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Expert fantasy football advice: How you can mine matchups for DFS value this week

We’ve spent a lot of time in this space this season discussing the importance of volume when it comes to selecting your daily fantasy sports (DFS) rosters, but this week we’re going to shift gears a bit and identify some of the matchups to target.

One of the difficulties when playing fantasy football is you’re forced to make decisions off of data that’s generally over small sample sizes. After all, the season is only 17 weeks. That’s part of the reason we’re so reliant on volume (more predictable), but now that we’re seven weeks into the season we can form an educated opinion on the strength of defenses both overall and against specific positions.

High volume players (ahem, David Johnson, ahem) at certain positions will continue to be matchup-proof and reliable targets each week. However, you’ll need to complement these generally higher priced players with strong value plays. Looking at defensive data by specific positions can help us to find the best of these value plays.

Quarterback

Jameis Winston, TB ($5,700 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel) -- Winston faces an Oakland Raiders team that has allowed the sixth most fantasy points per game (FPPG) to the quarterback position. They’ve allowed a high quantity of standard statistics (most passing yards per game, seventh most passing TDs) and also rank poorly from an efficiency standpoint. Football Outsiders has the Raiders as the 26th worst pass defense.

Simply identifying a good matchup is relatively easy, so it’s important to make sure the weaknesses in the opposing defense mesh with the strengths of the player you are considering using. Winston is in a good position to take advantage of this matchup. He’s tied for third in the NFL in passing attempts per game, and the lack of a true goal-line running back should lead to a higher percentage of passing attempts in the red zone. We saw this last week when Winston threw three red zone passing TDs, including scores from 5 and 4 yards out to elite wide receiver Mike Evans.

Running Back

Devontae Booker, DEN ($3,700 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel) -- The Denver rushing game should see a high quantity of rush attempts as large home favorites against San Diego. Not only should game script be positive, but teams should be attacking the Chargers on the ground, especially those with limitations at the QB position like Denver. The Chargers are sixth in passing DVOA on defense, but rank just 18th against the run. As a result, the Chargers have allowed the sixth most fantasy points to the position.

Booker will step into a starting role for the injured CJ Anderson. Simply based on production and talent, Booker had already started to eat away at Anderson’s workload. Now as the primary back he’ll get the requisite volume to easily pay off his minimal price tags. It’s not simply a volume/matchup play, as Booker’s college statistics point towards NFL success. He ranked in the 87th percentile in PlayerProfiler.com’s College Dominator rating (percentage of total team yards and TDs) and in the 91st percentile in College Target Share. No player has more profit potential this week than Booker.

Wide Receiver

Brandon Marshall, NYJ ($7,800 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel) -- The Cleveland Browns have allowed the fifth most fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position. However, when you account for strength of schedule, which 4for4.com does, the Browns represent the second friendliest fantasy matchup for wide receivers. The overall strength of their defense (30th in Football Outsiders DVOA both overall and against the pass) and lack of strength of their offense (26th in overall DVOA) leads to lots of high quality opportunities for opponents.

Enter Brandon Marshall. He’s a target monster for the New York Jets, especially inside the red zone. The ceiling on that volume is expanded with teammate Eric Decker out. Marshall has received 12 or more targets in three out of five games with Decker sidelined the past two seasons.

Tight End

Gary Barnidge, CLE ($3,300 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel) -- Barnidge is the riskiest of the suggested value plays, and the matchup isn’t arguably that favorable as the Jets have allowed only slightly more FPPG to the TE position than the league average. However, if you play a little bit of game theory, you start to see how this could line up as a very successful day for Barnidge.

For the second straight year, the Jets have a huge disparity between the strength of their rush defense (third according to Football Outsiders) and their pass defense (31st ). NFL teams often showcase a failure to grasp common sense, but the Jets opponents have figured out that they are better off attacking them through the air. This has especially been the case in the red zone, where teams have thrown the ball against the Jets 64.2 percent of the time, the fourth highest rate allowed in the league.

If the Browns are going to have any success in this game, it will likely be through the air, where Barnidge has received at least five targets in very game since Week Two. The potential return of QB Josh McCown is a lift to the passing game’s prospects, especially for Barnidge, who according to the RotoViz Game Splits App is significantly more productive with McCown behind center:

barnidge

Matchups for the Bills

The Patriots have been stingy in terms of allowing fantasy points this season, but the two positions they rank below average at defending in terms of FPPG are QB and TE. Between a banged up LeSean McCoy/Robert Woods and a high upside Patriots offense, the Bills were already likely to see more production than usual out of the QB (Tyrod Taylor) and TE (Charles Clay) spots. Stacking Taylor and Clay together in tournaments on DraftKings could provide you with a lot of value given their very low price tags relative to their peers.

Michael Leone is a former Buffalo News sports clerk who has won several daily fantasy sports championships. His column appears weekly at [BN] Blitz.

Looking for more NFL DFS advice? You can read Michael Leone and other DFS experts on DailyRoto.com.

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