GPP candidate in that range due to his upside and undesirable/non-traditional methods of production.

vs. Running Backs
Team NSoS DvP Delta
New York Jets 14 1 -13
Jacksonville Jaguars 21 11 -10
Miami Dolphins 29 20 -9
Kansas City Chiefs 24 16 -8
Green Bay Packers 25 18 -7

Commentary and Action Items

Seeing "DvP 1" makes choosing a player difficult, but don't shy away from Jamaal Williams this week. First, there's the volume. Williams should dominate the Green Bay backfield with Aaron Jones out of the picture. Second, there's the fact that the Jets have feasted on poor rushing attacks recently. Among their past five games, the Jets have faced Houston, Buffalo twice, pre-Derrick Henry-unleashed Tennessee, and New England.

In that time, they allowed 110+ rushing yards and at least one touchdown to LeSean McCoy and Sony Michel. Just because they haven't been "had" more often doesn't mean they can't be. Williams is an RB2 in season-long formats with RB1 upside. for DFS purposes, Williams has stiff competition in his price range but is an excellent GPP pivot away from likely chalk Marlon Mack, who coincidentally should be chalk due to recent production and matchup.

Kansas City is middling in terms of fantasy points against but worse when adjusting for strength of schedule. Meanwhile, Carson is trending upward, particularly if Rashaad Penny is out again. Let's see what Carson has done sans-Penny this year:

  • Week 5: 20 carries, 127 rushing yards (vs. L.A. Rams)
  • Week 8: 27 carries, 124 rushing yards, 1 touchdown (at Detroit)
  • Week 15: 28 carries, 148 rushing yards, 1 touchdown (at San Francisco)

Carson is a high-end RB2 and worth his DFS price.

vs. Wide Receivers
Team NSoS DvP Delta
Buffalo Bills 22 12 -10
Washington Redskins 26 16 -10
Atlanta Falcons 15 5 -10
New York Giants 20 11 -9
Tennessee Titans 26 18 -8
Houston Texans 32 24 -8

Commentary and Action Items

Buffalo has been very good in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, but they haven't been as sound when adjusting for schedule strength. Digging deeper, Buffalo does well against perimeter receivers due to the presence of TreDavious White. This week, however, Julian Edelman should avoid White due to his being aligned all over the field, predominantly in the slot. Edelman seems to be running the "Gronkowski routes" with the previously-superhuman tight end looking more mortal by the week. Edelman is a fine play in all DFS formats and a WR1 in season-long PPR formats.

Elsewhere, Alshon Jeffery has new appeal due in part to Nick Foles looking his way more often, but also due to his matchup this week.

Player Wk Rec Yds TD FPs Price FP/$
Robby Anderson 15 7 96 1 22.6 $3,900 5.8
Andre Roberts 15 3 16 1 10.6 $3,000 3.5
T.Y. Hilton 14 9 199 0 31.9 $6,300 5.1
Zach Pascal 14 5 68 1 17.8 $3,000 5.9
Jarvis Landry 13 6 103 0 19.3 $5,300 3.6
Rashard Higgins 13 4 62 1 16.2 $3,400 4.8
Antonio Callaway 13 3 84 0 10.4 $4,100 2.5

Houston is falling apart against the pass, giving Jeffery WR1 upside this week.

vs. Tight Ends
Team NSoS DvP Delta
New England Patriots 25 9 -16
Green Bay Packers 31 16 -15
San Francisco 49ers 10 2 -8
Carolina Panthers 12 5 -7
Buffalo Bills 7 1 -6
New Orleans Saints 19 13 -6

Commentary and Action Items

Tight end is difficult. Paying up in DFS leads to guaranteed volume, non-guaranteed production, and less salary to spend elsewhere. Paying down leads to a potential zero in your lineup. No tight end is a lock, especially any facing the defenses listed above this week.

But Chris Herndon is someone who is playing a lot, seeing targets, and has a cheap DFS salary. In theory, this is a good matchup for him. But last weekend's Saturday game against Houston was similar (a team bad against tight ends but also bad against wide receivers), and Robby Anderson was the preferred target for the Jets. Herndon is fine as a DFS "punt play," but by their very nature, punt plays have viable alternatives as well.

In this case, it might be a sound course of action to roster Anderson and to move to Dallas' Blake Jarwin as a cheap tight end if looking to spend up elsewhere.

[return to top]


Follow the Targets

In this section, we'll examine how the worst passing defenses in the NFL allow their production. This week, we sorted by the percentage of passing yards allowed, with the highest ratio of pass yards allowed at the top.

RBs WRs TEs
Team Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs
Houston Texans 21.9% 14 5 59.2% 27 12 18.9% 22 6
Green Bay Packers 16.2% 9 2 66.0% 24 20 17.8% 7 2
San Francisco 49ers 25.9% 25 3 56.7% 12 22 17.5% 5 5
Miami Dolphins 22.0% 22 3 57.7% 20 16 20.2% 18 9
Los Angeles Rams 21.3% 5 3 53.4% 16 18 25.3% 27 4
New England Patriots 20.1% 21 4 60.0% 15 16 19.9% 17 8
Philadelphia Eagles 22.8% 28 3 60.7% 32 15 16.4% 13 2
Atlanta Falcons 24.9% 30 4 55.7% 14 20 19.4% 15 4
"Tgt%" = the percentage of overall targets that are thrown to that position
"YdsRk" = the team's ranking in yardage allowed to that position (32 being the most yardage allowed, 1 the least)
"TDs" = touchdowns allowed to that position

Commentary

  • Houston allows 172.5 yards per game to wide receivers, sixth-most in the NFL.
  • Houston allows 59.2% of targets to wide receivers, the 16th-highest percentage.
  • Green Bay allows 66.0% of targets to wide receivers, the second-highest percentage.
  • Green Bay has allowed 20 touchdowns to wide receivers, tied for the second-most in the league.
  • Atlanta allows 29.9% of its receptions against to running backs, tied for the highest percentage in the league.
  • Carolina completes 29.4% of its passes to running backs, the eighth-highest percentage.
  • San Francisco allows 25.9% of its targets to running backs, the second-highest percentage.
  • San Francisco is among the league's worst at defending slot wide receivers. Note Doug Baldwin, DaeSean Hamilton, and Adam Humphries below.
Player Wk Rec Yds TD FPs Price FP/$
Doug Baldwin 15 4 77 2 23.7 $5,300 4.5
David Moore 15 1 9 0 1.9 $4,300 0.4
DaeSean Hamilton 14 7 47 1 17.7 $3,000 5.9
Tim Patrick 14 7 85 0 16.6 $3,000 5.5
Courtland Sutton 14 2 14 0 3.3 $4,500 0.7
Jaron Brown 13 3 67 2 21.7 $3,000 7.2
Doug Baldwin 13 2 22 1 10.2 $5,500 1.9
Mike Evans 12 6 116 0 20.6 $7,700 2.7
Adam Humphries 12 6 54 1 17.4 $4,000 4.4
Chris Godwin 12 4 42 0 8.2 $4,100 2.0

Action Items

Houston allows an abundance of yards to wide receivers without allowing a high concentration of targets to them? That tells me that when offenses want to use their wideouts against Houston, they're able to do so without much resistance.

Nick Foles has resurrected Alshon Jeffery's fantasy value. Not only does Foles target Jeffery more, but he has success while doing so.

We mentioned Robby Anderson above. Being the Jets most dynamic player could be considered damning with faint praise, but Anderson is hot of late and has a good matchup. When teams lack early-season motivation, perhaps it's the time of year to ride a wave. Anderson is a mid-WR2 in season-long PPR leagues, and his DFS price is a bargain given his recent production and this week's matchup.

Christian McCaffrey's ceiling will always be higher with a healthy Cam Newton involved. But McCaffrey without Newton might be more similar to McCaffrey with "bad-shoulder" Newton than many fantasy players think. As long as we don't get news that McCaffrey's snaps will be limited, he's still a high-end RB1 play. McCaffrey still has reason to play -- and play hard -- this week.

Moving to less safe plays, the Bears have multiple players well-suited to take advantage of San Francisco's deficiencies. Taylor Gabriel is their "low-aDOT" slot receiver, and Tarik Cohen is always a dangerous player Chicago wants to be involved. Both are "thin" for cash game plays but offer the low percent-rostered projections and high-upside combination desired by DFS tournament players. Cohen is also a solid RB2 in season-long PPR formats.

[return to top]


Now #Trending

Just because we're at the end of the season doesn't mean we shouldn't introduce new sections. In fact, this section is tailor-made for the end of the season. Here, we're comparing how teams have performed on a raw fantasy points against basis over the past five weeks vs. how they performed prior to that.

Because "DvP" can lack context, we're only showing defenses vs. quarterbacks and running backs to take a macro view on trends vs. passing games and running games. The other measures above provide more nuance and detail.

vs. Quarterbacks
Team Last 5 Prior Delta
Seattle Seahawks 26 3 -23
Houston Texans 28 5 -23
Miami Dolphins 31 10 -21
New York Jets 30 11 -19
Pittsburgh Steelers 9 26 17
Carolina Panthers 11 28 17
Cincinnati Bengals 11 32 21
New Orleans Saints 7 31 24
"Last 5" = Fantasy Points per Game ranking to the position from Weeks 11-15
"Prior" = Fantasy Points per Game ranking to the position from Weeks 1-10
"Delta" = Prior-Last 5 (negative numbers imply a defense getting worse; positive imply a defense improving)

Commentary and Action Items

New Orleans has been great in the last month-plus after being one of the easiest targets in September and October. Consider the following turnaround from the Saints:

  • New Orleans Weeks 1-9: 27.3 points per game allowed (sixth-most in the NFL).
  • New Orleans Weeks 10-15: 12.3 points per game allowed (fewest in the NFL).

Pittsburgh has its work cut out on Sunday, but in that same game, Pittsburgh's defense has also improved dramatically of late. If you believe Las Vegas, the scoring will come. But the numbers above tell enough of a story to fade this game in DFS GPPs and hope the collective "crowd" puts too many eggs in this basket.

Houston is the anti-New Orleans, as they are a team that is trending down. We often lean on Normalized Strength of Schedule to guide us in this column, and Houston is a prime example why that is a powerful tool. The quarterbacks Houston faced in the first 10 weeks include Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. They also include Blaine Gabbert, Eli Manning, Dak Prescott, the Josh Allen - Nathan Peterman duo, the Blake Bortles - Cody Kessler duo, Brock Osweiler, and Case Keenum.

It should come as no surprise to find out that Houston's pass defense is trending downward after facing Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Luck (again), and Sam Darnold. Considering that group is far from the NFL's upper echelon, there should be comfort in playing Nick Foles this week, especially in DFS, where Foles' price almost begs for him to be played.

vs. Running Backs
Team Last 5 Prior Delta
Philadelphia Eagles 32 8 -24
Seattle Seahawks 28 12 -16
Los Angeles Chargers 31 15 -16
Minnesota Vikings 24 9 -15
Detroit Lions 9 24 15
Kansas City Chiefs 16 32 16
New York Jets 1 19 18
Cleveland Browns 8 27 19

Commentary and Action Items

The downward-trending teams here don't offer many actions, mostly due to their opponents. Philadelphia (facing Houston) isn't a good running team, Kansas City (facing Seattle) has multiple backs they'll use if Spencer Ware can play, and Detroit (facing Minnesota) isn't very good at running the ball. Baltimore (facing the L.A. Chargers) might appear to be a good matchup on paper, but the Chargers production allowed has been primarily touchdown-based, which is hard to project going forward. Baltimore is also an underdog, which makes investing in their run game a risky proposition.

On the other side, Joe Mixon's workload makes him a safe play. The matchup also looks positive for Mixon. But Cleveland has been improving of late, despite facing tough opponents such as Mixon, Christian McCaffrey, Lamar Miller, and Phillip Lindsay. Beware of playing Mixon in DFS cash games. Cleveland is still playing with effort, and this game could see Cincinnati fall behind, resulting in an offensive dud.

[return to top]


Game of the Week

In a week with some low-scoring games, some games featuring teams that may rest players, and some with a combination of both, the Pittsburgh-New Orleans game is the best mix of effort and projected points. So let's dissect the potential plays from this contest.

New Orleans Offense

  • New Orleans targets its running backs on 29.1% of its pass attempts, the second-highest percentage in the NFL.
  • Pittsburgh allows targets to running backs on 16.5% on its pass attempts, the second-lowest percentage.

New Orleans is a dream: they're an elite offense with a narrow distribution of production. The majority of their production comes from Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. The figures above make Thomas the more sound play - especially when considering that Pittsburgh often covers slot receivers with linebackers and Thomas runs plenty of routes from the inside. The last four slot-based receivers to face Pittsburgh have produced well.

Player Wk Rec Yds TD FPs Price FP/$
Julian Edelman 15 7 90 0 16.0 $7,200 2.2
Seth Roberts 14 5 76 0 12.6 $3,500 3.6
Keenan Allen 13 14 148 1 39.8 $7,200 5.5
Emmanuel Sanders 12 7 86 1 21.6 $5,500 3.9

If looking for a sleeper, Tre'Quan Smith is still the answer for New Orleans despite a couple of down games. Smith has performed much better at home this season, but due to schedule and injury, his last home game was Week 11 vs. Philadelphia. In that game, Smith caught 10 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. He's been quiet over the last three weeks, but he still played the second-most snaps among wide receivers in each of those games.

Pittsburgh Offense

If there were a book written about narrow distributions of production, Pittsburgh may be the team pictured on the cover. They have an elite wide receiver duo, a plug-and-play-no-matter-who-it-is-RB1, and a couple of ancillary parts. From a running back perspective, James Conner offered little promise with his self-assessment on Wednesday. If he can't play, Jaylen Samuels would remain the RB1. His DFS price has risen to RB1 levels, but he's still a viable play in any format. He's a PPR RB1 in season-long leagues.

In the passing game, as mentioned above, the New Orleans defense has been better. However, they are still expected to allow around 24 points if the Vegas total and line are to be believed. So how will that production come? As shown above in "Strengths vs. Weaknesses," Pittsburgh passes, and New Orleans allows passing yards. And New Orleans allows its yardage to wide receivers at a 70.8% clip, the third-highest percentage in the NFL. Let's consider now how Pittsburgh uses its dynamic duo.

They're much more of a "1a and 1b" situation than a 1-2 punch. Their DFS salaries and projected outputs reflect this. Both make solid plays. If playing multi-entry DFS tournaments, sprinkle both among your portfolio because they are a coin-flip situation. Both are locked-in WR1s in season-long leagues as well.

[return to top]


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