STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Plays: Week 8


As always, when you read this, please be aware that I’m not intending to touch on every player, but rather a few unique or pivotal opinions. If I don’t touch on some of your guys, by all means, reach out on twitter (@cshcwartz18), and perhaps I’ll get back to you.

Welcome to one of the craziest weeks for byes that I can remember. Six teams are on byes, so season-long owners are scrambling for waiver-wire replacements. In DFS (especially on Draft Kings, which doesn’t include SNF in the main slate), it’s even tougher to find specific punt plays and fades – there will be lots of overlap of players, especially among those of you who enter multiple lineups. For this week, I’ll not only highlight the usual amount of players with longer blurbs, but I’ll also point out waiver-wire or punt-play type guys – with less explanation – at each position.

Here are some of my picks:

High-End QB Play: Carson Wentz, PHI (vs. SF)

San Francisco is a defense to target, allowing the sixth-most passing yards this season despite trailing almost all the time (that means they’re very, very bad). Carson Wentz has reached bona fide stud status – as well as MVP candidate status – and now gets his easiest matchup yet. Coming off an explosion last week on national TV, he will be highly owned – and for good reason. You won’t want to fade him in cash games, and if you have him in season long, it’s time to consider him your elite QB1, even over guys like Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, and Cam Newton. This is the rare week where he is ranked above Tom Brady, as well, and he’s still much cheaper.

Stack Partner: He’s not the sneakiest GPP play because he’ll be such a popular pick. Pretty much all of his usual targets are good stack partners, though. Zach Ertz (No. 1 TE this week) and Alshon Jeffery (WR1 this week) should and will be in lots of your lineups.

High-End QB Play: Jameis Winston, TB (vs. CAR)

Obviously check on his injury status before game time, but if he plays, he’s an underrated fantasy option. Carolina’s pass D appears good based on raw stats (i.e. yardage allowed), but if you dig deeper, lots of that is due to three of six games against Brian Hoyer, Tyrod Taylor, and Mitchell Trubisky (who completed four passes). They’re actually middle-of-the-road when it comes to yards per attempt allowed (despite the soft schedule), and they’re one of six teams allowing a 100+ passer rating on the year. I could see a competent pass offense tearing them up, which makes Jameis a sneaky GPP play and a QB1 in season-long.

Sleeper QB: Andy Dalton, CIN (vs. IND)

San Fran is getting more attention as a defense to target, due to the whooping they received last week from Dallas. Indianapolis is almost as bad, though. They’ve allowed the second-most passing yards per game, despite trailing so often (that means they’re very, very bad). It’s no surprise, knowing this, that they’ve allowed the most yards per attempt in the NFL. Dalton has enjoyed success since the change in coordinator, averaging 242 yards per game with 10 TDs in the four games since. Even though he struggled against Pittsburgh’s good defense last week, he is the best cheap DFS option and bye week fill-in this week against a bad defense.

Stack Partner: A.J. Green is the obvious one. He’s our No. 2 WR behind only Antonio Brown and ahead of Julio Jones this week. He’s priced like it, which should keep his ownership down, as it’s tough to roster him and also the stud RBs that somehow all don’t have byes (i.e. Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Ezekiel Elliott). I’ll touch on a couple other stack options for Cincinnati later in the piece.

QB Fade: Philip Rivers, LAC (@ NE)

New England’s defense has looked better since a thumping from Cam Newton, allowing only four pass TDs over the last three games, including a dominant effort against Matt Ryan and the Falcons last week. They’ve been doing it with injuries, too, indicating that a lot of the newcomers and backups in the scheme are starting to figure it out and gel. New England is still generally a pass defense to target, just due to game flow, but not enough so to make Rivers a better fantasy play than guys like Taylor and Dalton who either contribute rushing stats or have better matchups.

Waiver-Wire Picks: If you can’t snag Dalton, I like Case Keenum and Josh McCown. If you’re desperate, C.J. Beathard has the potential to put up 15-20 points in a garbage-time situation.

High-End RB Play: LeSean McCoy (vs. OAK)

Zeke went off last week, but we are maintaining a level head and ranking Shady right up there with him as the No. 2a RB this week. He looked spry last week after his bye, finally regressing positively into some TDs. Despite Oakland’s run D having looked good on paper, they didn’t face a good rushing attack this year until Kareem Hunt last week (4.9 yards per carry, over 80 yards). What separates Shady from the non-Bell pack is his receiving – with no WRs that Tyrod trusts, and Charles Clay hurt, he racks up targets and receptions (6.5 targets per game this year). He leads this week’s RBs in our projected receptions and receiving yards, making him a potential PPR monster and DFS winner. He is a must-play in DFS cash and also a great GPP play, especially if Zeke will have higher ownership levels.

High-End RB Play: Mark Ingram, NO (vs. CHI)

Fact 1: Chicago’s defense has been mighty impressive. Fact 2: New Orleans is still expected to score around 29 points. Fact 3: Chicago’s defense has been much better against the pass than the run. What does it all mean? There’s a good chance New Orleans manages to rack up a lot of yards and points (even if not as much as usual), largely via the run. This is good news for Ingram, who is a mid-range RB1 alongside guys like DeVonta Freeman and Jordan Howard this week.

High-End RB Play: Joe Mixon, CIN (vs. IND)

Surprise! We’re targeting the Colts run defense, too. This has less to do with their run defense and more to do with game script, though. Since the coordinator change, Mixon has 14 rushes per game, despite only one positive game script. He could set a season-high in touches this week, and he has the talent and potential to make the most of it. Particularly on Draft Kings, where Le’Veon is not part of the main slate, he seems like a great cash option.

RB Sleeper: James White, NE (vs. LAC)

Dion Lewis has been getting more snaps and touches, and Rex Burkhead is healthy, but that has come at the expense of Mike Gillislee more so than White. White still had nine touches last week, which is enough to make him a flex option in standard and a borderline stud in PPR. He should get targets and receptions this week against a Chargers D that is strong on the outside and funnels passes to backs and tight ends.

RB Fade: Doug Martin, TB (vs. CAR)

As I mentioned, it’s really hard to find fades this week. Every player is ranked much higher than usual due to the byes, and a guy like Doug Martin is still a borderline RB1. He’s just not worth his price tag in daily fantasy, as I prefer Lamar Miller (cheaper), Joe Mixon (cheaper), and Alvin Kamara (better), in the borderline RB1 territory. Carolina has been top 10 against the run, in terms of both yards per carry and yards per game.

Waiver-Wire Picks: If nobody snatched up Oakland’s replacement backs, both Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington should have some value as long as one or the other doesn’t run away with the hot hand. Marlon Mack is a flex option with Robert Turbin hurt, and Wendell Smallwood has a dream matchup against San Fran as long as he suits up.

High-End WR Play: Michael Crabtree, OAK (@ BUF)

The Rex Ryan Bills struggled to put up points and contributed to low-scoring matchups. Those days are gone, as this matchup features an over/under of 45, which could mean plenty of throwing. Buffalo has allowed the seventh-most pass yards per game, and Derek Carr looked all the way back last week on national TV. That’s good news for Crabtree, who, despite all of Oakland’s ups and downs, has managed 80+ yards in three of six and a TD in four of six games. He’s a WR1 this week, given all the byes, and a nice value in DFS.

WR Sleeper: JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT (@ DET)

Martavis Bryant will be a healthy scratch for the foreseeable future. Since passing Eli Rogers on the depth chart, JuJu has registered three TDs and had three-plus receptions in four of six games. People love asking “should I bench my WR1 with Darius Slay covering him?” The answer is almost always no, especially this week, as nobody prevents Brown from being the overall WR1. Slay’s presence and Bryant’s absence, however, could both add up to more targets than usual for JuJu. He’s a borderline WR2 who is still priced like a WR4, so he’s a great cash play in DFS (though not part of the Draft King main slate).

WR Fade: Julio Jones, ATL (@ NYJ)

There, Julio got his TD for the season. All kidding aside, obviously you’re starting Julio and can expect top-five WR production. This week in DFS – at least in cash lineups – I prefer rostering stud RBs instead of spending your money on Julio. Atlanta desperately needs a win, and they’re more likely to kill out clock with a run-heavy script than they are to air it out if they have a lead (just like in the Super Bowl, right?). Of all weeks, this just isn’t the one to roster Julio in cash. (Now that I reverse jinxed him into his first multi-TD game in years, please thank me if you own him in season-long).

WR Fade: T.Y. Hilton, IND (@ CIN)

Cincinnati is a poor matchup for opposing WRs (we have them rated as bottom five, meaning good). They limited, but didn’t stop, Antonio last week. Also, as some of the shine is starting to wear off Jacoby Brissett, T.Y. has been a frustratingly low producer, bottoming out to average 1.5 receptions for 23 yards over the last two weeks. In fact, if you eliminate monster games against the two worst teams in football (SF and CLE), T.Y. has averaged 2.6 receptions for 36 yards against the five other competent teams (yuck). He’s merely a borderline WR2 even with so many byes, ranked right around the much cheaper Smith-Schuster.

WR Sleepers and Waiver Wire Picks: The following guys are all solid waiver wire options. They are also all priced on DFS as if it’s a normal week, and not a week where 20 percent of players are on byes and WR4s are WR3s. These guys are: Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett, Robbie Anderson, Brandon LaFell, Torrey Smith.

High-End TE Play: Jason Witten, DAL (@ WAS)

The “play your TEs against Cleveland and the Giants” narrative has gained full steam, but Washington has also struggled against TEs. Look at their games against fantasy-relevant TEs: Travis Kelce, Jared Cook, and Zach Ertz (x2) all put up 80+ yards and/or a TD. Now they face Witten, who bounced back with two consecutive good weeks after two stinkers, and who has shown both a nice floor (volume) and ceiling (red-zone looks) this season.

TE Sleeper: Tyler Kroft, CIN (vs. IND)

I’ve already touted how bad Indy is, so instead I’ll tout what Kroft has been doing since Tyler Eifert went down. He’s been a steady, startable fantasy TE, averaging just about 4/40/1, with four-plus receptions each of his last three games. For some reason – maybe a mistake, honestly – he’s priced practically at the minimum on Draft Kings, making him a must-play. He’s also a TE1 this week and potentially a nice long-term pickup in season-long.

TE Fade: Jared Cook, OAK (@ BUF)

You may not be able to do better than Cook if you own him in season-long, with guys like Martellus Bennett, Evan Engram, and Delanie Walker all on byes. Buffalo handles TEs well, though, grading out as our No. 5 fantasy defense against TEs. I like other borderline TE1s like Kroft and Jack Doyle more this week.

Waiver-Wire Picks: Honestly, pick out of a hat. If you’re really in a bind, I like Austin Hooper and Nick O’Leary. O.J. Howard is a popular pick-up, but he’s too TD dependent (even for a TE) and one of the most likely guys to put up a 0/0/0. Go ahead and roster Howard if you feel you need some upside, but if you want a safer pick, I like Ryan Griffin.

Week 8 NFL Spreads: STATS vs. Las Vegas


Using STATS X-Info metrics and roster rankings to project favorites vs. the Vegas standard odds

It’s not often to see double-digit spreads in NFL games, but this week there are two – and STATS and Vegas agree on both.

STATS uses proprietary data to project spreads for each NFL game. STATS X-Info calculates roster rankings based on injuries, statistical data and depth at each position, then compares that to an opponent and arrives at a conclusion – the projected spread.

None of these spread projections mean you should empty your account and follow the STATS model to riches. X-Info simply takes into account factors Vegas may not, hence some differing views. And if you’re looking for fantasy advice, you’re still best suited to follow best-in-the-business Sean Koerner and his weekly tiers.

Have a look at how STATS projects the spreads in Week 8 against those coming out of Las Vegas as of Thursday afternoon.

Group 1: Occasionally, STATS and Vegas agree – for the most part:

Minnesota at Cleveland

STATS: Vikings -7.72
Vegas: Vikings -9.5

Even the uncertainty of who Minnesota starts at quarterback – will it be Teddy Bridgewater? – can’t keep the Browns from being heavy underdogs.

Indianapolis at Cincinnati

STATS: Bengals -12.7
Vegas: Bengals -10.5

The Bengals should have an easy time getting back into the win column after having a two-game winning streak snapped last week.

Oakland at Buffalo

STATS: Bills -3.84
Vegas: Bills -2.5

The Raiders’ dramatic win over the Chiefs last week still couldn’t sway the spread in their favor against the Bills.

Carolina at Tampa Bay

STATS: Buccaneers -2.68
Vegas: Buccaneers -2

Cam Newton has thrown five interceptions over the last two weeks.

San Francisco at Philadelphia

STATS: Eagles -10.92
Vegas: Eagles -12.5

Carson Wentz is taking giant leaps in his sophomore season.

Denver at Kansas City

STATS: Chiefs -5.39
Vegas: Chiefs -7

Kansas City looks to avoid a third straight defeat.

Group 2: STATS and Vegas agree on the favorite, but the spreads are pretty far apart.

Los Angeles Chargers at New England

STATS: Patriots -4.02
Vegas: Patriots -7

The Chargers face a tough task as they seek a fourth straight victory.

Houston at Seattle

STATS: Seahawks -1.62
Vegas: Seahawks -5.5

Deshaun Watson has had a great rookie season to date, but Seattle’s defense is poised to shut him down.

Dallas at Washington

STATS: Cowboys -4.7
Vegas: Cowboys -2

The Redskins’ chances to win hinge on stopping Zeke.

Chicago at New Orleans

STATS: Saints -6.31
Vegas: Saints -9

Drew Brees will air it out, while the Bears likely will keep Mitchell Trubisky on a leash and make him hand it off the majority of the time.

Pittsburgh at Detroit

STATS: Steelers -5.53
Vegas: Steelers -3

Pittsburgh tries to overcome the Martavis Bryant drama.

Group 3: Then there are games were STATS and Vegas don’t agree at all:

Miami at Baltimore

STATS: Dolphins -1.84
Vegas: Ravens -3

STATS isn’t giving up on Jay Cutler just yet.

Atlanta at New York Jets

STATS: Jets -0.89
Vegas: Falcons -4.5

The Jets have lost two straight but are remaining competitive.

2017 STATS Fantasy Football: Week 8 Tiers


Much like how my projections evolve throughout the week, I am starting to evolve in how I present my weekly tiers piece. Last week I started to do a deeper dive into my weekly thought process and provided everyone with some underlying principles that I think are critical for having a sound approach. Simply answering sit/start questions or highlighting one aspect of why a player is a good play for this week alone is short-term help, but giving you a better foundation in thought process is going to be much more beneficial in the long-term.

I will still provide you with the very transparent rankings/tiers below, which you can use to make most sit/start decisions. One thing I’m adding this week, due to popular demand, is point values for each tier, so that you can translate them across positions for FLEX lineup decisions. For example, if RB Tier 4 has a 10.0 rating and Tier 4 of WR has a rating of 9.0, the RBs in Tier 4 would all be ranked higher than the WRs in Tier 4 in terms of FLEX. It’s essentially the projected point range of everyone in the tier, so hopefully this makes it very easy to compare.

This week, I would like to do a deeper dive on what a player’s ranking/projection actually represents. I feel like most people perceive these a bit too much at face value, which in a sense is totally fine. However, understanding what it represents is key to managing expectations, which also helps keep you from over- or under-reacting to one week of data.

First, let’s discuss what a player’s “rank” represents. When it comes to my rankings, they are based off of the median projections I have set for each player. When doing this, the rankings are only going to be as good as the projections being used. This is why I’m spending all week creating and updating the projections for every player – I am trying to make them as accurate as I possibly can.

After all that, if I have Le’Veon Bell as the No. 1 ranked RB for Week 8, I’m essentially saying that there is no other RB that I would start over him. I think most people understand that concept so far. What the No. 1 ranking is not saying, however, is that I think Bell will be the highest scoring RB on the week. As a matter of fact, my estimates have Bell as the top RB this week only about 20 percent of the time. “Ok Sean, well then why the heck are you ranking him No. 1?!” Believe it or not, despite thinking he has over an 80 percent chance of being anything but the top RB of Week 8, he still has the best chance of being the top RB in Week 8, compared to the other RBs. At just around a 20 percent level of confidence of being the actual No. 1 RB this week, he is simply the most likely top RB this week (with Kareem Hunt the second-most likely, and so on and so forth).

In general, this is a perception that most people do not have. If Bell ends up scoring the sixth-most points in Week 8, the No. 1 ranking will seem like a big “miss,” which is simply not true. In fact, I have the median projected rank for him this week being 6.5. This can be translated as he has a 50/50 chance of being a top-six RB this week.

For additional context, let’s look at the fifth-ranked RB this week, Devonta Freeman. Right now, I estimate Freeman as having around a 6.5 percent chance of being the top RB, with a median rank of 11.5. To better illustrate this, let’s run 1,000 simulations of Week 8 and see where his actual rank fell in each simulation:


So in 394 out of 1,000 simulations (or 39.4% of the time) he finished between 1st and 7th ranked RB. You can see just how often he’s going to finish in the top-20, too (68.5% of the time).

I think it’s important to at least perceive a players rank in this fashion – don’t go selling Devonta low if he doesn’t finish as a top 7 RB this week, as he more than likely won’t. Next week I will dive into this concept a bit further.

It’s now time for the actual Tiers! Don’t forget, these tiers reflect non-PPR scoring. The number in parentheses next to the player’s matchup indicates how many tiers they’d move up or down in PPR scoring. Without further ado, here are the Week 8 tiers:


Tier 1

Carson Wentz (vs SF)

Tier 2

Russell Wilson (vs HOU)
Tom Brady (vs LAC)
Dak Prescott (@ WAS)
Kirk Cousins (vs DAL)
Drew Brees (vs CHI)

Tier 3

Cam Newton (@ TB)
Jameis Winston (vs CAR)
Matt Ryan (@ NYJ)
Tyrod Taylor (vs OAK)
Andy Dalton (vs IND)

Tier 4

Alex Smith (vs DEN)
Matthew Stafford (vs PIT)
Deshaun Watson (@ SEA)
Philip Rivers (@ NE)
Derek Carr (@ BUF)

Tier 5

Ben Roethlisberger (@ DET)
Case Keenum (@ CLE)
Josh McCown (vs ATL)

Tier 6

C.J. Beathard (@ PHI)
Trevor Siemian (@ KC)

Tier 7

Jacoby Brissett (@ CIN)
Joe Flacco (vs MIA)
Mitchell Trubisky (@ NO)

Tier 8

Matt Moore (@ BAL)

Tier LOL

DeShone Kizer (vs MIN)
Cody Kessler (vs MIN)

Running Backs

Tier 1 (FLEX Rating: 18)

Le’Veon Bell (@ DET)

Tier 2 (16.5)

Ezekiel Elliott (@ WAS)
Kareem Hunt (vs DEN)
LeSean McCoy (vs OAK)

Tier 3 (13.5)

Devonta Freeman (@ NYJ)
Mark Ingram (vs CHI)
Melvin Gordon (@ NE)

Tier 4 (12.5)

Jordan Howard (@ NO)
Jay Ajayi (@ BAL)

Tier 5 (10.0)

Joe Mixon (vs IND)
Carlos Hyde (@ PHI)
Doug Martin (-1, vs CAR)
Jerick McKinnon (@ CLE)
Lamar Miller (@ SEA)

Tier 6 (9.0)

Ameer Abdullah (vs PIT)
Alvin Kamara (vs CHI)
Chris Thompson (vs DAL)
C.J. Anderson (@ KC)
LeGarrette Blount (vs SF)

Tier 7 (8.5)

Christian McCaffrey (+3, @ TB)
Tevin Coleman (@ NYJ)
Javorius Allen (vs MIA)

Tier 8 (8.0)

Jalen Richard (@ BUF)
Latavius Murray (-1, @ CLE)
Frank Gore (@ CIN)
DeAndre Washington (@ BUF)
Alex Collins (-1, vs MIA)
Jonathan Stewart (-1, @ TB)

Tier 9 (7.5)

Bilal Powell (vs ATL)
Matt Forte (vs ATL)
Isaiah Crowell (vs MIN)
Dion Lewis (vs LAC)
Duke Johnson Jr. (+1, vs MIN)

Tier 10 (6.5)

Wendell Smallwood (vs SF)
James White (+2, vs LAC)
Marlon Mack (@ CIN)
Tarik Cohen (+1, @ NO)
Thomas Rawls (vs HOU)
Rob Kelley (vs DAL)

Wide Receivers

Tier 1 (FLEX Rating: 12.5)

Antonio Brown (@ DET)

Tier 2 (11.0)

A.J. Green (vs IND)
Julio Jones (@ NYJ)
Mike Evans (vs CAR)
Michael Thomas (vs CHI)

Tier 3 (10.0)

Dez Bryant (@ WAS)

Tier 4 (8.5)

DeAndre Hopkins (@ SEA)
Michael Crabtree (@ BUF)
Doug Baldwin (vs HOU)
Amari Cooper (@ BUF)
Alshon Jeffery (-1, vs SF)
Brandin Cooks (-1, vs LAC)
Adam Thielen (@ CLE)
Keenan Allen (@ NE)

Tier 5 (8.25)

Tyreek Hill (vs DEN)
Chris Hogan (vs LAC)
Kelvin Benjamin (@ TB)
Marvin Jones Jr. (vs PIT)
Demaryius Thomas (@ KC)
Pierre Garcon (@ PHI)
Jarvis Landry (+1, @ BAL)
Devin Funchess (@ TB)
Stefon Diggs (@ CLE)

Tier 6 (7.0)

T.Y. Hilton (@ CIN)
DeSean Jackson (vs CAR)
Ted Ginn Jr. (-1, vs CHI)
DeVante Parker (@ BAL)
Emmanuel Sanders (@ KC)
Nelson Agholor (vs SF)

Tier 7 (6.5)

Robby Anderson (vs ATL)
Jeremy Maclin (vs MIA)
Mohamed Sanu (@ NYJ)
Paul Richardson (vs HOU)
Tyrell Williams (@ NE)
Tyler Lockett (vs HOU)
Jermaine Kearse (vs ATL)
Danny Amendola (vs LAC)
Juju Smith-Schuster (@ DET)
Martavis Bryant (@ DET)

Tier 8 (6.0)

Will Fuller V (@ SEA)
Terrelle Pryor Sr. (vs DAL)
Brandon LaFell (vs IND)
Kenny Golladay (vs PIT)
Josh Doctson (-1, vs DAL)
Kenny Stills (@ BAL)
Torrey Smith (vs SF)

Tight Ends

Tier 1 (FLEX Rating: 9.5)

Rob Gronkowski (vs LAC)
Zach Ertz (vs SF)

Tier 2 (8.25)

Travis Kelce (vs DEN)

Tier 3 (7.0)

Jordan Reed (vs DAL)
Jimmy Graham (vs HOU)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs ATL)
Kyle Rudolph (@ CLE)
Hunter Henry (@ NE)
Jason Witten (@ WAS)
Cameron Brate (vs CAR)

Tier 4 (5.5)

Jack Doyle (@ CIN)
Zach Miller (@ NO)
Tyler Kroft (vs IND)
George Kittle (@ PHI)
Benjamin Watson (vs MIA)
Jared Cook (@ BUF)
Ed Dickson (@ TB)

Tier 5 (4.5)

Austin Hooper (@ NYJ)
Ryan Griffin (@ SEA)
Nick O’Leary (vs OAK)
David Njoku (vs MIN)


Tier 1

Jake Elliott (vs SF)
Wil Lutz (vs CHI)
Stephen Gostkowski (vs LAC)

Tier 2

Matt Bryant (@ NYJ)
Harrison Butker (vs DEN)
Randy Bullock (vs IND)
Blair Walsh (vs HOU)

Tier 3

Chris Boswell (@ DET)
Stephen Hauschka (vs OAK)
Nick Rose (vs DAL)
Matt Prater (vs PIT)
Justin Tucker (vs MIA)
Patrick Murray (vs CAR)
Graham Gano (@ TB)
Chandler Catanzaro (vs ATL)
Mike Nugent (@ WAS)
Kai Forbath (@ CLE)

Tier 4

Giorgio Tavecchio (@ BUF)
Nick Novak (@ NE)
Connor Barth (@ NO)
Ka’imi Fairbairn (@ SEA)
Brandon McManus (@ KC)
Robbie Gould (@ PHI)
Cody Parkey (@ BAL)
Adam Vinatieri (@ CIN)

Tier 5

Zane Gonzalez (vs MIN)


Tier 1

Minnesota Vikings (@ CLE)

Tier 2

Cincinnati Bengals (vs IND)
Philadelphia Eagles (vs SF)
Kansas City Chiefs (vs DEN)
Baltimore Ravens (vs MIA)

Tier 3

Pittsburgh Steelers (@ DET)
Seattle Seahawks (vs HOU)
New England Patriots (vs LAC)
New Orleans Saints (vs CHI)
Atlanta Falcons (@ NYJ)
Miami Dolphins (@ BAL)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs CAR)
Carolina Panthers (@ TB)
Buffalo Bills (vs OAK)

Tier 4

Houston Texans (@ SEA)
Denver Broncos (@ KC)
Detroit Lions (vs PIT)
Oakland Raiders (@ BUF)
Dallas Cowboys (@ WAS)
Indianapolis Colts (@ CIN)

Tier 5

Cleveland Browns (vs MIN)
Washington Redskins (vs DAL)
New York Jets (vs ATL)
Chicago Bears (@ NO)
Los Angeles Chargers (@ NE)
San Francisco 49ers (@ PHI)

A Series of Particulars: How Matchups, Misses and Mistakes May Crown a Champion


STATS Video Solution and TVL Data Provide Insight into the Pitch Execution that Could Sway the First Fall Classic Meeting of 100-Win Teams in Nearly a Half Century

From the start of spring training to the first wild-card pitches, the MLB season leaves plenty of room for ups, downs, surprises, expectations, and above all, drama. With two 100-win teams in the World Series for the first time since 1970, this year’s matchup already has a distinct storyline.

But leaving it at that, frankly, seems lazy when deep data can make preview, prediction and preparation so much more appealing – particularly with pitching.

From that surface-level standpoint, the introduction of the wild card in 1995 increased the drama of October. Consider this: Since the wild card was put in place, six teams have donned that crown and gone on to win the World Series. A wild-card team appeared in the World Series every year from 2002 to 2007. In contrast, only two 100-win teams have won the World Series in the wild-card era (the 1998 and 2009 New York Yankees). In other words, the underdog story can thrive during October baseball.

But not this year. This World Series is the first pitting two teams with triple-digit victories since the 108-win Baltimore Orioles knocked off the 102-win Cincinnati Reds in five games 47 years ago. The 2017 versions of the Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58) and Houston Astros (101-61) were the hands-down best teams in their respective leagues until that late-season 1-16 stretch made us wonder about the Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians’ 22-game winning streak bumped the Astros from the top spot in the AL.

That doesn’t change the fact that both the Dodgers and Astros have been incredibly balanced all season. Los Angeles was sixth in the NL in runs scored, while Houston topped the AL. Houston finished fifth in the AL in team ERA, while the Dodgers topped the NL in that category. Oh, and the Astros added a former Cy Young winner in September, and the Dodgers added a right-hander that has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings over his career.

It might not be the New York-Los Angeles clash the networks wanted, but it’s a World Series matchup fans dream of: The league-best Dodgers’ pitching staff versus the league-best Astros’ lineup. To be cliché, it’s the unstoppable force meets the immovable object.

However, succumbing to the irresistible force paradox doesn’t cut it at STATS. Using TVL data, we can begin to predict which matchups between pitcher and hitter should be attacked, and which could lead to hits and runs for the offense if the pitcher isn’t careful.

TVL tracks pitch type (T), velocity (V) and location (L) for each MLB pitcher and records the data into categories such as usage percentage of a specific pitch, the average velocity of each pitch type and the percentage a batter hits the ball on the ground against that pitch. The data is broken down further to show opponents’ batting average, slugging percentage, swing percentage and swing-and-miss percentage each time a specific pitch is thrown. With TVL, deliveries can also be categorized as executed pitches, missed pitches, mistake pitches and wild pitches.

The Dodgers and Astros didn’t meet in 2017 interleague play, but the two midsummer splashes each team made – the Dodgers trading for Yu Darvish and the Astros dealing for Justin Verlander – give us numbers to go off because both righties faced their World Series opponent before they were traded.

Verlander will get the start in Game 2 of the World Series and can look back on his Aug. 20 gem against the Dodgers as a member of the Detroit Tigers. Verlander allowed one run and two hits while striking out nine in eight innings, executing more than 60 percent of his pitches. He relied mostly on his four-seam fastball and slider, and he dominated Dodgers hitters with those two offerings. Against lefties Verlander threw 32 fastballs, executing on 59 percent and making a mistake on only 12 percent of those.

Verlander was even more four-seam and slider reliant against righties, making 52 of his 59 deliveries against the likes of Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Logan Forsythe and Kike Hernandez with those two pitches. He attacked Turner with a cutter – a pitch he toyed with this season – three times, though Verlander seems to have abandoned his cut fastball since then.

As if he knew he would wind up facing the Dodgers in the World Series, Verlander stated after the game that he tried to make it feel like a playoff atmosphere, though the game was played for a team that wasn’t going to even sniff the playoffs.

“It’s impossible to really create a playoff atmosphere without being in the playoffs, but I tried my best to do that,” Verlander said. “There was that much more focus and intensity in every pitch.”

As he has shown this postseason, Verlander was strong into the late innings against the Dodgers in August, with only four mistake pitches through his first six innings of work. If the Dodgers want to get to Verlander in the Fall Classic, they’ll need to hurt him when he makes a rare mistake – they had only one hit off Verlander’s 12 mistakes back in August.

“Verlander certainly showed today that he’s still an ace,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after his team mustered two hits off Verlander. “He hasn’t had the career he’s had by accident. He’s a great pitcher.”

The same can probably be said of Darvish. He was as dominant in his last start against the Astros as a member of the Texas Rangers on June 12, executing his offspeed pitches 86 percent of the time and finding success by pounding his two-seamer in to right-handed hitters. Darvish wasn’t exactly precise with his four-seamer – he only executed it seven of the 28 times he threw it – but he only made two mistake pitches with it. Of the 103 pitches Darvish threw on June 12, only seven were mistakes, and the Astros didn’t collect a single hit off those.

That included Jose Altuve going 0 for 3 while being fed a steady diet of two-seamers. Altuve grounded out on a first-pitch two-seamer in the first, saw a pair of two-seamers before popping out on a curve in the fourth and lined out on a cutter following two more two-seamers.

Watch how Darvish approaches Altuve in the second at-bat using STATS Video Solution’s Matchup Viewer:

The strategy from both Darvish and Altuve is prevalent when considering their matchups just 10 days earlier. Darvish starts Altuve with fastballs, then tries to use breaking balls to complete the out. Altuve attempts to jump on those fastballs as if he knows they’re coming, with varying results.

On June 2, Altuve went 2 for 2 with a walk against Darvish, who threw four sliders over those three at-bats and couldn’t get Altuve out. Both pitcher and hitter know the other’s strategy and they’re basically daring each other to continue the trend.

“That lineup is very aggressive, swinging from the first pitch,” Darvish said of the Astros after his June 2 start. “Today, it was almost like after two strikes, they were trying to battle, fight it off, fight it off, fight it off. That got my pitch count up in the game and it just cost me.”

The biggest difference from the two games is that Altuve was on Darvish’s slider in the first meeting, as seen in this at-bat:

Luckily for Verlander and Darvish, they have help in the form of former Cy Young Award winners joining them in their respective rotations.

The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw will make his long-awaited World Series debut and try to solidify his spot among the all-time great pitchers by earning a ring. The Astros will attack Kershaw with a righty-heavy lineup, with the likely first six batters in their lineup hitting from that side.

Kershaw has mostly attacked right-handed hitters with a three-pitch mix this season – four-seamer, slider, and curveball. Using TVL predictions, we can pick out peaks and valleys of Kershaw’s projected success rates when throwing certain pitches to the right-handed hitters in Houston’s lineup – even against those he’s never faced. For example, Alex Bregman may be struggling in the playoffs, but Kershaw might want to be careful throwing him sliders as the Astros’ third baseman is projected to hit .347 off that Kershaw-specific offering.

It’s interesting to note that of the 89 at-bats the current Houston roster has had against Kershaw, they’ve never left the yard. Of the seven doubles he’s given up, four have been to Altuve, who’s 6 for 15 head to head with Kershaw. It might follow that Kershaw needs to try something new with the perennial batting-title contender, but this is where SVS comes in. He’s allowed a couple of legitimate doubles to Altuve on hittable pitches, but he’s also been a bit unlucky. For example, this “double” back on May 25, 2012:

Oh, and this “double” from Aug. 13, 2011:

Add in an infield single on Aug. 23, 2015, and half of his hits in their matchups are outs on another day. So rather than being overly careful with Altuve by simply considering past numbers, a look at SVS’ easily sortable video and the soft nature of some of those hits might inspire Kershaw to go after Altuve and take particular care with the guy behind him in the lineup. TVL data supports that decision.

Carlos Correa looks to be the toughest out for Kershaw, due to a combination of pitch mix and Correa’s big-time success against lefties this season (.391 AVG/.457 OBP/.609 SLG). Correa has been outstanding against left-handed breaking balls this season, which is why he projects to hit .530 off Kershaw’s slider and .382 off the curveball.

Altuve, however, should not be considered a hole in the lineup with a projected .280 average and .439 slugging percentage. If there are such holes in Houston’s lineup, Kershaw is the one to find it. Those would be the left-handed hitting Brian McCann, who is projected to hit .198, and Marwin Gonzalez, who projects to hit .153 and slug .290.

On the flip side, Dallas Keuchel could face Kershaw multiple times this series. Here, it’s interesting to note that of the 44 at-bats the current Los Angeles roster has had against Keuchel, he too hasn’t given up a homer. With Austin Barnes grabbing hold of the catching duties this postseason and a platoon at second base, the Dodgers can throw a righty-heavy lineup at Houston’s lefty as well. That’s a good thing, considering Los Angeles’ two young left-handed hitters – Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager – are projected to hit .129 AVG/.298 SLG and .172/.250 against Keuchel.

Contrary to the two-seam/curveball mix he throws to lefties, Keuchel opens up his repertoire considerably to get right-handers out. That might not matter against Justin Turner, who projects to hit .401 and slug .658 off him – another pitcher-batter matchup that has yet to play out on the diamond but deserves particular attention here. The two-seam fastball would be the gutsiest pitch to throw Turner, according to STATS, considering he is projected to hit nearly .500 against that pitch with a slugging percentage over .800.

With each pitch of the postseason being amplified, hitters will have to take advantage of those few mistake pitches that each rotation serves up. Hitting even one into the stands could swing this series.

The Risk and Reward of Deshaun Watson


Using STATS X-Info and Research to describe how Deshaun Watson’s electric – and sometimes erratic – play affects the Houston Texans’ offense

Deshaun Watson’s name didn’t occupy national headlines leading up to or during Week 7. No praise, no staggering statistical line unusual for a rookie quarterback, no gushing praise that’s become the norm during his brief NFL career.

Watson finally gave the rest of the NFL a break. And he finally got one of his own – in the form of a Houston Texans bye. That’s seemingly the only thing keep Watson from continuing his rise to NFL stardom.

Watson has becoming the new face of the Texans with J.J. Watt suffering a season-ending injury, putting him at a total of eight games played over the last two years. But can Watson’s electric play help the Texans reach the playoffs for a third straight season?

It didn’t take long for Watson to get an opportunity to show his potential, replacing starter Tom Savage to begin the second half of the season opener. Watson promptly led a 14-play, 75-yard march on his first drive and finished it with a touchdown pass – the first of his NFL co-leading 15 TD tosses. Two other players in league history have thrown for 15 touchdowns in their first six games – Redskins Super Bowl winner Mark Rypien and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. Five of Watson’s came in a Week 5 loss to Kansas City, and STATS Research shows that made Watson the third-youngest player ever (22 years, 24 days) behind Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston to throw for five TDs in a game.

None of this seems to shock coach Bill O’Brien and the Texans, who traded up to select Watson with the 12th pick and in doing so parted with their 2018 first-round selection. The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist entered the draft with a long list of accolades, including becoming the only player in FBS history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in one season, accomplishing the feat in 2015 before leading Clemson to the national title the following year.

Choosing Watson – and deciding to play him almost immediately – has changed the direction of Houston’s offense and the mentality of O’Brien, who did not hire an offensive coordinator this season and calls all of the Texans’ plays. According to STATS X-Info data, Houston threw the ball 65.9 percent of the time last season with the statuesque Brock Osweiler, who finished with only 30 rushing attempts, very few of which were designed.

Watson already has run 28 times and is second behind Cam Newton among NFL quarterbacks with 202 rushing yards, the sixth-most for a QB through his first six games since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He’d need to average 4.6 rushes over his final 10 games to break David Carr’s team record of 73 set in 2004 after averaging 5.2 in the five games he’s started. Watson’s versatility stands as the main reason Houston is throwing the ball more than 10 percent less than last year (55.6 percent) and why the Texans rank fifth in the NFL in percentage of runs designed for the quarterback at 7.5, according to STATS X-Info.

And there’s little reason to contain Watson to the pocket when he’s capable of things like this.

Watson’s unique skill set has helped open up the Texans’ offense. Watson leads the NFL in touchdown pass percentage at 8.6 when no one else has cracked 7 percent, he’s tied for eighth with 15 explosive pass plays (25+ yards) and ninth with 24 big plays (20+ pass, 10+ run). However, Watson ranked fourth and sixth in those categories, respectively, heading into his bye week.

Watson’s play has contributed to Houston having 21 explosive plays – after finishing with 37 all of last season – and ranking seventh with a 49 successful play percentage this year. The Texans also have improved from -11 to +5 in toxic differential, which is the sum of turnover differential and explosive play differential.

But with all that success will come some growing pains, and there’s no doubt Watson has made and will continue to make mistakes. He’s thrown five picks, his 2.9 interception percentage is 10th-highest in the league and he’s lost a fumble. Watson tossed 32 interceptions in 38 games at Clemson and still is capable of highly questionable decisions, as seen here against New England in Week 3.

Watson stared down DeAndre Hopkins immediately following the faked handoff, then threw a designed deep ball short when pressed with the rush. Instead of moving up into the pocket away from the defender, Watson tossed an errant pass that he wasn’t able to step into and it went for a pick. Plays like this will happen every so often, and some harsher criticisms could come later with Watson being a victim of his instant success.

Watson’s thrilling plays have outweighed any disappointment so far, though, and his offensive supporting cast of Hopkins, Will Fuller V and Lamar Miller have helped along the way. Now Watson has to take this success to date and run with it – sometimes literally – if the Texans are to succeed as they expect.

Week 7 NFL Spreads: STATS vs. Las Vegas


Using STATS X-Info metrics and roster rankings to project favorites vs. the Las Vegas standard odds

How many believed Kansas City would lose to Pittsburgh at home last week for its first loss of the season? STATS likely was one of the few, projecting the Steelers as favorites when Vegas had the Chiefs at minus-4.5.

And while some continue to doubt the Los Angeles Rams, that’s not the case with STATS’ model. The Rams beat Jacksonville 27-17 and were favored by STATS when Vegas favored the Jaguars.

STATS uses proprietary data to project spreads for each NFL game. STATS X-Info calculates roster rankings based on injuries, statistical data and depth at each position, then compares that to an opponent and arrives at a conclusion – the projected spread.

None of these spread projections mean you should empty your account and follow the STATS model to riches. X-Info simply takes into account factors Vegas may not, hence some differing views. And if you’re looking for fantasy advice, you’re still best suited to follow best-in-the-business Sean Koerner and his weekly tiers.

Have a look at how STATS projects the spreads in Week 7 against those coming out of Las Vegas as of Thursday afternoon.

Group 1: Occasionally, STATS and Vegas agree – for the most part:

Jacksonville at Indianapolis

STATS: Jaguars -2.91
Vegas: Jaguars -3

Crucial matchup in an AFC South division that’s pretty much blah. Jags are 2-1 on the road, Colts are 2-1 at home.

Tennessee at Cleveland

STATS: Titans -6.69
Vegas: Titans -6

The sad part is that the Browns aren’t even trying to be bad anymore.

Seattle at New York Giants

STATS: Seahawks -5.13
Vegas: Seahawks -5.5

These seem like fair lines despite the Giants picking up their first win last week in Denver. This still is a pieced-together group.

Atlanta at New England

STATS: Patriots -1.99
Vegas: Patriots -3.5

Super Bowl rematch! Here’s to hoping the Falcons jump out to a big lead so the narrative continues.

New Orleans at Green Bay

STATS: Saints -3.2
Vegas: Saints -4.5

The Packers are home underdogs in their first game without Aaron Rodgers. It’s up to Brett Hundley in his first NFL start.

Arizona at Los Angeles Rams

STATS: Rams -4.41
Vegas: Rams -3

Todd Gurley idolized Adrian Peterson before and during college. Gurley is looking more and more like a younger version of Peterson each week. Then again, after a 134-yard, two-touchdown effort in his Cardinals debut, so is Peterson himself.

Carolina at Chicago

STATS: Panthers -1.28
Vegas: Panthers -3

The Bears winning in Baltimore last week was pretty surprising. They’ll get a well-rest Panthers team following last Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia.

Washington at Philadelphia

STATS: Eagles -2.39
Vegas: Eagles -4.5

Speaking of the Eagles, they’re 5-1 and Carson Wentz is playing well. Kirk Cousins is going to need a nearly flawless performance Monday night for Washington to win.

Group 2: STATS and Vegas agree on the favorite, but the spreads are pretty far apart.

Kansas City at Oakland

STATS: Chiefs -0.7
Vegas: Chiefs -3

These games are close more often than not, and it’s on a Thursday. The Chiefs could be in some trouble.

New York Jets at Miami

STATS: Dolphins -0.89
Vegas: Dolphins -3

Sometimes we sit around and wonder how these two teams have combined for six wins.

Dallas at San Francisco

STATS: Cowboys -3.41
Vegas: Cowboys -6

The Cowboys are fresh off their bye week and also will have Ezekiel Elliott.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

STATS: Steelers -2.65
Vegas: Steelers -5.5

Pittsburgh wouldn’t really lose to the Bengals after beating previously unbeaten Kansas City, would it?

Group 3: The games STATS and Vegas don’t agree on at all:

Tampa Bay at Buffalo

STATS: Buccaneers -1.41
Vegas: Bills -3

There’s still no word if Jameis Winston will play, but STATS is banking that he will.

Denver at Los Angeles Chargers

STATS: Broncos -2.02
Vegas: Chargers -1

That Denver loss to the Giants doesn’t give many confidence in the Broncos, but STATS still believes.

Baltimore at Minnesota

STATS: Ravens -1.78
Vegas: Vikings -5.5

By far the biggest gap of the week. STATS putting its faith in Joe Flacco.

2017 STATS Fantasy Football: Week 7 Tiers


It was a year ago today I started doing my Tiers piece in order to offer some free content mid-week that could help everyone make smarter lineup decisions. I have started to tailor my articles to focus on my overall thought process, showing how I create my projections.

In the long run, explaining how/why I arrive at decisions is going to be more beneficial to you than answering one-off questions such as, “Do I start Jermaine Kearse or Robby Anderson this week?” or, “Is D’Onta Foreman droppable right now?” I will use this platform to do a much deeper dive into my process and shed some light on it, rather than telling you Tom Brady is good at football or that players facing the Saints or Patriots get a boost. Just know that ALL factors are taken into account in the projections that will be reflected in the rankings below.

One last thing to point out is that the projections evolve and increase in accuracy throughout the week as I spend more time digging deeper into data, news, etc. Therefore, you have to keep in mind that these articles are where my projections are at on Tuesday night. There are five whole days after that during which I fine tune everything, so some players may jump up/down considerably in the rankings. I will attempt to be a bit more transparent on how/why that is for certain cases with tweets later in the week that summarize big movements.

Last week I touched on how volume is often overlooked when it comes to short-term value in RBs, and how talent alone is typically over-valued. The examples I used were Adrian Peterson and Marlon Mack, who were ranked 38 and 41 last week by experts on FantasyPros, respectively. I had them much further apart at 32 and 42, due to a big difference in expected volume. Sure enough, Marlon Mack busted for a 22-yard run on his very first attempt and then finished the game with two rushes for 18 yards and zero receptions.

Highlight-reel plays don’t always translate into a ton of points that can help you win. On the flip side, AP carried the rock 26 times for 134 yards and two TDs. He clearly blew away even my expectations, but there is a lesson to be had here. The more times a RB touches the ball, the more likely they are to add yardage stats that can actually help you win. Red zone touches increase a player’s TD chances, no matter what their SPARQ score was when they were drafted. This might all sound pretty silly and obvious, but I really feel like it’s overlooked, based on the questions I get.

Where do we go from here now with AP? Again, I would like to emphasize that spending three paragraphs breaking down AP isn’t worth the time. It’s important, though, to discuss the process of how I will handle a situation like his.

First off, I’m already getting tweets asking if I like AP even more now; whether or not he’s a RB1 all of a sudden; or if he still sucks and this was all a fluke. Before I can even justify saying something like, “Yes, he’s a no-brainer RB1 now,” or, “No, it was all just a fluke and he’s still a low-end RB4,” I first have to update my priors on him in order to create a Week 7 projection. Once I do that and project all other players, I will have a better sense on where I have him ranked going forward.

Each week, I go into it with a projection for every single player/stat, even if it’s projecting a fullback for 0.2 carries for 1 yard. After all of the games are played I can then see exactly where I went wrong and where I went right. Not only does this help update my beliefs on certain players who I might have missed on, but I also have to carefully figure out why I missed on those players. There is a lot of volatility in week-to-week predictions vs. actual outcomes in football. That’s just how it is, so you have to embrace that. I have to be extremely careful not to over- or under-react, walking the fine line between acknowledging my own error vs. blaming random chance. The fantastic book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction is very informative and really does hit on a lot of the practices I seem to have built into my projection system. One of the topics it addresses is finding the right balance between under- and over-rating of evidence through belief updating. In other words, the act of updating projections for Week 7, based on new information we learned from Week 6.

“Belief updating is to good forecasting as brushing and flossing are to good dental hygiene. It can be boring, occasionally uncomfortable, but it pays off in the long term. That said, don’t supposed that belief updating is always easy because it sometimes is. Skillful updating requires teasing subtle signals from noisy news flows, all the while resisting the lure of wishful thinking.

Savvy forecasters learn to ferret out telltale clues before the rest of us. They snoop for nonobvious lead indicators, about what would have to happen before X could.”

I majored in psychology and statistics in college. My background is a blend of being able to spot trends in data while also making sense of it. I enjoy going a bit deeper and really finding the indicators that could lead to new data trends in the future – hence projections! Keep in mind, I do not just have some algorithmic model that does everything for me, nor am I a robot. I have my own opinions, beliefs, sense of humor and complaints, of which you’ll note from my tweets during a daily fantasy slate. While I do channel my own personal expertise in tweaking my projections, I am extremely careful to not hold any sort of bias – to the best of my ability –  that could seep into the projections and make them less accurate.

*Deep breath*

Ok, now that my mini-novel of an introduction is out of the way: let’s look at Adrian Peterson’s Week 6 as a case study! I had mentioned that Andre Ellington’s usage was potentially going to see a decent hit in Week 6. My reasoning was that the Cardinals were using dump-offs to him as their proxy of a run game. This, in turn, gave Carson Palmer a huge boost in passing yards as well. With AP, however, they have a more traditional running back who can handle a 15-20 carry workload. There are a finite number of snaps a team can run each way, so even a subtle shift in their game plan could have a big fantasy impact. This is my version of “snooping for non-obvious lead indicators” from my years of doing this at a high level.

It turns out I was right, but to a much greater degree than I was willing to predict. We saw AP play 73 percent of the snaps to Ellington’s 20 percent. In turn, Ellington didn’t gain a single yard and saw one target. We can certainly take away from this single game that Ellington’s value took a massive blow due to AP’s presence. On the flip side, AP went off. It’s also safe to say his stock is way up after Week 6.

Before we move on to Week 7 and potentially overvalue the Week 6 results, though, we need to play Devil’s Advocate a bit. Could it be that this particular game’s flow led to unique results? As a matter of fact, I think it did. The Cardinals ended up winning 38-33, but the game was nowhere near this close. They were up 24-0 at halftime, and Jameis Winston had to leave the game due to injury. In the second half there was no real need to force the issue downfield, so they kept feeding AP in order to help run the clock out. Given this, we have to attribute some of this result to game flow, and thus these two backs will likely have their usage altered a bit based on that going forward.

Looking to Week 7, I would be willing to bet my mortgage that Ellington will have at least one reception and that Peterson will not match his Week 6 stats. In finding that right balance, I currently have AP projected for 17.5 carries, 71 yards and about a 46 percent chance of scoring a TD. In Ellington’s case, I have him set at 3.8 catches for 32 yards and a 9 percent chance of a TD. This makes AP a solid RB2 and Ellington a low-end PPR Flex.

Thanks for reading that lengthy intro. It’s now time for the actual Tiers! And don’t forget, these tiers reflect non-PPR scoring. The number in parentheses next to the player’s matchup indicates how many tiers they’d move up or down in PPR scoring. Without further ado, here are the Week 7 tiers.


Marcus Mariota is a prime example of someone whose projection/rank could go up or down quite a bit this week depending on reports concerning his hamstring. We saw Monday night that he can’t supply his usual rushing stats with the injury. If managed correctly, he should be able to have a bit more mobility as the year goes on, something I will monitor closely when updating his outlook.

Pro tip: If you check out his player page on FantasyPros you can see my exact updated rank on him later in the week (as with everyone else).

Yes, Brett Hundley really is in Tier 6. The combination of his dual-threat capabilities and great matchup gives him a fairly high ceiling, which makes him a great daily fantasy tournament play. However, his basement-low floor means he is less enticing in a traditional H2H league, since you only need to beat one person in your league each week (not necessarily put up the highest score of the week in your league – huge difference). Even if he puts up sneaky QB2 numbers most weeks, having him under center instead of Aaron Rodgers is still a significant downgrade to the entire Packers offense.

Tier 1

Tom Brady (vs ATL)

Tier 2

Drew Brees (@ GB)
Russell Wilson (@ NYG)
Carson Wentz (vs WAS)
Matt Ryan (@ NE)
Dak Prescott (@ SF)
Kirk Cousins (@ PHI)

Tier 3

Cam Newton (@ CHI)
Alex Smith (@ OAK)

Tier 4

Marcus Mariota (@ CLE)

Tier 5

Tyrod Taylor (vs TB)
Jameis Winston (@ BUF)
Carson Palmer (@ LAR)
Jared Goff (vs ARI)
Ben Roethlisberger (vs CIN)
Philip Rivers (vs DEN)

Tier 6

Brett Hundley (vs NO)
Case Keenum (vs BAL)
Kevin Hogan (vs TEN)
Blake Bortles (@ IND)

Tier 7

Andy Dalton (@ PIT)
Derek Carr (vs KC)
Trevor Siemian (@ LAC)
C.J. Beathard (vs DAL)
Jay Cutler (vs NYJ)
Jacoby Brissett (vs JAX)
Josh McCown (@ MIA)
Mitchell Trubisky (vs CAR)

Tier 8

Eli Manning (vs SEA)
Joe Flacco (@ MIN)

Running Backs

Aaron Jones was a player last week that fell 10+ spots in my rankings come Sunday. You have to keep in mind that, for someone in a situation like his, we can’t simply rank him on talent alone or what he did the previous week. The availability of Ty Montgomery has a significant impact on his outlook, no matter if you think GB should just use Jones as a workhorse back. I’m in the business of trying to figure out what the Packers will do in the upcoming week (aka “understanding McCarthyism”), not what I think they should do.

Once they had announced Montgomery was wearing a flak jacket and would have no limitations or some specific snap count, I made them a 56/44 rush attempt percentage RBBC, making both very weak fantasy options for Week 6. That turned out to be exactly what happened, and I would imagine Montgomery’s increased health this week means that split will be even closer to even this week. That’s just one example of a player(s) whose rank on Tuesday night could swing quite a bit with five whole days of news/updates.

Tier 1

Kareem Hunt (@ OAK)
Le’Veon Bell (vs CIN)

Tier 2

Ezekiel Elliott (@ SF)
Leonard Fournette (@ IND)

Tier 3

Todd Gurley (vs ARI)

Tier 4

Melvin Gordon (vs DEN)
LeSean McCoy (vs TB)
Jay Ajayi (vs NYJ)
Devonta Freeman (@ NE)
Mark Ingram (@ GB)

Tier 5

Jordan Howard (vs CAR)
Carlos Hyde (vs DAL)
Jerick McKinnon (vs BAL)
Adrian Peterson (-2, @ LAR)
C.J. Anderson (@ LAC)

Tier 6

DeMarco Murray (@ CLE)

Tier 7

Doug Martin (@ BUF)
Christian McCaffrey (+2, @ CHI)
Chris Thompson (+1, @ PHI)
Alvin Kamara (+1, @ GB)
Marshawn Lynch (-1, vs KC)
Tevin Coleman (@ NE)
Joe Mixon (@ PIT)
Derrick Henry (-1, @ CLE)
Javorius Allen (+1, @ MIN)
Isaiah Crowell (vs TEN)
LeGarrette Blount (-1, vs WAS)
Aaron Jones (vs NO)

Tier 8

Frank Gore (vs JAX)
Jonathan Stewart (@ CHI)
Mike Gillislee (-1, vs ATL)
Orleans Darkwa (vs SEA)
Ty Montgomery (vs NO)
Alex Collins (@ MIN)
Duke Johnson Jr. (+1, vs TEN)
Marlon Mack (vs JAX)

Tier 9

Latavius Murray (vs BAL)
Tarik Cohen (+2, vs CAR)
James White (+2, vs ATL)
Chris Ivory (+1, @ IND)
Matt Forte (@ MIA)

Wide Receivers

The availability of Stefon Diggs and DeVante Parker greatly influences the outlooks of their teammates in the passing game, and to a certain extent can impact their QBs’ outlook. If Diggs is ruled out again, expect Thielen to jump up to the top of Teir 4 or higher. If Parker is ruled out again, nearly the same can be said for Jarvis Landry. I also mentioned on ESPN Radio last Friday that Kenny Stills was a sneaky WR3 play with Parker out. That would apply to Week 7 as well.

Tier 1

Antonio Brown (vs CIN)

Tier 2

A.J. Green (@ PIT)
Julio Jones (@ NE)

Tier 3

Michael Thomas (@ GB)
Dez Bryant (@ SF)
Mike Evans (@ BUF)
Larry Fitzgerald (@ LAR)
Chris Hogan (vs ATL)
Brandin Cooks (vs ATL)

Tier 4

Demaryius Thomas (@ LAC)
Michael Crabtree (vs KC)
Doug Baldwin (@ NYG)
Tyreek Hill (@ OAK)
Alshon Jeffery (vs WAS)
Adam Thielen (vs BAL)
Kelvin Benjamin (@ CHI)
Jarvis Landry (+1, vs NYJ)
Jordy Nelson (vs NO)
Keenan Allen (vs DEN)
Pierre Garcon (vs DAL)
Rishard Matthews (@ CLE)
T.Y. Hilton (vs JAX)
Stefon Diggs (vs BAL)
Devin Funchess (@ CHI)

Tier 5

DeVante Parker (vs NYJ)
Amari Cooper (vs KC)
Marqise Lee (@ IND)
Nelson Agholor (vs WAS)
John Brown (@ LAR)
Danny Amendola (vs ATL)
Robby Anderson (@ MIA)
DeSean Jackson (@ BUF)
Davante Adams (vs NO)
Ted Ginn Jr. (@ GB)
Terrelle Pryor Sr. (@ PHI)
Eric Decker (@ CLE)
Cooper Kupp (vs ARI)
Sammy Watkins (vs ARI)
Jermaine Kearse (@ MIA)
Robert Woods (vs ARI)
Allen Hurns (@ IND)

Tier 6

Martavis Bryant (vs CIN)
Roger Lewis (vs SEA)
Mohamed Sanu (@ NE)
Ricardo Louis (vs TEN)
Jeremy Maclin (@ MIN)
Kenny Stills (vs NYJ)
Bennie Fowler (@ LAC)
Paul Richardson (@ NYG)
Tyler Lockett (@ NYG)
Taylor Gabriel (@ NE)
Randall Cobb (vs NO)
Juju Smith-Schuster (vs CIN)
Willie Snead (@ GB)
Tyrell Williams (vs DEN)
Kendall Wright (vs CAR)

Tight Ends

Austin Hooper would jump up to Tier 4 if Sanu were to miss another game. It’s important to know when a WR who typically covers the middle of the field is out because it can give the TE a decent boost. To no surprise, Hooper racked up seven receptions on nine targets in Week 6. Even if Sanu plays, the matchup warrants a look for Hooper as a streaming TE play.

Tier 1

Rob Gronkowski (vs ATL)

Tier 2

Zach Ertz (vs WAS)
Travis Kelce (@ OAK)

Tier 3

Evan Engram (vs SEA)
Delanie Walker (@ CLE)

Tier 4

Jimmy Graham (@ NYG)
Jason Witten (@ SF)
Jordan Reed (@ PHI)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (@ MIA)
Hunter Henry (vs DEN)
Kyle Rudolph (vs BAL)
Cameron Brate (@ BUF)

Tier 5

Austin Hooper (@ NE)
Jared Cook (vs KC)
George Kittle (vs DAL)
Ed Dickson (@ CHI)
Martellus Bennett (vs NO)
Zach Miller (vs CAR)
Jack Doyle (vs JAX)
Tyler Kroft (@ PIT)
Benjamin Watson (@ MIN)


Tier 1

Stephen Gostkowski (vs ATL)

Tier 2

Dan Bailey (@ SF)
Matt Bryant (@ NE)
Harrison Butker (@ OAK)
Jake Elliott (vs WAS)
Wil Lutz (@ GB)
Greg Zuerlein (vs ARI)
Josh Lambo (@ IND)

Tier 3

Ryan Succop (@ CLE)
Kai Forbath (vs BAL)
Nick Novak (vs DEN)
Adam Vinatieri (vs JAX)
Giorgio Tavecchio (vs KC)
Blair Walsh (@ NYG)
Justin Tucker (@ MIN)
Nick Rose (@ PHI)
Brandon McManus (@ LAC)
Phil Dawson (@ LAR)
Graham Gano (@ CHI)
Robbie Gould (vs DAL)
Stephen Hauschka (vs TB)

Tier 4

Mason Crosby (vs NO)
Cody Parkey (vs NYJ)
Chris Boswell (vs CIN)
Zane Gonzalez (vs TEN)
Chandler Catanzaro (@ MIA)
Connor Barth (vs CAR)
Randy Bullock (@ PIT)
Patrick Murray (@ BUF)
Aldrick Rosas (vs SEA)

Defense/Special Teams

Tier 1

Jacksonville Jaguars (@ IND)
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs CIN)
Minnesota Vikings (vs BAL)
Tennessee Titans (@ CLE)

Tier 2

Dallas Cowboys (@ SF)
Buffalo Bills (vs TB)
Los Angeles Chargers (vs DEN)
Miami Dolphins (vs NYJ)
New Orleans Saints (@ GB)
Carolina Panthers (@ CHI)
Seattle Seahawks (@ NYG)
Los Angeles Rams (vs ARI)
Denver Broncos (@ LAC)

Tier 3

Cincinnati Bengals (@ PIT)
Chicago Bears (vs CAR)
New York Jets (@ MIA)
New York Giants (vs SEA)
Kansas City Chiefs (@ OAK)
Indianapolis Colts (vs JAX)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ BUF)

Tier 4

Philadelphia Eagles (vs WAS)
Baltimore Ravens (@ MIN)
New England Patriots (vs ATL)
Washington Redskins (@ PHI)
Arizona Cardinals (@ LAR)
Cleveland Browns (vs TEN)
San Francisco 49ers (vs DAL)
Oakland Raiders (vs KC)
Green Bay Packers (vs NO)
Atlanta Falcons (@ NE)

Valencia in Transition


Using STATS Playing Styles and Advanced Metrics to Show How Marcelino’s Valencia are Employing an Effective Counter Attack to Return to Spanish Relevance

Marcelino couldn’t contain his excitement and pulled up short with a hamstring problem after Simone Zaza scored a late winner against Real Sociedad in late September. The injury was of little concern to his club for at least a triad of reasons.

  1. Marcelino, 52, is Valencia’s manager, and no part of a professional football match has hinged on the performance of his legs since 1994.
  2. It was overshadowed by the fact that it gave Valencia yet another result to sway detractors amassed over the past two seasons back in their favour.
  3. This was hardly an exceptional occurrence. Marcelino, as a manager, once injured himself taking a seat for a presser.

It’s unsurprising to see Marcelino competing for the celebratory spotlight with his players in his first season with the club, though he’s said he recognises the need to tone down his touchline merriment. Given the past two campaigns, it’s of greater note that Valencia have had so many such opportunities through their first eight matches with the excitable man in their coach’s box.

Using STATS advanced metrics, we can show his players might need to reciprocate and go crazy for their new manager once in a while, even if he’s being particularly unpredictable when determining whether he’ll include each of them in his starting XI. Eight different lineups in as many fixtures might seem as erratic as the manager’s touchline fervor, but there appears to be something of a method behind it. We’ll get back to that in great detail on team and individual levels.

First, a bit on why Valencia’s strong start matters.

It wasn’t as long ago as it may seem that clubs outside of Madrid and Barcelona won the Spanish top flight. The last were Valencia in 2003-04 and ’01-02, and before that Deportivo La Coruña in 1999-2000. Modest success hasn’t eluded Valencia since. European football had been an expected part of the gig at Mestalla until recently. But there’s no arguing the past two campaigns in which supporters have endured successive 12th-place finishes – their first in the bottom half since 1987-88.

Los Che now find themselves second in the table as one of three unbeatens in what’s arguably Europe’s top league. The other two – Barcelona and Atlético Madrid – have reached at least the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the past four years.

So how do Valencia find themselves back up in the early-season mix for direct Champions League qualification? It’s not for a lack of competition. Quite the opposite, in fact, and it could be argued Valencia’s early-season fixtures have been as demanding as any Spanish club. Four of their eight league matches have come against clubs playing European football. That injury-inducing match came away to Sociedad a week before the same 3-2 scoreline played out in less-exciting fashion at home against Athletic Bilbao, Sociedad’s Europa League contemporary. But those victories bury the lede of quality draws in Marcelino’s second and third matches with the club.

Valencia left the Bernabéu with a 2-2 result against the reigning European and Spanish champions after holding a lead into the 83rd minute, then followed the first international break with a scoreless home draw with Atlético.

Most recently was Los Che’s chaotic 6-3 win Sunday at Real Betis, who remain in the top half of the table.

So what’s changed from a season ago? A bit of everything. The manager, of course. Players. Players’ efficiency. Method – and that’s where we’ll begin by calling upon STATS Playing Styles before going more granular with advanced individual metrics.

Last season, Valencia went through four different managerial periods and three different bosses – Pako Ayestarán until Sept. 20, club ambassador and longtime centre back Voro González for the next eight days, Cesare Prandelli from Sept. 28-Dec. 30, and the ever-present stopgap Voro again until the end of the season. In terms of style, that unsurprisingly amounted to very little differentiating from La Liga averages:

Valencia’s 2016-17 playing styles measured against La Liga averages (0%).

They played more of a fast-tempo game than much of the league, but they didn’t sustain threat when doing so and were rather blasé in all other areas. What followed was a minus-9 goal difference for their worst mark since ’07-08 (-14) when Los Che finished 10th.

Through eight matches this term, there’s still not some overhaul of telling possession-based attacking styles that typically signify a dominant club – they rank 16th in possession at 45.3 percent, which is lower than last season (48.3 percent). It’s unsurprisingly a drastic departure from other top teams in the table. Barcelona are first (61.2 percent) and Real Madrid are second (60.6). But there is order to how Valencia score goals. It’s frequently about transition:

Valencia’s 2017-18 playing styles through eight La Liga matches measured against league averages (0%).

That plus-55 percent counter attacking style against the league average leads La Liga – yes, ahead of even counter masters Real Madrid (+37 in second). Among the top-five European leagues, only Benevento in Italy are countering at a higher percentage against their league average. Anyone familiar with the Italian table then jumps to a logical question: Why are Valencia succeeding and Benevento the clear-cut worst side in Serie A with eight losses and a minus-17 goal difference?

The answer is probably that counters ending with a striker tripping over the ball don’t mean much. The Serie A newcomers have had 59 possessions with a counter attacking value of at least 50 percent, and it’s amounted to two goals. And they spend far more time defending, as is evident by their overall style, so they’re not exactly creating chances in other tactically sound ways:

Benevento’s 2017-18 playing styles through eight Serie A matches measured against league averages (0%).

Valencia, meanwhile, are effective in their counter – more effective even than Real Madrid. Among Los Blancos 48 possessions on which their counter attacking style is of a value of at least 50 percent, they’ve scored once. Valencia have 53 such possessions and four goals after scoring eight goals off the counter all of last season.

All of this must originate somewhere, and that’s where counter attack regains come in. Last season, Valencia were 13th in La Liga in regains to begin a counter attack (154). That trailed leaders Real Madrid by 70, so nearly two per match. Their counter attack distance covered (8,705 metres) – made up of the total of counter attack distance carried and counter attack distance passed – ranked 14th. This season, they’re first in regains (53) and distance (3,171 metres) – more than a third of the way to reaching last season’s marks.

There are more reasons transition works for one club and doesn’t for another. To measure the efficacy of the correlating defensive and midfield play, we’ve got to get beyond simple sums. We showed last week how Kevin De Bruyne has been one of Europe’s most dominant offensive players, despite having a comparatively limited direct involvement with goals and assists. We did this with STATS’ Ball Movement Points. BMP is a metric that considers every involvement a player has in a possession to credit or discredit decisions with the ball and reward creativity. It’s what football minds could always see but never quantify. It goes beyond expected assists by looking at the full chain of passes and weighs the probability of that pass leading to a shot later in the play. Passing points generate expected shot points, so if a player generates one BMP, he’s generated passes to lead to – or defend – one shot.

Yeah, that’s ambitious. So how is this done? The process uses massive amounts of historical league data to express the level of threat or wastefulness that can be attributed to a player through pitch zones. It’s broken down into categories of offensive and defensive as well as positive and negative with net values telling the more conclusive story.

There’s dBMP+, which measures how many created chances a defender prevents – breaking up attacks in important situations. There’s dBMP-, which measures liabilities in possession – giving the ball away in dangerous areas. Combine that for net dBMP. While Benevento sit in the bottom half of Italy with a 0.13 dBMP rating, Valencia (0.27) lead Spain. So we’d previously established with playing styles that Benevento are spending a lot of time defending, and dBMP helps us show that they’re not making great decisions with the ball when doing so. Valencia might not be the most attack-minded club in Spain, but they’re at least effective in their own half. That might not matter quite as much for ball-dominant clubs such as Barcelona. It absolutely does for sides that have to pick their attacking moments judiciously.

So on the pitch, who specifically is to reward for executing the system Marcelino seems to be implementing?

We’ll start with the sexy goal-scoring numbers from a striker mired in that special brand of Italian sorrow this time last year for his happenings with club and country.

Zaza scored six goals in 20 matches in his time with Valencia last season and has passed that already this season with seven and three winners. With six goals in his last four matches, he seems a healthy distance from his Euro 2016 penalty miss for Italy and his disappointing spell with West Ham United. The numbers back that up with the 26-year-old ranking in the top five in Europe’s top-five leagues in finishing with an expected goal differential of plus-3.5 among a pretty elite group a season after posting a minus-1.9 xGD. Notice than in Spain, he jumped this past weekend ahead of even a guy named Messi:

As we noted before with ball movement points, midfield play has a lot to do with Valencia’s success, and that’s true on an individual level as well. Bringing in on-loan Geoffrey Kondogbia from Inter Milan as a central presence might have displaced 20-year-old Carlos Soler some after the latter became a mainstay in the middle last season, but it seems to be working out for Marcelino. Kondogbia, who’s attracting attention from top Premier League clubs, ranks second among all midfielders in Europe’s top-five leagues in dBMP, and he’s one of three to really distinguish himself from the pack:

Valencia don’t quite make the same use of the corresponding playmaker guiding a dangerous attack at the other end. Their top-ranked player in oBMP among the top-five leagues is Dani Parejo tied for 29th, but when filtering that down to only La Liga, it’s good enough for fifth among a star-studded top 10. It’s rather impressive when considering the opportunities and surrounding creatives much of the rest of this list has to work off of:

(Graphics by Stephan van Niekerk)

Bored yet? OK, let’s talk goals again. We can’t forget about Rodrigo, who scored five goals in 19 La Liga matches last season and was an objectively mediocre finisher with a -0.6 xGD. He was with Spain as they wrapped up qualifying last week for reasons that go beyond David Villa nearing 36 years old. Rodrigo has scored in five straight matches for the club and also got one in his start against Albania on Oct. 6. Although none for Valencia have been match-winners, he has compiled early-season efficiency (+1.6 xGD) to show he’s not exactly feasting on scraps.

Finally, goalkeeping. Neto, who spent the past few seasons behind Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus, has a +2.1 expected save differential, which is calculated by subtracting expected saves from saves to show how a keeper is performing against league averages. That mark ranks sixth in the division and, you guessed it, is better than his former mentor Gigi (+0.7). It’s not quite the level of Pau López (+6.2), Jan Oblak (+6.0) and Guaita (+5.3), but the Valencia keeper is still going above and beyond from time to time. It’s also important here to consider that Valencia aren’t leaning on him to continually bail them out in an unsustainable way.

So Valencia have a manager pushing for some consistency in style, and he has players making it happen at various levels that we’re now equipped to properly measure. That’s what it takes to earn 18 points in Spain through eight matches, three of which have been draws and another three being one-goal victories. But this is La Liga, home to the two most dominant clubs in the world in recent years. Recall Real Madrid’s Spanish-record unbeaten run of 40 in all competitions ending in January. Barcelona notched 39 in 2015-16. Is it right for a club that’s won domestic titles of its own to make much of this just yet?

Given the circumstances of the past two seasons, it somehow feels right for Marcelino to stick with those celebrations.

STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Football Plays: Week 6


As always, please be aware that I’m not intending to touch on every player, but rather a few unique or pivotal opinions. If I don’t touch on some of your guys, by all means, reach out on twitter (@cshcwartz18) and perhaps I’ll get back to you.

Before I begin, I want to hit on some general themes. First – Detroit in the Superdome at the Saints. In season-long leagues, of course the Lions’ best offensive players are must-starts. Matthew Stafford is a mid-range QB1, Ameer Abdullah is a fine RB2, Golden Tate is a borderline WR1, and Marvin Jones is a startable flex option. Just know I won’t be mentioning these guys below because everybody else agrees. So it’s not exactly controversial or unique.

In fact, these players are actually largely overpriced in DFS. Stafford is priced like the overall QB3 or so (although admittedly cheaper and better value on DK). My overall feeling on these guys in DFS is they are sub-optimal in cash games, but fine GPP stacks if you want to try to guess the correct combos.

Second, I’ve been getting lots of questions about Amari Cooper trades after three consecutive bad games. Last game was a 1/8/0 mess, but that was with EJ Manuel at QB. The game before that was a 2/9/0, but that was against a Broncos defense that does this to plenty of WRs. That leaves just one bad game against Washington in Week 3. Cooper’s been through similar 2-3 week stretches before (end of 2015, for one example), and has not proven to be consistent yet in his career. But he is still mega-talented with a lot invested in him, and he has positive things going, including the return of Derek Carr, a healthy Michael Crabtree to take away defensive attention, and a sneaky easy fantasy playoff schedule (vs. Dallas, at Philadelphia). So no, don’t trade Cooper for the latest, greatest Kenny Golladay hype-train, and if you don’t own Coop, maybe try to buy low.

Now onto some of this week’s calls.

High-End QB Play: DeShaun Watson, HOU (vs. CLE) 

Cleveland has held a lead for approximately two seconds this season. Remarkably, that hasn’t stopped them from allowing the 13th-most passing yards. This is because their pass defense is dreadful – bottom five in yards per attempt allowed, and dead last in opponents’ QB rating. Houston is a double-digit favorite against Cleveland, but along the way, they’ll get there via Watson throws. Add in some rushing stats, and he has a particularly high-floor, high-ceiling outlook, which is unique for such a high-spread game. He’s a great cash game option, and in season-long, I’d only be comfortable starting hall of famers Brady, Rodgers, and Brees over him.

Stack Partner: DeAndre Hopkins – Welcome back to elite WR1 territory, Nuk! Watson loves him, and he’s a PPR beast. He’s not yet priced like it on DFS sites.

High-End QB Play: Kirk Cousins, WAS (vs. SF) 

It’s TIGHT for me between Watson and Cousins. I like Watson a bit more, as Cleveland is a more favorable opponent than San Francisco, but not by much. This is a secondary that Jared Goff tore up on a Thursday. Cousins should throw a lot early in the game, especially with Rob Kelley likely to miss, so he has a nice high floor and is a definite QB1.

Stack Partner: Jamison Crowder – It’s tough to guess Cousins’ beneficiaries from week to week, so you may as well go with the cheapest (realistic) one. Besides, they said they’d like to get him more involved, now that he’s perhaps healthier. Since he’s been so dreadful, his ownership will be low.

Sleeper QB: Case Keenum, MIN (vs. GB)

Unlike most bad QBs, he has proven he has some fantasy upside with an eruption against Tampa in Week 3. He may need to chase some points against Green Bay in a game with sneaky scoring potential, so it’s conceivable another big game could happen for him. He’s dirt cheap on DFS, so he makes for a fine GPP dart-throw, while being an option to start in two-QB leagues.

QB Fade: Matt Ryan, ATL (vs. MIA)

He’s one of the QBs favored to win by double-digits this week, so he has a lower ceiling than usual. Unlike a guy like Watson, he comes with higher weekly expectations and therefore a higher DFS price. Also, conditions aren’t so favorable for him, with his top two WRs banged up (and Mohamed Sanu likely out). I just don’t see why you’d use him in cash this week unless you use him every week. In GPPs, I suppose he’s a nice contrarian option, as these negative factors are likely baked into several people’s lineup decisions, and his ownership will be lower than usual.

High-End RB Play: Kareem Hunt, KC (vs. PIT)

It’s simple – no Ezekiel Elliot this week, and Le’Veon Bell has a worse matchup being on the other sideline against the Chiefs. So Hunt is our overall RB1 yet again, in a tier by himself, and a must-play in DFS cash games. 

High-End RB Play: Mark Ingram, NO (vs. DET)

Sure Adrian Peterson stunk, but he took 30 touches away, or seven per game. If Ingram conservatively eats three of those, then he goes from a 14-touch to 17-touch guy. For perspective, that’s the difference between LeGarrette Blount and Carlos Hyde. With that volume he has enough talent to be a borderline RB1, just like Hyde. Even against a very solid run D like Detroit, the volume is enough to vault Ingram, and he’s not priced like it, as the AP trade happened mid-week.

High-End RB Play: Javorius Allen, BAL (vs. CHI)

Allen was more involved last week, and lo and behold, Baltimore’s offense looked better. The positive team results when Allen gets touches makes for a good indicator they’ll continue to give him touches. In general, Baltimore may take a page out of Jacksonville’s book and go extremely run heavy to beat mediocre offensive teams, and this week’s opponent qualifies. With Terrance West out, that should mean 15+ touches for Allen, making him a solid RB2 and PPR must-start.

RB Sleeper: Semaje Perine, WAS (vs. SF)

This is just a note that many expert rankings don’t yet reflect that Kelley is unlikely to suit up for Washington. In a game in which they’re heavily favored, they may run a lot, and small Chris Thompson will still be limited to 5-10 carries. Perine gets the rest. He makes for a great bye-week fill-in and also a cheap DFS dart throw.

RB Sleeper: Wayne Gallman, NYG (@ DEN) 

Giants play on SNF and aren’t part of the main DFS slate (thank god), so this is more of a deep season-long play. Denver’s been historically good against the run this year, but they’re also that good against the pass. The Giants will need to give somebody some touches, and it may as well be their rookie RB averaging 4.5 YPC (which is like 10 YPC on this Giants team). He’s also looked good in the passing game, catching all 7 of his targets and picking up some blitzes nicely. Even if he averages 3 yards per carry, he could still produce flex value with 15 touches.

RB Fade: Melvin Gordon, LAC (@ OAK)

It was tough for me to find a RB fade, with expectations so low of guys around the league. I settled on Gordon, who I see as more of a mid-range RB1 rather than an elite one. I’m still not convinced he’s 100 percent after knee surgery. Sure, he broke out against a Giants D that was missing Olivier Vernon and that funnels throws to RBs/TEs, but he should face a slightly tougher test against Oakland. He’ll be hard-pressed to repeat last week’s two-TD performance with a low team total of 20. I prefer the equally priced Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman types, and the cheaper Lamar Miller and CJ Anderson, in DFS. Obviously if you have Gordon in season-long, start him with confidence still.

High-End WR Play: Michael Crabtree, OAK (vs. LAC)

Hopkins is my favorite elite WR this week, and I also like Michael Thomas, whom Darius Slay will not be able to stop. Beyond those guys, and into the WR2 range, I see a lot working in Crabtree’s favor. His value has never been lower, so his ownership should be low, and A) he’s working back to full strength, B) Carr is back, and C) Cooper is banged up and in a funk. It adds up to a nice combo of QB/WR talent and volume against a mediocre Chargers D allowing 7.1 yards per throw.

High-End WR Play: Adam Thielen, MIN (vs. GB) 

He’s my preferred stack partner for Keenum, but I wanted to give him his own section since he’s worthy of rostering with any QB. He has been remarkably consistent, getting exactly eight targets and five receptions in each of the last three games, mostly with Keenum at the helm. He has yet to get a TD, which keeps his perceived value down, but regression should be coming (he had five TDs with less volume last year). I want to get out in front and say that TD regression will happen this week, with Stefon Diggs banged up and against Green Bay. Even without that TD, Thielen gets enough PPR volume to be a great DFS cash game play, especially as he’s much cheaper than Diggs.

High-End WR Play: Jarvis Landry, MIA (@ ATL)

Here’s a lesson in how to utilize Vegas lines. Miami has a low implied team total around 14 points, which is bad news for their TD dependent guys (Jay Cutler, Jay Ajayi). They also are large underdogs, which could be good news for their heavy pass volume guy – Jarvis Landry (especially with DeVante Parker out). If Miami loses 25-14 like Vegas implies, Landry will most likely pick up double digit targets and a ton of receptions along the way, as Miami plays catch-up. That makes him a PPR stud and great cash game play.

WR Sleeper: Taylor Gabriel, ATL (vs. MIA)

nlike Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, he’s not priced like an elite player, so if you want to target a Falcon against the bad Miami defense, he’s the guy. He also may have higher floor than usual with other WRs banged up, making him less of a boom-or-bust big-play threat, and more of your standard No. 2 WR. He’s a nice GPP play and flex option in season-long.

WR Fade: Jordy Nelson, GB (@ MIN) 

Aaron Rodgers’ floor is so high that he’s never a fade, but when he has negative matchups, it could impact his receivers’ projections, since there are so many mouths to feed. That’s especially true when they’re all actually healthy, like they are this week. It all adds up to Nelson being more like a mid-range WR1 instead of a top-tier guy, and he’s priced/ranked like a top-tier guy on DFS sites. I prefer Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and (given price) Golden Tate this week.

WR Fade: Danny Amendola, NE (@ NYJ) 

Amendola gets the poor man’s version of Nelson’s write-up. Like Rodgers, Brady is not in a great spot to put up a massive game. Like Green Bay, New England’s receivers should all suit up for the first time in a while, meaning Amendola is back to a part-time guy, one whom New England may treat with kid gloves. That’s bad news in a potentially run-heavy game script. You can do better with your WR3/Flex this week (I like Gabriel, DeSean Jackson, John Brown, and Marvin Jones more).

High-End TE Play: Evan Engram, NYG (@ DEN)

His value isn’t as high as it should be, coming off a 0/0/0. The fact of the matter is he’s the Giants’ new No. 1 weapon, and they have a full week to game plan him in more, instead of last week when the injuries happened mid-game. Even before those injuries, he was a 4/40 guy, and now he has upside above that. In a week where Kelce is banged up and Ertz already played on TNF, Engram is up there as the next best thing behind Gronk. Giants play on SNF, so this is a season-long call – don’t bench Engram after last week’s dud, and try to buy him low.

High-End TE Play: Jared Cook, OAK (vs. LAC)

 Engram isn’t part of the main DFS slate, so the next best thing is Cook. Like Engram, he put up a stinker last week (although 3/25/0 is par for the course for TEs in 2017). Encouraging, though, is that Carr is back. In 4 games with Carr, Cook put up 40+ yards and/or 4+ receptions in each game. With Cooper a little banged up, he could see a slight spike in targets. By default, he’s a mid-range TE1 this week.

TE Sleeper: Ryan Griffin, HOU (vs. CLE) 

If you’re looking for a Watson stack partner or a sneaky season-long fill-in, I like former the UConn Husky this week. As poor as Cleveland is at covering anybody, they’re particularly bad at covering TEs. Griffin had two bad games in a row, but showed he can produce three weeks ago against New England (5/61/1). If he had only good games, he’d be an elite TE1. As is, he’s a TE2 in a nice matchup, with some proven upside, who you should start over guys like Julius Thomas and Jack Doyle.


TE is so bad this year, and expectations are so low, that there is nobody to “fade”. Beyond the top five or so, they are simply all lottery tickets to score a TD. In DFS, you should simply make your decisions based on price – for example, on FD, Cameron Brate is the fifth-most expensive TE, so he’s the smart fade there. On DK, ASJ is the fifth-most expensive, so he’s the guy to perhaps avoid. At the end of the day, though, these guys are all relatively equivalent in likelihood of scoring either 0 or 12 points, so monitor little pieces of news that could give any of them a slight edge.

The Daring Process of Kevin De Bruyne


How STATS Ball Movement Points Show Manchester City’s Midfielder Has Been the Most Dangerous Creator in Europe This Season

Kevin De Bruyne’s 67th-minute strike in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge wasn’t just an aesthetically impressive example of fast-tempo football – it was arguably the most important goal to be scored in England so far this season. It distanced Manchester City from title holders Chelsea entering the international break and gave the 26-year-old his first Premier League goal of the campaign against the club that sent him to Wolfsburg.

That finish, as pretty as it was, isn’t the main reason we should praise De Bruyne’s efforts for the Premier League leaders.

Even in that six-match goalless stretch to start the season, you weren’t going to hear many supporters complaining about De Bruyne’s form the way one might if Sergio Aguero went through such a drought. Nor will you in the week following his inclusion in the Ballon d’Or 30-man list, from which fellow City creative David Silva is somehow once again conspicuously absent.

De Bruyne has been directly involved in four of Manchester City’s 22 Premier League goals. His goal – which featured the Messi-esque combination of build up and finishing inclusions from a pretty one-touch layoff to Gabriel Jesus before getting it right back on the run for a two-touch 20-yard left-footer to the upper corner – and three assists works out to an 18 percent involvement from the goal-and-assist perspective. It’s not a particularly high rate, and on a personal level, it’d be his lowest in three seasons with City.

But that’s precisely why KDB’s start to the 2017-18 season can act as one of the most relevant contemporary examples of why there need to be better metrics in football. Now settled into a deeper central position after the tinkering Pep Guardiola went through with his creatives in his first season in charge, De Bruyne is still generating all sorts of threat. He’s always been the type of creative midfielder who gains praise for his passing ability and his field awareness. He makes work difficult for defensive players with his precision, and his ball movement is rarely lacking ambition. It’s now measurable with ball movement points, which reward the process in a way traditional binary metrics such as successful passes fall short.

And, through seven matches, BMP shows the Belgian has evolved into the most dangerous playmaker in Europe with his globally overlooked club teammate not far behind.

First, a quick rundown on BMP, which we’ve used a few times before when discussing transfers and how key players are contributing to the top-five European leagues. BMP is a metric that considers every involvement a player has in a possession to credit or discredit decisions with the ball and reward creativity. It’s what football minds could always see but never quantify. It goes beyond expected assists by looking at the full chain of passes and weighs the probability of that pass leading to a shot later in the play. Passing points generate expected shot points, so if a player generates one BMP, he’s generated passes to lead to – or defend – one shot.

Yeah, that’s ambitious. So how is this done? The process assigns objective value using massive amounts of historical league data to express the level of threat or wastefulness that can be attributed to a player based on zones of the pitch. It’s broken down into categories of offensive and defensive as well as positive and negative (oBMP+, oBMP-, dBMP+ dBMP-) with net values telling the more conclusive story.

Got it? Good. Back to KDB.

First, the basics. In 2015-16, his seven goals and nine assists among Man City’s 71 goals amounted to 22.5 percent involvement. Last season, his six goals and 18 assists out of 80 Man City league tallies amounted to a 30 percent involvement. At that level, this season’s inclusion looks like a regression.

It’s not. While Guardiola experimented last season, De Bruyne’s 7.62 oBMP still managed to place second in England behind Mesut Özil (9.00). The season before, Manuel Pellegrini’s last, his 4.14 oBMP ranked 16th in England, and that came behind teammates Yaya Toure (4.82 in eighth), Silva (4.60, 10th) and Fernandinho (4.32, 13th). Özil (10.95) led then as well. For the sake of comparison, La Liga’s leaders last season were Lionel Messi (7.52) and Toni Kroos (5.97).

Onto the current term. It’s of course very early in the season and this is a tight pack, but now consider this season’s oBMP rankings across Europe’s top-five divisions in league play. Of the top 20, 11 are midfielders, and plenty don’t have the goals or assists to display their true value:

(Graphics by Stephan van Niekerk)

De Bruyne is leading, but he’s also the only player to separate himself from the next best player by any considerable sum. Project that 2.29 mark out over a 38-game season, and he’s looking at a 12.44 oBMP that cruises past his own marks from the past two seasons and even Özil’s. And right behind him is his teammate, who again hasn’t been given any love by the Ballon d’Or brass despite consistently creating on elite levels among the world class.

It follows that these players must have a pretty impressive oBMP+, meaning they are ambitious and effective with ball circulation in the attack – they find the channels and play a mean through ball, or they consistently deliver that low, bending cross that makes centre backs trip themselves. It also follows that they may have a considerable oBMP- because of the number of chances they have to craft opportunity, but they’ve got to limit that to exist as a leading creative player. For example, Alexis Sanchez ranked fourth in oBMP+ last season (10.66) but first in oBMP- (-5.01), so his wastefulness drops his net oBMP (5.65), which was not only a considerable margin behind teammate Özil but also Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka (5.92).

Now keep in mind BMP does not take into account finishing, which STATS quantifies by calculating expected goal differential (subtracting expected goals from actual goals). That’s where players such as Radamel Falcao (plus-5.8), Paulo Dybala (+4.7), Ciro Immobile (+3.5), again Messi (+3.4) and Mathew Leckie (+3.1) have distinguished themselves this season.

Maybe you can see where this is going. We’re going to write more in the coming weeks and take this a step further by quantifying the value of overall offensive contribution. But when you focus solely on the process of getting the ball to those finishing players in positions to succeed, right now there’s been no better creative than De Bruyne.