DFS Roundtable: Week 15

A peek behind the curtain at a staff discussion pertaining to this week's DFS topics

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

The staffers we talked to this week are David Dodds, BJ Vanderwoude, Chad Parsons, Andrew Garda, Phil Alexander, Dan Hindery, and Chris Feery.

Finding Value in Low Vegas Totals

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Week 15 looks poised to feature quite a few low-projected games by Vegas standards. As of today, 10 of the 15 Sunday-Monday games carry an over/under of 44.5 or below. Obviously, that means most of the high-projected plays will be especially high-owned, and DFSers will need to pore through the rest of the slate for value. Is there a low Vegas matchup in particular that intrigues you? And which plays from that game stand out to you?

Alexander: Cleveland at Buffalo has an over/under of only 43, but the Bills’ implied point total is a healthy 26.5 – tied for third-highest on the Sunday-Monday slate. It's fair to expect three-to-four touchdowns out of the Bills in this one against the absolute worst defense in football (per DVOA). The Browns have failed to hold opponents under 27 points in 10 out of their 13 games, and have allowed the most points per defensive play in the NFL.

The obvious play here is LeSean McCoy given he's been a top-5 running back in each of the last three weeks, and checks off most of the boxes we usually look for in a DFS running back. Is he playing at home? Check. Is his team a huge favorite? The Bills are favored by 10 points. Check. Does he dominate touches? McCoy has handled 80% of Buffalo's backfield touches over the last three weeks. Check. Can he catch passes? 13 catches for 142 yards over the last two games says he sure can. Check. Does he face a weak opponent? Only the 49ers have allowed more raw fantasy points per game to opposing running backs this season than Cleveland. Check. Does he have big play ability? McCoy has generated a league leading 335 yards on carries that have gone for 20+. Check. And finally, does he hog goal line carries? This one's a bit murky, as the Bills have insisted on carving out a role for Mike Gilislee, but it was encouraging to see McCoy score from three yards out last week against the Steelers.

Plenty of people will be on McCoy in tournaments this week, but he's priced way up across the industry, with only $400 separating him from Le'Veon Bell on FanDuel. Following Bell's mammoth Week 14, it's a safe bet most entrants will pay up to him (or David Johnson in a mouth watering matchup with New Orleans) at RB1, leaving McCoy with less ownership than he should warrant in a home matchup with the Browns.

I also have my eye on Sammy Watkins in this one. Since his return from injury, we've seen Watkins catch a trademark deep ball and score a touchdown in separate games. After playing a season high 94% of Buffalo's offensive snaps last week, his foot injury seems far enough in the rearview where we can start projecting him as we would have coming into the season. In this matchup, Watkins' ceiling is higher than maybe five or six wide receivers in the entire league, yet he remains priced as the WR33. Take advantage while you still can.

Garda: I'm looking at Lions-Giants. A lot of it depends on how Matthew Stafford plays, and he saw a decline in his play over the course of the game on Sunday. That said, the Giants are coming off an emotional win and two weeks ago the Pittsburgh Steelers put up plenty of points, so I am not expecting a repeat of last week from the defense. Those two things make me feel as though a few Lions are worth looking at.

Golden Tate is pretty low priced and while he had a mediocre game last week, he's had back to back weeks where he's had 10 or more targets and those opportunties should continue this week. I expect another 10 or 11 targets, and now that Stafford has had a week to adjust to his injured hand, more of those targets will be quality. I expect Tate to have a very solid week this week and outperform the price he has. Tate's not far off Sammy Watkins, Phil's pick, and I like them both.

On the Giants side, Sterling Shephard is going to be a better play than he has been lately. In part that's because the Giants are desperate for someone not named Odell Beckham Jr Jr to step up. However, the last two games the Giants faced very good defenses in the form of Pittsburgh and Dallas. While the Lions have been good at times, the defense struggles on the road and overall the defense hasn't been great. They are ranked 30th against the pass in Football Outsiders DVOA metrics and are middle of the road statistically. There's room to hurt them through the air. Expect Detroit too focus on Odell Beckham Jr Jr, which means Shephard has room to step up and over-produce his price.

Parsons: My favorite low Vegas total stack is Tyrod Taylor-Sammy Watkins. Watkins has progressed well since returning from injury and the Browns have allowed multiple touchdowns to 11-of-13 starting quarterbacks against them this season. Taylor is a high floor option (10-of-13 games of 2x value or better) and this week opens up a higher ceiling than usual. Green Bay-Chicago is another lower Vegas total game I like between Jordan Howard's still-low salary and some Packers pass game shares.

Hindery: The Kansas City vs. Tennessee game could have some sneaky fantasy appeal, and the Chiefs passing game is especially intriguing. The Titans are giving up the most passing yards in the league (297 per game) and have really struggled over the past two months. Over the past eight weeks, Tennessee has given up six 300-yard passing games and seven multi-touchdown games. It hasn’t just been the elite passers like Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers who have put up numbers against this defense. We’ve seen Cody Kessler (336 yards, 2 touchdowns), Blake Bortles (337 yards, 3 touchdowns), Matt Barkley (316 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Trevor Siemian (334 yards, 1 touchdown) all put up big games against the Titans. While Alex Smith hasn’t been producing major fantasy numbers, he has been playing well in recent weeks and taking more deep shots. Smith comes at a significant discount this week, which allows you to pay up for the top running backs without having to take too many risks at receiver.

Feery: I’m intrigued by the matchup between the Eagles and Ravens in spite of its low projected total, but my interest is mainly relegated to one team from this tilt. The Eagles have been getting torched by opposing signal callers over the past three weeks, and that bodes well for Joe Flacco’s fantasy prospects. As luck would have it, Flacco has also delivered a nice return over the past two weeks.

I’m looking for him to continue his strong play against a beatable Eagles secondary that has allowed six touchdowns through the air over its past three games. For stacking purposes, my preference lies with Mike Wallace. It’s not too hard to envision a scenario in which he breaks a long score against this squad, and he comes in at an affordable price across the industry to boot.

The guys have done a great job of pinpointing the value in the other projected lower scoring games, but I’d like to add one more to the mix. The game between the Broncos and Patriots currently sits at a projected total of 44 points, but there are fantasy points to be found in this matchup. I’m targeting two areas specifically, and that would be the Patriots running game and the Broncos wide receivers. Rostering a Patriots back can be a risky proposition for fantasy purposes, but I like how this game sets up for LeGarrette Blount due to the Broncos recent struggles against the run. For the Broncos, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders continue to receive a ton of targets, and we can expect more of the same in a game in which they may be playing catch-up.

VanderWoude: The Seattle-Los Angeles game has a projected total of 38.5 points, the second-lowest on the main slate. But Seattle has an implied team total of 27.25 points, the third highest team total of the week. Russell Wilson is coming of a disastrous outing against Green Bay where he threw five interceptions, so he will be looking to bounce back against a Rams defense that was torched by the Falcons this past weekend. His price has come down across the industry and is now in the lower half of quarterbacks. He makes for a low price, high upside option and can be stacked alongside Doug Baldwin. Thomas Rawls has a solid matchup against the 20th ranked run defense of the Rams, and should see a heavy workload in a game that has Seattle favored by 16 points. The best play in this game, though, is the Seattle defense. The Rams have been a mess on offense this season, and now they are on a short week with an interim head coach. This has all the making of a Seattle blowout, and despite the Seattle defense being the highest priced at their position, they are more than worth it in this matchup.


Quarterback Value

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We’re at the point where injuries and season flow have put several backup and untested quarterbacks onto the field. Who is the absolute cheapest QB you’d be comfortable playing this week in a cash game? And while you’re at it, identify the cheap QB (say, under 12% of your salary cap) you feel is most likely to turn in GPP value.

Alexander: I'm drawing the cash game line at Kirk Cousins this week (FanDuel pricing). Cousins has provided a 17-point floor (2.3x his current salary) in every game since Week 6 (not to mention a 30-point ceiling). Washington's 27.75-point implied team total is the second-highest on the Sunday-Monday slate, and Carolina's defense has struggled badly in two road games since Luke Kuechly was lost to a concussion, allowing 35 points to Oakland and 40 to Seattle.

The quarterbacks priced below Cousins come with too many question marks for cash games and questionable upside for GPPs, but of the $7,200 or under crowd I'd take my chances with Alex Smith in tournaments. In their last two games, the Titans have allowed a combined 650 passing yards and four touchdowns to Matt Barkley and Trevor Siemian. Over the last five weeks, Tennessee has given up 26.5% more fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers than the league average.

You're unlikely to see more than 20 fantasy points from Smith, even if Vegas' game script proves correct (KC -5.5, 24.25 implied team total), but that would be all you need from him to carry his weight in GPPs, where his affordable price will help you squeeze in luxury options at running back and/or wide receiver.

Garda: Phil is right - there's not a lot below the 'Mendoza Line' for quarterbacks in any format, although pricing varies enough to where Carson Palmer is below it in some formats but not others. As he's against the New Orleans Saints, I expect him to exceed expectations this week, so in formats where he is a little cheaper, he's an excellent sub-prime value.

After that I have to agree with Mr. Alexander, the safest bet is Alex Smith. But if you're looking for a real Hail Mary, take a look at Robert Griffin III III. He's dirt-cheap and while the Bills have played solid defense most weeks this year - and will play at home - Griffin has had a week to knock the rust off and get back on the same page as his receivers. On top of that, I believe he'll do plenty of damage with his feet. At bargain bin prices, I think he's a good gamble this week and you can spend the difference on some top talent elsewhere.

Parsons: I generally have a comfort factor at quarterback, going to the bare-bones salaries of a given week if the situation is right (matchup, quarterback, weapons, weather). However, I do not see the right combination this week below the Kirk Cousins-Colin Kaepernick zone in the mid-7k salary range. With just $100 between them, Cousins is the easy pick, at home, against a reeling Carolina defense who is much better against the run than pass (by FootballOutsiders DVOA).

Hindery: I already mentioned Alex Smith in the low-total game section, but he is the obvious answer to this question as well for me. He is particularly cheap this week (just $400 over the minumum on DraftKings and sub-$7,000 on FanDuel). The Titans’ pass defense is awful and their run defense is surprisingly strong; there isn't a whole lot of guess work as to how opposing offenses will attack each week. Tennessee has faced the most pass attempts in the league as teams abandon the run and attack an awful secondary that boasts Jason McCourty and not much else. The Titans are allowing just under 300 passing yards per game, and they’ve given up 300+ and multiple touchdowns to worse passers than Smith this season. Smith also has probably his deepest cast of weapons to date. Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the league at present and is producing on a weekly basis (four straight 100-yard games), Tyreek Hill has been a revelation as a big play threat and Jeremy Maclin should be close to 100% after working his way back into action last week.

Feery: There haven’t been a ton of cheap quarterbacks that I’ve been comfortable with over the past few weeks, and this week is no exception. Kirk Cousins and Joe Flacco are two names that stick out on the FanDuel side at $7,500 and $7,400, but things get a little dicey from that point. Alex Smith is the most enticing of the sub-$7,000 QBs, but he can also be quite the let down for fantasy purposes. The matchup is clearly there for Smith to produce, but Andy Reid has a tendency to zig on the game plan when most are expecting him to zag.

On DraftKings, there are a couple of intriguing names at the sub-$6,000 level, namely Flacco, Smith, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. I view Flacco as the safest pick of this quartet, as the Ravens are facing off against a very beatable Eagles squad that has been quite friendly to opposing signal callers of late.

VanderWoude: I am going to have to agree on Alex Smith, which is a complete surprise because I would have never thought I’d say that during the first half of the season.

The biggest change has not been Smith suddenly being able to drive the ball down the field, or the Chiefs opening up their conservative offense. No, the biggest change has been the emergence of Tyreke Hill, as well as Travis Kelce’s increased volume. Smith is never going to be a player who makes plays on his own, but now he doesn’t have to. Hill has been one of the most electric players in football the second half of the season, and his ability to score from anywhere on the field has increased Smith’s value tremendously. Defenses have been forced to account for his playmaking ability, which has in turn given Kelce more room to operate. So much room in fact, that he we be looking for his fifth consecutive 100+ yard game on Sunday. With Spencer Ware struggling to be effective, Smith has been given more responsibility in the red zone. His price is low enough where he doesn’t need to throw for three touchdowns or reach 300+ passing yards to hit GPP value. The blueprint for success this year has been to pay up at running back, and rostering Smith allows you to do that without sacrificing balance in your lineup.


Astronomical Costs

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David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell are finally priced at the point that they’re cost-prohibitive in building a balanced roster. They’re good on an otherworldly level, in terms of both floor and ceiling. Johnson has turned in 100+ scrimmage yards in every game thus far, while Bell is Bell, the game’s best back and the overwhelming focal point of a powerful offense. You don’t want to be caught in a cash contest without them, but playing either typically requires you to roster at least one guy near the salary minimum at a key position. How are you approaching their through-the-roof costs? Are you fading both in the hopes their salaries cripple half the field’s rosters? If you’re playing one, which one is it? And what dirt-cheap plays from around the slate are you using to offset the cost?

Alexander: To be honest, I'm not sure Bell and Johnson prevent you from building a balanced roster – at least not on FanDuel where the pricing remains extremely loose.

Last week, I felt the best play for cash games was to squeeze both Bell and Johnson into your lineup and attack the middle tier of pass catchers, where guys with reliable target volume like Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, Cameron Brate, and even Dontrelle Inman were all in the 6K range. I'm pretty sure the same plan is viable this week, especially with both Bell and Johnson in plus matchups.

Admittedly, it feels better to jam in both stud running backs on the Sunday-Monday slate where Kirk Cousins is mispriced in a home matchup with Carolina, but I'd be OK with Carson Palmer for $100 more, at home against the Saints. At wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders remains a bit underpriced even after a $700 increase from last week. Other inexpensive receivers I'd consider for cash games include Sammy Watkins (snap count and target volume are there, great matchup vs. Browns), and Inman (price didn't budge from last week despite third straight game with at least 12 fantasy points).

Fitting in Johnson and Bell will also require you to pay down at tight end, where Ladarius Green is only $5,600 after his Week 14 dud. While it was disappointing to see Green's snap percentage drop a bit last week, we can chalk it up to a combination of the weather and Buffalo's inability to stop Le'Veon Bell on the ground. Clearly run blocking is not what the Steelers brought in Green to do, as he still commanded six targets on just 37% of the snaps. This week he faces a Bengals team that has allowed the third-most raw fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends.

Paying down at kicker and defense doesn't present much of a problem this week either. Nick Novak faces the Jaguars, who allow 2.6 field goal attempts per game (second-most in the league) and costs only $4,700, while the Ravens 2nd ranked defense (DVOA) takes on Carson Wentz in Baltimore. Wentz has been intercepted seven times in his last three road games.

Garda: So riffing off what Phil just proposed, I hopped over to the Footballguys Interactive Value Chart to see what I could do and I must say - I liked the results. Here's the team I ended up with (in this case, on Fanduel):

QB: Cousins (7500)
RB: D. Johnson (9800)
RB: Bell (9400)
WR: Sanders (6600)
WR: Crabtree (6000)
WR: Thielen (6000)
TE: Brate (5700)
K: Catanzaro (4800)
D : Colts (4200)

I really liked this set up - there is some risk (Brate, Thielen and Crabtree). Despite that, I think the Colts will be in a low-scoring game with the Vikings and even their poor defense should keep it sane and the upside of the rest is worth the risk.

It's much tougher on Draftkings, though, and you're stuck taking a lot more fliers. I don't love the limitations in that case, and would more likely lean on one of the two backs, but not both. Over there, I am more likely to lean on Bell if either of the two, as I like his matchup a bit better and I think Carson Palmer will air the ball out to different players, so we might see a slight dip in Johnson's numbers. It's parsing hairs, but that little bit along with the difference in price would drive me off Johnson.

Overall though, I think you can have at least one in your lineup without crippling it on DraftKings, while I agree with Phil that we can roster both at FanDuel. In either case, you just have to be smart about your spending.

Parsons: The Saints are improving on defense and while I rolled out David Johnson in plenty of weeks, this week I am finally off him for less-costly options, primarily Ezekiel Elliott - who is coming off an uncharacteristic game without a touchdown or reception. If using Johnson or Bell, I like Kenneth Dixon at to offset the high salary at RB2. Dixon has been rising in his Baltimore role since returning from injury. He had dominance of the pass-catching duties over Terrance West already, but now is taking over on early downs as well. The Eagles are stronger against the pass (No.3 by FootballOutsiders) than the run. Also, Philadelphia is very good against No.1 receivers and tight ends, but just No.21 against running backs out of the backfield. Dixon is my low-salary play at running back in Week 15.

Hindery: I agree with Phil, Andrew and Chad that Bell and Johnson can be fit in fairly painlessly on FanDuel. There is so much value in the $6,000-$7,000 range and enough questions about the matchups for the highest priced receivers, that you aren't giving up much at receiver to roster two studs at runnign back.

Even on DraftKings it is doable, and we had some interesting back and forth in the forums about whether it’s the optimal strategy in cash games this week or not. It’s a bit of a double-edge sword. On the one hand, there are not a lot of attractive cheap wide receiver options this week. Rostering both Johnson and Bell forces you to take some serious risks with players like Richard Matthews, Marqise Lee, Cameron Meredith, etc. It’s not ideal with the lack of obvious WR value this week. On the other hand, even if you do go with a bargain RB2, the pay-up options at receiver are not without their own risks. Antonio Brown was held to 4-39-0 in his first matchup against the Bengals. Jordy Nelson was held to 1-9-0 in his first matchup against the Bears and it could be pretty nasty in Green Bay this weekend. Mike Evans has seen reduced targets over the past three weeks and Dallas has done well against WR1s. There just aren’t the clear pay-up options at receiver that make you feel comfortable fading guys with the consistency and ridiculous upside of Bell and Johnson. It’s a very difficult decision and it may come down to Sunday morning with breaking injury news and weather reports making the difference. If some late value opens up at wide receiver, Bell/Johnson may be the top play again.

Feery: I agree with the majority. There’s still more than enough value to be found on FanDuel so that you can roster both Johnson and Bell, but it’s a different story on DraftKings. I’ll likely lean towards pairing the two studs up on the former, but I’ll be choosing one or the other on the latter so that I don’t have to throw too many darts. My choice will be Bell, and it’s simply due to liking his matchup a little better this week.

Whether your choice is Johnson or Bell, you’re going to need to save some salary on DraftKings. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable backs in good spots this week that will make for a fine RB2. Spencer Ware, Jeremy Hill and Latavius Murray are a couple of the names that stick out on that front, while LeGarrette Blount and Tevin Coleman make for a pair of intriguing and affordable GPP options.

VanderWoude: This may be the first week where I don't have significant exposure to either Bell or Johnson. While FanDuel offers soft salaries, DraftKings is a different story all together. There are other running backs who have fantastic matchups that project to be better PP$ plays this week, namely Lesean McCoy and Devonta Freeman. For cash games, it makes sense to take advantage of their guaranteed floor, but in GPP's, Ezekiel Elliot, McCoy, Freeman and DeMarco Murray allow you to build balanced rosters that are capable of putting up the type of points needed to win big tournaments.

Of the two, I prefer David Johnson. Despite Leveon Bell's monster game last week, Johnson still has the higher touchdown upside from week to week, and he accounts for a larger percentage of his team's offense. He's also more likely to break a big play.

There are several low priced options that would pair nicely alongside Johnson this week. Kenneth Dixon has a very soft salary on DraftKings at $3,800. He's coming off his best game of the season, with 39 rushing yards and eight receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets. Dixon has had at least four receptions and 80 total yards in three of his last four games, and the Ravens seem intent on getting him more involved with each passing week.

At wide receiver, Marquise Lee is quietly having a very good season. Allen Hurn's injury has paved the way for Lee to become the #2 option in the Jacksonville passing game, with Lee averaging 7.5 targets over his last six games. He's had either a touchdown or 100+ receiving yards in three of his last four games, but his price has not increased with his production. At $4,000, Lee makes for a nice GPP play against a Texans defense that should put much of their focus on slowing down Allen Robinson. 


Tight End Value

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With Rob Gronkowski out and other top guys struggling, tight end pricing has become very clustered. The top options are only costing around 12% of the salary cap, so identifying the strongest plays has grown harder. Which TE will you be playing most often in cash? And which one are you most avoiding?

Alexander: With 100+ receiving yards in each of his last four games, Travis Kelce has the highest floor on the board. But paying up at tight end in cash games is probably a luxury I won't be able to afford this week. As I mentioned in my previous answer, I'm not scared of using Ladarius Green for cap savings, even though the 3.5 point floor he flashed last week makes him far from safe. In addition to the great defense vs. position matchup against the Bengals, Green leads the Steelers in red zone targets since returning in Week 10, even though he hasn't played on more than half their offensive snaps yet. He's being used to stretch the field and catch touchdowns in a high powered offense – precisely what we should be looking for in a fantasy tight end.

Delanie Walker is a quality tight end I'll probably have zero exposure to in both cash games and GPPs due to his matchup with Kansas City. The Chiefs haven't allowed more than 44 receiving yards to a tight end this season, due in large part to stud safety Eric Berry pretty much single-handedly eliminating the position from the opposition's game plan. Only Greg Olsen has seen more than five targets against the Chiefs in 2016.

Garda: Green's snap count lately has me worried but if I'm gambling, I don't hate the play and I suspect he is going to see his production up this week.

I like Martellus Bennett this week. Sure, he's facing the Denver Broncos, but they are pretty good at stopping wideouts, which should push more targets towards Bennett. He caught all his targets last week against the Ravens—though I would like to see more than four of them this week and I believe I will. Bennett has a nice price and some good upside.

I also like Antonio Gates. Henry Hunter might have had the score last week, but Gates got the targets and in a big game with the rival Oakland Raiders, I think we will see a lot of him.

Parsons: Travis Kelce is my 'safe' play of the week. His production run is impressive considering he has not scored a touchdown since October. Even with Jeremy Maclin back, Kelce is the best cash game play at the position. Cameron Brate is my close No.2 pick of the week. Dallas is No.31 against tight ends by FootballOutsiders and Tampa Bay is a strong road underdog, likely with a negative game script in the second half. Dallas is also No.4 against the run, while a beatable No.24 against the pass. Brate is the clear No.2 option for Jameis Winston and significantly cheaper than Travis Kelce.

Hindery: I love the Ladarius Green call by Phil. The Bengals have done well against Antonio Brown. He has just one WR1 week in his entire career against Cincinnati. Where Ben Roethlisberger has given the Bengals fits has been throwing to the tight end. In the first Bengals-Steelers matchup this season, both Xavier Grimble and Jesse James scored touchdowns. In two regular season matchups in 2015, Heath Miller caught 20 passes.
Tyler Eifert is also worth mentioning on the other side of the Bengals-Steelers matchup. He has scored 18 touchdowns in 20 games over the past two seasons. If you take out a game he left in the first quarter in 2015 and his limited first game back in 2016, he has an even 18 touchdowns in 18 games. The Bengals offense went from 31st in the red zone with Eifert out to 8th since his return. He is the go-to guy around the end zone and has the highest weekly touchdown expectation of any receiver or tight end in the game right now.

Feery: Travis Kelce is the clear safe play at tight end this week, and I’ll be rolling with him in the majority of lineups. His streak of 100-yard receiving games will come to an end, but I’ll keep riding the hot streak as long as it lasts. It’s pretty incredible that he’s been returning such nice value over the past four weeks without finding the end zone a single time. Perhaps that streak will come to a close and he’ll find paydirt this week. Other options worth mentioning include Tyler Eifert, Delanie Walker and Kyle Rudolph. Eifert is going to cost you coming in off of a two-score outing, but four touchdowns over the past three weeks entice me to pay up.


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