The first words of advice for NFL Playoffs DFS: be careful.
The worst of the bums are no longer around on whom to pick. The spots we target are not so easy. Remember that the data we have is the accumulation of productions against teams of various skill. And if we excluded bad teams from players’ logs, we then have samples too small.
Because of this, the data has to be coupled with more knowledge of coaches’ tendencies to run or to pass more, to kill clock with a lead or slam the gas harder, or to spread the ball around versus funneling the offense to one or two players.
In general, funnels matter more in the playoffs, because—-again—everyone is somewhat decent. It is the bums who are no longer around against whom we can blindly exploit general fantasy points allowed data and, maybe, get away with it.
For instance, I would rather take a WR1 facing a team which ranks 20th in DVOA against WR1s, 3rd against WR2s, and 1st against the run than a WR1 facing a team which ranks 27th against WR1s, 30th against WR2s, and 32nd against the run. The first WR is going may get open slightly less often than the second, but the first is most likely to be the only one open and his team is far less likely to run successfully and therefore abandon the run.
Anyway, enough with the rambling. Let’s get to the games in order of Vegas totals.
- O-U - over-under, according to Bovada
- DVOA - defense-adjusted value over avergage, according to FootballOutsiders.com
- ExPl - expected plays, according to Rotogrinders.com
- pDVOA and rDOVA - DVOA against the pass and the run, respectively
- Y/G1, Y/G2, Y/G3, Y/Gt - yards per game allowed to WR1s, WR2s, WR3s, and TEs, according to FootballOutsiders.com
- vRB, vWR1, vWR2, vWR3, vTE - DVOA vs respective position in the pass game
Ben Roethlisberger in six games at home this year: 319 yards per game (YPG), 20 TDs, and five INTs with four 300-yard games, multiple TDs in all six, and three or more in four, after five games of at least 334 yards and four games of at least three TDs in 2015. In eight road games this year: 238 YPG, nine TDs, and eight INTs. Using those home averages through a full 16 games, Ben would total over 5,107 yards and 53 TDs.
Forget Aaron Rodgers’ talent as arguably the best in the league and forget this slate. Ben at home is Peak Tom Brady. Coming back to our current situation, he has the highest likelihood of being the highest-scoring QB on the slate. And the rest of the Steelers plays ought to trickle down from there.
I never thought much of Brent Grimes, but having seen some strong games from him in Tampa this year, the 85.7 YPG Miami has allowed to WR1s this year without him, despite being 4th in DVOA vs. the position, and only the Titans and Texans seeing more targets to WR1s against them, one has to believe that teams are making up for the inefficiency with successful volume. Add that Miami is 31st in DVOA vs. WR3s (normally slot WRs) and the assumption that Antonio Brown is the primary beneficiary of Ben’s success is reinforced.
Vegas projects the Steelers are the highest scoring team on the slate, with the implied total of 28 points, and they are currently the largest favorites on the slate The blowout factor with mediocre Matt Moore under center for the Dolphins tells us that there is plenty go around for Antonio and their RB-slash-WR2 Le’Veon Bell.
Despite missing four games due to suspension and Week 17 to rest, Bell finished the season behind only David Johnson, among RBs, in targets (94), receptions (75), and receiving yards (616). Almost 47% of his targets came on 1st down, over 83% with seven-plus yards to go. Situation does not matter. If his ownership is projected at 95%, we get 100. He is the focal point of the highest-scoring offense on the slate. He is not just a closer—where he will still receive ample rushing volume as a ten-point favorite—but he is just incorporated into the planning of every play as Ben and Brown, no matter what the run-pass decision.
The Ben-Bell-Brown triple stack should be chalky, but it may also be necessary to win cash games and tournaments with guaranteed prize pools (GPPs). But they are expensive. Winning at this slate with be done by either: (a) finding the strong cheap plays necessary to profit; or (b) taking the contrarian approach of a more balanced approach by taking a stand on one of these three. I, personally, am on the fence with whether or not only stacking two is a half-measure which will avail nothing in GPPs, but may be the strategy for cash games—notably just rostering the entire offense through Ben and Bell.
Ladarius Green is still in concussion protocol. If he cannot go, Jesse James is in play as a punt TE to pivot off of Bell or Brown in the hopes that one is neutralized by double coverage in the red zone. If Green is out, I prefer two others to be mentioned later this post who should have lower ownership.
Eli Rogers is so cheap that he has to be in play on this tiny slate, but I will likely fade him because there are other equally strong cheap options at WR from Green Bay and Seattle which we can project at lower ownership.
Miami is a mess. I don’t care how many TDs Moore threw in a couple of games. Eight TDs in three games is very nice, but not surpassing 236 yards is not. That said, all signs point toward high volume for Moore: Pittsburgh is a funnel pass defense at 11th in DVOA vs. the run, 19th vs. the pass, and 25th in fantasy points allowed to WRs; the Dolphins are ten-point dogs, so they should have to throw a lot; and the Steelers have equally given up a ton of yardage (85.3) to WR1s.
Moore makes for a far-out contrarian play in a game stack where we struggle to trust Jarvis Landry to be the primary beneficiary of the situation. Landry’s heavy work in the slot leans me toward treating DeVante Parker as the WR1, for matchup purposes, as his work is so heavily outside the numbers, despite Landry having 22 targets in Moore’s three starts to Parker’s 17.
Jay Ajayi is just getting too cute. Make life easier on yourself by going down a belt loop with a doughnut and just delete him from your life until next year. His minuscule floor and ceiling make him a losing propsition.
The Steelers’ lowest DVOA ranking comes on deep balls, where they are 18th, relative to ninth on short passes, putting Kenny Stills in play for a correlating punt play. He had 81 targets in 2016 vs. the aforementioned Rogers’ 66 on the year, is the same price on FanDuel and cheaper on DraftKings and FantasyDraft.
This is a very difficult game to project. After their Week 4 bye, from Weeks 5-through-11, Aaron Rodgers threw an average of 45 times per game and the Packers lost five of those seven. On the six-game winning streak to close the year and win the NFC North, he has thrown 33 times per game.
Does this mean this is a Ty Montgomery game? The Giants defense are so elite, across the board, that this spread rising from four points to over five at a couple of aggressive books tells us that the Packers offense will transcend the Giants defense. And it is imperative to our success on this slate that we figure out how.
The “how” is more likely to be one the greatest QBs of all-time than one of the most elusive RBs in the NFL. The lowered pass volume has more to do with less no-huddle offense and killing clock with leads.
The spread defeating the matchup-based data forces us to take a stand: fade the Packers or call this game a shootout. I elect to not argue with Vegas here in a Lambeau game and trust Rodgers to put WRs in play. That said, I cannot bring myself to pay up for Rodgers in cash, where he is slightly more expensive than Ben across the industry.
Janoris Jenkins has created a bit of a funnel within the Giants pass D. NYG is near the bottom in yards allowed per game to WR2s, WR3s, and TEs. It is difficult to fade Jordy Nelson when #TheMarket is telling that talent will overcome data, but the data does tell us that Davante Adams has a better matchup at a cheaper price. It also tells us that we have to consider Geronimo Allison and Jared Cook as punts to fit in those Pittsburgh guys. All three of them are cash game playable; Allison and Cook will be chalky, but stacking Adams+Allison+Cook will be a rare play with potential to win GPPs.
My favorite contrarian QB is Eli Manning. I have him projected as the fourth-highest owned QB, but at a fraction of where we will see Ben, Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. If I play three lineups, Eli has a chance at making a lineup, but where we making at least five, Eli exposure is a must.
The Packers can force pressure turnovers and Eli always has a four-INT game waiting in the bushes. But the Pack are also a slight funnel pass defense—22nd in DVOA vs. the pass and 14th against the run—and there is no need to describe how non-existent the Giants run game is.
The Pack pass D has give up 362 yards to Matt Barkley, 382 to Sam Bradford, and 347 to Matthew Stafford in the past three weeks. Barkley and Stafford threw two TDs each and Bradford three. GB is 28th in DVOA vs. WR1s and 29th vs. WR2s, firmly putting Odell Beckham, Jr. right with Brown as maybe the WR1A (lest we forget that Beckham led the NFL with 169 targets). Don’t sleep on Sterling Shepard, either, whose 102 targets are 12th-most on this slate.
If this game has both teams scoring in the 20s and having a relatively close finish, as #TheMarket is telling us, the Giants will put up fantasy points in the pass game to crush value somewhere. What makes this game so beautiful to stack is that there are no relevant RBs, in my humble opinion, so we do not have to neglect Pittsburgh in the process.
The limits on our exposure is due to the sharp money jumping on GB when the line was at 4.0 to move it up a half-point and more everywhere. I would have expected the Packers to be favored at home in the 3.5-4.0 range, but for #TheMarket to say that that was too low—without the over-under rising—-pumps up the likelihood of the Packers blowing out the Giants within the range of outcomes.
Russell Wilson is the only competition in my head with Ben for cash.
Is considering Wilson for cash overthinking money down the toilet? Maybe. But the case for Wilson cannot be ignored: he had a career-high 263.7 YPG this year; the Seahawks have the second-highest Vegas-implied total on the weekend (25.5); that total may fly under the radar because the game’s over-under is a very unappealing 43’ish, the Lions were dead-last this year in DVOA against the pass.
The Lions were 26th in fantasy points allowed to QBs because the pace of their games were slow, lowering the overall volume, but Wilson’s entire career is full of monster games, despite low volume. Since Wilson entered in the league, he has had 13 games of three TDs or more with 30-or-fewer pass attempts, the most during that span. Since the merger, only four QBs have a higher TD% than his 5.7 and only two active QBs (Rodgers and Tony Romo).
Wilson does not need the volume. He simply needs the pass protection. And that has been the overwhelming problem this season. A problem which cause his carrer-low 3.8 TD%, so he does not come risk-free.
The first three quarters of this game could feature a lot of Wilson. With Tyler Lockett on injured reserve , athletic freak and Super Bowl superstar Paul Richardson is the value play on which everyone will be. This all bodes well for the success and ownership of Doug Baldwin—who is always underowned, no matter what the slate.
The Lions are last in DVOA vs. WR3s and YPG allowed to them, giving Baldwin an excellent matchup in the slot. A Darius Slay shadow is possible, but it would be an anomaly. If it happens mid-game, Baldwin may already have five catches for 60 yards and two TDs. For the volatility, we can use the money saved fading Jimmy Graham for Baldwin.
On a small slate, triple-stacking is more in play. This is a great spot for a quadruple stack if you want to believe in Thomas Rawls. I cannot see myself roster fewer than two Seahawks on any lineups. Where I am only going with Richardson or Baldwin, I am playing Steven Hauschka or the Seattle DST.
My second-favorite contrarian QB is easily Stafford. The weird immobilizing wrap is off of his finger and he is coming off of a 347-yard-two-TD week. The venue does not scare me so much because the Lions don’t run no-huddle and they are better on turf than grass.
The biggest Stafford appeal is that Seattle’s defense has not been great since Earl Thomas went on IR after a Week 13 injury. The stats are padded by facing the Rams in Week 15 and the 49ers in Week 17, but they lost 38-10 in Week 14 to the Packers at home and 34-31 against the Cardinals on the road.
They are not getting torched drive-after-drive, but they are giving up volume up the middle and slash plays with yards after the catch, making Golden Tate an excellent FanDuel cash play where he is cheapest and a GPP play where price will scare people off. Everything from Tate is up the middle and he is averaging ten targets and 92 yards over his last five games.
Anquan Boldin has been Detroit’s red zone go-to man all season and he is firmly out of play because he will draw the tough matchups, but in a week of bad TEs, Eric Ebron is in play as a another threat up the middle, where he has plus matchups across the board, one-on-one against linebackers. More of a cash play, where we do not need the volume or multiple TDs to hit value.
If Theo Riddick is out, we should not chase the Zach Zenner outbreak. Jim Bob Cooter has commited to Zenner, but the gameflow is awful for him, especially since he is not a volume pass catcher. Again, everything in this game for Detroit points toward Tate.
Texans vs. Raiders
If you want to stop reading this post here, you are exactly the person who ought to keep reading. The field will not want to get into this game because the QBs stink, the backfields are undependable, and the QBs are stink. But there are factors we should not ignore:
C.J. Fiedorowicz is the best TE play on the slate. Though Cook and Jimmy Graham draw better matchups, C.J.’s 5.9 targets per game are the most among TEs on the slate; he has seen fewer than seven targets only twice since Week 4; and Oakland was 27th in DVOA this season on passes up the middle.
This game is on turf and weather is of no concern with a retractable roof. On FanDuel, where we have to play a kicker, the turf, slow ball movement on the ground, and lack of touchdowns are exactly what we want from a kicker’s situation. Nick Novak and Sebastian Janikowski are the top two kickers on the week—both with legitimate five-FG upside.
The Oakland DST is in as great of spots as we could want. Better yet, the field will see the Texans as favorites in the lowest scoring game and gravitate in that direction. This is a mistake. Connor Cook is exactly what we want in an opposing QB for our DST—third-stringer, young, inexperienced, blah, blah, blah--but the Oakland offensive line is about the last thing we want the opponent to our DST to have.
Oakland’s line had a league-leading adjusted sack rate allowed (3.4%)—13% lower than teams tied for second. The Texans, meanwhile, were tied for 11th (5.5%).
And we know that Brock Osweiler is a disaster. He was tied for fourth with Manning and Blake Bortles with 16 INTs. Of the 27 QBs with 400-plus passes thrown, Osweiler had the fourth-highest INT% (3.14) and the second-lowest TD% (2.9). Forget the favorite-underdog dynamic and make DST decisions projecting the sack-turnover dynamic.
The Oakland DST could be what wins people GPPs.
The running games are a mess here because the range of outcomes for five RBs—Latavius Murray, Lamar Miller, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, and Alfred Blue—in this game are very wide. Both teams are similarly below average against the run, and the QB situations make it #ContrarianNotStupid to play Murray and Miller in the same lineup on a site like FantasyDraft where we: (a) get a full PPR; and (b) can play two flexes.
Miller is healthy, so we could finally see him get 30 touches of glory behind an average offensive line(3.87 ALY), making him the safest skill player play from this game. After Bell, the RBs kind of dry up, so Miller is my RB2 for cash games in front of Rawls, pretty easily.
Murray is the dynamic, fun play, where if he gets the 22’ish touches behind this great line (4.09), he has three-TD upside. But there is such a strong chance that the Raiders run 35 times and no one has 15 carries, making him strictly a GPP play, no matter what chatter is leaked.
This game has unique hedge quality. Especially on FanDuel. It is difficult to justify not playing either Miller, Murray, Janikowski, Novak, or the Raiders DST. Fading Miller means that the Raiders DST is an elite play. Fading Miller and the Raiders DST means that Novak is an elite play. Fading Miller, the Raiders, and Novak means that Janikowski or Murray scored all of the points. DeAndre Washington had 22 touches in the last two weeks to make him a reasonable punt, but the Raiders will have few means to move the chains, so I keep Murray ahead of him.
The WRs have some merit, but the prices are too high. Will Fuller draws the best matchup on the outside and can make a splash play where he gives us 11 points on one play, which is awesome at a price where he does not need volume. Otherwise, the volume is a reach for Amari Cooper, DeAndre Hopkins, and Michael Crabtree. No, thank you. I’ll just roster the Green Bay guys in that price range.