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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.
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A weekly staple of The Oracle :: In no more than two or three sentences, tell us what makes this slate particularly unique.
It’s Week 18. What is there to say? Teams are beat-up. Teams are tired. Some teams are looking toward the future. Others are looking toward the offseason. Others are still fighting hard. Others are fighting for playoff spots, or for important playoff seeding. Others are in the playoffs already and can’t improve their position much, but are still likely to play hard. And others are in the playoffs already and can’t improve their position much, and are likely to take things easy on key players. More than anything else, this is the story of the last week of the season, and having a strong handle on the dynamics at play in each game, and for each team, is one of the most important steps to take. (See: Edge, The NFL)
The main thing is uncertainty around who’s playing (specifically, who’s playing the entire game). On most slates we know who’s playing when inactives are released – and we might get some surprise inactives on Sunday morning – but we’ll also see active guys only play a few series, or a quarter, or a half. And while we can hypothesize about who’s likely to play more and who isn’t, we can’t possibly know (and remember: coaches LIE). So, each of us needs to decide where we want to invest and how much risk we want to take on. Do you want to narrow your player pool down to only players who you have an extremely high degree of confidence will be playing the entire game? Or do you want to expand it and take on risk around uncertainty of role/playing time, but possibly find some low-owned upside if you’re right? To me that’s the single biggest decision point of the week.
There are very few teams that we can confidently say we know exactly how they are going to attack this week. The vast majority of teams in play this week either have nothing left to play for or have to make the difficult “risk vs. reward” decision on how much, if at all, to play their starters. For example, the Packers have nothing to play for but would have a full three weeks between NFL action should they rest players, or the Bengals, who have four different playoff spots they can finish but already know they will be hosting a Wildcard round game and are struggling through a few key injuries.
And then there’s the slate, which is the biggest of the season this week. What we’re likely to see is “higher than we’ve grown accustomed to” scores taking down GPPs on Sunday, due in part to the number of games on the slate and to the value that is sure to open up as news trickles in regarding how teams will be approaching these games. We need to be building with this in mind.
The final note here is the overemphasis on this idea that teams with nothing to play for (as far as the playoffs are concerned) cannot produce fantasy-worthy outputs, which is about as far from the actual truth as you can get. What we’re likely to see is players from these teams go extremely under-owned relative to where they should be, giving us a bit of natural leverage (without having to introduce sub-optimal plays).
In a word, volatility. I think the very unique aspect of the last week in the regular season is how many DFS industry content providers will label each team in terms of what version will show up. Some are obvious this week, like the Bengals and Packers, who are ruling guys out or announcing they will phase starters out of the game as it progresses. But others with “nothing to play for” don’t often mail-in performances on Sunday. Game tape matters, and the NFL doesn’t have many opportunities to get on tape. I bring this up mostly to say don’t be surprised when a four, five or seven win team has their best offensive game of the season. Fight the labels and don’t take it at face value that team A will play hard, team B will not, team C will only care about this or that, and team D has no reason to show up. Most of those assumptions won’t be true this week. Without getting into specific games, I lean toward the strategy of most teams just playing ball, and not caring about what’s happening for them next week. When the ball is kicked off, we should get max effort because when you aren’t giving 100% injuries happen, and players know that.
The unique thing about this slate is obviously all of the Week 18 dynamics that come into play. With that in mind, I will highlight a couple of aspects around this wild week that a lot of our competition may not understand all the nuances of:
First, not all “dead teams” are created equal. Some dead teams have been dead for several weeks now. If they had players they wanted to shut down, they could have done it already. This game isn’t much different for them than the last few weeks have been, so really there likely isn’t a whole lot of change in approach unless a team has draft pick related incentives to consider. On the other hand, teams that were fighting for a playoff spot and were just eliminated in Week 17 now have an entirely new dynamic. They may have players who were playing through injuries but now will be shut down. Their approach/focus may not be the same with the disappointment of being eliminated. These are important things to consider and dive into the nuance of each team’s situation, rather than just clumping all the “dead teams” together in one bucket. Teams who were just eliminated last week include: Browns, Dolphins, Vikings, Falcons, and Broncos.
Secondly, this is a unique week in how the outcomes of different games will correlate with each other. Usually NFL teams just focus on what they can control, as they should. However, with this being the longest NFL season ever and the playoffs just a week away there is the potential for some outcomes to affect the approach of other games/teams. Here are some of those correlated scenarios:
The other thing I want to add is that the term “motivation” is used a lot this week. Let’s be clear, NFL players got to where they are by being elite athletes and incredible competitors. If they are wearing pads and on the field, they are motivated to dominate the guy across from them. The actual “motivation” factor has more to do with player usage and play calling, which are organizational and coaching related issues.
What makes this slate unique comes down to motivation. Which teams will be playing hard to secure their spot in the playoffs or to gain home field for at least a round. Then there are some non-playoff teams playing to build “culture” and trying to win one more game to go out on a high note. Other teams have coaches that may be on the hot seat once the season ends and may be fighting to save their jobs. There might be a couple teams that have already checked out. There are also players playing for contract incentives, some we know of, others we might not. Plus, we still have Covid hijacking rosters. #TheWorkbook is a good place to keep up with Covid and injury lists and I added a “Motivation” tab to give an idea of what teams may be fighting for this week.
In spite of this Main Slate boasting 26 teams, there are only seven teams that carry a Vegas-implied team total of even 24.5 or higher:
29.75 :: Colts
28.5 :: Bills
27.25 :: Cardinals
26.5 :: Titans
25.0 :: Buccaneers
25.0 :: Vikings
24.5 :: Rams
Breaking down that list further :: If the Colts dominate the Jags, it’s hard to see clear paths to their pass-game pieces hitting, which leaves a very expensive Jonathan Taylor as the obvious option to consider || If the Titans dominate the Texans, it’s hard to see A.J. Brown being used in a high-volume role, which would create another setup in which the backfield is the way to attack || The Vikings tend to only truly open up their offense if the opponent is putting up points, and this week’s opponent is the Bears || The key pieces on the Rams and Bucs are priced for higher implied team totals than they carry this week || The Bills can produce in a variety of ways, but Josh Allen is priced very high for a QB who has seen his workload lightened this year in easy wins || The Cardinals, as has been the case all season, are more “produce solid DFS scores” than “produce tourney-winners,” as they like to spread the ball around in a horizontal attack
This adds up to a strange Week 18, in which there aren’t any “clear and obvious” top game environments, or even “top teams” to build heavily around.
With this in mind, how are you approaching this week from a team/game-focused standpoint? Are there any spots that are standing out to you from that list above, and/or are there any teams/games away from that list that you see as potential build-around spots?
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