One thing we try to hammer in the NFL Edge are the nuances of daily fantasy football. It isn’t as sexy as the whole, “This guy is the lock of the week” model (and frankly, it probably prevents us from maximizing our ceiling for subscribers; oh well), but DFS is a remarkably layered game; and if our goal is to make our subscribers the best at DFS (it is), then hammering the nuances of daily fantasy football are part of it.
One of the reasons we talk so often on the site about “what is likeliest to happen” in a game is this :: in cash games, single-entry tourneys, and smaller field tourneys (where you should be most focused for building bankroll! — with most of your efforts each week centered around narrowing down the slate to the absolute best plays), you are going to create the highest profit ceiling throughout the course of a season (and throughout the course of your DFS career) by focusing primarily on what is likeliest to happen — with a secondary focus on isolating plays that have a genuine and realistic shot at posting one of the top scores (or top point-per-dollar scores) on the slate. Because of the depth of our research, it isn’t unusual for us to uncover low-owned plays each week that have a high likelihood of success — which enables us to think “what is likeliest to happen” first, and think game theory second. This is the way to build for bankroll-building contests (basically: any contest of 10k or fewer entries, or any contests that are single- or limited-entry; plus cash games of all types).
One way to visualize this is to see each game as a river. So then: not simply looking at “what is likeliest to happen” in each individual game on the slate and comparing this in an apples-to-apples sense; but instead taking things another level deeper (tapping into nuance), and saying, “How much water stays in the main course for this river, and how much water branches into tributaries?” Or rather :: HOW likely is the “likeliest to happen” scenario?
Games in which “a lot of water stays in the main course of the river” (games in which “what is likeliest to happen” is extremely likely to happen) are the games, as a general rule, we would prefer to focus on in bankroll-building contests. (Whereas our MME-type play — while still, optimally, building around a core — would mix in some of the thinner “tributaries” from other games.)
So why is all that written here? (Rather than building out an entire course around those ideas — as could easily be done!) Because this particular game keeps a whole lot of water in the main flow of the river.
Defensively, the Dolphins struggled against the run last year (allowing the third most rushing yards to running backs, while giving up yards to running backs at a 4.5 YPC clip), and they were average (though still attackable) vs the pass. The relative strength of this defense is at linebacker and in the secondary, and while new head coach Brian Flores is aggressive by nature, he and new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea also have the adaptability and creativity to build their approach on the field around the pieces they have. This should lead to the Dolphins primarily taking a bend-but-don’t break approach on defense in general this season — with this approach applying nicely to this particular game as well, in which they can hope for Lamar Jackson to make a mistake or two that can keep them in this game. This will not, however, change the fact that a helmet-on-helmet, 11-man matchup between the Ravens and the Dolphins favors the visiting team. Even if the Dolphins come up with a creative design for Week 1 to try to disrupt the Ravens, Baltimore will have the edge, with a chance to completely truck the Dolphins on the ground.
On the other side of this game: the Ravens’ defense is fundamentally focused on stopping the run and pushing opponents into second- and third-and long situations; and this week, they will be taking on one of the worst offensive lines in football. Last year, the Ravens allowed the third fewest rushing yards in the league to running backs, at a stellar 3.5 YPC clip, while the Dolphins’ offense has lacked consistency this summer with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. The “broad current” for this game would put the Dolphins in plenty of negative situations early in drives — which would increase the likelihood of Miami drives stalling out.
And while the Ravens are expected to open things up a bit more this season, these stalled drives would lead to the Ravens being able to run the ball with more authority to close out this game in the heat and humidity down south.
With all this talk about rivers and tributaries, we should note that the broadest tributary in this game (while still being a narrower tributary than we can find for “alternate scenarios” in other games) is related to the heat and humidity. It is not easy to go into Miami for a game in September, and perhaps the Ravens will struggle. This is a not-crazy angle, and is an angle that pretty much no one will be on, so we’ll also go a layer deeper with this:
Given what we know about Chad O’Shea: in this tough matchup, he’ll look for ways to exploit whatever weaknesses there are in this defense. And the most glaring weakness heading into this contest is in the slot, where stud corner Tavon Young is dealing with a neck issue expected to sideline him for the season, and either Cyrus Jones or Brandon Carr will be filling in (with neither guy nearly in the class of corners the Ravens still boast on the perimeter, with Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith). Although he missed the entire summer while recovering from last year’s hip injury, Albert Wilson should be able to step directly into slot duties in Week 1. Not that he should be mistaken for a lock-and-load play; but if you were forcing yourself to look to this side of the game assuming a tributary in which Baltimore simply wears down on a few plays and allows something big to happen, Wilson — with the speed to score from anywhere on the field — is the guy who would stand out with the clearest shot at upside. ( As for other pieces on the Dolphins — Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Kalen Ballage, Kenyan Drake (with the two backs projected to roughly split touches), or…boy we’re digging deep; Ryan Fitzpatrick — you’re basically hoping for one of three things: 1) a couple of busted assignments from the Ravens defense; 2) some clever play designs in O’Shea’s debut that catch the Ravens completely off guard, or 3) the Ravens just simply not showing up for this game. With any of these, the tributaries get shallow and dry pretty quickly. ) [ Note :: With Stills traded, we don’t know if the Dolphins plan to feature Jakeem Grant or Preston Williams as the other receiver on the perimeter (it will likely be Williams, given his massive size advantage over Grant; but if that’s the case, it’s unlikely Williams plays a full complement of snaps). Either way, Wilson remains the only player with any on-paper attractiveness. ]
Bringing things back over to the broad, main current here :: Jackson shapes up as a safe, high-upside play, as he is the player through whom this entire offense will run. The Ravens want to curtail Jackson’s rushing a bit this year, but they don’t want to remove what makes him special, and after seeing double-digit carries in every regular season start last year, he should be able to see at least eight rushes in this pristine matchup — with obvious upside for (legitimately) 14+.
Joining Jackson in the backfield is Mark Ingram — who should (given Greg Roman’s history) be expected to settle in as a 15 to 17 carry per game back, with around two to three receptions per game; though these are mean projections, and there is no reason he couldn’t swing toward a bigger workload in a spot like this. Gus Edwards is still around to spell Ingram, and rookie Justice Hill has an explosive skill set that the Ravens will want to involve; but Ingram makes for an intriguing tourney play in this matchup — a guy who could easily top 100 yards and punch in a score, and whose floor is fairly respectable at the price tag (a “bad game” from Ingram would look about like 65 rushing yards and 2-25-0 through the air).
And joining Jackson in the pass game are Miles Boykin and Marquise Brown (each rookie can score from anywhere on the field — theoretically making them viable in large-field tourneys in any matchup; though their tributary grows broader on weeks in which the Ravens can be expected to get more aggressive), as well as Jackson favorite Mark Andrews. The Dolphins // Reshad Jones remained attackable with tight ends last year, allowing a 74.4% completion rate to the position. Again: betting on pass catchers on the Ravens is a bet on either A) a big play or B) the Dolphins somehow forcing the Ravens to get aggressive — but these tributaries do, at least, have some water in them.
JM’s Interpretation ::
This game is pretty straightforward, given how broad the main current is, and how clear the remaining tributaries are ::
Lamar Jackson is viable in cash games and tourneys of all sizes. Mark Ingram is viable in small field tourneys and large field tourneys (I’m not sure I have the balls to play Ingram on a main build or a single-entry shot, as we have to make some assumptions on usage/workload; but he could be an awesome value if he tops 20 touches.) Boykin // Brown // Andrews can be considered in large field tourneys.
Albert Wilson is viable in large field tourneys, whereas the rest of the Dolphins should only be used if you are building around specific scenarios that have the Ravens laying an egg in the heat of Miami (which, obviously, is only worth chasing in large-field tourneys with top-heavy payout structures where you might need something completely different from the field to pass everyone at once).
The Dolphins defense is viable in the scenario above, but should otherwise be avoided.
The Ravens defense is viable in all types of contests, even on the road, as the Dolphins are so overmatched.
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