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NFL Week 11 Opening Drive: Exploring Defensive Positional Matchup and Target Analysis

Michael Waldo

Let's talk about defense. If you're like a lot of fantasy owners, defenses are often an afterthought. Once the bye weeks hit in Week 4, they are often the first to go when roster space becomes tight. While the fantasy point variance week to week is tremendous, a skilled fantasy player can be quite successful by streaming defenses using some of the tools that Fantistics publishes as well as content located on Fantistics' sister site, MyFantasyFix. One of the most useful data sources comes from MyFantasyFix's weekly Matchup Matrix. Included with a subscription to our DFS Analysis package, the Matchup Matrix ranks team defenses by their performance against individual positions. Below is a screenshot from our Week 10 matchup grid as a general example.

Illustration 1: MyFantasyFix Week 10 Matchup Matrix

MFFMatchup.jpg

Using this matchup data is an important starting point, but we can take the analysis even further by adding in both target and red zone analysis to the equation. Depending on your goals, there are two different ways to approach the defense selection. The most conservative approach (and the best approach in most season-long leagues) is to target defenses that rank highly against each skill position while also playing a team that underutilizes the positions where your defense struggles. If you're playing in a Daily Fantasy League and you're looking for a riskier pick but with more upside, you might consider playing a defense that both ranks highly and has high usage against your team's strengths. Salary space is king in daily fantasy leagues and matchups are usually already baked into the price assigned to a team for a week. By finding market inefficiencies like this, you can give yourself an edge while also saving money. Below is a view, position-by-positon, of the Week 11 matchups and their respective defensive rankings using our Matchup Matrix data from the first 9 weeks of the NFL season.

Illustration 2: MyFantasyFix Matchup Analysis With Positional Targets

W11 Chart.PNG

This is throwing a lot of numbers at you so let's break it down section by section. Off to the left, the defense is listed along with their opponent for the upcoming week (team's with "byes" in Week 11 were purposely excluded). We then split up each type of receiver - wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends - and measure both the opponent's usage tendencies and the team defenses ability to stop players at this position this season. For a team like the Broncos who throw the ball frequently, it's not surprising that their wide receivers lead the NFL with over 33 targets per game. Conversely, for a team like Kansas City that relies heavily on their running back and tight end, it's not surprising they rank last in targets by wide receivers with less than 18 targets per game. Following the guidelines outlined earlier in this article, the defenses in blue are interesting plays for the upcoming week.

Week 11 "Safer" Defenses (High Ownership Rates):

Seattle - While Seattle's defense has largely underperformed versus their expectations and incredible 2013 season, they are still one of the best overall defensive units in the league. The Seahawks rank in the top 5 of all defense against opposing wide receivers and running backs and although they give up the 2nd most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, the Kansas City Chiefs have failed to fully utilize their talented rookie tight end in Travis Kelce. Kelce has just one week with more than 6 targets and he's averaging under 5 targets per game. Despite the limited usage, he remainsa threat around the red zone but the Seahawks have been pretty stout around the goalline, allowing their opponents to score on just 19% of their chances, the 6th best total of all defenses playing this week.

Detroit - Sticking with another top defense, the Detroit Lions are an intriguing play this week. If you exclude contextual factors like Carson Palmer's injury, the Lions could be in the running for consideration as an "upside" play. However, despite traveling to Arizona to take on an offense that has the 7th most targets to wide receivers and 4th most targets to running backs, the Lions make for a very nice play once again in Week 11. The Palmer injury is a brutal blow to the Cardinals and Detroit ranks as the 3rd best defense against opposing wide receivers on the season. Since they are likely already owned in your season-long leagues, Detroit will most likely only be helpful to you in the DFS formats.

Week 11 "Safe" Defenses (Medium Ownership Rates):

San Diego - The Oakland Raiders offense ranks middle-of-the-pack in targets to all their receiving positional players yet they remain 3rd to last in average points scored per game with 16.2. The Chargers are hosting rookie Derek Carr's Oakland team that has the 3rd highest turnovers in the NFL. The Chargers aren't an elite defense against any specific position but they rank near the middle against all positons, making them more balances and consequently more consistent than some of teams. It's always a good idea to pick a defense that will have a lead and the Chargers are currently 10 point favorites.

Miami - Another mid-range defense that's playing at home against a scuffling offense. With Sammy Watkins and Fred Jackson each banged up, it's looking like a nice opportunity to stream an underrated Dolphins defense in Week 11. Miami's secondary has been quite productive this season, leading to their ranking as 5th best defense against opposing wide receivers based on fantasy points scored per game. The Bills offense doesn't stand out in any one area and they're currently just 23rd points per game and 27th in red zone conversions.

Week 11 "Upside" Defense (Low Ownership Rates):

New England - Not too many owners will be rolling with the Patriots in Week 11 against the highest scoring team in the NFL while playing on the road, but this is precisely why the Patriots are a fantastic contrarian play on Sunday Night Football. The Colts have a plethora of great wide receivers and they love to throw the ball. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots are led by All-Pro Cornerback Derrelle Revis and rank in the top 5 defenses against opposing wide receivers on the season. New England has 10 interceptions on the season and Indianapolis has already thrown 9 through their first 9 games. The Patriot's weakest areas are defending against running backs and tight ends and the Colts love to target both RB Ahmad Bradhsaw and TE Dwayne Allen in the red zone (together they account for 32% of the total RZ targets). The good news is that the New England has done an excellent job at preventing opposing RBs and TEs from scoring, allowing just 5 and 4 touchdowns, respectively.

Summary:

To sum up, it's easy to get lazy and just pick a defense only on name value. It's also easy to simply filter by the most fantasy points scored per game on the season and add the first defense that is available at the top of that list. Both methods, while may occasionally work, are incredibly risky strategies to employ. MyFantasyFix's Matchup Matrix and Fantistics' Opposition Matrix are both great tools to use when planning your defense for the week because they take the analysis down to the positional level. Finding and exploiting (or avoiding) positional matchups for your defense is one of the most overlooked ways to get an edge. In a time when fantasy analysis is becoming more organized and groupthink-centric, think outside the box and look for novel ways to identify strong plays. At Fantistics and MyFantasyFix, our advanced statistical metrics can help you accomplish just that.

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