The Greatest “Cheat Sheet” In DFS
Each week in The Oracle, OWS team members will take on the key strategy questions from that week’s slate :: sharing their thoughts on how they plan to approach these critical elements from a roster-construction, game theory, and leverage perspective.
A weekly staple of The Oracle :: What makes this slate particularly unique?
The answer to this question this week is fairly obvious – it’s Week 1!!
With all of those things as common and clear factors about the “uniqueness” of Week 1 NFL DFS, we will change course from the “standard” tone of this question we have on a weekly basis and instead ask a more philosophical question: Are there any ways in which you approach Week 1 differently or have different expectations than that of a “typical” DFS week? Bankroll management, contest selection, player selection, etc.
The first part of this answer only pertains to me (“Thanks, JM — big help you are”), as Week 1 is always a bit tricky on my end. With pricing coming out early, and with my August/early-September so busy getting everything ready for the site (on that note: my wife and kids are about to return from being out of town at my in-laws’ for over two weeks, in order for me to focus fully around the clock! — shoutout to the real heroes here, apparently), I basically enter Week 1 with “a little more prep time than normal,” while plenty of my competition enters with “a lot more prep time than normal.” But that’s my struggle…
I think the most interesting “unique” component of this slate comes from the rise of Best Ball in recent years. Five years ago, some of the “sneaky guys who could pop off for a big game in Week 1” would have been invisible to the field, whereas those players might now see higher ownership than they should, as so many people have spent months salivating over the “What ifs.” Frankly, this is probably compounded by the rise of our old friends over at ETR, as Adam’s “sharpest-in-industry” ability to identify strong floor/ceiling, bang-for-buck plays now reaches even more people, with his thoughts permeating even deeper into the DFS player field. These plays are part of what make him such a sharp cash game player, and the fact that people lean too heavily on these plays in tourneys (what we could call “over-chalk,” where a sharp play reaches a “WTF” tipping point for +EV tourney play) is often something we can use to our easy advantage. But in Week 1, things can essentially fall one of two clear ways:
1) The unknowns of Week 1 break in favor of these “sharp plays,” and the mega chalk hits
2) The unknowns of Week 1 break away from these “sharp plays,” and everyone wonders why they played them
Realistically, a week like this gives the LEAST edge to those who are playing “the sharp plays,” as there is far more uncertainty than normal in knowing where our expectations are right and where they’re wrong, and there is thus that much more chance of “the sharp plays” disappointing.
Tying that up? If “the cheap guy I really like” proves to be popular this week, I’ll probably pivot without spending too much time laboring over that decision. If he hits, he hits; but I can go into the weekend knowing that the “heavy ownership plays” (especially at the bottom of the price barrel) are lower-percentage bets than in other weeks, when we have fewer assumptions and more certainty to work with. I don’t want the “could pop off” guy (again: especially “value plays”) that everyone else wants. I want the “could pop off” guy that others are overlooking.
I will say what I always say for Week 1: we know very little. The human brain is wired to seek perceived certainty and to spot patterns (even when no pattern exists, or when the pattern is just correlation and has no predictive value). So we look for what feels comfortable and what find consensus around: how offenses will attack the opposing defense, how individual player usage will shake out (i.e. what % of backfield touches will JaVonte Williams get vs. Melvin Gordon?), and what games are the “best” to target this week based on totals.
Week 1 is a great week to be contrarian. The chalk tends to get stronger as the season goes on and we learn the identities of each team in the league and how they’re going to use their players, but in Week 1, the chalk is at its most fragile. That doesn’t mean all Week 1 chalk plays are bad, of course – some of them could pop off for big games – but on the whole, Week 1 chalk is the weakest it will be all year.
So, if you’re targeting tournaments, consider a more contrarian approach. Recognize that the perceived certainty we have is actually far from certain. Here are a couple of examples of where we might perceive certainty but could be wildly wrong:
We know VERY little going into Week 1. Build your rosters accordingly.
The start of the regular season brings everything we’ve been studying, working towards, and consuming and digesting since May to an abrupt head. Basically, we’re leaving the realm of speculation and uncertainty and into the realm of action – but that transition is about as messy as could possibly be. What I mean by that is this – we’ve all spent the better part of the past four months creating biases, generating and acting on stances, and seeing player values ebb and flow through season-long and Best Ball SZN. With all those preconceived notions comes a good amount of perceived certainty that, quite simply, does not exist. On the contrary, Week 1 is about as uncertain as any week we’ll have for the rest of the season (if not far and away the most uncertain week) in that most of these teams either haven’t played starters or have allowed their starters to play very few snaps throughout the preseason, we’re coming off one of the highest personnel and staff turnover offseasons in recent memory, and salary means very little (as does ADP, in the aforementioned formats).
All of that long introductory paragraph to say – challenge everything this week. Challenge ownership projections. Challenge median projections. Challenge range of outcomes and outlier projections. Every. Thing. With that understanding, most would naturally lean towards a bit of discretionary spending for these first few weeks of the season. I take it the other direction (similar to how you heard me handle the Best Ball landscape this offseason, where I looked to draft as many teams early as I could to maximize my exposure to variance). There is an innate amount of leverage that can be had by simply understanding the difference between perceived certainty, actual certainty, and variance – something I look to lean into at the beginning of the season (hello 2020 Week 2 Aaron Jones call). I am currently toying with the idea of max entering the $5 Milly Maker on DK this week instead (or in addition to) my normal medium-stakes single entry and three-max contest selection.
Bankroll – I do generally go a little higher in the amount I play Week 1 for a couple of reasons. First, I play more entries of the super large field stuff (Milly Makers on both sites and the large contest on Yahoo) this week than a normal week because overlay is likely, price points of those contests are lower, and such a large chunk of rosters are basically dead from being very inexperienced players and/or rosters made days/weeks in advance. Second, there is a ton of value in being early on players/teams and Week 1 provides the best chance to get paid off for having unique thoughts and seeing things for yourself – which I believe is a strength of mine.
Contest Selection – As noted above, I adjust slightly to leverage opportunities in the larger field contests.
Player Selection – I want to get in early on guys I think are going to pop and leverage teams who have different outlooks than the last time we saw them – as most people are in a “see it to believe it” mindsets even when they know situations are different.
The NFL leans into the excitement surrounding the opening weekend and intentionally schedules many high profile games with marquee matchups. Such is the case this week, with some incredible Week 1 games to get our juices flowing. The secondary result of that, however, is a lot of lower expectation games and a clear separation in expected quality across the slate. For this week’s main slate, some big picture things to consider:
While we certainly want to keep this information in mind, we also know that these spreads and game totals are historically the least efficient in Week 1 that they will be all season. Despite this being fairly common knowledge among serious DFS players, most of the field still hangs on to these numbers like gospel and treats them with far more certainty than they have historically shown to have. Later in the year, most lines end up pretty accurate but in Week 1 we know there are some huge inefficiencies on the board, creating an opportunity for us to exploit inefficiencies if we can accurately find them.
With this in mind, which teams or games do you think have the greatest potential to surprise and greatly exceed expectations? Likewise, which of the high profile games on the main slate do you think is the most likely to lay a dud?
I don’t think any of the top three games will dud (GB/MIN || LV/LAC || ARI/KC — note: while PHI/DET has a higher total than GB/MIN, the shootout ceiling is higher in GB/MIN, which has me viewing it in something of the same bucket as the two highest-total games; to be clear, I also like the PHI/DET game, but the 90th percentile outcomes in that game don’t match what we could see in the other three), and there are interesting components to consider, in that these games/teams feature some higher-priced guys, but they also feature a lot of incredible value among potential alpha pieces (guys like Lazard, Hollywood, JuJu), and even among non-alphas with plenty of price-considered upside (guys like Thielen, who comes in as the second most underpriced receiver on the slate on both DraftKings and FanDuel — behind only Deebo, on both sites — in terms of “2021 per-game production divided by Week 1 pricing”). I do think that it’s “more likely than not” that none of these games significantly exceed their totals, and it’s highly plausible that we even see a couple of these games finish a bit below their totals. I’m happy to build around these games, but if I do, I’ll be stringently approaching them from different angles than the field. I think it’s completely possible for none of these game environments to be “must haves” in terms of “winning stacks coming from these games.”
As a DFS player focused on limited entries this week, I haven’t found a game among the lower totals that I “feel could pop off” (which isn’t to say that any of them couldn’t; rather, that none have stood out to me that way just yet for tighter builds); but I have found myself playing around with scenarios in which I might play multiple players from some of these teams:
49ers // Steelers // Saints // Ravens // Jets(!) // Giants
I’ve nudged around some ideas for JAX/WAS stacks for my main roster as well, so sort of all over the place on these games — but if we want to translate that into “how can we really use that” :: there are a lot of scenarios we could paint down here for things breaking positively for risk-takers; and there is enough uncertainty down here that trying to find some stat or angle that “tells you which team/game the field will be wrong on” is probably less useful than recognizing that something crazy will probably happen from one or two of these games/teams/etc., and if that’s the case — depending on the size of the tourney we’re in — we have to assume that someone will be capitalizing on those “crazy things” wherever they hit, which means we should be aiming to hunt for a few of them ourselves. If we’re wrong, we weren’t winning anyway, because someone else found the “crazy things” from down here regardless. So at least this way, you give yourself a shot at finding that hidden upside yourself. The larger the tourney field, the more willing you should be to take some swings down here on surprising “top offenses of the week,” “top stacks,” “surprise game environments,” etc.
With two games having totals that are much higher than the rest, it’s hard for me to consider avoiding them entirely. It’s highly likely at least one of KC/ARI and LV/LAC will be high-scoring, and thus it’s likely that we’ll see good fantasy scores emerge. Those games are both good environments and I’m happy to target them.
One area where I’ve found positive results over time is looking not just at games but at teams. For example, the two highest total teams on the main slate are the Chiefs and the Chargers. No surprise here. But next come the Eagles, the Colts, the Ravens, and the Bengals. You could consider stacking those games (something I like to do – just betting the underdog team manages to, unexpectedly, keep up). You can also consider just doing stacks with no bringback. This is something the field largely avoids – DFS players have been trained for years now on the value of the bringback – but if the Colts are projected for 26.25 points, that’s 3-4 touchdowns, and that can happen regardless of whether or not the Texans do much of anything. Overall I like stacking games, and I use bringbacks on most of my rosters, but my point here is don’t blindly feel like you MUST use bringbacks on every roster or it could lead you away from attractive options because you don’t feel confident about who to bring the stack back with.
In terms of a next tier of games that I think are interesting to stack (both sides of, that is), Bengals/Steelers stands out to me as a game with one really good offense and one offense that will be good if it gets good QB play. Both teams have concentrated offenses, making it easier for us to see where the points are likely to come from. That spells stacking goodness.
The Saints and Ravens have stood out to me all week (or all two weeks) as teams that could absolutely pop off for “had to have it” games at likely lower-than-should-be ownership, particularly the pass offenses from each team.
The Ravens have more issues with injuries to their backfield and Lamar Jackson let us know today (Wednesday, 7 September) that he will not be discussing his contract situation once the season starts. It takes a bit of conjecture, but L-Jax in a “prove it” type mindset based on no contract extension being agreed upon, in a game against the Jets, without his top two running backs (assuming J.K. Dobbins doesn’t make it back in time for Week 1) just screams L-Jax and pass offense stomp game. Now consider general coaching tendencies with John Harbaugh, who is one of the more “run it up” type coaches in the league, and we could see Jackson post an insane score and bring along one or two of his very concentrated pass-catchers with him.
The Saints play a mid-rebuild Falcons team still struggling to find their identity and we know the kind of upside Jameis brings to the table each and every week. The general consensus amongst the field is likely to lean towards the New Orleans run game in a soft matchup, but we’ve seen the kind of damage these Saints can inflict through the air should the touchdowns flow that way. Five, or even six touchdown is not outside the realm of possibility for this offense on opening weekend, and a bet on those touchdowns coming through the air is a high upside, minimal downside bet to make, particularly if ownership is going to be low on Jameis and his primary pass-catchers.
The Giants are an offense I want to be early on rather than late with Brian Daboll now at the helm. The Titans just lost Harold Landry to IR within the week, who accounted for nearly 30% of their sacks last season. The Titans also have one of the softest secondaries in the league to pass on. If Bud Dupree is not getting to Daniel Jones, it could be a situation where we see one or two Giants pass-catchers (Saquon included) go absolutely ham at ridiculously low salaries.
Steelers // Bengals and 49ers // Bears are the two games I think could really surprise people.
The Bengals really turned on the gas with tempo and pass rate down the stretch last season, and I don’t think they are putting that genie back in the bottle. The Steelers offense could be reinvigorated by a QB who can actually use their downfield weapons and who can extend plays and create yards with his legs. Both defenses should be solid this year, but early in the season there are often breakdowns in secondaries and we really don’t know who these units are for sure yet – while how offenses interact is really the key to finding those shootout games.
In the 49ers // Bears game, you have two young quarterbacks who both have a high likelihood of making mistakes (turnovers) and also are capable of explosive plays of their own using their arms and legs. These factors are often ingredients in those “had to have it, out of nowhere” type of games. Mistakes early by one team can lead to the other team getting a big lead and throwing things off script – the further off script a game gets in the early going, the more aggressive and variant things get from there. Imagine the Bears go down the field on a scripted drive for a TD to start the game, then Trey Lance fumbles in 49ers territory leading to a cheap Bears TD, then Lance throws a pick-6 (honestly not an unreasonable scenario). What would a San Francisco team with Lance’s legs and all those weapons around him look like for three quarters of playing uptempo football against a bottom tier team? (That’s a glance into the depths of how my mind works – scary place, I know.)
As for “duds from the high profile games”, I don’t really think any of them truly falls apart but it’s Week 1 so we should expect the unexpected. Packers // Vikings is the game that concerns me the most because I have very serious concerns about the Packers offense this season and their defense looks like it could be truly special – leading to a recipe where both sides of the ball are struggling to put up points.
The pricing for Week 1 NFL DFS contests has been out for several weeks already and the sites historically have made pricing much softer for the opening week than they would for a typical week in the season. There have also been many changes with injuries, cuts, trades, and role changes that make many of these prices way off base and clearly would be different if released today.
There are so many values on the board this week to the point where it is probably too many and can actually make taking stands and building good lineups more difficult than the average week because of the FOMO involved with not playing a player who is a perceived “great value”, especially given the relatively flat nature of ownership that we usually see in Week 1. With that in mind, let’s try to give some direction to subscribers trying to wade through the plethora of options – who are your three favorite values this week, regardless of position?
DraftKings: I’m going to stay above $5k for my crew, as there are plenty of high-upside youngsters I like below $5k, but we’re also more full of guesswork down there than the field will assume after hearing positive things about these youngsters for months; favorite values above $5k :: Eli Mitchell || Elijah Moore || Allen Lazard
FanDuel: Eli Mitchell || Adam Thielen || Justin Herbert (lemme explain…)
One stat I really like to lean into in Week 1 is previous year’s per-game production against Week 1 salary (i.e., given the sample size of last season’s production, how does this player’s Week 1 price stack up?)
Eli Mitchell is the most underpriced RB on DraftKings by this metric, and he’s one of the most underpriced on FD
Thielen is the second most underpriced WR on both sites by this metric (behind only Deebo)
Herbert is not only the most underpriced QB on DraftKings by this metric, but he also costs 15.2% of the salary cap on DraftKings compared to only 14.0% on FanDuel (sheesh!)
It’s relatively safe to expect a somewhat pass-leaning game plan from the Ravens given their personnel for Week 1; Flacco is a great fit for Moore and has reportedly performed extremely well in camp; volume should be there for the Jets’ passing attack, and a lot of that volume should flow through Moore
Lazard is “on brand” more than anything; there are a lot of other $5k DraftKings wideouts I could have chosen, but I’ll stick with the guy I’ve been lonely on the bandwagon for all summer, in one of the highest-total games on the slate
Draftkings: Saquon Barkley at $6,100 (bellcow RB, should be fully back from injury, solid matchup/pass game role/etc, probably won’t be TOO chalky with Najee priced right near him), and then the $5k – $6k WR tier is just chock-full of value options. You could pick quite a few names from here, but my favorites are Michael Pittman ($5,500, clear alpha WR1 on his team, QB upgrade, going up against a bad D) and Juju Smith-Schuster ($5,200 as the WR1 on one of the best offenses in the NFL in the main slate’s highest total game).
Fanduel: Lots of RB value with some role uncertainty that I’ll mention but aren’t my overall top 3, but I would be remiss not to note Travis Etienne at $6,200, Chase Edmonds at $5,800, Clyde Edwards-Helaire at $5,800, or Rhamondre Stevenson at $5,600. All are risky but with plenty of upside.
My overall favorite FD values, though, are DJ Moore at $6,400, Amon-Ra St. Brown at $6,500, and Juju Smith-Schuster at $6,400. All are leaders of their offense and all will be $7k+ players within a few weeks. Honorable mention as well to Christian Kirk at $5,800 and Elijah Moore at $6,000. Man FD pricing is SOFT this week.
DK only for Mr. Hilow.
With that, the top values on the board depend on how you define “value.” To me, from a GPP mindset, value has nothing to do with point-per-dollar outcome and everything to do with “where is this player likely to be priced in four weeks, or eight weeks?” That’s how we get exposure to these builds where we’re working with a $60,000 salary instead of a $50,000 one when we look back on things a month from now. The three top “Hilow values” with that in mind are Saquon Barkley, Kadarius Toney, and Elijah Moore, all of whom are likely to see their salaries increase a full $2,000 (or more) before the midpoint in the season, assuming health.
Extremely close honorable mentions (I’m going to cheat and list six total players) to Adam Thielen, Michael Pittman, and Allen Lazard, who are all priced in the mid 5k range on DK and very likely could see low-to-mid 7k prices in a few short weeks.
Week 1 Prop Bets are rolling in!
One of the best ways to gain an edge and raise your expected value (EV) is to be ahead of the field on players whose role and status grows – there is value in being early before price and ownership catches up to a player. There are a lot of players whose outlook today is very different than what it will be in a month and being ahead of the field on those players can benefit us.
Looking into our “crystal ball”, who are some players that you expect to have significantly higher prices in three to five weeks than they have for Week 1?
(Ignore those clear “Week 1 misprices” from injuries or role changes, which we all know will be quickly adjusted next week, and focus on players who you have high expectations for this year and you want to be early on – maybe this week isn’t going to be the week they explode but you are confident the jump is coming and want to be there when it does.)
Holy moly it’s a “build a giant list” question! I’ll just vote here even if it means mentioning some names again:
Trey Lance (most likely – unless it turns out he’s horrendous)
Justin Fields (the upside in his legs is immense, he could easily end up being this year’s Jalen Hurts)
Christian McCaffrey ($8.5k is nuts for him)
Rhamondre Stevenson (IF he carves out a real lead role for himself)
Breece Hall (see above)
Michael Thomas (if healthy)
Oh no, I answered this one above. Instead of regurgitating that response, I’ll add a few other names to the list (likely won’t see as aggressive of price increases than the previously mentioned dudes, but should see some).
DJ Moore, perennially undervalued
Saints wide receivers
David Njoku, one of my big stands in Best Ball
“Why was I concerned about the low total in the 49ers’ game? Of course they were going to smash the Bears.”
“Why did I try so hard to fade the top games? Of course one or two of them was going to produce something I really should have been aiming to get on my roster(s).”
“Why did I hunt through so many unknowns for Week 1 value when there were so many underpriced plays on which we don’t have guesswork?”
For me only: “Why has this same spider been climbing around my office walls for four days? Oh yeah, that’s right — Abby and the kids have been gone for two weeks so I could work around the clock, and I’ve let the spider take up residence because he’s apparently now my friend.”
“Of course a roster with zero players below $4,000 shipped the Milly, we didn’t need these cheapie “value” plays.”
“Of course Lamar Jackson came out and threw for four touchdowns and added one on the ground, the dude is playing for his next contract and his head coach likes to run up scores with reckless abandon.”
“Always one Viking. DUH.”
“Why did I doubt Patrick Mahomes?”
“Why didn’t I buy into how good this Eagles team was going to be sooner?”
“Why did I approach this week with so much certainty when I KNOW that things are not going to be that simple in the NFL.”