Thursday, Sep 8th
Monday, Sep 12th

Process Points. 13.21.

Lesson of the Week: Staying The Course

We all know how crazy the NFL can be, but this year has been, by far, the craziest that I can remember in the lens of fantasy and DFS. Particularly the last four or five weeks have been really wild. JM and I were texting on Sunday evening about how wild the last few weeks have been and how we’ve never really seen anything like it. During a stretch like this, it can be easy to get frustrated and start questioning all the things we know and have learned over years of playing DFS. The temptation is to throw your hands up and completely alter your approach or method of play. Rather than doing that, however, let’s take a breath and look at the big picture of what has been happening and what we can learn: Here are what I think are some of the things leading to this stretch:

  • Offensive Inconsistency  In my process of writing the Mid-Season Recaps for all 32 NFL teams, one of my macro takeaways was that there weren’t many, if any, bankable offenses on a weekly basis — pretty much every team has some issues and has laid some huge duds. Along with that, there have been many games that are close in the 4th quarter and are set up for fireworks back and forth with a possibility of a bunch of extra overtime production. Recently, it feels like those games keep ending up with a good offensive team having a poor drive, then the team who is ahead being able to bleed the clock, and the game just kind of closing out quietly. In the past, the thing that has made DFS, and the NFL in general, so exciting was the way we had a few games every week with exciting finishes involving offenses exchanging blows. Watching Red Zone every Sunday in November has felt disappointing and boring the last few weeks compared to the “usual.” The Vikings-49ers game this week had 60 points through three quarters and was a one-score game!! Somehow the teams then combined to put up zero points in the 4th quarter.
  • Lack of defenses to “attack” — Similar to the offenses, defenses have been kind of all over the map in their performance. There aren’t as many defenses to pick on as we’ve seen in the past, as even the “worst” on paper defenses have had a couple of games where they played surprisingly well.
  • Injuries — Injuries are always going to be a big part of the NFL, but how and when they happen and to who are all important factors. There has been a rash of injuries to skill players and, with less publicity, offensive linemen this season. Also, mid-game injuries have felt more common than ever, even with non-severe injuries that maybe don’t knock a player out for weeks at a time but mess up the usage and offensive efficiency of a team in a given week.
  • Game scripts delivering….then failing — There have been several games that played out in a predictable way yet then didn’t hit. Think about the huge Jonathan Taylor game against the Bills in Week 11. How much better could that have played out if you had a Josh Allen double stack with JT as the bring-back?? A pass-happy (and usually very efficient passing) team, playing a pass funnel defense at home, and they fall behind multiple scores early. That’s the game script we dream of when making lineups. Then….nothing. They barely even put up a fight. Pretty much the same thing happened with the Cowboys against the Broncos in Week 9. There have been several other times during the last few weeks where situations like that unfolded, and the football just hasn’t been good enough. If you knew before those games how the first 20 minutes of the game were going to play out, would you really not play those passing offenses again?? Because I’ll sign up every time.
  • Expected outcomes getting there unpredictably — There have been many games that played out as we would expect and or hit, but the production is coming in off-the-board ways that are hard to predict and difficult to profit from. This last week, TB//IND, LAR//GB, and MIN//SF all put up over 60 points. These were three of the highest projected games on the slate. However, only Leonard Fournette and Elijah Mitchell put up 25+ fantasy points on DK. For a game to score 60 points and only have one or zero 25 point weeks is rare, but for it to happen to three games all in one week (and for offenses that are usually very good and, thus, have high priced players) is even more of an anomaly.

Recently we have seen completely uncorrelated lineups winning tournaments, spots with the most “certainty” failing more often than usual, an uptick of injuries, and, frankly, just bad football in a lot of spots. This combination of factors and the fact that it has happened in so many weeks in a short period of time makes it really difficult to stay the course. I have had a rough five-week stretch (lost every week in November), and I know a lot of very, very good DFS players who also have had a rough run. I’m not saying that anyone who has had success over these weeks has been lucky or isn’t good, but rather just pointing out the recent NFL trends have made “threading the needle” for having a high scoring roster has been even more difficult than usual as there have been so many landmines that can torpedo well-built lineups. 

This stretch of head-scratching outcomes reminds me of a stretch in early 2019 when the opposite was happening — chalk and expected outcomes were not just hitting. They were SMASHING. That stretch came to a head in Week 5 when the optimal projections for cash teams in many optimizers were actually winning large field GPPs!! Many people in the industry and casual players were convinced the game had been solved, the projection systems had figured it out, and the “edge was gone.” Of course, that was not the case. Over the course of the rest of the season, things came back to reality, and those who continued to play with good strategy and game theory concepts were rewarded. Those who completely changed course and started chasing the recent macro trends (overvaluing chalk and assuming certainty in projections) continued to chase their tails and take it on the chin. The lesson we can learn from the past is not to overvalue the recent trends and to continue making lineups in the smartest ways that we know are going to make us money over time. If anything, building lineups through great roster construction, sound player selection, and game theory is going to have more value now than ever!! The natural human reaction to recent results for much of our competition is going to be to alter their approach even further from the things that we know give the best chance to get to first place, which will make well-built lineups even more +EV down the stretch of the season.

Obviously, you need to be evaluating your process on a weekly basis, but reflection requires discipline and being able to separate signals from noise. If a process is sound after one bad week, it does not become poor after three or four bad weeks. Just because things happened a certain way for a few weeks in a row does not necessarily mean that’s the new norm. Randomness means that sometimes these strange outlier weeks will clump up and happen together. I will be “staying the course” with my process and approach, and I encourage you to do the same. I understand that I have a lot of big scores to lean back on in these times and remind myself to stay the course and focus on the week ahead and building for first place, and not everyone has that luxury of those past monster scores to keep your confidence up, but you must consider the alternatives; stop playing or actively make poorly structured lineups, both of which I will pass on. I expect there to be some of our more “traditional” weeks of DFS ahead, and I will be there with well-built lineups if/when that happens.

Lineup Reviews 

As outlined in my +EV Primer course (you can find in the Marketplace – either by itself or in the bundle with my player pool course), one of my approaches that keeps me from getting too high or low week-to-week is playing consistent contests and approaching them from a season-long perspective and using that to evaluate my play and ROI. This season, in this article, I will be tracking my progress on a weekly basis as I play the Single Entry (SE), 3-max, and 5-max tournaments in the $20 to $150 price range on DraftKings main slate for all 18 weeks. Rather than sweating or worrying about my ROI every week and “hoping to cash,” – my goal for the season is to maximize profit relative to that long-term investment total. The results of a given week are irrelevant.  

Each week I will review the best and worst of my 11 lineups from my “Roster Block” of SE/3-Max/5-Max. Below are this week’s results and you can find more information about my process/theory for this in my Week 1 Process Points article

Best Lineup ($600k Power Sweep, 3-Max, $150)

The “story” I was telling: This lineup is a great example of the things discussed above. I played a min-correlation of OBJ and Dillon from a game I was high on. Both had single-digit ownership, and both had very good games. I also had a Chargers passing game stack of Herbert-Williams-Cook, and the game script played out perfectly!!! The Broncos got out to an early lead and the Chargers were incentivized to throw a lot, play even faster than usual, and be aggressive for the entire game — all while at moderate individual ownerships and very low ownership as a group. Yet, this high-powered offense couldn’t get anything going and never really got there. I’d take the spot they were in again in a heartbeat. Brandin Cooks was off to a great start with 2/40/1 in the first half, and then the Texans played much of the 2nd half from behind. Somehow Cooks, who had seen roughly a 30% target share entering the week, only had one more catch for five yards. CMC and Saquon were my points of “certainty” in this lineup as the other parts of the lineup were pretty unique with clear paths to first. I loved both of their prices entering the week and was fine with where ownership ended up for both of them. CMC completely failing and getting hurt was really shocking. Of everything on the roster, he was the thing I felt best about “in a vacuum.” Saquon’s concern entering the week was usage and health, but he played 52 out of 60 snaps and appeared at or near full health. If, before the games started, you told me the Giants would win the game and Saquon plays 87% of the snaps for $6,300 and 18% ownership, I would have had him in every single lineup.

Worst Lineup ($200K Three-Point Stance, 5-Max, $33):

The “story” I was telling: The process for this lineup started with the running backs. I decided to play CMC, Ty Johnson, and James Robinson as I felt all were in good spots with good workloads for their price points. Obviously, those three all carried decent ownership, so I had to figure out how to give the lineup a path to first from there. The first thing I did was correlate two of the running backs, tying Cam to CMC for their theoretical floor-ceiling combo and then running it back with Pitts opposite Robinson. From there, I filled out the rest of the roster with my favorite defense of the week and three wide receivers from high game totals with explosive big-play abilities to generate upside for the lineup. It didn’t work out, but it was a process that I actually like when you consider it from a macro view.

Week 12 Results: Four of my 11 lineups cashed this week. While all of them were just min-cashes, that was a decent ratio, and I felt like they were built well and told a good story as a group — it just didn’t happen to be the right story on another quirky week of NFL.

Week 12 Investment: $792

Week 12 Winnings: $400

Estimated Yearly Investment:  $14,000 

Yearly Winnings: $4,625