As we progress toward the 2017 NFL season we continue to look at different stats based strategies for lineup construction. In the previous “Training Camp” column we discussed player correlations and how that relates to lineup construction methodology. The next step in our process is to look at what the Vegas Lines tell us about different players and positions and come up with rules of thumb we can reference throughout the season.
There really is a ton of material to cover when it comes to player selection particularly when we consider the different contest types and differing strategies for each. Often times however it all comes back to understanding game flows and tendencies. Since the Vegas Lines are the single most efficient method for predicting game flows, we are going to look specifically and what the Vegas Lines are trying to tell us and come up with some player selection rules of thumb based on what Vegas thinks will happen with each game. If you haven’t already picked up a DFS Army VIP membership and want to try a free month, please go to www.dfsarmy.com/free-offer to learn more.
There are a few basic pieces of information we can interpret at a glance when looking at the Vegas Lines. For each game, Vegas Provides a spread and an Over / Under. The spread tells us which team Vegas thinks will win and the Over / Under is a projection of the total score for both teams being projected. Some simple math will also provide us with what Vegas projects are the team totals.
Calculating Team Totals
Let’s assume that the Patriots are playing the Jets. In this example, the Pats are favored by 7 with a 50 point O.U. To get the team totals we have the Patriots (50+7)/2=28.5 and the Jets (50-7)/2=21.5
Using the O/U, Spread and Team Totals is a critical factor in understanding game flows and therefore assisting us with player selection.
In the most basic interpretation, we want to use offensive players from teams with high team totals. Logic dictates that a team scoring more points leads to additional fantasy production from players on said team. On the flipside, we want to target defenses facing teams with low totals. Those totals are generally low because Vegas believes the opposing defense is pretty good or because that offense is not efficient. These two basics are quite obvious and easy to extrapolate. Using them alone will give you the edge on DFS players that don’t use the Vegas Lines in their lineup decisions but those are few and far between. The reality is that the vast majority of your competition’s research starts and ends with those two basic concepts. The idea here is to take the analysis of the lines a step further and analyze the relationships between team totals, spreads and home/away splits to narrow things down and target the specific positions that should benefit based on the Vegas predicted game flows. We want to understand what types of games and lines benefit the RB position vs which ones benefit QB’s and pass catchers.
Example of How Most Players Misinterpret the Lines
One of my favorite examples where people tend to screw up their reading of the lines is when a home team is heavily favored. Whenever you see a team like the Patriots favored at home by -10 or more, with a massive team total, people go crazy on all of their offensive skill position players. They see the big total and just assume it will be a fantasy points bonanza for all of their players. Then invariably the Patriots get off to a big lead early, possibly propelled by a defensive TD, off a buttfumble. By the third quarter, it becomes the LeGarrette Blount show. Brady and his pass catchers wind up with an average to below average game from a fantasy points perspective. DFSers are left wondering where they went wrong. The answer is that they didn’t understand what Vegas was telling them as far as the expected gameflow. As we proceed you will learn that in games where the home team is a heavy favorite, we want to avoid the pass catchers and QB, and target Team D, K and RB.
In looking at the QB position we need to think about game flows. Let’s take a logical look at how a typical NFL game might go in different situations. You often hear coaches cite a statistic that teams that run the ball over 20 times a game win 70% of their games. Ok, so I don’t really remember what the % is but that’s not the point. Coaches may mistakenly use that stat to convince themselves that going with a run-heavy game plan will lead to victories. That is not the case. Instead, the extra runs in winning games tend to come because a team has built up a lead early and when that happens coaches tend to go conservative in an attempt to run out the clock. We can use this information to extrapolate that the best QB situations are not necessarily on teams favored to win big. In reality, the statistics show that the ideal situation for a QB is when they are underdogs, ideally home dogs, in games with both a high total projection as well as a high (24 0r higher) team total.
Game flows which Favor the QB and his Pass Catchers
We want games that Vegas predicts will be close and high scoring. We want to avoid games which Vegas expects to become blowouts. Looking at week one of the 2016 NFL season, a game that stands out is the following:
At New Orleans -1 Oakland 50.5 – Here we have a game that Vegas expects to be close and high scoring. I have no doubt that most of the week one “Chalk” and highest ownership plays will come from this game. If things go according to script, neither team will be able to relax and kill the clock with a big lead. Both QB’s and their pass catchers are in play here.
This brings us to our first rule of thumb:
QB Rule of Thumb #1 – Target underdog QB’s in games with high team totals and close spreads, ideally, but not necessarily, playing at home.
One of the most surprising, yet statistically significant finding in my research has involved division games. QB’s on average tend to have sup-par performances when facing division foes. The effect is more pronounced later in the season when division teams are facing each-other for the second time. This is probably because division teams are so familiar with one another and apparently, familiarity is an advantage for Defenses.
QB Rule of Thumb #2 – Avoid QB’s in division match-ups, particularly later in the season.
QB Rule of Thumb #3 – Avoid QB’s and Pass Catchers in games with spreads over -8 that are likely to develop into blowouts.
For the RB position, the evidence is clear. As we discussed earlier, RB’s tend to produce above mean performances when their teams win. In the lines, we look for heavily favored teams playing at home. The evaluation becomes trickier because many RB’s are game script dependent. There are situations where teams fall behind and completely abandon the run game. I like RB’s that stay in the game when the offense goes to the hurry up. Danny Woodhead comes to mind as a guy that gets most of his production out of the hurry up. The rare RB that gets work in all situations makes for a great anchor for a cash team because they are not as game script dependent.
RB Rule of Thumb #1 Target RB’s on heavily favored teams playing at home.
The second thing to understand about the RB position with regards to fantasy scoring is the correlation between workload and RB fantasy production is indisputable. I’m a big believer in opportunities as a measure for fantasy production from the RB position. Therefore, when an injury thrusts a backup RB into a starting role, we pounce on it in DFS. The ultimate is when that happens on a team that generally produces great RB fantasy scores. Think of when DeAngelo Williams filled in for the injured LeVeon Bell last season. Those situations are no-brainers and should be exploited.
RB Rule of Thumb #2 Take advantage of RB’s filling in for injured starters.
RB Rule of Thumb #2a In cash games try to use RB’s that are not affected as much by game flows. This generally means spending up for consistent backs.
The idea of this column is to understand the relationship between the vegas lines, spreads, favorites and team totals as they pertain to the various positions and then come up with a set of rules to loosely follow as we construct our lineups. Realistically, every offensive position on a team benefits from high team totals. It makes sense that teams expected to score the most points will tend to produce the highest fantasy totals. The WR position is no different. The issue here is that these things can often be priced into salaries. In DFS however, we want to give ourselves the highest possibility of finding explosive performances. These are the situations where players greatly exceed mean expectations. When considering the WR position many players simply look for the highest team totals and go with it. That is generally a mistake. Instead, the ideal situation for a WR is a high scoring game that is expected to be close. In the RB section, we noted that teams favored to win big tend to lean on their RB’s more. Logically, what benefits the RB tends to harm QB/WR production. This brings us to our first WR rule of thumb.
WR Rule of Thumb #1 – Look for games with high totals and close spreads of 4 points or less
Teams are generally more efficient when playing at home. How do I know? Sure I looked up the stats but realistically the fact that Vegas gives home teams a 3 point starting edge is all the proof I need. I’m really not sure why this happens. It could be as simple as the players keeping in their routines or the sound of the crowds gassing up the players to do well. Either way, we know the phenomenon is real. I always favor the home team when making lineup decisions for this reason. Home are generally expected to score 10% to 15% more points at home than they are when they are on the road. For the WR position, the ideal situation is finding a home dog in a close and high scoring affair. As a bonus, you can often find lower ownership % in contests when choosing players from teams not expected to win.
WR Rule of Thumb #2 – Don’t shy away from choosing WR’s on underdogs particularly when they are playing at home.
WR Rule of Thumb #3 When facing an elite CB, consider pivoting to a team’s WR2 as a value play, particularly if the CB shadows WR1’s and the WR2 is a viable stand alone WR (Think Alan Hurns or Eric Decker)
Kicker and DST
I’m pairing Kicker and Defense here because the Vegas Based selection criterion for both are similar. We generally want home teams that are heavily favored to win in games where the opposing team totals are low. Ideally, we want defenses that put pressure on opposing QB’s. Pressures lead to turnovers and turnovers lead to DST scoring. DST scoring has some correlation with RB scoring but interestingly the biggest correlation, second only to QB-WR1 on the correlation scale, is DSK and K. I don’t have a great explanation for this particular correlation. My assumption is that teams that are dominating the opposition defensively tend to get more opportunities on offense with great starting field position. In addition, they generally can get conservative with a lead and do the classic Run, Run, Run, FG. Regardless, more opportunities on offense in great field position generally equals more scoring for the Kicker.
Let’s talk game flows for a minute. Remember the Patriots at home example we discussed earlier? In that one, the Patriots were at home favored by -10 or more. They jump out to an early lead and by the second half, they are in run mode. The opposing team is down so they abandon the run and try to play catch up. The Patriots Defense knows what’s coming and tee up on the QB. An offense that is playing catchup in the second half of a game will take risks that can often lead to turnovers. Turnovers lead to scoring from the Defense and Kicker.
DST and K Rule of Thumb #1 – Chose defenses from favored teams playing at home in games with low totals. Ideally, teams should be heavily favored with spreads at -7 or above.
DST and K Rule of Thumb #2 – Whenever possible, pair up DST with the Kicker to take advantage of the correlation between the two positions.
K Rule of Thumb – When all else fails, just use Gostowski. That guy leads the league in K scoring every year.
Getting an edge on the field requires a focus on game flows and the Vegas lines are our best tool for understanding which positions to target in which games across the spectrum of a complete slate. These rules of thumb are not the end all be all of player selection in daily fantasy football. Instead, we look for combinations of factors including the Vegas Lines rules of thumb, player correlations, value projections and consistency scores. When constructing lineups I tend to use these Vegas rules as a way of eliminating players from my pool that don’t meet the criterion. Then with that smaller player pool in hand, I look at some of the other factors including values and consistency scores depending on the types of contests I’m creating the lineups for. In the next “Training Camp” column I will cover the three styles of lineup construction I use based on three different types of contests, – Cash, Hybrid and GPP.
Daily Fantasy Football Training Camp Series