I was recently talking to an avid DraftKings player, “donuts” (yes, feel free to direct challenge him), and he was talking about the importance of picking defenses. Basically, the idea is this: the variability in fantasy points scored is bigger than the variability in price. In other words, the difference between the most expensive and the least expensive defenses on the entire board is less than $1,500, but the top scoring defense and lowest scoring defense last week was a difference of almost 40 fantasy points. And not only is that true, but the highest scoring defenses are very rarely the most expensive, and even if the top defenses do perform well, you can almost always find similar production from someone else at a savings.
This simply isn’t true at other positions – sure, you can often find a cheap player who’s going to do well, but in many many weeks, the best performers at RB and WR are right near the top in salary as well. So, if you want to take down the bigger daily fantasy football tournaments, you almost have to nail this choice, because if you don’t, someone else will, and it is not going to cost them a ton of money to do it.
The most obvious strategy is, well, start whoever is playing the Raiders. But another very popular strategy is this: ALWAYS buy in on a minimum salary defense.
Very rarely are you going to run into issues starting the team playing the Raiders, so let’s take a deeper look at the other strategy: picking a cheap defense. It makes sense – it’s hard to predict who is going to do well, and it is often NOT the most expensive squads, so choose someone cheap and cross your fingers. If you’re going to go that route, logic would state that you want to be picking a defense that will be involved in a low-scoring game. And that’s fine – safe, even. You’re not going to get negative points, and you could keep pace with most of the other players in your daily fantasy tourney who will have a defense that scores between 5-12 points. Perfect.
But here is the thing – this is decidedly NOT how you land on the teams that are really going to blow up and give you a decided edge over the competition. Take last week as the perfect example. I recommended starting the Chargers, and I wasn’t wrong. They SHUT OUT the Jets. This was practically the best-case scenario of taking advantage of these low-scoring teams and playing a solid defense. And they scored 16 points. Which is great. But it wasn’t the Eagles. The Eagles D scored twice as many points, and they did it in a game with a combined 62 points scored. The highest scoring fantasy defense in any given week is very often involved in a high-scoring game, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.
So which tack do you want to take? Do you feel like predicting over/unders, or do you feel like predicting sacks and turnovers? You might think predicting sacks and turnovers is harder, but it kinda isn’t – you just need to know more about the teams you’re looking at than what you can find in the box score. Plus, predicting over/unders is hard too – just ask Vegas.
Week Six Plays
San Diego Chargers ($3,400): They’re good, and they’re playing the Raiders.
Detroit Lions ($3,300): They’ve piled up twelve sacks, the Vikings are a mess and this should be a low-scoring game.
Minnesota Vikings ($2,500): See above. I said this should be a low-scoring game, and this is as cheap as a defense gets this weekend. Check these numbers out: 49, 31, 26, 41, 31. If those numbers seem unremarkable, they are – those are the total number of points scored in each of the Lions’ first five games. Gone are the days when you start all your guys against the Lions, and without Megatron, gone are the days of fearing this offense. Sure, someone will score some points here – you’re not looking at a shutout. But the Lions have given up the second most sacks in the NFL this season, and they play enough D to keep the total score down – meaning it’s not as if the Lions are going to be frantically passing every down in the second half to keep up with the Vikes. If you want to save as much as possible on this side of the ball this weekend, this might be the play for you.
San Francisco 49ers ($3,200): The Rams have been giving up points to opposing fantasy defenses in droves. They don’t score, AND they allow sacks and turnovers. The 49ers as a fantasy defense this year have been totally hit or miss, but for the most part, it has not been because they’re giving up a lot of points. Mainly, it’s been about the lack of forced turnovers and sacks. But they started coming on last week, with six sacks and a handful more QB pressures, and with Austin Davis in there, Stacy potentially a little nicked up, and no one outside of Brian Quick performing in the passing game for St. Louis, this could be the week they carry you to a win.
Green Bay Packers ($3,300): Packers at Dolphins could actually be a pretty high scoring game, which might scare you off. But this is exactly what I was talking about at the top. Think, for a second, about what a high-scoring Dolphins game might look like. Sure, they might score four touchdowns against the Pack. But they’ll do it while allowing lots and lots of throws from their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. And let’s face it, that could mean really good things for you. Sacks, turnovers, strip-sacks, safties – it’s all on the table.
The last thing I will mention: it’s called D/ST for a reason. Special teams count, just like they do in real football. Sure, big fantasy point scoring plays on special teams can be fluky, but they can also be the result of great team depth and good coaching. But if you’re going to try to use that to your advantage, just looking for a good special teams squad isn’t enough – you want to look for a convergence of good and bad. Good special teams vs. good special teams often equals a wash. For whatever it is worth, Football Outsiders has the Green Bay special teams ranked #5 overall in DVOA, and Miami ranked #32 – dead last. That’s quite the convergence.
So, I dunno. Maybe you just pick a defense that costs exactly what you have left over after picking everyone else. And maybe you just pick whoever is playing the Raiders. And maybe it feels like a crapshoot, but please – don’t just throw darts. We may have gotten rid of kickers, but defenses still matter, and they can make or break your chances at a million bucks this weekend, so pay attention. And good luck.