Hilow is a game theory expert (courses at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Northwestern) and tournament champion who focuses on mid/high-stakes single-entry/three-entry max
I’m going to cheat a bit and repeat myself below as I just wrote something in the Oracle that (relatively) succinctly portrays the mindset that we need to adopt on this slate:
“The uncertainty surrounding this week has been ‘priced in’ to projections, game totals, etc. As in, Vegas is so uncertain that basically every game opened with a game total between 39.0 and 43.0 points and has been bet either up or down from there. That should seem wild and foreign.”
Next, ownership projections and median projections are all over the place. There is no “certainty index” that these algorithms can plug in to return accurate projections so the median projections you see this week are likely, and on average, lower than they would otherwise be due to the gross floors in the output, stemming from the reduced lower end in range of outcomes projections. Understanding the “why behind the how” of these projection systems gives us actionable information. As in, we have to be willing to place bets in situations, just as in any standard week. Only this week, the downside is much greater across the board. Basically, we’re likely to see the cash lines much lower but the score needed to ship GPPs stay relatively the same. That thought process should affect our decision-making matrix going into the week, and I think the standard answer from the field is going to be to hunt for “certainty.” The fact of the matter is we still need around the same score as a standard week to win anything on this slate. A payoff dominance strategy demands we build with a “what if I’m right” mindset, which generates natural leverage due to the general tendency from the field to utilize a risk dominance strategy (if you’re lost on what those mean, I explain them in depth in my Game Theory Bible course from this year). In layman’s terms, don’t be afraid to lose this week and instead build as if every assumption you make while building a lineup is 100% accurate and correct.
That discussion is far more important than simply saying, “Hey, there are 13 games on the main slate and most of them have point totals in the 39.0-43.0 range and there’s a bunch of uncertainty!”
Quick explanation: restrictive chalk is an expected highly owned piece that restricts the maneuverability of the remainder of your roster while expansive chalk is an expected highly owned piece that allows for higher amounts of maneuverability on the remainder of your roster. Classifying various forms of chalk as either restrictive or expansive allows us to visualize what it means for roster construction on a given slate and how restrictive a certain player might be, meaning more of the field will look similar from a roster construction standpoint with that piece.
Restrictive chalk. One of the league’s most dynamic quarterbacks on the team with the highest Vegas implied team total playing in a must-win game. Checks out. That said, Hurts is coming off two missed contests with a shoulder injury and derives a lot of his value from his red zone rushing role (13 rushing scores in 14 games played). We saw almost the exact same situation transpire last season with Kyler Murray, whose red zone rushing role almost completely dried up following an in-season shoulder injury. I’m not saying to expect the same from Hurts this week and into the playoffs, I’m simply saying this spot isn’t as certain as the field seems to think this week. And that doesn’t even take into account the low red zone touchdown rate the Wink Martindale defense historically allows (eighth-ranked 51.72% this season). His upside is undeniable in this spot but I simply like to provide the entire picture as opposed to being a sounding board for the rest of the industry.
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. 28 and 24 running back opportunities his last two times out, so we know the upside is there in a must-win game. We also have to realize that those hefty workloads came in the lowest and third lowest pass rate over expectation (PROE) values for the Seahawks after they shifted to a pass-heavy offense over the second half of the season. There’s no way of knowing how they will attack in this spot but the proven upside from Walker is tough to argue against here, particularly on a week with so much uncertainty.
Restrictive chalk. There are so many unknowns surrounding CMC’s usage this week that it blows my mind he is coming in with the ownership expectation that he currently has. First off, the 49ers want to win this game as they still have a chance at the one-seed. That said, they are two-touchdown favorites against a practice squad quarterback. Furthermore, Elijah Mitchell is expected to be activated from injured reserve today and play this week, and we’ve seen how his presence has affected CMC’s workload this season. The paths to failure simply outweigh his upside for me this week.
Expansive chalk. I was on Allgeier heavily last week against a softer opponent, but the fact of the matter is the Falcons have scored point totals of 20 // 9 // 18 // 16 // 13 over their last five games and face a stingy Buccaneers run defense this week. This play feels a whole hell of a lot like the field chasing “certainty” and nothing more.
Expansive chalk. The Steelers have exactly zero games above league average in PROE since Week 11 and have drastically increased their utilization of blocking tight end Zack Gentry in positive game script during that time. The matchup this week clearly points to the ground against a Browns defense ranked toward the bottom of the league in most run-stopping metrics.