Game Flowbotics A-to-Z - Week 16
This time of year has a special way of challenging us in the fantasy football playoffs. We get pulled in so many directions, from office parties to holiday shopping to reunions with old friends and family visiting from out of town. I keep saying “us” and “we,” but let’s be real, I’m talking about me. Write about what you know, they say, and all I know is that this week has been crazy busy for yours truly. I’m in the midst of a five-day run of holiday parties that started on Tuesday. Anyway, this is a long-winded excuse for falling behind on my A-to-Z writing responsibilities in Week 16.
Rather than keep you all hanging while I power through all 26 letters of the alphabet, I’m going to try something a little different. A-to-Z will be live-updated throughout the day. As I finish blurbs, I’ll post them in real time. Instead of in alphabetical order, they’ll be listed chronologically, so ride that refresh button and keep scrolling down to see the latest letters of choice. But as always, let’s start with this week’s Game Flowbotics matchups spreadsheet:
Now let’s dive in, A to Z, for Week 16 of the 2018 NFL season.
B is for Bowling.
The holiday shindig for my wife’s company featured a trip to the local bowling alley, and I’m no stranger to the lanes. My mom likes to roll, so I bowled a lot as a kid. A few years ago, my partner and I even joined a bowling league with my mom and some family friends. This company party was a casual deal, so I didn’t pull my ball or shoes out of the shed, but I wasn’t going to dial back my effort level with house equipment. I’m a competitive person, and bowling is a singular challenge where you’re really competing against yourself (and the lane to some extent), not the other people on the scoreboard. And like I do in every week of fantasy football, I’m trying to post the highest possible score in every game I bowl.
But I hadn’t bowled in quite some time, probably a couple years. Incoming brag alert! It didn’t matter. I threw a strike on my first ball and didn’t leave a frame open until the sixth. After that, I knocked down every pin I saw until I couldn’t close the strike I threw to open the tenth. Most of my marks were spares, however, not strikes. And while my final score wasn’t ridiculous, it was pretty damn good for my first game after a long hiatus, somewhere north of 160. I don’t remember exactly.
My wife’s coworkers didn’t believe it had been so long since I last bowled. But it’s not like the game has changed since 2016 or whenever it was I last laced up those clownish shoes. Like I said, I’ve been bowling for most of my life. I may not have the 10,000 hours necessary to be an “expert,” per Malcolm Gladwell, but all the practice I have under my belt has clearly paid off. I cared about my performance as a bowler, so I took the time to learn and practice techniques that work for me.
The same goes for fantasy sports, and my experience after this holiday party thinking about what it took to become the bowler (and fantasy player) I am today resonated with something JJ Zachariason and Denny Carter talked about on this week’s episode of their “Living the Stream” podcast. They discussed how the best way to combat the variance of fantasy football is to play in more leagues, which is spot on. Not only does playing in more leagues give you more opportunity to land on the lucky side of variance, it give you practice. You can hone your process and intuition for the game by iterating decisions over multiple leagues. Try varying the formats you play, as well. Redraft, dynasty, DFS, two-quarterback, one-quar… never mind. Seeing the game from different perspectives when it comes to roster/lineup construction and scoring settings will help you become a better in-the-moment decision maker. Because you’ve put in the time. Because you’ve seen it all. Because you’re your own fantasy expert.
D is for Derrick & Davis.
With that abstract comparison to bowling out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty of Week 16 fantasy matchups, starting with the weekend’s first game between Washington and Tennessee. And we have to start with Derrick Henry, who should continue leading fantasy teams on improbable playoff runs. He’s been running through defenders like the Kool Aid man through brick walls, and Washington ranks 29th in run defense DVOA and 30th along their defensive line in Adjusted Line Yards.
And while the Titans have been content to take the air out of the ball and feed Henry on the ground in recent weeks, don’t discount Corey Davis. Against Washington, No. 1 receivers are posting above-average adjusted yards per game (76.7) on below-average adjusted targets per game (7.4). Even on limited volume, Davis could deliver a solid performance in the fantasy finals based solely on efficiency.
S-T is for Stealth TE.
Saturday’s second game between the Ravens and Chargers is one of this week’s toughest to evaluate. The only thing I’m confident in is the sneaky appeal of faux wideout Mike Williams (see “C-D-E” from last week’s A-to-Z). Considering his big-body profile, we can factor the Chargers’ tight end matchups into our weekly prognostications for Williams. It worked last week, when Williams destroyed a Kansas City secondary ranked 28th in DVOA against the position (Keenan Allen leaving the game with a hip injury helped, too). And while Baltimore ranks top-seven in DVOA against all wide receiver types, they rank 27th against tight ends. The 8.5 adjusted yards per target they allow to the position is tied for seventh-highest in the NFL, as well. Williams won’t repeat his volume from Week 15 if Allen returns to action, but he’s still a solid play based on the matchup.
U-V-W is for Unlocking Vertical Wideouts.
Playing against the Giants’ anemic pass rush would seem to be a great way to get the vertical passing game going. They rank 31st in Adjusted Sack Rate, which affords receivers more time to get downfield on fly routes. Enter Andrew Luck, playing behind the third-best O-line in Adjusted Sack Rate, and T.Y. Hilton, playing against New York’s league-worst defense against No. 1 wide receivers according to DVOA. On the other hand, they’ve only allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Still, this is an intriguing spot to stack up Luck and Hilton in DFS if you can afford their combined salaries.
A is for A-Rob.
With Allen Robinson as the featured image for this post, I couldn’t wait much longer to profile his Week 16 matchup against San Francisco. The 49ers’ defense has been much worse against the pass (25th in DVOA) than the run (12th), and that’s translated to them allowing the fourth-most points per game to wide receivers. I expect A-Rob to break his streak of five straight games without a touchdown, and Josh Hermsmeyer’s DFS Air Yards Buy Low Model for Week 16 agrees (even though it doesn’t care at all about the matchup).
F-G is for Fade George?
On the other side of the matchup, this could finally be the week to fade George Kittle. The Bears rank third in DVOA against tight ends, as they allow above-average adjusted targets (8.1) but below-average adjusted yardage to the position (43.4). The resulting 5.4 adjusted yards per target for tight ends against Chicago is easily worst in the league. I can’t bring myself to drop Kittle in my Week 16 rankings, though. Tight end is too thin to fade a target share of Kittle’s magnitude.
N-O-P is for Nick’s Obvious Preference?
We don’t have a significant enough sample size of games with Nick Foles starting and Alshon Jeffery healthy to draw any meaningful conclusions about whether the quarterback prefers targeting Jeffery or Zach Ertz. So don’t let recency bias associated with the Week 15 dud from Ertz (while Jeffery went bananas) cloud your analysis of their Week 16 outlooks. Both are strong plays. Houston ranks 31st in DVOA against No. 1 receivers and 29th against tight ends. Both positions garner above-average adjusted targets and yardage against the Texans.
C is for Correlation Conundrum.
So if I’m big on Jeffery and Ertz, why is Foles buried at QB18 in my weekly rankings? Mostly because the league’s depth at quarterback makes it extremely difficult to differentiate between the position’s middle class. While I like the matchups for his key receivers, I’m scared of Foles against Houston’s defensive line, who rank 12th in Adjusted Sack Rate and third in Adjusted Line Yards. I’m not alone, either.
Are we not concerned about Nick Foles's lack of mobility against the HOU pass rush?
— Josh ADHD (@FantasyADHD) December 20, 2018
I don’t know for sure if the matchups for Tom Brady (QB12 vs. BUF) or Philip Rivers (QB15 vs. BAL) are necessarily better than what Foles is facing, but those vets have more established track records, while Lamar Jackson (QB14 at LAC) has a more established floor thanks to his rushing production. I might be doing a disservice to my rankings by fading Foles while buying Jeffery and Ertz, but I’m a sucker for a good hedge. And even if I’m hedging, so is the fantasy hive mind. I’m close to or even with consensus on all three of Foles, Jeffery, and Ertz.
K is for Kalen vs. Kenyan.
I get the intrigue with Kalen Ballage, but I would not be comfortable starting him in my fantasy championship. Kenyan Drake is still around, and the Jacksonville defense ranks seventh in DVOA against the run. It was smart to pick up Ballage off waivers, if only to prevent another outlier performance from him in your opponent’s Week 16 lineup. But chances are if you made it this far, you might have better options at running back than Ballage. Don’t get cute unless you have to.
J is for Jeremy Jimmies?
It blew my mind when I found out that sprinkles, like those you put on ice cream or cupcakes, are known to many people as “jimmies.” Sprinkles makes sense. You sprinkle them on your sweet treat of choice. Jimmies? Where did that name come from? Anyway, this is merely a silly way to point out that, with Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed both ruled out, Jeremy Sprinkle is set to see the lion’s share of tight end targets in Washington. Last week, Sprinkle caught three passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. Despite a mediocre matchup this week, he could still be useful because Washington is so thin at receiver. Josh Doctson remains questionable, and Maurice Harris has been ruled out alongside Davis and Reed.
Q-R is for Quality Reciprocity.
I love Robby Anderson’s matchup against Green Bay. Because he and Sam Darnold are still so affordable in DFS, they afford us some fun correlation opportunities with other Jets and Packers. I’ll be game stacking both with Davante Adams in some lineups, and I’ll probably jimmy in some Chris Herndon here and there, as well.
I-L-Y-M-X-H-E is for I Love Y’all. Merry X-mas, Happy Hanukkah, Etc.
With apologies to Z, I’ve got to end the article here. Thanks for reading throughout this wild season, happy holidays, happy new year, and good luck in your fantasy football championships this weekend! Peace.
Editor’s Note: DVOA, Adjusted Line Yards, Adjusted Sack Rate, and Versus-Receiver statistics from FootballOutsiders.com. Fantasy Scoring and Red Zone statistics from FantasyData.com. Air Yards and snap data from airyards.com.