Thanks for following along with the Exploiting Footballguys Tools series this season. Hopefully I’ve been able to shed some light on how to use the tools included with your Insider Pro Subscription to improve your weekly DFS process, and helped you to at least a few profitable weeks.
Week 16 was an especially good one for this column, with recommended low-owned plays Mark Ingram II, Jay Ajayi, and Aaron Rodgers (believe it or not he was hovering around 5% in most tournaments on FanDuel) going off. I’ll try to keep the positive momentum going in an unpredictable Week 17, where the only thing certain is a whole bunch of uncertainty.
If you’re a first time reader or just want to review the various Footballguys research tools I’ll be referring to in this article, click the links below to view the previous entries in this series, which include complete instructions on where to find each tool and how they can be used for DFS. You can also click the link to view our complete Video Training Library.
|Data Dominator||Interactive Value Charts||Snap Counts|
|Vegas Value Chart||Target Stats||Game Log Dominator|
|Normalized Strength of Schedule||eVALUEator||Historical Stats|
|Site Projections||Game Predictor||Custom Fantasy Points Allowed|
Moving on to this week’s GPP plays with a final hat tip to the Footballguys DFS Tools...
Aaron Rodgers - I’ll be going back to the well with Rodgers and so will a good portion of the field. We usually don’t see high tournament ownership at quarterback due to the number of viable options available in a normal week, but Week 17 is anything but normal. As you’re probably aware, the Packers are one of a handful of teams whose playoff lives are on the line. The added motivation combined with last week’s vintage 37 point performance (FanDuel scoring) should land Rodgers somewhere in the 20% ownership range (and possibly higher).
Still, Rodgers is the chalk you’ll want to swallow. The Packers are winners of seven straight and have reached the 30 point threshold in each of their last three games. I’d feel a little better about paying up to Rodgers if this game were at Lambeau Field, but the Game Log Dominator shows he’s averaging the exact same number of fantasy points (28.61) on the road as he is at home.
Besides, the Green Bay offense is humming, Rodgers is 2016’s cumulative QB1 (FanDuel scoring), and he has unmatched touchdown equity. Rodgers has played a role in 93% of the Packers offensive touchdowns this season (passing + rushing) and Green Bay has scored a league-high 76.6% of their touchdowns via the pass.
The Lions rank 24th in raw fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks this season, and their pass defense is the worst in the league according to Football Outsiders pass defense DVOA metric. There’s no reason Rodgers can’t put four touchdowns on the Lions like he did back in Week 3.
Russell Wilson - Wilson will also be a popular play, but Rodgers might be the only quarterback on the slate with a higher ceiling. Like Rodgers, Wilson has something to play for. Seattle can clinch the number two seed (and a first round bye) with a win and a Falcons loss. Both teams play at 4:25PM EST this week, so they won't know their respective fates before kickoff.
The spot couldn’t get any more dreamy for Wilson. Not only will he be motivated in a must-win situation against a historically bad defense, but the 49ers may actively be trying to lose the game. If the Browns beat a Steelers team that will reportedly be resting its starters, a loss to Seattle would give the 49ers the number one overall pick in next year's draft. Couple that with the fact the Seahawks are coming off an embarrassing home loss to a bad Arizona team, and this game has the makings of a 35-0 blowout.
With Thomas Rawls banged up and not much behind him on the depth chart, Seattle should have to rely heavily on Wilson both in the passing and running games. The Data Dominator shows only Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor have rushed for more yards than Wilson’s 176 over the last six weeks, and the Game Log Dominator indicates the 49ers are a plus matchup for running quarterbacks. The three rushing threat QBs the 49ers have faced this season -- Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, and Ryan Tannehill -- all eclipsed the 30 yard mark against them on the ground.
New York Jets Running Back - As of this writing it’s too early to know if Bilal Powell will be able to play through the knee injury he suffered during last week’s game (he was held out of practice through Thursday), which would leave little more than undrafted rookie Brandon Wilds to man the Jets backfield against the Bills. Obviously, I’d prefer Powell (and his proven 25+ point ceiling) to an UDFA, but I’m pretty sure if the Jets announced Trent Richardson was getting off his couch to face the Bills, I’d have at least a few shares.
If you played Powell last week with the expectation he would rack up a bunch of garbage time receptions and yardage vs. New England, you received a harsh reminder that sometimes a game can go so far off script for a team, no shred of fantasy value can salvaged by any of its players. Provided he’s able to suit up, Powell should find the sledding much easier against Buffalo’s 32nd ranked rush defense (DVOA). The Bills have somehow allowed two 200 yard rushing performances in their last three games (and three on the season). Over the previous five weeks, they’ve let up nearly 63% more fantasy points per games to opposing running backs than the league average.
The Jets haven’t been shy about feeding Powell the ball in Matt Forte’s absence. He’s accumulated 78 total touches over the last three weeks (26 per game), which trails only Le'Veon Bell for the league lead. If Powell hadn’t been forced to miss over 40% of the Jets offensive snaps last week due to the knee injury, chances are he’d be neck-and-neck with Bell.
If Powell can’t go (it’s at least encouraging he was able to return to last week’s game after being injured), investing in the Jets backfield becomes the difference between putting your money in a low-yield savings account and sinking your entire life savings into a penny stock. It would have been fun to play Khiry Robinson against the Bills, but he broke his leg again last week, leaving Wilds as the next man up.
We don’t know much about Wilds besides what he put on tape in college. He’s a thumper with a physical running style, who can pound the ball up the middle and usually fall forward. While he lacks burst and a top gear, a classic north-south runner should theoretically thrive behind the interior of the Jets offensive line (13th ranked run blocking unit per Football Outsiders). And even if Wilds is awful, you’ve got to like his chances of being set up for short scoring opportunities with turnover prone EJ Manuel behind center for the Bills.
Friday Morning Update - Wilds also missed Thursday’s practice with a hamstring injury. If Powell, Forte, and Wilds are all out, that leaves another UDFA -- Brandon Burks -- as the last man standing in New York’s backfield. Burks isn’t even in the player pool on either major DFS site, so this is obviously shaping up as a situation to avoid unless Powell is able to play. It’s at least encouraging the Jets have yet to sign a street free agent, and Powell was listed as missing Thursday’s practice with an illness, rather than the knee injury.
Thomas Rawls - I was tempted to tout this play as “Seattle Seahawks Running Back”, but Rawls returned to a full practice on Wednesday, making it likely he’ll play through a shoulder injury against the 49ers. Clicking on Rawls comes with substantial risk of an in-game injury that could sink your roster, but it’s a chance worth taking when the opponent is San Francisco.
As I mentioned earlier, the 49ers are a historically bad defense, potentially playing for the number one overall pick in next year’s draft. They’ve been particularly awful against the run -- as proven by just about any metric -- but the one I trust most is Austin Lee’s Normalized Strength of Schedule. NSOS shows the 49ers allow 27.1 schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, which ranks dead last by a 13% margin over the next-closest team (New Orleans).
This tweet from PFF’s Scott Barrett hammers home Rawls as a potential jackpot play in Week 17. With any luck, the injury risk will keep his ownership levels moderate.
David Johnson - You don’t need me to tell you Johnson is the best running back in fantasy football, and having low exposure to him in a week with so much uncertainty would be foolish. But just in case you were concerned about the Cardinals limiting Johnson’s touches in a meaningless game against the listless Rams, I wanted to make sure you hear this loud and clear -- DON’T BE.
Arizona was officially eliminated from playoff contention prior to last week’s game against the Seahawks. Not only did they play inspired football, beating Seattle on the road as 8.5 point underdogs, they showed a willingness to continue feeding Johnson as much work as he can handle. His 32 total touches against Seattle were about eight above his season average of 24 per game.
While it’s true Arizona has no incentive to beat the Rams, it’s evident they’re still playing with pride for head coach Bruce Arians. And even though the Cardinals might not be motivated to win, the team could be looking to get Johnson into the record books. With his 136 total yards last week, Johnson tied Barry Sanders’ record with 15 straight games over 100 yards from scrimmage. Not only does he have a shot at sole possession of that record this week, but another 159 receiving yards would make him only the third running back in league history to record 1,000+ rushing and receiving yards in the same season (Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk are the others).
The Rams have a tough run defense, but it hardly matters when the team is just so bad in general. Prior to last week’s one point loss to the hapless 49ers, LA lost their previous four games by 21, 28, 16, and 28 points, respectively. Arizona is favored by six this week and projected to score about 24 points, which suggests a run-heavy game script, even if the Cardinals aren’t trying to force Johnson the ball. And as a player with 33 total touchdowns over his first 31 NFL games, it goes without saying Johnson’s touchdown probability is extremely high in this matchup. On the season, Johnson has accounted for over 45% of the Cardinals offensive touchdowns. Make him the staple of your tournament lineups.
Odell Beckham Jr Jr. - Beckham is the one and only play I’m considering from any team that has nothing to gain by playing their starters this week. It’s not due to speculation the Giants will play their first string this week, though it does help to know Beckham should at least be on the field when the game kicks off.
The reasons I’m most excited about Beckham come down to narrative chasing (admittedly a fool’s errand) and upside. Beckham is 86 yards shy of passing Randy Moss for the most cumulative receiving yards through the first three seasons of a player’s career. It’s the type of benchmark that means very little to the Giants, but could very well be important to the hyper-competitive Beckham. Adding to the narrative (and fueling Beckham’s competitive streak) is a matchup against his arch rival, Josh Norman. You’d have to think the only thing more gratifying for Beckham than rewriting the history books would be doing it on Norman’s watch, while also knocking him out of the playoffs.
Rostering Beckham this week is obviously risky. Talk of the Giants treating this game with a “business as usual” mentality could turn out to be complete rubbish, and their starters could very well come out after the first series. But maybe Ben McAdoo sticks with the first string until at least halftime, giving a motivated Beckham -- who is tied for the most catches of 40+ yards this season -- all the time he needs to bust up a defense ranked in the bottom-12 vs. opposing WR1s (DVOA). I’m not going crazy with this play, but want to be heavier on Beckham than the field -- 10-15% exposure ought to do it.
Allen Robinson - The fact Robinson is coming off his best receiving game of the season (9-149-0) won’t be lost on the crowd, but he’s burned enough fantasy owners -- both season long and DFS -- that many will chalk up his big Week 16 solely to a matchup with the Titans abysmal secondary.
While it’s true Tennessee has allowed the most raw fantasy points to wide receivers in the NFL this season (and about 35% more than the league average over the last five weeks), there was more to Robinson’s long overdue blow-up game than a great matchup. Jaguars interim head coach, Doug Marrone (who should be plenty motivated to make a good impression on Jacksonville ownership during his two game audition), schemed Robinson open by moving him around the formation against the Titans. The result was more free releases from the line of scrimmage, more space for Robinson, and more targets in the middle of the field, where it was easier for Blake Bortles to get him the ball.
Marrone isn’t likely to go away from what worked so well against the Titans, especially with another soft pass defense on deck. The Colts have done a decent job limiting fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season (largely because it’s so easy to run on them), but they’re ranked 26th in pass defense DVOA and 29th against opposing WR1s. Vontae Davis has been a shell of himself, playing injured all year. Pro Football Focus grades Davis as a bottom-10 cornerback on the season, making the one-on-one matchup nothing for Robinson to fear.
While the Jaguars are riding high coming off their best win of the season, Indianapolis just had their playoff hopes dashed by Oakland. There's no telling if the Colts will show up ready to play in this meaningless game, and we can already see which way the sharp bettors are leaning. Jaguars at Colts opened with Indianapolis favored by six points, but the spread has moved 1.5 points in favor of Jacksonville, despite 70% of the tickets coming in on the Indy side. That can only mean sharp money is moving the line, which puts the Jaguars offense in play.
As Footballguy Steve Buzzard recently pointed out in our staff chat, if we’re rostering players on teams with nothing to play for, it makes sense to focus on teams that have been playing meaningless games for weeks, rather than those who were only just eliminated from playoff contention since their game plan and personnel packages should be much easier to project. The 3-12 Jaguars certainly fit the bill, the matchup is soft, and Robinson is still way too cheap for his talent level.
Golden Tate - The Green Bay offense is going to get plenty of love this week, but I’m not sure how the ownership will settle on the Detroit side. As one of the teams with the most to play for, Lions players deserve our attention -- particularly their wide receivers. You’ll recall the inestimable Adam Thielen was able to drop a 200 bomb on Green Bay just last week.
The target stats show us Tate is by far the most heavily targeted Detroit pass catcher over the last five weeks, with a solid 24.3% share of the team’s targets, including double-digit looks in three of his last four games. But Tate may go overlooked on FanDuel, where a lack of touchdowns seem to cap his upside.
At first glance, Tate’s paltry three receiving touchdowns would lend some credence to the theory he’s best left for PPR scoring formats. But it’s not like Tate has been ignored by Matthew Stafford in the red zone this season. His 15 red zone targets are tied with Theo Riddick for second on the team, and trail only Anquan Boldin’s 19. The problem is Tate hasn’t converted a single one of those targets into touchdowns, a year after converting 6 out 18 red zone opportunities into scores.
It’s entirely too late in the season to expect statistical regression to the mean, but if Tate were ever going to add a touchdown to his gaudy reception totals, it would be this week against Green Bay (and not just because it’s the last game of the season). The Packers have allowed a league-high 24 passing touchdowns, and not surprisingly over 71% of the total touchdowns they’ve allowed have come via the pass. Look for Tate to burn cornerback punching bag, Damarious Randall, for at least one score.
Zach Ertz - Whatever you’re projecting for Travis Kelce’s ownership this week, it’s too low. Kelce will cast such a large shadow over the position, every other tight end (besides maybe Antonio Gates) will go lower-owned than they should, including Ertz -- the number two tight end in fantasy scoring since the season’s midway point (FanDuel scoring).
Tight end has been such a landmine this season, it’s become a perfectly acceptable strategy to chase a high floor at the position, even in tournaments. Following the targets is the only way I know of to lock in reliable tight end scoring, and Ertz is tied with Travis Kelce for the league lead at the position with 70 since Week 9. Prior to last week’s 4.3 point stinker, Ertz had scored at least 11 fantasy points in four out of his last six games. Since, anything over 10 fantasy points qualifies as elite output from a tight end this season, it’s safe to say Ertz has the best floor/ceiling combination of any tight end on the slate other than Kelce.
The Eagles are favored by 3.5 at home over a Dallas team that has already clinched a first round bye and home field throughout the NFC playoffs. The Cowboys should be playing the majority of this game as though it’s a preseason contest, which is good news for Ertz considering Dallas’ starting unit has struggled to defend tight ends recently. Over the last five games, only the Dolphins and Jets have allowed more fantasy points to the position when normalized for strength of schedule. If the Cowboys starters were due to have trouble defending Ertz, their back-ups shouldn’t stand a chance. I’m not suggesting you go light on Kelce this week, but Ertz has upside, will help you cut the chalk, and is unlikely to single-handedly ruin your teams.