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NFL DFS Showdown Advice: Neil Orfield’s Top Picks & Strategy for Bills vs Rams Week 1 TNF (September 8)

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NFL DFS Showdown Advice: Neil Orfield's Top Picks & Strategy for Bills vs Rams Week 1 TNF (September 8)

For nearly a year now I’ve 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 NFL Showdown. 

That’s because a lot of casual NFL fans enter the Showdown fray as a way to have some action on island games. As a result, DraftKings and Fanduel offer enormous content 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’s a tradeoff DFS pros will gladly make.

My goal with these Showdown articles — which I’ll be writing for most Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football slates this season, with the exception of next Monday because I’ll be on vacation — 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’ll break them down accordingly: Projection, Correlation and Differentiation. 

Week 1 NFL DFS Showdown: Bills vs Rams TNF

Projection

The goal in DFS is to make the lineup that puts up the most points and a natural starting point is looking at individual players who are likely to put up high scores or high point-per-dollar scores. Some pros run simulations or create their own projections to achieve this. Many others, like myself, rely on the Stokastic projections and tools to determine which players should be core pieces of our lineups. I primarily look at the base projections and the “Top Showdown Plays” Tool, which publishes results of advanced simulations runs by the Stokastic team. Some players worth mentioning on this slate include:

  • Josh Allen ($12000, 23.66 fpts): Allen is the highest projected player on this slate. Even at his high price tag, he’s the optimal captain 11.6% of the time, per the Stokastic sims. He’s also in the optimal lineup in the Flex spot 61.3% of the time. He’ll be in a high number of my lineups.
  • Cooper Kupp ($12400, 21.58 fpts): Kupp costs more than Allen, but projects slightly worse. Still, he’s the optimal captain 9.0% of the time, and optimal in the Flex spot an additional 52.0% of the time.
  • Matthew Stafford ($10800, 19.81 fpts): Stafford has both the third highest price tag and third highest projection on the slate. He’s the optimal captain just 7.7% of the time, but he’s optimal in the Flex spot 46.9% of the time.
  • Stefon Diggs ($9000, 18.85 fpts): Diggs is the optimal captain 13.9% of the time, most of any player. He’s also optimal in the Flex spot 51.3% of the time.
  • Allen Robinson ($6200, 14.43 fpts): Robinson is the optimal captain second most of any player, 13.0% of the time. He’s also optimal in the Flex spot 42.7% of the time. His projection relative to his salary stands out compared to higher-priced options.
  • Gabe Davis ($7200, 13.28 fpts): Davis is the optimal captain 8.8% of the time. He’s also optimal in the Flex spot 33.1% of the time.
  • Tyler Bass ($4000, 8.83 fpts): Bass could have some opportunities to put up fantasy points in a game in which the Bills have a 27.25 implied total, but as a kicker, he’s still likely to go overlooked. He’s the optimal captain 3.9% of the time and optimal in the Flex spot 22.5% of the time.
  • Matt Gay ($3800, 8.42 fpts): Like Bass, Gay is likely to get overlooked despite the high expected output for his team. He’s the optimal captain 4.6% of the time, and optimal in the Flex spot 21.6% of the time.
  • Ben Skowronek ($1800, 5.82 fpts): Skowronek is expected to get some opportunities with Van Jefferson ruled out tonight. He’s the optimal captain 4.0% of the time and optimal in the Flex spot 17.9% of the time.
  • Tutu Atwell ($1000, 3.82 fpts): It is not clear what the split will be for Skowronek and Atwell. These are often great spots to attack on Showdown slates. The Stokastic sims have Atwell as the optimal captain 1.2% of the time and optimal in the Flex spot an additional 8.8% of the time.
  • Isaiah McKenzie ($2400, 6.54 fpts): McKenzie had a great summer, taking over as the Bills’ slot receiver. He was banged up this summer but is expected to be a full go tonight. He’s the optimal captain 5.0% of the time and optimal in the Flex spot 17.9% of the time.

Correlation

In NFL DFS, correlations are endless, both positive and negative. Some are obvious — QBs have positive correlation with the WRs on their team. Some need a bit more research — how do kickers fare when a team’s backup running back exceeds his projection? Candidly, this section is in its infancy. I have not had the time necessary to deep dive into obscure correlations. The correlations I’ll point out are mostly based on my own instinct and experience. Not as valuable as pure data, to be sure, but my instincts have served me well to this point.

  • Matthew Stafford at Captain with at least two Rams pass catchers. I think we can all agree that for Stafford to be the optimal captain, he’ll need at least one pass catcher in the Flex spot. Then we have to ask ourselves, how does he outscore that pass catcher, such that he is the optimal captain rather than the pass catcher when pass catchers get more points per reception, yard and touchdown? One way would be for Stafford to pick up fantasy points on the ground, but he rushed 32 times last season for 43 yards and zero TDs. Another way would be for Stafford to throw a to a player who is not in the DK player pool, like an O-lineman who checks in as an eligible receiver, but this doesn’t seem likely for this team. Theoretically, he could be the optimal captain even while being outscored by Kupp, because Kupp is more expensive — but the window for Kupp to put up enough fantasy points to be in the optimal, but not enough to overtake Stafford, without any other Rams pass catchers becoming optimal? With relatively close salaries, it’s extremely thin. And virtually non-existent if you want to get different by leaving salary on the table. Most likely if Stafford is the optimal captain, at least two Rams pass catchers – which, I should note, could include TEs or RBs along with WRs — will be in Flex spots.
  • Josh Allen at Captain with at least one Bills pass catcher. Allen is unlikely to rush for enough fantasy points to be the optimal captain without bringing any Bills pass catchers along with him. At the same time, he is different than Stafford in that he can gain a significant number of fantasy points on the ground, without bringing any of his pass catchers along for the ride. Last year, Allen rushed 122 times for 763 yards and six TDs. If he has a big rushing day against the Rams, he could be the optimal captain while only bringing one pass catcher along for the ride.
  • Matthew Stafford at Flex with at least one Rams pass catcher. Most likely, if you have Allen in a Flex spot, you’ll want at least one Bills pass catcher elsewhere in your lineup. But there is some possibility that Allen rushes for 50 yards and two TDs, and doesn’t give enough volume to any one pass catcher to bring him along. The same cannot be said for Stafford. If Stafford puts up enough fantasy points to be in the optimal lineup, chances are he’ll bring at least one Rams pass catcher along with him, either in the Captain spot or another Flex spot.

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’re competing against when the player has a 99th-percentile outcome. Taking it to the extreme, just as a thought exercise, let’s say that Devin Singletary scores 100 fantasy points tonight. You’re not just going to need him, but you’ll need him in the Captain spot (150 fpts!). If 20,000 lineups in your contest have Singletary in the Captain spot, you’ve essentially reduced the field of lineups you’re competing with to 20,000. If only 200 lineups have Singletary at Captain? Now we’re talking.

On NFL Showdown slates there is an additional factor for large field GPPs. We don’t just want to find seldomly used players, we want to find seldomly used LINEUPS. Why? Well, I’ll give you two examples from last year:

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

If you’re going to win — which takes a lot of luck, regardless of how well your lineup projects — I’d suggest making it count. I’m 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.

Some easy tricks:

Low-owned players. Yup, even if you’re using other tricks to get unique, it’s still a good idea to play a few players who won’t be getting much ownership. Some low-owned players to consider:

  • McKenzie is projected to get just 15.5% ownership in the Flex spot and 2.0% at Captain. If this holds, I’m all in; I wouldn’t be surprised to see these numbers doubled prior to lock, though. I talked about why I like McKenzie tonight in the Projection section above.
  • Skowronek is projected to get 13.1% ownership in the Flex spot and 2.0% at Captain. Also talked about Skowronek above.
  • Atwell is projected to get 8.2% ownership in the Flex spot and 1.1% at Captain. See above.
  • Jamison Crowder ($5000, 5.0 fpts) is projected to get 8.0% ownership in the Flex spot and 0.2% at Captain. This makes sense, as by all accounts Crowder is behind McKenzie on the depth chart but more than double his price. It’s what we call a “pay up to be contrarian” spot. Crowder’s price tag is too high for his likely role, but we don’t know exactly what that role will be. Crowder will likely have at least some opportunity, and it may just take one broken play for him to pay off his price tag. 
  • James Cook ($2800, 4.0 fpts) is projected to get 7.5% ownership in the Flex spot and 0.6% at Captain. We don’t yet know how the snap share will break down for this backfield this season, or even tonight. Even if Singletary takes the lion’s share of the work as expected, Cook should have opportunities. He’s a capable receiver, so in DK’s full point PPR format he can rack up points in a hurry. 
  • Zack Moss ($3000, 4.03 fpts) is projected to get 6.2% ownership in the Flex spot and 0.2% at Captain. The analysis for Cook applies here as well. And would it be shocking to see him vulture a TD?
  • Khalil Shakir ($200, 2.47 fpts) is projected to get 4.9% ownership in the Flex spot and 0.0% at Captain. The rookie is likely the Bills’ No. 5 receiver. He might not see a snap. But he had an excellent preseason, and at that salary and ownership? I’ll be taking some fliers and crossing my fingers.
  • Other true dart throws to consider sprinkling in: Lance McCutcheon ($200, 1.32), Kyren Williams ($1400, 0.0 fpts), Brycen Hopkins ($200, 1.28 fpts), Tommy Sweeney ($400, 0.66 fpts).

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. In some of my lineups, I like to see the following:

  • Quarterback against opposing Defense. The negative to this correlation is obvious: when a defense does well, it generally means they forced a lot of turnovers or kept the opposing offense in check. The QB even loses a fantasy point when he throws an interception. On the flip side, though, is the best-case scenario: if a QB throws a pick six, the defense gets a major boost, while the QB only loses one fantasy point, gets the ball right back and might be in a better game script for passing. Even better if the defensive TD is not via the QB or better yet, through special teams.
  • Pass Catcher at Captain without including the QB at Flex. It works more often than you’d think! Remember, on every passing play, the receiver scores more fantasy points than the QB. Often at a lower salary, too. But the field, by and large, will immediately want to throw the QB in at the Flex spot as soon as they decide on a pass catcher at Captain. I’m not saying you should avoid doing so in every lineup, just that you should consider some lineups without the pass catcher’s QB in the Flex as a way to get unique.
  • Multiple Running Backs from the same team in a lineup. Is there negative correlation here? Probably. I’ll get back to you. But it’s certainly not to the extent the field avoids it in favor of picking a back and hoping he’s the bell cow. In some spots this works for other positions, too – last year we saw a lineup with both Chargers tight ends split a milly four ways.

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Leave salary on the table. I kinda buried the lede here. 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’s up to you. A couple of things to consider:

  • If we assume salaries are efficient, every bit of salary you don’t use makes your lineup a bit less likely to win. It also increases your probability of having a unique lineup significantly, to a point. It’s a sliding scale based on your risk tolerance and goals, but I’d recommend leaving at least $400 on the table, and on most slates — including tonight’s — if you’ve left $5,000+ on the table you’ve probably gone too far.
  • The Stokastic Showdown tool does not assume you will be leaving salary on the table. I still use it heavily in shaping my player pool, but it’s something to keep in mind. If a $200 player is optimal 8% of the time, for example, that might be because in many sims that player’s two fantasy points allowed for a lineup with great players in every other spot — using the full salary cap. The player could be optimal significantly less in lineups with a lot of salary left over. On the other hand, the same player might be projected for 12% ownership for the same reason — they allow great-looking lineups. But that player may be virtually unowned in lineups that leave salary on the table because the only people doing so are playing them for the purpose of getting all their studs in.

Thanks for reading, and good luck tonight!

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