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NFL Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown with Matt Savoca | Wild Card Sunday Slate

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Monday Night Football Week 17 NFL DFS Showdown Strategy Show. DraftKings + FanDuel daily fantasy football advice Browns vs. Steelers

Matt Savoca’s Daily Fantasy Football Matchups Column returns for Wild Card Weekend of the NFL season. In it, he goes through every single game on the Sunday main slate to guide you to the best plays for your season-long fantasy football lineups on Yahoo, ESPN and CBS; and your NFL DFS picks on DraftKings and FanDuel. There are three games on tap for Wild Card Weekend’s Sunday slate, so let’s dive into the action.

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Wild Card Sunday NFL DFS Matchups Breakdown

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans

Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers


Baltimore Ravens (28.75) at Tennessee Titans (25.75)

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

Quick-Hitter Game Summary

  • Baltimore finished the season 5-0 and will look to avenge their divisional-round loss to Tennessee a season ago. The Ravens ended up having the top team rushing efficiency in the NFL for the second year in a row. The Titans ranked 23rd overall in defensive rush efficiency.
  • When examining PFF grades, the Ravens have the highest team net pass-block advantage of any team this weekend. Like last week, Lamar Jackson should have all day to throw.
  • Mark Andrews is by far the safest play at his position on the Sunday slate, but he’s expected to be utilized by half the field on the Sunday slate. In tournaments, Andrews makes more sense as part of game stack than used by himself.
  • Despite being the highest salary running back on the Sunday slate, Derrick Henry ranks third in expected fantasy points per game, making him a (somewhat) fade-able option this Sunday, especially in large-field tournaments. It’s always nerve racking to fade a player like Henry, but simply put, there are fewer salary-intensive running backs with ceilings just as high as Henry’s.

NFL DFS Upside Analysis

When it comes to passing and pace, typically fantasy gamers should seek players from games that expect plenty of passing and fast-paced play, but Baltimore and Tennessee are the two biggest exceptions to that general rule. Both the Ravens and Titans have proven throughout much of the past two seasons that they don’t need either to put up 30-plus points in any given matchup. Both Jackson and Ryan Tannehill rank above average among playoff quarterbacks in per-drive and per-play efficiency. That efficiency, combined with both teams’ up-and-down years defensively (particularly on the Tennessee side of the ball), is a strong indicator that there should plenty of points scored in this matchup.

Passing and 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).

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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

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.

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).

NFL DFS Player Pool Picker

Andrews ranks first in usage and fantasy points per game, but he’s also first in positional salary on the Sunday slate, while the Titans have quietly shut down opposing tight ends, ranking best on the slate in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to the position since Week 12. Marquise Brown‘s expected projection (which factors in usage, efficiency and defensive matchup) looks to be right in line with salary-based expectations. While the Titans’ pass defense has been consistently worse than their rush defense, Tennessee ranked outside the top 20 teams in defensive rush efficiency, indicating that one of J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards could potentially have monster days. It’s very unlikely that both Dobbins and Edwards are viable at their salary, especially with Jackson commanding a large percentage of rushes for himself. Edwards, with a significantly lower salary on DraftKings than his teammate, seems like the slightly better value when comparing each player’s expected projection. For Tennessee, the ceiling for Henry is still massive, but looking at usage and production expectation, he doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense as the highest-salary player on the slate against the suddenly staunch Baltimore rush defense. Tannehill and Corey Davis appear to be the best value plays when comparing their expected usage and previous production to salary-based expectations.

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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 #1 #3 #6 23.5 Fpts (QB1)
BAL Mark Andrews, TE #1 #1 #1 #1 14 Fpts (TE1)
BAL Marquise Brown, WR #7 #6 #9 #6 13 Fpts (WR8)
BAL J.K. Dobbins, RB #5 #5 #7 #6 12 Fpts (RB5)
BAL Gus Edwards, RB #9 #7 #8 #6 10 Fpts (RB6)

Tennessee Titans NFL DFS Core Offenses

Team Player Positional Salary Rank FPTs/Gm Rank Expected FPTs/Gm Rank Defense vs. Position Expected Projection
TEN Ryan Tannehill, QB #2 #2 #4 #5 20 Fpts (QB2)
TEN Derrick Henry, RB #1 #3 #3 #5 14.5 Fpts (RB3)
TEN A.J. Brown, WR #1 #1 #5 #5 14.5 Fpts (WR5)
TEN Corey Davis, WR #11 #10 #7 #4 13.5 Fpts (WR7)
TEN Jonnu Smith, TE #6 #7 #6 #4 7 Fpts (TE6)

Unless participating in a large-field tournament, the players above are the players that fantasy gamers should be focusing on in their daily fantasy football lineups. For each player, it’s easy to compare their DraftKings main-slate salary ranking (in column 3) to their per-game fantasy scoring (in column 4). A player’s opportunity is measured by expected fantasy points, (column 5), which is curated by PFF.  Defense vs. Position (column 6) is an extremely helpful position-specific and player group-specific metric (for example, the metric delineates between primary wide receiver vs. secondary wide receivers) that helps determine if an offensive player is likely to be in a position to exceed their expected fantasy points. Higher numbers in the Defense vs. Position column indicate easier matchups for the offense, while numbers closer to one indicate a stout defense against that specific position group. Finally, expected projection (column 7) combines a player’s expected fantasy points with their weekly matchup into one helpful value metric. Apart from the Awesemo projections (which should still carry the most weight in determining player value), expected projection is one of my favorite metrics to help me narrow down my favorite plays of the week. The rankings are always specific to the slate, meaning if a player or team is ranked No. 1 at a specific metric, they may not necessarily be ranked No. 1 in the NFL, but they are for this specific slate.

NFL DFS Skill Position Values: Expected Points

While Henry unsurprisingly has the highest expected fantasy points on the slate, he isn’t a particularly strong value when comparing expected fantasy points to salary, especially compared to Andrews and Davis. Davis once again sticks out as a value, averaging 90% of A.J. Brown‘s expected fantasy points per game over the last five weeks at 80% of his salary. On the Baltimore side, the expected fantasy points metric perfectly illuminates the difficulty in deciding between Dobbins and Edwards, as both players have almost completely even in that metric over the past five games. Jonnu Smith is a distant third fiddle in the Tennessee passing attack, buoyed by extra red zone usage. He’s a low-floor, unexciting play this weekend.

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.

NFL DFS Picks DraftKings FanDuel Daily Fantasy Football Wild Card Weekend Sunday Playoffs

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.

 

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

The Titans rank dead last on the slate in fantasy points allowed above opponent averages to wideouts, meaning we could easily see multiple scores through the air from the Ravens. If so, one of Dez Bryant or Miles Boykin could get in on the action, especially if Willie Snead (leg) misses due to injury. For Tennessee, Anthony Firkser qualifies as a viable punt-play option when creating Tannehill stacks, but besides him, fantasy gamers should stick to the Titans’ big-three of Brown, Davis and Henry.

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 61% 66 #3 Look Elsewhere
BAL Miles Boykin, WR 51% 45 #6 MME-only
BAL Dez Bryant, WR 39% 41 #6 MME-only

Tennessee Titans NFL DFS Tournament Picks

Team Player Snap Share Opportunity Score Defense vs. Position Outlook: Value, MME-only, Look Elsewhere
TEN Anthony Firkser, TE 28% 50 #4 MME-only
TEN Darrynton Evans, RB 11% 75 #5 Look Elsewhere
TEN Cameron Batson, WR 32% 7 #5 Look Elsewhere
TEN Jeremy McNichols, RB 24% 10 #5 Look Elsewhere
TEN MyCole Pruitt, TE 44% 31 #4 MME-only

In daily fantasy football, depending on the size and type of contest you’re playing, it’s often advantageous to expand your player pool to less-utilized offensive players. In this section, we examine every part-time player’s usage based on playing time, opportunity and defensive matchup. For each player, an Opportunity Score is calculated using position-specific predictive metrics, which are then scaled to number between zero (least valuable) and 100 (most valuable). Scores above 50 tend to indicate starter-level opportunity, while scores over 80 indicate star-level usage. Finally, players are categorized as an NFL DFS value, a mass multi-entry option (MME-only) or a player to avoid altogether.

Final Thoughts

With clear shootout potential thanks to both teams’ possessing higher-quality offenses compared to their opponent’s defense and tons of players to like on both teams’ core offensive units, it’s easy to see this game as a viable build-around option. The two quarterbacks, plus Davis and Andrews, stand out as clear values compared to their respective salaries, while Henry, though still possessing arguably the highest ceiling of any player this weekend, doesn’t seem as appealing a fantasy options as he has in recent weeks. At least to this article’s author, there’s a strong case for being significantly underweight on Henry compared to the rest of the playing field.

Prediction: Ravens 30, Titans 28


Looking for more NFL DFS picks and daily fantasy football matchups content? We have loads of articles, data and more on the Awesemo NFL home page. Just click HERE.

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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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