Monday Night Football NFL DFS Showdown Strategy: Bengals-Jaguars (December 4)

For nearly two years now, I have been hosting the High Stakes podcast for Stokastic, interviewing DFS pros on a range of topics. There have been a lot of recurring themes on the show, but the most relevant for this article: DFS pros love MNF Showdown.

That is because a lot of casual NFL fans enter the Showdown fray to have some action on island games. As a result, DraftKings and FanDuel offer enormous contests with generous prize pools. The contests become more difficult to win, too, when there are hundreds of thousands of entrants, but with a large portion of the new players being casual, the increase in difficulty pales in comparison to the increase in prize pools. It is a tradeoff DFS pros will gladly make.

My goal with these Showdown articles — which I will be writing for each Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football NFL DFS slate this season — is to help you attack the largest-field DraftKings GPP like a pro. There are three main components to discuss when it comes to Showdown, and I will break them down accordingly: Projection, Correlation and Differentiation.

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Week 13 Bengals-Jaguars MNF Showdown: NFL DFS Strategy

Projection

The goal in DFS is to make the lineup that puts up the most points, so a natural starting point is looking at individual players who are likely to put up high scores or high point-per-dollar scores. I rely on Stokastic’s NFL DFS projections and tools to determine which players should be core pieces of my lineups. I primarily look at the base projections and the Top NFL DFS Showdown Plays Tool, which publishes results of thousands of advanced simulations run by the Stokastic team.

Studs

These are the top-projected players on the slate. I’d recommend having at least three of these players in just about every lineup you make tonight, either as captain or in a flex spot.

  • Trevor Lawrence ($10,800) has a middling matchup with a Bengals defense that has given up the 14th-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to quarterbacks over the past five weeks, per Fantasy Points. Lawrence has a nearly 70% chance of making the optimal lineup, according to Stokastic’s Top NFL DFS Showdown Plays Tool.
  • Travis Etienne ($10,200) had 34 rushing attempts and nine targets over the past two games. The Bengals have given up the 21st-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to running backs over the past five weeks, but they are also 29th in run DVOA. Ultimately, it appears to be a middling matchup, and Etienne has around a 55% chance of optimality.
  • Calvin Ridley ($9,200) leads the Jaguars in route participation and targets over the past two weeks at 87.7% and 15, respectively. The Bengals have given up the 16th-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to wide receivers over the past five weeks, per Fantasy Points. Ridley has a greater-than-50% chance of optimality.
  • Evan Engram ($6,200) is third on the Jaguars in route participation at 78.1% and second in targets with 14 over the past two weeks. Engram has a great matchup with a Bengals defense that has given up the third-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to tight ends over the past five weeks, and he has around a 60% chance of optimality.
  • Christian Kirk ($8,200) is second in route participation (83.6%) and third in targets (13) over the past two game. Kirk has a nearly 50% chance of optimality.
  • Jake Browning ($8,800) has a nice matchup with a Jaguars defense that has given up the fifth-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to quarterbacks over the past five weeks, and he has a nearly 40% chance of optimality.
  • Ja’Marr Chase ($9,400) had just six receptions on 13 targets for 93 yards and a touchdown over the past two games with Browning playing a majority of snaps, but if nothing else, the matchup is better this week. The Jaguars have given up the 13th-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to wide receivers over the past five weeks. Chase has a greater-than-35% chance of optimality.
  • Joe Mixon ($7,000) had 24 carries and seven targets over the past two games. The Jaguars have given up the 15th-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to running backs over the past five weeks, and Mixon has a nearly 50% chance of optimality.

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Top Point-Per-Dollar Plays

These are just a few players who will be featured throughout my lineups due to their high points-per-dollar projection. At the same time, because I will typically have at least three studs in each lineup, the top points-per-dollar plays are often players I will be pivoting away from in some lineups in favor of players who project a bit worse but who will also garner lower ownership. I am also excluding any player with a projection below 3 fantasy points from this list.

  • Zay Jones ($5,200) has been injured for much of the season, but over the past two weeks he is fourth on the Jaguars in route participation and targets at 64.4% and seven, respectively.
  • Tyler Boyd ($5,600) is second on the Bengals in route participation and targets this season at 82.1% and 70, but he should move back to his role as the third receiver with Tee Higgins returning. Boyd has run 86.9% of his routes from the slot, and the Jaguars have given up the seventh-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to slot receivers over the past five weeks.
  • D’Ernest Johnson ($4,200) had 14 carries and three targets over the past two games and played a season-high 39% of snaps in Week 12 with Etienne limited by a rib injury. Johnson has a bit of extra contingent value since Etienne is seemingly still recovering.
  • Tanner Hudson ($4,000) had eight targets over the past two games while running routes on 39.7% of dropbacks.
  • As usual, kickers and defenses are among the top point-per-dollar plays on the slate.

Correlation

In NFL DFS, correlations are endless, both positive and negative. Most are minor enough that they do not necessarily need to be factored into lineups. If you want to give a boost to your running back’s defense, for example, that is great; but running backs will frequently be optimal without the defense also being optimal, even in NFL DFS Showdown.

The only correlations that are almost mandatory to consider on NFL DFS Showdown slates involve quarterbacks — particularly non-rushing quarterbacks. That is because of the scoring dynamics on DraftKings. On each passing play, the pass catcher scores more fantasy points than the quarterback. For example, if a quarterback throws a pass for 5 yards, he will get 0.2 fantasy points — 1 fantasy point per 25 yards passing, divided by five. The receiver will get 1.5 fantasy points — 1 point per reception, plus half a point for 5 yards receiving. The quarterback also only gets 4 points per passing touchdown, while the receiver gets six points for a receiving touchdown.

The quarterback is also generally one of the most expensive players on his team. Thus, he will often need to be his team’s highest fantasy point scorer to be the optimal captain. Outside of rare occasions where the quarterback scores fantasy points by passing to a player who is not in the DraftKings player pool or gets points as a receiver on a trick play, there are essentially just two ways for the quarterback to be the highest-scoring player on his team: adding fantasy points via rushing or spreading the ball around to multiple pass catchers.

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Some General Thoughts

  • If you play a quarterback at captain, and he does not have rushing upside, and he is the most expensive player on his team, you will almost always want to have multiple of his team’s pass catchers in the flex. This is also largely true if the quarterback is only slightly less expensive than the most expensive pass catcher on his team.
  • If you play a quarterback at captain, and he has moderate rushing upside, you can consider playing just one of his pass catchers in the flex — but multiple may still be preferred, depending on the extent of that rushing upside. The quarterback’s price may also come into play here; the more expensive he is, the more likely you will need to have multiple pass catchers in the flex.
  • If you play a quarterback at captain, and he has major rushing upside, you do not necessarily need to play any pass catchers in the flex. This is relatively uncommon, and only applies to a few quarterbacks.
  • If you play a quarterback in the flex, and he does not have rushing upside, you will generally want to have at least one of his pass catchers elsewhere in the lineup, either at captain or in another flex spot.
  • If you play a quarterback in the flex, and he has moderate to high rushing upside, you do not necessarily need to include one of his pass catchers elsewhere in the lineup. But there will always be positive correlation there between a quarterback and his pass catchers.

Some Bengals-Jaguars Game-Specific Thoughts

  • If you play Browning: Browning showed a bit of rushing upside after taking over for Burrow against the Ravens, rushing for 40 yards on four carries, but he followed it up with just 9 yards on three rushing attempts in his first career start. Browning should always be paired with at least one pass catcher and preferably multiple when played at captain.
  • If you play Lawrence: Lawrence has flashed his rushing upside this season, averaging 21.8 yards on the ground while adding three rushing touchdowns. Still, it is best to play Lawrence with at least one of his pass catchers in most lineups, and always when played at captain.

Differentiation

Making highly projected lineups with smart correlations will separate you from the lowest level Showdown players, but there are many very smart casual players as well. Differentiation is the last step to separating pros from Joes.

In just about any DFS GPP, finding low-owned gems is key because lower ownership reduces the field of lineups you are competing against when the player has a 99th-percentile outcome. Taking it to the extreme, just as a thought exercise, let’s say that Mixon scores 100 fantasy points tonight. You are not just going to need him; you will need him in the captain spot (150 fantasy points). If 20,000 lineups in your contest have Mixon in the captain spot, you have essentially reduced the field of lineups you are competing with to 20,000. If only 200 lineups have Mixon at captain, now we are talking.

On NFL DFS Showdown slates, there is an additional factor for large-field GPPs. We do not just want to find seldomly used players; we want to find seldomly used LINEUPS. Why? Well, I will give you two examples from 2021:

  • On Sept. 20, 2021, DraftKings had a Milly Maker for the Packers-Lions tilt, but the top lineup was duplicated 231 times. Rather than winning $1 million, the users who entered those 231 lineups had to split the top 231 prizes, for just a bit over $6,000 each. That is despite having everything go their way, which requires an extreme amount of luck.
  • On Oct. 11, 2021, we saw the other end of the spectrum: User rcoho1984 played a unique lineup in the Ravens-Colts Milly Maker, taking home not just a million dollars but a ticket to the Tournament of Champions.

If you are going to win — which takes a lot of luck, regardless of how well your lineup projects — I would suggest making it count. I am not necessarily concerned with making an entirely unique lineup like rcoho1984 did every single time, but I aim to be a lot closer to their unique lineup than those that were duplicated 231 times.

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Some Easy Tricks

Low-owned players. Even if you are using other tricks to get unique, it is still a good idea to play a few players in some of your lineups who will not be getting much ownership. Some low-owned players to consider:

  • I want to note that, on this slate, all of the top point-per-dollar options are coming in under 20% ownership, so it may not be necessary to target these players under 10% ownership. These are longshot players coming in under 10% ownership who I would sprinkle in if playing 20 or more lineups.
  • Irv Smith ($1,000) is not the clear top tight end for the Bengals most expected him to be coming into the season, but he still gets some opportunities. Over the past two games, Smith has run routes on 31.5% of dropbacks and has been targeted three times.
  • Drew Sample ($1,200) has run routes on 24.7% of dropbacks over the past two games, seeing three targets.
  • Trenton Irwin ($1,800) will lose the significant role he has had with Higgins out, but he should still see the field a bit. In Weeks 8 and 9 with Higgins active, Irwin ran routes on 15.5% of dropbacks and saw two targets.

Embrace lineups missing some correlation pieces or even with some negative correlation. Generally, highly correlated lineups will be over-owned, whereas the field will avoid negative correlation at all costs.

  • Quarterback against opposing defense.
  • Pass catcher at captain without including the quarterback at flex.
  • Multiple running backs from the same team in a lineup.

Leave salary on the table. This is the easiest way to lower your duplicates. Casual players assume that if they have salary left over, they should upgrade. The problem with this approach is that it almost inevitably leads to highly duplicated lineups. How much salary should you leave on the table? That is up to you. If it is less than $800 and you have not gotten extremely unique with player selections and weird correlations, it is likely you will have to split any winnings with many other entries.

Neil Orfield
Author
Neil Orfield has been playing DFS regularly since 2013, but his success really started taking off in 2019 when he had a six figure payday with a hand built NFL lineup. The next day, he signed up for a Stokastic+ subscription with FantasyCruncher. Since then he has won an NFL milly and added six figure wins in XFL, MLB, and NBA. He has recently excelled at NFL Showdown, with many five- and six-figure wins since 2021.

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