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Daily Fantasy Football: Using Vegas' Lines to Predict Defense and Special Teams Scoring

Vegas' lines are highly predictive of defense and special teams scoring. Which aspects are most important?

Once we get deep enough into the NFL season, my dreams become dominated by football. Instead of being kidnapped by a clown asking me to violate HIPAA laws, I -- in my sleep-induced thoughts -- will focus on forgetting to set my fantasy lineups on a Sunday or trying to track a pass in the air. Both are equally terrifying.

Perhaps the most frightening dream, though, is a recurring one in which I play quarterback. This isn't scary due to my having the arm strength of a Sour Patch Kid, but rather the situation.

I'm quarterbacking the New York Jets, who trail the New England Patriots big in the third quarter. Needing to make up ground in a hurry, we prepare to launch a full-scale aerial attack on the opponent's defensive backs. It's finally my time to shine.

Standing in the shotgun, I scan the defense. A smile creeps on to my face; they don't even know what's about to hit them.

As I take the snap, I drop back one step. I can already feel the crowd preparing to lift me onto its shoulders after I lead the comeback, saving the Jets' once-lost season and upsetting a bitter rival. This is going to be life-changing.

Bang. Sack. Fumble. Touchdown. Pain.

Turns out the defense knew exactly what was coming. Once we got down big, they were able to fully gear their defense against the pass, meaning they had better odds at snagging a pick or dumping me for a sack. The fake Patriots cruise to victory, and I wake up sobbing yet again.

There is a flip side to this, though. In this dream, those who had used the Patriots' defense and special teams in daily fantasy would be letting out a different kind of tear. They were able to bask in those big plays the defense created in negative game script, leading to a boatload of points and likely a good chunk of cash.

We want to be part of that second group -- the one correctly pegging those defenses that create the high-upside plays and the big point totals. But how can we do so?

The clear answer here is by looking at Vegas's lines. When a team is a heavy favorite, their opponent is more likely to be in negative game script, resulting in those big plays discussed above. If they can do so while only allowing a few points, that's even better. Vegas can help us predict which teams will best be able to do so each week.

The big question here is to what degree Vegas's lines are predictive of defense and special teams fantasy performance. If the difference isn't too profound, we could just be wasting our time. I wanted to look at this in order to see just how heavily we should be weighing this information in our decision-making.

As such, I went back through each game from 2012 to 2014 (resulting in 1,536 total data points) and looked at the fantasy production of each defense and special teams for each game based on the Vegas lines. This was a large enough sample from which to draw conclusions, and it could tell us just how important Vegas should be when we are filling out our rosters.

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