Seasoned DFS players believe that you should roster quarterbacks from high Vegas-implied total games, because those are the games where the most points will be scored. It makes sense, right?
But what if there are conditions in which we can use games with low totals to our advantage? — perhaps by practicing ownership arbitrage?
This article will explore our last two season’s worth of data to find if there are instances when doing what we naturally shy away from is that which we actually should be doing.
Are there any signals that indicate that using quarterbacks from low-total games can be a sharp contrarian move on DraftKings?
Total Info and Baselines
Over the past two seasons, games in the NFL have played with totals ranging from 36.5 to 58 points. Games below 39 are rarely played, however, and games above 55 typically are limited to the Patriots and their opponents.
The overwhelming majority of NFL games the past two seasons have had totals ranging from 39 to 55, with the midpoint being 46. For the purposes of this article we’ll consider any game with a total of 46 and higher to be a ‘high-total game’ and anything played with a total of 45.5 or lower a ‘low-total game.’
Because backup quarterbacks are typically priced at $5,000 on DraftKings, I’m eliminating $5,000 players from the samples. There’s a ton of noise in the Plus/Minus and Consistency because of backup quarterbacks who either see a few snaps in garbage time or don’t play in a game, but they still are responsible for their salary-based expectations.
The data shows that quarterbacks in high-total games have historically produced a +2.88 Plus/Minus with an impressive 62.1 percent Consistency, a significant increase from the baseline.
Quarterbacks in low-total games still have a positive Plus/Minus, but they currently sacrifice 1.29 points of Plus/Minus and a bunch of Consistency when compared to the high-total QBs. In general terms, focusing on QBs in high-total games seems to be the more profitable move. DUH.
Let’s take a deeper look at the low-total QBs to see if we can uncover any actionable data for DFS purposes.
A Tale of Two Cities . . . Kind Of
The first juicy, contrarian tidbit: Low-total quarterbacks commonly, at least in terms of Plus/Minus, perform better on the road, increasing their Plus/Minus to +1.67, they however, lose a bit of Consistency, which drops to 52.6 percent.
At home, they lose seven one-hundredths of a point in Plus/Minus from the baseline, dropping to +1.52, but they increase Consistency to 58.4 percent.
May the Wind Be Always at Your Back
Who incorporates wind into DFS decisions? Jonathan Bales does. From yards per carry for running backs to freaking knuckleballs for pitchers, the dude loves wind. So maybe we should too.
Low-total QBs on the road with wind speeds of no more than 12 miles per hour have generally produced a +1.84 Plus/Minus on DraftKings, with 54.2 percent Consistency. Improvements for sure, but nothing crazy.
If the wind speed is lower than seven miles per hour, the Plus/Minus jumps to +2.50 with excellent 57.7 percent Consistency. This is the type of hidden firepower that should excite you.
Low-total QBs at home, under the same conditions, have a lower Plus/Minus, but their Consistency increases to 60.1 percent.
Our Bargain Rating metric reveals how much of a bargain a player is on one site versus the other.
Low-total road QBs who have a Bargain Rating of at least 55 have produced a generous Plus/Minus of +3.47 on DraftKings with 58.6 percent Consistency. Put these same QBs in games that have a wind speed of under 10 MPH, and they provide a +4.00 Plus/Minus with 61.5 percent Consistency. This is good.
Put them at home, and the Plus/Minus decreases to +2.57, but the Consistency increases: 69 of 104 QBs have met or exceeded their salary-based expectations under these conditions. Add in wind that is under 10 MPH and the Plus/Minus jumps to +3.08 with a chunky 69.4 percent Consistency.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Offensive players tend to do better in non-division than in division games. You can see below the difference it makes specifically for quarterbacks.
But how does this split affect the low-total QB?
Low-total QBs playing in division games see their Plus/Minus drop to +1.24 and their Consistency decrease to 51.8 percent. Low-total quarterbacks playing in non-division games, however, manage to produce a +1.80 Plus/Minus with 57.5 Consistency — both of which are improvements over the baseline low-total QB.
Non-division games with sub-10 MPH wind speeds see the Plus/Minus bump up to +2.05 with a slightly higher Consistency of 58.7 percent.
Low-total quarterbacks playing in non-division games with a Bargain Rating of at least 60 serve up a lovely +4.26 Plus/Minus on DraftKings with 70 percent Consistency in a 100-count sample. Add in a wind that is under 10 MPH and watch the Plus/Minus rise to +4.94 with 73.2 percent Consistency.
A Tale of One City: Vegas
I’m not sure if you can triple stamp a double stamp or use Vegas data against itself and for itself at the same time, but I’m about to try.
I’m focusing on low-total games, a counter-intuitive move, but we need to examine how the tried-and-true favorites-and-underdogs portion of the Vegas equation works here.
Even in low-total games, Vegas favorites still have a huge impact. Favorites historically produce a +2.09 Plus/Minus in low-total games with 60.1 percent Consistency, while underdogs manage only a +1.02 Plus/Minus with 50 percent Consistency.
If you throw a Bargain Rating of at least 60 on the low-total favored QB, the Plus/Minus leaps up to +3.67 with 69.2 percent Consistency. Add in the non-division game filter, and these QBs produce a +4.19 Plus/Minus with 73.7 percent Consistency.
100 Miles and Running
The names Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, and Blake Bortles came up as positive results again and again while I was researching this piece. So I decided to look at quarterback rushing attempts. The answer was pretty clear: Low-total QBs who run are good.
Low-total QBs who attempt at least four rushes per game have traditionally generated a +2.59 Plus/Minus on DraftKings with 61.0 percent Consistency.
Reviewing What We Learned
There is value to be found in low-total quarterbacks, and choosing the right ones may give you an edge in tournaments.
Here are some guidelines:
— Don’t be afraid of low-total QBs playing on the road: They are more explosive in terms of Plus/Minus than their home counterparts. If it’s Consistency that you prefer from your QB, it’s best to keep them at home.
— If you’re not paying attention to wind speeds when it comes to QBs, you’re doing it wrong.
— Our Bargain Rating has a huge (positive) affect on low-total QBs.
— Choose low-total QBs playing in non-division games, and if possible, side with the favorite.
— When all else fails, just run baby.
Keep an eye out for similar low-total studies for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends!