Using Vegas Lines to Win in Daily Fantasy Football

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Friday September 1st, 2017

Leveraging betting lines is one of the most efficient ways to conduct research when building DFS lineups. Many people think that betting lines are set to get equal betting on both sides, but the reality is that betting lines are usually intended to represent the most likely outcome of a game. The “usually” qualifiier is necessary because there are certain situations in which, no matter the betting line, the public is likely to bet heavily on one side. In that case, betting lines are more likely to be set in order to exploit the heavy betting on one side rather than be perfectly accurate. Still, in general, think of the line as a set of skilled professionals—oddsmakers—predicting what they believe will happen in a given game.

When people think of betting lines, they usually think of the spread and the over/under (O/U). While the spread is useful for fantasy purposes, O/U is a number that needs to be used in conjunction with the spread to get to the more valuable numbers, the implied point totals for both teams.

Implied point total represents how many points a team is expected to score. The formula to calculate implied points is:

Implied Point Total = (Over/under/2) - (Spread/2)

If the Raiders are playing the Broncos in a game where the Raiders are favored by 3 and the O/U is 48, the Raiders implied point total would be:

(48/2) - (-3/2) = 25.5

Over the long run, the spread and a team’s implied points have proven to be incredibly predictive. Consider how the betting lines have compared to actual game outcomes over the last five seasons.

Implied Point Total vs. Actual Average Points Scored, 2012 to ’16

Implied Points Actual Average Points Scored
< 14 13.7
14 to 16.75 15.5
17 to 20.75 18.8
21 to 23.75 23.2
24 to 27.75 25.9
28+ 29.7

Spread vs. Actual Average Point Differential, 2012 to ’16

Spread Actual Average Point Differential
1 to 3 1.3
3.5 to 6.5 6.1
7 to 9.5 8.7
10+ 12.7

Knowing how predictable betting lines are, those lines can be used as a major decision point for building lineups in DFS.

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Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks typically perform better when their team has a high implied point total, especially when they are favored. Targeting quarterbacks in games where their team is expected to score a lot of points makes sense, intuitively. More scoring opportunities means more fantasy points.

There is a common misconception when it comes to playing quarterbacks based on the spread, though, which is that quarterbacks on losing teams have to throw more and are therefore good fantasy targets. With quarterbacks, fantasy owners should seek efficiency rather than volume. Sure, a quarterback might throw more when trailing, but when an offense is forced to throw and a defense can rush the quarterback relentlessly, the added pressure on the quarterback often leads to sacks and turnovers, not fantasy points. Instead, those quarterbacks on high-scoring, winning teams often put up huge fantasy numbers well before garbage time and don’t need late-game scoring to make or break their week.

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Strategy and Advice for Picking a DFS Quarterback

Running Backs

Running back scoring is predicated on volume and there are few, if any, factors that predict a team’s rushing volume as well as the point spread. The following graph shows average team rush attempts in relation to the spread. The spread is on the x-axis, and carries are on the y-axis.

When at home, running backs have proven to be especially consistent fantasy assets, no matter the scoring system. The one archetype that doesn’t fit into this mold is the pass-catching specialist, but even those running backs often offer little value if their team is an underdog. If a pass-catching back sees the majority of his snaps when his team is trailing, he might not get enough volume to make him a viable cash-game play, and a losing team is rarely going to offer their running backs enough scoring upside for consideration in tournaments. Except for the few game-script-immune running backs such as Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson, the point spread should be one of the first things taken into consideration when rostering a running back in DFS.

Wide Receivers

Wide receiver is the position least affected by betting lines. Of course, wide receivers on the highest-scoring teams will have more scoring opportunities, but a receiver’s volume or efficiency is rarely negatively impacted by game flow. In fact, there is an argument to target receivers on teams that are underdogs, especially in tournaments, where rostering unpopular players is the key to victory. Unlike quarterbacks, wide receivers can flourish in garbage time.

Imagine a scenario where a team is forced to throw late in the fourth quarter, and over the final two drives that team throws for 100 yards, but doesn’t score a touchdown. In that situation, the quarterback only gained four fantasy points, but if six of those balls went to his top receiver for 60 yards, that receiver just scored 12 points on a PPR site in garbage time, often enough points to boost a player to the top spot at his position. Other than teams that have extremely high or extremely low implied point totals, most receivers can be rostered with little concern for the betting lines.

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Strategy and Advice for Picking Receivers in DFS Contests

Tight Ends

One might think that betting lines impact tight ends in a similar fashion to receivers, but the two positions are actually quite different. Tight ends have historically performed much better when their team is favored at home. Since tight ends see considerably less volume than wide receivers, a tight end’s fantasy production is largely driven by touchdowns. Teams that are favored are more likely to sustain long drives that culminate with trip to the end zone. Those long drives with red-zone scores are especially important for tight ends, given that they rarely score long touchdowns.

Defense/Special Teams

For the same reason that quarterbacks are bad plays when they are big underdogs, defenses tied to teams expected to lose struggle from a fantasy, and often a real-life, perspective. You want your defense to be part of a team that’s a favorite. Defenses do most of their damage by getting pressure on the quarterback, which ultimately leads to sacks and turnovers. The best scenario for a fantasy defense is when a team is up big and can rush the passer without having to guess whether or not a run is coming. An added bonus of a team that is a big favorite is that their opponent is unlikely to sustain many drives, meaning more punt return opportunities and, possibly, a rare return touchdown.

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Kickers

The formula for kickers is a relatively simple, and surprisingly consistent one. DFS players should target kickers that are on favorites with a high implied total. More scoring for a team means more field goal opportunities, but it’s the favorite part that often goes overlooked. When a team is trailing big late, they are likely to forego field goal opportunities that they might otherwise take. By picking favorites, more often than not, your kicker will be deployed regularly throughout the entire game.

A Final Word on Betting Lines

For cash games, turning to the betting lines as a main source of information is a fantastic way to find trustworthy players with high floors. When playing tournaments, though, ownership is a major consideration, and players on teams that are the biggest favorites with the highest implied point totals are often the highest owned. You still want to use this overarching strategy of figuring out implied totals and using these point-spread guidelines, but you’ll often want to change your tactics. Instead of defaulting to the players on teams with the highest implied totals, favor those who are on teams in the second tier of implied points and point spreads.

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