Which Defenses Should You Target Against in Daily Fantasy Football?

Solid matchup analysis can make or break your DFS cash game lineups. Target these defenses to give you a leg up on the competition.

For those unfamiliar with daily fantasy sports (DFS), player selection can be at once exhilarating and incredibly frustrating at the same time.

Tournament play, where typically less than 20% of the field walks away with earnings, requires more of a mental chess match. If a player is likely to be highly owned, you may want to fade him for a player you think will achieve similar production but be lower owned.

But in cash games it’s simply more advisable to go with safer bets when you only have to beat 50% of the field, so the game theory required in tournament play isn’t really necessary.

Therefore, in cash games, a good strategy for narrowing down your available list of players is to begin by targeting the weakest defenses against the run and pass and not worry about ownership percentages nearly as much.

Our primary metric for analyzing player or team performance, Net Expected Points (NEP) can help identify those positive matchups. In short, NEP quantifies the performance of a player or team above-or-below expectation based on down-and-distance data. Check out our  glossary to learn more about NEP.

So which teams are the ones you should target in cash game lineups -- at least early in the season -- against the run and the pass?

Let’s take a look.

Against the Run

Here are five teams to target for running back selection, based on their 2014 performance.

Rushing AllowedAdj. Def. Rush NEPPer PlayRush Yds/GmRush TD100+ Yd Rushers
NFL Average-4.46-0.01111.311.93.21

The Saints were by far the worst team at defending the run, essentially giving up a point every nine times an opposing player ran the ball. They were bad all around against the rush in 2014, giving up five 100-plus-yard individual rushing games, and tied for the third most rushing touchdowns allowed at 17.

The Falcons, while better than the Saints, were giving up a point every 12.5 times an opposing player ran the ball. And while they only allowed one 100-yard rusher all season, they were wildly ineffective near the goal line, giving up a league leading 21 rushing touchdowns.

The Giants are also a good target when selecting your DFS running back corps. Registering as the third worst unit in terms of defensive rushing efficiency, the Giants yielded 100-yard games to five individual rushers as well as 15 rushing touchdowns.

If you are playing on a DFS site that allows point bonuses for rushers accumulating 100 yards, then your gold mine might lie in targeting the Titans defensive unit. Allowing more than double the league average in total 100-yard rushers, as well as the third-most rushing touchdowns allowed, the Titans were a safe play for a big day from stud running backs last year.

The one team defense on this list that I might not attack with as much gusto with my DFS cash game running backs is the Vikings.

While registering as the fifth worst run defense in the league according to Adjusted Rushing Defensive NEP per carry, the Vikings seem poised to improve upon their 2014 performance. Entering the second year of Mike Zimmer’s system, and having spent second round draft capital on linebacker  Eric Kendricks to pair with Anthony Barr, the Vikings probably have the best chance for leaving this group in 2015.

Other teams to consider: Bears, Bengals, Browns

Against the Pass

What about targeting defenses for your quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends?

Passing AllowedAdj. Def. Pass NEPPer PlayPass Yds/GmPass TD100-Yd Receivers300-Yd Passers
NFL Average47.570.08237256.53.8

In terms of Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, the Redskins essentially surrendered a point every four times the opposition dropped back to pass, by far the worst in the NFL. They also gave up the most passing touchdowns in the league at 35, at an average of greater than two per game.

Teams were more apt to target their secondary because of their sixth-ranked rush defense, but that doesn’t change how bad they were on a per-play basis. Plug in quarterbacks and wide receviers against the Redskins secondary with fervor until proven otherwise.

The Bucs also make this list of teams who also didn’t do much in the offseason to shore up their secondaries. Quarterbacks are an especially good option against the Bucs as they gave up two more 300-yard passing games than the league average, while also surrendering more passing touchdowns than the league average as well.

The Titans actually gave up just a hair short of the league average in passing yards, although they did surrender a higher number of 100-yard individual receiving games and 300-yard passing games than league average. But their overall schedule from last season was weak and remains so again this year, drawing the NFC South and the AFC North as their non-division opponents this season.

Still, the Titans invested most of their early draft capital in improving their offense, so targeting receivers going against them should still bear fruit this season.

The Saints registered the fourth worst Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play in 2014 and exceeded the league average for passing touchdowns allowed, 100-yard receiver games allowed, and 300-yard passing games allowed. However, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see some improvement out of the team with the return of safety  Jairus Byrd and the addition of Brandon Browner at cornerback. Thus, I may not target the Saints with as much aplomb with my receivers and quarterbacks as I will the other teams on this list.

The Falcons round out the five worst passing defenses on our list with a 0.16 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The Falcons were a curious case in 2014; they gave up the most passing yards per game by more than 15 yards relative to the second worst team in that category (the Eagles), but they actually surrendered five fewer touchdown passes than the league average. Remember, they did allow a league-worst 21 rushing touchdowns last year.

While there could be some regression coming their way, I’d still steer clear of any receivers going toe-to-toe with cornerback  Desmond Trufant, who Pro Football Focus ranked as the sixth best corner in the league in 2014.

Other teams to consider: Bears, Steelers, Raiders