Vegas Odds Will Give You an Edge in Your Fantasy Football Draft
The Vegas lines are known to provide DFS players with a weekly edge, but they can also be useful in traditional redraft leagues, primarily to identify value at the D/ST position, and to assess the risk of negative game script over the course of a season for running backs.
Winning Teams Score More Fantasy Points
Before looking at Vegas win totals, it's important to understand the relationship between winning and fantasy production:
With an average score of 29-17, the typical NFL game isn't particularly close. There are (mostly) large statistical disparities in every fantasy-relevant category between winning and losing teams.
Of course, we can never be certain of which team will win beforehand. And we don't need to be:
The favorite/underdog splits aren't as drastic as the winner/loser splits, but there are still significant fantasy-relevant statistical disparities that exist.
Here are position-by-position highlights:
- The average quarterback is a lot more likely to throw multiple touchdowns in a win or as a favorite.
- Frequent readers will know my motto regarding quarterbacks: efficiency over volume. Despite averaging 5.4 fewer attempts per game than losers, winners threw for 7 more yards and 0.64 more touchdowns. Favorites threw for 18.6 more yards and 0.38 more touchdowns on the same number of attempts as underdogs.
- Winning teams rush for 35 more yards and double the touchdown output of losing teams, which equates to winners averaging roughly 6.5 more fantasy points per game. Favorites average a lower -- but still very significant -- figure of 2.8 more rushing fantasy points per game than underdogs.
- Of course, running back production comes from volume, and winning teams average 8.4 more rushes per game than losers. Favorites average 2.0 more rushes per game than underdogs.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
- Receptions are the stat that is least affected by game script. Losers average slightly more receptions than winners, but favorites average slightly more receptions than underdogs.
- There is actually a bigger disparity in receiving yardage between favorites and underdogs than winners and losers (the teams with the best passing attacks tend to be favorites).
- Winning teams score 0.64 more receiving touchdowns per game than losing teams, and favorites score 0.38 more receiving touchdowns per game than underdogs. Assuming six points per touchdown, that equates to a 3.84-fantasy-point difference for winners versus losers and a 2.28-fantasy-point difference for favorites versus underdogs.
- Sacks and interceptions are the lifeblood of a D/ST. In terms of sacks plus interceptions, winning teams have a 4.20-to-2.42 edge over losing teams, and favorites have a 3.54-to-3.09 advantage over underdogs.
- Winning teams blow losing teams out of the water when it comes to return touchdowns, 0.35 to 0.14. Favorites have a 0.28-to-0.20 advantage over underdogs.
Vegas Team Win Projections for 2016
The great thing about Vegas is that they essentially give us three different ways to project team wins:
- Win Total: This is the standard over/under on team wins.
- Favorite/Underdog/Pick 'Em: Vegas also puts out a point spread for every NFL game from Weeks 1-16. Due to the uncertainty surrounding Week 17, every game that week is considered a pick 'em.
- Money Line Estimate (MLE): The money line estimate converts the point spread of each game to a money line and then calculates the percentage chance of a win according to how large the spread is. For example, a seven-point favorite is a lot more likely to win than a one-point favorite, and MLE takes that into account.
The table below shows the aforementioned three figures for each team. In addition, I've included their 2015 wins and the difference between 2016 MLE and 2015 wins. I've also calculated win upside and downside. Win upside takes the number of times that a team is a favorite and counts pick 'ems as wins, while win downside counts pick 'ems as losses. The table is ordered according to MLE, as it is the most precise.
These odds are obviously liable to change (due to both the betting public and the many factors that can influence a team's outlook), but still provide valuable insight into how teams should be viewed going into the season.
All Vegas info is from the WestGate Las Vegas SuperBook via ESPN Chalk.
|Rk||Team||'16 Money Line Estimate||'16 Win Total||'15 Wins||'16 MLE-'15 Wins||'16 Favorite||'16 Underdog||'16 Pick 'Em||'16 Win Upside||'16 Win Downside|
The Packers and Steelers both have the honor of currently not being projected as an underdog even once. On the other end of the spectrum, 49ers and Browns are currently not a favorite in any of their games. The NFC East champion Redskins are currently projected as favorites in just two games.
How to the Use Vegas Lines to Get an Edge in Your Fantasy Draft
As shown above, game script matters a ton when it comes to running back production. Just like injury risk, negative game script risk is something you have to account for.
- Matt Jones could be in trouble. With Chris Thompson entrenched as the passing down/third down/hurry-up back, Jones may be essentially reduced to two-down status. Two-down backs tend to depend on game script to be productive, and the Redskins are currently projected as favorites only twice all season. Their MLE (7.41) and win total (7) doesn't paint quite as bleak of a picture, but either way, the Redskins are projected for a drop-off from last season's nine wins, with considerable room for downside. More bad news: even with the Redskins winning the division in 2015, their running backs collectively ranked 26th in standard and 24th in PPR. Jones is currently going before Jeremy Langford and Frank Gore, who are both more likely to play three downs and have fewer game script concerns.
- It's tough to repeat a 15-win season, and the Panthers are unsurprisingly projected for the league's biggest drop-off in the win department, which could reduce Jonathan Stewart's volume, and in turn, his fantasy production. In 2015, the Panthers led the league in plays run while leading, and ran 35 more rushing plays with the lead than any other team. Stewart had eight straight 20-plus-carry games in 2015 and finished seventh in carries (242) despite missing three games; he'll be hard-pressed to repeat those feats in 2016. He'll likely find it difficult to outproduce his RB18 ADP (as of this writing).
- The Raiders lead the league in pick 'ems, which gives them 12-win upside. With what may now be the league's best offensive line, Latavius Murray (and perhaps DeAndre Washington) stand to benefit. Murray is fairly priced as RB17 and could approach low-end RB1 status.
- Although Darren McFadden finished fourth in the league in rushing yards (1,089) in 2015, the Cowboys running backs have a ton of room to improve from a fantasy perspective. Their running backs collectively finished 22nd in standard and 20th in PPR. In 2016, they're projected for the biggest jump in wins of any team due to the return of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Their defense is in shambles, but that's also what we thought heading into 2014, when DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns behind the same elite offensive line Ezekiel Elliott will run behind.
- Carlos Hyde is currently going in the third or fourth round, but there may be more risk to him than meets the eye. The 49ers aren't favorites even once and have the league's second-lowest MLE (5.28). If Hyde indeed takes on the role of a three-down back, he should be fine. But if Shaun Draughn siphons away passing down work, Hyde may frustrate owners.
- Chris Ivory could pay off for risk-seeking drafters...or be a disaster. Likely to see early-down and goal line work, Ivory will benefit if the Jags play closer to the level for their Vegas win total (7.5) than their amount of times as a favorite (1).
- If Hue Jackson uses Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell similarly to the way he used Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill in Cincinnati, Johnson would be the prime beneficiary, as the Browns -- who are underdogs in each of their firs 15 games -- are expected to be in a lot more negative game script than the 12-4 Bengals were last season. Johnson is currently ranked as our RB20 in PPR leagues.
- With the Patriots currently installed as favorites in 13 games and underdogs in just one, some Blount games should be in store (assuming he's fully recovered from offseason hip surgery). Since becoming a Patriot, LeGarrette Blount has averaged 11.8/53.5/0.48 as a favorite, compared to 7.8/36.1/0.31 as an underdog. Blount is currently going off the board as the RB41, but we have him ranked as the RB31 in standard leagues.
Vegas lines may be the most useful when it comes to drafting D/STs. The position is notoriously tough to predict, and every year, the top few D/STs tend to get overdrafted. This year, it looks like those D/STs will be the Cardinals, Broncos, Seahawks, and Panthers. But what if you could wait to be one of the last owners to select a D/ST and still equal the production of the D/STs with a top ADP? You probably can.
You see, D/ST value has less to do with actual defensive quality than you might think. Being an elite defense doesn't hurt, but D/STs -- just like other positions -- need to be exposed to volume to produce in fantasy. In this case, volume comes in the form of facing pass plays, because those are the plays where sacks and interceptions can occur. The best teams will generally see the most opposing pass attempts as opponents attempt to keep pace.
- The Steelers have the sixth-best MLE (10.13), are tied for the highest win total (10.5), and are not underdogs even once, yet they're currently hovering around the 11-12th D/ST selected in fantasy drafts. Last season, they finished sixth in ESPN scoring. Because the Steelers' offense is so potent, it often causes opponents to pass to keep up, creating more opportunities for sacks and turnovers.
- Jordy Nelson's absence clearly debilitated the Packers' offense, resulting in a somewhat lackluster 10-6 campaign where they ranked 18th in D/ST scoring on ESPN. But with Nelson healthy in 2014, the Packers led the league in points scored and finished second in D/ST scoring. This season, Nelson is back, and the Packers are favorites 14 times and are not underdogs even once. The Packers are a steal at their current ADP, which is outside the top-12 defenses on most sites.
- If you want to be the last person in your 12-team league to draft a D/ST, but still hope to carry that D/ST throughout most of the season (as opposed to streaming), the Raiders are the defense for you (assuming you can't get the Packers). The Raiders' MLE (8.16), win total (8.5), and win upside (12) is better than common alternatives like the Bills, Jets, and Eagles.
- For MFL10 players who like to wait on their second (or third) D/ST, the Cowboys and Colts are two teams to consider. With Tony Romo, a top-shelf running game, and a similarly bad defense in 2014, the Cowboys keep-awayed their way to an eighth-place finish in ESPN scoring. The Colts managed a 10th-place finish in 2015 despite an 8-8 season, and things are looking up with Andrew Luck returning healthy.
- The Raiders Have One of the Most Valuable Backfield Situations in Fantasy
- Game Script Sensitivity and an Intro to Win-Adjusted Rush Rates
- How Hue Jackson Impacts the Browns' 2016 Fantasy Outlook
- Yes, You Should Be Using Zero RB in 2016
- 3 Key Fantasy-Relevant Tendencies of Each NFL Offensive Coordinator
- How Coaching Impacts Fantasy Football, Part 1: Offense
- Will Kyle Shanahan Ignore Mohamed Sanu Like His Other WR2s?
- Does the Patriots Defense Really Shut Down the Top Option?