In the regular season, my primary focus is redraft analysis, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to apply my in-season process to DFS during the NFL playoffs. With that in mind, I bring you my Week 18 Game Flowbotics spreadsheet, linked as always in oversized green font:
If you’re a regular sampler of the ‘sauce, you’ll notice some changes to the format. The major difference is the inclusion of DFS pricing from DraftKings, FanDuel, FantasyAces, and Yahoo. Each player’s salary is shown, along with where the salary ranks among all players on that site at his position. Take Jarvis Landry and Antonio Brown as examples:
Brown’s salary is the most expensive among wide receivers (denoted by “1st” in the “Rk.” columns) on all sites except FantasyAces, where his salary is the second-highest (denoted by “2nd”). Landry has a broader range of relative cost, depending on the DFS site. He’s most expensive at Yahoo, where he’s the sixth-priciest wideout. At DraftKings, however, nine other wide receivers cost more than the Dolphins’ PPR machine, which seems counter-intuitive considering DK is the only one of these sites to reward a full point per reception.
With DFS salary information added, the worksheet’s player notes had to go. Don’t worry, though, dear readers. When Tygod closes a door, he opens a window. More accurately, he opens a new tab like the one I’m staring at now to edit this article. You’re in store for plenty of player notes and strategy below. Before we get there, however, I owe the uninitiated an overdue tutorial on how to read the Flowbotics page. Feel free to scroll ahead if you’re already up to speed.
Using the Game Flowbotics Page
Let’s start at the top with the simple stuff, using the Oakland-Houston match-up as our example.
This is all fairly self-explanatory. The spreads and over/unders come from the ESPN link at the top of the page, and they’re used to calculate each team’s implied total. This season, I stuck to the Westgate’s odds pretty religiously, but the values shown in Flowbotics do not update in real time. I time-stamp when the lines were last updated in a yellow box at the top of the page, so check the ESPN link if you want current odds.
Look to the right of the implied total column and you’ll find Football Outsiders’ total DVOA values for both teams in the match-up.
Non-weighted DVOA numbers are for the entire season. The weighted numbers assign more importance to recent weeks. In the example above for the Raiders and Texans, you’ll see Oakland’s offense has been worse lately (11th in weighted DVOA vs. 7th in seasonal DVOA), while their defense has been better (21st weighted vs. 23rd seasonal). The percentages in the “#” columns are the raw DVOA values from Football Outisders. The integers in the “Rk.” columns are where that team ranks among all NFL teams.
The match-ups are color coded for easier comparison. Oakland’s offense in yellow squares off against Houston’s defense in yellow. Conversely, Houston’s offense in purple faces Oakland’s defense in purple. The more specific passing and running game match-ups below are similarly color coded.
The conventions used in these sections are the same as the overall DVOA comparisons at the top of each match-up. There are small exceptions for the O-line and D-line sections. Rather than rate teams with a DVOA percentage in the trenches, line play is quantified by FO’s adjusted sack rate in the passing game and adjusted line yards in the running game.
The final section of each match-up grid displays defensive DVOA against various receiver types.
Before you angrily tweet at me about listing Amari Cooper as Oakland’s #1 wideout, while the more productive Crabtree slots as the #2, here is a quote from the FO page where these numbers come from:
DVOA ratings represent value from the point of view of the defense, not fantasy football players, and include items that have no impact on fantasy football (such as how many interceptions are caught on passes intended to certain receivers). DVOA of defense against receivers does not include sacks or passes with no intended receiver listed. Passes per game and yards per game are more useful for fantasy football players. These numbers are adjusted based on the opposing offenses and include defensive pass interference.
Note that our decision of which receiver is ‘number one’ and which receiver is ‘number two’ is somewhat subjective. Teams are ranked in order of general passing defense DVOA.
As you can see, assigning specific roles to each receiver is not objective or simple. I try to consider target volume, role, and narrative-driven perception (*ducks*) to decide where each receiver lands. Ultimately, it’s a nebulous gray area because target distributions often shift with game plans, and receivers seem to move around formations more and more each season.
I tend to find the most value by looking at all the receiver match-ups in concert and trying to determine how the opposing offense will attack that defense considering all the options available. With that in mind, let’s dive into the Round 1 slate.
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
The quarterbacks in this contest limit the fantasy appeal of both offenses, evidenced by the 36.5-point over/under. The logical through-line points to using these teams’ defenses in DFS. The Texans are a strong, but chalky option. They’re at home against a rookie in his first career start, and their pass coverage is generally solid.
On the other hand, Connor Cook gets to set up shop behind the league’s best offensive line by adjusted sack rate. In relief of Matt McGloin last week, Cook held his own against the more imposing Denver defense. Rather than tolerate the Houston defense’s high ownership, you could pivot to the other side of the ball and use Oakland. The Raiders ranked second in the regular season with 30 takeaways, and I imagine they’re salivating at the thought of facing the human incompletion, Brock Osweiler.
If you want to put action on the offenses in this game, look to the running backs. Both franchises rank in the middle of the pack at defending the run, and both are susceptible to rushers as receivers. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are particularly interesting given their price points. Houston ranks 28th against RBs out of the backfield, and Oakland should aim to keep things simple for Cook with high-percentage passes and a lot of hand-offs. Latavius Murray likely can’t handle the volume the Raiders will look to employ. Whether through high usage or the variance of a big play, I could see either of Oakland’s backup rushers returning value as punt options.
To close out this match-up I need to throw a little love at Houston’s tight ends. Pickings at the position are slim this week, so most degenerates will likely pony up for Jimmy Graham. Meanwhile, the Raiders rank 23rd in DVOA against tight ends and allow 20.6% more yardage to the position than the NFL average on only 2.7% more targets than average. That efficiency coupled with Osweiler’s tendency to zero in on his tight ends in the red zone makes C.J. Fiedorowicz a fine alternative to Graham. Hell, even Ryan Griffin has appeal given his near-minimum salary across all sites.
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks
I do not believe in Detroit. The Lions faced six different teams who finished the season with nine or more wins and lost to all of them. Against playoff teams, the Lions were 0-5, losing by an average of 10.6 points in those games. They’ve been atrocious on defense, ranking last in overall defensive DVOA as well as pass defense DVOA. The Seahawks struggled at times on offense, especially along the line of scrimmage, but Russell Wilson should make short work of Detroit though the air. Stacking him with almost any combination of his receivers seems solid in any type of contest.
If I’m right and Seattle can dial up a negative game script for Detroit, Zach Zenner’s value should wash away into the Puget Sound. One might hope for receptions from Zenner in DraftKings’ PPR format, but don’t count on efficient production. The Seahawks’ rank fourth in DVOA against running backs as receivers.
Unfavorable game flow could still bode well enough for other Detroit receivers, though. Seattle’s defense hasn’t been quite as imposing since losing Earl Thomas, and Matthew Stafford should throw a lot to keep pace with with Wilson and Co. The Seahawks have rated below average against tight ends for most of the season by DVOA, so both Eric Ebron and Anquan Boldin deserve consideration when you’re building lineups.
No one has all the answers, me least of all, but I wish I had a better read on Seattle’s running back situation. Value should be had if my overall prediction for this game comes to bear, but I’m concerned about Thomas Rawls’ health and Alex Collins’ talent. Is ours a universe where Rawls’ recent lull was a symptom of resting up for the playoff run he’s about to make? We can’t be sure, but if it is, Rawls could make his DFS owners very happy against Detroit’s generous defense. Collins is the safer play otherwise, but if you’re building a small number of lineups, I’d avoid this backfield and stand pat on Seattle’s passing attack.
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
The spread and total for this battle point toward a Steelers blowout, and Le’Veon Bell is correspondingly the most expensive player across all the one-quarterback sites. Predictably, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown also check in with hefty price tags. Using each of the three in some percentage of your cash games is likely correct.
They deserve your tournament consideration as well. With only four games to chose from, and relatively forgiving pricing across all the sites, paying up for the heavy hitters is unavoidable. Instead of a need for contrarianism in GPPs, the short schedule creates more pressure to simply find the best lineups. Most of the best potential outcomes this weekend figure to involve one or more of Pittsburgh’s fantasy studs.
There is still room for some contrarian action, of course. You could very well find it from The Dolphins’ offense. The Steelers allowed the 4th-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season, but the floor of wideout production against them was fairly solid. Miami’s potential for playing catch-up based on the 10-point spread could result in extra volume for all of their pass-catchers. Devante Parker and Kenny Stills each saw 14-plus targets across Miami’s final two games with Matt Moore at the helm. Both carry similarly digestible salaries, low enough to fit in most lineups, including game stacks with the aforementioned trio of elite options from the opposing team.
In Miami’s backfield, Jay Ajayi carries health concens, but I’m less worried about him than Rawls. The Dolphins don’t have a feasible option behind him on the depth chart, and his shortened Week 17 appearance reeks of rest in the face of sure defeat, not injury. Poor game script is the real worry with Ajayi. On the other hand, ball control is Miami’s best chance for an upset, so I expect a heavy rushing workload for as long as the Dolphins can afford it. I don’t expect success on the level of Week 6, when Ajayi hammered the Steelers for 204 yards on 25 carries, but the Dolphins’ receivers could be compromised in DFS if this game stays close.
The wide range of potential outcomes on Miami’s side makes all of their players risky, but that risk should keep each player’s ownership in check. Don’t overload on the Dolphins. Sprinkle them into your lineups like mist from an aquatic mammal’s blowhole.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Recommending against Aaron Rodgers and his offense at home makes me nervous, but I’m intrigued by the Giants’ chances for an upset. The Packers have been a sieve through the air, and Eli Manning is capable of exploiting that weakness despite his flaws.
Meanwhile, New York’s defense is absolutely incendiary. They shut down multiple high-powered offenses down the stretch, holding each of Dallas, Detroit, and Washington to 10 points or fewer. Their pass coverage has been insane. By DVOA, the Giants rank second against #1 wide receivers, fifth against #2 wide receivers, seventh against other wide receivers, and third against running backs as receivers.
The lone soft spot for New York’s defense is against tight ends, where they rank 26th in DVOA and allow 28.4% more receiving yardage than the NFL average on 12.2% more targets than average. If you like that angle, you risk the heartbreak associated with using Jared Cook, a government-certified fantasy dream crusher.
If you’re brave enough to go contrarian and bet against Aaron Rodgers with the Giants’ defense, can I interest you in a stack with Paul Perkins or Rashad Jennings? The former is my preference, but before this madness goes any further, now is a great time to remind you of the disclaimer way back in the first sentence of this article. I am primarily a redraft player. I only dabble in DFS. Still, I hope the Week 18 Game Flowbotics is helpful, whether these words are or not. If you see any promising angles of attack not mentioned in the post, sound off in the comments or at me on Twitter. Good luck in all your degenerate endeavors and enjoy the playoffs.