If you saw the arguments this week on twitter, then you know there’s a question. Does defense matter for overall fantasy production? Most of the reason why people say defense doesn’t matter is because the way we measure defense is pretty terrible, and until we can measure true talent defense much better, the appearance of being a good or bad defense is super noisy and the amount of signal there is very very low. And in terms of how to predict the production for fantasy, teams vary what they do (and some teams do this randomly and are bad at it), and you would need to know what their scheme is and what player(s) they plan to exploit, and then the adjustments on the initial game plan come into play. If you have that information, first, please share it with me, and second, you’d probably be able to obliterate DFS (and Vegas, for that matter). But if you have that information, you’re not reading this article right now. So for those of you without it – let’s attack this slate with what we do know – namely, #NeverRun, offenses score points when they throw a lot, and one of the only ways we legitimately do see defenses mattering is in pass rush versus protection – it’s hard to score points when you’re being thrown down to the ground before you can throw a pass.
Jameis Winston, $7,400 – The Falcons score points, the Bucs score points. Both teams should be pushing the other to score points, which is stupidly important (and kind of obvious). When teams focus on scoring points, they throw. When they focus on “establishing the run” or “controlling the pace” or “executing”, they run and they suck. But when they’re simply focusing on scoring points, they throw and often do well. In terms of battle in the trenches, Tampa has a good offensive line, they are 8th in adjusted sack rate and Atlanta can’t get any pressure (ranked 29th). Advantage Bucs offense. The Bucs also don’t run the ball, they are 6th in the league in 1st half pass rate frequency, making Winston the pretty obvious cash play QB. Oh yeah, this game is also indoors with no weather concerns.
Matt Ryan, $8,300 – Like I said above, the Bucs and Falcons should be pushing each other to score points with Ryan having the advantage of being home and a higher Vegas implied total. In terms of in the trenches, the Falcons straight up can’t block, it’s why they sucked last week vs Pittsburgh (who does get pressure), but fortunately for them, Tampa also can’t generate pressure. So, who wins in a battle between the movable force and the resistible object? Bet on the offense, they control the ball.
GPP Recommendation – Jared Goff, $8,200 – Goff has been absolutely phenomenal this season, both in real life and in terms of his fantasy production. And yet, his fantasy production has actually gotten somewhat “unlucky” in that Todd Gurley is gobbling up all the red zone TDs and gobbling up a historically high number of Team TDs. So far this season, Gurley has 47% of his team’s TDs, which would be fourth all time. The other three (Jones-Drew in 2011, Peyton Hillis in 2010, and LeSean McCoy in 2011) were on offenses nowhere near as good as this current Rams offense. Obviously Gurley is an amazing running back and he’s as good of a bet as anyone to score TDs in a given slate, but the point is that had the Rams WRs managed to break that one final tackle a few extra times (resulting in an extra TD for Goff and one less red-zone rushing TD for Gurley), Goff’s fantasy output would be at the Patrick Mahomes level. So if you’re looking for GPP winning upside, running a Goff plus two of his WRs in a stack is a great way to put yourself in a position where if the TD-luck ends up on your side, the already gaudy numbers Goff and his WRs put up will become slate-highs at QB, WR1 and WR2, and that’s going to put you in a fantastic spot to win a GPP.
Tevin Coleman, $6,300 – One of the things I like to do when I first begin breaking down a slate is to do a first-run through all the games and note players that seem like they might be good plays and are worth looking into a second time. However, before I get into that second, and more detailed analysis, I then take a step back and look at the entirety of the plays I noted as possibly liking. This gives me a rough idea of what price ranges at certain positions have clusters of good plays (i.e. last week there were roughly a bajillion good $6,000 to $6,600 WR plays on FanDuel) and also what price ranges at certain positions are devoid of playable guys. I bring this up because when doing that this week, I noticed that there was very, very little cash-playable value at RB or WR. There are value plays, but the vast majority of them are GPP type of plays with way more variance than you’d want in a cash play. It was shaping up to be an incredibly tough spot in terms of finding cash-viable value plays at either RB or WR, which would make lineup construction far tougher than it’s been so far this season. And then, everything changed. Devonta Freeman was ruled out, leaving Tevin Coleman as the #1 RB for the Falcons, in line for good volume, as a home favorite in the game with the highest Vegas total on the slate (by 3 points over the second highest!), for $6,300. It’s a borderline lock on this slate. That said, there’s some nitpicky counter arguments – namely, that Ito Smith’s usage was slowly but steadily climbing in each of the games prior to last week’s one-week-return of Devonta Freeman and that the Falcons don’t really care which one is in at any given point in time, so if Coleman gets a few plays in a row or gets the ball down to the 5, then Ito Smith may just come in and vulture those precious TDs. When you sum that all up and then add in the fact that there’s very few other cash viable plays, it simply becomes a “Don’t overthink it, lock him in and move on”, just like I’m going to do with this section because it’s already gone on way too long.
Todd Gurley, $9,500 – This is obviously the highest price he’s been this year, and justifiably. He gets the volume week after week. He’s been a guaranteed 20 touches on the best offense in football, giving him massive TD equity, and boy has he capitalized, scoring a TD in every game. He’s facing the Broncos in Denver this week, but I don’t care, almost everything here is about the Rams. They will give him a guaranteed 20 touches and all the goal line work as they score 30 points again. The only concern would be, the Broncos are not good offensively in a way that’s going to force the Rams to score points (essentially – the Broncos may fall so far behind the Rams take their foot off the throttle) thus lowering Gurley’s median and ultimate ceiling. The Broncos are the best run offense in the league and they will likely run a lot because they are the best run offense in the league and Case Keenum is a bad at quarterbacking. But if the Rams go up 2 scores early and force Keenum to pass, we could see Chad Kelly…and Gurley get one of those 20/80/3 games again.
TJ Yeldon, $7,100 – When Fournette and Corey Grant are out, TJ Yeldon is a great play since he’s the only RB left and he’s involved in the passing game as well. In the last 2 games without Fournette, he’s seen 28 rushes and 14 targets. He’s not going to get massive volume, but for $7,100, he doesn’t need to, he just needs to do what he’s been doing. He’s also a top 5 RB value in Rudy’s projections.
Joe Mixon, $7,500 – The Bengals straight up have no one else they trust to play RB so he’s guaranteed volume here. And since the Steelers are perennially awful on the road (particularly at 1 pm – whether or not the “Big Ben on the road at 1 pm” is just hilarious noise or actually something noteworthy is an entirely different discussion – but the Steelers are legitimately awful on the road in general) and especially vs divisional opponents, there’s a pretty good shot here for Mixon to do some serious damage.
Also Viable – Bilal Powell, $5,800 (if Isiah Crowell is out)
GPP Recommendation – Bilal Powell, $5,800 – Yes, I know I just said he is viable if Crowell is out. But the GPP play here is to play Powell in a GPP if Crowell is active. This is because it’s entirely possible Crowell is active but will have his usage severely curtailed, leading to basically the same result (instead of Powell getting all the usage, instead he’d merely get the vast majority of the usage). The difference is that since you can’t depend on “this guy will be active but limited” without specific, reliable information saying as such, the play is just for GPPs, since you’ll get far less ownership (as people move off of Powell with the news that the teammate is active) and still have a chance for a crusher for a significant bargain.
Julio Jones, $8,500 – Even if we accept the somewhat dubious contention that Julio’s not going to catch touchdowns because the Falcons cannot throw him the ball (or he has some gaping hole in his skillset that renders him not useful in the red zone), the Bucs “pass defense” is so atrocious, in both real life and in terms of fantasy production surrendered, that Julio’s prospects in this game are so insane even without a TD. Read as much #defensedoesn’tmatter as you want, and there’s certainly some good stuff in the recent debates (although you have to sift through a tremendous amount of tout blowhardness), but I’ll take my chances that at this extreme, defense matters here and Julio crushes. The Bucs pass defense is just that hilariously bad (and their offense is good enough to make it so that the game is likely to turn into a shootout instead of a blowout where the team with the lead just runs the ball the entire 2nd half). Further, if you are reasonable enough to acknowledge that Julio’s “red zone deficiencies” are vastly overblown (although probably not entirely worthless as there’s probably some level of Falcons play-calling idiocy that simply schemes to use Julio as a decoy far more often in the red zone), and also if you are reasonable enough to acknowledge that one can score a TD by catching a pass from a distance beyond the red zone as well (and Julio has done that in the past), the TD equity in this matchup is through the roof. Just play him.
Mike Evans, $8,000 – Go re-read the section I have on Winston. Everything I wrote there also means that Mike Evans (as well as the other Bucs WRs) are great plays as well. But while DeSean Jackson’s kind of a boom-or-bust play because apparently he only runs fly routes at this point in his career, Evans has a safe floor and a high ceiling in this insanely good spot. He’s ever so marginally inferior to Julio in terms of overall projection, but he’s also $500 cheaper.
Cooper Kupp, $6,800 – Kupp, Cooks and Woods are part of the elite Rams offense and they all pretty much have 25% market share. The thing that Kupp has going for him is he is overwhelmingly Goff’s favorite in the red zone giving him that TD equity you need on FD. Kupp is also $500 cheaper than Robert Woods and $1,000 cheaper than Brandin Cooks and given their miniscule differences in target share and Kupp’s huge advantage in red zone usage and TDs, that difference makes no sense. The Rams also have a few other things going for it, namely, their offensive line is the 2nd best at protecting Goff and again, they have the best offense in football.
GPP Recommendation – Calvin Ridley, $6,700 and Mohamed Sanu, $5,800 – Note – I would not play just one of these guys in a GPP as a “Julio-fade”. There’s certainly GPP value in fading Julio and Tevin. But I’d either fade the Falcons entirely, or I’d stack Matt Ryan and stack him with two of his receivers, and add a Buccaneer WR as well. This year, we’ve seen each slate have one or two games just turn into an absurd shootout, and if you didn’t super-stack that game with a a QB-WR-WR or QB-WR-RB or QB-WR-TE stack, in addition to running it back with a member of the other team, you simply couldn’t keep up with the lineups that did. So if you’re thinking of a Julio and Tevin fade b/c they’ll be massive chalk, one good way to do this would be to run a Ryan-Ridley-Sanu lineup, pair it with a Tampa Bay WR, and there’s your super stack. If the Falcons abandon the run early because the Bucs score a few quick TDs and if Julio continues to do nothing in the Red Zone, you could easily see both Ridley and Sanu dropping massive DFS games. I will say that it doesn’t have to be those two specifically. Ryan-Ridley-Hooper works. Ryan-Sanu-Hooper works. Ryan-any-two works.
Cameron Brate, $4,500 – TE is completely horrible on the main slate and there isn’t a single play that I like. Brate is in a game that has an insanely high total and is cheap. He’s also the only player I want to write up at a position that is legitimately completely trash this week.
GPP Recommendation – Erik Swoope, $4,700 – This is only if Eric Ebron is inactive. If he is inactive, Swoope is the next TE on the depth charts, and Andrew Luck’s love of throwing to his TE is legitimately approaching fetish-levels. I’m not one to kink-shame anyone, in fact, I’m all for it if it can help win me money, so if Ebron’s out, fire away Swoope on the chance that Luck truly does just fire the ball at whoever is the tight end on a given play, without regard to who it is. While there’s plenty of risk of a 0 in this spot, there’s also plenty of upside here, and for only $200 above the minimum.
Chicago Bears, $4,500 – Defense in fantasy football is stupid. The Bears are amongst the league’s best at getting to the passer (they are first in adjusted sack rate), and the Miami offense is legitimately hot garbage fire. Yes, they’re tied for the league lead in plays of 70+ yards or more – essentially they have four of those plays whereas most teams have had two. Essentially, the Dolphins have hit two extra gadget plays, and also have shipped both a kick return and a punt return to the house, and that’s made their points per game total look respectable. Once you’re past that, their offense is legitimately amongst the league’s worst. Unless you truly believe that they’re going to continue to hit 70+ yard gadget plays each game, their offense is going to be absolutely demolished on a routine basis, including tomorrow.
Buffalo Bills, $3,400 – Defense in fantasy football is stupid. The fact that I’m actually suggesting (and may play) the Bills defense makes me vomit in my mouth (as opposed to other orifices). But this defense is fairly respectable at getting pressure (the offense, not so much), and while the Texans have a fairly competent offense, Watson scrambles around so much he sometimes basically scrambles his way into a sack by holding onto the ball for way too long in an attempt to buy more time for a WR to get open. Any fear of the Texans simply blowing out the Bills because the Bills offense is quarterbacked by a mediocre college QB is lowered by the Texans mind-boggling insistence on running Lamar Miller or Alfred Blue almost 60% of the time on 1st down. The combo of below average run blocking (21st in adjusted line yards) and well below average running backs damages the Texans offense by a healthy margin. Miller is averaging 3.9 yards a carry and Alfred Blue is averaging 3.3 yards a carry. When we talk about #neverrun, we point to the fact that in general, a run gets roughly 4.2 yards a play and a pass gets 6.6 (including sacks). So unless Bill O’Brien figures out that it’s not a good strategy to run on early downs with guys who average less than four yards a carry (and there’s no chance the Bills offense will score enough to force the Texans to pass), the Bills aren’t going to get blown out. So they’ll have their chances to get sacks due to the Texans being in 3rd and long after running Miller up the middle on 1st down for zero and on 2nd down for 1. Lots of them. But seriously, I just recommended the Bills; why is defense a thing in fantasy football?
Cincinnati Bengals, $3,400 – Defense in fantasy football is stupid. Maybe there actually is something to the “Big Ben always struggles in 1 pm games on the road”. The Bengals are cheap enough that it may be worth finding out.
Washington [email protected]#$%^&*, $3,300 – Rudy has the most racist team name as the best value of the day on defense and I can’t say I disagree. Historically, Cam has turned the ball and been pretty inaccurate, plus he’s a running QB, so he’s going to get some of those lovely 0 yard sacks that are worth points. Both teams are roughly average at adjusted sack rate, but, that’s why we have projections, because hey, defenses in fantasy sports are just really insanely stupid.
Random Other GPP Thoughts
I will include this section every week as long as these two are healthy – if you’re a multi-entry GPP guy, always include multiple Patrick Mahomes ($9,000) and Tyreek Hill ($7,800) lineups. Of course, they’re not on the main slate since they’re playing on Sunday Night Football against the Patriots, but if you have any lineups in the Thursday-Monday slate or the Sunday-Monday slate, I cannot stress enough that there is always a significant chance they’re the high scores of the slate, regardless of matchup, and to roster the two of them frequently if you’ve got multiple GPP lineups.
Best of luck to everyone on Sunday!