Utilizing Over/Under for DFS Player Selection

June was a historic month with the legalization of sports betting in the United States.  New Jersey and Delaware were ready to begin taking bets from patrons that have long awaited this monumental announcement.  By the time September comes around, Pennsylvania should join these two states as the regular season draws closer.  

Even before sports betting became legal last month, the utilization of point spreads and over/under totals has been a useful tool in DFS player selection.  Double digit point spreads can translate to a gamescript where the favorite leans on a running back heavily when that team opens a double digit lead.  A low over/under is an indication that Vegas predicts a low scoring game where a defense from such game can provide a viable option for a fantasy lineup.  These are definitely not concrete rules that should be followed like gospel; there will be times when using the Vegas odds and point totals as a guide can turn well designed lineups upside down.  Favorites that were expected to win end up falling behind or coaching decisions that don’t favor your lineup can certainly occur.  The Vegas lines are just one of a few tools available to utilize from the toolbox.  

THE CASE FOR PICKING STRAIGHT-UP WINNERS

Predicting straight up winners and losers can prove to be a more viable tool than who will and will not cover the spread or the point total.  Scrolling over various weeks from the last few seasons, the top performers from those weeks more often than not won the game straight up.  Taking a look at the FanDuel perfect lineups from 2017, those strong performances were backed up with more wins than losses.  Reviewing them shows that 13 of the 17 (76%) perfect quarterbacks were straight up winners along with 28 of the 34 (82%) perfect running backs, 16 of the 17 (94%) perfect kickers, and all of the perfect defenses. 

Running back is an illustration of gamescript where the team that is winning the game will rely on their running back more in the second half to drain the clock.  The instances where a losing RB ends up as a top performer can be linked to opposing teams that are horrible against pass catching backs.  Atlanta has been atrocious against pass catching backs dating back to 2016 (think James White in Super Bowl 51) so seeing Tarik Cohen and Ty Montgomery as losing perfect RBs in Week 1 and Week 2 respectively last year isn’t totally surprising.  Selecting a winning defense makes perfect sense; the last time the top weekly defense lost the game was Week 4 of 2015 when Detroit amassed 24 points in a loss to Seattle

Although 36 of the 51 (71%) perfect wide receivers and 11 of the 17 (65%) perfect tight ends won their games, these two positions have more variables in selecting the perfect player at that position.  A team playing from behind that needs to use its pass catchers, a receiver with a great cornerback matchup, or another pass catcher that benefits from a teammate with a tougher matchup are such variables that can come into play.  Consider the following:

  • Week 10 of 2014, the Steelers trailed late in the game against the Jets and went into the hurry-up offense to try to score as quick as possible and set up an onside kick.  Martavis Bryant went from WR 35 to WR 6 on a 80 yard deep bomb from Ben Roethlisberger with :12 remaining to make it a 20-13 game that would eventually become the final.  
  • Adoree Jackson had two weeks he liked to forget from Week 11-12 last year.  Antonio Brown torched him on Thursday night football to the tune of 10-144-3 in a blowout win.  The week prior playing from behind, AJ Green beat him on a 70 yard pass from Andy Dalton to give Cincinnati a lead late in the fourth quarter of that game.  Green finished WR3 for that week in an eventual loss
  • Cincinnati bolstered a secondary in which all positions were in the bottom half of fantasy points allowed to wide receivers in the 2017 season.  The way to move the football on the 2017 Bengals was through the running backs and the tight end.  Jacoby Brissett peppered Jack Doyle with 14 targets that he converted into 12 receptions, 121 yards, and a touchdown in a Week 8 Indianapolis loss that saw him at the top tight end that week

Trends are validated through repetition; if you combine the 2017 FanDuel perfect lineup figures with the ones from 2015 and 2016, 43 of the 51 (84%) perfect quarterbacks, 85 of the 102 (83%) perfect running backs, 106 of the 153 (69%) perfect wide receivers, 37 of the 51 (73%) perfect tight ends, 46 of the 51 (90%) perfect kickers, and 49 of the 51 (96%) perfect defenses all won the game straight up.  

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Looking at a macro level, take a look at Week 3 from last year.  These are the highest scoring players in PPR scoring at their position and whether they won or lost the game:

QB1: Tom Brady- Won

QB2: Russell Wilson- Won

QB3: Case Keenum- Won

RB1: Todd Gurley- Won

RB2: Jordan Howard- Won

RB3: Chris Thompson- Won

RB4: Dalvin Cook- Won

RB5: Kareem Hunt- Won

WR1: Stefon Diggs- Won

WR2: Larry Fitzgerald- Lost

WR3: Brandin Cooks- Won

WR4: Odell Beckham Jr- Lost

WR5: Sammy Watkins- Won

WR6: TY Hilton- Won

WR7: AJ Green – Lost

TE1: Mercedes Lewis- Won

TE2: Rob Gronkowski- Won

TE3: Zach Ertz- Won

K1: Matt Prater- Lost

K2: Steven Hauschka- Won

K3: Ryan Succop- Won

D1: New York Jets- Won

D2: Cincinnati- Lost

D3: New Orleans- Won

With all statistics, variability exists where the top five running backs won’t always win their game or a top three defense actually loses a game.  These trends aren’t guaranteeing a 50/50 or GPP win, but they will absolutely help reduce the player pool to select from to generate the best possible weekly lineup.  

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