It is officially Week One of the 2016 NFL season. Yet for many fantasy owners, the season began weeks ago with their league draft. League drafts can be the defining moment for any fantasy team’s season, which means all sorts of analysis and preparations are made by fantasy owners, their thoughts and conclusions often shrouded in secrecy more commonly associated with the CIA. It is in this clandestine spirit that I opted not to blog this year until the season started. The owners in my most competitive leagues – those involving my siblings and my co-workers – have become well-aware of my website; and I have become well-aware of some of the data-mining that takes place when I write.
The conundrums of transparency are not limited to fantasy football bloggers; they are actually not much different than those facing your average fantasy owner with his or her diehard fantasy friends. They want to talk all about their opinions with one another, but can’t really do so until after the draft, lest they jeopardize their ability to snag key players they want on their roster. And these days, with the advent and popularity of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) on sites like FanDuel and DraftKings, the sharing of one’s fantasy opinion with anyone can unwittingly tilt the scales in favor of a stranger within earshot, shifting the top prize in a DFS contest into someone else’s hands. Far-fetched, it may seem, but it’s nonetheless a reality.
That brings me to the heart of my introduction to the 2016 fantasy football season: sharing information, opinions, and advice on DFS play. I want to share and contribute to your DFS experience. I have spent the past two seasons primarily focused on DFS play, so much so that I left my site largely untouched of late. DFS tends to illicit a great deal of research and analysis each week of the NFL season, and in my effort to learn this style of fantasy play, I consciously allowed my weekly DFS preparations to consume me. The effort was worth it, in my opinion. But it is time to finally bring this dimension of fantasy play into my writing. And I like to think that I have contrived a way to do so without compromising my own efforts to win these weekly contests on FanDuel and DraftKings. So let’s get started…
Of course, everyone wants to know how to win at DFS. The first thing every DFS competitor should understand is that, just like in fantasy league play, winning usually entails some degree of luck coupled with skill and preparation. However, the approach to developing a successful roster is different in DFS than it is for league play. And even within DFS, roster development strategy largely depends on the type of contest you are playing. For instance, if you are playing a contest in which only the top 20% win a prize (also known as a tournament game or Guaranteed Prize Pool – GPP), you want to aim big, selecting players who might have an explosive performance in order to score as many points as possible. But if you are playing a contest in which 50% of the contestants will double their money (also known as cash games), you want to aim for players who consistently have solid performances (not necessarily explosive) in order to make sure you score enough points to finish in the top half of the group. Nothing fancy in that case.
That said, cash games are rather simple in terms of what you need to do to win: populate your roster with players who are sure to do just fine that week. Now, it’s not as simple as that. You actually have to do a little bit of homework to learn and understand what matchups are more of a “sure thing” for certain players than others. This entails learning the players and their weekly matchups well-enough to speak on their merits in casual conversation. Yes, I wrote that: “well-enough to speak on their merits in casual conversation”. Once you’re at that point, you will know what you need to know to create a roster that will easily win money in cash games.
Tournament games are considered the more “sexy” version of DFS play. Unlike cash games, in GPP contests, not all winners are created equal. The top finisher wins the big prize. Depending on the size and entry fee for that particular contest, the grand prize could range anywhere from $10 to $2 million. All others who roughly place inside the top 20% receive a lesser amount, usually anywhere from as much as half the grand prize for 2nd place to twice the entry fee at the top 20% level. In this case, you don’t just need “enough points to keep up”; instead, you are shooting for more points than everyone else. That means taking chances on players who might do nothing at all, but who, on the other hand, might do “all that and more,” depending on how their particular game flows. You are reaching for the top here, which demands more risky moves than one would make in cash games.
So what consistutes “risky moves” in tournament play? First of all, this means looking for those players I mentioned before, who have “upside” in a particular week, players who have favorable matchups that could lead to an explosion in their individual performance. Think of 3-down running backs facing a weak run defense, or a quarterback facing a weak pass defense whose offense could score lots of points against his defense, forcing him to throw more to keep up. Next, a contestant in GPP should consider rostering one or two “contrarian” players. These are players who are not expected to perform well that week because of their particular matchup. But by placing them on your roster – unlike many of your fellow contestants, who will be avoiding them – you give yourself the opportunity to jump past the competition if these contrarian players happen to buck conventional wisdom and score big. It’s a risky move, but usually a necessary one if you want to win any of the GPP large prizes.
All that said, let’s look at a few of potential upside plays and contrarian DFS moves for Week One of the 2016 NFL season. For upside, I would suggest looking at the Vegas line and finding the games that are expected to be some of the highest scoring affairs of the weeks, because points on the field means points for your fantasy lineup. This week, that means the Oakland-New Orleans game and the Detroit-Indianapolis game might have much to offer. All four quarterbacks and their receiving corps are worth considering for your DFS GPP lineups. Personally, I like Derek Carr, Brandon Cooks, Michael Crabtree, and Donte Moncrief in these games this week. DFS fantasy owners should also consider Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott. He might only be a rookie, but he has talent that he put on display against the Seahawks first-team defense during the third game of the preseason. The Cowboys are stuck with a rookie quarterback thanks to Tony Romo’s back injury, so look for them to put the ball into Elliott’s hands often in this one. Lots of opportunity plus great talent equals Upside.
For contrarian moves, DFS GPP fantasy owners might want to consider the Miami Dolphins DST and Miami running back Arian Foster. Yes, the Dolphins are on the road in Seattle as ten-point underdogs. And that Seahawks defense can stuff the run. But the Seahawks’ offensive line continues to play poorly, allowing Russell Wilson to be sacked multiple times during the preseason. And they just lost a member of that line to injury this week. The Dolphins defensive front seven is actually somewhat formidable. Don’t be surprised if that allows their DST to rack up multiple points on sacks, fumbles, and hurried interceptions. And without Jay Ajayi in the backfield, Arian Foster will get more work than expected, and he might be relied upon heavily for ball control and clock control. I like his chances this week, despite the matchup.
Anyway, I hope this provides a little perspective for those of you out there playing the DFS form of fantasy football. My writing this season will contain material on both league play and DFS play, so continue checking in from time-to-time if DFS just isn’t your thing. Good luck to everyone this week. May the fantasy gods be with you!