One of the things I try to do in my Fantasy Football for Smart People book series is approach daily fantasy sports from a very scientific and mathematical angle. I want to test everything I can, use math to find value, avoid dogma and false narratives at all costs, and hopefully evolve as a player.
Having said that, the game is very much a combination of art and science. It certainly helps to know the numbers, but a lot of the world’s best players are also very creative in the way they build lineups. I’m of the opinion that short slates of action in any sport turn the game into less about value and more about creating a unique lineup, combining value with against-the-grain low-usage players.
When there’s a smaller pool of players, as in the NFL playoffs, it’s not as important to be price-sensitive. There’s a very good chance that the winner of some of this weekend’s big tournaments won’t fill the entire $50,000 salary cap, and that’s because there’s not as much of an opportunity cost associated with leaving money on the table.
With that said, here are six important tips for winning daily fantasy football in the playoffs.
1. Know that home-field advantage matters more.
It’s always important to consider home-field advantage in any sport, but it matters more in the playoffs. Historically, home-field advantage has been “worth” around three points in the NFL, i.e. over the long run, home teams will score three more points than opponents of the exact same caliber.
Well, home-field advantage and those three extra points matter more in close games. That’s one reason teams like Kansas City have been deemed as possessing one of the strongest home-field advantages over the past decade; they’ve frequently been a mediocre team in a lot of close games, and thus home-field advantage has had a big impact in their outcomes.
We’re not trying to predict team winners in daily fantasy sports, but the home-field advantage effect extends to the individual level, too. That’s especially true for the four teams (those with first-round byes) that see their first home game come after a week of rest. With the home crowd amped up and two weeks of prep time, it’s no wonder we so often see 1 and 2 seeds advance in the postseason.
2. Use the Vegas lines.
The easiest way to predict game flow is to use the Vegas lines. If the Cowboys are seven-point favorites over the Lions with a projected total of 49 points, that’s a really good sign for their running game. With those lines, Vegas is saying they expect Dallas to score a lot of points (28), while also leading late in the game.
The other overlooked value offered by the Vegas lines is that they’re often a good proxy for player ownership; the players on the teams projected to score the most points often have the highest usage in tournaments. And again, predicting that ownership is important…
3. Emphasize player usage over value.
There will be players out there who disagree with me, but I believe player usage to not only be more important than value in short slates, but much more important. Whereas it’s crucial to emphasize both usage and value in normal GPPs, I think the first question you should ask yourself in tournaments during the NFL playoffs isn’t “Who will score the most points?” but rather “Where can I find production that others are overlooking?”
There are various ways to do this. Maybe you want to overpay for an elite player who is clearly overpriced. Again, due to the reduced opportunity cost of overpaying, you don’t need to be extremely price-sensitive in short-slate GPPs. Perhaps you have insight on player usage that you believe many others don’t. Maybe you want to target a player in a perceived difficult matchup that will drive down his popularity. Whatever it is, try to find unique production wherever possible.
When you create a contrarian lineup, you’re basically giving yourself ‘outs.’ When you’re in 30th place in a GPP with a player that no one else ahead of you has, that’s so much more advantageous than when you’re in 30th place with a player who is also in half of the lineups ahead of you. You don’t want to be drawing dead if you aren’t in first place right out of the gate.
4. Consider not stacking a QB/WR.
Another way to potentially create a unique lineup when you know there will be a lot of player overlap is to not stack a quarterback with one of his pass-catchers. You can bet that almost everyone who rosters Tony Romo will have Dez Bryant and anyone with Matthew Stafford will have Calvin Johnson. Stacking increases upside and is normally a great strategy in tournaments.
In a short slate, though, you could perhaps go against the grain by not stacking at all (or stacking a quarterback with non-obvious teammates, like an unheralded No. 2 wide receiver). I’m not at all saying this is something that you should do in every lineup, but if you can hit on a quarterback like Russell Wilson without the need to stack, for example, it might help you get away from a lot of the inevitable lineup overall that we see during the postseason.
5. Re-consider other player combinations.
Whenever there’s a short slate, you’re going to have more trouble creating a lineup with all of the ideal player relationships in it. Whereas you normally wouldn’t want to roster a quarterback, running back, and two pass-catchers from the same team, that might be okay in GPPs during the NFL playoffs. With only four games, you’re perhaps not only not limiting your upside with such a strategy, but maybe even increasing it.
Interestingly, I think it makes sense to go with one extreme or the other in the playoffs. While the crowd is employing the normal QB-WR stack, you might find the most success by either diversifying with no stack, or else stacking up almost exclusively on a single game. With only four games, there’s plenty of upside to go around in a high-scoring affair.
Another relationship that you almost always want to avoid in regular slates is using a defense that’s facing one of your position players. While that’s still generally preferred in the postseason, it might not be a prerequisite to success. As long as you’re not playing a defense against multiple position players, you might be able to get away with it if you think the value/usage looks right.
I personally wouldn’t play a defense against the opposing quarterback in any league, though, since there’s such a negative correlation between their scoring. Pairing a defense against the opposing tight end or high-volume slot receiver, though, isn’t nearly as detrimental.
6. Pay attention to weather.
The weather is an overlooked factor in NFL fantasy production. I personally don’t care all that much about precipitation, but I do care a lot about the temperature and wind speed. When the temperature plummets and wind speeds pick up substantially—both of which are most common in January in the northern part of the country—passing efficiency and attempts decline.
Here’s a look at passing efficiency by wind speed, for example.
I always like to target offenses playing indoors, but that’s especially true in the playoffs if other teams are forced to play in poor weather.