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By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 74: Week 3 WR Analysis for DraftKings

At DraftKings, I ran through some Week 3 wide receiver options. Here are the top five:

  • Top Five Wide Receivers

Calvin Johnson, Detroit vs Green Bay, $8900 – No surprise to see Megatron as the most expensive wide receiver for the third consecutive week to begin the season. What’s really interesting, though, is that he’s not only $500 more expensive than every other wide receiver, but also $1000 more than every running back.

DraftKings has appeared to alter their pricing a bit this season, bumping up wide receivers as a whole. That could alter the wide-receivers-are-the-best-flex-play rule, so we need to take it on a case-by-case basis right now.

Either way, Johnson is always in play as a GPP option.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay at Detroit, $8400 – It’s going to be really interesting to see Nelson’s usage this week. On one hand, he’s the second-most expensive receiver and $100 more than Brandon Marshall. On the other hand, he’s coming off of a monster game and Green Bay could air it out in Detroit.

It’s really difficult to decide how to handle Nelson this week. Low usage could mean more value in GPPs, but the Lions have a ridiculously underrated pass-rush and have allowed the fourth-fewest points to opposing wide receivers.

Brandon Marshall, Chicago at NY Jets, $8300 – It’s going to be really difficult to get away from Marshall this week, and I expect his usage to perhaps be the highest of any wide receiver. We all saw what Nelson did to the Jets last week; New York has allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers this season, and Marshall is the clear-cut favorite target for Jay Cutler. Fade at your own risk.

Dez Bryant, Dallas at St. Louis, $7700 – Bryant struggled in Week 1, but his performance last week was more what we all expected with Scott Linehan in town: 13 targets, 10 catches, and over 100 yards with a score.

The Rams D is pretty good, but they’ve lost one of their best players in Chris Long. Normally I’d be scared about St. Louis double-teaming Bryant on every play, but the emergence of league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray should help things a bit on the outside.

Randall Cobb, Green Bay at Detroit, $7500 – If you want to be contrarian in Week 3, this is where you can do it. I fully expect Cobb’s usage to be the lowest of any top wide receiver. He’s simply priced too high here—more than Antonio Brown.

This will come down to how you think the Lions are going to play Nelson. If news comes out that they’re going to double him, Cobb all of a sudden comes into play as a more attractive player. In my opinion, though, he’s only in play in tournaments, and perhaps not even there because the value isn’t there.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 73: The Little Things

At DraftKings, I wrote about why the best daily fantasy players pay attention to the little things.

Al_Smizzle’s $1 Million Opportunity

When I wrote my last book on how pros win playing daily fantasy sports, I spoke with Al_Smizzle about his second-place finish in DraftKings’ 2013 Fantasy Football Championship. Smizzle won $350k for the effort, but he put himself in position to win the thing because of one small little roster construction trick.

Heading into the Monday night game, Smizzle was down fewer than two points on bundafever, and the two users were basically the only options to win the tournament, each with one player to go. Bundafever had a running back left to play—a player Smizzle knew was Frank Gore based on reverse-engineering the lineup using that week’s salaries.

Well, Smizzle also had Gore left to go. His only chance to win was to play someone else. The good news? He could select any running back, wide receiver, or tight end with a cheaper price than Gore since he placed Gore in the flex spot.

This wasn’t an accident. Smizzle always uses the player in the latest possible game as his flex play because it gives him outs. In the off-chance that a scenario arises like the one that did, Smizzle has more possible scenarios to help him win since he can late-swap to almost any player.

It didn’t work out in that particular tournament, but Smizzle at least gave himself a chance to win by using very shrewd lineup construction before the games began that week. It’s little maneuvers like these—things that increase the probability of winning just a tad—that can add up to create a large edge over the field.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 72: Week 3 QB Analysis

I’ve published a few different things over at DraftKings in the new Playbook blog. One of them was this breakdown of Week 2′s biggest tournaments.

I also broke down quarterbacks in Week 3:

Five Mid-Priced Quarterbacks

Nick Foles, Philadelphia vs Washington, $8500 – This is one of those situations in which a player’s ranking in terms of salary isn’t representative of his value. Foles is probably ranked accurately on DraftKings, but is he priced appropriately? At $8500, he’s barely cheaper than Brees, Manning, and Stafford.

The Redskins’ pass defense has looked outstanding through two weeks—fifth against opposing quarterbacks—and while much of that has to do with facing Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne, you’re still not getting a discount on Foles here. He’s one of many mid-range quarterbacks on whom I’m not high; I’ll likely either pay up for the big boys or go cheaper this week.

 

Jay Cutler, Chicago at NY Jets, $8100 – Cutler has lit it up thus far in 2014 with 525 yards and six touchdowns through two weeks. He has also completed over two-thirds of his passes in both games.

In Week 3, I think Cutler has a really wide range of outcomes against the Jets. I say that because Cutler actually hasn’t been all that efficient this year, averaging just 6.3 YPA. That’s a bad number and suggests that Cutler could struggle if he doesn’t get a lot of attempts.

If the Bears get up early with a couple Matt Forte scores, I could see a really poor outing for Cutler. Of course, he has the upside to light it up, too, so he’s certainly in play in GPPs.

 

Cam Newton, Carolina vs Pittsburgh, $7400 – The Pittsburgh defense isn’t what it used to be, but the Steelers have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season. I could see Newton’s ownership being really low this week, so you could certainly consider pairing him with Kelvin Benjamin for a really unique stack in tournaments.

 

Kirk Cousins, Washington at Philadelphia, $7300 – Of the mid-priced quarterbacks who I will consider using in tournaments, Cutler and Cousins are the most interesting to me. Cousins’ usage will probably be pretty low because he recently soared up the salaries. A lot of people are going to see this price and be turned off.

The question we need to ask ourselves isn’t “Did Cousins’ salary jump too far?” but rather “Is the current price a good deal or not?” At $7300 against a poor pass defense and likely to rack up a lot of attempts, Cousins might be a sneaky smart play in Week 3.

 

Philip Rivers, San Diego at Buffalo, $7100 – Rivers is certainly in play against the Bills, but the question is who you’d want to use with him if you go that route. Antonio Gates is the obvious choice, but he’s also priced as the third-most expensive tight end this week—$200 more than Rob Gronkowski.

While others are forcing Gates in there after his ridiculous Week 2 performance, you might be able to find value and low tournament usage on Rivers to Keenan Allen.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 71: Winning on DraftKings

At FantasyPros, I wrote a little bit about how to increase your odds of winning on DraftKings:

RANGES OF OUTCOMES

When you create any daily fantasy lineup, you’re constructing a team with a range of potential outcomes, some good, some bad, some okay. The nature of that range depends on your player selection and the relationships you create within your lineup.

Basically, you’re looking to either increase or decrease the volatility of your lineup so that you can win certain leagues types. Here’s a sample breakdown of the probability of DraftKings scores based on whether you take a high-variance or low-variance approach.

When your team is low-variance, your score tends to inhabit a more narrow range of outcomes, or at least it has greater access to a moderate level of production. When it’s high-variance, the probability flattens out; there’s less chance of a moderate score and a higher probability of either a really low or really high score.

Your goal is to figure out how to construct your lineups so that they come close to matching these curves; you want more variance in tournaments so that your team will have a high enough ceiling to cash, but less variance in cash games so that you have more access to a decent score that will beat the average lineup.

I’m going to get into this idea and other league-specific strategies more in future posts, but I just want to quickly run through the two main ways you can increase or decrease lineup volatility.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 70: So Much Week 2 Advice

I have a bunch of content posted this week, both in regards to Week 2 and just general fantasy football strategy stuff. Here are the links. Sign up at DraftKings this week to cash in.

DraftKings Week 2 Values (4for4)

DraftKings WR Breakdown (DraftKings Playbook)

DraftKings QB Breakdown (DraftKings Playbook)

The Importance of Game Flow (DraftKings Playbook)

The Impact of FanDuel’s 0.5 PPR Scoring (RotoWorld)

Advanced Lineup Setting Strategies (RotoWorld Season-Pass Members Only)

How to Select Wide Receivers on DraftKings (Fantasy Pros)

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 69: 4th Quarter Play-Calling

From Fantasy Football for Smart People: What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know:

UNDERSTANDING PUBLIC PERCEPTION

At the heart of the value determination process for both traders and fantasy owners is a keen knowledge of public perception. Traders seek to predict which stocks will become popular among the public prior to that stock’s share price rising. Similarly, fantasy owners must recognize which players have too low of a price tag (or Average Draft Position).

Both share price and ADP are set by the public. Traders and fantasy owners must understand how the public perceives stocks and football players to enhance value. For the latter group, the worth comes in not knowing which players to draft, but more importantly, when to draft them. Remember, neither stocks nor players have inherent value; value is a reflection of both actual worth and opportunity cost, the latter trait being influenced heavily by public perception.

Not only should you be concerned with the thoughts of others in your league, but their beliefs need to be an essential component of your draft strategy. You can buy What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know for Kindle, as a PDF, or in paperback.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 68: 4th Quarter Play-Calling

A little while ago at RotoWorld, I posted an analysis of play-calling in the fourth quarter and its effect on fantasy production:

When a team has a late lead, they should indeed be more conservative with their play-calling. The degree of such a conservative philosophy should depend on the score, and unless you’re up by multiple touchdowns, the correct move isn’t a run-the-ball-on-first-and-second-down-and-then-attempt-a-short-pass-on-third-down-short-of-the-first-down strategy that we see so often. For the most part, unless time is ticking away near the end of the game, offenses with very small leads should run very close to their normal offense, with the focus still primarily on point-maximization.

But outside of a few exceptions, they don’t. And it has fantasy football ramifications.

 

Fourth-Quarter Play-Calling and Stats

I knew we’d see some dramatic differences in fourth-quarter play-calling based on the score, but what I found is pretty shocking. Here’s a look at the difference in passing attempts and YPA for offenses that are either leading by 14 or trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter.

Note that, although there’s a difference in efficiency, it’s not that extreme. This is par for the course with quarterbacks; the difference between the best and worst in terms of efficiency isn’t monumental. Meanwhile, the difference in passing attempts can be substantial, especially on the level of an individual game or quarter.

Overall, offenses down by 14 in the fourth quarter rack up around nine more passing attempts than their winning counterparts. That leads to an average of 73 fourth-quarter passing yards for the quarterback of a team down by two touchdowns or more in the final frame, compared to just 21 passing yards for quarterbacks on the team with the lead. That’s a substantial difference—around 3-3.5 fantasy points, depending on your scoring system.

And that’s just from yards alone. Here’s a peek at touchdowns/interceptions in the fourth quarter of 14-point games.

Teams that are trailing by 14 or more points throw way more interceptions, but they also toss a lot more touchdowns, too, and the scores more than make up for the picks. In leagues that award four points for passing touchdowns and deduct two points for interceptions, quarterbacks on teams that are trailing by 14 points score an average of 1.30 fantasy points in the fourth quarter from their TD/INT totals. Quarterbacks on winning teams total just 0.66 fantasy points.

If we add it together, we’re looking at an additional four fantasy points for quarterback who are trailing big in the fourth quarter. That’s just from the passing stats, too; if you have a mobile quarterback, he’s more likely to rack up rushing yards on scrambles.

Having said all that, these results are somewhat surprising, but not a total shock since a 14-point lead is a big one that should dramatically alter play-calling. But what about in close games that are within one touchdown? Offenses with a small lead aren’t just messing around by keeping the ball on the ground, right?

Even though it’s a smaller gap, teams down by less than a touchdown are throwing the ball more than twice as often as teams up by seven or less in the fourth quarter! With basically no difference in YPA, that equates to twice as many fourth-quarter passing yards, too.

Read the whole thing.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 67: Game Theory

Today’s sample comes from my first book How to Dominate Your Draft.

Fantasy football is a game of competing decision-makers, i.e. others minds are involved. Almost all aspects of the game are zero-sum, meaning when one owner gains, another loses. It is really a complex game of rock-paper-scissors. As such, we can and should use game theory as a mode of decision-making.

Game theory is a strategic decision-making process that applies to zero-sum games, and wherein the beliefs of others affect your decisions. It is worth noting NFL play-calling is all about game theory; run when they expect you to pass, and vice versa. While game theory is an umbrella term that can apply to a plethora of processes, I’ve always liked to think of it as acting one step ahead of your opponents.

We can talk about projections, rankings, and scarcity all day, but if you don’t understand the intentions of others in your league, you’re going to draft sub-optimally.

How to Dominate Your Draft is available on Kindleas a PDF, and in paperback.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 66: 7 Lessons on Daily Fantasy Sports

At rotoViz, I wrote an article titled 7 Lessons on Daily Fantasy Sports You Can Only Learn from the Pros. It contains pro tips from my book Fantasy Football for Smart People: Daily Fantasy Pros Reveal Their Money-Making Secrets.

Here’s an excerpt:

LESSON 1: “EMPHASIZE BOTH VALUE AND MATCHUPS.”

-          HEADCHOPPER

In baseball, it’s 99 percent matchup stuff. It’s basically all matchup-based. In basketball, it’s the opposite end of the spectrum; it’s completely value-based. I know who the great players are in a given night, matchups don’t matter as much, and I’m just looking to see how much value I can get out of you.

I think football is a mix of those two sports. You want the value in terms of the salary, you know, but you also need to consider the matchup. It’s just a unique situation because neither one should be the only thing you consider, or even close.

Sometimes you can kind of disregard a poor matchup if the value is there, and other times a guy might have a juicy matchup and you might be a little more hesitant because of his salary. But you can’t just load up on one or the other. If you’re purely value-based, you might not have the best team just in terms of putting up a whole lot of points. Some guys might be poor values but can just go for 200 yards in any game.

If you’re strictly matchup-based, you’re ignoring a big part of puzzle. If we just stuck to matchups, everyone would have pretty much the same lineup. You can’t just plug in a running back who’s playing the worst run defense or something like that. But I’ve seen plenty of times when good offenses just explode on great defenses and not a lot of people used players from the game because it was considered a bad matchup.

LESSON 2: “USE THE VEGAS LINES DIFFERENTLY BASED ON THE LEAGUE TYPE.”

-          MIRAGE88

In cash games, I think Vegas can really help with your own projections. In tournaments, I think the biggest value from the lines comes in using them as a prediction market for ownership. So the higher the over/under on a game, the more player utilization there will be in those games. Even if the general public isn’t using the Vegas lines, they still have a sense of which games are going to be high-scoring, so Vegas can act as confirmation of where there’s going to be heavy player usage.

That’s important because, unlike in cash games, it’s important to have a unique lineup in tournaments. So if there’s a game that’s an outlier in terms of the projected total, just way ahead of everything else, it’s kind of hard to recommend players from that game because they’re going to be so popular.

That doesn’t mean I never use players from the highest-projected game in tournaments, but if I do, I need to create some elements within my roster that I think won’t be as common elsewhere. It’s not that you can’t win by using all highly utilized players, but just that it can improve your tournament odds by adding at least some contrarian elements into your lineup when you otherwise go with the chalk.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 65: Detecting Randomness

If you haven’t read Nassim Nicholas Talleb’s book Fooled by Randomness, you should check it out. I’ve read a number of passages that are extremely applicable to fantasy football and the NFL, including this one on randomness:

Memory in humans is a large machine to make inductive inferences. Think of memories: What is easier to remember, a collection of random facts glued together, or a story, something that offers a series of logical links? Causality is easier to commit to memory. Our brain would have less work to do in order to retain the information. The size is smaller. What is induction exactly? Induction is going from plenty of particulars to the general. It is very handy, as the general takes much less room in one’s memory than a collection of particulars. The effect of such compression is the reduction in the degree of detected randomness.

It’s been fairly well-established in various disciplines that humans really suck at detecting randomness. We typically expect sequences to alter more than they do, so when a pattern emerges, we assign it a cause. Normally it’s just noise.

As I read this passage, I wrote down a note on NFL injuries. Even though we detect patterns in injury data, we have to realize that we’re susceptible to being fooled by randomness. A lot of what we perceive as injury proneness is just an illusion.

Fantasy football owners can garner value by taking advantage of the human tendency to perceive patterns and assign causal relationships that don’t exist. In my book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Cash in on the Future of the Game, I propose a very contrarian weekly fantasy strategy dominated by exposing yourself to “down” players. Chances are when a stud running back has two poor performances in a row, there’s more randomness there than it seems. As a result, his perceived stock will presumably drop too far, subsequently allowing you to generate value from the inevitable mean regression of all those random factors.

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