DFS NFL Research: Plays and Fantasy Points

In Week 6, 2015, there was an afternoon game between the San Diego Chargers and the Green Bay Packers. The game was a very good one, it ended with the Chargers failing to convert a 4th down pass for a TD with almost no time left that would’ve tied the game. But the most remarkable thing about this game was the amount of plays San Diego managed on offense. Despite only two touchdowns, the Chargers had a remarkable 89 offensive plays, just 3 plays less than the most offensive plays the past 4 seasons for a regulation game (This Eagles/Raiders game yielded 92 offensive plays for the Raiders).

Despite only 2 TDs, the Chargers managed 548 yards of total offense causing a huge fantasy day for Phillip Rivers and San Diego receivers. You would probably think the Chargers offense played well, but their yards per play was 6.2, exactly their average at that point in the season. Oddly, San Diego’s offense wasn’t good or bad that day, they simply found themselves on the field an incredibly large amount of the time.

It’s not surprising given the results of the Chargers/Packers game that fantasy points are highly correlated to offensive plays. Offensive plays has a correlation of .52 with team fantasy points since 2012, which is not as high as the .73 correlation between score and team fantasy points, but still significant.

Playing time is an important aspect of most daily fantasy sports games. In the NBA, minutes per game is one of the main drivers of fantasy success. In the MLB, being at the top of the batting order yields more at bats and subsequently more expected fantasy points. Playing time is also important with the NFL, where number of snaps is one of the most correlated stats with fantasy production for RB, WR. and TE. But similarly to the NBA, the amount of “playing time” for one team in the NFL depends a lot on the qualities of the opposing team.

You can see why this is the case if you look at some extreme scenarios. Imagine a game with team A and team B. The first drive of the game, team A marches down the field and scores a TD. Extra point is good, 7-0 team A over team B. On the kickoff to team B, their kick returner goes the distance for a TD. For the rest of the game, every time team A kicks or punts, team B returns the punt or kick for a TD. How many offensive plays do we expect for team A in this situation? Obviously a ton. Team B’s possessions only last 10-15 seconds each time, so team A gets to have the ball nearly twice as much as they would in a normal game. Team A gets way more fantasy point opportunities than team B on offense, so their expected fantasy points are way higher, even though team B may very well be a much better team than A on offense.

In the Chargers/Packers game, there were no special teams touchdowns. But there were a few attributes to the game that account for the massive amount of plays by the Chargers offense.

1. Large Amount of 3 and Outs for the Packers

Four times to be exact. It’s not as good as a special teams touchdown, but getting the opposing offense to leave the field after 3 plays is nearly as good. I looked at the correlation between 3rd down conversion percentage in 2014 and opponent plays, came out to be -.37. The less 3rd downs a team converts, the more plays their opponents tend to get.

2. Low Completion Percentage Passing for Packers

Nothing gets the opposing offense more plays than stopping the clock, which of course happens on an incomplete pass. Rodgers was 16/29, for a completion percentage of only 55%. Rodgers is one of the best QBs in the NFL, so I wouldn’t expect this every week, but the stats suggests teams with less accurate QBs may give up more fantasy points on defense.

3. Pace of Play

By far the highest correlation to opponent plays is seconds per play (not exactly what it sounds like, it’s the amount of time from the end of a play until the team snaps the ball on the next play), which is a measure of how fast a team runs their offense. Football Outsiders provides those stats here. To my surprise, the Houston Texans are the fastest team in the NFL. Apparently they are running an uptempo offense, but not a lot of people seem to be aware.

Looking at the Football Outsiders stats, you can see that they divide pace of play into a few scenarios: with a lead of 7 points, trailing by 7 points, or in between the two. You can see that teams generally play much faster when down 7 or more points, because they need to hurry up to catch up. Unsurprisingly, the Eagles lead pace of play in the neutral scenario. The Texans have trailed so often that their results are a bit skewed, but their pace is still quite fast.

The only way you can be a fast paced team is by running the no huddle offense. Without huddling, players get lined up faster and teams are able to snap the ball with tons of time left on the play clock. NFL Savant has data on the percent of time teams use the no huddle offense.

The Eagles are the clear leader, followed closely by the Giants. But look who else is in the top 5? The Packers and the Chargers. All the most no huddle heavy teams are going to greatly effect the pace of the game based on whether they are leading or trailing. If a high no huddle team is trailing, they are more likely to run the no huddle more frequently and therefore give themselves and their opponents more plays. If we filter NFL Savant for Week 6, this is exactly what happened with the Chargers.


RankTeamNumber of PlaysTotal YardsPercentage of Total Plays
1SD6236359.05 %
2PHI5937560.20 %
3NYG4517054.88 %
4GB1712223.94 %

The Chargers ran no huddle 59% of the time, which is a huge reason why they managed 89 plays in one game.

Modeling Offensive Plays And Opponent Offensive Plays

I took the three stats that seemed to be the main drivers of plays in a game, Third Down Conversion Percentage, Seconds Per Play, and Completion Percentage, and ran a multiple linear regression attempting to predict plays.  For the stat minded reader, the regression ended up with an r-squared of .577 and a p value < .001, which suggests these stats do a reasonable job at predicting plays. You can look at the projections here.

Since the Texans are the fastest paced offense in the NFL, it’s not surprising to see them both in 2nd in expected opponent plays per game and expected plays per game. Houston has had a bit of luck in the play department, getting several more plays on offense than we would expect, so their offensive performance has been slightly inflated. But they are still a fantasy friendly offense, and I suspect their defense is going to give up a lot more fantasy points than they have so far this season.

The Eagles lead expected opponent plays per game, mostly because of their fast paced offense, but also because they have the 2nd lowest third down conversion percentage in the league this season and a somewhat low completion percentage. The Patriots lead in expected offensive plays, somewhat because they play fast paced, but also because they lead the league in third down conversion percentage and are second in completion percentage.

Teams To Target Week 7 2015

Plays are not the holy grail of fantasy points. There are a lot of other factors, such as player skill and matchup, that are much more important. However, it’s interesting to look at what teams we expect to have the most plays per game in Week 7 to give us a little better of an idea who the top plays are.

Houston Texans

You may want to own DeAndre Hopkins more than the field this week, as the fast paced Texans offense faces off against a Miami defense that has the 3rd highest expected opponent plays per game, as well as being one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Arian Foster is also back to RB1 snaps and should be one of the top fantasy RBs in the league the rest of the season.

Miami Dolphins

I love the Miami passing attack against the Texans this week.  As I said earlier, the Texans should be giving up more plays to opponents this season, and their good run defense and poor pass coverage makes them prime candidates to give up a ton of fantasy points in the passing game. Miami has been one of the most pass heavy teams in the league this year, and I think Rishard Matthews, Jarvis Landry, and Ryan Tannehill are top plays this week.

Carolina Panthers

Despite the Panthers being in the bottom half of the league in expected plays per game, they’re extremely low completion percentage has caused a lot more plays than we’ve expected in their games. They’re an easy mention facing the best plays matchup in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles. But it’s even better that they are favorites. In Week 1, after falling behind to the Falcons, the Eagles ended up running no huddle nearly the entire game. If they fall behind against the Panthers, expect a ton of plays. Despite the Eagles defense defending TEs well this year, I really like the Cam Newton/Greg Olsen combo. But Philly Brown and Ted Ginn are also in the mix against a team that is 2nd in fantasy points allowed to WRs this season.




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Daniel Steinberg

About the Author

Daniel Steinberg Daniel Steinberg is a former bond trader at a multi-billion dollar proprietary trading firm in Chicago. He uses his knowledge of statistics and his creativity from his career as a poker professional to create the most advanced Daily Fantasy statistical analysis that you will find anywhere. Follow him on twitter @DanielSingerS

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