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The Worksheet

Worksheet: Picking Winners

by Rich Hribar
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Since I’m going to be doing a weekly article here during the season, I wanted to give everyone out there unfamiliar with my work a taste of my thought process and fantasy musings. That weekly article will be an improved and heightened version of a weekly article I did a season ago which I dubbed “The Weekly Worksheet.” Basically, it’s just a bunch of quick hitting bullet point facts, stats and data on players and teams for each game of the week with the game’s point spread, over/under and offensive and defensive info for each team. It should fit right in with Evan Silva’s weekly matchup column to support weekly lineup decisions and Daily Fantasy roster construction.

 

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Playing Favorites

 

If you happen to be one the people unfamiliar with my work in the fantasy community thus far, let me tell you that the one thing I value most is pursuing offensive leverage or positive game script for the players on my team. Offenses thrive on having control of the defense. Having their entire playbook open with everything in their arsenal at their disposal is how teams succeed. Even when facing the worst defenses, becoming or being forced into being one dimensional as an offense can be crippling to fantasy production. That’s how teams score points and win games. It’s seems elementary in print, but we often bypass simple information in this day of extensive fantasy coverage as we try to unearth the next deep data point.

 

Simply, you want players on winning teams. That doesn’t mean “only draft players from good teams,” however, because we’ve seen numerous studies already that have shown players on poor teams can still be productive on a seasonal basis. What generally gets overlooked in those studies is that those players producing on limited clubs are either 1) transcendent talents capable of overcoming environment (think Adrian Peterson) or 2) they stack seasonal masking performances on a weekly level when the environment is conducive to nursing fantasy production (think Cam Newton). Even bad teams find favorable portions of their schedule that is usable for us owners.

 

Every NFL team was favored in multiple games last season with the exception of Jacksonville (once) and Oakland (who was never a favorite). Using the Vegas lines for games is a great way to break ties when making weekly lineup decisions on players that you may need a tie breaker on, detecting Daily Fantasy values or picking up a player off of waivers.  Going back to last season, here’s how weekly favorites filled up the percentage of players that were weekly starting contributors (excluding week 17) in point per reception scoring formats.

 

 

TW1

 

I’ve written on quarterback streaming and why you should never pursue “garbage time” when selecting quarterbacks who are expected to face negative game script before, and 2014 was no exception. 60 percent (117 of the 192) of the weekly top-12 finishers were favorites and running back and tight end were just as close. If you scale running backs and wide receivers down to the apex of the position weekly, both positions make an even bigger jump. 65.6 percent (126 of 192) of the weekly top-12 running backs played for teams that were favorites while 59.9 percent (115 of 192) of the top-12 receivers were expected to be on the winning side.

 

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When to Play an Underdog?

 

Another element of Vegas lines that can aid your weekly process for dissecting the wire and setting lineups is a team’s projected point total. We all care about scoring points and not every effective offense will always be favored every week.  When pursuing players from underdogs, you want to look to the projected point total for their offense. When taking the weekly top-50 backs and receivers and top-30 tight ends and quarterbacks, here’s how underdogs performed on a per-game level with their projected team point total.

 

 

TW2

 

This is where you see quarterback scoring take a steady climb upwards. Remember when Ryan Fitzpatrick lit up the Titans for 39 points in Week 13? He was a neon sign as a value that week as Houston was favored by seven points (one of only five teams favored by a touchdown or more that week) and the Texans were projected to score 25 points as a team. That’s an anecdotal example, but you’ll be able to build a strong Quarterback Frankenstein combining the first two portions of this post if you’re someone who is trying to cobble points at the position and not invest too much draft capital into that spot.

 

You also want to stay clear of underdog backs on teams expected to struggle for obvious reasons and some others we’ll get to in a moment. There’s a dip at the receiver position before a steady ascension, but the other thing this is useful for is a reminder that you should always be filling your flex spot with a receiver over a running back.  When playing someone from a team that is getting points, always check in on their expected team output.

 

Know Your Game Script

 

Many owners pursue raw volume in terms of pass attempts, targets and rushing attempts, but not all volume is created equal because not all game scripts are identical. Teams that frequently operate with offensive leverage, whether from a season-long stance or a weekly one almost all generally see their volume fall due to efficiency. You’re not going to get a ton of offensive opportunity if you’re effective with those opportunities in most circumstances. Out of the top-10 teams in offensive possessions last season, only four (Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Buffalo and Denver) had a winning record. Of teams in the bottom-10, only Minnesota had a losing record. Inefficiency has a strong relationship in creating volume and nearly half of the plays run in the NFL last season (46.7 percent) were by teams trailing on the scoreboard.  Below is a grid of plays and status on the scoreboard with the play calling splits and fantasy production per opportunity under those circumstances.

 

 

TW3

 

You may already be aware of this, but balanced teams are usually successful ones and staying balanced is typically accomplished by maintaining offensive influence. Teams don’t always win because they are running; rather running is a functionality of leading. The inverse can be said of high pass volume.

 

As it ties into everything we’ve covered thus far, that high passing volume as a standalone point isn’t something you want to pursue. Garbage time is usually associated with garbage play as passing efficiency is dinged as negative game scripts are followed.  You’ll notice that rushing points per touch actually are heavier in negative script, but that’s a bit of a mirage. Digging in, those two scenarios of trailing heavily also come with the lowest rushing rate and most favorable opposing defense as teams are playing to severely defend the pass and are willing to exchange yards for clock usage. Yards per carry jump to 4.6 yards in those spots and four of the top-10 leading rushers in those scenarios were also quarterbacks.  On the flip side, rushing points per attempt while game script is in favor of the offense is right around the league average but is assisted and anchored by increased volume.

 

The two top rows are still the most important to take into consideration and put a bow on how offensive leverage benefits fantasy performance. You’ll have to apply personnel changes, strength of opponents from last year and looking forward to this season, but here are the leading and trailing splits for each offense from last season.

 

Leading and Trailing Splits: 2014

 

Tm Plays Ahead % Trail %
NE 1073 587 54.71% 354 32.99%
IND 1105 598 54.12% 313 28.33%
DEN 1067 558 52.30% 371 34.77%
GB 1001 521 52.05% 257 25.67%
CIN 1018 467 45.87% 350 34.38%
PHI 1127 509 45.16% 424 37.62%
PIT 1068 468 43.82% 382 35.77%
SF 1009 431 42.72% 438 43.41%
DAL 1014 427 42.11% 375 36.98%
SEA 1021 425 41.63% 350 34.28%
HOU 1062 441 41.53% 409 38.51%
KC 962 382 39.71% 394 40.96%
BAL 1021 404 39.57% 463 45.35%
DET 1045 410 39.23% 449 42.97%
MIN 981 347 35.37% 439 44.75%
CLE 1010 354 35.05% 489 48.42%
MIA 1040 362 34.81% 519 49.90%
BUF 1020 347 34.02% 436 42.75%
SD 1009 342 33.89% 488 48.36%
NO 1095 354 32.33% 558 50.96%
NYG 1086 351 32.32% 541 49.82%
STL 957 309 32.29% 483 50.47%
ARI 993 317 31.92% 471 47.43%
ATL 1036 297 28.67% 619 59.75%
CAR 1060 279 26.32% 495 46.70%
TEN 919 215 23.39% 575 62.57%
CHI 1005 223 22.19% 619 61.59%
TB 936 201 21.47% 573 61.22%
WAS 1007 189 18.77% 585 58.09%
NYJ 1052 191 18.16% 728 69.20%
JAC 989 161 16.28% 669 67.64%
OAK 996 148 14.86% 689 69.18%

 

Taking Action

 

In closing, the point here is that you want players on successful teams. In drafts, that may be a tie breaker when choosing between Jonathan Stewart and T.J. Yeldon, Mark Ingram or Alfred Morris, Keenan Allen or Sammy Watkins and so on. Again, that doesn’t mean that you only have to draft players on winning teams once you clear the early rounds filled with elite talent, but know when to pick your spots in selecting or using those players weekly on teams we’re anticipating to struggle.

Rich Hribar
Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.