Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor in Super Bowl LVI
You'd think that with just one game on the menu this week, things would be less complicated for DFS.
For a full slate, we have to think through 26 different backfields instead of 2. There are countless different ways each game could play out; here, there's still variance, but variance across one game is a whole heck of a lot different than 13.
It doesn't matter. For the Super Bowl LVI single-game slate, we have to consider how we use our MVP slot, how we think the game will play out, backfields in flux, injuries, what the field will do, and so much more.
It's honestly a bit of a headache.
Luckily for us, we've had almost two weeks to digest all of this info and parlay it into actionable thoughts. With the benefit of time, we can dig deeper into each factor and give ourself better odds of properly accounting for it.
Let's do that now. We're going to dig into each aspect we should consider for the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals and outline what that means for our DFS lineups. There are still a lot of unknowns for a single game, but analyzing the numbers should allow us to make some pretty educated guesses here.
Who you put in the MVP slot should be heavily influenced by how you see the game playing out. If you think the Bengals win by 10, you'll have a different player in your MVP slot than if you think the Rams win by 3. So, before even bothering to dig into the data, decide the expected script in your head first.
On FanDuel, the MVP slot comes with a 1.5-times multiplier, and the salary of a player used there is the same as their salary if you were to use them in a regular flex spot. Basically, you're just picking the player you think will be the highest scorer for the game.
A key aid for us here is that most of the players we'd consider for that MVP slot have been healthy all year. As a result, we can look back at each team, see who has been the leading scorer most often, and use that as a guiding light for our MVP exposures.
We'll start with the Rams because they are four-point favorites at FanDuel Sportsbook and, thus, more likely to be the assumed winners for the game scripts in our head. The plus is that they are super straightforward.
The table below shows how often each player has been the Rams' highest-scoring player in a game this year. I included a column that looks at the distribution just in wins as that's more pertinent for the MVP discussion. The post-bye column was included in order to zero in on the games in which Odell Beckham has played full snaps.
Even with Odell in the mix, it has been all about Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford.
|Name||Total||In Wins||Since Bye|
Beckham has yet to hit 17 FanDuel points in a game this year, though he did show glimmers of yardage upside in the conference championship. Either way, putting Beckham in your MVP slot is a bet on an outlier performance from him. If we're playing things more straight up, Kupp and Stafford are the two considerations here.
It is worth noting that Stafford has out-scored Kupp twice in the three playoff games leading to Sunday. You could think that's because Beckham's increased role has eaten into Kupp's stranglehold on the team's target shares.
While it's true that Beckham has had an expanded role in the playoffs, Kupp's role is still monstrous. Here's that breakdown with a "deep" target being at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
|In Playoffs||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
In other words, Kupp is still the guy he has been all year, and that guy has out-scored Stafford in roughly half the games. This means we could shift toward one over the other if the expected roster rate on one got too high, but in a vacuum, we can keep our MVP exposures to those two relatively even.
On the Bengals' side, things have been more spread out. For them, I omitted the three games Tee Higgins has missed, giving us 17 others to look at.
It doesn't get any more clear if we look at just the playoffs, either. Joe Mixon, Ja'Marr Chase, and Joe Burrow have each been the highest scorer once in that span.
To me, there are two takeaways from those numbers above. First, Higgins doesn't need to be in our core MVP consideration. If he goes off, it seems likely that Burrow will wind up as the highest scorer -- not him.
Second, Mixon is very likely to be underrated by the public as an MVP. My colleague, Brandon Gdula, wrote up data on single-game contests for numberFire, and in that, he found that 54.9% of lineups have a quarterback at MVP. When people don't go with Burrow or Stafford here, they're likely to turn to Kupp rather than Mixon. But, Mixon has proven that he has the workload you need to be the highest-scoring player on the slate.
In the playoffs, Mixon has handled 48.0% of the Bengals' red-zone opportunities while averaging 17.3 carries and 5.0 targets per game. That's the workload of a featured back, but he's not salaried as such, and he's unlikely to be rostered in the MVP slot as such. To me, this makes Mixon the most intriguing MVP consideration if you're looking to deviate from the field.
As for Burrow and Chase relative to Mixon (and the Rams' guys), it truly depends on how you think the game plays out. Gdula's data showed that quarterbacks are more likely to be the MVPs in higher-scoring games. So, if you think the Bengals win a shootout, then Burrow might be your optimal MVP. If you think things are a bit tamer, but the Bengals win, then things tilt more toward Chase and Mixon.
All in all, the data says we can keep things pretty even for each assumed outcome. If you assume the Rams win, it's pretty equally likely that either Kupp or Stafford is the highest-scoring player. If the Bengals win, things are relatively even between Mixon, Chase, and Burrow with a slight skew toward Mixon.
The Rams' Backfield
It may have been noteworthy that Cam Akers wasn't in that MVP discussion. After all, Akers has shorter any-time touchdown odds than Mixon, and his rushing plus receiving yardage prop is just four yards lower. If I'm high on Mixon, I should be in on Akers, too.
I just think Akers is overrated in those markets.
That skepticism stems from how Akers was used in the conference championship. Even before his shoulder injury, Akers was getting subbed out on third downs for Sony Michel. The broadcast mentioned this was because the team preferred Michel as a pass-blocker.
It wasn't just there where Akers got subbed out, though. He also lost work when the team was in scoring position.
Here's a breakdown of the snaps for Akers and Michel in high-leverage spots via Next-Gen Stats. Because Akers missed most of the second quarter while getting his shoulder checked out, I omitted the second quarter from the sample. Even doing that doesn't erase the massive gap between the two.
|Snaps in Split||On 3rd Down||Within 12 Yards of Goal Line|
The two easiest routes for scoring FanDuel points are catching passes and scoring touchdowns. Akers' path to both seems cloudy based on that game.
It's possible this was due to the shoulder injury. But, it's also possible this stems from Akers' losing two critical fumbles in the previous game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The passing-game work seems especially shaky given that Michel's pass-blocking role was known by the TV crew before the game.
Then there's the Darrell Henderson factor. Henderson is likely to return this week and could steal work, as well.
Darrell Henderson Jr. is expected to play on Sunday, and Sean McVay says the Rams will ride the "hot hand" based on how the game unfolds https://t.co/R554MmIPyu
— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) February 10, 2022
Henderson had seemingly slipped behind Michel prior to his injury, so it's unlikely he does enough to be relevant at $8,000. But it adds another red flag to Akers' profile.
Akers' $10,000 salary hints at uncertainty in his role. It means we can still use him as his workload could absolutely improve from where it was in the conference championship. But, this pushes him to be an afterthought in the MVP discussion, and it means we might be wise to be underweight on Akers relative to the field.
The high-leverage work could also make Michel appealing at $7,500. There's obvious risk there as he struggled to be productive against the San Francisco 49ers and may now lose snaps to Henderson. But Michel is at least in the consideration set due to his salary and path to valuable touches.
The Tight End Injuries
As of this writing, we don't know yet whether either C.J. Uzomah or Tyler Higbee will play. However, both missed practice Wednesday and seem likely to be limited if they do suit up. I'm not sure that'll be enough to feel great about either of their replacements.
Kendall Blanton would hold a big edge over Drew Sample because Sample hasn't gotten much work as a pass-catcher all year. Blanton did, though, in the conference championship, playing 78.9% of the snaps, running 34 routes on 47 drop backs, and earning 5 targets.
That's enough where you can absolutely use Blanton if Higbee sits. It's important to note, though, that Brycen Hopkins was inactive for that game and would likely be active this time around. Additionally, when Higbee sat in Weeks 14 and 15, Blanton earned just 4 total targets.
Blanton's salary is $8,000, which is higher than other players with more obvious paths to upside, including Michel. Instead, the bigger implication of the tight ends' sitting may be its impact on each team's third receiver. Speaking of which...
The Core Values
To me, the big benefactors of the injuries to the tight ends are Tyler Boyd and Van Jefferson.
Boyd -- to me -- is the top guy with a salary lower than $9,000. Even with Uzomah being healthy, Boyd has had a non-negligible role during the playoffs, especially close to the goal line.
|In Playoffs||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
If Uzomah's unavailable, that'll make Boyd the primary piece operating in the middle of the field. He's likely to play nearly every snap and has solid touchdown odds. For $8,500, you'll take that all day.
As for Jefferson, his playoff role has been doggy doo. As you can see in the earlier table, his target share in those games is just 9.4%, which is rough even at a salary of $7,000.
He has three things working for him. First, if Higbee sits, there will be more targets available.
Second, even with Higbee playing, Jefferson was still getting downfield work. He's tied with Beckham for second on the team with 23.5% of the deep targets in the playoffs.
Finally, Jefferson was playing through injuries there. He initially hurt his shoulder and then later dealt with a knee injury. Jefferson practiced just once last week and was limited again Wednesday, so the knee is still an issue. However, he'll have two weeks between games, meaning he should be healthier this time around than he was in the conference championship.
Between the two, Boyd is the preference. His volume has been steadier, and he's not as dependent on catching a bomb 40 yards down the field to pay off. But Jefferson still has enough going for him to be a consideration, so I'd rank these two as the top values, ahead of Michel, Henderson, and Blanton.
The final tier we've yet to discuss is the mid-range, which includes Beckham, Higgins, and Akers. Of that group, I'm highest on Higgins.
The pass attempt and pass yardage props on Burrow and Stafford at FanDuel are both relatively even. This means we can compare market shares across teams and feel pretty decent about the process.
Here's a breakdown of Higgins versus Beckham, focusing on just the playoff games.
|In Playoffs||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Although Beckham holds the edge in overall targets, Higgins has gotten more high-leverage looks. As a result, he has 96-plus yards in two straight games while Beckham has had more than 81 yards just once all year. It's important that the one exception came in the conference championship, but Higgins over the larger sample has been better.
Of course, things here are close enough where you can let what the public does influence your decision-making. If you get a read that Higgins will be much more popular in DFS contests, you can fully justify pivoting to Beckham. But if things are even between the two, I'd rather bank on the types of targets Higgins gets than those going to Beckham.