In the weekly Fantasy Trends, we leverage the Trends tool to find quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs with notable data points for the upcoming DFS slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit our NFL homepage.
As NFL teams enter the closing stretch of the regular season, some will be jostling for playoff position while others… well, let’s just say they’re building for the future. After playing 11 games, we have a much better idea which teams are elite, which teams are competitive, and which teams may go into “tank mode.”
I wanted to examine this real-world situation through the lens of fantasy sports. Do players experience any holistic decline in production in the latter half of the season?
As it turns out fantasy players’ average Actual Points scored declines during the final five games of the season. This decline in average Actual Points is usually accompanied by a decline in Plus/Minus. There are a couple things likely going on here.
- Football is a physically-demanding sport. Players likely have more spring in their step to start the season, but the weekly barrage of hits, pulls, sprains, tweaks, and stingers causes atrophy to their physical conditioning. Even a marginally slower or more inefficient game script usually benefits defenses, thereby driving fantasy points down modestly.
- Teams are more likely to rest players — or to utilize more liberal rotations — in preparation for the playoffs or in anticipation of next season. Playoff motivation is key here. A team attempting to earn a Wild Card berth will likely try harder than an 0-11 team dreaming for the season to end. Similarly, a division leader trying to secure home field advantage through the playoffs (particularly important for the Saints, for example) may exert more effort in its final games than a team that has already secured a bye.
Let’s dive deeper into this phenomenon by looking at quarterbacks and running backs as individual representatives for the passing and rushing components of NFL offenses. We’ll evaluate historical player performance based on their team’s win percentage and their opponent’s win percentage.
By splitting the data up this way, we can effectively examine how players perform based on the difficulty and importance of a particular late-season matchup. All forthcoming results refer specifically to fantasy production in Games 12 to 16 of the regular season.
There’s a lot to digest here. Let’s focus in on the strongest individual results in our analysis.
Quarterbacks on teams with a win percentage between 33.3% and 66.7% boast the best overall results, especially against opponents with a win percentage between 33.3% and 50.0%. Decoding those numbers a bit, this finding suggests that quarterbacks on teams fighting for a playoff spot (.500 or better as an approximation of this) perform well against teams that are on the outside-looking-in. Opponents in this range are likely bad enough to stimulate a players’ offensive success, but good enough to put up a fight and keep games close.
As a second trend, it’s generally advisable to avoid matchups where both teams share approximately the same playoff odds. For example, players on teams with a win percentage greater than 66.8% fare poorly against teams with a win percentage between 50.1% and 66.7%. These quarterbacks have historically scored 3.22 points below expectation based on their salary.
Similarly, when two teams with win percentages lower than 33.2% face off, it typically goes poorly for everyone. Quarterbacks in these games have the lowest average Actual Points (12.08) and lowest Plus/Minus (-3.33) of any group analyzed.
Players to Target:
The following quarterbacks fit positive trends from our results for their Week 13 matchups.
- Cam Newton: $6,600 DraftKings
- Lamar Jackson: $5,900 DraftKings
- Joe Flacco: $5,400 DraftKings
- Josh Allen: $5,300 DraftKings
- Case Keenum: $5,200 DraftKings
- Colt McCoy: $4,900 DraftKings
- Ryan Tannehill: $4,900 DraftKings
- Jeff Driskel: $4,500 DraftKings
Players to Fade:
The following quarterbacks fit negative trends from our analysis and may carry added downside risk this week.
- Drew Brees: $6,400 DraftKings
- Ben Roethlisberger: $6,00 DraftKings
- Tom Brady: $5,800 DraftKings
- Philip Rivers: $5,700 DraftKings
- Kirk Cousins: $5,500 DraftKings
- Dak Prescott: $5,400 DraftKings
Our running back results are rather noisy, but a few trends stand out in particular. First, our data suggests that DFS players undervalue running backs’ potential in games against poor opponents. At each of the extremes in our data set, elite teams (66.8% win rate or higher) and bottom-dwellers (33.2% win rate or lower) perform extremely well against poor competition.
Running backs on elite teams boast Plus/Minus scores over +1.00 and average Actual Points over 10.50 against bottom-50th percentile teams. Running backs on teams with a 33.2% win rate or lower boast a Plus/Minus of +1.56 at extremely low Ownership (2.8%) against teams with a win rate between 33.3% and 50%.
By stark contrast, when two elite teams face off, it negatively impacts fantasy production for both teams’ running backs. These matchups produce some of the worst Plus/Minus and Consistency scores among all running backs in our sample. Rams running back Todd Gurley is a notable example of this phenomenon already this season, producing statistical duds (for him, at least) against the Saints and Chiefs.
The following running backs fit positive trends from our results for their Week 13 matchups.
- Kareem Hunt: $7,800 DraftKings
- David Johnson: $7,400 DraftKings
- Tarik Cohen: $5,600 DraftKings
- Jordan Howard: $4,000 DraftKings
- Spencer Ware: $4,000 DraftKings
- Isaiah Crowell: $3,800 DraftKings
- Elijah McGuire: $3,600 DraftKings
Players to Fade:
The following running backs fit negative trends from our analysis and may carry added downside risk this week.
- Alvin Kamara: $8,200 DraftKings
- James White: $6,500 DraftKings
- Sony Michel: $6,100 DraftKings
- Mark Ingram: $5,700 DraftKings
- Austin Ekeler: $5,400 DraftKings
- Justin Jackson: $3,600 DraftKings
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players mentioned here. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our NFL news feed.
Photo Credit: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports
Pictured Above: David Johnson