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.
Well that was fun (not really) while it lasted. Last week we finally had a week with a plethora of explosive game environments and high profile teams. Obviously, some things went well, but on the whole the week disappointed in some of the biggest spots (LAC//LV and KC//CIN went under their totals, Jimmy G and Waddle got hurt and short circuited the MIA//SF game, CLE defense stole the show, and JAX never got anything substantial going). As if that reality check wasn’t enough, we are now in a week that is, on the surface, probably the ugliest we’ve had all year. Only 10 games, and only one of those games (MIN//DET, which is a second divisional matchup) has a total over 47…..with only three others over 44.
In a week like this with a condensed player pool and a lot of projected low scoring games, how do you walk the line between being creative and chasing extremely thin plays?
Sort of randomly, my mind never categorizes slates as “ugly” or “exciting,” etc., which I think always helps. Instead, I have a tendency to look at the slate, see what it offers, and immediately start thinking about my clearest path to a first-place finish. We all have to play the same slate, and I tend to find that slates everyone else sees as “ugly” are often my most profitable — with part of this certainly being due to the fact that I’m just seeing it as “a slate,” while others are seeing it as “an ugly slate.” I start with that to say: If you’ve been looking at this slate and “defining it as ugly,” I would encourage you to let go of that thinking and instead just focus on what you can control: the best way you see to play this particular slate toward a first-place finish.
With that out of the way :: well…I guess my answer to this question would be different on different weeks. But on THIS week, I love a game that the public isn’t likely to be on, which makes it pretty easy for me to “play what I most want to play, while also being different.” If you’ve been around the site this week, you know what game I’m talking about :: Browns // Bengals, where I am not only approaching the Bengals’ side thinking that Zac Taylor will likely build his game plan assuming the Browns will be capable of putting up points, but where I am also approaching the Browns’ side asking, “And what if the Browns actually ARE capable of putting up points?” The opportunity to get Deshaun Watson at sub-2% ownership against a high-scoring opponent because of a one-game sample size of him looking unsurprisingly rusty is too great for me to pass up. Currently, I plan to have Burrow or Watson on roughly 60% of my large-field builds, with one or the other on most of my tighter builds.
Outside of that game, I also like Ravens // Steelers and Panthers // Seahawks as spots with sneaky shootout potential. While I obviously like the Vikings // Lions game (and will be playing plenty of pieces from that one, including some rosters built around Goff/Cousins), I also see a lot of fun ways to target differentiated upside on this slate.
First, keep in mind the tournaments you’re playing in. If you’re a smaller-field player, you don’t need to chase extremely thin plays. If you’re trying to take down the Milly Maker, you’re going to need to go off the board somewhere. For me, I build 3 rosters per slate (main, early, and afternoon), and so generally I will pick 1 or 2 primary games I’m going to focus on. You can probably guess which game I’m primarily focused on (surprise! It’s MIN/DET!), and so on a week with one very clear “best” game, I’ll build 2 rosters that are predicated on that game hitting (not necessarily with the QBs, who I think are only so-so plays at best, but with multiple other plays from that game). And then, since I expect that especially in small field tourneys that will be the overall highest-owned game, I’ll build one roster around the idea of “what if the game everyone is targeting falls short, either via overall offensive floundering or just poor distribution of fantasy points?” That’s my general approach to slates with a clear best game, as I feel that, in smaller field tournaments, if the best game hits, I can construct rosters around better than most players and give myself a solid chance at a score. And then in the event that game fails and drags down a ton of rosters with it, I still have an out via my second favorite game.
Similar to how JM opened his response, my process remains the same, slate in and slate out. As I’ve articulated before, that process begins with analyzing (or breaking down) each individual game environment in an attempt to identify which games carry the highest upside in their ranges of outcomes. I then look to individual teams before finishing it off with individual players (one-offs). And while the slate appears “ugly” on the surface, there are still spots that fit into each one of those categories for me. As far as the player pool and being creative go, all we can do is tailor our decision-making processes to the information we have. Take a germaphobe choosing the optimal stall at the office or at school – would they be best served to pick a stall at random or would it prove optimal to also consider the fact that the most commonly used stalls are on the ends? Similarly, there are upside spots that the field seems to not be fully interested on this slate – those are the spots that gain intrigue on a slate like this.
My approach from a slate perspective is to try and get a feel for two things. First, how do I think the slate is likely to play out in terms of the biggest games from the high priced individual players. Second, I try to identify where there is the most “value” from a positional standpoint. Combining those two things, we can put together a puzzle of how the field is likely to approach things and also what type of construction gives us the best chance of a 200+ point roster. For this week, the high priced quarterbacks are in spots that make it seem unlikely to me that any of them gets up into that 35-40 point range. Likewise, the higher priced running backs are in some solid spots but their game environments and matchups don’t seem likely to produce those 35-40 point games that you end up needing to have. With that in mind, my preferred build this week is to save money at quarterback and running back which allows me to spend up at the receiving positions and load my rosters with players who have explosive potential and high target projections. This approach also allows me to spend up for the Dallas defense, which I think is likely to score 15+ points this week (something you are rarely able to say about a defense).
In the first question, we dove into the lack of game environments that project for high scoring and explosiveness. Taking this a step further, there are ELEVEN teams on this slate that are projected to score less than 21 points. Considering that there are only 20 teams playing in total, over half of them having under three touchdowns as a median outcome certainly limits some things. That being said, as I just mentioned an implied team total is simply a median projection and actual performance can sway greatly from the median with a great enough sample size. Considering that we have 11 teams who fall in this “bucket” this week, it stands to reason that one or two could dramatically outperform and score upwards of 30 points. Which of those teams projected for under 21 points do you think is most likely to score 30?