It has been a frustrating 2016 NFL season for tournament players. Week after week, the chalk has gone crazy and pivots have fallen short. … I’ve adjusted my strategy. Rather than start with a pivot I like and build around it, I’m starting my GPP lineups by making the best chalk lineup possible. Then I pick one or two positions and pivot there. Next, I’ll repeat the process, potentially switching up which chalk options I use, if there are multiple paths I like to an optimal lineup, and then use one or two different pivots. To be honest, it’s a little frustrating. I want to get all my clever, sneaky plays into one lineup. But you don’t need to do that and you’re increasing the variance of your lineup with riskier plays. Ownership is a battle you only need to win in a few spots.
Below are some of my favorite pivot options from which to pick for this week.
Highest owned: Jameis Winston $6,550 vs. OAK (32%) Matt Ryan $7,100 vs. GB (23%)
For the second straight week, Matt Ryan is one of the most popular QB plays. He’s having a resurgent season that I for one did not see coming. Of course, any quarterback who has Julio Jones catching his passes has upside, but Ryan has multiple touchdown passes in six-of-eight games and has thrown for more than 300 yards in four-of-eight. That’s more than the “Julio Jones effect” can account for. This week’s matchup against Green Bay looks appealing. Their best cornerback, Sam Shields, is on IR, leaving juicy plus matchups for both Julio and Mohammed Sanu. Number one wide receivers have been shredding the Packers’ secondary all season.
However, looking at some other stats shows there’s reason for skepticism, too. You don’t have to dig particularly deep to find it. The Green Bay defense is only allowing 252 passing yards per game. Their opponents are running an average of only 59 plays per game and about 33 of those are pass attempts. Their average net yards per attempt (ANYA) allowed is a healthy 8.5, but it’s still only the sixth-most on this slate. Despite their weaknesses in pass defense, they’re only giving up a shade under 14 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, perhaps because of the low total number of plays being run. I can’t deny the game’s 52.5 total is appealing, but consider this: despite 81 percent of the public money being on the over, the total has not increased. It leads me to believe Vegas is a little more lukewarm on the total than the general public.
“Famous Jameis” gets to face the Oakland Raiders and their lackluster pass defense at home this week. He’s in a good spot: The Raiders are allowing nearly 37 pass attempts per game and an average of 274 yards with an 8.6 ANYA, good for 19 fantasy points per game surrendered to quarterbacks. No Vincent Jackson? No problem. Mike Evans has done the heavy lifting in this offense all season and the loss of VJax is probably a net positive for Winston, as targeting Evans has been much more beneficial. Per RotoViz’s Quarterback/Receiver Pairs Efficiency app, Mike Evans has posted a 7.3 adjusted yards per attempt (AYA), a metric that weighs touchdowns and interceptions as well as the yardage per target, while VJax’s AYA is a pathetic 2.6.
The fade potential here is more about his massive ownership percentage than a questionable matchup. Any time there’s an opportunity to gain an advantage on a third of the field we should consider it. However, if I had to pick one of these two to fade, it’s Ryan. Fading Winston means you’re hoping the Buccaneers get an early lead and ride the surprisingly hot hand of Jacquizz Rodgers the rest of the way. Vegas doesn’t think that’s very likely; the game is currently a pick ‘em (even odds). The better strategy may be to eat the Winston chalk and pivot around Matt Ryan.
Pivot: Russell Wilson $6,800 @ NO (9%)
Each week there’s at least one surprising ownership trend and the quarterback facing the Saints in the Superdome being under ten percent owned qualifies. I can see some of the skepticism. This game “only” has a total of 48. Wilson has been decidedly underwhelming and a little banged up. The Seattle defense is good, which could prevent this game from turning into a shootout like most games at the Superdome do.
But we can’t ignore how awful the Saints defense is. If Green Bay’s defense is a sieve, the Saints defense is a black hole. They’re giving up 32.4 points, 305 passing yards, 2.7 passing touchdowns, and 23 fantasy points to quarterbacks per game – all NFL-high numbers. Their 10.3 ANYA also leads the league, almost a full two yards per attempt more than the Green Bay defense. His best wide receiver, Doug Baldwin, will draw slot corner DeVante Harris for the majority of his routes. Harris is one of the worst cornerbacks on the slate, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Baldwin’s matchup is the best on the slate by PFF grade.
In Wilson’s one previous juicy matchup this season (against the Jets), he threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. He’s priced in between Winston and Ryan, but his matchup is far better than either. He has the potential to outscore Matt Ryan for a slightly cheaper price at significantly reduced ownership, making him an excellent pivot.
Highest Owned: Devontae Booker $3,900 vs. SD (72%), Spencer Ware $5,100 vs. IND (44%), Christine Michael $4,800 @ NO (40%)
Wow, Devontae Booker. That ownership number is insane. But it’s probably still not high enough and will probably be higher come Sunday. He’s going to have a workhorse role against a bad defense. If you fade Booker, you’re a braver person than I am. Enough said.
Spencer Ware has been doing an excellent Jamaal Charles imitation all season long. So good, in fact, the Chiefs have been slow to work Charles back into action. It’s hard to deny what he’s accomplished; the last three games he’s posted yard per carry numbers of 6.3, 5.5, and 4.5. He’s seen no fewer than 18 touches in the last four games, despite Charles’ return. He gets work in the passing game, which helps make him game-script proof. My two concerns are fairly minor. First, Jamaal Charles is continuing to recover from his injury and I have to think at some point he’s going to start eating into Ware’s workload. Does that happen this week? I don’t know. Charles has still been limited at practice, so it might not be. Second, his involvement in the passing game has declined the past two weeks. He’s seen only two targets each week. However, that could be attributed to the 131 and 77 yards he amassed on the ground in those games. He’s a fade candidate, but a very scary one.
Christine Michael is 40 percent owned? Oh. That might help explain why Russell Wilson isn’t popular. The Saints defense is terrible all around. They’re worse, in my opinion, versus the pass, but they’re still awful against the run, allowing 123 yards per game. Michael is underpriced on Aces, which must be why his ownership is this high. If you look at how he’s been performing it’s a little disappointing. Sure, before his tough matchup against the Cardinals, he had posted three big games, but they were all carried by touchdowns, an inherently fluky thing. You can’t count on him scoring two TDs per game. He’s rushed for over 66 yards just once this season, when he ran for 106 yards against the 49ers – the same 49ers who just gave up 154 yards on the ground to Jacquizz Rodgers. That makes it seem much less impressive, doesn’t it?
Pivot: Ezekiel Elliott $5,750 vs. PHI (13%)
Bovada, one of the biggest online sportsbooks, is offering a prop bet this week on whether Zeke will break the single season rushing record. He’s +1000, or 10 to 1, to break it. That means Vegas thinks there’s about a nine percent chance he does it, which might not sound like a lot, but remember, we’re talking about the chance that he rushes for 2,106 yards in his rookie season. The fact they’re even offering it is significant. He’s on pace for an astounding 2,288 yards (143 yards per game).
I don’t know if he can maintain that pace, but I think it’s unlikely the Eagles are the ones to slow him down. They’re allowing an NFL-high 133 yards per game on the ground on 28 carries. Despite getting gashed in the run game, they’ve allowed only 0.7 rushing touchdowns per game so far. I think there’s a good chance that number goes up after facing Zeke. Everyone may have their attention on the return of Dez Bryant from injury, but Elliott is the guy we should be looking at in fantasy this week.
Highest Owned: Mike Evans $5,650 vs. OAK (49%), Ty Montgomery $4,400 @ ATL (39%)
I would be very surprised if any of the 32% who rostered Jameis Winston did not also roster Mike Evans. Why wouldn’t you? Evans has double digit targets in his last six games. That’s unlikely to change with Vincent Jackson also out of the picture now. He has at least one touchdown in all but one game (against Denver which is forgivable). That’s unlikely to change against Oakland’s pass defense, which has allowed 1.6 passing touchdowns per game. Evans will primarily match up with Sean Smith, who despite his good PFF grade, has been burned on the deep ball. This is ideal for Evans, who has the second-highest air yards per target (14.8) this season, after only Julio Jones (minimum 50 targets), via Josh Hermsmeyer of RotoViz. Air yards measure the distance the ball travels in the air, discounting any yards after the catch, which tells us that Mike Evans is getting deep targets often. If there’s any cause for concern, it’s that Smith and David Amerson are both big corners at 6’3” 220 lbs. and 6’1” 205 lbs. They have the size to potentially challenge Evans, but it is still a nice matchup for him.
Is Ty Montgomery a running back or a wide receiver? FanDuel and PFF have changed his designation to RB. DraftKings and Fantasy Aces still have him listed as a WR. Whatever he is, he’s getting a lot of action. Over the last two weeks, he’s gotten 34 total touches – 25 targets (20 catches) and nine carries. He primarily lines up in the backfield, which helps him in the passing game because he gets matched up with linebackers. His Burst Score at PlayerProfiler of 129.4 puts him in the neighborhood of Julio Jones and Mike Wallace, meaning he has the explosiveness to get past those slower linebackers. There’s a reason he’s so popular and like Mike Evans, he makes for a tough fade.
Pivots: Larry Fitzgerald $5,150 @ CAR (6%), Golden Tate $4,700 @ HOU (2%)
Larry Fitzgerald is one of my favorite players, but I promise this recommendation is not based on that bias. Fitz draws one of Pro Football Focus’ top rated matchups this week. He runs two thirds of his routes out of the slot, which means he’ll mostly be covered by Robert McClain, easily the worst graded of Carolina’s corners. McClain is only 5’9”, meaning Fitzgerald has a six-inch advantage on him. Last week, Fitzgerald saw 14 targets, the most yet this season. He’s seen no less than seven in a game and has double digit targets in four-of-seven games. I expect the Cardinals to be well aware of the advantage he has in this matchup and I think Carson Palmer will look for him early and often – with success.
There’s another wide receiver who’s been seeing work at running back the past couple of weeks: Golden Tate. The Lions found something with Tate the last two games and I don’t think they’re going to give that up entirely because Theo Riddick is back. Tate had been ineffective all season, only to explode with 14 combined catches on 22 targets in those games. Jim Bob Cooter has said they want to keep Tate’s involvement up. Believing what a coach says is a dangerous gamble, but I don’t see why the Lions wouldn’t keep looking to one of their best players, even if he’s not taking snaps at running back. The matchup is good against Houston’s slot man Johnathan Joseph, who is their worst graded corner per PFF. If you’re going to fade Montgomery, it needs to be for someone with the potential to see the same kind of volume, and the only place to find that potential in his price range is Golden Tate.
Highest Owned: CJ Fiedorowicz $4,000 vs. DET (20%)
Everyone has now figured out Detroit can’t defend the tight end position. They’re allowing the most fantasy points to the position in the NFL at more than 13 per game. Bill O’Brien offenses typically feature the tight end position and that tendency has begun to reassert itself the past three weeks. Fiedorowicz, whose name I struggle to spell every time, has eight, seven, and seven targets over those three games. He’s cheap enough to call a punt play and actually has a good athletic profile. PlayerProfiler lists Austin Seferian-Jenkins as his best comparable.
Pivot: Ryan Griffin $3,000 vs. DET (0%)
This was an easy one for me. If it’s a punt play we’re after, let’s go for minimum salary. First the bad: Ryan Griffin is not good at football. Fiedorowicz is the better player, both in athletic profile and in on-field performance. But the opportunity for Griffin is there, in almost equal measure. Over those same three games, Griffin has six, five, and five targets. On the season, Fiedorowicz has three Red Zone targets; Griffin has two. For either player, we’re hoping they catch a few passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. You can roster Griffin, save $1,000 salary, and still have a TE against the TE-friendly Detroit defense, while simultaneously gaining leverage on a fifth of the field because Griffin’s gain is likely Fiedorowicz’s loss.
Highest Owned: MIN D/ST $3,200 @ CHI (23%)
Is the miraculous healing of Jay Cutler’s thumb good or bad for the Bears? I’m not entirely sure, but I definitely don’t mind the Vikings defense this week, even though they’re on the road. The Bears have been anemic offensively all season and they have the lowest implied point total according to Vegas this week. Cutler, at his best, is still turnover prone and we don’t know how healthy his thumb really is. Plus it’s clear the coaching staff has no love for him and he knows it. It’s a pretty appealing spot for the Vikings D/ST. Given that it’s not extremely highly owned, this is a time when I’m more inclined to side with the chalk at defense.
Pivot: KC D/ST $2,900 vs. IND (2%)
I think this ownership will go up on Sunday. The Titans, who played Thursday, were 17 owned owned and $2,850 – that ownership must go somewhere. But it’s possible others aren’t as high on the Chiefs D/ST as I am. They’re road favorites and have quietly been an excellent defense this season, allowing an NFL-low 1.3 points per drive. They also lead the league in interception percentage (4.94%) and turnover percentage (3.06%), per FantasyLabs. They get over 15 hurries per game against Andrew Luck, who has a ridiculous 10.5 percent sack rate over the last month. Compare that to Blake Bortles’ 5.6 percent and you get an idea of how bad it really is. The Chiefs could get to Luck a lot and rack up the points via sacks.
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