In 2003, I was invited to join my first season-long fantasy football league. I was entering my junior year of high school and had already been playing fantasy basketball for a few years. While my nerdiness for hoops trumped every other sport at the time, I still enjoyed football, and diving into a fantasy league was the next logical step.
I learned fairly quickly just how different week-to-week strategy was between the two sports. Over the course of a basketball season, there are rarely days that challenge a decision-making process like football does. Every few weeks there would be a Friday with a large slate of NBA games, but I would ultimately need to make decisions only about whom to roster in my 11th or 12th slots. Over the course of a week of accumulating basketball stats, this wasn't very significant anyway.
Football is a different story. With fewer games being played in a weekly head-to-head matchup, every roster slot is worth significantly more. I found myself making incorrect decisions frequently, and it was extremely frustrating. Which player do I roster in my flex spot? Which quarterback do I start this week (I was the kid who drafted three)? I've had injuries at running back and needed an RB2, but ESPN projected all three of my options to score the same number of fantasy points. I inevitably chose the wrong player week after week.
To this day I remember trying to make decisions on RB2 and flex roster spots in that league between players like Tyrone Wheatley, Mike Anderson and Chester Taylor. I didn't have a sound process for my decision-making, and I usually wound up choosing the player ESPN projected to score 8.2 fantasy points over the one projected to score 8.1.
Fast-forwarding to 2019, and utilizing my experience in the sports-betting markets, I have a method to make these borderline fantasy football decisions week to week that, at the very least, I can live with regardless of the result because I trust the process.
I have seen writers in the past comment about the game totals in the betting markets and using them as a reference for fantasy football: "This game has a high total in Las Vegas, so there should be a lot of points scored! Use players from the teams in this game!"
This strategy is typically extremely vague (and, frankly, obvious), and it ultimately isn't very helpful, considering the ESPN player projections are already accounting for the expected points scored in the games to some degree anyway.
What if we could actually pinpoint the value of a game's total in the betting markets relative to its expected fantasy production? My goal this season is to present a weekly market assessment that merges the Las Vegas game totals and ESPN player projections to better your weekly decision-making process. There are going to be discrepancies between the two each week that are worth noting, and recognizing them may even give you an advantage in your league.
So why are the betting markets so important? Betting markets are the most predictive public source that exists in determining how many points -- and ultimately how many fantasy points -- are expected to be scored in a game.
Consider the financial markets for a moment (bear with me, this will connect a few dots). The efficient market hypothesis states that it is impossible to beat the market because the existing asset price accounts for the entirety of the available information. So if an asset is overpriced in the stock market, it will cause investors to sell the stock until it returns to its fair price.
The same applies to the betting markets. Oddsmakers have access to analytics, lineups, injuries and historical performance. When they set a line for a game after incorporating all of their data, they begin taking bets on it. Similar to investors buying and selling stock they believe isn't valued correctly, sharp bettors across the globe will bet into these football games to shape the market. Oddsmakers will adjust their lines accordingly -- subsequently weeding out any mistakes.
When we look at football game totals toward the end of each week, we can be confident that they are informative and efficient predictors of how many points will be scored on average. We also know that over the past five seasons, every point scored in a football game equated to 3.82 fantasy points being scored in PPR leagues (excludes kickers and defenses).
Digging in, we will be able to pick out the games for which our ESPN player projections differ relative to what the betting markets suggest. This will be valuable to our decision-making process, and hopefully make us less irritated when the player projected to score 8.1 fantasy points drops 25 on Monday Night Football while sitting on our bench.