Gaming the Game: Divisional Round
The week features some of our top defenses in Baltimore, Denver, New England, and Seattle and the best offenses in Dallas and Green Bay. Looking at available DFS options, we quickly see that a majority of the top ten players at every position come from these teams. That forces some tough lineup decisions due to salary constraints this weekend.
Comparing all the key players in terms of three metrics that I’ve found are important for predicting success in DFS–matchup, volume production, and efficiency–provides a quick assessment of each guy’s potential this week. The matchup metric is derived from ESPN’s fantasy points allowed to position rankings.
Each player gets a score based on the ease of his matchup, so the QB with the highest fantasy points allowed opponent would get 8 points, the next best matchup would get 7, and so on. The same point based system is applied to season long PPR volume in terms of fantasy points, and season long efficiency (point per drop back or points per opportunity). The scoring is expanded in cases of WR and TE as there is more than one option per team (eg. 12 primary fantasy receivers are considered this week). As usual, I’ll focus this strategy article on DraftKings pricing, and all players in the charts below are listed according to their DK salary from highest on the left to lowest on the right.
Aaron Rodgers, the most expensive QB option this week at DK, is also the clear leader with the most points from all three metrics. Rodgers is indeed a good option, but he is dealing with a calf injury. The extent to which that limits his mobility in the pocket is unknown as of now. He insists that he’ll play but even he is unsure of what kind of impact the muscle strain will have. It might surprise you that Dallas was No. 2 in takeaways this season as well. These two things combined make it hard for me to pay up for Rodgers in cash games, despite the game being Vegas’ highest scoring offensive battle. With all the talent on the Packers, Rodgers could also throw 5 TDs while barely moving, so I will use him in tournament lineups.
Andrew Luck has the best matchup on paper with Denver. However, much of that generous Broncos defense against QB comes from the first half of the season where any opposing QB basically faced a quarter plus of garbage time to pad their stats (average allowed 18.6 fpts to QB). The latter half of the season, in which Manning began to struggle a bit saw the defense give up only 13.6 fpts to QB. The game is also on the road, and while Luck has been slightly less effective on the road in terms of yardage and avoiding interceptions in the regular season, his short playoff record on the road is unfavorable (2:5 TD: INT ratio, two losses). I also give consideration to a defense at home in the playoffs. Indianapolis leads the remaining teams and was 3rd overall in giveaways in 2014.
The QB value that jumps out at me this week is Russell Wilson at home vs Carolina. Wilson comes in at No. 2 in fantasy points per drop back, with an amazing 0.61. The Panthers defense has been lights out the past few weeks, but playing in Seattle is something else entirely compared to facing Ryan Lindley at home or even Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Vegas expects this to be a low scoring game, as most of Seattle’s are, which somewhat reduces enthusiasm for Wilson, but given his efficiency, matchup, and price, I’m having a hard time looking elsewhere for my cash game lineups.
For RB, I think you have to spend this weekend. The top four backs are all pretty even though DeMarco Murray has the slight edge. Their salaries range from $8400 for Murray to $7200 for Eddie Lacy. Lacy is in all of my lineups. The return of Ronnie Hillman to the Broncos doesn’t scare me off of CJ Anderson ($7600), who should still see 75% of the carries. All Anderson does is score TDs, so I’m not worried about him losing goal line touches either. Fitting in both Lacy and Anderson makes for a questionable receiving corps, as we’ll see, but I think provides a sound investment. If you can somehow afford Murray, I can’t dispute using him, I just find the sacrifice elsewhere too much to bear for cash games. Marshawn Lynch should be in full beast mode on Saturday night.
If you go with Murray or Lynch, you’ll probably be punting your second RB slot. Dan Herron is $5300, while Jonathan Stewart and Shane Vereen are both $4800. Hillman is $4700, so there’s really no reason to use him over one of the starters. Herron is the best bet here, as he will not only carry the majority of the time for the Colts, he proved his worth in the short passing game catching 10/11 for 85 yds last week. I want badly to like Vereen, but anticipating the Patriots backfield is something I don’t typically do well. We all remember how game flow should have dictated a nice game for Vereen against Detroit a few weeks back, right?
The attributes of WR that I weight most heavily are volume and efficiency. That leaves six clear options for me this week, but you’ll have to spend up for them. They are Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, TY Hilton, Randall Cobb, and Emmanuel Sanders (salary range $8500-7100). Hilton and Luck have not been on the same page lately and given that he has the worst matchup with the Broncos secondary, I’m not using Hilton. My favorite plays, salary aside, are Dez Bryant, who leads the receivers in efficiency (along with the other Bryant, Martavis, at 0.64 PPO) and Jordy Nelson, who is right behind him with 0.58 PPO. Cobb and Sanders are the poor man’s options amongst the elite Divisional Round WR on DraftKings.
If you take my advice about spending at RB, however, none of those six are likely to be in your DFS lineup. In that case, I’ve been pivoting to Steve Smith Sr, Torrey Smith, and Kelvin Benjamin. The match ups aren’t as good, but the efficiency is there. High efficiency can be a reflection of low volume, and Newton and Flacco aren’t the most pass-happy QBs in the league, but they will both need points through the air to stay competitive in their respective games this week. Given the inherent volatility in WR fantasy points (meaning they always have a larger range of outcomes than RB), and the limited options available on a short slate of games, I’m more willing to take a risk on a cheaper WR than RB this weekend.
I want Rob Gronkowski in as many lineups as I can field this week. With Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman both less than 100%, and Gronk just simply being Gronk, he is the top option in the NE passing game, and against the porous Ravens secondary, I want some piece of that game. Julius Thomas looks like a perfect play, but he is just rounding back into form off the ankle injury and the team has been functioning very differently lately than it was before he left. The emergence of CJ Anderson along with Manning’s thigh injury have both had a big impact on the passing game. I’m reserving J. Thomas for tournament lineups because of his extreme efficiency–12 TD on 60 targets. If you need to save at TE, Dwayne Allen is the guy I think you should use. His volume numbers are down because of the games he missed with injury, but is was and is again Andrew Luck’s first TE look. He blows Coby Fleener away in efficiency, and despite playing in four fewer games than Fleener, Allen has the same number of TD catches (8).
A sample DK lineup based on these principles:
I neglected to discuss Jermaine Kearse, Reggie Wayne, Danny Amendola, etc…the WR in the $3200-3500 range where you’ll likely have to look to fill that 3rd slot. I simply chose the Seahawk with the most likely targets. On defense, you obviously want the Seahawks, Patriots, or Broncos. If you can’t spend up for them however, consider the Cowboys, who I already mentioned have the leagues 2nd most takeaways on the season. It’s possible that the impeccable Packers (tied with NE for the fewest giveaways) will slip up in the cold with Rodgers’ gimpy leg. Along the lines of what I said about WR, defensive fantasy points are extremely hard to predict, therefore I typically choose to maximize my spending potential at skill positions. In other words, I’d rather compromise with the Cowboys defense than roster both Kearse and Wayne with Seattle’s defense for cash games. That’s it for this week. Good luck with all your DFS games this weekend and enjoy the great football!