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Winning Primetime Leagues

by Jonathan Bales
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

When I first began writing about daily fantasy sports, I believed that the larger the player pool in a particular league, the greater advantage it is for the better players. That is, more games equals a bigger potential edge.

Meanwhile, it seemed to me as though primetime-only leagues (those that are just the Sunday and Monday night games, or only the Monday and Thursday contests) or even 4 p.m. only leagues don’t have a large enough player pool to be exploited for a profit. I looked at these leagues and saw that a huge percentage of the users are on the same players, and concluded the games just weren’t beatable on a consistent basis.

I no longer believe that to be the case. I think I was actually viewing such leagues in the wrong manner. In terms of identifying value and selecting the most optimal players, yes, primetime leagues might not allow for a big enough edge to be long-term profitable. By infusing a little game theory into the mix, though, I think they can be beaten.

Basically, the more players that there are in a game slate, the more daily fantasy football becomes value-based. That is, you need to be concerned primarily with identifying the optimal players. As the game slate decreases, though, value becomes less and less important and understanding expected usage becomes more valuable; you not only need to hit on the right guys, but you need to hit on players who others are overlooking.

Basically, we should be concerned not just with finding players who will score us a lot of points, but also what the potential benefit is to us when they score those points. If a player were theoretically used by every FanDuel user in a tournament, he could score 100 points and it would be no good to us; it would provide no edge. If a player were used by no one except you, the edge you’d receive would be at its peak. Thus, it follows that we should be trying to balance “optimal” plays with low expected usage in tournaments, especially those with a small player pool.

To help you in your quest to conquer primetime-only leagues (or any other short slate of daily fantasy action), here are a few more tips.

Fade the obvious value

Whenever you’re playing in a short slate, there will be a player or two who stand out as extremely obvious values on FanDuel. You can bet that everyone else sees this, too, which negates their actual value to you.

In a way, players can offer two types of value: dollar-based value and usable value. Dollar-based value is a strict “how many points will this guy get me for each dollar he costs?” In a vacuum, you’d want the best dollar-based values.

In reality, though, we need to be concerned with generating the biggest edge, and players who are highly utilized offer less of an edge, regardless of their dollar-based value. When you fade (avoid) an obvious value, you’re basically hoping he doesn’t return value. Maybe he will (the numbers might even suggest that’s the case), but if he doesn’t, the usable value to you is massive because you’ll have a leg up on the entire field.

Find one or two high-upside/low-usage players

On the opposite side of the coin, hitting on low-usage players is huge. In the same way that you gain an edge when everyone else misses, you see more of an advantage when you hit on low-usage players.

That doesn’t mean to just fill your team with poor values because you know they won’t be popular—you still need to score a lot of points—but if you can locate a scarce source of points from a high-upside, under-the-radar player, that can be really advantageous.

Consider not stacking

In most FanDuel tournaments, you should stack your quarterback with at least one of his receivers. The problem with that in short slates is that you’re going to run into a lot of the same pairings. In a two-game primetime slate, for example, there are only four quarterbacks, and you’re going to see lots of QB-WR pairs for all of them.

If you have two players left to go but they’re a QB-WR pair that is high-usage, you won’t be able to beat anyone ahead of your with the same stack. By bypassing a stack altogether, you’ll create a little but more of a unique lineup, giving you more ‘outs.’

Consider not using the entire cap

One final way to create a unique lineup with lower usage is to not use the entire salary cap. This might actually be the biggest possible edge you can have in primetime-only leagues, because you can really field a distinctive lineup without using all of your cap space.

It’s not like spending only half of the salary cap is a smart idea, but you also don’t need to force players into your lineup to come close to using the entire cap. Whereas leaving a couple thousand bucks on the table in a normal league isn’t wise, it could be just what you need to outsmart the field in a primetime-only GPP.