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Daily Fantasy Football: Gaining An Edge In The Divisional Round

C.D. Carter looks at which defenses are most exploitable when selecting your daily fantasy football lineup for the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

Patriots defense
Patriots defense

Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) runs against New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32), defensive tackle Chris Jones (94), and linebacker Brandon Spikes (55) during second quarter at Gillette Stadium Stadium. Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It’s poker pros who have preached time and again that winners don’t need a glaring informational edge on their opponents. A small edge will do just fine.

We see those small edges come into play every week in daily fantasy football. Finding common misconceptions and alarming trends hidden beneath piles of otherwise deceiving data is the foundation to creating lineups that sufficiently exploit market inefficiencies and put a little spending cash in our pockets.

We did that last week by bucking Vegas odds makers’ advice on the Chiefs-Colts playoff throw down. Projected to be last week’s lowest scoring Wild Card playoff game, Kansas City and Indianapolis combined for 89 points in what appeared to be an Arena League contest.

It was glorious for daily gamers who had gone all in on Chiefs and Colts.

Another misconception begging to be exploited last week was the Saints’ defensive strengths. I felt Nick Foles, among the highest priced quarterbacks of the Wild Card round, wouldn’t meet his daily fantasy value against a New Orleans defense that had been stout against the pass and leaky against the run.

Foles was held to less than 200 passing yards, though he saved his fantasy day with a pair of throwing scores. LeSean McCoy didn’t exactly set the world aflame, but avoiding a big investment in Foles was the point of that exercise.

Here are a couple common misunderstandings involving this week’s playoff games.

New England Patriots defense

I don’t think daily gamers see the Patriots’ defense as a stalwart group, by any stretch. I’m not sure, however, that fantasy footballers understand just how sieve-like New England’s defense can be.

The Patriots allowed 29.5 schedule-adjusted fantasy points to running backs during the regular season, sixth worst in the NFL. The Bears’ defense, a laughing stock for most of 2013, allowed just 2.8 points more per game to enemy runners.

Donald Brown isn’t the screaming bargain he was a week ago, but he could easily meet his daily fantasy value in a game that Vegas projects for 53 points. New England allowed more than 100 rushing yards in 10 games this year.

This also bodes well for Trent Richardson if you’re a daily fantasy masochist.

San Francisco 49ers defense

This one isn’t so wonderfully cut and dry. The 49ers’ front seven is a fantasy nightmare for opposing running backs — I’m fading Carolina runners at all costs — but the team’s secondary is exploitable.

The Niners are one of the rare defenses that has proven generous to opposing wide receivers, but not signal callers. Receivers combined for an average of 36.9 schedule-adjusted fantasy points against the 49ers in 2013; only five teams gave up more points to pass catchers.

That receiver production hardly ever translated to dandy fantasy days for quarterbacks, who averaged a measly 13.5 schedule-adjusted points against the Niners — ninth fewest in the league.

The problem here is identifying who this helps. Is it Steve Smith, he of the recently injured knee and the likely focal point of the San Francisco secondary? Is it Brandon LaFell, who was (amazingly) held catchless in Smith’s Week 17 absence at Atlanta? Do we dare take a look at Ted Ginn, that maddening boom/bust prototype?

Smith is the safe play. Of that there’s no doubt. He could very well reap the benefits of Carolina’s inability to run the ball against that monstrous San Francisco front. Smith, reasonably priced on most daily sites, could represent the edge we’re looking for in the divisional round.

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