Tag Archives: NFL

The Ravens Are Off to the Least Inspiring 3-0 Start This Century

The Baltimore Ravens are off to a good start. They currently sit in first place in the AFC North with a pristine 3-0 record. Although its season has gone perfectly so far, Baltimore can’t exactly be ecstatic about how it has earned an undefeated start. Is there any reason for Baltimore to feel good about the future based off its 3-0 start?

Let’s first examine this question from a qualitative standpoint. Over the course of the 21st century, there have been 79 teams to begin the season 3-0. After examining every single instance, I’ve identified three of the least inspiring 3-0 starts since 2000.

The 2004 Jaguars got off to a 3-0 start with a point differential of 7. That’s not 7 per game; that’s 7 total. At least the teams it beat were fairly good. The Jags defeated a solid Bills team that finished 9-7 in Buffalo by 3, the Broncos who earned a wild card with a record of 10-6 by 1, and a lousy Tennessee team that finished 5-11 by 3.

Last year’s Falcons beat the 7-9 Eagles at home by 2, a 6-10 Giants team that couldn’t finish games by 4, and a 4-12 Cowboys team by 11. Sure, the eleven point victory looks good, but that game took place in Week 3 and Dallas had already lost its best two players: Dez Bryant in Week 1 and Tony Romo in Week 2.

Baltimore has managed to beat three bad teams–the Bills, Browns, and Jaguars–like the 2015 Falcons while also barely scraping out victories, with edges of 6, 5, and 2, like the 2004 Jaguars. That’s not exactly the combination that the Ravens are looking for.        

Now let’s take a look at this problem from a quantitative perspective. Per FiveThirtyEightteams that get off to a 3-0 start on average finish with 10.7 wins. However, based off their point differential, the Ravens’ Pythagorean expectation for wins is 1.9. If Baltimore was slightly lucky rather than incredibly fortunate, it would be 2-1. According to FiveThirtyEight, teams that start off 2-1 finish with, on average, 9 victories.

Now, take into account that the Ravens are on pace for nine victories without strength of schedule taken into account. The first three teams Baltimore faced this year are three of the worst teams in the NFL. If the Ravens can only capable of earning a meager edge in point differential against some of the worst teams in the league, imagine what will happen once they start playing teams that are actually good.

Sure, the Ravens already have three wins in the bank and they can’t be taken away. However, no matter how you slice it, Baltimore’s start to the season has been inordinately uninspiring and provides little hope for how the rest of the year will progress.


How Good is Denver’s Defense?

The Broncos’ defense is incredible. It’s otherworldly. It’s unstoppable.

While those three superlatives are perfectly reasonable things to say, they don’t say why the Broncos’ defense is so good. Instead of continuing on with opinion and conjecture, let’s take a look at a few statistics to determine just how good Denver’s defense is.

Simple measures of defensive performance are useful but limited. For instance, the Broncos allowed 18.5 points per game this season, an elite rate. However, that only ranks fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. Clearly, this statistic is unable to show how great Denver’s defense is.

Instead, let’s use DVOA (check out this article for an in-depth explanation of DVOA). The Broncos’ defensive DVOA is an impressive -25.8% (remember that positive numbers represent more points so a negative DVOA is good for defenses). How good is that? First let’s take a look at a graph.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 3.24.23 PM

This graph shows the distribution of defensive DVOA in the NFL in the 2015 season. Thirty of the thirty-two teams in the NFL are in the same cluster in the middle. The square in the upper right corner is the laughably bad Saints defense. The star all the way in the bottom left corner? That’s the Broncos.

Just look at the gap between them and second place. Although it’s not quite as large as the one between New Orleans and 31st-ranked Chicago, it’s still a fairly sizable gap. That’s how much better Denver’s defense is than everyone else’s.

Here’s another way to measure how dominant Denver’s defense has been: z-score. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, z-score measures how many standard deviations a given data point is over or under the average of all the data points in the sample.

Denver’s z-score is -2.31. As a comparison, here are eight other notable defenses in recent years and their z-scores based on defensive DVOA. Remember, a negative z-score is good for defenses, as it means that they are successful at preventing points (or producing negative points, if you will).

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 7.11.38 PM

As you can tell, this year’s Broncos defense stacks up very well against some of the best defenses in recent memory. A couple of non-Broncos notes:

  1. The Buccaneers were crazy-good back in 2002. Given a normal distribution, the chances of a defense being better than Tampa Bay’s in 2002 are just over .01%. Wow.
  2. To many, the 2000 Ravens own the title of best defense of the 21st century. However, on this list, they rank last. Why is that? Well, if you look one slot above them, you’ll find the 2000 Titans, who (obviously) played in the same season as them. Standard deviation, and, as a result, z-score, can be affected by the presence of a team of a similar caliber. Accordingly, the Ravens’ z-score is dragged down by the presence of the Titans.

There’s one more way to show how great Denver’s defense is this season. Given a normal distribution, the chances of a defense being better than the Broncos’ defense are 1%. That means that you’d expect a defense as great as the Broncos’ to show up roughly once every 3.125 seasons. So, with these Broncos, you’re seeing something that only occurs about three times a decade.

Although we’ve answered the titular question pretty thoroughly, there remains one, far more important question that has yet to be answered: Will this spectacular defense result in a championship?

Not having a star quarterback is a significant roadblock to winning the Lombardi Trophy, but not an insurmountable one. In recent years, pedestrian quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco, Brad Johnson, and Trent Dilfer have won Super Bowls. Flacco was helped along by an extraordinary hot streak, but both Johnson and Dilfer were accompanied by excellent defenses, both of which appear in the chart above.

Now, since we’ve already established that Denver’s defense is superb, it would stand to reason that they would have a genuine shot at the championship despite their lackluster quarterback situation. That’d be true if it were Brock Osweiler who were starting for the Broncos at quarterback in the playoffs as he’s been competent enough to allow them to win games. However, rather than Osweiler, it’ll be Peyton Manning starting under center for Denver. Manning, unlike Osweiler, has proven himself to be totally incompetent this season, throwing an interception of 5.1% of his attempts, an absurd rate.

While great defenses can carry mediocre signal callers to Super Bowl victories, even the best defenses can’t overcome abysmal quarterbacking. And, even if Manning were playing like he was in 2006, I certainly wouldn’t want to entrust my Super Bowl hopes to a guy who looks like he’s plotting to murder John Elway.



What is DVOA?

DVOA is a statistic created by Football Outsiders and stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Translation: DVOA shows how good (or bad) you are compared to an average team. DVOA is a percentage, with a league-average DVOA being 0%.

How is DVOA calculated? 

Put simply, DVOA is calculated by comparing every single play in the season to a league average baseline. It’s then adjusted for strength of opponent, game situation, and field position. Additionally, DVOA values successful plays more than other plays. A successful play is considered to be a play that gains 45% of the yards needed for a first down on first down, 60% of the yards needed on second down, and 100% of the yards needed on third and fourth downs. In other words, if you gain eleven yards on a 3rd-and-16, it matters a lot less than gaining six yards on a 3rd-and-4. DVOA is able to take this difference into account, unlike simpler statistics.

How can I interpret DVOA?

On offense, a positive DVOA means that you’re better than average while on defense, a better than average team has a negative DVOA.

What’s the reason for this discrepancy?

DVOA is a measure of how many more points you create than an average team. On offense, the best teams create more points than an average team, so their DVOA is positive. However, on defense, the best teams prevent more points than an average team, so their DVOA is negative, because they create “negative points”.

Why is DVOA better than simpler statistics like points scored and allowed?

DVOA is better than simple points scored and allowed because of its increased accuracy and predictive value.

How does DVOA gain its accuracy?

As mentioned before, DVOA is adjusted for a number of factors. In addition to the three mentioned above, DVOA is based on plays, rather than points. This is important in a couple of ways.

One, if the offense throws a pick-six, that shows up as points allowed for the defense. However, it was obviously the offense’s fault, not the defense’s. Simple statistics attribute those points to the defense, but more advanced metrics like DVOA correctly assign blame to the offense.

Two, while points allowed only records drives that end in scores, DVOA takes note of every play on every drive. For instance, let’s say that Team A gives up fourteen points and 250 yards per game, while Team B gives up fourteen points and 350 yards per game. By simple measures such as points allowed, Team A and Team B have equal defenses. However, by DVOA, it’s clear that Team’s defense is better than Team B’s on a play-by-play basis.

Are there any other details I should know?

There’s one important factor we’ve only mentioned so far, and that’s DVOA’s adjustment for field position. If your quarterback throws an interception and your opponent starts their position on your one yard-line, then it’s very likely, even if your defense is spectacular, that you’ll give up a touchdown. The opposite is true as well. DVOA gives your offense more credit for long drives than for possessions that begin in your opponent’s red zone.

Simple statistics don’t measure that. To them, a one yard drive for a touchdown is equal to a methodical fourteen play, ninety-two yard drive for a score.

There are various other permutations of DVOA that we won’t discuss in this particular article. One notable one, however, is DYAR, which is DVOA but in a cumulative statistic, rather than a rate one.

In future football articles, we’ll be using DVOA a lot more, and I hope you find this FAQ useful so you’ll be able to be a more discerning football fan. And, even if you still don’t understand it, it’s a fancy sounding statistic with an acronym; just using it in a sentence makes you sound about three times as smart.

Should the Giants Sit Their Stars?

The Giants are finally nearing the end of yet another lost season. Only one more game remains: a matchup against the Eagles at 1:00 this Sunday.

While they get all the attention, teams that are locked into their playoff seeds aren’t the only teams who have to think about benching their stars. This week, the Giants face an intriguing decision: should they sit their studs to keep them safe or should they play them for pride?

The main reason the Giants should consider sitting players like Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. is that it makes no sense to risk your star players over a meaningless regular season game. Football is an inherently dangerous sport, and the more one plays it, the more likely it is that one gets hurt.

Those who think that teams should play their stars, even in meaningless games, like to point out that Week 17 is no more dangerous to players than any other game, as shown in the graph below.

In this graph, (found here, at Football Outsiders) the orange line shows that the risk of sustaining a new injury is stable throughout the season (Week 1 looks like a significant outlier, but, as the article notes, “anybody who suffers an injury in the offseason, training camp, or preseason will first appear” in Week 1’s stats). Accordingly, the logic goes, teams should play their stars because the risk of sustaining a new injury in Week 17 is no greater than the risk in any other game.

There’s an easy retort to this argument. While it’s true that a player is not more likely to get injured in Week 17 than in any other week, it’s also true that a player is more likely to get injured playing in a Week 17 game than sitting it out. Why should the Giants increase the risk of an injury to Manning or Beckham Jr. even slightly by playing them in a meaningless game?

It’s important to note that this graph does not indicate what kind of injuries were sustained. Obviously, there’s a significant difference in importance between a mild hamstring strain and a torn ACL, and that difference needs to be taken into account when determining the risks of playing one’s stars in a meaningless game. Logically, there’s no reason why the rate of serious injuries in Week 17 should be different than in any other game, but if anyone has any statistics on the matter, please email me at sushionsports@gmail.com.

Many will say that Eli Manning’s streak of 150 consecutive games started should not be broken, and that he needs to play to keep the streak alive. However, there’s a simple solution to this problem: play Manning for the first series of the game, and then sit him down for the rest of the afternoon.

The biggest reason the Giants should play their stars is out of loyalty to their fans. This game is being played in the Meadowlands, the Giants’ home stadium. The cheapest seat in the stadium, according to StubHub, is $50. That’s a significant amount of money to shell out for a team that’s not trying to win.

The Sixers, the preeminent tanking team, have realized that no one wants to pay a lot of money for a team that intends to lose. Accordingly, for their next home game, against the Timberwolves, the cheapest ticket available on StubHub is for a grand total of $9. That’s all. The price for a seat right behind the basket is $44. That’s cheaper than the cheapest seat in MetLife Stadium!

The Giants owe it to their fans, who are paying a lot of money to come watch the team play, to do their best to win the game. If it was on the road, that’d be another story, but it’s not. People come to Giants games to see Beckham Jr. and Manning, not Sidney York and Ryan Nassib.

And, just to prove my point, you definitely didn’t realize that Sidney York is the name of an electro-pop band, not a football player. Rather, it’s Elliott Brood who’s the current WR6 on the Giants.

So what do I think the Giants should do? It’s a tough decision, and I’m glad I don’t have to make it. Still, if I had to choose, I’d lean towards playing the stars for the sake of the fans. If I’m the Giants, I definitely don’t want to be compared to the Sixers.

And besides, who wants to see guys like Elliott Brood play football? Well, actually, it might be pretty awesome as, although you didn’t notice, Elliott Brood isn’t a wide receiver; it’s a Canadian alt-country band. And unless you want to see these guys playing for the Giants, you’d better hope the starters are playing on Sunday.

This article can also be found at Jock Journal.

Should the Eagles have Fired Chip Kelly?

lEarlier tonight, news broke that Chip Kelly had been fired by the Eagles.

It’s an interesting decision, to say the least. Let’s take a look back at Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia for some clues as to why this situation soured.

Way back in 2013, Kelly took over as head coach of the Eagles. Philadelphia was coming off a 4-12 season under the stewardship of Andy Reid and the team wanted a change and Kelly provided it.

In 2012, the Eagles’s pass/run ratio was 1.50. After Kelly’s arrival, it dropped all the way down to 1.01 in 2013. In addition to making LeSean McCoy owners in fantasy football incredibly happy, this approach helped the Eagles win the NFC East with a record of 10-6, although they lost to the Saints in the Wild Card Round, 26-24.

2014 was much of the same, with another successful offensive season producing another 10-6 season. However, Philadelphia missed the playoffs, so the season wasn’t considered to be a complete success.

After the season, Kelly took control of the player personnel department, allowing him to run the Eagles the way he saw fit. Over the course of the offseason, Kelly made a number of puzzling decisions, from signing Byron Maxwell to a big contract, to letting Jeremy Maclin go to Kansas City, to signing two running backs to contracts worth a combined $52 million. Despite all of these questionable moves, Eagles fans continued to repeat the mantra “In Chip We Trust”.

As it turns out, perhaps they shouldn’t have been so trusting. Philadelphia has been subpar, and a loss to Washington last Saturday night clinched a losing season.

Now that we have some context, we need to ask: Should the Eagles have fired Chip Kelly?

The answer, as it is so often, is unclear. Even with this poor 2015 season, Kelly’s record as Philadelphia’s head coach is still a solid 26-21. It’s surprising to see a coach with so much early success get fired as quickly as Kelly.

Kelly is clearly a very good coach; the problems started when he took over the player personnel department. If the Eagles just took away that power and kept him as the head coach, that would seemingly solve the problem.

Of course, it’s never that simple. Once you promote someone, you can’t ever demote them without ruining the relationship. Likewise, the Eagles can’t get rid of Kelly as the director of player personnel without also getting rid of him as head coach.

There’s now an opportunity for other teams to swoop in and hire Kelly because they can hire him just to coach without having to hand him control of personnel too.

Philadelphia was stuck in a bind, and they made the right choice. Having Kelly in charge of personnel was clearly not going to work, so even though he’s a great coach, he had to go.

This article can also be found at Jock Journal.

Week 13 Picks Against the Spread

This week is the three-quarter mark of the season. At this point, most teams know where they stand, as a contender, pretender, or about to surrender.

However, there remain a few teams on the playoff bubble whose fate has yet to be determined and there are games taking place today that will go a long way towards deciding who’ll be spending January at home. Let’s focus on three of those games between semi-contenders and look at how each game’s result reverberates across the league.

Note: all home teams are in CAPS and all lines are from ESPN and are accurate at the time of writing.

Jets -2.5 over GIANTS

There are a ton of similarities between these two teams. Each has a star wide receiver, each is maddeningly inconsistent, and each is tied for a playoff spot.

The Giants sit at 5-6, tied with Washington for the lead in the NFC East. However, they don’t own the tiebreaker currently and it’s highly unlikely they’ll get it. The first tiebreaker between the two teams is division record. Each has two wins, but New York has three losses to Washington’s one. To take the tiebreaker, the Giants will have to win in Week 17 against the Eagles, but they’ll need the Cowboys and Eagles to sweep Washington in three games. Even if Washington goes 1-2, resulting in a tie in division record, the next tiebreaker, conference record, also belongs to them, as they’re 5-3 to the Giants’ 4-5.

To win the NFC East and to get into the playoffs, the Giants will have to have a better record than Washington, another scenario that seems unlikely. Comparing the two schedules, the Giants will face an undefeated team (Carolina), an 8-3 team (Minnesota), and the Eagles and Dolphins, as well as the Jets today. Washington on the other hand, will play Dallas twice, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Buffalo. The best case scenario has the Giants going 3-2, but it’s much more likely they’ll go 2-3, or even 1-4. Washington, however, will be hard-pressed not to win more than three games against the creampuff schedule they’ll face. Things are looking bleak for the Big Blue.

The Jets have an easier path to the playoffs. They currently sit in the seventh seed in the AFC, tied with four other teams at 6-5, with two more close behind at 5-6. For those seven teams, there  are three spots available, two for the Wild Cards and one for the winner of the AFC South. I’m going to proceed with the assumption that the Chiefs hold on to the fifth seed thanks to their season-saving hot streak and a fairly easy schedule. That leaves one spot for three teams: New York, Pittsburgh, and the second-place team in the South.

We’ll delve deeper into the latter two teams later on in the article, so let’s focus on the Jets now. The Jets have an astoundingly easy schedule. Out of their sixteen games, only four will have come against teams with winning records. The only team they’ll have faced that can be considered a genuine contender is the Patriots. For that reason, I’m skeptical of their chances of advancing should they make the playoffs, but with an easy schedule over the remainder of the season, I consider them the favorite to nab the sixth seed, especially if Houston (which has the head-to-head tiebreaker over them) beats out Indianapolis (which doesn’t) for the AFC South crown.

Arizona -4.5 over ST. LOUIS

MINNESOTA +2 over Seattle

Houston +3.5 over BUFFALO

MIAMI -3.5 over Baltimore

Atlanta +1 over TAMPA BAY

Both of these teams are erratic, wildly fluctuating from week to week between dominant and feeble. This game will likely not end up mattering because Seattle has a firm hold on the sixth seed due to its easy schedule. However, for these two teams, it’s essentially an elimination game. If Atlanta loses, it’ll be tied with Tampa Bay, without the tiebreaker, and with a tough schedule over the remaining four games. If the Buccaneers lose, they’ll be two games behind the Falcons with four games to play, a nearly insurmountable deficit.

If the Seahawks lose to the Vikings, then things will start to get interesting. Seattle will be 6-6 to Atlanta’s 7-5 or Tampa Bay’s 6-6 with the tiebreaker. Seattle will still be favored to get the sixth seed, thanks to Atlanta’s two likely losses against Carolina and Tampa Bay’s slightly tougher schedule, but it’ll be much more of a toss-up, and it could come down to the wire.

Cincinnati -9 over CLEVELAND

TENNESSEE +2 over Jacksonville

CHICAGO -6.5 over San Francisco

Denver -4 over SAN DIEGO

Kansas City +3 over OAKLAND

Carolina -6.5 over NEW ORLEANS

New England -7.5 over Philadelphia

Indianapolis +7.5 over PITTSBURGH

This is a must-win for the Steelers. Should they lose this game, they’ll fall to 6-6, and the remainder of their schedule includes Cincinnati and Denver, which realistically caps their record at 8-8, a record that is unlikely to result in a playoff berth.

The Colts, on the other hand, are well-placed to succeed even if they lose this matchup, as their remaining four games aren’t overly challenging, they’ll get to play Houston at home in a game that’ll likely decide the AFC South, and Andrew Luck will be coming back from a kidney injury within three weeks.

Whichever team is able to win this game will have the inside track to a playoff berth and whichever team loses will be hard-pressed to regain ground on the rest of the playoff-hopefuls, making this a pivotal moment in each team’s season, and since it comes on Sunday Night Football, I’m looking forward to watching it all unfold.

For the record, I fully expect the Steelers to win this game, but I’m picking the Colts +7.5 and hoping for a garbage-time touchdown.

WASHINGTON -3.5 over Dallas

As it stands now, i think that Washington will win the NFC East and that Seattle will take the sixth seed. I think Indianapolis will win the AFC South and that the Jets will win the sixth seed by a single game over Pittsburgh and Houston.

Of course, the beauty of football is that, unlike other sports such as basketball, anything can happen. After all, there are no sure things in the NFL. Well, except for the Browns turning a victory into an agonizing defeat.

Week 12 Picks for DFS and Against the Spread

Here are the Week 12 picks along with a few players whose prices and match-ups combine to make them enticing plays this weekend in DFS.

Note: all home teams are in caps, all lines are from ESPN and are accurate at the time of writing, and that all prices for DFS are from DraftKings.

WASHINGTON +2.5 over Giants

Kirk Cousins has been money at home. He threw for three touchdowns and 317 yards against Tampa Bay last month and a couple of weeks ago, he tore through the Saints with 324 yards and four touchdowns on only 25 attempts. Yeah, New Orleans is awful at defense, but then again, so is New York. Only the Saints allow more overall yards per game than the Giants and its hapless secondary allows 309.9 passing yards each game, the worst in the league by 16.8 yards.

New York is missing its two best offensive linemen, Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, so the Washington defense shouldn’t have any trouble getting to Eli Manning and he can’t throw touchdowns to OBJ while on his back.

This confluence of factors seems to point towards a Washington blowout victory. Kirk Cousins will set you back only $5300, a great price which will allow you to spend on other positions. The Washington D/ST at only $2000 makes it a fine play if you plan on punting the position as there should be plenty of opportunities for sacks and Manning hasn’t had one of his classic four-pick games yet this season, and we all know it’s coming soon.

JETS -4 over Miami

This one’s a toughie. This is a matchup of a pair of teams that make you feel awful abut betting on them. The Dolphins haven’t put together a solid victory against a half-decent opponent since Week 7 against Houston. The Jets, on the other hand, haven’t had one since October 18th, against Washington. The deciding factor for me is that the Jets won earlier this season in Miami, 27-14, but I’m not sure how much that means because Darrelle Revis is out for this game with a concussion. This game is screaming “STAY AWAY,” so let’s heed its advice and move on.

Oakland -0 over TENNESSEE

These are two up-and-coming teams and it’s a tough game to choose. While the Raiders have the better offense, the Titans have a very strong pass defense. Although Oakland has a good young quarterback in Derek Carr, Tennessee has one too in Marcus Mariota. I’ve been betting on Oakland for the last few weeks, and there’s not enough of a reason for me to stop now.

Delanie Walker is a name you should watch out for. Oakland is awful at defending tight ends, and Walker gets plenty of targets as Mariota’s safety valve. He’s priced at $5400, third-highest among tight ends, but he’s safe with a high ceiling, making him worth it.

KANSAS CITY -5.5 over Buffalo

The Chiefs are getting hot at the right time. After a five-game losing streak dropped them to 1-5, the team has won four straight in dominating fashion, with an average point differential of 22.75. The Bills aren’t doing too shabby themselves, with a couple of wins over the Jets and Dolphins followed by a competitive loss against New England, but they’re a weaker team than the Chiefs.

One important note: Charcandrick West is out for this game with a hamstring injury, meaning that Spencer Ware will take over as the lead back for Kansas City. Ware scored a pair of touchdowns on 101 all-purpose yards and is in line for another massive workload. At his $3800 salary, he’s a bargain.

Tampa Bay +2.5 over INDIANAPOLIS

Like the Eagles on Thanksgiving, I’m not sure why Vegas continues to make the Colts the favorite. With Andrew Luck, Indy would be the choice, but without him, the team just isn’t very good. Even at home, the team will need a lot of luck (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to defeat a suddenly very dangerous Tampa Bay.

St. Louis +10 over CINCINNATI

After an embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football to the Texans, the Bengals bounced back with a somewhat less embarrassing loss to the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football. I fully expect the home team to win this game but St. Louis always seems to play close, competitive games, and Cincinnati doesn’t have the offensive firepower to score enough on the strong St. Louis defense to put the game out of reach early. Yeah, Case Keenum is awful, but Todd Gurley is a stud, and the Rams can just hand the ball off to him again and again to shorten the game, another way of preventing the Bengals from scoring a ton of points.

If Cincinnati is unable to take a big lead, any garbage time touchdown from St. Louis will pull the game within ten and give me the win.

JACKSONVILLE -5 over San Diego

The Chargers are down to Stevie Johnson, Dontrelle Inman, an oversized gravy boat, and an old boot as Philip Rivers’ wide receivers. That group doesn’t inspire much confidence, although I’ve heard that the gravy boat had a surprisingly good 40 time at the draft combine a couple of years ago. The Jaguars, on the other hand, have a pair of Allens at wide receiver, Robinson and Hurns. Robinson is a rising star, and Hurns has been very good too, so Blake Bortles should have no trouble ripping through San Diego’s awful secondary en route to a victory.

Johnson is $4500 and because he’s going to get a ton of targets, he’s a solid play at receiver, especially if you want to save money to allocate elsewhere.

HOUSTON -3 over New Orleans

The New Orleans defense can’t stop anyone. The lowest point total they’ve given up this season was twenty points to a Dallas squad missing Dez Bryant and Tony Romo. For the Texans, it doesn’t matter that their quarterback is a castoff from Cleveland, it doesn’t matter that their starting running back is averaging 3.3 yards per carry, and it doesn’t matter that they’ve only scored more than 26 points once this year. All that matters is that the Saints defense is coming to town. Even if Drew Brees throws five touchdown passes, his defense will allow six, so I’ll gladly lay the field goal and take the Texans

Accordingly, Brian Hoyer at a mere $5000 dollars is a bargain, and I would pay $12000 for DeAndre Hopkins, so at $9100, he’s a must-have. Having Hoyer on the cheap frees up money to get Hopkins, so that Hoyer/Hopkins stack is both enticing and easily attainable.

Minnesota -0 over ATLANTA

The Falcons have been awful lately. They lost to San Francisco. They haven’t had a good win since Week 4 against Houston. Nothing about this team makes me want to rely on them. On top of that, Devonta Freeman is out with a concussion. No thanks, Atlanta, I’ll pass.

Due to Freeman’s absence, Tevin Coleman will be Atlanta’s starting running back. He’s only $4300 so he’s a solid choice if you want to go cheap at running back. Plenty of touches will be freed up, so Julio Jones may get even more of a workload than usual. He’s the most expensive player in the league at $9400 so I’m generally not paying up for him, but if you can fit him under the salary cap, he’s a great player to have.

ARIZONA -11.5 over San Francisco

Last week I made the mistake of taking the points with San Francisco against Seattle. I’m not going to make that mistake again. The Cardinals should rip the Niners to shreds. Carson Palmer will score plenty through the air, and once Arizona is up big, they can simply hand the ball off to a resurgent Chris Johnson.

CJ2K is CJ4.6K in DFS, and due to the heavy workload he’s expected to have, $4600 isn’t much to spend on his guaranteed production.

Pittsburgh +3.5 over SEATTLE

Why is Seattle still considered to be among the best teams in the league? They’re still solid overall, but the trade for Jimmy Graham hasn’t worked out at all, Russell Wilson has been struggling, and the vaunted defense has become less of a strength as it’s turned into a stars-and-scrubs situation due to the huge new contracts handed out to Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman.

While Seattle’s offense has been poor, Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has one of the best offense in the NFL. The Seahawks won’t be able to pull away from the Steelers, so even if they win this game, I doubt it will be by much. Accordingly, I’m happy to take that extra half-point, so a Pittsburgh loss by a field goal still gives me the win.

New England -2.5 over DENVER

In Belichick we trust. The Patriots have lost Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola so their only proven pass-catchers are Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski. The Broncos know this, and their elite defense can shut them down. Brock Osweiler was brock-solid last week against the Bears, but if he gets off to a brocky start, his team could be in for a rough night.

This is actually a matchup between the two top scoring defenses in the league so points will be put at a premium. In addition, snow is expected, making it even harder to score. This type of game is one that the Patriots often face at home in Foxborough, and it’s one that they often win.

CLEVELAND -3 over Baltimore

In an incredibly scintillating game, two teams with a combined five wins will square off. The Ravens don’t have their starting quarterback, their starting running back, or their best wide receiver. At this point, even Cleveland has better offensive weapons than Baltimore.

This game should be the antithesis of entertaining, unless you enjoy seeing ugly football games between subpar players on awful teams, in which case this is your game of the year.

The Cleveland D/ST is an intriguing play at a mere $2000 against a team led by the immortal Matt Schaub who, as we discussed last Thursday, was last seen throwing touchdowns to the other team in 2013. In addition, Josh McCown at $5000 and Gary Barnidge at $4800 are both decent options for those wishing to be contrarian.

We’re through the picks and it’s nearly time for football, so it’s time to finish off this article. If you enjoyed it, feel free to click the “Follow” button on the right side of your screen and to share this article. Check back in on Tuesday for another article, this time discussing the impending SuckBowl between the Lakers and Sixers taking place that night.

Fantasy Impact of Romo Injury

With the recent news that Tony Romo is out for the season after a re-fracture of his left clavicle today against the Panthers, it’s time to quickly examine the injury’s impact on our fantasy teams.

To be honest, there really isn’t that much of a fantasy impact. Romo was back for one full game, so all we have to do is go back to the seven previous Romo-less games to gain a reasonable idea of what we can expect from Cowboys players through the rest of the season.

Matt Cassel will take over at quarterback for Dallas for the remainder of the season. He should obviously be avoided all fantasy teams, but he’s still important due to his effect on his teammates. Put simply, his return as the starter lessens the fantasy value of every one of his receivers.

Darren McFadden should keep his fantasy value barring a seemingly inevitable injury. Feel free to ignore the stacked boxes he’ll undoubtedly face as he dealt with the same earlier this season and still was able to produce. Even if he’s unable to be efficient, it doesn’t matter for fantasy. Remember: tons of touches equals tons of points.

At wide receiver, Dez Bryant is the biggest loser. A WR1 with Romo, he’ll be at best a high-end WR2 with Cassel. There’s more uncertainty about Bryant’s outlook because he was injured earlier this season while Romo was out and thus has yet to play a full game with Cassel. Still, it’s Matt Cassel, so we can’t expect much from Bryant until we’re shown otherwise.

I’ve been down on Jason Witten since the beginning of the season, and I continue to expect him to perform as a low-ceiling borderline-TE1. Witten didn’t play well with Cassel, but it’s not like he played much better with Romo. Outside of scoring his only two touchdowns in the first game of the season, Witten has failed to put up many points. For owners who had been holding on to Witten in the hopes that Romo’s return would rejuvenate his season, it’s time to let go.

Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, the only other players worth mentioning in this offense, shouldn’t have been owned in any leagues to begin with, and now that Romo is out for the season, they definitely shouldn’t be owned in any leagues.

Hope everyone had a spectacular Thanksgiving full of family, fun, and fantasy points.



Thanksgiving Picks for DFS and Against the Spread

Thanksgiving is a fine American tradition. The turkey, the family reunions, and the annual football game you play with your cousins that ends almost immediately when the rotund Cousin Dave claims he’s “cramping up”. Of course, the best tradition of them all is the ever-present football game on the TV that’s a perfect excuse to escape your Aunt Edna’s smothering hugs.

In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s break down today’s games and in the true spirit of America, let’s do so from a gambler’s perspective.

(Home team in caps)

LIONS -2.5 over Eagles

Honestly, it’s amazing that it’s taken this long for Vegas to sour on the rapidly imploding Eagles. Last week they were somehow giving seven points against Tampa Bay. Yeah, the Bucs aren’t a spectacular team, but when was Philly even a solid team this season? Their best two games came against the Saints and the Giants, two teams that aren’t particularly good. Two weeks ago, they somehow needed overtime to beat a Cowboys team that was led by Matt Cassel. Need I say more?

Panthers +1 over DALLAS

Here’s a strange looking line: the undefeated Panthers getting a point against a 3-7 team. However, once you look at it a little more closely, the line starts to make a little more sense. For one, conventional wisdom states that home field advantage is worth three points, so this line shows that the oddsmakers think that Carolina is the better team by two points. Despite this, it still looks a little off. Again, once you break it down a little further, it makes plenty more sense. The Cowboys may be 3-7 this season, but they’re 3-0 in games started by Tony Romo and 0-7 in games started by the horrendous combination of Cassel and Brandon Weeden. So yeah, I still think the Panthers are the choice in this game, but at least there are clear reasons for Dallas being considered the favorite.

GREEN BAY -8.5 over Chicago

The Packers are looking to lay down the law. After a distressing three-game losing streak which included an embarrassing contest against the Lions, Green Bay demolished the Vikings last week to take back the lead in the NFC North. While the Bears are getting back Matt Forte, the linchpin of their offense, his return won’t help as much as you might think. The guy Forte will be replacing, Jeremy Langford, filled in spectacularly for him during his absence so the star’s return won’t be a massive upgrade. Additionally, Martellus Bennett, the tight end, has already been ruled out for the game, and Alshon Jeffery, the stud wide receiver, is questionable for tonight’s game and has been hobbled all year. The Bears have actually recovered somewhat from their 2-5 start to the season with two wins in their last three games, but on the road in Lambeau Field, the Pack Attack is the choice.

Now, since many state governments have decided that DFS is gambling, let’s proceed with that premise and talk about a few solid Thanksgiving DFS plays on DraftKings.

Jonathan Stewart, at a mere $5200, is one of the best plays of the slate. He’s getting a ton of carries, with a streak of six games and counting with at least twenty carries.

Devin Funchess is another worthy choice. He costs only $3900, and as we discussed in yesterday’s article, he’s becoming a much bigger part of the Carolina offense.

Calvin Johnson and Greg Olsen are the two studs I’d pay up for. Although expensive, both are the only reliable players at their positions.

None of the defensive matchups are appealing, so for your D/ST, why not choose Detroit? Priced at a reasonable $2200, the Lions face a Butt Fumble-led Eagles team which scored seventeen points last week. Sanchez threw in three interceptions for good measure.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, sharing it on social media would be much appreciated, but even if you don’t, good luck in all your gambling endeavors today, enjoy the turkey, and (ready for an awful pun?) thanks(giving) for reading.

Who is This Year’s CJ Anderson?

Last year hundreds of thousands of fantasy leagues were decided by one player: CJ Anderson. Anderson came out of nowhere in Week 9 against the Raiders, racking up 163 all-purpose yards along with a touchdown, for 23.3 points in standard leagues. The next week he salvaged a poor rushing day with eight receptions for 88 yards. From then on, Anderson was a high-end RB1, with only one game below 18.5 points (standard scoring) the rest of the way.

There were other guys who broke out in the latter half of the 2014 season to carry teams to championships. Jeremy Hill was very good, but not nearly as good as Anderson. Odell Beckham Jr. was spectacular, but he was good before the stretch run for the average fantasy league.

Even though Anderson wasn’t owned before the stretch run and Hill and Beckham Jr. both were, there are two important similarities between these three players. Each took advantage of a struggling incumbent starter. Giovani Bernard ceded his job to Hill, Victor Cruz’s injury freed up a ton of targets for Beckham Jr., and Montee Ball was ineffective, which allowed Anderson to fill up that gap in production. Each player was new to the league. Hill and Beckham Jr. were rookies and Anderson was a second-year player who had seven touches across two games in his rookie season.

Let’s use these two criteria to find a few likely breakout candidates. This player needs to have been in the league for less than two seasons and have a starting job ready to be seized after an injured or ineffective starter vacated it.

First and foremost on this list is Thomas Rawls. With the recent news that Marshawn Lynch will be out for at least four weeks after a sports hernia surgery, the running back has a clear path to the starting job in Seattle. Rawls is a rookie, who went undrafted but was then signed by the Seahawks. Adding to Rawls’ appeal, in the four games Lynch has been out so far this season, Rawls has averaged 132.5 rushing yards on 21.5 carries, with three touchdowns. Those are RB1 numbers and with the shaky RB situation this season, Rawls could easily be a top-5 RB the rest of the way.

Javorius Allen is another easy choice. Like Rawls, he’s a rookie and the incumbent starter, Justin Forsett, broke his arm and is out for the season. Not only is the starting running back job his for the taking, the QB, Joe Flacco, is also out for the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL, with Matt Schaub set to take over. Schaub was last seen in 2013, setting a record by throwing a pick-6 in four straight games for the 2-14 Texans. I have a feeling the Ravens won’t give Schaub much responsibility, especially because their wide receiver corps doesn’t inspire any confidence. That’ll lead to a ton of touches for Allen, and in fantasy football, tons of touches equals tons of points.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs haven’t missed a beat after Jamaal Charles went down for the season with a torn ACL. Charcandrick West,  took over the starting job and has produced RB1 numbers with a massive workload. Now, West, should be owned in any competitive league, but he went down with a hamstring injury this past week, opening the door for Spencer Ware to fill in. Ware’s in his third season, but until last week he had a total nine touches in his career. He doubled that on Sunday, totaling eleven carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns along with a five yard reception. Should West miss this week, Ware will have a chance to prove his viability as a feature back, a role which could provide him with the rich usage needed to be a bona fide fantasy stud.

Devin Funchess was a breakout pick at the start of the year. He’s a rookie, drafted in the second round out of Michigan. After Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL before the season began, Funchess’ ADP began to rise. However, he did almost nothing for the first half of the season, and guys like Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery soaked up the newly available targets. Over the last three weeks, Funchess has turned his season around, averaging three receptions for 59 yards and catching a pair of touchdowns. With his relative youth and the wealth of targets available to him, Funchess has a good shot at a solid finish to the season.

It’s tricky to predict how long players will be out from concussions, and although Devonta Freeman isn’t expected to miss more than a game from the one he suffered last week, should his ailment keep him out for longer, the Falcons will need to find someone to soak up the a ton of touches. Enter Tevin Coleman, yet another rookie, a third round pick out of Indiana University. He was actually expected to be the starter entering the season, but after an injury sidelined him for a couple of weeks, Freeman took hold of the job and never let it go. Now that Coleman has little competition for running back touches in the Atlanta offense for at least a week, could he perform well enough to steal back the job from Freeman? Admittedly, it’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Last of all, one player with a shot to become this year’s CJ Anderson is…CJ Anderson. This is still only his third year in the league so youth is on his side. Denver’s QB combo of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler doesn’t inspire much confidence, so if Anderson can wrest the starting job back from Ronnie Hillman, he could have a spectacular stretch run, leading teams to victory for the second straight year.