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Field Goals
Fantasy Football Strategy Ideas from the Guru

Opposing Viewpoints
November 23, 1998

With four trades per week, and only 17 weeks of games, it makes sense to consider weekly matchups in assessing your trading strategies. This is obvious when evaluating team defenses. But how about when evaluating individual players? Is it possible to draw any inferences about individual player performances based on the opponent?

I figured that there is barely enough data available to see whether any patterns look strong enough to be reliable. However, if I wait much longer, the season will be over, so using performance through the first 11 weeks (during which each team has played ten games), I decided to see what I could find.

Here was my process. For each of the five player positions, I selected the best player from each team, using total SWP as the criteria. For those players who have been injured or benched for at least one game, I substitued the most logical player for those games - usually the team's second best overall player at the position. I mapped each of those players' individual game scores against the opponent of the week. I then evaluated these ten weekly values for each opposing team, separately for each position. I also tabulated how those players' games compared with their season's average. Confused? Hopefully you'll get it as I discuss the results. Underlying data appears at the end of the article.

Let's start with running backs. I selected the best running back for each team, and plotted their weekly scores by opponent. I then looked at the results a number of ways, and tried to isolate those teams at the two extremes. For running backs, here are the most notable results:

  • New Orleans looks like the best matchup for a running back. Over the first ten games, the average Saints' opponent's leading rusher has produced 54 SWP higher than his average. More noteworthy, though, is that only twice in 10 weeks have the Saints held the opponent's leading rusher below his average. (The first time was Amp Lee in week 1, and the second was Warrick Dunn in week 8.) While one huge game can distort an average, the frequency of good or bad performances can be a better indication of the consistency of the result. So the Saints not only surrender the highest relative outperformance of all teams, but they also give up the most frequent number of above-average occurrences as well. What makes this more interesting, though, is that New Orleans ranks as the 10th best rushing defense in the NFL - so you wouldn't intuitively expect them to be most vulnerable vs. running backs. Of course, the better running backs do get a fair share of their points from pass receiving. (Note: Using this information, I decided to pick up Garrison Hearst for week 11. The result: 388 SWP, well over his average. It worked!)
  • Other teams who fared poorly vs. the best RBs are Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. But these teams all rank at the bottom of the team rushing defense rankings, so there are no big surprises here. Cincy held the opposing RB under his average 4 times out of 10, while the other two teams were successful 3/10ths of the time.
  • The best defense vs. the leading rushers is Miami. They have held the opposing leading rusher 48 SWP below average, and have only allowed one leading RB to exceed his average - Curtis Martin, in week 5, produced 230 SWP, slightly better than his average. Interestingly, Miami ranks only 9th overall vs. the run.
  • The other toughest teams for opposing rushers are San Diego and Denver, which rank #1 and #4 in rushing defense overall. Both held the opposing RB under his average 7/10 times.
I'm not sure whether the results for New Orleans or Miami pass tests of statistical significance, but they are the most extreme. I'm pretty sure all of the other results for RB are statistically insignificant.

Let's turn to quarterback. Here are the results:

  • On the basis of excess SWP, the best matchup for QBs is Chicago, which has allowed the average opposing QB to score 56 SWP better than their average. However, the Bears did hold three QB's below their average. Chicago is ranked #9 vs. the pass, so this is again a bit surprising. Their decent ranking is probably the consequence of a weak schedule.
  • The most consistent opponent favorable to QBs is Baltimore. In their first ten games, only one opposing QB was held below his average - vs. the Jets (Glenn Foley) in week #2. Baltimore ranks #22 vs. the pass, which isn't good, but is still ahead of 8 other teams. Carolina and Indianapolis have allowed opposing QBs to exceed their average 8 out of 10 times.
  • On the other end, Miami dominates, holding the opposing passer below average 8 out the the first 10 games. Week 11 went contrary to this trend, however, as Bledsoe threw for over 400 yards, exceeding his SWP average by more than 150. So I guess the stats do occasionally lie.

Results for wide receivers are more confusing to evaluate, since some teams have more than one "leading" receiver. For example, Randy Moss is the leading Minnesota receiver, but on any given week, Cris Carter or Jake Reed could be the favored target. Similarly, Jerry Rice shares the limelight with Terrell Owens in San Francisco. However, to keep the analysis consistent, I've just tracked the leading receiver for each team. Here are those results:

  • San Francisco and Baltimore are the two favorite opponents for the leading wide receivers. Each team allowed the opposing leading WR to exceed his average 9 out of 10 times. The average outperformance vs. the 49ers is a shocking 99 SWP, while Baltimore allowed an average of +64. Baltimore's results seems to be consistent with their poor performance vs. QBs, but SF is very average vs. quarterbacks. The implication is that San Fran has better success against the rest of the opposing receivers, while the Ravens just can't shut down anyone.
  • Pittsburgh and San Diego have also been relatively kind to the leading opposing WR, allowing them to exceed their average 7 out of 10 times, with the relative average outperformance in the ballpark of 50 SWP.
  • Surprisingly, the toughest teams for wide receivers to beat their average against are Philadelphia and St. Louis, each successful 9/10 times. Other strong teams, with an 8/10 success rate, are New England, Kansas City, Washington, Tampa Bay, the Jets, and Detroit. Most of these teams have held the leading receiver 40-50 SWP below average.

How about tight ends?

  • New England is the easiest for opposing tight ends, holding them below average only twice in ten games, and the average outperformance is 55 SWP - a remarkable figure for tight ends. No other teams are even close.
  • Toughest for tight ends is San Francisco, who has held the opposing tight end below average 9 out of 10 times (Why throw underneath when you're so successful throwing deep?), for an average underperformance of 36 SWP. Green Bay, Cincinnati, and KC have been successful 8/10 times.

I also did the analysis for kickers, but I didn't find much there. The Giants have allowed opposing kickers to exceed their average 8 out of 10 times, but the average outperformance is only 16 SWP, and I don't think I'd make a trade based on this expectation, even if I was sure it was statistically credible.

Make of these results what you will. If each underlying probability in the above analysis were really a 50/50 coin flip, there's about a 1% chance that you could get a 9-out-of-10 occurrence. So, you could regard all of this as potentially suspect. But it's still fun to think about. And maybe - just maybe - there is some pearl of wisdom in there that could make the difference in your team's finish this season. Just maybe.

Data Tables:

Running Backs
               Times held   SWP Over(under)
Opponent       Below Avg.     Average
New Orleans         2           54
Indianapolis        3           52
Philadelphia        3           49
Cincinnati          4           53
Washington          4            9
Tennessee           4           (1)
Detroit             4           (1)
Chicago             4           (5)
St Louis            5           38
Kansas City         5           14
Seattle             5            6
New England         5           (3)
Oakland             5           (8)
Arizona             6            7
Baltimore           6           (5)
NY Giants           6           (8)
San Francisco       6          (10)
Dallas              6          (10)
Minnesota           6          (11)
Green Bay           6          (18)
Atlanta             6          (19)
Buffalo             6          (42)
Tampa Bay           7           19
NY Jets             7           13
Pittsburgh          7          (14)
Jacksonville        7          (20)
Carolina            7          (20)
Denver              7          (34)
San Diego           7          (61)
Miami               9          (48)

               Times held   SWP Over(under)
Opponent       Below Avg.     Average
Baltimore           1           19
Carolina            2           40
Indianapolis        2           48
Chicago             3           56
Washington          3           30
Buffalo             3           17
Atlanta             3           27
Jacksonville        4           34
Pittsburgh          4           22
NY Giants           4           13
Tampa Bay           4          (31)
Dallas              5           52
Philadelphia        5            7
Tennessee           5           25
Arizona             5          (10)
NY Jets             5          (33)
Cincinnati          6            5
Detroit             6            2
Green Bay           6           (8)
St Louis            6          (37)
New England         6          (15)
San Francisco       6           (9)
Seattle             7           (5)
Denver              7           19
New Orleans         7          (32)
Oakland             7          (41)
San Diego           7          (25)
Kansas City         7          (52)
Minnesota           7          (46)
Miami               8          (74)

Wide Receivers
               Times held   SWP Over(under)
Opponent       Below Avg.     Average
San Francisco       1           99
Baltimore           1           64
Pittsburgh          3           59
San Diego           3           47
Carolina            4           53
Jacksonville        4           35
Dallas              5           24
Chicago             5           21
Minnesota           5           18
Green Bay           5           11
Arizona             5            6
Cincinnati          5            4
Oakland             5          (20)
Atlanta             6           28
Denver              6           12
Tennessee           7           (2)
Buffalo             7           (5)
Seattle             7           (7)
Miami               7          (17)
Indianapolis        7          (24)
NY Giants           7          (42)
New Orleans         7          (46)
Detroit             8          (17)
NY Jets             8          (41)
Tampa Bay           8          (45)
Washington          8          (47)
Kansas City         8          (52)
New England         8          (52)
St Louis            9          (24)
Philadelphia        9          (39)

Tight Ends
               Times held   SWP Over(under)
Opponent       Below Avg.     Average
New England         2           55
Denver              3           13
St Louis            3           13
Washington          4            9
Chicago             4            8
Tennessee           4            6
Dallas              5           15
Philadelphia        5            8
Indianapolis        5            6
Oakland             5            3
Pittsburgh          5           (1)
Baltimore           6           13
Seattle             6           12
Jacksonville        6            4
Miami               6            1
NY Jets             6           (1)
New Orleans         6           (2)
Detroit             6           (4)
Tampa Bay           6           (6)
Carolina            7            1
Buffalo             7           (2)
NY Giants           7           (9)
Arizona             7          (10)
Atlanta             7          (11)
San Diego           7          (12)
Minnesota           7          (18)
Kansas City         8          (10)
Cincinnati          8          (19)
Green Bay           8          (26)
San Francisco       9          (36)

               Times held   SWP Over(under)
Opponent       Below Avg.     Average
NY Giants           2           16
Arizona             3           17
Buffalo             3           12
Washington          3           10
Jacksonville        3            7
Cincinnati          3            6
Detroit             3            5
Green Bay           4            9
Indianapolis        4            4
Chicago             4           (1)
Pittsburgh          4           (3)
San Diego           4           (3)
Carolina            5           13
Tennessee           5            8
Tampa Bay           5            3
New England         5            1
Oakland             5            0
St Louis            5           (1)
New Orleans         5           (5)
Minnesota           5           (5)
Kansas City         5           (9)
Philadelphia        6           (3)
Baltimore           6           (3)
San Francisco       6           (7)
Dallas              6           (9)
Miami               6          (15)
NY Jets             7           (4)
Atlanta             7          (10)
Seattle             7          (13)
Denver              7          (19)

RotoGuru is produced by Dave Hall (a.k.a. the Guru), an avid fantasy sports player. He is not employed by any of the fantasy sports games discussed within this site, and all opinions expressed are solely his own. Questions or comments are welcome, and should be emailed to Guru<>.

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