Franchise Analysis – Seattle Seahawks

Since beating the Redskins in 2012, the Seattle Seahawks have been a perennial contender. With Russell Wilson and the legion of boom at the helm, there’s no doubt Seattle will look to compete for another title in 2017. However, this organization is not without flaws. Seattle’s eye-opening loss to Atlanta proves that there is still room to improve. The question is not where do they improve, but how. Between decreasing cap space and glaring positional needs, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have a tough task ahead of them.

2016 Evaluation – offense

It’s clear that Russell Wilson is a great quarterback and who this offense will revolve around moving forward. Wilson ended the 2015 season playing the best football of his career, but that momentum did not carry over to the start of the 2016 season. Overall, the Seahawks finished as tied for 18th in points scored and 12th in yards. Russell Wilson had his second-best statistical season in terms of completion percentage and his best in terms of yards. While his quarterback rating was the lowest yet, Wilson had never thrown more in his NFL career. Not only was Wilson asked to do more in 2016, he was also asked to work with less.

The former college basketball standout George Fant had a rude awakening this year, discovering how hard it is to play tackle in the National Football League (Courtesy of; MyNorthwest.com).

No, I am not referring to his playmakers on the outside or in the backfield. I am talking about the left and right tackle positions. Any marginal Seahawks fan knows that the tackle position was a liability this season. Here is how poor that position played relative to the rest of the league. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Gary Gilliam and George Fant were rated as the 73rd and 80th best tackles among 80 qualified players. The Seattle Seahawks empirically had the worst tackle in the NFL protecting Wilson’s blindside. Both players were also liabilities as run blockers. This impacted the decreased production on the ground more than not having a “premiere” running back. Seattle absolutely must address both tackle positions this offseason if they hope to keep Russell Wilson upright in the immediate future.

Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are great playmakers. Both players are rated as top 10 players at their position by PFF. The emergence of Paul Richardson as a compliment to Baldwin on the outside is also a good sign moving forward. The Seattle Seahawks will see an increased production from all of their current players is they find a way to upgrade their tackles in the offseason. This idea is simple, but not easy, given the salary cap situation of the team.

2016 Evaluation Defense

Since the Seahawks started their ascension to one of the best franchises in the NFL, they have had a dominant defense. The 2016 season was no different. This defense finished as the third in terms of points and fifth in yards. Their secondary, when healthy, is the best bar none. They have two great linebackers in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, as well as a premiere defensive lineman in Michael Bennett. Given all of these great defensive assets, there is still room to improve.

Despite his incredible play, Bobby Wagner remains egregiously underrated nationally as a top 10 defensive player (Courtesy of; Bleacher Report).

The biggest drop off in a relevant statistic for the Seahawks was their third down defense. In 2015, opposing offenses converted only 34.4 percent of their third downs. In 2016, the Seahawks only stopped their opponents on 38.7 percent of their third downs. That may not seem like much, but small percentages in this statistic matter. For example, there’s only a 3.5 percent difference between the first and 10th ranked third down defense and a 7.5 percent difference between the 15th and 32nd ranked third down defense.

The 4.3 percent difference from year to year leads to extended drives by the opposition and more points. That difference in production could have been the difference between winning another game and potentially getting a first round bye and a home divisional playoff game.

Of course, injuries played a role in this decline. Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Michael Bennett all missed at least four games at some point during the season. With the emerging information about Richard Sherman’s injury, it’s fair to say that he was impacted significantly throughout the season. It’s absolutely logical that this portion of the Seattle defense will improve next season as their key players return to full health.

Divisional Analysis

The Seattle Seahawks have been the class of the NFC West for the past five years; every divisional rival is building their team to beat the Seahawks. So what does Seattle need to do? They need to continue refining and reinforcing what got them to this point: a productive running game and a dominant defense.

Given the greatness of Russell Wilson, they won’t ever have an offense that goes through a running back, like Marshawn Lynch. But they need to be able to control the line of scrimmage in order to stay atop this division. When you have to face the Cardinals and Rams front seven twice a year, you need a physical offensive line and running game. We’ve already talked about their deficiency at both tackle positions.

With the 26th overall pick, Seattle has an opportunity to address this need. It is likely that Cam Robinson will be off the board by the time Seattle is on the clock. Other viable players at that position include Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin and Mike McGlinchey from Notre Dame. At this point, those are the only two players outside of Robinson that could warrant a first-round selection.

Injuries are never expected, but always occur. While you can’t predict being without your best defensive players for multiple games, you can do your best to prepare for that scenario. Seattle needs to add depth to their defensive line and secondary. Michael Bennett is unique because of his ability to play every defensive line position at a high level. Carroll Phillips from Illinois could be that player in the third or fourth round to add depth to an already physically gifted front four. While he has off-field issues, his talent could outweigh those issues if he remains a day two prospect.

Seattle could also go the route of drafting a long, athletic corner to bolster their secondary. This could come in the form of Des Lawrence from North Carolina, who has the size and would fit well in their cover 3 defense. However, his man to man skills are not NFL ready. If they decide to add depth, they will be using day two and three selections to do so.

Post Season Prospects

This section is meant to show non-playoff teams where and by how much they need to improve to be a playoff team. Clearly, Seattle was a playoff team, so I will use them as a means to back up why I use these metrics to determine post season probability.

Metrics like points scored and time of possession are straightforward. However, stats like yards per attempt and third down conversion give more insight about the team. Yards per attempt is one of the best stats to differentiate between quarterbacks. A high yards per attempt means a quarterback is consciously trying to throw the ball downfield as opposed to constantly checking down. Thus, this is the difference between a Russell Wilson and an Alex Smith and why one has had more post season success.

Wilson is always looking to make a play downfield as opposed to dumping the ball off after three seconds. Alex Smith missed a wide open Tyreek Hill twice during their playoff game because he doesn’t try to attack defenses deep. Being in the top ten in yards per attempt is a good sign for any offense. There are of course areas in which this offense can improve. The biggest theme of this entire analysis is that if the Seahawks had just average tackle play, they might still be playing. Being in the bottom third of the league in sacks allowed is the direct result of such poor tackle play.

From a defensive perspective, this team just needs to stay healthy. We outlined their decrease in third down efficiency, but it’s not because they aren’t getting to the quarterback. This means that problem is in the secondary and with so many injuries, it was bound to impact their play. I firmly believe that is also why the turnover numbers are low for this unit. Health permitting, the 2017 Seahawks will be better on third down as well as accumulating turnovers.

Predictions

Pete Carroll and John Schneider need to have an excellent off season in order to overcome this teams sanctions and salary cap situation (Courtesy of; The Seattle Times).

As I eluded to earlier, the Seattle Seahawks have a unique challenge facing their franchise this offseason. The salary of Russell Wilson and their elite defensive players has left this team strapped for cap space. The Seahawks have just over $4.8 million in cap space. This is not enough to sign substantial free agents to upgrade their tackle positions. They have 14 players who become free agents this year, but none of them will create significant cap space if let go.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big issue, but with the emerging story concerning Seattle’s second-round draft pick, it becomes a pressing one. Yes, they have found good players in the late rounds of the draft. However, no franchise can depend on striking gold with a day three pick. Given their salary cap and draft situation, I don’t see this team being able to get all the adequate help they need. With that being said, I believe the Seattle Seahawks will finish 9-7 behind the Cardinals, but will make the playoffs as a wild card team.

 

 

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Franchise Analysis – Arizona Cardinals

Every year the NFL has its share of surprising teams. People often talk about who has the potential to go from worst to first. However, one team was a victim of regression. The Arizona Cardinals entered the season with high expectations coming off their NFC Championship appearance in 2015. After a 7-8-1 finish, the Cardinal faithful are still wondering, what on earth happened?

2016 Evaluation – offense

In 2015, the Cardinals had a prolific passing attack. They specifically had a great down field passing game, which is something that didn’t carry over in 2016. There are two main reasons for this drop off in production. The first is the emergence of David Johnson as an elite offensive player. This doesn’t necessarily mean they ran the ball more though. In fact, the 2015 Cardinals ran the ball 452 times versus 399 in 2016.

The usage of David Johnson in the pass game is what led to the decrease in downfield production. Johnson is uniquely talented, but rarely was he running routes further than 10 yards down the field. This would explain Carson Palmer’s decline in yards per attempt from 8.7 in 2015, to 7.1 in 2016. The difference is even more staggering when looking at the adjusted yards per attempt: 9.1 in 2015 to 6.9 in 2016.

With another off-season under Bruce Arians and the current personnel, can Carson Palmer reassert himself as one of the best down field throwers in the NFL in 2017? (Courtesy of; Heavy.com)

We know David Johnson impacted the downfield passing game, but how much of the decreased production falls on Carson Palmer? Palmer had 65 completions of 20+ yards and a staggering 15 completions of 40+ yards in 2015. In 2016, Palmer’s production decreased sharply with only 48 completions of 20+ yards and 6 completions of 40+ yards.

Palmer was also sacked 15 more times in 2016, which absolutely impacts production. However, this kind of decline in production has more to do with attempting to throw the ball downfield, rather than protection breakdowns. As a whole, the Arizona Cardinals offense was still productive, finishing sixth in points and ninth in yards. With minor upgrades at certain positions like right guard and tight end, this offense can easily ascend back to its 2015 greatness.

 

2016 Evaluation – Defense

Calais Campbell earned All-Pro honors this year headlining a top-tier Cardinals defense (Courtesy of; NBCSports.com).

While the offense took a step back in 2016, the Cardinal’s defense was still productive. They finished 14th in points allowed and second in yards allowed this season. Compared to finishing seventh in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed the previous year, there wasn’t much of a drop off. This defense has play makers at every level like Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, and Patrick Peterson among others. Unfortunately, injuries kept this unit from excelling with players coming and going at different points in the season.

There are two positions in particular that could use an upgrade. Those would be cornerback and defensive end. In fairness, any corner playing opposite Patrick Peterson will be targeted heavily. However, players are expected to improve with more playing time. Marcus Cooper was above average against the run, but that’s not what corners get paid to do. Hopefully Tyvon Branch and Justin Bethel can return healthy next season so that Cooper’s role on defense is limited.

Frostee Rucker needs to be upgraded or needs a reduced role in this defense as well. Rucker played mostly in their base defense, but was still a liability against the run. Arizona often featured their nickel package with Markus Golden playing defensive end. This would put Tyrann Mathieu in the slot with the ability to make plays against the run. The nickel package of Arizona is their best defense because of the range their secondary players possess, as well as their pass rush ability.

Divisional Evaluation

In my opinion, Arizona is just as good as Seattle. They just have a different style of player at the quarterback position that can’t mask other offensive holes. Russell Wilson is able to extend plays and avoid rushers and Carson Palmer can’t. Palmer is perfectly capable of stepping up and moving in the pocket, but when pressure is coming from the middle, he isn’t as mobile. The Cardinals need to secure the middle of their offensive line, specifically at right guard. Earl Watford, a tackle by trade, played the position in Evan Mathis’ absence. Sadly, Mathis is not under contract for the 2017 season and is 35 years old. The Cardinals could resign Mathis, or they could look to add depth through the draft.

With the 13th pick in the 2017 draft, the Cardinals have a lot of options. Marlon Humphrey and Adoree Jackson could reinforce an already strong secondary. Corey Davis could serve as the successor to Larry Fitzgerald and potentially help the Cardinals return to attacking defenses downfield. Solomon Thomas could address their need at defensive end and has experience in the 3-4 defense. The point is, they could go in a variety of directions, all of which could greatly impact their franchise moving forward. I would like them to address their offensive line with a significant investment, but there isn’t a guard that warrants selection at the 13th spot.

The Cardinals proved this year that they can compete with and beat Seattle. With a few adjustments in personnel and refocus on the downfield passing game, this team can retake the top spot in the NFC West.

Post Season Prospects

I’ve already made it clear that this is a playoff team. Just for some perspective, here is how the Arizona Cardinals stack up to the 2016 postseason teams in the most important statistics.

We’ve outlined how the Cardinals have slightly regressed this season. As a whole, they are still an effective offense. To make the playoffs, and win playoff games, you can’t have glaring holes on your team. Every playoff team this postseason were at least top 15 in two or more of these offensive categories. Clearly, the Cardinals meet that criteria and are an above average NFL offense that can still improve if they have a good draft and make smart free agent choices.

It’s one thing to be top 15 in two or three of these critical criteria, but the Cardinals are top 15 in every significant metric. This defense was the reason why they were able to beat Seattle on the road and neutralize them at home to force a tie. The points allowed metric can be affected by the offense. If they turn the ball over or give the defense bad field position, then teams are going to score more points. Despite the impact the offense had on points allowed, they still finished in the top 15. The Cardinals are in great shape defensively, they just have to stay healthy for the majority of the 2017 season.

2017 Predictions

This team is poised to make another postseason push. Having a top 15 draft pick will only help this team reach its potential, but they have challenges looming. The Arizona Cardinals have over 15 players who are free agents. They must make smart decisions on what players to re-sign and what players they can replace in the draft. If free agency is handled correctly and the draft is a success, this team will absolutely challenge Seattle for the top team in the NFC West. Next season, I like the Arizona Cardinals to finish 10-6 and win the division.

 

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Franchise Analysis – Los Angeles Rams

The 2016 preseason was full of compelling story lines. How would the Patriots deal with Tom Brady’s suspension? Could the Cowboys still compete with Dak Prescott? While they were interesting, neither narrative compared to the return of the Los Angeles Rams. The city and fan base was swirling with excitement and hope about their long lost franchise coming home. Sadly, it wasn’t a story book ending for the Rams this year. Once again, Los Angeles Rams fans have hope approaching the 2017 season with the hiring of Sean McVay. Will it be enough to overcome the many problems that currently plague this franchise?

2016 EVALUATION – OFFENSE

If you watched any Rams game this year, it’s not hard to identify what this team is lacking. Their offensive production in terms of points and yards were both last in the NFL. That’s easy to see, but let’s dive deeper into the Rams offensive woes.

I’m sure you’ve heard coaches and analysts say that you build a team from inside out. They’re right. The best way to build a balanced, productive offense is to have consistent play from the offensive line. While the Rams are not the worst group, they certainly have room to improve. I like to use Pro Football Focus ratings as a means to objectively evaluate players and compare them to others at their position group. Here is a snapshot of the Rams’ line and their ratings.

Each player is graded on a 0-100 scale and is assigned a color based on the range they fall in. For the most part, this is an average offensive line. What absolutely hamstrings this unit’s effectiveness is that their worst player plays the most critical position: left tackle. This season, 73 other players were better than Greg Robinson at tackle. Robinson is a liability in pass protection and struggles as a run blocker, given his 36.1 run-block rating. While his poor play contributed to the offensive struggles, he is by no means the only one to blame.

The Rams wanted to be a run-first team. With Todd Gurley in the backfield, that’s totally understandable. However, when the opposition knows stopping Gurley means beating the Rams, the burden is placed on the passing game. In this particular instance, the blame falls on the offensive staff, but more on that later.

2016 EVALUATION – DEFENSE

Conversely, the Los Angeles Rams have proved that they can draft and develop defensive players. Their end of the year rankings are somewhat deceiving. The Rams finished 23rd in terms of points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. Their ranking as the 23rd best scoring defense is misleading. This defense had to deal with constantly being on the field, below average field position, and their own offense scoring points for the other team via turnovers.

Robert Quinn had yet another injury filled season. The former Pro-Bowler will play a key role in making the Rams’ defensive line among the best in the NFL again (Courtesy; NFL.com).

On strictly a personnel basis, this defense is built to dominate the line of scrimmage. With All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald alongside quality defenders like Michael Brockers, William Hayes, and Robert Quinn, this team will be getting after the quarterback for years to come. Sadly, Robert Quinn was sidelined for four games this season and played on a limited basis after week six.

Other notable defensive players include: Alec Ogletree, who had a productive year bouncing back from injury, Trumaine Johnson, and Maurice Alexander. As a whole, what is keeping this defense from ascending into the top-five or top-three realm is their offense. If this defense can just stay healthy and possibly upgrade their second corner position, they will easily be among the top 12 in major statistical categories.

 

 

DIVISIONAL ANALYSIS

The NFC West was once considered the best division in football, but with the flailing 49ers, struggling Rams, and regressed Cardinals, it is anything but the best. So what do the Rams need to challenge Seattle for the division crown?

Sean McVay will have his hands full as he will be tasked with turning the Los Angeles Rams around in 2017 (Courtesy of; Czabe.com).

First and foremost, they need a competent offensive coaching staff. The new hire of Sean McVay is a step in the right direction. Yes, by now everyone knows he’s the youngest coach in NFL history. However, do not automatically assume that inexperienced equals incompetence. McVay has clearly impressed enough people in the NFL just to warrant an interview at his age. McVay’s biggest challenge will be winning over the veteran players. Not to mention, he won’t be coaching Kirk Cousins, Jordan Reed, or DeSean Jackson. Hopefully McVay isn’t afraid to let coaches who are currently on the staff go. In order for this to work, he has to have an entire staff that truly believes in him as well as his system.

Second, the Rams need to address the left tackle position. Yes, I know they need a quarterback, but with no first or third-round pick in 2017 and the history of free agents at that position failing, it’s not happening this year. It’s also unfair to say absolutely that Goff isn’t capable of playing well after not even playing a full season. Greg Robinson just simply hasn’t worked. Robinson has never played like the second overall pick in the draft and the Rams need to actively search for someone else. When you have to face Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Calais Campbell, Markus Golden, and the emerging DeForest Buckner twice a year, you need a reliable left tackle.

Outside of addressing depth on the defense, the third biggest need of this team is a receiving tight end. Here me out. The Cardinals and the Seahawks have elite talent at cornerback. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, despite their greatness, are still susceptible to getting beat in man to man coverage. Therefore, the best way to attack these defenses is 10-20 yards down the middle of the defense.

Now let’s shift our attention to McVay, who had Jordan Reed when he was in Washington. Reed provided Cousins with a red zone threat, a safety outlet against pressure, and he drew coverage away from Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Finally, let’s look at Philadelphia. Carson Wentz has a similar situation to Goff as far as offensive weapons. He has very little outside of Jordan Matthews, but he has Zach Ertz. Having a tight end that was able to work the middle of the field allowed Wentz to move the ball without great playmakers on offense. Both Goff and McVay could benefit tremendously if they can acquire a receiving tight end for the 2017 season.

PostSeason Prospects

When it comes to predicting postseason success, some metrics are more important than others. Here are the following offensive and defensive statistics that best determine postseason viability and where the Rams stack up.

Clearly there’s room to improve. I do think Sean McVay will have an immediate impact on these different metrics given his offensive background. I also think that Jared Goff will inevitably be better than he was this year. The important point is, the Rams don’t have to be top five or top 10 in these categories to have success. They just can’t be meddling at the bottom of the league. All of the current playoff teams are top 15 or better in at least two of these offensive categories.

As stated earlier, Los Angeles is tremendously talented on defense. We talked earlier about how the terrible offense is contributing to below average defensive rankings. For example, it’s hard for the Rams to record sacks when they are losing by two possessions in the third and fourth quarter, as the opposition is looking to run the clock. This same logic can be applied to points allowed and turnovers. In the two categories that the defense alone controls, they are top 10.

Overall, the offense has to make significant strides this offseason in order for the Rams to have a chance to compete in the postseason.

2017 Predictions

The future of the Los Angeles Rams is bright and hopeful, but not the immediate future. Last year’s acquisition of the number one pick from the Tennessee Titans leaves the Rams without a first or third-round pick this year. I don’t see them being able to acquire many impact players through the draft. It’s logical to think they will want to address depth on both sides of the ball. This way, they aren’t relying on late-round picks to start.

It’s also hard to predict how active the Rams will be in free agency given the new head coach. The Rams will be better next year, but not by much. They won’t be able to get impact players like Cam Robinson, Mike McGlinchey, or O.J. Howard to immediately boost the talent level on offense. I think the Rams will finish 5-12 in 2017, tied with the 49ers, but will lose the divisional tiebreaker. Los Angeles just doesn’t have enough resources available to catapult them from a four win team to a nine win team.

 

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Franchise Analysis – San Francisco 49ers

For more than 60% of the NFL fan base, the season is over. Whether it was a key injury or an inept GM, there is a reason why your team didn’t make it. Fear not, because you may have heard of an event in May that allows teams to accumulate new players and renew faith in your franchise, the NFL Draft. This will be the first of an ongoing series in which I will perform an in depth analysis to assess the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of every NFL team, including what positions need to be addressed in the draft and free agency, starting with the San Francisco 49ers.

2016 Evaluation

Any competent 49ers fan knew that this year had the potential to be rough. Of course, Chip Kelly and his unique offense brought potential and excitement, but also an element of uncertainty. On the season, the 49ers ranked 27th in points and 31st in yards. Clearly, those rankings are not the hallmark of Chip Kelly’s offense. However, they were first in situation neutral pace. This means that the 49ers ran plays faster than any other team when the game was within one possession. Sadly, when your team can’t run or pass effectively and consistently, being the fastest team works against your defense.

Despite the offensive rankings, the 49ers do have assets at the running back and the left tackle position. According to Pro Football Focus, Carlos Hyde had a 71.4 player rating, which is average. So why would an average running back be an important asset moving forward? Because of the offensive line he’s playing behind. At season’s end, the average rating of a 49ers offensive linemen was a 58.08.

If you remove Joe Staley, their other offensive asset, they average is a 52.25 rating. The fact any running back could be considered average running behind this atrocity indicates talent. Also, if you happened to watch any of their games this year, they often were playing from behind, meaning, Hyde’s ability to run the ball is incredibly limited, as they need to make up ground. There aren’t many players that will entice potential head coaching candidates, but Hyde is certainly one.

San Francisco 49ers Analysis

Joe Staley was one of the few players the 49ers could consistently rely on this season at left tackle. (Courtesy of: USA Today)

As a linemen, Staley is the highest rated offensive player with an 81.4. This makes him a top 25 player at his position among qualified players. Sadly, his age and injury concerns decrease his value. Given that he is under contract, there is no reason to believe that the new 49ers general manager will let him go. Look for Staley to return next year as a top 15 tackle.

I’ll try to keep this brief. The 49ers defense was horrific this season. They were the absolute worst in terms of points and yards. Specifically, the 49ers were one of worst defenses against the run in NFL history. Of course, injuries to key defensive players attributed to this statistic.

However, there is clearly a scheme issue here. There are multiple players on defense that are not a fit for their 3-4 style defense. I won’t elaborate on which players, because the next coach may run a completely different defense, making some of those out of position players more valuable.

The only redeeming players on this side of the ball, outside of the injured NaVorro Bowman, are Tramaine Brock and Gerald Hodges. Brock is just outside of being a top 25 cornerback and Hodges is a top 20 inside linebacker. If the next head coach decides to stay with the 3-4 scheme, they will have a good pair of inside linebackers in Bowman and Hodges.

Divisional Analysis

You hear analysts and former coaches say it all the time, you build a team to win your division. There are a few things the 49ers have to do if they want to compete for a division title in 2017.

First, they have to be better against the run. When a team can run the ball effectively, they control every aspect of the game. The 49ers will never be able to compete if they can’t contain running backs like David Johnson and Todd Gurley the four times a year they play. But where do the 49ers need help most?

San Francisco 49ers Analysis

Deforest Buckner will look to improve upon his rookie campaign, but will a new coaching staff help or hurt his development in year two (Courtesy of: USA Today)?

In order to compete, they need to address the defensive line position in the draft or free agency. Their best interior or edge defender was DeForest Buckner. Buckner is a young, ascending player, but his strength is rushing the passer. The 49ers need to pair him with an interior defender who’s biggest strength is stopping the run.

Next, this team needs to address their offensive line. As stated, Joe Staley is an above average tackle. The 49ers absolutely have to acquire a tackle to pair with Staley on the right side. Their right tackle this year was Trenton Brown, who received a 53.7 rating. If the 49ers can find even an average tackle, they will see a dramatic increase in their ability to run and pass.

If this team can be better against the run and be more efficient on offense as a whole, they will find themselves in a position to win more of their games in 2017.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget. This team, like most NFL franchises, has to address the quarterback position. There’s a reason Seattle and Arizona have been battling atop this division- consistency at quarterback. I sadly don’t have much to offer in this area, as free agent quarterbacks don’t often work. At this point, there isn’t a quarterback worthy of their 2nd overall pick in the upcoming draft with prospects like Myles Garrett and Johnathan Allen that could help address their putrid rush defense.

Of course, there are more positions that the 49ers need help at, but these are the positions they must improve with the focus on competing in their division. That’s not to say they can improve by upgrading other positions, rather, these are the most important to their success.

Postseason Prospects

Moving forward, I will include what a franchise needs to do compete in the playoffs. However, this is one of the few cases where I simply won’t. This team just has too many holes that can’t possibly be addressed in one season. Here are the most critical metrics that determine whether or not a team will make the playoffs.

On offense the important categories are points, yards per attempt, 3rd down conversion rate, sacks allowed, and time of possession. On defense the following metrics that determine playoff viability are points allowed, yards allowed, 3rd down efficiency rate, sacks, and turnovers.

Here are all the categories previously mentioned and how many playoff teams are within the top 15 in that respective category, in order from highest to lowest ranking.

Offensive Metrics

Points

  • Atlanta, New England, Green Bay, Dallas, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City

Yards Per Attempt

  • Atlanta, New England, Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Detroit

3rd Down Conversion Rate

  • Green Bay, New England, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh

Sacks Allowed

  • Oakland, Pittsburgh, New York, New England, Dallas, Miami, Kansas City, and Houston

Time of Possession:

  • New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Miami, Houston, New York Giants

Defensive Metrics

Points Allowed

  • New England, New York, Seattle, Dallas, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Detroit

Yards Allowed

  • Houston, Seattle, New England, New York Giants, Pittsburgh, and Dallas

Turnovers

  • Kansas City, Oakland, New York, Green Bay, Miami, New England, Pittsburgh

3rd Down Efficiency

  • New York Giants, Miami, New England, Houston, Seattle, and Dallas

Sacks

  • Miami, New York Giants, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Dallas, and New England

I’m sure you’ve noticed a trend. These teams made the playoffs because, for the most part, they don’t have any glaring holes in their game. That’s why the threshold was the top 15 teams. It proves that to make the playoffs you don’t have to be elite in every category. However, you can’t be terrible either.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, they are nowhere to be found in these categories that determine playoff viability. But, that doesn’t mean they can’t improve in 2017.

2017 Prediction

San Francisco 49ers Analysis

With Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke out in San Francisco, the Niners are looking for new faces to lead this franchise in 2017 (Courtesy of: Inside the 49ers).

There’s too much unknown to make an honest prediction about who the 49ers will select in May. They still have to hire a general manager and head coach. They could go a variety of different ways depending on their scheme and philosophy.

If I had to guess, I would see them addressing their defensive line position given the number of premiere players in the draft. Rather, I could see them trading back with a team like Tennessee who has multiple first round picks, courtesy of the Rams, in order to just accumulate as much talent as possible.

Barring something incredible, this team as it’s currently constructed will not win the NFC West. However, I do think they will finish 3rd and improve their record to 5-11.

The Rams were as dysfunctional as the 49ers, but now that they have cleaned house officially, they will be more stable moving forward. The decision on who will lead the 49ers on the field and in the front office will have a huge impact on their success over the next decade. So, choose wisely San Francisco.

 

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The 3 Best Stacks of Week 17

Picking productive stacks is a critical aspect of building winning DFS lineups. For those who may not know, a stack is when you roster two or more players on a given team at one time. Conventionally, a stack consists of a team’s Quarterback and a corresponding Wide Receiver. This concept is a primary factor that narrows down which Quarterbacks I will use as the backbone of my DFS entries. As we enter the final week of the regular season, there are a variety of appealing Quarterback and Wide Receiver stacks. Here are the three best stacks of Week 17, based on three price tiers: upper, middle, and low priced.

High Priced Stack

Aaron Rodgers: $8,800 & Jordy Nelson: $8,200

Both of these players are top five in price at their position this week. Thus, lineup construction can be difficult if you want to build around this stack. But, these two are worth the price. Since week 10, no Quarterback has scored more points than Aaron Rodgers, 139.02 to be exact. Yes, Rodgers had two games below 16 points during that stretch. However, one game occurred in a snow storm and in the other, Rodgers suffered from three dropped touchdown passes while hobbling around on one leg. Now that Rodgers is completely healthy and playing indoors against the Lions, I expect him to throw for at least 250 yards and two scores.

nelson

Jordy Nelson will look to continue to lead all Wide Receivers in touchdowns this weekend against the Lions (Courtesy of; ALLGBP.com).

Rodgers’ counterpart, Jordy Nelson, has been just as impressive since week 10. While he isn’t the highest scoring Wide Receiver since then, he has scored at least 10 points in every single game. Since week 11, Nelson has been targeted a minimum of seven times in each game, including four games with at least 10 targets. But, what makes Nelson worth every dollar is his red zone usage. According to Pro Football Reference, Nelson leads every player in red zone targets with 43, as 28 of those targets came inside the 20, and 15 targets inside the 10.

The only downside to using this stack is that it prohibits the rest of your lineups. Usually, I want to include one of the following Running Backs in my lineups: Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, or LeSean McCoy. At this point, I haven’t found a combination using this stack and an elite Running Back that I like. If you’ve found one, please let me know.

 

Middle Priced Stack

Matt Stafford: $8,000 & Golden Tate: $5,700

On paper, this stack doesn’t yield as much upside as Rodgers and Nelson; however, this combination has more advantages when it comes to lineup construction and ownership percentage. It’s no secret that Matt Stafford will have to throw the ball to win. The Lions have a rushing attack that ranks in the bottom third of the NFL, and don’t have a starting caliber NFL Running Back without Theo Riddick. In order to keep pace with the Packers, Stafford will have to throw the ball a minimum of 36 times. This season, when Stafford has at least 36 passing attempts, he’s averaging 17.45 fantasy points per game. Given how inept Green Bay’s pass defense has been, I’d safely bet on Stafford scoring more than that number.

Golden Tate has been a staple play in all of my lineups for the past six weeks. Now, Tate isn’t a top-flight fantasy Wide Receiver; however, he is the number one receiving option on his team. Since week 10, Tate has never been priced higher than $6,600. In fact, in the last three weeks, he hasn’t been priced above $6,300, and this week, is priced below $6,000. Yes, his production hasn’t been consistent. Yes, his ceiling isn’t as high as other number one receivers. However, Tate allows you to roster players like LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Jimmy Graham all in the same lineup.

I think Tate’s ownership will be higher than usual this week because of the low price, but it won’t keep me from rostering him and Stafford this week. This is may favorite of the three stacks, given both players price, production, and roster flexibility.

Low Priced Stack

Blake Bortles: $7,600 & Marqise Lee: $6,300

This isn’t as much about how good these two players are, but rather, how good their matchup is this weekend. Blake Bortles faces a woeful Indianapolis defense on Sunday, who he produced against earlier this year. Like the Lions, the Jaguars also have a bottom-third rushing attack. The only way the Jaguars score points this weekend is through the air, and Bortles is not afraid to throw it, even if it goes to the other team. After riding the Bortles train last week, I’m back again this weekend not only because of the matchup, but because of his workload. Bortles has more than 35 pass attempts in 10 games this season and has never thrown the ball less than 25 times in any game.

lee

Marqise Lee will bounce back this weekend against the Colts after only recording three catches for 37 yards and one touchdown (Courtesy of; nflspinzone.com)

Don’t fall into the trap of playing Allen Robinson this weekend after a breakout performance. While Indianapolis is bad, they do have Vontae Davis, who is better than any player in the Titan’s secondary. Davis, who mostly plays on the outside, will guard Allen Robinson and not Marqise Lee. Lee has proven to be Bortles’ most productive receiver. Eight times this season, Robinson was targeted at least ten times, and only four times did he score more than 15 points in those games. Yes, Robinson is more talented than Lee, but we don’t get points for talent. We get points for production, something Robinson has failed to do in the five games before week 16.

Of these stacks, I could see this one winning a FanDuel GPP. Like the Stafford and Tate stack, this lineup gives you tremendous flexibility and a chance to roster low ownership players. I will probably not feature this stack as much as the previous two. However, I will probably regret not playing them more this Sunday.

 

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The Best of Both Worlds – Play On DRAFT

No, this is not a promotional post. I wish I were getting paid to talk about DRAFT fantasy. I am taking the time out of my week to talk about one of the lesser-known Daily Fantasy sites because they deserve it. What makes them different or worthy of praise? Their specific focus on one DFS contest and seamless mobile app interface are just a few reasons why you should consider switching to DRAFT for your DFS fix.

The Snake Draft

The number one factor that differentiates DRAFT from its competitors is that they only offer one type of game. That’s right, DRAFT only offers a snake format for their DFS players. How is this different? For one, this format completely eliminates the salary cap concept. You no longer have to worry about sacrificing value at a given position because of a player’s price.

Another benefit of the snake format is low ownership. Since you are literally drafting players, no one else can roster a player you’ve chosen. Unlike salary cap leagues, players don’t have to worry about suffering from high ownership percentages.

In my opinion, the most appealing factor of a snake format is the fact that it’s a small, single entry contests. Players no longer have to worry about competing against people who can afford to create hundreds of rosters in large contests. Sure, there aren’t as many contests with upside like with FanDuel and DraftKings. However, there are still contests that yield as much as $540 or even $1,000.

A New Niche In DFS

DRAFT fantasy

DRAFT’s seamless app interface is one of the many reasons for this new DFS sites success. (Courtesy: upfront.com)

When I used to playing in season long leagues, the number one problem I faced was agreeing on a time to draft that worked for everyone. Then, if by some miracle we decided on a time, we would spend two to three hours selecting players.

What DRAFT has done is eliminate the multi-hour process usually needed to create a roster in season long leagues. Why? Because you don’t have to worry about rostering players on your bench. All you have to do is pick enough players for a starting lineup and that’s it. With DRAFT, you can now feel the exhilaration associated with season long league drafts each and every week. You can develop and hone your strategy until you have mastered the art of drafting.

With the emergence of this new DFS site, I wouldn’t be shocked if season long leagues on sites like ESPN or Yahoo turn into playing on DRAFT every week against your friends for 17 weeks. It’s truly the best of both worlds. You get to experience all the ups and downs of a season long draft every single week. You don’t have to worry about large player pools, or salary cap restrictions. Just be present at your leagues scheduled time and pick the best team you can.

Join me this weekend by signing up to play on DRAFT or by downloading their mobile app in the app store!

 

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Fluke or For Real – Rostering Players the Week After

Whether it’s DFS or season long leagues, everyone has been burned by that fantasy fluke or flop. If you played against Le’Veon Bell last week, you have my most sincere condolences. He posted the best fantasy performance of the year; however, you can’t be angry. Everyone knows that any given week, Bell can accumulate upwards of 25 points. On the other hand, if you played against Bilal Powell, you have every right to complain. The perfect storm of circumstances came together to create a career fantasy day for Powell. Given their performances, you’ll likely consider them for your lineups this week. The trick is to know when someone’s production is sustainable or fluky. Here are two ways you can determine if a player’s increased or lack of production was fleeting or for real.

Previous Performance

It’s a simple idea. Examine a player’s history to determine their future. This process is different for each position. At wide receiver, you want to look at a player’s targets, specifically when they were productive. For example, Dontrelle Inman finished as the fifth best Wide Receiver in Week 4 as he posted 21.5 points against the Saints. As I said earlier, you’ll want to look at his targets to determine if the points he scored are worth chasing the following week. Leading up to that game, Inman was never targeted more than four times; he was targeted 11 times against the Saints. Inman’s performance can clearly be characterized as a fluke.

inman

Dontrelle Inman got off to a rocky start, but has proven to be a staple in this Chargers passing attack. (Courtesy of; Chargers.com)

This should automatically be a red flag. While you can keep him on your fantasy radar, the massive increase in targets is not sustainable. The week after his top-five performance, Inman scored less than one point and was only targeted three times. Other cases like Inman include Sammie Coates in Week 5, JJ Nelson in Week 8, and Rishard Matthews in Week 9.

There are players like Kenny Britt and Davante Adams who could be thrown into this group, but only at first glance. Britt exploded in Week 6, but it was not because of an unexplained increase in targets. Leading up to that game, he had been targeted at least six times in all but one of his games. That included a game where he was targeted 10 times.

Thus, playing Britt after his big game would be okay based on his track record. It would still be foolish to think he can post the same number of points. However, he received the same amount of targets the following week. The opportunities were there for Britt, he just didn’t make the most of them. Britt finding the end zone twice could be labeled as a fluke, but not the targets he received.

Game Flow

Also referred to as game script, game flow is when the play calling or game plan is altered based on what has already happened. For example, the Rams fumbled their opening kickoff and then threw an interception on their next possession. After quickly being down 14 points, the Rams would no longer be able to pound Todd Gurley 15-25 times. This kind of situation would obviously hurt running backs, but it would help quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Similar to examining previous production, look at the game flow of a player who over or underproduced. Did a running back have decreased attempts because of a blow out? Did a wide receiver or quarterback rack up points in garbage time? These are important questions that can help determine wether or not you should roster a player with irregular production.

Using Bell as an example, he tremendously benefited from game flow. With 5:28 left in the third quarter, the Steelers took a 21-7 lead. This was positive game flow for Bell, as the Steelers wanted to keep the clock running and the ball in Bell’s hands. This allowed Bell to fill up the stat sheet and rack up fantasy points. This week against the Bengals, I expect a more competitive game and better weather. Therefore, Bell won’t be able to duplicate his effort on the ground. As talented as Bell is, accumulating over 200 rushing yards was a fluke and should not be expected for the rest of the year.

Conversely, a large deficit in the third or fourth quarter is beneficial to wide receivers and quarterbacks. If the weather had been better, there’s no doubt Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins would have scored more points. Because of the snow, LeSean McCoy had a more involved role in the passing game.

One Step Ahead

Yes, I’m aware how simple both these strategies are. However, it must be talked about because inexperienced DFS players fall into this trap weekly. How do I know? Ownership percentages of a player increase the week after they do well. Sometimes it’s justified like Jamison Crowder, and other times it isn’t, like Cameron Meredith. As long as you do your homework, you won’t fall victim to a fluke performance by an unknown player. Now as the DFS season comes to a close, here are three players you can be a week early on, and take advantage of their great performance.

3. Alex Smith – $6,800

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York. Kansas City won 23-13. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Alex Smith has one of the best Fantasy match ups of the week vs. Tennessee.(Courtesy of; Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

  • With only one game above 15 points in his last six starts, Smith is due for a big game.
  • He faces one of the worst pass defenses in Tennessee, who allowed Trevor Siemian to score 17.4 points.
  • For once, Smith has targets to throw to. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill have both scored at least eight points in their last four games.

2. Jermaine Gresham – $4,500 

  • Gresham has received an enlarged role in the Cardinals’ passing game, seeing at least six targets and scoring at least seven points in his last three games.
  • With Michael Floyd’s DUI, there will be more targets to go around, and no doubt Gresham will benefit in the intermediate passing game.
  • Gresham faces the Saints secondary at home this week, one that is in the bottom third in the NFL.

1. Sammy Watkins – $6,100

  • For those who have taken the wait and see approach, we’ve seen everything we’ve needed to, as Watkins was on the field for virtually every snap versus the Steelers.
  • The weather held Watkins back from breaking out last week, as he was only targeted six times.
  • Watkins gets to play the 0-13 Browns this Sunday…I’m predicting that Watkins will finish as a top five Wide Receiver this week and eclipse 15 points for the first time this season.

 

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Tight End Roulette

Every Thursday, I turn on my favorite DFS podcast and begin selecting my lineup. I become fully engrossed in all the different combinations and match ups available to me. Nothing could be more fun, I think to myself. This feeling of happiness and hope quickly fades to black as I get to my least favorite position, Tight End. Seeing the eye-popping price of Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed makes me reel, as they could easily score less than 10 points. There’s no debate, Tight End has been the most volatile and frustrating position to select this season.

Paying Up

Conventional DFS wisdom says to avoid inconsistency at a position, pay for the most expensive players. It seems to work for the Running Back position, where you can build a lineup around David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliot, or LeSean McCoy. Why these players specifically? Because between these four players, only 10 times did one of these players score less than 15 points this season in any given game. Let me repeat, out of 44 total games played, only 10 times did any of these players score less than 15 points and LeSean McCoy alone accounts for four of those 10 instances. This is the kind of consistency a DFS player expects with such a large price tag. Sadly, the Tight End position hasn’t come close to this kind of consistency.

The four most expensive Tight Ends this season have been Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Delanie Walker. Among their 40 games played, 20 times one of these players failed to score 10 points. If the point threshold is increased to 15, that number rises to 26. This lack of production and availability, as only one of these four players hasn’t missed a game due to injury, is inexcusable given their price.

While they may not be consistent, these Tight Ends have the ability to produce big numbers. While the lows are low, the highs are high as each of these players has had at least one 20 point game. Reed leads the group with three games of at least 20 points.

Playing The Matchup

Given that nothing at the Tight End position is guaranteed, regardless of price, you decided to find the most favorable match ups for the position. According to Pro Football Reference, the five worst defenses against Tight Ends this season are: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Carolina, Atlanta and Detroit in terms of total points.

Earlier this year I highlighted Detroit’s inability to cover a Tight End previewing their first game vs. Minnesota. In that game Kyle Rudolph did score a touchdown, but failed to do much else. For DFS success, we wouldn’t roster a Wide Receiver whose upside is a touchdown with five catches for 60 yards, but we do for Tight Ends because the position has been so brutal this year.

Of the previously mentioned defenses, Cleveland and Carolina have given up nine touchdowns to Tight Ends this season. Then comes Detroit with eight touchdowns given up, and finally Cincinnati and Atlanta have both surrendered seven touchdowns to Tight Ends thus far. Many players have exploited these match ups; however, they are incredibly inconsistent from week to week. Thus, players keep the mid and lower-level Tight Ends out of their lineups.

eifert

Tyler Eifert looks to bounce back after only seeing two targets versus Philadelphia. (Courtesy of; Sporting News)

For example, Jason Witten had his best performance against Cleveland (23.4 points). But what has he done since? He’s failed to score at least 10 points in every single game, including a zero against Minnesota. On the other hand, Tyler Eifert only recorded 1.4 fantasy points in his first match up versus Cleveland. This was his first game back from injury. He also proceeded to score over 20 points the next week versus Washington, but, the fact remains, even the most reliable players won’t always take advantage of good match ups. This is the reality when it comes to Fantasy Football, but it’s incredibly frustrating and costly when you invest in a Tight End that checks all the boxes, and only scores three points.

Week 14 Tight Ends

So, I will be going through my normal DFS routine and I will still dread selecting two or three Tight Ends for my lineups. However, there are some promising options this week. Here are the five players at the Tight End position I like the most this week.

5. Greg Olsen ($6,400)

  • Olsen faces a bottom five pass defense this Sunday against the Chargers.
  • San Diego allowed Cameron Brate, a less talented player, to record six catches for 86 yards and one score.
  • Olsen’s struggles are related to his Quarterback whose continued lack of footwork causes passes to sail over the heads of his receivers, otherwise he’d be higher on this list.

4. C.J Fiedorowicz ($5,100)

  • It’s becoming clear that Fiedorowicz is the second option in this anemic passing attack, as he led the team with nine targets last week.
  • Since week 3, he’s seen at least seven targets in six of the last nine games, including his best game against Indianapolis, who he sees again this weekend.
  • Fiedorowicz’s price allows for the flexibility to pay up for players like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, who prove to be the backbone of DFS lineups this year.

3. Zach Ertz ($5,700)

Zach Ertz will continue to be targeted this week as the high scoring Redskins visit Philadelphia. (Courtesy of; Bleacher Report)

Zach Ertz will continue to produce this week to keep pace with the high scoring Redskins. (Courtesy of; Bleacher Report)

  • Ertz was targeted a ridiculous 15 times last week against the Bengals, a game in which they were playing from behind. It’s likely they’ll be in a similar situation as the Redskins come to town this Sunday.
  • Overall, it’s not a good or bad match up. Washington has been average against Tight Ends this season, allowing only five touchdowns.
  • Including last week, Ertz has been targeted a minimum of six times the last five weeks and has scored double digit fantasy points in three of the last five weeks.

2. Jimmy Graham ($6,600)

  • Graham proved to be a dangerous threat in the Red Zone this season, receiving two Red Zone targets last week and converting one into six points.
  • Graham has scored four times in his last five games and has seen five or more targets in four of those five games.
  • This game has the potential to be a shootout, as injuries in Seattle’s secondary will allow Aaron Rodgers and company to move the ball downfield.

1. Tyler Eifert ($6,700)

  • Eifert has a great match up this week versus the worst defense against the Tight End position, Cleveland.
  • Last week was only the second time all season Eifert saw less than five targets. After only recording two targets versus Cleveland, he had his best game of the season against Washington (20.7 points).
  • The AJ Green injury will prove to help Eifert down the stretch of this season, as there are more targets to go around. I fully expect Eifert to record at least six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.

 

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Applying Vegas Statistics – Line Movement

As avid DFS players, we will take almost any statistic into account when building our lineups. Of course, some have more weight than others. We’ve already discussed how to use the Implied Team Total and Point Spread statistics in your lineup construction process. The final Vegas statistic we’ll examine is line movement and how it relates to building DFS lineups.

 What is Line Movement?

Line movement occurs when the spread and/or the value of an over/under changes as a result of people betting on or against the favorite. Thus, the line will adjust to make the other teams’ odds more attractive as money pours in for one team. Predictably, this kind of movement indicates that the public is definitively on a certain team.

There are two groups that people refer to when talking about the amount of money being wagered- public money and smart, or, sharp money. Public money is straightforward; it’s the amount, usually a percent, of money wagered by normal players. So, when there is significant line movement, is it due to public money? The answer depends.

Expect Mat Stafford and Drew Brees to be heavily owned this weekend as they have one of the largest over/unders of the season.

Matt Stafford and Drew Brees will score early and often on Sunday in New Orleans.

On high profile games, the public is likely to drive line movement. An example of a week 13 high profile game is Detroit vs. New Orleans. Vegas Insider as of Wednesday evening had New Orleans (-6) with 77% of money being bet on Detroit. Thus, the line movement from (-5) to (-6) makes sense. With this in mind, you can logically assume that players on both teams, Detroit specifically, will be highly owned this Sunday.

For example, in week 12, 62% of public money was on the Seattle Seahawks. It should not come as a surprise that Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin were the highest owned players at their position across all FanDuel lineups according to NumberFire. By understanding where the majority of public money is bet, you can get an indication of ownership. There were other teams that accounted for a higher percentage of public money, but this was a high profile game. Most anticipated a strong performance by the Seahawks, but most were wrong.

The “Smart” Money

If you’ve never heard this term before, smart money is used to refer to the money being bet by the expert, or, professional gamblers. It’s not always a straightforward process identifying where the smart money is. Usually, the faster a line changes, the more likely that the smart money is causing the change. So, if a team opens as a two point favorite, then becomes a three point favorite after an hour, and then becomes a 4.5 point favorite by day’s end, the smart money would be with the favorite.

Another example of identifying smart money is when the public is betting big on an underdog. For this example let’s say a team is a seven point dog. The public continually wagers their money on the underdog, but, the line doesn’t move more than half a point. This would mean that the smart money is on the favorite. The same would apply if the scenario was flipped.

Line Movement and Your Lineup

In my opinion, this is the trickiest Vegas statistic to apply to a DFS strategy, especially football. I often don’t include it in my lineup construction. However, there were a few instances in which I did and the result proved to be beneficial.

For example, in week 11, the Pittsburgh Steelers opened as 8.5 point favorites over the Cleveland Browns and closed at 9 point favorites. In this situation, the public and smart money were on the Steelers. Given this information, I decided not to roster any Steelers players in my lineups. Sure, I missed out on a great Le’Veon Bell performance. But, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown scored 8.7 and 11.6 points respectively. That week, Roethlisberger was the sixth highest owned quarterback and Brown the highest owned wide receiver across all FanDuel contests.

I’m not claiming to be a genius. I just saw that the Pittsburgh triplets were going to be highly owned and decided to pivot and not roster any of them. I missed on Bell, but I avoided a catastrophic performance by Roethlisberger and a below average performance from Brown.

Line Movement in Week 13

It’s only Thursday, so the lines are still open. As of Thursday morning, here are the most interesting line movements and money percentages that should impact your DFS lineup.

Kansas City (+3.5) vs. Atlanta

  • The line originally opened at Kansas City (+4) and has only moved .5 points when 98% of the money is on Kansas City.
  • The smart money is on Atlanta, so don’t doubt the Falcons’ trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman this week at home.

Houston (+6.5) vs. Green Bay

  • No doubt the result of Monday night’s game, the Packers are now a 6.5 point favorite after only opening as a 3.5 point favorite.
  • With 73% of public money on the Packers, expect high ownership on Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and Davante Adams, as the smart money is also on Green Bay.

Washington (+2.5) vs. Arizona

  • In a matchup that features a great Washington offense against a great Arizona defense, the line has not moved from Washington (+2.5) despite 95% of public money on the Redskins.
  • The smart money is on Arizona. Look to avoid the obvious plays like Kirk Cousins, Jordan Reed, and Jamison Crowder, as the public is high on them.

 

 

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FanDuel and DraftKings Merger

It’s official. FanDuel and DraftKings have reached a merger agreement. I can honestly say that there are some noteworthy positives and some troubling negatives to such a transaction. The DFS community has every right to be apprehensive. Why? Because, given that this agreement passes anti-trust regulations, one entity will control almost 100% of the DFS marketplace.

Conversely, this is not the sole reason for the colossal merger. The reality is that the DFS industry has come under fire by multiple state governments: New York, Illinois, and Texas chief among them. By combining efforts, FanDuel and DraftKings will significantly cut costs as it relates to legal fees. According to Forbes, FanDuel spent $8 million in legal fees in just Q4 of 2015. To be clear, they spent $8 million on legal fees in three months. For a company that only recorded $100 million in revenue for 2015, $8 million in one quarter alone is significant. The only question is, do the pros outweigh the cons?

The Good

If you’re like me, then you love playing Daily Fantasy Sports. Without a doubt they have made my Sunday’s infinitely more exciting, emotional, and sometimes agonizing. DFS companies like FanDuel and DraftKings have done the impossible, they make the average fan care about out of market, non-nationally televised games. They have no doubt played a pivotal role in the NFL’s ratings growth in the last five years, not including this year’s “slump”.

What these companies do is help these professional sports leagues attract the younger viewer that everyone seems to be fighting over. FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles told USA TODAY Sports, “This is the way to bring the younger consumer into watching sports.” He went on to note that their player profile information indicates that the average DFS player is in their early 20’s.

In order for us to engage in DFS, these companies must operate legally in our respective home states. While FanDuel and DraftKings are profitable, they could not continue to afford to fight these legal battles alone. It’s the old adage, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. FanDuel and DraftKings understood that the greatest threat to their survival is not each other, rather, a different entity entirely.

This joint venture allows for these companies to cut down on legal costs, become more profitable, and as a result, survive as a business. What the merger allows for is a united effort to fight for the DFS industry as a whole, not just in the interest of these two companies. Newer DFS companies like Roster.com and FanPicks.com do not have the resources to fight for the industry, so, FanDuel and DraftKings will have to, whether they like it or not.

The Bad

It’s quite clear, we have a potential monopoly in the DFS industry. If this agreement were to pass anti-trust laws, the combination of FanDuel and DraftKings would account for almost 100% of the DFS marketplace. The marketplace as a whole, according to the Wall Street Journal, is about 5 million people. Monopolies are never beneficial to the consumer, we lose our most important power, the power to choose.

What’s truly scary is that there is serious potential for this to become a legal, authorized monopoly. This joint venture does much more than cut costs for the respective companies. This agreement allows them to allocate more money to spend on lobbyists in problematic states. Empowering the right people to try and alter existing gambling laws to allow DFS entities operate free of legal fees is imperative to their survival. That sounds like a positive though right? If they can affect change then every DFS company benefits right? Not necessarily.

While in theory that logic is correct, the outcome is totally dependent on the language of the amended law. If somehow FanDuel and DraftKings could exclude other, smaller players from operating in a given state, then we as the consumer are going to suffer. This potential, keyword potential, exclusion would give the FanDuel and DraftKings complete control. Of course laws exist to prohibit this situation, but lawyers and lobbyists are paid to find loopholes and enact change for their clients.

The Uncertain

It is unclear what long-term effects this transaction will have on the industry for a few reasons. One, this merger does not become official for another calendar year. Two, we don’t know if this merger will change the mechanics of DFS themselves. Meaning, we have no way of knowing if player pricing or the money withdrawal system will change as a result.Third, we don’t have to keep playing. If the merger produces results we are unhappy with, then we can still choose to stop playing, even if we don’t want to.

As this story develops, we can get a good sense of how the result will turn out based some key players and what side of the line they stand on. First, pay attention to the commissioners of each major professional sports team. Listen to what they say, but more importantly, where they receive and spend money. FanDuel and DraftKings already have partnerships with the major sports leagues. It’s in each leagues best interest to do so because DFS has a positive impact on each league’s viewership. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is already on record endorsing DFS entities and even went as far as becoming an equity investor in FanDuel.

Second, look out for any media outlet that pays for the right to televise any of the major sports. Why? Because they benefit tremendously from all the advertising dollars FanDuel and DraftKings spend. It was reported by the Wall Street Journal that since FanDuel and DraftKings cut back on advertising, ESPN experienced a 13% decline in ad revenue. Outlets like CBS Sports, TNT, and ESPN will all want to continue to benefit from DFS advertising. In order to do that, these entities must survive.

Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about this impacting our ability to play DFS this week or this year. But, we could see drastic changes in the coming year to the DFS industry.

 

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