2017 STATS Fantasy Football: Another Award, Plus Week 17 Tiers

By:

It was this time exactly three years ago when I lost my lead in the FantasyPros fantasy football expert accuracy contest in Week 16 and fell to second place. It was a devastating moment, but I was determined to finish on top the following year.

And the year after that. And the year after that. Now, I’m writing this as a three-time champion after officially being named the FantasyPros most accurate fantasy football expert.

Year after year, roughly 120 of the top fantasy football experts in the world compete in the contest and submit their rankings week-in-week-out. It’s a pretty daunting task to try to compete against so many top minds in the industry and it takes a huge part of your life to dedicate the time needed to really be able to stay on top of all of the moving pieces for a sport like the NFL for 16 straight weeks. I don’t think people truly understand just how much work it takes some of the top experts to stay on top of their game.

When I entered the contest back in 2013, I already had 15 years or so of fantasy football experience since I started playing at the young age of 10 years old. When it came to making weekly projections/rankings I was still fairly new and had about two years of doing it for my old company. I was pleased to end up finishing 10th place my debut year in the contest and really didn’t know what was next for me. In 2014 I made some significant improvements to my process and really started to make my NFL weekly projections my main focus. That season you may have remembered a sit/start tool on Yahoo! Fantasy Football that was powered by Bloomberg Sports – that was me.

As I mentioned above, it was pretty devastating to come so close to winning in 2014. It was still pretty cool to follow up my debut season with a top-10 finish with a runner-up finish. I knew that I was here to stay. Those who know me personally know that I am ultra-competitive. As soon as I found out I finished runner-up I immediately started to think about what I need to do/improve with my model and process to become No. 1. I was determined to do so in 2015.

Winning first place in 2015 was surreal because of all of the hard-work and determination I had paid off. For those who think the contest has quite a bit of luck involved, the only thing I can say is to look at the top 10 finishers year after year. You see 6-7 of the SAME names each and every year. Granted, there is certainly some luck involved in the contest. Week to week there is a ton of volatility and you can make the case that any given week there is a great deal of luck involved. But over 16 weeks, you tend to really see skill/talent prevail.

Heading into 2016, I was still determined to improve my process/model and try to repeat as the most accurate expert. Winning the contest again felt just as good as winning the first time. Again, after winning I began to think about all the various things I still thought I could improve upon and try to further increase my accuracy. I was determined to get a three-peat and fairly certain it had never been done before in the history of the contest.

After successfully winning the contest for the third straight year in 2017, I can finally say I feel content and am definitely enjoying the moment. This is not to say that I won’t be back again next year and trying as hard as ever to win again or to stop providing the most accurate projections/rankings in the world! It just goes to show that if you put your mind and heart into something you are passionate about, there’s just no limit to what you can accomplish. I certainly can’t imagine what 10-year old me would think if I told him how I’d be able to have a career in fantasy football. It’s definitely a dream come true.

Having said all that, I can’t thank those of you who read my content week in and week out. I enjoy all of the feedback (both good and bad) that I get with how these help effect your fantasy football decisions. Thank you for those of you have reached out to congratulate me on twitter as well, it means a lot to me.

For some of my readers, the season isn’t over yet!

I am happy to announce that I will be providing Week 17 tiers and as always, if you are not following me on twitter @the_oddsmaker and/or visiting the sit/start tool I provide there, you are missing out! This week it’s more necessary than ever to remember that this Tiers piece is fixed content based on where my projections/rankings are at on Thursday morning. For all updated ranks you have to stay informed by visiting my twitter and the info I provide there. I have a vested interest in Week 17 not as a season-long fantasy player, but as a daily fantasy player. Often times people don’t realize that I am actually much more of a daily fantasy expert/player than season-long.

Week 17 is such a crazy week for fantasy given the various levels of efforts from teams. There are a lot of teams with nothing to play for this week- whether it’s they have been eliminated from the playoffs or their playoff seeding cannot change no matter what happens this week. That’s why I have to emphasize that you need to be taking the rankings below with a grain of salt. I will 100 percent be updating these on FantasyPros and Twitter leading up until kickoff Sunday and will still be providing my most accurate projections process throughout. Feel like Week 17 is a great week to showcase just how precise my projections process really is.

When it comes to creating projections in general I feel like most people are either too data-driven or too hands-on. That’s to say that I feel people either rely on math too much or their gut too much. I really do try to find the optimal balance with the only goal in mind being to create the most accurate projections possible. Because of this I literally project out every stat for every team for every player.

I do not consider any scenario too trivial. If Jermaine Kearse is ruled out this week I don’t just set him to 0, laugh, and say “Jets suck”- and move on. No. I set all Kearse’s stats to 0, of course, but I then do the next very important step of figuring out where those stats go now. If I was projecting the Jets to throw for 183 total yards I would then consider if Kearse’s absence would impact that all. When updating his teammates, I am always aware of who is actually on the active roster or who will get called up from the practice squad to replace his spot.

This is how I end up projecting a player like JoJo Natson Jr. for 0.3 receptions, four yards and 0.05 receiving TDs. I take every scenario THIS seriously. This is always why I crack up when people ask me on twitter, “Are you factoring in how Player A’s absence will impact Player B?” the answer always has and always will be “Yes.”

Week 17 is such a perfect case study in how to know when to disregard all the data and trends we learned in the first 16 weeks and know when and where to adjust on the fly.

We have a handful of teams with a lot left to play for, these teams are going to be easier to project this week as they will be playing “straight up” and trying to win, they are: Ravens, Bills, Panthers, Falcons, Saints, Titans, Patriots, Steelers, Vikings. It’s important to note that I can see certain scenarios where this may change in-game. For example, the Steelers need to win, but also need the Patriots to win in order to claim the #1 seed in the AFC. They will certainly be scoreboard watching and there is a chance if they see the Patriots are up 35-0 at the half over the Jets, Mike Tomlin may decide to just rest players like Big Ben, Bell or JuJu in the second half. That’s not to say I think that’s likely to happen, just that these will all be scenarios I will try to be factoring into my projections as much as possible. It’s certainly worth saving that type of energy come Saturday/Sunday when we get more info as to what teams are planning to do for this week. Right now the Tiers reflect my best guess.

There are teams with nothing to play for but pride as they wrap up their season with no chance of making the playoffs. These teams are: Bengals, Packers, Lions, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Jets, Colts, Browns, Redskins, Giants, Bears, Cowboys, Raiders, Cardinals, Broncos, 49ers. I will be on the look out to see if there are any player contracts with any performance incentives that are going to be close this week. While these may or may not impact my projections at all- it just goes to show the lengths I go in order to ensure I’m not leaving any stones unturned when doing projections.

The trickiest teams this week are the ones that have clinched a playoff spot but have nothing to gain by winning in Week 17. They are the Jaguars, Eagles, Chiefs and Rams. I think the Rams still have some way of gaining some playoff incentives through some miracle but they have announced they intend to rest their starters, so I’m lumping them in here. I’m ultimately just worried about what teams intend to do this week verses pointing out hypothetical playoff scenarios.

Two teams that are in their own unique position are the Chargers and the Seahawks. I believe they need certain teams to lose in the early games in order for their games to matter. There is a chance either one of these teams will become lumped in with the “nothing to play for” group of teams. All of these variables will be factored into my ranks come Sunday morning.

Due to the extreme volatility of the ranks this week I’m simply just showing their standard rank (see my sit/start tool link on twitter for PPR/Flex type ranks as well).

Without further ado, here are the Week 17 tiers:

Quarterbacks

Tier 1

Russell Wilson (vs ARI)

Tier 2

Tom Brady (vs NYJ)

Tier 3

Cam Newton (@ ATL)
Drew Brees (@ TB)
Philip Rivers (vs OAK)
Matthew Stafford (vs GB)

Tier 4

Tyrod Taylor (@ MIA)
Jameis Winston (vs NO)

Tier 5

Jimmy Garoppolo (@ LAR)
Matt Ryan (vs CAR)
Ben Roethlisberger (vs CLE)
Case Keenum (vs CHI)
Kirk Cousins (@ NYG)

Tier 6

Blake Bortles (@ TEN)
Marcus Mariota (vs JAX)

Tier 7

Joe Flacco (vs CIN)
Jacoby Brissett (vs HOU)

Tier 8

Brett Hundley (@ DET)
Patrick Mahomes II (@ DEN)
Paxton Lynch (vs KC)
Jay Cutler (vs BUF)

Tier 9

Eli Manning (vs WAS)
Derek Carr (@ LAC)
Sean Mannion (vs SF)
DeShone Kizer (@ PIT)
Andy Dalton (@ BAL)

Tier 10

Mitchell Trubisky (@ MIN)
T.J. Yates (@ IND)
Drew Stanton (@ SEA)

Tier 11

Nate Sudfeld (vs DAL)
Cooper Rush (@ PHI)
Bryce Petty (@ NE)

Tier 12

Dak Prescott (@ PHI)
Nick Foles (vs DAL)
Christian Hackenberg (@ NE)

Running Backs

Tier 1

Le’Veon Bell (vs CLE)

Tier 2

LeSean McCoy (@ MIA)
Mark Ingram (@ TB)
Alvin Kamara (@ TB)

Tier 3

Melvin Gordon (vs OAK)

Tier 4

Kenyan Drake (vs BUF)
Derrick Henry (vs JAX)
Alex Collins (vs CIN)

Tier 5

Leonard Fournette (@ TEN)
Dion Lewis (vs NYJ)
Devonta Freeman (vs CAR)
Carlos Hyde (@ LAR)
Jamaal Williams (@ DET)
C.J. Anderson (vs KC)
Latavius Murray (vs CHI)

Tier 6

Christian McCaffrey (@ ATL)
Marshawn Lynch (@ LAC)
Frank Gore (vs HOU)

Tier 7

Jordan Howard (@ MIN)
Lamar Miller (@ IND)
Mike Davis (vs ARI)
Giovani Bernard (@ BAL)

Tier 8

Jerick McKinnon (vs CHI)
Samaje Perine (@ NYG)
Peyton Barber (vs NO)
Kerwynn Williams (@ SEA)
Isaiah Crowell (@ PIT)

Tier 9

Wayne Gallman (vs WAS)
Bilal Powell (@ NE)
Kareem Hunt (@ DEN)
Tevin Coleman (vs CAR)
Kapri Bibbs (@ NYG)
Duke Johnson Jr. (@ PIT)
Rod Smith (@ PHI)
Theo Riddick (vs GB)
Jonathan Stewart (@ ATL)
Malcolm Brown (vs SF)

Tier 10

Devontae Booker (vs KC)
Marlon Mack (vs HOU)
Ezekiel Elliott (@ PHI)
Javorius Allen (vs CIN)
Charcandrick West (@ DEN)
Matt Forte (@ NE)

Tier 11

Matt Breida (@ LAR)
T.J. Yeldon (@ TEN)
Tion Green (vs GB)
Danny Woodhead (vs CIN)
Alfred Blue (@ IND)
Orleans Darkwa (vs WAS)
Branden Oliver (vs OAK)
Alfred Morris (@ PHI)

Wide Receivers

Tier 1

Julio Jones (vs CAR)
Keenan Allen (vs OAK)
Michael Thomas (@ TB)

Tier 2

Mike Evans (vs NO)
A.J. Green (@ BAL)
Juju Smith-Schuster (vs CLE)
Adam Thielen (vs CHI)
Brandin Cooks (vs NYJ)
Marvin Jones Jr. (vs GB)

Tier 3

Larry Fitzgerald (@ SEA)
Marquise Goodwin (@ LAR)
Doug Baldwin (vs ARI)

Tier 4

T.Y. Hilton (vs HOU)
Stefon Diggs (vs CHI)
Golden Tate (vs GB)
Demaryius Thomas (vs KC)
Martavis Bryant (vs CLE)
Michael Crabtree (@ LAC)

Tier 5

Jarvis Landry (vs BUF)
Jamison Crowder (@ NYG)
Devin Funchess (@ ATL)
Mohamed Sanu (vs CAR)
Josh Gordon (@ PIT)
Robby Anderson (@ NE)
Mike Wallace (vs CIN)
Rishard Matthews (vs JAX)

Tier 6

Dede Westbrook (@ TEN)
Keelan Cole (@ TEN)
Kelvin Benjamin (@ MIA)
Randall Cobb (@ DET)
Tyreek Hill (@ DEN)
Josh Doctson (@ NYG)
Sterling Shepard (vs WAS)
DeVante Parker (vs BUF)
Kenny Golladay (vs GB)
Will Fuller V (@ IND)
Paul Richardson (vs ARI)
Ted Ginn Jr. (@ TB)
Tyrell Williams (vs OAK)
DeSean Jackson (vs NO)
Kenny Stills (vs BUF)

Tier 7

Roger Lewis (vs WAS)
Jermaine Kearse (@ NE)
Amari Cooper (@ LAC)
Danny Amendola (vs NYJ)
Corey Davis (vs JAX)
Kendall Wright (@ MIN)
Eric Decker (vs JAX)
Chris Godwin (vs NO)
Jakeem Grant (vs BUF)
Trent Taylor (@ LAR)

Tier 8

Travis Benjamin (vs OAK)
Brandon LaFell (@ BAL)
Tyler Lockett (vs ARI)
Emmanuel Sanders (vs KC)
Deonte Thompson (@ MIA)
Ryan Grant (@ NYG)
Corey Coleman (@ PIT)
Chester Rogers (vs HOU)
Jeremy Maclin (vs CIN)

Tier 9

Brice Butler (@ PHI)
Eli Rogers (vs CLE)
Seth Roberts (@ LAC)
Geronimo Allison (@ DET)
Braxton Miller (@ IND)
Adam Humphries (vs NO)
Nelson Agholor (vs DAL)
Alshon Jeffery (vs DAL)
Brandon Coleman (@ TB)
Kendrick Bourne (@ LAR)
Robert Woods (vs SF)
Tavon Austin (vs SF)
Albert Wilson (@ DEN)
Dez Bryant (@ PHI)
Jaydon Mickens (@ TEN)

Tight Ends

Tier 1

Rob Gronkowski (vs NYJ)

Tier 4 (yes, that big of a drop)

Delanie Walker (vs JAX)
Greg Olsen (@ ATL)
Eric Ebron (vs GB)
Jack Doyle (vs HOU)
Antonio Gates (vs OAK)
Evan Engram (vs WAS)
Charles Clay (@ MIA)
Jimmy Graham (vs ARI)

Tier 5

Kyle Rudolph (vs CHI)

Tier 6

Travis Kelce (@ DEN)
Cameron Brate (vs NO)
Vernon Davis (@ NYG)
Jared Cook (@ LAC)

Tier 7

Benjamin Watson (vs CIN)
Austin Hooper (vs CAR)
Stephen Anderson (@ IND)
George Kittle (@ LAR)
Tyler Kroft (@ BAL)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (@ NE)
Zach Ertz (vs DAL)
Vance McDonald (vs CLE)
Lance Kendricks (@ DET)
Jason Witten (@ PHI)
A.J. Derby (vs BUF)
|Trey Burton (vs DAL)
Jesse James (vs CLE)
Garrett Celek (@ LAR)

Kickers

Tier 1

Stephen Gostkowski (vs NYJ)

Tier 2

Wil Lutz (@ TB)

Tier 3

Matt Prater (vs GB)
Matt Bryant (vs CAR)
Kai Forbath (vs CHI)
Justin Tucker (vs CIN)
Nick Rose (vs OAK)

Tier 4

Adam Vinatieri (vs HOU)
Chris Boswell (vs CLE)

Tier 5

Stephen Hauschka (@ MIA)
Blair Walsh (vs ARI)
Sam Ficken (vs SF)
Ryan Succop (vs JAX)
Robbie Gould (@ LAR)
Dan Bailey (@ PHI)
Graham Gano (@ ATL)
Dustin Hopkins (@ NYG)
Patrick Murray (vs NO)
Brandon McManus (vs KC)

Tier 6

Cody Parkey (vs BUF)
Josh Lambo (@ TEN)
Ka’imi Fairbairn (@ IND)
Harrison Butker (@ DEN)
Mason Crosby (@ DET)
Giorgio Tavecchio (@ LAC)
Jake Elliott (vs DAL)
Aldrick Rosas (vs WAS)

Tier 7

Phil Dawson (@ SEA)
Randy Bullock (@ BAL)
Chandler Catanzaro (@ NE)
Mike Nugent (@ MIN)
Zane Gonzalez (@ PIT)

Defense

Tier 1

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs CLE)

Tier 2

Seattle Seahawks (vs ARI)
New England Patriots (vs NYJ)
Baltimore Ravens (vs CIN)
Minnesota Vikings (vs CHI)

Tier 3

Los Angeles Chargers (vs OAK)
Detroit Lions (vs GB)
Washington Redskins (@ NYG)
Denver Broncos (vs KC)
Buffalo Bills (@ MIA)

Tier 4

Indianapolis Colts (vs HOU)
Los Angeles Rams (vs SF)
Jacksonville Jaguars (@ TEN)
Dallas Cowboys (@ PHI)
Kansas City Chiefs (@ DEN)
San Francisco 49ers (@ LAR)
Tennessee Titans (vs JAX)
Philadelphia Eagles (vs DAL)
Houston Texans (@ IND)
New Orleans Saints (@ TB)

Tier 5

New York Giants (vs WAS)
Atlanta Falcons (vs CAR)
Miami Dolphins (vs BUF)
Arizona Cardinals (@ SEA)
Carolina Panthers (@ ATL)
Green Bay Packers (@ DET)
Cleveland Browns (@ PIT)
Cincinnati Bengals (@ BAL)
Chicago Bears (@ MIN)
Oakland Raiders (@ LAC)

Tier 6

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs NO)
New York Jets (@ NE)

 

STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Football Plays: Week 16

By:

I’m out next week, and during NFL playoffs, then my focus will shift to NBA regular-season DFS. Therefore, this will be my last NFL DFS piece of the season! Please feel free to give me feedback about how this could change next season to be more helpful – I’m already considering listing more players, without as much analysis and text. For now, though, just remember that I’m focusing primarily on DFS prices and strategy. In season-long, you’re honing in on one or two sit/starts that are pretty straightforward if you look at Sean’s Tiers, but in DFS, there are tons of iterations and decisions involved, with the landscape changing each week depending on pricing. Hopefully some of the DFS sleepers that I mention can also serve as waiver wire pickups for you in season-long, but if you’re unsure, please feel free to reach out on twitter (@cschwartz18), as always.

Note that both sites are at least half PPR – Draftkings (DK) is full – and that injuries and other news can change our outlook dramatically. For example, if Samaje Perine is ruled out and Kapri Bibbs is basically Washington’s only healthy RB, Bibbs could certainly be worth a punt play. It’s such a dynamic process with tons of news coming all the way until kickoff, so check twitter and only use this as a guide, not as gospel.

Quarterbacks

The same elite QB play works on both sites, and as a result, there’s not much else to say. In addition to that guy (who is my favorite in cash), I’ll point out a contrarian GPP play and a sleeper I like.

High-End Play: Cam Newton, CAR (vs. TB)

If you watched MNF last week, you probably saw Tampa defenders get hurt on seemingly every play. Their defense is one of the most banged up in the league, and they’re just about tanking at this point. Statistically just an average matchup, the injuries make Tampa an extremely plus matchup for opposing QBs. Cam has been good for about 6 weeks in a row now and has the best matchup of the elite QB1s this week. He’s priced like a 2nd tier guy on FD and at least a little below Tom Brady and Russell Wilson on DK. He’s the optimal play on both sites.

High-End Play: Dak Prescott, DAL (vs. SEA)

This is a contrarian play I like, against a defense that may scare away DFS players and lower ownership. With all the injuries to Seattle’s defense, they’ve allowed 28+ points in three of the last five games, including 30 to Jacksonville and 40 to the Rams over the last two weeks. I’d put Prescott in a similar tier to Blake Bortles and Jared Goff, the QBs of those two teams. He may be even better with Ezekiel Elliott as his RB actually, averaging 21.6 standard points vs. just 11.7 during Zeke’s suspension.

Sleeper: Drew Stanton, ARI (vs. NYG)

Stanton put up 14 and 15 points in his two starts this year – a repeat of that would be more than enough at his low price. He could even exceed that against a banged up Giants Defense that has no clue what to do when Landon Collins is off the field (he’s currently questionable, and certainly won’t play every snap). He’s my favorite punt play and allows you to roster all the stud RBs you desire.

Fade: Blake Bortles, JAX (vs. SF)

Jimmy Garoppolo was my fade here last week, so I won’t write about him again, even though he’s an obvious fade against Jacksonville’s defense. Instead, I’ll focus on his opposing QB, Bortles. The hype machine on Bortles finally caught up to his sneakily solid on-field performances, and now he’s too expensive. Leonard Fournette is back, lowering Bortles’ TD share of an already low-scoring matchup. I’d rather take advantage of Jacksonville’s ascending offense by rostering the cheap WR options than the expensive QB.

Running Backs

Le’Veon Bell would be mega-chalk, but he’s playing on MNF and isn’t on the main slate. As a result, we get to pick from the jumbled up next tier of studs. The two or three most elite WR are a bit pricey in tough matchups this week, especially on FD. As a result, I like rostering as many elite RBs as you can. I’ll point out my favorites of those, while also throwing in some sleepers who may be particularly viable on DK, where PPR makes the pricey WRs a bit more valuable.

High-End Play: Melvin Gordon, LAC (@ NYJ)

A Chargers team fighting for its playoff life has the potential to blow out a Jets team led by Bryce Petty, even on the road. Game-script should therefore work in Gordon’s favor. The normally solid Jets front 7 will also likely be without its best player, Mohammed Wilkerson. With no Le’Veon in play and at a much cheaper price than Todd Gurley II (especially on DK, where his price looks like a typo), Gordon is a borderline must-play.

High-End Play: Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (vs. SEA)

On paper, Seattle looks like a tough matchup, but it may not matter, as he’s guaranteed tons of volume and comes cheaper than the other elite RBs. Also, he…um…should be well-rested.

High-End Play: Christian McCaffrey, CAR (vs. TB)

On FD, you probably want to roster two elite guys (i.e. Gordon and Zeke, or Gurley), but on DK, you may want to save a bit of dough for some WRs. The best way to do that is by rostering McCaffrey, who is basically a PPR-specialist WR with RB eligibility. I like sneakily stacking him with Newton, while most people don’t consider a QB/RB stack.

Sleeper: Dion Lewis, NE (vs. BUF)

He’s arguably New England’s most talented RB, and definitely their most talented active one now that Rex Burkhead is hurt. Buffalo’s defense cannot stop run games, ranking as our No. 2 tastiest matchup for opposing RBs. New England is finally willing to get its best RB more involved as they get closer to the playoffs, giving him 13 or more carries 6 of their last eight games. That was WITH Burkhead vulturing three downs worth of work. Lewis is a borderline RB1 at a discount price.

Sleeper: Carlos Hyde, SF (@ JAX)

Of course it’s a brutal matchup, so I wouldn’t trust him in cash. He could be a smart contrarian play, especially on DK where his price is so cheap. He’s a true workhorse who almost always gets around 16 carries, and he’s San Fran’s best chance to keep this close. If they score even one TD, there’s a good chance it’s him. That’d be enough to hit value on DK.

Fade: Devonta Freeman, ATL (@ NO)

I prefer Dion Lewis and Carlos Hyde, agnostic of price, and Freeman is actually more expensive in DFS. It was nice for him that Tevin Coleman was out, but Coleman will be back to take 10-15 touches away. Freeman goes back to being a borderline RB1 type who’s a bit TD dependent, while still priced like an RB1.

Wide Receivers

On FD, you’ll want some cheap guys that allow you to roster RBs like Gordon, Zeke, and Gurley. On DK, one particular elite WR looks to be worth his price tag – I’ll tell you which one. In general, I don’t remember a week where the WR rankings are so jumbled, with so many WR2 or WR3 types expected to score around 10-12 FD points, so just know how volatile rankings and projections can be as more news comes out.

High-End Play: A.J. Green, CIN (vs. DET)

For the second straight week, he makes this list. Last week, it was because he was so cheap that despite a poor matchup at Minnesota, the risk was worth the reward. Well, the wrong side of a 60/40 bet happened, which served to lower Green’s price for a better matchup vs. Detroit. Darius Slay is quite good at making game-changing plays, but I’m less worried about him shadowing Green than I was about Minnesota’s entirely good defense. Green is priced like a tier 2 type WR on DK and is worth it there. If Dalton wants to get anything going at all, Green will be peppered with targets and will put up a monster PPR game.

High-End Play: Tyreek Hill, KC (vs. MIA)

Hill is the most expensive WR that is even near-optimal on FD. He’s established himself as a top 10 or maybe even top five option, adding a nice high floor to his obviously high ceiling. Now he has a matchup against an average-ish Miami defense and is cheaper than other definite WR1s. He is a sneaky GPP play on FD where his teammate Travis Kelce will likely be a chalky option at TE, which would lower Hill’s ownership.

Sleeper: Keelan Cole, JAX (vs. SF)

Sean mentioned him in his tiers, and there’s not much more to say. He’s now a starting WR for Jacksonville and has shown great chemistry with Bortles, putting up a TD in three straight games. He should a bit lower than Dede Westbrook (whom I also like), but he’s a good bit cheaper. He’s my preferred Jacksonville player this week in DFS.

Sleeper: Kendall Wright, CHI (vs. CLE)

He turned back the clock with two straight good PPR games, averaging 8.5 receptions for 94 yards over the last two weeks. It means he’s emerging as Chicago’s No. 1 option while developing chemistry with Mitchell Trubisky. This week, he gets an obviously-bad Cleveland defense that allows huge cushions and plays particularly soft. I expect him to put up another nice PPR line at a cheap price, making him my preferred punt play (albeit one without much TD upside).

Fade: Sterling Shepard, NYG (@ ARI)

Look, I love Shepard – he’s a talented route runner and YAC guy, and he seems like he’s finally healthy. He broke out last week, which caused his price to go up a bit too much on both sites. He’s priced like a high-end WR2, which is more of his upside than his base case. The downside is still huge in a typically bad offense. To justify playing him at his price in all but a contrarian sense, he needs a plus matchup or a game with shootout potential. Even though he can avoid Patrick Peterson by moving to the slot, this is still not a plus matchup, and Drew Stanton is unlikely to make this a shootout.

Tight Ends

High-End: Travis Kelce, KC (vs. MIA)

On FD, Kelce is such a good value. He’s way cheaper than Gronk, despite being ranked close to him as the TE1b if you will. We grade Miami as a top five defense to target with TEs, and Kelce tends to have bounce-back games (by Andy Reid design) when coming off duds. On DK, he’s priced appropriately expensive, so you may want to go cheaper, enabling you to roster stud RBs in addition to a guy like A.J. Green.

Sleeper: Cameron Brate, TB (@ CAR)

Carolina is a tough matchup for any position, and especially TEs. This is about volume, though. Already a great Red Zone option, Brate could be due for more volume all over the field, with other TE O.J. Howard and starting WR DeSean Jackson both out for the game. He’s my favorite DK cash TE and is a nice punt play on either site. He’s questionable with hip/knee injuries, so be sure to check on his status if you’re considering rostering him. As long as he suits up, he’ll get targets.

Sleeper: Antonio Gates, LAC (@ NYJ)

Much like Brate’s situation – Hunter Henry’s injury opened up snaps and targets for him. I also like the narrative – if they blow out the Jets, they could look to get their Hall of Fame TE one final TD at the goal-line to add to his record-setting stats. He’s basically priced at the minimum.

Fade: None!

I guess I would count Gronk as a “fade” in the sense that I don’t think he’s optimal in cash. It’s tough to fully fade him if you multi-enter into GPPs, though, as he can break the slate any week. Other than Gronk, the rest of the TE are appropriately priced and are virtual lottery tickets for TDs.

FourFourTwo Films Presents The Numbers Game: How Data is Changing Football, Featuring Moneyball Innovator Billy Beane and STATS’ Patrick Lucey

By:

A meaningful data revolution in football probably wasn’t possible in 2002 as Billy Beane’s methodology later labeled Moneyball changed baseball’s talent evaluation, player recruitment and valuation efficiencies forever by going against conventional wisdom. The complexity and fluidity of football held the sport back in that regard while other segmented sports adapted the model. But 15 years on, technology has drastically advanced the possibilities, and data science is tackling the world’s game like never before.

The Numbers Game: How Data is Changing Football, a documentary released Friday by FourFourTwo Films, features the Oakland Athletics executive vice president of baseball operations and subject of author Michael Lewis’ bestselling 2003 book. It addresses the growing influence of data-driven analytics in football – a sport that’s not exactly foreign to Beane.

“It’s a very dynamic sport,” said Beane, part of the conglomerate that purchased Championship side Barnsley at the end of 2017. “Baseball is very stop-start and it lends itself to measurement, but on the flip side there are a lot more events going on during a football match than there are in a baseball game – and anybody who is well versed in modelling, whether from a computer science background or a mathematics background, will tell you the more data you have, the better you are able to put the models together.”

That’s something another of the film’s subjects knows something about. FourFourTwo turns to STATS director of data science Patrick Lucey to weigh in on the future of big data and deep learning in football.

“Football has actually been collecting the most data for the longest time,” Lucey said. “But football is the most complex sport. It’s low-scoring, it’s continuous, it’s time-varying. It’s very strategic. It’s very subjective.

“So, just say you and I were analysing the game. We could come up with different opinions. When you compare it to other sports like basketball – high-scoring. Tennis and American football, they’re segmented. Baseball, it’s segmented. It’s very easy to do the analysis. You have a lot of data points.

“So the key for football is actually to come up with the right language and ask the right question for specific things. How was our formation? How did we press? How were we on set pieces? Did we attack via the counter attack? All these different things, we have to learn directly from data.”

That’s particularly true for clubs without the luxury of bulging pocketbooks. The film explores the use of data by clubs such as Forest Green Rovers, a STATS partner playing in English Football League Two, and acknowledges that the high-stakes nature of promotion and relegation in football makes things that much more consequential.

“The recruitment side for a small club is really, really key,” Forest Green manager Mark Cooper said. “It’s important that we’re different. In January, every club will be after the same players, and probably we can’t compete for those players that everyone’s after, so we have to find other types of players. We have a different way of playing, and we have to find players that can fit into that. And we have to use the data for that.”

Looking forward, what’s already been achieved is just the beginning with ever-advancing methods of predictive analytics and player assessment in the works.

“There’s lots of cool stuff that people haven’t thought about,” Lucey said. “The idea of ghosting – being able to simulate plays that you haven’t seen before.

“You could have an example of a play and you can say, ‘Well, how does this team defend in that situation? What happens if I switch that player with another player? How does the outcome change? In terms of just body shape – where’s the player facing? Are they making the right decisions? In terms of injury analytics, player load, fatigue, how’s their technique changing over time.’ Now, using deep neural networks, we can actually simulate these things.”

It amounts to the world’s most popular sport finally being able to fine-tune the problem solving Beane took on nearly two decades ago.

“The goal gets paid for in today’s world. Which, shouldn’t the guy who created all those things?” Beane said. “Measuring those things is really the challenge. Giving proper credit to player performance is what we’re all trying to achieve, not just in baseball but in every sport.”

Week 16 NFL Spreads: STATS vs. Las Vegas

By:

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

The NFC South is arguably the best division in the NFL despite Tampa Bay sitting at the bottom with a 4-10 record. The other three teams are making the conference’s playoff picture look less clear, as an Atlanta victory over New Orleans this week would give the South three 10-win teams.

The last time that happened was 2001, when New England, Miami and the New York Jets did in the AFC East. The NFL went to four divisions in each conference the following year, and the feat hasn’t been accomplished since.

STATS believes it’ll happen Sunday with a Falcons victory, favoring them and projecting a close victory. Las Vegas has the Saints getting the job done at home, but that’s one of just a few games STATS and Vegas disagree on this week.

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 16 against those coming out of Las Vegas as of Friday afternoon. The games are separated into two groups based on the difference between STATS’ spread and the Vegas spread, along with the projected scores from the STATS model.

Group 1 – STATS Lines Similar to Vegas (Within 4 Points):

Indianapolis at Baltimore

STATS: Ravens -14.36
Vegas: Ravens -13.5
Projected score: Ravens 27, Colts 13

Buffalo at New England

STATS: Patriots -10.79
Vegas: Patriots -12
Projected score: Patriots 28, Bills 18

Cleveland at Chicago

STATS: Bears -4.55
Vegas: Bears -6.5
Projected score: Bears 25, Browns 21

Tampa Bay at Carolina

STATS: Panthers -6.83
Vegas: Panthers -10
Projected score: Panthers 30, Bucs 23

Denver at Washington

STATS: Redskins -1.12
Vegas: Redskins -3.5
Projected score: Redskins 17, Broncos 16

Los Angeles Rams at Tennessee

STATS: Rams -6.29
Vegas: Rams -7
Projected score: Rams 30, Titans 24

Los Angeles Chargers at New York Jets

STATS: Chargers -9.62
Vegas: Chargers -7
Projected score: Chargers 22, Jets 13

Jacksonville at San Francisco

STATS: Jaguars -0.59
Vegas: Jaguars -4
Projected score: Jaguars 21, 49ers 20

New York Giants at Arizona

STATS: Cardinals -3.73
Vegas: Cardinals -3.5
Projected score: Cardinals 20, Giants 17

Pittsburgh at Houston

STATS: Steelers 11.45
Vegas: Steelers -9.5
Projected score: Steelers 28, Texans 16

Oakland at Philadelphia

STATS: Eagles -11.5
Vegas: Eagles -9
Projected score: Eagles 25, Raiders 14

Minnesota at Green Bay

STATS: Vikings -5.16
Vegas: Vikings -9
Projected score: Vikings 27, Packers 22

Seattle at Dallas

STATS: Cowboys -1.7
Vegas: Cowboys -5
Projected score: Cowboys 20, Seahawks 19

Group 2 – STATS Lines Not Similar to Vegas:

Atlanta at New Orleans

STATS: Falcons -1.47
Vegas: Saints -5.5
Projected score: Falcons 29, Saints 27

Detroit at Cincinnati

STATS: Bengals -0.8
Vegas: Lions -4
Projected score: Bengals 22, Lions 20

Miami at Kansas City

STATS: Chiefs -2.92
Vegas: Chiefs -10.5
Projected score: Chiefs 22, Dolphins 18

2017 STATS Fantasy Football: Championship Week Tiers

By:

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. One thing to note – just because a running back may see a couple receptions doesn’t mean they would simply get a +1 rating. Keep in mind that these PPR ratings factor in the players surrounding him, so if he’s expected to get 2.0 rec, but surrounded by players getting 3+ receptions, he could actually sink a bit, relatively speaking. Just remember that these are dynamic and do factor that aspect in.

The FLEX Rating is a number that allows you to compare each tier across the RB/WR/TE positions for FLEX decisions.

Also, remember that this article is written based on where my projections currently are on Thursday morning. For info on where players updated ranks are after Thursday, be sure to follow me on Twitter @the_oddsmaker.

Here are your championship week tiers:

Quarterbacks

From a projection-making point of view, Ben Roethlisberger is the most interesting QB this week. I have had to project Antonio Brown without Big Ben under center numerous times. This is the first time, however, I’ve had to project the other way around. I feel it’s enough of a downgrade to Big Ben that he is going to be part of critical sit/start decisions for championship week when he would’ve been an easy start before. I couldn’t be more transparent in regards to which QBs I would prefer to start over him in the tiers below. This isn’t reflected in the QB tiers, but keep in mind that while AB’s loss is a pretty big blow to Big Ben, it’s a huge boost to Le’Veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant.

Jimmy Garoppolo has been on a tear over his first three starts on his new team. He gets the ultimate test this week against the Jaguars shutdown pass defense. Jimmy G has racked up fantasy points via yardage, but he’s yet to throw for multiple TDs in a game for the 49ers. I think he’s a guy you need to sit this week with other, better, options out there.

Tier 1

Cam Newton (vs TB)

Tier 2

Russell Wilson (@ DAL)
Tom Brady (vs BUF)

Tier 3

Alex Smith (vs MIA)
Drew Brees (vs ATL)
Dak Prescott (vs SEA)

Tier 4

Matthew Stafford (@ CIN)
Case Keenum (@ GB)
Nick Foles (vs OAK)
Ben Roethlisberger (@ HOU)
Philip Rivers (@ NYJ)

Tier 5

Jared Goff (@ TEN)
Blake Bortles (@ SF)
Matt Ryan (@ NO)

Tier 6

Kirk Cousins (vs DEN)
Joe Flacco (vs IND)
Tyrod Taylor (@ NE)
Jameis Winston (@ CAR)

Tier 7

Marcus Mariota (vs LAR)
Mitchell Trubisky (vs CLE)
Derek Carr (@ PHI)
Drew Stanton (vs NYG)

Tier 8

Jimmy Garoppolo (vs JAX)
DeShone Kizer (@ CHI)
Andy Dalton (vs DET)

Tier 9

Brock Osweiler (@ WAS)
Eli Manning (@ ARI)
Jay Cutler (@ KC)

Tier 10

T.J. Yates (vs PIT)
Brett Hundley (vs MIN)
Jacoby Brissett (@ BAL)

‘Petty Cash’ Tier
Bryce Petty

Running Backs

This is your weekly reminder that the RB position is the most volatile when it comes to where my projections/rankings are on Thursday vs. where they end up Sunday morning. Their value is extremely correlated with the health/availability of other RBs on their team. Take rankings of backfields such as the Falcons or Bengals with a grain of salt right now, as we await the statuses of Tevin Coleman and Joe Mixon. As always, follow my updates on Twitter for advice on how these sit/start decisions should be handled once we’re closer to finalizing our rosters.

Tier 1 (FLEX Rating: 19.5)

Le’Veon Bell (@ HOU)

Tier 2 (16.5)

Todd Gurley (@ TEN)
Ezekiel Elliott (-1, vs SEA)

Tier 3 (15.5)

Melvin Gordon (@ NYJ)
Kareem Hunt (-1, vs MIA)

Tier 4 (14.5)

Alvin Kamara (+1. vs ATL)
Mark Ingram (vs ATL)
Leonard Fournette (-1, @ SF)

Tier 5 (13.0)

Jordan Howard (-1, vs CLE)
LeSean McCoy (@ NE)
Alex Collins (vs IND)
Dion Lewis (vs BUF)

Tier 6 (11.5)

Kenyan Drake (@ KC)
Devonta Freeman (@ NO)
Christian McCaffrey (+1, vs TB)
Carlos Hyde (vs JAX)
Samaje Perine (vs DEN)

Tier 7 (10.5)

Latavius Murray (-1, @ GB)
Jay Ajayi (vs OAK)

Tier 8 (10.0)

C.J. Anderson (-1, @ WAS)
Marshawn Lynch (@ PHI)
Kerwynn Williams (-1, vs NYG)
Lamar Miller (vs PIT)

Tier 9 (9.0)

Jerick McKinnon (+1, @ GB)
DeMarco Murray (vs LAR)
Peyton Barber (@ CAR)
Jonathan Stewart (-1, vs TB)
Frank Gore (@ BAL)
Mike Davis (@ DAL)
Jamaal Williams (vs MIN)
Joe Mixon (vs DET)

Tier 10 (7.5)

Isaiah Crowell (@ CHI)
Theo Riddick (@ CIN)
Duke Johnson Jr. (+1, @ CHI)
Bilal Powell (vs LAC)
Derrick Henry (-1, vs LAR)
Wayne Gallman (@ ARI)

Tier 11 (6.5)

Tevin Coleman (@ NO)
James White (+1, vs BUF)
Matt Forte (vs LAC)
Giovani Bernard (vs DET)

Tier 12 (5.5)

Javorius Allen (vs IND)
Tarik Cohen (vs CLE)
Orleans Darkwa (-1, @ ARI)
LeGarrette Blount (-1, vs OAK)
Danny Woodhead (+1, vs IND)
Devontae Booker (@ WAS)
Tion Green (-2, @ CIN)

Tier 13 (4.5)

J.D. McKissic (@ DAL)
Marlon Mack (@ BAL)
Aaron Jones (vs MIN)
Kapri Bibbs (+1, vs DEN)
Matt Breida (vs JAX)
Ameer Abdullah (@ CIN)

Tier 14 (4.0)

T.J. Yeldon (+1, @ SF)
Corey Clement (vs OAK)
D.J. Foster (+2, vs NYG)

Wide Receivers

We will be without a fantasy football legend this week. Antonio Brown typically owns Tier 1 all to himself when Big Ben is under center. With AB’s absence, the WR position is wide open this week. I have Juju bumped all the way up to Tier 3 due to expected volume increase with AB out. Martavis Bryant is in play this week, in Tier 5.

The Jaguars look to be without Marqise Lee this week, as he injured his ankle early in their Week 15 blowout against the Texans. It was a bit odd how Dede Westbrook was unable to capitalize as the clear-cut No. 1 WR and only finished with a 2/21/0 line. I get that there’s a certain level of weight that needs to be given to the fact a defense can key in on an offense’s centerpiece in that situation. Nonetheless, I will be betting on Dede’s talent and increased opportunity in Week 16. Keelan Cole and, to a lesser extent, Jaydon Mickens will still carry some fantasy value into this week after their massive Week 15 showings. Cole makes for a decent WR3 this week and had quietly scored in back-to-back games even before his eruption last week.

Tier 1 (11.5)

Julio Jones (@ NO)
Keenan Allen (@ NYJ)
Michael Thomas (vs ATL)

Tier 2 (10.5)

DeAndre Hopkins (vs PIT)
A.J. Green (vs DET)
Tyreek Hill (vs MIA)
Adam Thielen (@ GB)

Tier 3 (9.0)

Brandin Cooks (vs BUF)
Juju Smith-Schuster (@ HOU)
Devin Funchess (vs TB)
Mike Evans (@ CAR)
Dez Bryant (vs SEA)
Michael Crabtree (@ PHI)

Tier 4 (8.5)

Marvin Jones Jr. (@ CIN)
Larry Fitzgerald (+1, vs NYG)
Doug Baldwin (@ DAL)
Jarvis Landry (+1, @ KC)
Golden Tate (@ CIN)
Stefon Diggs (@ GB)
Alshon Jeffery (vs OAK)
Robert Woods (@ TEN)
Mike Wallace (vs IND)
Demaryius Thomas (@ WAS)
Josh Gordon (@ CHI)
Mohamed Sanu (@ NO)
Jamison Crowder (vs DEN)
Marquise Goodwin (vs JAX)

Tier 5 (7.5)

Robby Anderson (vs LAC)
Nelson Agholor (vs OAK)
Sterling Shepard (@ ARI)
Cooper Kupp (@ TEN)
Dede Westbrook (@ SF)
Rishard Matthews (vs LAR)
Martavis Bryant (@ HOU)

Tier 6 (7.0)

Keelan Cole (@ SF)
Randall Cobb (vs MIN)
T.Y. Hilton (@ BAL)
Sammy Watkins (@ TEN)
DeSean Jackson (@ CAR)
Jordy Nelson (vs MIN)
Paul Richardson (@ DAL)
Kendall Wright (vs CLE)
Emmanuel Sanders (@ WAS)

Tier 7 (6.0)

Kenny Golladay (@ CIN)
Kenny Stills (@ KC)
Jermaine Kearse (vs LAC)
Danny Amendola (vs BUF)
DeVante Parker (@ KC)
Tyrell Williams (@ NYJ)
Ted Ginn Jr. (vs ATL)
Josh Doctson (vs DEN)

Tier 8 (5.5)

Roger Lewis (@ ARI)
Tyler Lockett (@ DAL)
Will Fuller V (vs PIT)
Brandon LaFell (vs DET)
Travis Benjamin (-1, @ NYJ)
Amari Cooper (@ PHI)
Corey Coleman (@ CHI)
Albert Wilson (vs MIA)
Corey Davis (vs LAR)
Chris Hogan (vs BUF)
Torrey Smith (vs OAK)
Terrance Williams (vs SEA)

Tier 9 (4.5)

Kelvin Benjamin (@ NE)
Damiere Byrd (vs TB)
Trent Taylor (vs JAX)
Chris Moore (vs IND)
Brandon Coleman (-1, vs ATL)
Ryan Grant (vs DEN)
J.J. Nelson (vs NYG)
Eric Decker (vs LAR)
Chester Rogers (@ BAL)
Cody Latimer (@ WAS)

Tight Ends

Tier 1 (10.5)

Rob Gronkowski (vs BUF)
Travis Kelce (vs MIA)

Tier 2 (8.5)

Zach Ertz (vs OAK)

Tier 3 (7.5)

Greg Olsen (vs TB)
Evan Engram (@ ARI)
Delanie Walker (vs LAR)

Tier 4 (6.5)

Jimmy Graham (@ DAL)
Kyle Rudolph (@ GB)
Cameron Brate (@ CAR)
Jack Doyle (@ BAL)
Jared Cook (@ PHI)
Charles Clay (@ NE)
Jason Witten (vs SEA)
Eric Ebron (@ CIN)

Tier 5 (5.0)

Vernon Davis (vs DEN)
Benjamin Watson (vs IND)
Jesse James (@ HOU)
Austin Hooper (@ NO)
Antonio Gates (@ NYJ)
Stephen Anderson (vs PIT)
Ricky Seals-Jones (vs NYG)
Tyler Kroft (vs DET)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs LAC)

Tier 6 (4.5)

Ricky Seals-Jones (vs NYG)
Tyler Kroft (vs DET)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs LAC)

Kickers

Tucker Tier

Justin Tucker (vs IND)

Tier 1

Stephen Gostkowski (vs BUF)

Tier 2

Wil Lutz (vs ATL)
Harrison Butker (vs MIA)
Justin Tucker (vs IND)*

Tier 3

Graham Gano (vs TB)
Dan Bailey (vs SEA)
Chris Boswell (@ HOU)
Jake Elliott (vs OAK)

Tier 4

Matt Bryant (@ NO)
Sam Ficken (@ TEN)
Matt Prater (@ CIN)
Nick Rose (@ NYJ)
Josh Lambo (@ SF)

Tier 5

Dustin Hopkins (vs DEN)
Phil Dawson (vs NYG)
Kai Forbath (@ GB)
Ryan Succop (vs LAR)
Blair Walsh (@ DAL)
Mike Nugent (vs CLE)

Tier 6

Robbie Gould (vs JAX)
Mason Crosby (vs MIN)
Giorgio Tavecchio (@ PHI)
Brandon McManus (@ WAS)
Stephen Hauschka (@ NE)
Randy Bullock (vs DET)
Chandler Catanzaro (vs LAC)
Patrick Murray (@ CAR)
Aldrick Rosas (@ ARI)
Ka’imi Fairbairn (vs PIT)

Tier 7

Cody Parkey (@ KC)
Adam Vinatieri (@ BAL)
Zane Gonzalez (@ CHI)

*See Week 15 Tiers piece for explanation of the Tucker Tier.

Defenses

Tier 1

Chicago Bears (vs CLE)
Minnesota Vikings (@ GB)
Baltimore Ravens (vs IND)

Tier 2

Los Angeles Chargers (@ NYJ)
Kansas City Chiefs (vs MIA)
Pittsburgh Steelers (@ HOU)
Jacksonville Jaguars (@ SF)

Tier 3

Carolina Panthers (vs TB)
Washington Redskins (vs DEN)
New England Patriots (vs BUF)
Arizona Cardinals (vs NYG)
Los Angeles Rams (@ TEN)

Tier 4

Philadelphia Eagles (vs OAK)
Detroit Lions (@ CIN)
New York Giants (@ ARI)
Dallas Cowboys (vs SEA)

Tier 5

Denver Broncos (@ WAS)
New Orleans Saints (vs ATL)
Cleveland Browns (@ CHI)
Cincinnati Bengals (vs DET)
San Francisco 49ers (vs JAX)
New York Jets (vs LAC)
Green Bay Packers (vs MIN)
Houston Texans (vs PIT)

Tier 6

Seattle Seahawks (@ DAL)
Tennessee Titans (vs LAR)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ CAR)
Indianapolis Colts (@ BAL)
Miami Dolphins (@ KC)

Tier 7

Oakland Raiders (@ PHI)
Atlanta Falcons (@ NO)
Buffalo Bills (@ NE)

Counterintuitive: The Transition Style that got the Houston Dynamo Back to the MLS Cup Playoffs

By:

STATS Playing Styles can quantitatively break down the counter attack that helped transform a last-place club into an MLS semifinalist under a first-year coach. And while Houston won’t be an underdog in 2018, playing like one still makes sense.

Calling the Houston Dynamo a playoff mainstay for their first eight seasons after moving from San Jose might be underselling their initial accomplishments. Half of those campaigns resulted in MLS Cup final appearances, and half of those ended in celebration. That changed in 2014, but after a three-year absence, the Dynamo returned to the postseason in 2017 under first-year coach Wilmer Cabrera.

It was an impressive turnaround for a club that posted a franchise-worst one point per match just a season before. The forgettable nature of 2016 went beyond results. It was also unmemorable in terms of style. There wasn’t anything distinguishing the Dynamo from the league, while in 2017 they excelled at 44 percent above the league average in the ever-dangerous area of counter attacking. The only other club in that neighborhood was Portland (plus-32), while New England (+17) and Salt Lake (+17) were the only other sides higher than +10 percent.

Before analyzing the good, let’s rewind for a moment and consider post-All-Star break 2016, a 14-match stretch two months removed from the club’s midseason coaching change to interim boss Wade Barrett on May 28. Houston gathered 15 points with a minus-3 goal difference in that span:

Houston’s 2017 playing styles measured against MLS averages (0%). (Graphics by Stephan van Niekerk)

The Dynamo were slightly above league averages in possession-based styles such as build up and sustained threat, but they were far from a ball-dominant side. They didn’t make up for that anywhere else – they didn’t employ a high press or have a particular proficiency with crossing, and their counter was middling.

It resulted in 71 possessions on which counter attacking accounted for more than 50 percent of the value, 23 shots and three goals – or 5.1 possessions, 1.6 shots and 0.2 goals per game.

Under Cabrera, Houston scored 18 more goals than 2016. Its 57 goals for trailed only Portland in the Western Conference, while it conceded exactly the same as 2016 (45).

This scoring, seemingly counterintuitively, coincided with the departure of Will Bruin, who went on to star with MLS runner-up Seattle. But it had less to do with one individual than an impressive collective counter attack. To name a few, Alex’s midfield influence changed, Erick Torres and Mauro Manotas took on larger roles, and Alberth Elis was brought in.

We’ll get back to individuals. First, the more basic team deviations.

Notice the changes in style for the entirety of the 2017 campaign from their 2-1 home win against Seattle on March 4 through the Western Conference finals:

This translates to 278 counter-attack possessions, 90 shots and 11 goals – or 7.1, 2.3 and 0.3 per match.

Houston’s 11 goals scored off the counter matched Real Salt Lake for second and trailed only New England (14). These goals led to success with the Dynamo going 7-1-2 when scoring on at least one counter attack. In matches with more than three counter-attack shots, they were 8-0-3.

But what might be even more fascinating to consider is that, for the Dynamo, it wasn’t all about counter-attack chances and goals. Their results came when the style itself was at least present. When generating fewer than seven counter-attack possessions, Houston was 3-10-4 (0.76 team points per match). With seven or more, it was 12-2-8 (2.0 points per match).

Let’s now highlight an individual role that helped implement this style under Cabrera.

Begin with traditional individual statistics for carryover players from Houston’s 2016 side, and you’ll see Alex finished 2017 with 11 assists. That tied for 12th in MLS, but it came after managing a total of four in his previous six MLS seasons. Something was up, and part of that something was transitional responsibility in the midfield.

Dig deeper into counter-attack distances covered, and you’ll see Alex’s highest levels of offensive contribution came in the counter. Broken down to consider only the team’s play when Alex was on the field, he accounted for 20 percent of Houston’s counter distance passed, which ranked highest in output among Dynamo regulars. He was also at 20 percent in counter distance dribbled, which trailed only Elis (34) and Romell Quioto (22). Remember, these are on-pitch contributions, so Elis did not account for 34 percent of the club’s counter dribbling for the entire season but rather 34 percent of that distance covered during his 2,036 minutes played.

Now consider Alex’s 2016 numbers. He accounted for 19 percent of the counter dribble, so there was actually very little proportional deviation. But his counter passing on-pitch contribution was a mere six percent in 2016, and that was for a club that countered as a whole far less. At 20 percent in 2017 for a side that countered far more, we begin to see a specific style of play in which opportunity for a drastic increase in assists opened up for the midfielder.

This is the style and individual play that got the Dynamo back into the postseason, and it’s the style that allowed them to progress to the conference finals. Consider their playing styles for their first three playoff matches against Kansas City and Portland:

The Dynamo played an even more compact style than they did in the regular season, and it resulted in an even higher propensity to counter. On the counter in those three matches: 32 possessions, seven shots and a goal. Not just any goal – a rather important one that got Houston past Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in the knockout round after a Juan Cabezas defensive-half regain and outlet pass to Vicente Sanchez on the right side. He carried the ball to the end line and crossed to Elis for the extra-time winner.

But what was almost ubiquitous in the regular season was ephemeral in the postseason. That style wasn’t present once a trip to the MLS Cup was on the line. Consider Houston’s styles for its last-four tie with Seattle, which ended in a 5-0 aggregate defeat:

The Dynamo held the ball more in their own half, and nothing came from it. On the counter: four possessions, one shot, no goals.

This came after two regular-season matches against the Sounders in which Houston played its compact game and broke out when it saw opportunity – +27 of league average in the counter, +20 in direct play and +6 high press with little possession to speak of in maintenance (-39), build up (-57), sustained threat (-30) or fast tempo (-55). The West foes split six points at a 2-2 aggregate.

When Houston opens the 2018 season on March 3 against Atlanta, it’s no longer going to have the underdog label it did entering last season – a label that often goes along with a compact, counter-attacking style. Cabrera recognizes this:

“There are players and teams that like not being the favorites and when they become the favorites, they falter,” he told the club’s official website earlier this month. “We need to measure ourselves because if they’re going to call us favorites, we have to prepare ourselves to deal with that pressure and with the weight of what it means to be the favorite in a match.”

Labels don’t mean much on their own, but we all know a favorite typically displays ball-dominant tactics. Stylistically, the Dynamo might want to take a counterintuitive approach.

STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Football Plays: Week 15

By:

In this piece, I’ll be focusing primarily on daily fantasy (DFS) prices and strategy, giving a brief introduction for each position before diving into some specific players. In season-long, you’re focusing on one or two sit/starts that are pretty straightforward if you look at Sean Koerner’s Tiers, but in DFS, there are tons of iterations and decisions involved, with the landscape changing each week depending on pricing. Hopefully some of the DFS sleepers that I mention can also serve as waiver wire pickups for you in season-long, but if you’re unsure, please feel free to reach out on twitter (@cschwartz18), as always.

Note that both sites are at least half PPR – DraftKings (DK) is full – and that injuries and other news can change our outlook dramatically. For example, if Alex Collins has a migraine and is ruled out, drop everything and roster Javorius Allen. It’s such a dynamic process with tons of news coming all the way until kickoff, so check twitter and only use this as a guide, not as gospel.

Quarterbacks

On both sites, one of our most elite fantasy QBs is a great play. I have come to prefer rostering the best value among the elite guys in cash, and locking in something close to 20 points, at a position that shouldn’t be too volatile. On FanDuel (FD) especially, it looks quite optimal to roster a cheap QB and stock up on elite RBs and WRs, in GPPs, so I’ll point out my favorite option for that set-up.

High-End Play: Russell Wilson, SEA (vs. LAR)

Seattle has the fifth-highest expected team total in what could be a shootout against the Rams. No player has a larger share of his team’s production than Wilson, and any time the game is expected to be a shootout, he’s expected to put up a ton of points. He’s in a tier by himself this week while priced lower than Tom Brady on both sites and equal to Drew Brees on FD. He’s the logical cash-game QB.

High-End Play: Cam Newton, CAR (vs. GB)

Newton is clearly healthier and more comfortable, averaging 21.6 standard fantasy points over his last five, with 14.5 last week as his lowest. His 17.0 average points over the last two weeks is solid considering it came against two top defenses, New Orleans and Minnesota. This week, he gets a Green Bay pass D that hemorrhages yards to the tune of 7.8 per attempt. Further, the return of Aaron Rodgers should keep the game higher scoring and gives it shootout potential. I like capitalizing on Rodgers’ return in a contrarian way by rostering Newton, and I like stacking him with Devin Funchess, who has proven to be matchup-proof on volume and Red Zone chops.

Sleeper: Nick Foles, PHI (@ NYG)

The Giants defense is awful, even with All-Pro Landon Collins on the field. Collins has a banged up ankle and is doubtful, which means the Giants will basically be fielding a CFL defense. Foles’ talent level may actually be higher than most of the Giants defenders he’s up against, and he has proven upside, putting together an entire Pro Bowl caliber season at one point. With weapons like Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor at his disposal, he’s definitely the best of the bad (and cheap) QBs this week.

Fade: Jimmy Garoppolo, SF (vs. TEN)

In season-long, Garoppolo makes for a great pick-up, especially if you lost Carson Wentz or Josh McCown last week. So far, he has clearly belonged as a starting QB in the NFL. The hype around him has already picked up enough, however, to raise his DFS price to bona fide QB1 level. It’s not as bad on FD, but on DK he’s priced like Brees, Newton, and Kirk Cousins. He lacks the upside to justify this, in my opinion.

Running Backs

Last week, Giovani Bernard was a cheap, must-play RB, who paid off with a solid game. This week, at least so far, we don’t have a guy like that, so the optimal RBs are mostly studs. I consider Kenyan Drake to be a stud now, but he’s not priced like it on either site, making him a great play on both – I won’t even blurb him, just know he’s in there. On FD, it looks good to spend up and pair him with an elite guy, while on DK, due to pricing and full PPR scoring, it may make more sense to spend up on elite WRs instead. To cover all bases, I’ll recommend my favorite elite option, while also pointing out some valuable RB2 types.

High-End Play: Le’Veon Bell, PIT (vs. NE)

Kenyan Drake had a Le’Veon Bell game against New England last week, nearly going 100/100. This wasn’t a fluke – New England allows 5.0 yards per carry (most in NFL) and is also one of the worst teams at defending passes to RBs. This is not a good sign for their ability to defend Bell. Pittsburgh virtually clinches the No. 1 seed if they win this Sunday, so look for them to go all out now in order to maybe rest some starters for 2-3 weeks. Bell is in a tier by himself this week (with Todd Gurley in a tough match-up and Alvin Kamara coming off a concussion), so he’s worth his price tag.

Sleeper: Mike Davis, SEA (vs. LAR)

Davis had 15+ carries each of the last 2 weeks, emerging as Seattle’s most effective back during the stretch run. This week, he faces a Rams defense that allows 4.7 yards per carry and 124 rushing yards per game, both in the bottom 10 in the NFL. While Wilson may be chalk, I like Davis as a more contrarian way to capitalize on a potentially high-scoring game.

Sleeper: Alex Collins, BAL (@ CLE)

Collins is no sleeper in season-long, where he’s emerged as a high-end RB2 type. He’s also not the sneakiest play in DFS, coming off a 166 total yard outburst against Pittsburgh in primetime last week. He’s still valuable at his current price-tag in DFS, however, especially in a game that should be more favorable than most, script-wise.

Sleeper: Samaje Perine, WAS (vs. ARI)

For the past month or so, Perine’s upside has been something like 100 rushing yards and 1-2 TDs. Byron Marshall had been a capable 3rd down, receiving back, which limited Perine’s upside. Now Marshall is on the shelf, and Washington is running out of options at RB, meaning Perine could see 3-down work. This volume gives him more upside in PPR and helps his cause against a typically stout Arizona run defense.

Fade: Jamaal Williams, GB (@ CAR)

I had him as a guy to target in DFS last week, but this week I’m fading him for a few reasons. First – Carolina’s run D is amongst the best in the league, allowing just 89 yards per game (third-fewest). Second – with Rodgers back, Green Bay won’t lean as heavily on the run, particularly in the Red Zone, where I can see them calling for short passes just to get Rodgers on the board and get the team excited about his return. Third – Aaron Jones is healthy and at any point could become the “hot hand.” Lastly, his price is now in borderline RB1 territory, meaning he’s no longer a good value on starting status and volume alone.

Wide Receivers

I’ve already mentioned that on DK the optimal lineups seem to feature Drake and an RB2 type at RB, which leaves you enough salary to roster 2-3 studs at WR. On FD, Bell is too good to fade, which means you’ll need to find some cheaper punt-plays to roster at WR. Thus, I’ll point out a nice mix of studs and sleepers at this position.

High-End Play: Antonio Brown, PIT (vs. NE)

Did you know that he’s really good? I don’t need to spend much time telling you why he’s worth rostering in DFS. Just know that there are enough other cheap guys to be able to fit him in, that this game has more shootout potential than your typical Steelers game, and that he’ll be looking to rack up some stats before potentially sitting out a meaningless game or two to end the season.

High-End Play: A.J. Green, CIN (@ MIN)

People are just too scared of shut-down corners sometimes. Xavier Rhodes couldn’t eliminate Funchess last week, and Green has more talent in his pinky toe than Funchess has in his whole body. NFL defenses aren’t just about 1-on-1 matchups 100 percent of the time – there is a lot of teamwork involved that goes over most of our heads. Minnesota’s entire defense is quite good, but Green’s price is still too cheap, as he’s priced like a Josh Gordon/Robby Anderson type. His median projection is much higher than those guys, and this week gives you a nice chance to roster him on the cheap next to Bell and/or Brown.

Sleeper: Dede Westbrook, JAX (vs. HOU)

As you’d expect from a rookie who missed the first half of the season, his role has been growing more and more each week. The surprising part is just how quickly he’s risen to borderline WR2 territory. His quickness and talent makes him a nice bet for 5+ receptions, and he caught his first TD last week to boot. Now he has an easier matchup against a Houston defense that has really struggled against the pass. He’s my favorite cheap WR who you can pair with Brown while providing both a high floor and a high ceiling.

Sleeper: Trent Taylor, SF (@ CHI)

Marquise Goodwin has gotten all the hype (and deservedly so) amongst 49ers’ receivers, but Taylor is only two weeks removed from a six-catch, 92-yard performance with Garoppolo under center. He’s of course also capable of a stinker (and put one up last week), but he’s cheap enough to be a worthwhile punt play that can sneakily rack up PPR points.

Fade: Josh Gordon, CLE (vs. BAL)

Of course, Gordon has proven 200-yard upside, so he’ll always be a decent option in GPPs. He is a poor value this week, though, against a top Baltimore D that has shut down everybody but Antonio Brown this year. On such a poor team with mediocre QB play, Gordon either needs a cheap price tag or a prime matchup in order to be valuable. His price tag went up to borderline WR1 territory, and he has a bad matchup. I’d fade him this week, at least in cash games.

Tight Ends

So many studs at QB, RB, and WR, are worth rostering this week, that you probably will want to go cheaper at TE. I’ll point out a few guys below the top echelon that are worth it at their prices.

High-End: Delanie Walker, TEN (@ SF)

Walker has finally seen some positive TD regression, scoring his first two TDs of the season over his last three games. He’s now all the way up to the No. 6 overall TE on the season (in half PPR), with just the 2 TD. This speaks to his consistent volume, as he’s reeled in 4-7 catches over each of his last eight games. Against a pretty bad San Fran D, he’s a better bet than usual to score a TD in addition to the typical volume, so he’s our top ranked TE in the main slate, who isn’t nicknamed Gronk. He’s cheaper than Jimmy Graham on FD and Evan Engram on DK, and seems to be the optimal TE on both sites.

Sleeper: Charles Clay, BUF (vs. MIA)

Clay hasn’t done anything the last two weeks, but that’s been mostly with Nathan Peterman under center and a blizzard in Buffalo last week. Barring more bad weather, he should have much more opportunity to succeed this week with Tyrod Taylor back from injury. Miami struggles against TEs, so he’s a fine cheap punt play that allows you to roster maybe one more stud at another position.

Fade: Zach Ertz, PHI (@ NYG)

Last week, my advice to fade Ertz didn’t help much, as he was ruled out well before kick-off anyways. So I’ll tell you to fade him again this week, especially as his ownership level could be quite high against a bad Giants defense that can’t cover TEs. His price-tag simply isn’t worth it without Wentz under center. Who knows if he’ll be 100 percent, and who knows if he’ll have the same chemistry with Foles as he did with Wentz. The Eagles also may blow out the Giants, eliminating the need to throw short passes to the TE. I like the much-cheaper Walker to actually outscore Ertz this week.

STATS’ College Football Watchability Ratings: Bowl Games

By:

STATS’ predictive formula produces a unique rating that ranks the best college football games to watch every week

Let’s get the obvious out of the way quickly: Alabama-Clemson III sits atop the Watchability Ratings for the upcoming bowl season. I’m sure you’re all shocked.

But how could it not? After splitting the last two national championship game matchups, the Crimson Tide and Tigers battle in the Sugar Bowl in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals. And despite ‘Bama’s relatively weak schedule that led to them barely sneaking in as the No. 4 team, it enters favored by 2 ½ points over the top-ranked Tigers.

No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia meet in the other semifinal at the Rose Bowl, but don’t focus so much on the CFP when there are plenty of quality pre-Christmas and pre-New Year’s Day bowls to feast on. And, well, some not-so-good ones, too.

STATS’ data experts have developed a proprietary model that gives a watchability score to every college football game in a given week. That rating is a combination of analytics, including the projected score of each game from a model that factors in team production, explosiveness and “cleanliness” of play – a metric that includes turnovers, among other data points.

Team production includes evaluations of run and pass efficiency, explosive plays (20+ yards) and the defensive ratings also involved with the aforementioned metrics. Watchability Rating takes that data combined with talent level of each team based on other various STATS models and is adjusted based on the projected final score to produce a value of watchability.

Essentially, the model takes some randomness out of choosing which game to view, making for less channel-flipping while relaxing at home or fewer maneuvers through a bar crowd to place yourself nearest the television broadcasting a certain contest.

Have a look at the Watchability Ratings from most- to least-watchable on a 1-10 rating scale for all 39 bowl games prior to the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 8. You’ll notice the Army-Navy game from Dec. 9 also is included because the model ran each game following championship week.

The Washington-Penn State Fiesta Bowl and Wisconsin-Miami Orange Bowl definitely are intriguing matchups, so the high rating isn’t so surprising. But Iowa vs. Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl being the only other game to get at least a 9.0 rating? That’s a bit of an upset – especially if you haven’t heard of AJ Dillon. The BC running back ran for 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and he’ll be trying to better Iowa tailback Akrum Wadley, who is wrapping up his second straight 1,000-yard campaign.

College football junkies will appreciate that contest despite not having many household names like Josh Rosen, who guides UCLA into a Cactus Bowl matchup with Kansas State that is next on the list with an 8.6 watchability rating. Rosen is considered one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and likely will be chosen at or near the top of the next NFL draft should he declare. It all depends if he wants to stick around another year and play for Chip Kelly, who takes over the Bruins next season and will surely be watching the bowl game closely.

There’s only one bowl pitting Power 5 teams against each other that has lower than a 6.6 watchability rating. That distinction goes to Northwestern and Kentucky on Dec. 29 in the Music City Bowl. The battle of the Wildcats comes in at a 2.9 rating, which puts that matchup at 37th of the 39 bowls in the Watchability Ratings. Might want to avoid that one.

Foles 2017: Eagles Won’t Get Foles ’13 or Wentz ’17, but Keenum ’17 Could Suffice

By:

Philadelphia Eagles fans have been in better moods than they are this week. Carson Wentz’s season and MVP campaign came to a sudden halt just as he did when he dove for the end zone against the Los Angeles Rams, tearing his ACL and throwing a wrench into the Eagles’ Super Bowl aspirations, just after he stood on that blown up knee and threw one last touchdown before leaving the team to backup Nick Foles.

Foles has certainly had success in Philadelphia, albeit four years ago with a roster that has turned over considerably since. His 27-2 touchdown-interception ratio was the second-best in NFL history, and he led the Eagles to the NFC East title. It’s relevant to point out that he started that season as a backup to Michael Vick, as well. Since then, Foles has made stops in St. Louis and Kansas City, and was unspectacular in both places.

Foles won’t match Wentz’s production this season, and no one expects him to do that. Wentz leads the league in touchdown passes and has an almost unmatched ability to escape pressure. Philadelphia is still built to win, however. The defense is ranked fourth in yards in the NFL through Week 14, is first in the league in total defensive pressures, and it ranks fourth in STATS X-Info’s successful plays allowed. Successful plays allowed is defined as anytime the offense gains 40 percent of the yardage necessary for a first down on first down, 50 percent of the yardage necessary for a first down on second down, or gains a first down on third or fourth down.

And there are still plenty of playmakers on the offensive side, too.

The question to ask with the Eagles now is not whether Foles can be Wentz-like the rest of the season; rather, it’s whether he can become a quarterback that he himself is particularly familiar with – Case Keenum.

Keenum was a backup to start the season in Minnesota, but people around the league have long since stopped bringing that up when talking about the Vikings’ Super Bowl chances. That is because Mike Zimmer and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff have laid out a blueprint of success for Keenum that Doug Pederson and the Eagles should try to emulate for Foles.

It was only two years ago in St. Louis that the Rams coaching staff deemed Foles better than Keenum, starting the former over the latter for the first 13 weeks of the 2015 season. So it isn’t far-fetched to think Foles can give the Eagles similar production to what Keenum has given the Vikings.

What the Vikings have done well this season is allow Keenum to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers quickly and let them do the damage. Sixty-nine percent of Keenum’s throws have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and 90 percent of his throws have come within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage.

For comparison’s sake, Foles threw 73 percent of his passes in 2015 within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and 88 percent of his throws were 20 yards or less.

Those numbers are very similar to Keenum’s. Where the similarities end and swing to Keenum’s advantage is when you look at the receivers targeted on those passes. Adam Thielen has emerged as one of the best receivers in the NFL in 2017, and if Keenum gets a big contract after this season, Thielen better get a thank you card. Consider how far above average Thielen has been in both the short (0-10 yards) and intermediate (11-20 yards) passing game:

Short: 40 catches for 377 yards (league average: 23.6 catches for 210.7 yards).

Intermediate: 29 catches for 584 yards (league average: 10.8 catches for 193.2 yards).

On top of that, Thielen has been good at making guys miss, with 395 of his 1,161 yards coming after the catch. He is the main reason Keenum has been well above average in completion percentage on both short (71 percent) and intermediate (61 percent) passes.

Foles didn’t have anybody like Thielen in St. Louis. He did in 2013 with Philadelphia when he was throwing the ball to LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson (Foles completed 64 percent of his passes that year), and he will again now with Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. Compare Ertz’s work in the short passing game and Jeffery’s in the intermediate to Thielen:

Ertz in short passing game: 43 catches for 364 yards.

Jeffery in the intermediate passing game: 25 catches for 421 yards.

Those numbers are pretty similar. And when you add in the rushing attack from both teams (Philadelphia is second in the NFL in rushing, Minnesota is eighth) and defenses (Philadelphia is fifth in scoring defense, Minnesota is third), both Foles and Keenum have a very similar – very strong –supporting cast surrounding them.

What Keenum does a lot better than Foles is make plays outside of the passing game. He has picked up 11 first downs with his feet, and has eluded pressure to the tune of only 15 sacks this season. Foles only ran for four first downs in 2015, though when he was forced to use his legs more in 2013 in Chip Kelly’s offense, he ran for 15 first downs.

Chip Kelly’s quarterbacks coach that season just happened to be Doug Pederson, so the Eagles head coach had a front row seat to Foles’ historic 2013 season. Will Foles be able to repeat that? Probably not. Those numbers are pretty steep: 119.2 QB rating, 9.1 yards per attempt, and that 27-2 TD-INT ratio.

But if he can get the ball out of his hands quickly to let Ertz, Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and the stable of running backs continue making plays, he can put up numbers similar to Keenum’s: 96.2 rating, 7.4 yards/attempt, 2.6 TD-INT ratio. If Foles does that, we could still see an Eagles-Vikings matchup in the NFC Championship game.

The Angels’ No-Risk, Unknown-Reward Gamble on Shohei Ohtani

By:

Analyzing Ohtani’s career in Japan on the mound and in the batter’s box using STATS’ advanced TVL data and video

Shohei Ohtani’s story elicits natural intrigue among Major League Baseball obsessives who have grown comfortable with a version of the game known for pitchers performing terribly at the plate. Those with a gift to make hitters look foolish appear so themselves a majority of the time when stepping in the batter’s box.

It’s why Ohtani’s credentials seem almost fabricated. A 23-year-old Japanese ballplayer who throws a 100 mph fastball right-handed and bashes 400-foot homers left-handed while batting cleanup in the same game he’s the starting pitcher? C’mon.

Embellished seems more appropriate, though. That made-for-Hollywood scouting report doesn’t include stretches of control problems on the mound, a roughly 30 percent career strikeout rate at the dish and a recent injury history that could hinder an immediate rise to MLB stardom.

But the Los Angeles Angels are buying the script with the happy ending prior to the tear-down edits – and rightfully so. Paying roughly $24 million – when counting the $20 million posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters, $2.5 million signing bonus to Ohtani and his $545,000 salary over the next two years – for what amounts to a prospect with seemingly no ceiling is a no-brainer. And that’s without mentioning Ohtani will still be under the Angels’ control when he becomes arbitration-eligible prior to his third MLB season.

It’s a no-risk, unknown-reward gamble the Angels had to take despite knowing about Ohtani’s right ankle surgery Oct. 12 and his sprained right ulnar collateral ligament – the one operated on during Tommy John surgery. The latter injury doesn’t appear to be all that serious, but even so, Ohtani’s potential both on the mound and at the plate warrant setting aside any immediate concerns.

The fact still is that Ohtani is a uniquely gifted player. That’s even more evident when jumping into the analytics and having a look at video from his five seasons in Japan. It’s the kind of video analysis available in STATS Video Solution, which we’ve used to make sense of other relevant offseason storylines along with TVL data.

STATS TVL data tracks pitch type (T), velocity (V) and location (L) for both pitchers and the hitters facing them. It records the data into categories such as usage percentage of a specific pitch, strike percentage of those pitches and opponents’ swing rate, among others. Here’s a look at Ohtani’s pitch selection and corresponding numbers:

Ohtani’s basic pitching numbers are dominant from 2014-16. He went 36-13 with a 2.25 ERA in 66 starts and one relief appearance, 549 strikeouts and a .196 batting average against. He made only five starts last season while battling the ankle injury, but in his last Oct. 4 he tossed a 124-pitch, two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts – a masterpiece during which he also went 1 for 4 in the No. 4 slot in the batting order.

A couple things jump out in the above TVL stats. Ohtani threw his splitter out of the strike zone 69.1 percent of the time, yet he still had a 63.4 percent strike rate on the pitch. That’s because the deceptive movement helped fool hitters into a 57 percent swing rate on a pitch that far more often than not landed out of the strike zone.

Watch how Ohtani finishes a strikeout with a nasty splitter July 12. First, notice he pitches out of the stretch with no runners on – something he does from his first pitch of every game to his last. Then, continue watching through the replay to see in slow motion how the splitter suddenly drops off the table.

Ohtani ended an at-bat 404 times with a split-finger in his career in Japan, and 51.2 percent of those at-bats resulted in a strikeout. Opponents had a .161 average in those situations with only 13 extra-base hits.

His slider is nearly as devastating. Ohtani ended an at-bat 353 times with that pitch, recording a strikeout on 49.3 percent. Opponents had a .144 average when seeing a slider for their last pitch with only 12 extra-base hits. Have a look at him setting up a hitter before wiping him out with that slider during his Oct. 4 gem. With his breaking pitches working, Ohtani had enough left to hit 96 mph with his 115th pitch of the game.

A pitch with that movement away from the right-handed hitter in that location is virtually unhittable and nearly impossible to lay off – and Ohtani knew exactly where it was going. But there’s also the case of him walking 19 in 25 1/3 innings this past season and the control issues that have plagued him at times throughout his career. Ohtani has walked 200 over 85 appearances and issued at least three free passes in 35 of his 82 starts.

TVL data tracked that of the six pitches he’s thrown in his career – including very limited use of a cut fastball and changeup – he threw five out of the strike zone at a rate of 54.8 percent or greater. His fastball was the outlier, traveling out of the zone 46.3 percent of the time.

Here’s an example of when Ohtani’s issues bit him. Notice the catcher sets up low and away while the pitch sails up and in.

Ohtani is still young, and mistakes like that have caused him to show some frustration on the mound. And he knows a bit about taking advantage of pitching miscues.

The 2016 season was Ohtani’s best overall, winning league MVP honors posting a 1.88 ERA in 20 starts on mound while hitting .322 with 22 homers in 90 games at the plate. He followed that up with a .332 average and eight homers in 61 games in his injury-shortened 2017 campaign.

The following graphic shows how Ohtani fared in his last pitch of each at-bat in his career in Japan and the type of pitch he faced.

It’s fair to say if Ohtani faced himself, he wouldn’t be able to hit his own splitter very well. It’s also a wonder how Ohtani ever sees a fastball in the zone given that remarkable .353 average with four more homers than every other pitch combined despite finishing 219 fewer at-bats against it. Here’s an example of him working the count and getting his fastball.

Ohtani’s stance is nearly statuesque with just some minimal movement of the bat prior to the pitch. His arms remain up, and at 6-foot-4 he’s able to drive through the ball even when extending out over the plate like in this video.

Ohtani can be just as dangerous with that power swing when facing an inside curve. Watch as he turns on the pitch with a quick bat and sails one off the right-field fair pole. This bomb is later in the same game as the previous example.

Yes, the power that helped make Ohtani a known name across the world and had multiple teams vying for his commitment exists, although there’s no real way to quantify the numbers in relation to MLB. Hideki Matsui joined the Yankees in 2003 as a three-time Japanese home run champion who hit 50 in one year, then only hit the 30-homer mark once in 10 MLB seasons.

Ohtani does hit for average as well, despite his power stroke and high strikeout rate, by often hitting the gaps. That also doesn’t mean he’ll be Ichiro, who carried his style of hitting line drives and keeping the ball on the ground directly over from Japan to help him win the AL MVP in his first MLB season.

What Ohtani possesses is enough pop in that left-handed bat and a solid eye – he walked 78 times over his last 151 games – to warrant a regular spot in the Angels’ lineup. Manager Mike Scioscia has said he plans to use Ohtani as a DH in a lineup that includes Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, sometimes Albert Pujols and the newly acquired Ian Kinsler. It’s just a matter of where Scioscia wants to slot him and how often.

That timing will depend on Ohtani’s pitching duties, and it appears the Angels will move to a six-man rotation to accommodate him. It’s custom for Japanese hurlers to pitch once every seven days compared to MLB norm of once in five. That’s another reason why quantifying Ohtani’s numbers in Japan remains difficult.

Pitchers making the jump in recent years haven’t fared nearly as well as they did in Japan. Think Boston’s gamble in 2007 on Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was out of MLB by 2014 and was released from a Japanese team last month. Masahiro Tanaka has been better with the Yankees since coming over in 2014, but he had a 4.74 ERA in 30 starts this past season.

Although the Red Sox and Yankees spent a great deal of cash to bring them over, neither had the amount of hype that’s following Ohtani to Los Angeles. And he’ll be watched and scrutinized by curious onlookers wondering if he’ll live up to it.