It was December 2016. I noticed large, capitalized words in my Fanduel app, which read “LAST CHANCE” followed by “$5 Million WFFC Qualifier #90 (LA Trip + WFFC Seat).” Their advertising must have worked because I just had to enter!
Qualifier tournaments are incredibly top-heavy, and this was no exception. Second place took home $400, while first place won at least $10,000 (with a 1/100 chance at $1 million). The payout structure didn’t really phase me as a small-time player, and with an entry fee of only $3, why not take a chance?
Needless to say, it worked out since I finished in first place in the qualifier. But in the live final, my competition was even more fierce. I needed to come up with something to find an edge on the best edge-finders in the industry.
As someone who respects spreadsheets, I decided to take in a glut of statistics and make a formula out of them, then apply it to the players to make my own assessment of that week’s best plays. Considering what the formula recommended, I would say it worked.
I could’ve finished in the top five if I trusted my system more but winning $60,000 was an excellent result for a $3 entry.
Method to the Madness: Using DVOA
All of that exposition to say, I’m trying to rebuild and improve that system. This weekly article will show the players my formula says are the best plays. Accuracy should be expected to increase as the season rolls on. More data points included within each of the statistics I use make better predictions.
I used the offense and defense-allowed stats for yards passing, yards rushing, pass DVOA and rush DVOA. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) is a statistic engineered by Football Outsiders approximating the scoring value a player/team will add/subtract compared to an “average” player.
From Football Outsiders:
“DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on the situation. DVOA measures not just yardage but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative.”
My system applies DVOA to each team’s average pass/rush stats to arrive at a fantasy point estimate. Remember this data experiment cannot account for recent and/or short-term injuries to players, recent coaching changes, upcoming weather, etc.
When I refer to “advantage,” I mean the difference between expected pass and expected rush for an offense. So, a large number means I expect that team’s offense to skew pass-heavy, and a lower number means I expect that team’s offense to skew run-heavy.
TruMedia’s EPA metric is “expected points added.” This refers to the number of points a player/unit is expected to add to/subtract from the score based on the game situation, agnostic of player/unit value and not adjusted for offense/defense.
The target players are listed in order of team unit DVOA-adjusted expected points.
Passing Game Targets
Teams that are in the top half for both passing expectations and passing advantage:
This confirms my prior opinion about Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill (and Jaylen Waddle, if healthy). The Dolphins are the top team for both passing expectations and passing advantage. The Steelers are ranked first in the league for defensive EPA vs. tight ends, so I would fade Mike Gesicki.
Los Angeles Chargers
Dial-up Justin Herbert, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen (if healthy) and pass-catching RB Austin Ekeler in a game I expect to be a shootout. The Seahawks are dead-last in EPA vs. TE, so Gerald Everett can have a great game.
Joe Burrow was a tournament winner last week, and it looks like he will continue his momentum. I can’t guarantee a healthy Tee Higgins, but Ja’Marr Chase should keep dominating. Tyler Boyd is another viable option considering the Falcons are terrible vs. slot WR.
Just when I wanted to fade Matt Ryan and the Colts after a big win, the system says to stick with them. Playing a pathetic Titans pass defense, I can envision Ryan and WRs Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce doing well. The Titans also rank 30th in EPA vs. tight ends, but it is anyone’s guess whether to use Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson or Jelani Woods.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Oh no, not another Tom Brady letdown! Cake matchups are no match for being a part-time starting QB. By part-time, I mean YOLOing for six days, then showing up to “work” on Sunday. Another thing the system cannot account for is newly-bachelor QBs who have lost interest in practicing.
Carolina is in the middle of the pack in EPA vs. WR, slot receivers and tight ends. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Cade Otten are all viable. Either way, the matchup is golden for a get-right Brady game.
San Francisco 49ers
It is Deebo Samuel week. In a game where we hope there are fireworks, the 49ers are playing the Chiefs’ defense (32nd in EPA vs. WR). Dial-up Jimmy Garoppolo, Samuel and the hot-hand Brandon Aiyuk.
The other side of the Chargers game is also highly ranked in my system. Hopefully, this one blows up like the Seahawks-Lions game did a few weeks ago. Geno Smith and pass-catchers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are full-go.
Mitch Trubisky gets an unintended second chance against the lowly Miami pass defense if Kenny Pickett doesn’t clear concussion protocol. In another hopeful shootout, George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool all have a good chance to put up fantasy points.
Rushing Game Targets
Teams that are in the top half for both rushing expectations and rushing advantage:
J.K. Dobbin’s persistent injury has thrown a monkey wrench in predicting RB snaps for this game. Will Kenyan Drake return to last week’s form?
I have been fading Ezekiel Elliott for more than years now, but for this week, I am hopping on the train. Dak Prescott is expected back with a healing finger injury, and the Cowboys are playing a pathetic Lions defense ranked 31st in rush EPA.
Las Vegas Raiders
It’s another Josh Jacobs week, but since the Raiders also rank in the top half of teams in expected pass points, this could be a more balanced run/pass split type of game. However, Jacobs is so involved in the offense, and the Raiders are favored by about a touchdown, so the opportunity is there for an eruption.
New England Patriots
Rhamondre Stevenson hit last week in a big way. He will look to keep the points flowing against a below-average Bears rush defense (24th in EPA). If Damien Harris is down, dial Stevenson up.
It is hard to trust any single player in this unit, as QB Marcus Mariota could be the leading rusher any given week. Tyler Allgeier got 15 rushes last week.
Nick Chubb is having himself a year, and as long as the Browns aren’t playing from behind the whole game, he is in a good spot. But the Browns might be playing from behind, considering their terrible defense and an angry Ravens opponent. Pass-catching RB Kareem Hunt is a nice pivot.
Similar to the Falcons’ Mariota, Justin Fields has a chance to cut into the rushing stats of his two capable backs. It could be David Montgomery or Khalil Herbert any given week in what has recently been declared as a “hot-hand” backfield.
Facing a Giants team ranked 28th in EPA, rising RB Travis Etienne is a great play. He catches passes, has seen his role steadily grow and is on a promising offense.
D’Andre Swift could return this week against Dallas’ 10th-ranked EPA run defense. Given the circumstances, it is not a situation I would dabble in.
New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara will carry the load against the Cardinals, whose EPA vs. RBs (11th) is more forgiving than their EPA vs. WRs (seventh). With so many injuries to Saints WRs and defense and Kamara’s propensity for catching passes, this is set up to be a nice matchup for him.
New York Giants
Say what? Saquon Barkley looks awesome and faces a middling Jaguars run defense (15th in EPA). He does it all, playing RB, WR and wildcat QB, depending on the play call and Daniel Jones’ health. Count on his opportunities to give him a chance at an eruption in any game.
(Stats courtesy of Football Outsiders and Trumedia Networks)
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