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

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The reported reason Baker Mayfield is fed up with the Cleveland Browns organization and asking to be traded this offseason has been revealed

Cleveland Browns (20.5)  Pittsburgh Steelers (26.5)

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

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Quick-Hitter Game Summary

  • The Steelers have the second overall defense in per-play efficiency in the NFL this season, while their offense sputtered down the stretch, ultimately finishing outside the top 20 in per-play efficiency and dead last in rushing efficiency.
  • The Browns, despite being a run-oriented offense, had the seventh-highest passing efficiency in the NFL this season. Their rushing attack ranked 11th.
  • All of the Browns’ big four on offense have projections on Awesemo.com in line with salary-based expectations, but none stand out as clear must-play options.
  • Despite Ben Roethlisberger‘s precipitous decline efficiency-wise in the second half of the season, the Steelers pass catchers all stand out as quality options in this condensed slate.

NFL DFS Upside Analysis

This is the only matchup this weekend featuring two teams in the upper-right quadrant of the pace and aggressiveness chart, indicating this game has significant shootout potential, especially considering the modest 47-point Vegas total. The Steelers out of necessity are a uniquely pass-first, moderately-paced offense that isn’t afraid to take deep shots in early situations, while the analytically inclined Browns utilize a strategic passing attack in neutral game scripts in order to set up their two superstar running backs for big plays. The Steelers’ offense looks like it’s being held back by Roethlisberger, who ranks dead last among playoff quarterbacks in per-drive and per-play offensive efficiency. If the Steelers want any chance of winning, Roethlisberger must improve upon his decision-making (and the Steelers receivers, who led the league in drops this season, need to do their part as well).

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.

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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).

NFL DFS Player Pool Picker

Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry and Kareem Hunt look like the value plays when creating daily fantasy football lineups centered around the Browns’ offensive attack. Nick Chubb isn’t a priority play as the fourth-highest running back in fantasy points per game, expected fantasy points per game and salary rank, but would anyone be surprised if Chubb wound up being the highest-scoring running back on Sunday? No fantasy gamer should, especially with Chubb ranking No. 1 in the NFL in yards created per touch and first in total expected points added. Diontae Johnson looks like a quality play at $6,200, fourth highest among wide receivers on Sunday. Johnson ranks second on the slate in expected fantasy points since Week 12.

Cleveland Browns NFL DFS Core Offenses

Team Player Positional Salary Rank FPTs/Gm Rank Expected FPTs/Gm Rank Defense vs. Position Expected Projection
CLE Baker Mayfield, QB #5 #3 #1 #2 19 Fpts (QB4)
CLE Nick Chubb, RB #4 #4 #4 #2 13 Fpts (RB4)
CLE Jarvis Landry, WR #5 #3 #4 #2 15 Fpts (WR3)
CLE Rashard Higgins, WR #12 #8 #13 #1 11 Fpts (WR13)
CLE Kareem Hunt, RB #7 #6 #5 #2 10 Fpts (RB6)
CLE Austin Hooper, TE #3 #2 #2 #3 10 Fpts (TE4)

Pittsburgh Steelers NFL DFS Core Offenses

Team Player Positional Salary Rank FPTs/Gm Rank Expected FPTs/Gm Rank Defense vs. Position Expected Projection
PIT Ben Roethlisberger, QB #3 #5 #5 #3 19.5 Fpts (QB3)
PIT Diontae Johnson, WR #4 #4 #2 #4 16.5 Fpts (WR1)
PIT JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR #6 #7 #6 #6 14 Fpts (WR6)
PIT Chase Claypool, WR #8 #13 #12 #3 11.5 Fpts (WR12)
PIT James Conner, RB #6 #8 #5 #1 9 Fpts (RB8)
PIT Eric Ebron, TE #4 #4 #4 #5 13.5 Fpts (TE2)

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.

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NFL DFS Skill Position Values: Expected Points

Despite technically being the Browns’ backup, Hunt has more valuable usage than the Steelers’ starting running back, James Conner. He once again stands out as a high-upside play in this contest. Astonishingly, every single Steelers running back has performed below their expected fantasy points, a strong indicator that the team is simply ineffective moving the ball on the ground. There’s almost no way the Steelers will win this game without a strong performance from Roethlisberger through the air. For the Browns, Landry doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling, but he’s a rock-solid floor play as the fifth-highest-salary wide receiver on the Sunday slate.

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.

 

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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

James Washington should see several plays designed for him despite only playing a part-time role this season as the Steelers’ fourth wideout. Washington is the only auxiliary option from the Steelers that fantasy gamers should be considering in large-field tournaments, however, as Pittsburgh’s backup running backs are entirely off limits. For the Browns, Donovan Peoples-Jones is a thin play at best, only playing on 38% of team snaps over the team’s last five games, but his opportunity score of 57 is high enough to bet on if the tournament field is large enough. Peoples-Jones is still the slightly preferred option to David Njoku.

Cleveland Browns NFL DFS Tournament Picks

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Team Player Snap Share Opportunity Score Defense vs. Position Outlook: Value, MME-only, Look Elsewhere
CLE Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR 38% 57 #4 MME-only
CLE David Njoku, TE 52% 38 #3 Look Elsewhere
CLE Marvin Hall, WR 72% 23 #4 Look Elsewhere

Pittsburgh Steelers NFL DFS Tournament Picks

Team Player Snap Share Opportunity Score Defense vs. Position Outlook: Value, MME-only, Look Elsewhere
PIT Benny Snell, RB 34% 86 #1 Look Elsewhere
PIT James Washington, WR 43% 35 #3 MME-only
PIT Jaylen Samuels, RB 17% 29 #1 Look Elsewhere
PIT Vance McDonald, TE 53% 19 #5 Look Elsewhere

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.

Prediction: Steelers 28, Browns 27


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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