Week 2 Rankings and Game Flowbotics

Last week’s rankings rundown was missing a key ingredient. Football Outsiders hadn’t released their DVOA numbers yet, so we had to do without the Game Flowbotics spreadsheet, but our wait is over. A few gaps still need to be filled in. Because Miami and Tampa Bay were forced into a Week 1 bye, there’s no data on their defenses against certain receiver types.  Furthermore, FO’s numbers on offensive and defensive line play won’t be released until after Week 2.  We’ve got plenty of new information to work with, though. Before you scroll down to my Week 2 rankings, check out the first Game Flowbotics spreadsheet of the 2017 NFL season:

Week 2 Game Flowbotics

If you need a quick primer to help decipher the page, check out this installment of Flowbotics from last season’s playoffs. Note that the DFS pricing on the spreadsheet for that Wild Card week is not a regular feature. It was added only for the playoffs. During the regular season, those spaces on the right-hand side of the page are reserved for notes on teams and players. The notes are updated periodically between Wednesdays and Sundays, but I won’t get to every match-up every week. If you’re interested in certain games or players and you don’t see any notes on the Flowbotics page, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions.

Understanding DVOA

In terms of how these stats can help us as fantasy football players, I encourage you to check out Football Outsiders’ glossary (and really everything they do). The quick-and-dirty of DVOA is that positive values are good for offense and bad for defense, while negative numbers are good for defense and bad for offense.  Keep in mind that DVOA is an aggregate of the entire season as it plays out. FO will eventually release weighted numbers that skew more toward recent performance, but the standard DVOA values do not fully account for recent developments like injuries.  DVOA only considers what has happened on the field up to the current point of the season.

Caveats and Warnings

That does it for explaining what the Game Flowbotics spreadsheet is, so let’s move on to disclaimers and words of caution. First, remember that Football Outsiders faces the same challenges we do with the small sample size of one week. The Rams currently lead the NFL in total DVOA, thanks mostly to Scott Tolzien, but it’s a safe bet they’ll fall from their lofty perch soon. The small sample problem is combated to some extent by DAVE, which is DVOA with preseason projections factored in for more accurate measures of on-field values. According to FO, preseason projections currently make up 90 percent of DAVE (except for Miami and Tampa Bay, whose numbers are based completely on projections).

Defensive DVOA against receivers types is another gray area of analysis. Football Outsiders admits their “decision of which receiver is ‘number one’ and which receiver is ‘number two’ is somewhat subjective.” My decisions on how to list receivers in those roles for each team is equally subjective. Here’s another important quote from their defensive DVOA page:

DVOA ratings represent value from the point of view of the defense, not fantasy football players, and include items that have no impact on fantasy football (such as how many interceptions are caught on passes intended to certain receivers). DVOA of defense against receivers does not include sacks or passes with no intended receiver listed. Passes per game and yards per game are more useful for fantasy football players. These numbers are adjusted based on the opposing offenses and include defensive pass interference.

I take their advice and focus on the passes per game and yards per game numbers more than DVOA when considering defense against receiver types. Comparing team-specific numbers to the corresponding NFL averages is an easy way to contextualize expectations for matchups.  With that said, don’t put too much stock into the versus-receiver numbers this early in the season. If you do make use of those stats, be sure to consider how the specific opponents already faced by certain teams can skew versus-receiver numbers.  For example, Buffalo ranks 6th in DVOA against #1 wide receivers, allowing below average yardage on an above average number of targets to the position, but they’ve only played the Jets, who don’t have a true top wideout (or a good quarterback for that matter). Over the next few weeks, though, the Bills are scheduled to face Kelvin Benjamin, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green. We’ll see if they can maintain their success against #1 receivers, but I’m not holding my breath.

Also, beware of game plans and coaching tactics flying in the face of the matchup’s statistics.  A team might rate very poorly against tight ends, but that doesn’t matter much against the Jaguars. That team might even shift defensive focus away from Jacksonville’s tight ends to shore up weakness against other offensive threats. It’s not an exactly science, but I find it most helpful to consider each game holistically, as a sum of the individual matchups. My overarching method is to envision the type of script each team wants, figure out if those theoretical game plans are realistic, and approximate how the contest’s clash of wills should translate to fantasy production.

The Las Vegas betting lines are crucial to this analysis, which is why they’re included and used to calculate implied team totals for all matchups. However, even betting lines are subjective to some extent. Casinos typically aim to generate equal action on each side of a bet, but certain “public” teams are more popular among casual bettors than others (e.g., Dallas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, etc.), and the lines will skew in favor of those teams. The bookmakers’ goal is to win bettors’ money, not help us win our fantasy matchups.  Don’t forget that.

Ultimately, Game Flowbotics isn’t the be-all-end-all of fantasy analysis. It’s merely another weapon in our arsenal. The DVOA matchup data and betting lines factor into my weekly rankings pretty heavily, but I still rely on other inputs and some amount of intuition. In future weeks, with all this preparatory explanation behind us, I’ll have more insights on specific matchups and players to share. For now, though, let’s cut to the chase and see how my rankings shook out for the upcoming slate.

Week 2 Rankings

Greg Smith

Greg Smith is an engineer, co-founder of TwoQBs.com, and enthusiast for the strategy and design of variance-based games.  When he started playing fantasy football in 2001, his home league's small number of teams necessitated starting two quarterbacks.  That necessity has since grown into obsession, making Greg one of the preeminent champions of 2QB and Superflex formats.

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