NFL DFS Questions for the Wildcard Round - FanDuel and DraftKings 1/6/16
With only 4 games this weekend you'd think a there'd be only one or two things to figure out. Not true dear readers. We published our game-by-game breakdown of this weekend's games here and discussed many of the value plays you can find on this four game playoff slate. Here we'll look at some specific questions (and answers) facing each team going into the weekend.
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After Le’Veon Bell, is Lamar Miller the safest running back this weekend?
Tells you a lot about the state of running back play this weekend that this is even a question. But alas, we have to play the dude’s we’re dealt and so many teams going on this slate have major questions at running backs. There are issues centered on overall volume, overall skill or both. Miller should come into this game relatively healthy considering he’s sat out the last couple of weeks with the Texans not playing for much. Even with missing those two games, Miller still ranked 7th in the league in carries this season and his touches per game were almost among the elite class. The Texans have so many questions and concerns in their quarterback play that establishing Miller early and often should be the strategy. His last two games before the injury had him topping 20 carries in each with work in the passing game as well. Oakland is a bottom third team in rushing yards per carry this season and rank 18th in DVOA. Brock Osweiler behind center is as good a reason as any for the QB to say “hike”, turn around and hand the ball to someone else on the team. It wouldn’t shock me to see Miller creep towards 25 looks in this game especially if the Oakland offense has issues staying on the field. Houston’s a tiny favorite even at home against a 0 quarterback, but no other RB other than Bell has anywhere close to his projected touches.
Is Brock Osweiler and/or the Texan receiving corps worth a look here?
The quick and easy answer is, “No.” The more in-depth answer is, “No not really at all.” The really, digging deep answer is, “Maybe.” Osweiler takes the reins back from Tom Savage in the least interesting quarterback controversy to hit the NFL news wire this season. Savage’s injury is really the only reason Brock’s back in the mix (must feel good for the guy) and they’ll need him to put up more than a 0 to justify a win. Again, this says a lot about the Texans considering Connor Cook’s taking snaps on the other side of the field. Osweiler’s been a pile of hot garbage this season with a 72.2 QB rating but he was able to cobble together 250 yards last week and did seem intent on force-feeding Deandre Hopkins the ball. The latter saw 11 targets and Osweiler needs to really focus here in order to establish openings in other parts of the passing game. Between Fuller and Hopkins you’d think Brock’s got enough weapons if they can run the ball even a little bit. But man the guy’s sucked this year. I do think he’s worth a flier considering he’s coming at the minimums and you could get separation if the game script goes even a little his way.
Can Oakland Score at all with this offense?
They couldn’t get anything going against Denver last week, ultimately losing 24-6. Now Denver’s about the best defense in the league (ranked first in overall DVOA) and Houston isn’t necessarily on the same level. But they are in the top ten and Vegas sure doesn’t like the Raiders’ chances though they’ve set it at 16.5 points coming from somewhere. “From where?” is for sure the question. Connor Cook draws the start and has thrown exactly 21 professional passes. But he does have legit receivers who, according to Amari Cooper will, “Demand the ball.” This is nice talk, but could be the equivalent of me demanding the ball from my five year old who can throw a tennis ball about 10 yards in the best of circumstances. This is to say, demanding the ball doesn’t mean it gets there and Houston could conceivably grind up this Oakland offense.
Cooper and Crabtree saw 8 targets each last week between Cook and McGloin, converting 9 in all. They’ll have to see a bunch more this week if Oakland has much of a chance. The issue is Houston’s been fantastic against the pass this season, ranking 5th in DVOA with particular success against secondary receivers and tight ends.
Where Oakland could possibly find success is in the run game if they stay committed to that script. The Texans are only slightly above average in opponents’ rushing yards per attempt this year and Latavius Murray’s shown at least some flashes of getting things going on the ground this year. The Raiders will also switch up their attack with Deandre Washington and Jalen Richard. It’s tough to target any of these three in DFS but I can envision a scenario in which one of them (most likely Murray) has a value game because of volume.
Are the Detroit receivers the best values on the slate?
It’s important to understand the difference between “value” and just “best” in this question. I don’t think the Lions’ corps are necessarily the top tier of guys in terms of talent and matchup, but the sites have adjusted for this matchup and that’s leaving us in an interesting spot. Golden Tate is the WR1 here in terms of targets, but I don’t think he sees the full Richard Sherman treatment. Sherman lines up primarily on the left side of the field (>70% of the time) while Tate moves all around, lining up everywhere including the slot. This is good news for Tate who should continue seeing significant target share. Tate is a fantastic value on FanDuel at only $6100 and I see him as clearly cash game viable.
Marvin Jones should see more of Sherman (though not in bunches) and his $4100 tag on DraftKings has crazy upside. I love hedging the two of them in cash across the two sites thanks to the pricing inefficiencies. Anquan Boldin also comes into play considering how they like to use him in the Red Zone (assuming they get down and close) and he becomes a touchdown upside play for sure.
Which Thomas Rawls shows up?
On the one hand, one can look at Thomas Rawls and see a running back set to dominate the carries for a Seattle team coming in as the second biggest favorite on the slate. This is typically moderately correlated with running back success. And he’s staring down the Detroit Lions defense who ranks dead last in overall DVOA this season and 23rd specifically against the rush. These factors mash up into what should definitely make Rawls an appealing fantasy option on a short slate of games.
But then we look at Rawls himself and really start to wonder. Like true head-scratching material. After sitting out a number of the weeks in the middle of the season, Rawls got back into the mix in early November and since then has basically had one good game. He went 15/106 against the Panthers though about half of that production came on one 45 yard run. The real concern is the last couple of weeks where he’s struggled to average even two yards per carry. And it wasn’t like dude played the ’85 Bears. He couldn’t get anything going against a putrid 49er defense, and looked worse against the Cardinals and Rams. The 1.5 yards per carry in the last three, over a decent 37 carry sample is beyond bad.
I can see people wanting to play him here because of the aforementioned contextual factors, but the recent returns are enough to keep my away from him in this matchup.
Is Doug Baldwin an elite target guy?
Two out of the last three weeks would suggest he is, or at least close. Losing Tyler Lockett had a direct effect on Baldwin's target share and two of the last three weeks he's seen double digit looks from Wilson. He hasn't seen the same amount of red zone looks he enjoyed last season, though again in the last two weeks he caught two touchdowns on five RZ targets. Baldwin will matchup against a Detroit defense ranked last against the pass this season and straight up torched by WR1s. That’s Baldwin’s definitive role now and how he capitalizes on it will be interesting. I see him as a high floor receiver especially if the aforementioned Thomas Rawls struggles to get things going on the ground.
Can the Dolphins hang?
The big questions around Miami are largely around game script. Vegas sees this as a potential blowout, giving Matt Moore and company a snowball's chance of hanging with the Steelers here. But as we know, winning big tournaments often comes down to figuring out what unlikely scenarios might come to bear. And, like, it's not impossible to think that the Dolphins could hang here right?
And if we continue down this thought experiment, we need to consider how that might come to be. The basic recipe would come down to something like, they score on their opening drive thanks to Jay Ajayi getting going, get a stop, and then do the same thing on the following drive. You see where this is headed?
Do they lean on Jay Ajayi?
If the Dolphins hang, it will likely be thanks to a transcendent Jay Ajayi game - throwing it back to his improbable 2 game stretch where he topped 200 yards in back to back games last October. One of those games? Against these Pittsburgh Steelers.
Listen, this game script is not likely, but we already know it's possible, and that's absolutely worth something. As odd as it sounds, Ajayi being overpriced actually helps his big tournament case - he'll be barely owned, and is somehow one of the more capable backs during this Wild Card Weekend. Don't play him in cash games, but feel free to send me astonished tweets if it winds up playing out this way.
Does Jarvis Landry see the most targets this weekend?
If the game plays out as projected, though, the big question we'll be asking is - where do Miami's desperation pass attempts land? The most likely answer is Jarvis Landry, of course, but if we're thinking about guys who could play a role in big tournaments outside the obvious plays, I think Kenny Stills is worth a hard look. He's got a touchdown in each of his last 4 games (and 6 of his last 8), and his targets have risen with Matt Moore under center. And man, is he cheap. You could put Davante Parker in this group as well, but I think Stills has more upside and he's cheaper, so that won't likely be a direction I turn personally.
Can you fade Le'Veon Bell in cash
The other question, if you want to call it that, is how expensive could Le'Veon Bell be and still be cash game viable? On a short slate we're certainly at least brushing up against that question, but I don't think we're there yet. Miami is the very best match-up for opposing running backs, and fading Bell will likely mean you're in the deep minority of cash game players.
Who sees the Steeler tight end targets?
There are precious few questions around the Steelers that we didn't cover in the game-by-game breakdown, but here goes. There is some uncertainty around tight end right now, as Ladarius Green is currently practicing but listed as questionable. Jesse James hasn't sustained any fantasy value, but Green has shown flashes this season. He had a 20 fantasy point game against the Giants, and had 8 targets against the Bengals before exiting with the concussion that's plagued him ever since. He's not exactly cheap, but given how bad tight end is this weekend he could absolutely be a part of big tournament winning line-ups.
Green Bay Packers
The main question marks on the Green Bay side of the ball are mostly big tournament concerns, with one exception, but it's a big one. Jenkins has been one of the top 3 cornerbacks in the league against opposing wide receiver 1s this season, and held Nelson to 4 catches on 13 targets in their first meeting this season. That stat line is sort of a blessing and a curse for our purposes. On one hand, Rodgers kept looking his way, meaning he thought something was there. On the other hand, the over all stat line would have been a disaster for your DFS purposes. I'd guess Jordy is in line for a better performance here, but Jenkins' existence certainly limits his upside. It also might boost the upside of a guy like Davante Adams, who is a reasonable plan B if Nelson is taken out of the picture.
Who's Green Bay's running back?
The other main question is around the running back situation. It looks like a tragedy of the commons here, with neither Ripkowski nor Montgomery getting enough opportunity to make real DFS waves. I'd at least consider Ripkowski for big tournaments, though, just because he's so damned cheap. If the Pack decide Montgomery's WR body isn't cut out to grind out a cold-weather game, there's a chance Ripkowski gets some decent yardage and a score or two. Neither feels great though.
New York Giants
Does the weather effect the Giants' passing game?
There are a handful of questions surrounding the Giants this week that have meaningful daily fantasy implications. The first that springs to mind affects both teams - the weather. As of now the forecast is calling for a high of 16, and while that's pretty damned cold, it hasn't made much of a difference for either signal caller in this contest. Eli has won both of his playoff games in Lambeau Field, and Rodgers has been putting up ridiculous totals in bad weather for his whole career.
Is this Giants' D the real deal?
On a more subtle level, though, there's more going on here. The elephant in the room is how one chooses to evaluate the Giants' defense. Football Outsiders' DVOA has them as the 2nd overall defense, but other metrics like yards per game have them rounding out in more the "top 10, but not quite elite" category. Which is the real truth? It's very hard to say. DVOA is attempting to do something that doesn't correlate directly with daily fantasy performance, in that it cares a lot more about the actual impact a play has on a team's chances of winning the game. For our purposes, 9 yards on 3rd and 11 count just as much as 9 yards on 1st and 10, so it gets a little dicey.
Finding the reality around the Giants' defense is actually pretty tricky. They have some excellent performances against some good offenses this season, beating Dallas twice, and shutting down New Orleans. They also lost to this exact Green Bay team, and allowed them 23 points. Vegas has the G-Men allowing 24.5 points here - and if that's the reality of the situation, the Packers' guys look pretty solid. Just know that this is no sure thing.
Outside of ODB, who can we trust in the Giants' offense?
As for the Giants themselves, there aren't quite as many huge fantasy-related questions here. Their running game is pretty uncertain, sure, but neither Perkins nor Jennings has been much of a fantasy commodity, and Green Bay's roughly league average run defense should be enough to contain them - the Giants totaled just 40 yards on the ground in their first meeting this year. Both of those guys should be considered only as fringe, 1 in a million big tournament plays.
In the receiving game, though, things get pretty interesting. We identified Odell Beckham Jr. as by far the most attractive big money option at wide receiver this weekend, but what about the rest of the receiving corps? Can they be trusted?
Well, after their little stint in Miami on the boat, maybe not. But even from a football perspective, things are pretty vague. Sterling Shephard makes for a very interesting big tournament play given his cheap price tag and 10+ target upside, and the touchdown upside is real as well - he's got touchdowns in 6 of his last 8 starts. You could also go off the deep end with Victor Cruz, who had 13 targets against Philly, but he's a lot riskier and I think you can get plenty of separation on Shephard to be honest.
Playoff football, baby!
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