$10,000,000. $3,500,000. $1,000,000. These are the prize pools of the largest Best Ball contests on the three largest Best Ball platforms – Underdog, DraftKings, and Drafters, respectively. Even FFPC, or Fantasy Football Player’s Championship, is running a large-field Best Ball tournament for the second consecutive year, which has a prize pool of almost $1.1 million. The point is Best Ball is currently the fastest-growing fantasy football format and there is a lot of money to be made this season. But that’s where a lot of people will stop when talking about Best Ball – “See big prizes, take stabs.”
Each format has its own scoring settings, advancement rates, playoff weeks, and so on, which we must understand as we formulate a plan of attack. The rest of this article is going to take a methodical and statistical approach to define a winning strategy, focused on the two largest contest offerings – the Best Ball Mania III (BBM3), found on Underdog, and the Best Ball Millionaire, found on DraftKings. We’ll start by taking some time to digest the scoring and positional intricacies of each format, continue with a look at “the numbers” for each of those contests, develop a theoretically optimal plan, and explain the process behind our findings. The ultimate goal of this piece is to ensure that readers leave with a better understanding of how to optimize a portfolio of rosters across the two largest Best Ball contests available, and I want to preface it with a statement:
What we are going to be discussing here today is 100% theory. Best Ball is in its infancy, and it is about as far from solved as can be. What we are trying to do is leverage field tendencies based on observations and statistics in order to place ourselves in the most optimal position to win the most money when we get things right!
Let’s start with the basics. Both contests require you to “start” (in the Best Ball format, the computer automates your lineup based on the optimal combination of players in a given week) one quarterback (QB), two running backs (RB), three wide receivers (WR), one tight end (TE), and one flex (FLEX). That means that each week, your “starting roster” consists of eight players, optimized from your entire draft. Drafts on Underdog consist of 18-rounds whereas drafts on DraftKings consist of 20-rounds, an important distinction which we will get to shortly as it will influence our decision-making processes between platforms. This means that your “bench” consists of only 10 players on Underdog, while on DraftKings you can carry an additional two players.
The first round of each contest is a 14-week mini-league consisting of the 12 people that draft together. The top two teams from each draft, or mini-league, based on cumulative points earned over the first 14 weeks, will move on to the quarterfinals round in Week 15. We start to see some differences between the two contests once you reach Week 15 – on Underdog, one team from each new 10-person league will advance to the semifinals in Week 16, while on DraftKings, one team from each new 12-person league will advance. Once you reach Week 16, teams will be placed in leagues of 16 on Underdog and leagues of 12 on DraftKings, during which only one team will advance to the finals from each site. The finals played during Week 17 of the NFL season, consist of a 470-team, GPP-style contest on Underdog and a 969-team, GPP-style contest on DraftKings. Again, we’ll break down the importance of these advancement rates and the size of the finals pool further below.
The major distinctions in scoring settings between the two sites are as follows:
-DraftKings: Full point per reception (PPR), Underdog: Half point per reception (Half PPR).
-DraftKings: Bonus points (3) for 300-yards passing, 100-yards rushing, or 100-yards receiving
-Interceptions and fumbles lost are both minus one (-1) point on DraftKings while fumbles lost are minus two (-2) points on Underdog.
Finally, the buy-in on Underdog is $25 and the buy-in on DraftKings is $5, with a total of 451,200 and 837,200 entries on each platform, respectively. The first-place prize on Underdog is a whopping $2 million while the winner of the DraftKings contest will walk away with a cool $1 million. The barrier to entry values (cost of max entering each contest for 150 entries) and different first place prize money values will come into play shortly as well.
With the basic understanding of how each contest is run out of the way, we’ll now take a look at some important statistical differences between the contests themselves. I’ll break up the modeling into each unique platform so we can start to see deviations in our optimal approach.
From a purely statistical sense, without measuring skill or variance, the chances of advancing a given team to the finals in Week 17 on Underdog are approximately 0.104%, or (2/12)*(1/10)*(1/16). Once you reach the finals, the chances of winning the contest, for a grand prize of $2,000,000, are approximately 0.213%, or 1/470. The “min cash,” or minimum amount won, for making the finals on Underdog is $1,000.
From the same purely statistical sense, again without measuring skill or variance, the chances of advancing a given team to the finals in Week 17 on DraftKings are approximately 0.116%, or (2/12)*(1/12)*(1/12), which is slightly better than on Underdog. But once you reach the finals on DraftKings, the chances of winning the contest, for a grand prize of $1,000,000, are approximately 0.103%, or 1/969. The “min cash” value for making Week 17 on DraftKings is $250.