Everybody’s got a theory on how to win playing daily fantasy football. But there a few different kinds of daily fantasy players, most notably those who play a ton vs. those who play for fun. Hey look, that almost rhymed.
If you’re one of those people who play a ton, or want to be someday, you should absolutely check out some of the strategy pieces that Jonathan Bales has put out on The Playbook over the past few months. His articles are smart (to steal a word from the title of his book: “Fantasy Football for Smart People”), but the strategies he’s employing have to do with playing A LOT of daily fantasy football. A lot of lineups, a lot of contests, a lot of entries. And deciding how much to diversify your lineups in that situation, or how much of your bankroll to deploy at any one time, or how much of your money should be spent on 50/50s vs. large GPPs – these are all questions you NEED to be asking yourself, so his articles are serving an important need.
But for those of you who aren’t playing a lot of lineups, a lot of contests, and a lot of entries, you want some helpful theories too, right? And there seem to be enough of them floating around out there. I’ve got an important observation about these theories for you, though, that maybe will help you going forward: you always seem to hear about the theory after the fact, don’t you? Someone sets the lineup they like, and then you hear all the theories in defense of their choices. Well, let’s try it:
“Quarterback is the best place to save money – you can always find a good cheap option.”
Mark Sanchez ($5,800): Over 300 yards and 2 TDs last week, Sanchez actually is a cheap option who could perform like the top guys on Sunday. He represents – obviously – a huge savings over guys like Brady, Luck, Manning and Rodgers, but he is playing in a high-scoring offense, which throws the ball a ton. And, he is playing Green Bay, which means he’s facing a middle-of-the-road pass defense and also that he’s likely going to be losing and throwing even more than usual.
“Never skimp on quarterback or defense – those are the picks that can separate you from everyone else.”
Aaron Rodgers ($9,400): He dropped 35+ points in the FIRST HALF last week, and now he’s facing off with arguably the single worst pass defense in the NFL. And yet somehow, there are three quarterbacks more expensive than him. Taking Rodgers instead of Sanchez is a commitment, to be sure – $3,600 is the difference between Demaryius Thomas and Greg Jennings. But as much as Sanchez clearly represents value, he simply does not have the upside of someone like Rodgers. There is a scenario where you see what Rodgers did and immediately know that you cannot win because you didn’t draft him. That scenario does not really exist for Sanchez.
Detroit Lions ($3,400): The Lions are actually only averagin the fifth most fantasy points among defense, but this week, they are – literally – in a class by themselves, as the only defense priced this highly. Why? Well, Drew Stanton. You’d like to think they are the surest of sure things to score for you this weekend, but being a solid NFL defense and a dynamic fantasy defense are two different things. Just ask the Eagles (who, by the way, only cost you $3,100 this weekend).
“If you’re just a little over budget, you can always find a cheaper defense.”
The Lions look really enticing, but if you only need $400 to fit every player you love most into your lineup, the Denver Broncos ($3,000) are going to start to look mighty appealing facing off against the Rams. Plus, you’ll be knocking out another theory, for good measure: “Never start a defense facing off against the guys you have going on offense.” You know you’re not starting any Rams.
“Always start a wide receiver at flex.”
I mean, I guess it is a PPR format. Running backs still do ok in PPR sometimes, right? And sometimes tight ends catch passes too? Hmm, interesting.
“Start by identifying a few cheap options and build your team from there.”
The problem with this theory (and the next one, for that matter), is that you can only start so many running backs, so many wide receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, etc. If you have three value running backs you like, but no top quarterbacks or wide receivers you’re targeting, well, building a roster is not going to be easy.
“Start by picking the studs you know are going to do well this week, and then fill in around them.”
“You don’t have to take as many chances in a 50/50 as in a GPP format.”
I know you have heard this one before. And it sounds smart, so you might have even believed it before. I am sorry to have to be the one to burst your bubble. The one might even have grown from one small kernel of (very, very painfully obvious) truth. And that one kernel of truth (which you will realize is completely unhelpful in just a second) is this: you don’t need to score as many points to cash in a 50/50 as you do to win the Millionaire Maker. Painfully obvious, right? Well, that’s all there is to this theory.
I think what people mean when they spout this theory is that you need to “take chances” on cheap guys and have them perform well in order to be able to afford the more expensive guys who are also going to perform well in order to put together enough points to take down a big GPP. Well, guess what? You know who also perform as well as the top guys on occasion? Mid priced guys. You know who don’t play well sometimes? Expensive guys. And guess what else? You have no idea what the cut-off line is going to be in any contest, including 50/50s. You don’t know who other people are going to start, and you don’t know what NFL teams are going to have huge days on Sunday. You are making educated guesses. So, why not make educated guesses that you believe are going to score you the most points possible? Why play the guy you think is “safe” when you have no idea if this is the Sunday he does nothing, and you also have no idea if even his best will be enough?
And that, I suppose, is what this entire article boils down to, my one, cohesive, theory about daily fantasy football for those of us who are playing against our friends, playing $.25 contests because our year-long team is terrible, playing because we just want a chance to play our favorite NFL stars… for those of us who are playing for fun: build a lineup you feel comfortable with. If you’re only playing one lineup, and there is a guy you just don’t really like in there because you couldn’t afford anyone else, start over. If you started your lineup with that one top QB you really wanted and then had to change him out to save money, start over. If there is anything about your lineup that’s not going to be fun for you to root for on Sunday, start over. No matter what players you settle on, there is risk, there is downside, and there is upside. So have fun. And good luck.