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This year I have found myself without a truly engaging traditional Fantasy Football league. I’m in a couple of random online leagues, but with no money on the line and no one else I know in the league, my level of interest isn’t particularly high. Intrigued by the idea of being able to win money every week, I decided I would look into the world of Daily Fantasy Sports. I decided I would check out FanDuel, mainly because it was the last commercial for any such site I saw before I decided to give this a shot.
The following are my thoughts and experiences as I navigate the world of Daily Fantasy Sports for the first time. Check back for weekly updates, insights, and strategy as I learn the ins and outs of this burgeoning style of fantasy sports.
So last week I dove into Daily Fantasy Sports for the first time and I did alright; I made a small profit despite making some rookie mistakes and starting with a limited bankroll. This week I plan on utilizing a couple of lessons I learned during my DFS debut. Before I get into this week’s strategy, I want to go a little bit in-depth about the types of DFS contests and the way that strategy differs between them.
Head-to-Heads and 50/50s
As I mentioned last week, your best odds to win on FanDuel come from games called “head-to-heads” and “50/50s.” Head-to-Head contests are exactly as they sound, you are competing against one other using to try to build a higher scoring line-up. One advantage of these match-ups is that you can click on the user’s name and see how many wins they’ve recorded, so you can avoid the juggernauts and pick on the newbies. That said, a disadvantage of going against one other user is that you could have a really nice line-up that scores very well, only to be beaten by an even better score.
Thanks to the basic concepts of probability, the safer play is the contests known as 50/50s. The odds are technically the same as in head-to-head contests. You enter a “league” with anywhere from 10-100 or more people, and the top 50% of teams win (so in a 20-person contests, the top 10 win money. Since the sample size is higher in these contests than in head-to-heads, you are less likely to select a strong performing line-up and still lose. The name of the game in contests like these is safety. You don’t want to take a lot of risks, and you want to select players with high floors that are all but guaranteed to get a lot of touches.
Guaranteed Prize Pools
The other main type of contests on FanDuel is commonly known as Guaranteed Prize Pool tournaments, or GPPs. These contests are played by a large number of entrants, with large prizes ($2,500 for a $1 entry) for 1st prize and a large number of spots paying out smaller prizes. In order to grab the top spot in one of these contests you’ll have to enter more unique line-up than you would enter in a 50/50 contest. This means that you’ll have to pick players that have more upside and also more risk. Some of these contests allow you to offset some of that risk by entering multiple entries. Entering a handful of widely-varied line-ups into one of these contests will greatly improve your chances of landing in the money.
Thursday Contests vs Sunday Contests
On FanDuel, you can choose between entering contests that begin with the Thursday night game, or contests that begin on Sunday and exclude the players that played on Thursday night (there are also contests for just the Sunday and Monday night games, Sunday only contests and contests for only the 1 o’clock games). There are pros and cons to each option.
The greatest advantage of Sunday contests is that you can make changes to your line-up up until 1:00 on Sunday. So much can happen in those two and half days between Thursday night and Sunday afternoon; from changes in injury statuses to one your players being suspended, having to lock line-ups on Thursday adds a significant amount of risk in a format where one excluded player in your line-up will likely be the difference between you winning and losing money.
However, there are a couple of advantages to be gained in the Thursday contests. Firstly, it is pretty well accepted that players score fewer fantasy points in Thursday Night games. Players and coaches have less to time to prepare and rest from the previous week. So one strategy is to enter Thursday contests and specifically avoid guys playing on Thursday night. Basically you are banking on some users choosing Thursday night players, said players having low-scoring performances, thus giving you a leg up on those users.
The theory does not always hold up to be true of course. So another, somewhat more obvious reason to participate in a Thursday contests is to take advantage of a match-up or player that you are particularly confident in. One example in which this certainly paid off was in Week 3 for those who had confidence in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. A successful Thursday night game can give you a “head-start” when it comes to the rest of the weekends’ games.
This Week’s Strategy
If there is one thing that has been hammered home to me during my first full week of Daily Fantasy football research it is that match-ups are fifty times more important than in your traditional, season-long league. As a result, one of the more profitable daily fantasy strategies appears to be to pick on lousy teams and choose guys that are going against them. The early-season poster-child for this concept is undoubtedly the Jacksonville Jaguars. As a result I’m emphatically starting Phillip Rivers at QB this week in most all of my entries. He’s moderately priced at $8400, making him the 6th most expensive QB. I’d also play Andrew Luck or Drew Brees this week given their match-ups, but Rivers gives me a better value.
Not specific to daily fantasy by any means, the concept of workload is always important to consider, especially at the RB spot. I’m going with DeMarco Murray from the Cowboys at my first RB slot for primarily that reason. He’s the most expensive ($9,000) RB this week and I also really like Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell this week against Tampa Bay who’s $200 cheaper. But Murray has gotten 20 carries and at least 1 TD every game so far this year, while Bell hasn’t scored since Week 1. That could definitely change this week against the Bucs, but I’m giving a slight edge to Murray this week at home against the Saints.
For my second RB spot I’m choosing Dolphin’s back Lamar Miller. The ‘Phins play at Oakland this weekend, and the Raiders’ run defense is 2nd worst in the league so far, behind Jacksonville. Miller is moderately priced at $6900 and with Knowshon Moreno out; he’ll get plenty of carries.
Another popular strategy in daily fantasy football is choosing a wide receiver or tight end from the same team as your quarterback. The obvious benefit is that it allows you to collect fantasy points for more than one player on the same play. While of course this could backfire if your QB’s off his game, in daily fantasy you’re always going to be making a safer play at QB than you would in your year-long league. For this reason, I chose Eddie Royal from San Diego as my first wide receiver this week.
I’m fairly confident that Rivers will shred the Jags’ defense, and Royal is priced at $6100 this week, $600 cheaper than his fellow Charger wide out Keenan Allen. Each player has the same number of catches so far, but Royal has been Rivers’ favorite target so far. He’s been thrown to more than any other player (including TE Gates) and has 2 touchdowns already this year, more than any other Charger’s wide receiver.
For my second slot at WR I’m going with rookie Brandin Cooks from the Saints. The Saints are the fifth best passing team so far and Cooks has been targeted more times than any other Saints wide receiver (TE Jimmy Graham shockingly leads the Saints in targets). Drew Brees and the Saints have a favorable match-up against Dallas’ poor defense (20th in the league) and the rookie Cooks is still moderately priced at $6200.
For my last WR pick, I decided to splurge for Jeremy Maclin of Philly ($8000). Even though the Eagles are playing a difficult defense in the 49ers, San Francisco’s defense is better against the run (6th in yards allowed) than they are against the pass (14th in yards allowed). The Eagles have the 2nd best passing offense in the NFL so far this year, and Maclin has been Nick Foles’ top target by bar. Maclin has been targeted 10 times in each game so far and has scored a touchdown each week.
After splurging on Maclin, I had to be frugal with final my few selections. I stuck with Martellus Bennett of the Bears who worked well for me last week. At $6000, he’s an affordable option and he’s scored 4 touchdowns for the Bears in 3 games this season. Brandon Marshall remains questionable with a hamstring injury which only increases Bennett’s value. An alternate play at TE I really like this week is Panthers’ Greg Olsen. He’s $100 more expensive than Bennett, but he’s Cam Newton’s favorite target. The Panthers play a Ravens defense this week that so far this season has been subpar against the pass.
For my kicker, I went with Bears’ Robbie Gould. He’s gotten 9 or more fantasy points 2 out of 3 times this season and is notoriously accurate. On defense I picked the Detroit Lions. They are remarkably underpriced at $4700, even though they’ve given up the 2nd fewest points so far this year.
So there are my Week 4 picks and thoughts, check back on Tuesday to see how I did.