Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and QB Schedule Analysis

foles
“My feeling is that if you’re not self-obsessed you’re probably boring.”
― Dave EggersA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Hopefully if you’re a Banana Stand fan you believe we’re self-obsessed in a good way. We’re definitely obsessed with the QB position. If you’ve been following my QB Workshop over at RotoViz, you know I believe it’s important to have a comprehensive approach to the position. I’ve tried to cover it from all angles.

Schedule analysis is probably the final piece of the puzzle. One of the reasons I like to play Late Round QB is the ability to take advantage of plus matchups. If you select a stud quarterback, you’re pretty much set playing that guy come hell or high water. We’re getting close enough to the real draft season that it’s time to start examining schedules and trying to find exploitable matchups.

I have a bit of skepticism about most schedule evaluations for a variety of reasons – reasons that are simultaneously too complicated and too boring to explain here – but you should maintain a healthy skepticism about my analysis as well since it’s of the “soft” variety. I went through the schedule for every NFL team and marked the game as favorable, neutral, or unfavorable to the quarterback based on my own intuition.

Here are a few ways in which my approach might provide some information that most schedule-based analyses will not.

1. I focus on the opposing team’s offense almost as much as the opposing team’s defense. This is important because defensive strength regresses to the mean more than offensive team strength. Green Bay and Detroit may be much improved defensively this season, but they’ll almost certainly have high-powered offenses. Even if your quarterback struggles in the first half, he’s going to see a lot of garbage time value against such offensive juggernauts.

2. I focus on home and away. The same team that might be a plus matchup at home could be a neutral matchup on the road. Again, I’m considering the opponent’s likely profile both on offense and on defense when trying to project the quarterback’s matchup. Contrary to what you might think, quarterbacks actually do well on the road from a fantasy perspective, in part because they spend more time playing from behind.

3. I focus on weather down the stretch. The difference between playing in a dome or playing at Buffalo is gigantic.

5 Guys Who See the Biggest Boost

1. Nick Foles – The likely Philadelphia starter played well in limited opportunities last season. He sees a big boost from the NFL’s easiest schedule. The NFC East is overrated defensively, and the Birds also benefit from playing the last place schedule (Tampa, Arizona) and crossing over against the pitiful AFC West. They also face the NFC North, a division with three potentially up-tempo, attacking offenses. That’s serious shootout potential.

2. Eli Manning – Manning is my most overrated quarterback this year, but his easy schedule might thwart that prediction. The Giants benefit from the same divisional weakness as the Eagles. The one caveat is a brutal Week 15 matchup against the Seahawks. If you pair your quarterbacks properly, you can avoid starting Eli in that one and then come back with him in Week 16 inside the Lions’ dome.

3. Matt Ryan – Ryan also shows up on most of my negative lists. I contrast his upside with that of Aaron Rodgers in Why Cheaper Isn’t Always Better and he just misses the starting job on my All-Trap Team. Fortunately for Ryan, he owns a favorable schedule in perpetuity. The NFC South is a train wreck defensively. Combine that with at least nine dome games a year and the relatively pleasant climes of Tampa and Carolina, and you have the makings of a fantasy utopia.

Two things to keep in mind. Ryan’s schedule was arguably even easier last season, which means his good schedule may already be priced into his ADP (since most people are just drafting off of last season’s numbers). Secondly, the Falcons do play at San Francisco in Week 16. Although the Niners were exploitable after Justin Smith’s injury last year, that’s a brutal matchup for a guy you pretty much have to play in your Championship Game if you own him.

4. Alex SmithCharles Kleinheksel and I have been promoting Smith at every opportunity. (Don’t worry, his ADP isn’t going anywhere. Rotoworld just compared him to Colt McCoy in a recent blurb, and that hilarious note probably sums up what the fantasy world thinks about him.)  All of the AFC West teams own plum schedules, but Smith might be your best candidate to take advantage. Philip Rivers and Matt Flynn are too low end, while Peyton Manning doesn’t need the schedule boost to get drafted super early.

5. Tony Romo – This is our third NFC East quarterback. Romo finishes with a Week 15 game against Green Bay and a Week 16 game against Washington. The Packers tilt should be one of the highest scoring games of the season, and by the time your fantasy championship game comes around, RG3 will have Washington scoring at will. Romo was one of the only QB1 candidates to not be overvalued.

5 Guys Who Get Crushed

1. Ben Roethlisberger – If you’ve been following my RotoViz series on quarterbacks, you know Big Ben profiles as the somewhat rare veteran breakout candidate. He owns a spectacular projection in both upside and in safety. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger comes in dead last in my QB schedule rankings. There’s very little good news attached to having the worst schedule in the NFL, but I offer this silver(ish) lining. Roethlisberger also had a terrible schedule last year and the app loves him anyway. So this is my takeaway: BB’s awful schedule may already be priced into his ADP, but his potential breakout isn’t.

2. Andy Dalton – Dalton is my No. 1 QB breakout candidate for 2013. He’s poised to become a cheaper Matt Ryan, or, in an extreme upside scenario, the next Drew Brees. Playing in the AFC North isn’t quite as bad as it used to be. All four squads are poised to be much more explosive. That’s a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats situation. Despite this, Dalton’s schedule will be a serious liability. Many pundits are focusing on the late season swoons the third year signal caller experienced in 2011 and 2012. Schedule, not talent, played a huge role in that.

3. Joe Flacco – Flacco is the star of my QB Safety rankings. Even more than Big Ben, he represents explosive breakout potential. In fact, he should be the next quarterback to undergo the Tom Brady 2007 mid-career fantasy explosion. If Flacco does go supernova, it will be despite another difficult schedule. From Week 7 to Week 13, he has zero plus matchups. Why shouldn’t you worry? Well, Flacco took apart a number of elite defenses in last year’s playoffs. And after the horrible mid-season stretch he gets Detroit and New England in the fantasy playoffs.

4. Tom BradyBrady is a definite trap player this season. Sure, he’s overcome a lack of targets before, but this is an extreme version of that scenario. In recent years, the Patriots have begun to struggle in big games against elite defenses, which should give you pause about pulling the trigger on the Pats’ trigger man. They face a rebuilt Jets defense twice and play the entire AFC North. A tilt with the Ravens during the fantasy finals brings back memories of last year’s playoff debacle.

5. Aaron Rodgers – I’ve been promoting Rodgers as the perfect combination of safety and incredible upside. Unfortunately, even star quarterbacks put up very different numbers in difficult matchups. The NFC North crosses over against the AFC North this season. Although it doesn’t always stop them, Green Bay’s weather is not a plus, and facing another division with serious climatic issues doesn’t help. The Packers start the season with San Francisco and finish with Pittsburgh. You don’t want to bookend your season with losses.

Can You Play the Schedule Strength Issues to Your Advantage?

If you draft Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, you basically have to play them every week. A bad schedule is a clear negative, plain and simple.

The opposite might be true for Flacco and Roethlisberger. In competitive leagues your opponents are probably going to engage in some serious schedule analysis, which could play to your advantage. If Flacco and Big Ben are devalued due to schedule, it could make two guys with spectacular risk/reward profiles even cheaper. I’ve been advocating the Flacco/Roethlisberger committee as the perfect way to maximize your roster value in 2013. When you pair their schedules, most of the problems go away. A combined schedule gives you 10 favorable matchups, 3 neutral matchups, and 3 negative matchups.

You could further remedy that issue by adding E.J. Manuel or Jake Locker when necessary. After a brutal start to the season, Locker has a dream schedule down the stretch. He’ll almost certainly be available on waivers. His temporary pickup would give you 12 favorable matchups, 3 neutral matchups, and 1 negative matchup. The ability to cheaply take advantage of such efficiency glitches is yet another reason to consider Late Round QB as the dominant strategy.

“We are all feeding from each other, all the time, every day.”
― Dave EggersA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Shawn Siegele has finished in the Top 10 of the NFFC’s Main Event Classic for two consecutive seasons and is one of only a handful of players to own three or more Main Event league titles. He also contributes to Rotoviz and works as Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

Josh Freeman and Inscrutability

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Josh Freeman is an interesting test case for predicting quarterbacks in both fantasy and reality. I’ve been fairly certain Freeman is a bust for over a year now, but some aren’t so certain. Chase Stuart is one of the ten best football writers out there, and he recently took Freeman as the 32nd pick in the RSP2 draft project.

Freeman came in as the No. 13 quarterback in fantasy a year ago, but is being drafted as the No. 21 QB off the board in summer mocks. This would seem to indicate Freeman owners are receiving a discount to his 2012 season and getting the potential breakout tossed in for free.

So let’s generate some comps and see what we come up with.  Continue reading Josh Freeman and Inscrutability

Andy Dalton, Alex Smith and the Return of the Electric Monk

Dalton
“The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder… Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.” 
― Douglas AdamsDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The new FanSided article on sleeper quarterbacks for 2013 is out today. It’s heavy on stats but requires a metaphorical Electric Monk to truly be believed. Starring Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Nick Foles and others, it’s a must read for any Late Round QB advocates out there.

I have quite a bit of new Banana Stand content coming, but if you missed the FanSided article on super sleepers at tight end, you’ll want to check that out. You don’t need to believe in tight end streaming for 2013 to want the best breakout candidates at the position. For those who miss on Jimmy Graham this season, landing under the radar guys like Fred Davis and Jermaine Gresham while avoiding the overhyped Kyle Rudolph and Dennis Pitta will be the key to winning a fantasy title.

While a handful of my RotoViz articles are performing nicely, the breakdown of J.J. Watt’s transcendence languishes unloved. If you know anybody who plays IDP, point them in that direction. And everybody should play IDP. (I mean if you have time, of course.)

Champions of Matt Ryan and A.J. Green will want to check out why Cheaper Isn’t Always Better where I encourage everyone to just draft Calvin Johnson and Aaron Rodgers.

But again, there’s more straight Banana Stand content on the way.

Shawn Siegele has finished in the Top 10 of the NFFC’s Main Event Classic for two consecutive seasons and is one of only a handful of players to own three or more Main Event league titles. He also contributes to Rotoviz and works as the Lead Redraft Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

Teresa Palmer, Adrian Peterson, and The Occasional Value of Being Wrong

 

 You have nothing on Hakeem Nicks. I can cure you. . . And if not, I am Number Six

 

Last week I was invited to write a 2013 fantasy football preview article for SI’s Fansided: 10 WR Breakout Candidates.

It’s a Banana Stand-style piece all the way through – riddled with obscure but important stats, not to mention reflections on my potential role in a zombie love story.

I also delved back into the Vision Yards playbook and used PFF’s crazy treasure trove of information to demonstrate why Jamaal Charles is still crushing Adrian Peterson in career yards per carry. This time it wasn’t all about yards before contact either. Would you have guessed that Jamaal Charles averages almost twice as many yards after contact per missed tackle as Marshawn Lynch?

On RotoViz, my post focusing on Ryan Mathews, Jacquizz Rodgers, and How To Lose a Fantasy League in 10 Picks has become something of an underground sensation (and thanks to all the faithful Banana Stand readers who have had a part in that). The most controversial recommendation is to bypass Julio Jones in the Second Round in favor of Chris Johnson.

The newest article, Aaron Rodgers, Doug Martin, and the Eternal Sunshine of the Fantasy Mind, reiterates the need to avoid Adrian Peterson. At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “Where have I heard this before?”

Unless I am wrong, and I am never wrong

When you are never wrong, you can easily end up losing your feet below the ankles, your hands at the wrists and your nose (but your ears you keep).

I’m frequently wrong at the Banana Stand, and I assume the kinds of people who gravitate here naturally understand that. It’s still worth keeping track of those errors and trying to evaluate whether they are random, fluky, or systemic.

This season I am again very high on Chris Johnson and very down on Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. I have made these same arguments before previous seasons and been wrong.

2011/2012 2013
Adrian Peterson Contrarian: The No. 1 Pick in the Draft Adrian Peterson Should Not Be a Top 5 Pick
Marshawn Lynch The Myth of Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch is a Strong Sell
Chris Johnson CJ Poised to Bounce Back Chris Johnson is the Perfect Candidate

 

If you’re a new reader – or an old reader who loves Banana Stand concepts but is worried about what the chart above seems to indicate – you should read each of the articles and evaluate the logic. One of the things that Frank DuPont talks a lot about on RotoViz is that a projection covers a very wide range of possible outcomes. When I miss badly on a player projection, it’s possible I misevaluated the player, it’s possible my logic was incorrect, and it’s equally possible that the offending season was merely a historical fluke.

Missing on those players last season didn’t hurt me very badly. I didn’t actually draft Chris Johnson even though I liked him. I didn’t draft him because elite wide receivers have more value than all but the most transcendent runners. (Does that kind of runner exist this year? I think he may. Check out, Why RB-RB is back.) Most of my teams had Calvin Johnson.

I drafted Doug Martin in the range where Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were going. I surrounded them with dramatically undervalued players like Demaryius Thomas and C.J. Spiller.

The important thing to note here is that, while I missed on AP and Skittles, the very logic that made me avoid them also pushed me in the direction of the elite players I took instead.

Lessons from Baseball

I grew up as a fan of the Kansas City Royals, which means I’ve mostly known disappointment. Rany Jazayerli, one of the founders of Baseball Prospectus, is another long suffering Royals fan. He writes the excellent Rany on the Royals blog. He recently reiterated what has mostly been understood since Moneyball came out – and by savvy fans even before.

The battle between stats and scouts is over.

The sabermetrically-oriented small market teams like the Rays and A’s continually outperform their team salaries. The old school teams like the Royals just lose, and lose, and lose. In fact, the battle is so one-sided that you can’t be remotely competitive unless you understand and employ the basic strategic principals people like Bill James have been writing about forever.

There are two reasons why the dominance of stats is so much clearer in baseball than football.

1)      The large sample sizes.

2)      The lack of interaction effects.

In football, things aren’t nearly as clear. If you take advantage of tools like the Dominator Rating and Height-adjusted Speed Score for receivers, and Agility Score and Vision Yards for running backs, then you will have a huge competitive advantage over your fellow participants who prioritize the voices of scouts. And here’s the great thing: Because the advantage is less clear, it remains an advantage.

I missed on Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch last year. I appear to have overrated Marvin McNutt’s NFL prospects. As a result, many people will dismiss the methodology. And for me, that’s spectacular news.

In fantasy football, the advantages of having superior statistical models are not so great they won’t be occasionally swamped by bad luck. Frequently, that bad luck will come in the guise of a player the scouts love having a great season. That’s even better news since it will push a large segment of fantasy players back into the hands of the mystics. Your competitive advantage actually increases as a direct result of occasionally being wrong.

This may sound dangerously close to simply defining the terms such that I win either way. If I predict correctly, I win. If I predict incorrectly, I also win. That, of course, is cheating.

Evaluating fantasy football acumen isn’t that hard once you generate a large enough sample size. It boils down to points scored, to wins and losses. It can be assessed and graded, which is crucial to self-evaluation and methodological improvement. Over just the last three years, I’ve played nearly 200 leagues. I’ve posted my 2012 results so you can judge for yourself.

My assumption is that Banana Stand readers enjoy reading about the logic behind the player evaluations. You can evaluate my claims and then act on them or not. You can then incorporate the ideas you like into your own player projection system. It would be a mistake just to take my word for it on specific players.

Because I am frequently wrong.

2012 Biggest Misses: Peyton ManningDarren McFadden, Ryan Williams, David Wilson, Kevin Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Randall Cobb

2012 Biggest Hits: Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Doug Martin, Stevan Ridley, C.J. Spiller, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker

Shawn Siegele has finished in the Top 10 of the NFFC’s Main Event Classic for two consecutive seasons and is one of only a handful of players to own three or more Main Event league titles. He also contributes to Rotoviz and works as the Lead Redraft Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.