NFL Daily Fantasy: Identifying Good Matchups
The NFL is one of the trickier sports for daily fantasy because finding good team matchups is very difficult early in the season. Teams change so frequently and drastically in the NFL that a bad defense one year may not bad a bad defense the next year. Bad defenses are extremely important to identify because they will tend to give up the most fantasy points, and therefore will be a good team to choose opposing players from in any given week. The best ways to identify defenses to target is looking at last years statistics, offseason departures and acquisitions, and speed of offense.
Last Years Defenses
I personally like to use Profootballfocus.com (PFF) to evaluate a defenses talent level. A lot of people will use fantasy points against statistics, but those tend to be too influenced by the skill of the opposing offenses on that teams schedule. PFF, on the other hand, uses its signature statistics to evaluate defenses. Those statistics tend to be less influenced by strength of schedule and more influenced by actual defensive skill. PFF costs money for access but it’s money well spent for anyone who takes fantasy seriously.
The worst defenses last year according to PFF were:
1. Chicago Bears
2. San Diego Chargers
3. Washington Redskins
4. Dallas Cowboys
5a. Oakland Raiders
5b. Jacksonville Jaguars
Offseason Departures and Acquisitions
The problem with using last years statistics is that players come and go, coordinators change, and player skill changes drastically from year to year. For example, the Redskins had a great pickup in the offseason, taking Jason Hatcher from the Cowboys. This should improve their run defense significantly. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have gotten significantly worse, losing Hatcher and Demarcus Ware to free agency, and also losing their best defensive player Sean Lee to injury. Their defense may be the worst in the league this year.
There are some incredibly slow offenses and fast offenses. Fast offenses mean the opposing offense gets more opportunities to score, and therefore more fantasy point opportunities. The Broncos, Patriots, Bills, and Eagles all run fast paced offenses, and therefore give up more fantasy points than there defensive rankings alone would suggest. Teams like the Chargers and Rams take a lot of time off the play clock before snapping the ball, and don’t allow the opposing offense to get a lot of possessions and plays. A good resource to understand team pace is to look at plays per game statistics.
5 Worst Defenses, Best Fantasy Targets This Year
With all these factors in mind, here are my rankings of the 5 worst fantasy defenses this year. These should be the best defenses to target when making a fantasy lineup. Draftkings and Fanduel tend to do some salary adjustments for matchup, but for the most part salaries do not tend to be indicative of strength of matchup.
1. Dallas Cowboys
As I said earlier, the Cowboys lost some of their best defenders this year, and were already awful last year. It will be interesting to see how bad their defense will be.
2. Chicago Bears
The Bears had by far the worst defense last year according to PFF. They drafted defenders in the first 3 rounds of the draft this year, but this is going to be helpful 2 or 3 years down the road rather than this season. They lost Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, some of their better defenders. They added some mediocre free agent signings, but nothing to drastically change their defensive outlook for next season.
3. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were a bad defense last year, but decided to spend their first round pick on offensive line and make a small defensive line upgrade taking Paul Soleil from the Dolphins. The Falcons were top 5 in oldest defenses in the NFL, so it looks like we will see a decline this year.
4. Washington Redskins
The Redskins did sign Jason Hatcher this offseason, which should be a big upgrade for their defensive line. But with no first round pick, they could not address their god awful secondary. They have an old secondary with some erratic young players, they could be the worst pass defense in the league this year.
5. San Diego Chargers
They were the second worst defense according to PFF last year, and they didn’t do anything to improve it besides drafting a CB Jason Verrett in the first round of this years draft. They are not very young, so it’s hard to imagine this defense getting any better.
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