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Week 17 NFL DFS + Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown Column With Matt Savoca

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Philip Rivers said that he has not 'completely ruled out' returning to the NFL if someone comes calling and the Colts could really us a quarterback...

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(44.5) Baltimore Ravens (28) @ Cincinnati Bengals (16.5)

Quick-Hitter Game Summary:

  • While there’s a scenario in which the Ravens could lose and still make the playoffs, Baltimore’s in a win-and-in situation this weekend, facing a Bengals team they dominated 27-3 earlier this year. Baltimore needs to take care of business and move-on. That’s what playoff teams do, after all.
  • The Bengals are by no means a juggernaut defensively, but they rank right at league-average in per-play and per-drive defensive efficiency. It makes little sense, then, that the Ravens’ skill position players are priced-up as if they’re facing a bottom-tier defense. Lamar Jackson and tight end Mark Andrews have projections in line with salary-based expectations, but the rest of the Ravens’ weapons don’t look particularly appealing when considering salary, at least on DraftKings.
  • With Samaje Perine taking a large amount of Cincinnati’s backfield workload away from Giovani Bernard a week ago, it’s very tough to bet on any Bengals’ running back this weekend, but the Awesemo projections still prefer Bernard over Perine.
  • Baltimore has quietly struggled on defense over the second half of the season, ranking 29th in defensive expected points added (EPA). There’s more upside to the Bengals’ offense than they’re sub-17 point implied total suggests.
  • Tee Higgins, who’s emerged as a favorite of Allen’s in recent weeks, seems to be a better value than Tyler Boyd, despite the players having a salary difference of just $200 on DraftKings.
  • According to PFF grades, the Ravens’ largest advantage might be on the offensive line, particularly in pass protection. Lamar Jackson should have opportunities to throw deep, and of course, if nothing’s there, Jackson’s as lethal as any player in recent memory when he decides to tuck-it and run. Don’t be afraid to spend-up on the top-salary quarterback in any format. As is typical for rushing quarterbacks, stacking Jackson with one of his receivers is entirely optional.

Data Deep-Dive:

All Graphs Reflect Last Five Weeks of Data, Click Graphs to Enlarge

NFL DFS Upside Analysis:

Significant takeaways: As mentioned in previous versions of this column, the Ravens don’t need to rely on deep passing to have an explosive offense (while most teams absolutely do). However, the Bengals should at least push the tempo slightly offensively, as Cincinnati has ranked above league-average in team pace of play over the last eight weeks. Neither team is overly reliant on the pass, which could limit the number of overall plays in this game. Lamar Jackson is back to playing at an elite level, and has been particularly masterful over the team’s last four games, all wins. Jackson ranks in the top-10 in per-pass, per-play, and per-drive efficiency since Week 11. His $8,000 salary on DraftKings is steep but entirely justifiable. The Bengals’ Brandon Allen is playing exactly as-expected, like a career backup, ranking at-or-below average in all key quarterback efficiency metrics. He’s not untouchable, especially as a part of a contrarian stack in large-field tournaments but far from exciting as the 26th-highest salary quarterback on the slate.

Passing and Pace

Why look at passing at pace? Teams that play faster and pass more than average tend to score more fantasy points. When both teams play aggressively, it often creates a game environment perfect for fantasy scoring. Games have a higher probability of going over their Vegas total as well. Ideally, we’re seeking matchups where both teams are in the upper-right quadrant of the chart below (see the chart’s caption for more details).

The X-axis is Early-Down Air Yards divided by team game-script-adjusted plays per second (using Awesemo’s Game-Adjusted Pace from the Advanced Stats Page). The Y-axis is True Neutral Early-Down Pass Rate, a key indicator of a team’s desire to have a pass-oriented game script. The matchup-specific teams’ logos are displayed amongst all other teams in order to contextualize team pace and passing versus league averages (the dotted lines on the chart).

Quarterback Efficiency

Why examine quarterback efficiency? Sustained drives in the NFL rely on efficiency at the quarterback position, so I’ve identified my three favorite performance indicators for assessing quarterback performance. The three bar charts below (see the graph’s caption for more detail) represent a quarterback’s per-drive efficiency (left bar-chart), per-play efficiency including rushes/scrambles (center) and per-pass efficiency (right). Higher rankings from both players indicate a higher likelihood of efficient play, thus a higher probability of fantasy points.

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The three columns represent my three primary performance indicators for quarterbacks. Furthest left (tDSR) is True Drive Success Rate, a drive-based efficiency metric that measures a quarterback’s ability to turn drives into touchdowns, regressed based on sample size. The middle column, Expected Points Added (EPA), is a measure of per-play efficiency and includes scrambles and designed runs. Finally, on the right is per-pass efficiency, Completion Percentage Over Expectation (CPOE) based on the publicly available completion percentage model included in the NFLFastR package.

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Significant takeaway: Once again, Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews stand out as the two primary Ravens’ weapons who are worth their top-tier salaries. The Bengals have struggled mightily against opposing rushing attacks, giving Jackson, along with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards significant upside, assuming the Ravens control the game from start to finish. On the Bengals, Tee Higgins looks like a sold mid-tier option whose outside the top-40 wideouts in salary. Giovani Bernard, who has upside as a pass-catcher if the Bengals are playing from behind, looks like a decent salary saving option at running back with a salary just inside the top-35 running backs.

Baltimore Ravens NFL DFS Core Offenses
Team Player Positional Salary Rank FPTs/Gm Rank Expected FPTs/Gm Rank Defense vs. Position Expected Projection
BAL Lamar Jackson, QB #1 #3 #6 #7 21 Fpts (QB6)
BAL Mark Andrews, TE #4 #6 #3 #27 15.5 Fpts (TE3)
BAL Marquise Brown, WR #19 #41 #43 #24 11 Fpts (WR40)
BAL J.K. Dobbins, RB #9 #20 #27 #26 11.5 Fpts (RB20)
BAL Gus Edwards, RB #32 #22 #31 #26 10.5 Fpts (RB25)
Cincinnati Bengals NFL DFS Core Offenses
Team Player Positional Salary Rank FPTs/Gm Rank Expected FPTs/Gm Rank Defense vs. Position Expected Projection
CIN Brandon Allen, QB #25 #23 #26 #28 14 Fpts (QB22)
CIN Tee Higgins, WR #38 #31 #29 #22 13 Fpts (WR28)
CIN Tyler Boyd, WR #43 #58 #52 #26 9.5 Fpts (WR48)
CIN Giovani Bernard, RB #26 #27 #26 #23 10.5 Fpts (RB25)

NFL DFS Skill Position Values: Expected Points

Significant takeaway: Giovani Bernard has a great chance at being the most utilized running back in this contest, but with Samaje Perine’s fantastic performance in Week 16 (albeit against a Houston team that cannot stop anyone on the ground), that’s certainly in question. The Ravens’ running backs, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, have lower expected workloads imply, but much higher touchdown upside compared to either Bernard or Perine. Marquise Brown’s $5,700 salary, 24th among all wide receivers, is a bit tough to stomach, but he should still command 25% or more of the Ravens’ passing volume this weekend. Brown and tight end Mark Andrews still dominate the target share and air yards share for the Ravens, and outside of large-field tournaments, are the only Baltimore receiving options worth considering. Andrews is projected to be utilized in lineups nearly three times as often as Brown, making Brown an interesting contrarian play this weekend.

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Why examine expected fantasy points? By assigning a value to each play (based on score, down, distance to the goal line, distance to first down, play type, etc.), we can measure not just a player’s workload, but the expected value of that workload using recent league history as a guide. Expected fantasy points should be considered a volume metric. If a player scores more fantasy points (represented by the dots in the bar chart below) than expected, that means the player is either talented or lucky (or both) and may have unsustainable fantasy production based on their usage.

This chart measures Expected Fantasy Points (DraftKings scoring) per Game, indicated by each player’s bar, as well as fantasy points per game, indicated by the dot. If a dot is outside the bar, that means the player is performing above expectation. If the dot is within the bar, that means the player is performing below expectation. It includes injured players in order to help contextualize players who might be receiving a smaller or larger workload based on personnel shifts.

 

Week 17 NFL DFS Picks for daily fantasy football lineups on DraftKings and FanDuel based on expert analysis and projections

This chart measures Expected Fantasy Points (DraftKings scoring) per Game, indicated by each player’s bar, as well as fantasy points per game, indicated by the dot. If a dot is outside the bar, that means the player is performing above expectation. If the dot is within the bar, that means the player is performing below expectation. It includes injured players in order to help contextualize players who might be receiving a smaller or larger workload based on personnel shifts.

NFL DFS Auxiliary Offensive Players for Large-Field Contests

Significant takeaway: Yes, you’re reading that correctly. No team is giving up fewer fantasy points to opposing wide receivers (compared to their average production) than the Cincinnati Bengals. Miles Boykin and Dez Bryant $3,100 and $3,000 on DraftKings, are still somewhat interesting if stacking with Lamar Jackson. The pair have scored three touchdowns over their last two games.

Baltimore Ravens NFL DFS Tournament Picks
Team Player Snap Share Opportunity Score Defense vs. Position Outlook: Value, MME-only, Look Elsewhere
BAL Willie Snead, WR 59% 81 #1
BAL Miles Boykin, WR 49% 37 #1
BAL Dez Bryant, WR 34% 41 #1
BAL Devin Duvernay, WR 40% 37 #1
Cincinnati Bengals NFL DFS Tournament Picks
Team Player Snap Share Opportunity Score Defense vs. Position Outlook: Value, MME-only, Look Elsewhere
CIN A.J. Green, WR 83% 72 #24
CIN Samaje Perine, RB 32% 7 #23
CIN Drew Sample, TE 87% 67 #17
CIN Alex Erickson, WR 30% 8 #24
CIN Trayveon Williams, RB 12% 34 #23

Final Thoughts:

The Bengals’ defense has improved significantly over the course of the season, to the point where this is far from an easy matchup for the Ravens’ pass catchers. Luckily for Baltimore, they should still have an easy enough time moving the ball on the ground, giving Dobbins, and Edwards the highest touchdown probability, besides Jackson of course. Outside of Tee Higgins, the Bengals’ passing game options are for large-field tournaments only.

Prediction: Ravens 28, Bengals 21


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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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