You’re probably reading this on Monday or Tuesday. This is good. Most people aren’t digging into football articles this early in the week, which means I can share some things with you in this article that I’m not sharing elsewhere. It’s not that I don’t want to help everyone; it’s just that it’s fun to have secrets…
Let’s share some secrets.
If you read my writing a decent amount, you know that I don’t go out of my way to talk about successes in DFS; I am a successful player, and I am aware of this and am able to enjoy the benefits of my hard work, and that’s a better reward than bragging to others about the specifics of my success. Instead, I am far more likely to tell you about my DFS failures, as we can often learn a lot more from the places where we fall short than we can learn from the places where we enjoy success.
There are things we can learn from success as well, though - particularly when we take the time to explore the reasons why we are more successful than others in a particular area. By examining the difference between our own success and the relative shortcomings of others, we can spot places where it is possible (places, in fact, where it is necessary) for us to continue on the right path - maintaining the gap between our own performance and the performance of our competition.
To this end, I’ll share something I shared a couple weeks ago on RotoGrinders: During the 2014 NFL season, I was 14-3 in cash games (50/50s). This season (once the Monday night game finishes), I’m 11-4 in cash games (double-ups).
That’s a rate of nearly 80% - with 70% generally considered to be an absolutely fantastic cash game rate.
There are a lot of things that go into my consistent cash game success, but one thing in particular stood out to me recently - and it is this “thing that stood out to me” that I want to pass along to you.
I was talking to someone about the cash game players I was most strongly considering that week, and they pointed out that I seem to sometimes build very contrarian cash game rosters. This makes sense, of course - after all, it is extremely rare that I “just barely cash” (instead, I’m usually near the top of the cash game field on weeks when I cash), and part of this is due to the fact that my roster each week is a bit different from the rosters others are putting in play. But I had never before looked at my rosters and thought, “These are really contrarian.”
You know why I never did that? Because I never built the rosters with the intention of being contrarian. Instead, I build each cash game roster with the intention of building the best roster I can build.
This seems obvious, right? But I think a big mistake a lot of people make is that they listen to all the hype throughout the week - all the different people talking about all the different players - and they begin to think of certain guys as “must plays,” when this is not really the case.
A great example of this occurred in Week 14, when LeSean McCoy went from being the most criminally under-owned guy each week to suddenly being the highest-owned player on the slate. What happened? Was he coming off a stretch of monster games? Was he in the greatest possible matchup? Nope - he was simply playing his old team, in a matchup that was no better or worse than the matchups he’d had for several consecutive weeks.
At the start of Week 14, I liked McCoy - but I always try to roster the most inexpensive, high floor/ceiling running backs I can roster, and during Week 14, I was able to find several guys priced below McCoy whom I liked just as much. Cheaper price + similar production = a great deal.
Because I pay attention to the way people think in DFS, and because I therefore assumed McCoy would be very highly-owned in both tournaments and cash games, I then had this thought: “McCoy is going to be super highly-owned. If he has a big game and I miss out, that will hurt me a lot in cash.”
This is a thought many of us have - each and every week. “This guy will be popular. That means I have to use him.”
The next step I took in my own thinking that week, however, was, “Sure, he’ll be popular and he should have a good game, but I think I’m getting even better point-per-dollar production in these other places.” So I went to those other places.
Contrarian? Maybe. But I’m not making those moves to be contrarian; I’m making those moves because I’m trying to build the best roster I can build.
Conversely, I used David Johnson in Week 15 - alongside about 50% of the field. I’ve used Antonio Brown in a couple of his 40-point games - alongside about 50% of the field. I’m not going out of my way to be contrarian; instead, I am simply building the best team I can build. I am simply making sure I don’t go out of my way to avoid being contrarian.
Let me say that again:
I am simply making sure I don’t go out of my way to avoid being contrarian!
If someone will be highly-owned, and I don’t think they’re the best play, I still stay off them. It’s not always easy to do this; there are a lot of times when someone stands out to me as a good play, and I know they’ll be highly-owned, but because I don’t feel they are “the absolute best play,” I stay away. Usually, I’ll wrestle with this decision until players lock on Sunday. I’ll have to work overtime to convince myself to stick with what I feel is truly the best team.
And you know what? It almost always pays off.
My encouragement, then, is this:
This week, as you look at the field of available players, focus first and foremost on the guys you like. Don’t pay attention to what others are saying; don’t focus on “who is likeliest to be highly-owned.” Instead, come up with the players you like the most, build the best roster you can build, and let the rest take care of itself. Sometimes, this may lead to “contrarian” cash game rosters, but that’s not what matters. All that matters is that you win - and this should be easy for you to do as long as you keep building the best team you can build.
This week, rather than looking at some players to consider early in the week, I want to take a look at a few situations you can aim to capitalize on this week. Use these thoughts as some of the foundational pieces of your research, and go out there and dominate in Week 16.
Situation 1: Andrew Luck’s return
If Andrew Luck returns in Week 16 as expected, he will step into a premium spot against the hapless Dolphins’ defense. The price of players like Donte Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton has dropped due to the poor QB situation these guys have had. Most people will probably take a “wait and see” approach with Luck, which should lead to low tournament ownership for these receivers. Although they would be tough to trust in cash games, their tournament ceiling would be very high with Luck under center.
Situation 2: The Patriots aiming to take away Brandon Marshall
We all know that the Patriots’ primary focus on defense is taking away the opponent’s top weapon. When the Pats and Jets met earlier in the season, they treated Marshall as this “top weapon,” which opened things up a bit for Eric Decker. While the Pats certainly have the ability to neutralize both these guys at once, we can assume Marshall will be their main focus, which makes Decker an even more appealing option than he already is each week.
Situation 3: The Lions’ defense at home…against Blaine Gabbert
Gabbert has played much better football this season than most people expected, but he has still wilted too often under pressure. With the Lions playing excellent pass defense lately and always a good bet to get after the quarterback, you should be able to get some nice value at defense if you decide to go this direction - as the Lions should be able to notch some sacks and turnovers in Week 16.
Situation 4: Fear over the Panthers resting players
I keep seeing reports that tell us the Panthers do not plan to rest players this week. Um…why would they? The Panthers still need a win to lock up home field advantage, which means there is virtually no chance they “take things easy” this week. On the road, in a dome, against a poor Atlanta defense, the Panthers are a great bet for another big offensive day.
Situation 5: The Bears’ bad run defense
The Bears have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, and a lot of people got burned this last week when Adrian Peterson put up a dud against them. Of course, this dud was due to injury, but that nevertheless will leave a sour taste in people’s mouths when it comes to the idea of picking on the Bears with a running back. While Mike Evans is certainly in play as well (he’s pretty much a lock for at least 12 targets with Vincent Jackson out), Doug Martin should have no problem ripping apart this run defense himself.
Situation 6: The “shootout” in Baltimore
The Steelers are probably going to destroy the Ravens. We know this already. The Steelers’ passing offense should be one of the most popular places to look this week. But in addition to the Steelers having a great passing offense, remember that they also have a poor pass defense. The Ravens are going to have to pass in this one in order to keep up, and Kamar Aiken and Buck Allen (yes, Buck Allen - who should return to lead back status this week) will be heavily involved in the pass game. It’s not a true shootout (which is why I put it in quotes above), as the Ravens are unlikely to keep the game close. But the Steelers aren’t the only place we can look for passing game goodness, as the Ravens will have to pass a ton - against a bad pass defense - in order to keep pace.
Situation 7: The shootout in New Orleans
The Jags and Saints are two of the worst passing defenses in the NFL, and they each have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL. This game should be high-scoring and packed with fantasy goodness. Don’t be afraid to roster as many as four or five guys from this game - even in cash games.
I faded Baldwin in Week 15, and he proved to me exactly the reason I felt comfortable doing this, as he had only six targets. The fact that he had another couple touchdowns made his box score look good, but his volume in the passing game has not been high enough to justify rostering him at his elevated tournament ownership. The Seahawks have a tough passing game matchup this week against the Rams, and although this offense has been playing well enough that Russ and Baldwin should still be able to find success, it’s not worth the risk in tournaments given the matchup and the high ownership these guys are likely to see, and it’s not worth the risk in cash games given that you can find safer, higher-upside options elsewhere.
Keep your eyes open for other situations to capitalize on this week - and build the best team you can build!
After you and I have both done that, I’ll meet up with you at the top of the leaderboards next Monday night.