Forecasting Adjusted Defenses (AFC Edition)

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Heading into the 2017 NFL season, we are presented with an opportunity to measure what teams accomplished the prior season. Many projection systems (including pricing algorithms on major DFS sites) simply stop here. This is an area we can attack in the early weeks of the season.

How do we attack it? We need to measure how defenses performed on an adjusted basis. We can do this relatively quickly by applying a Simple Rating System (SRS) to the late weeks of the 2016 season (I used Weeks 12 -16 for this study). This will take the average output allowed by a defense (or generated by an offense) and adjust it to schedule strength.

It appears that DFS pricing algorithms stop at this point. We can leverage this information and find weak points, but first we’ll have to assess offseason changes to each team’s coaching staff, offensive/defensive philosophy, schedule difficulty, and personnel. Once this “adjusted” SRS is in place, we can quickly judge a matchup and more accurately assess the differential between an offensive and defensive unit on a level playing field.

Simply? We’re taking a known quantity, using our best judgment to make it more accurate, and then targeting mispriced players.

Let’s look at the big picture. First, here are adjusted DraftKings Point projections, by position, for every offense and defense heading into Week 6. You’ll notice Floor projections as well. Floor projections attempt to provide the baseline production earned or allowed. This, in turn, should provide context to the Matchup Projections that you’ll see below.

The next two tables transform the information above into Projected Matchups for Week 6.

The first table (Week 6 Implied Points) shows the offense, their opposing defense, and the projected Mean DraftKings Points implied at each position. For each matchup, this is the average DraftKings points we can expect each respective position to score. Keep in mind that this is a mean expected value within a range of outcomes. Expected DraftKings Points are calculated using a “secret recipe” that includes each team’s adjusted points coming into this week, home / away considerations, and weighting of each team’s offensive/defensive strengths, among other factors.

The second table (Week 6 Floor Points) is very similar to Implied Points, except that I am attempting to show the baseline performance for each positional group in each matchup. The intent in this case is to provide the “worst case scenario,” useful for cash game lineups or seasonal lineups where a high ceiling may exist at other roster spots.

Before diving into the detailed adjusted preseason projections, I should explain the layout of the data and define the variables. Each team is divided into Offense and Defense table sets. The first table shows the adjusted point value for each position as well as the projection adjustments for each.

Would you like to create customized implied projections of your own? Check out my “Adjusted Matchups”: app!

Before diving into the detailed adjusted preseason projections, I should explain the layout of the data and define the variables. Each team is divided into Offense and Defense table sets. The first table shows the adjusted point value for each position as well as the projection adjustments for each.

The columns are defined as:

L5 aFP – Adjusted DraftKings Points over the last five games (excluding Week 17). Raw fantasy points scored at each position are adjusted for opponent strength per SRS methodology.

Rank – Positional Rank per L5 aFP.

SOS – Strength of Schedule. This schedule strength is calculated using SRS methodology.

SRS – Simple Rating System score. This is a measure of a team’s “power” at the given position, where zero is considered league average. Positive numbers indicate more power.

Coach – Subjective adjustment for coaching changes. This can encompass new personnel, philosophy changes, and/or general improvement.

Script – Subjective adjustment for game script. This can encompass projected schedule strength, changes in offensive philosophy, or pace of play.

Roster – Subjective adjustment for roster changes. This can encompass new personnel acquired via Free Agency or Draft, departed personnel, players returning from injury, or players lost to injury during the preseason. Also included is improvement or decay of skill level.

1st 4 – This is the new Adjusted DraftKings Points that we can use to assess the first four games of the 2017 season. After four weeks, we will have enough data (63 games!) that we can confidently use SRS going forward. Blue indicates positive adjustment, and red indicates negative adjustment

The second and third table show the matchups for the first four weeks of the 2017 season, with adjusted projections (and plus/minus against projected league average) for each opponent at each position.

Now, without further ado, let’s see what the adjusted projections look like in detail!

Adjusted Projections

Baltimore Ravens

Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman will likely slow the pace compared to 2016. I expect they will achieve this through a beefier run split and better game scripts that don’t force them to come from behind as frequently.

Joe Flacco’s back injury should also steer toward a reduction in pass volume.

The additions of Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead will boost pass efficiency, and I believe the dearth of healthy TE’s on the roster will push target volume toward RB & WR, leading me to tweak adjusted output at those positions accordingly.

I expect the Defensive unit to remain relatively stout and benefit from better game scripts created via improved offensive efficiency.

Buffalo Bills

We’ve all stood idly by and watched as Buffalo’s new regime has effectively torn the roster down to the studs. No pun intended. This impromptu rebuild can only negatively affect the team on both sides of the ball.

If Nathan Peterman starts the first quadrant of the season, I expect better passing game scripts and higher pace. On the flip side, the lack of playmakers in the offense will create horrendous efficiency.

Defenses are likely to load up against LeSean McCoy and the run game, destroying his efficiency.

I expect opposing offenses to act as they wish, which will inflate all adjusted allowances. Offenses ran at will against BUF in 2016, and I don’t foresee this changing in the first part of 2017.

Cincinnati Bengals

I badly wanted to adjust Cincinnati’s offensive projections up into the Top 12 range, but the continuing issues with their Offensive Line concern me enough to leave them mid-pack.

Despite the OL woes, re-assembling their full group of pass-catchers should still bolster offensive output. Returning players AJ Green, Giovani Bernard, and Tyler Eifert provide solid optimism that Andy Dalton should improve his adjusted output despite tough initial matchups. RB Joe Mixon will likely need to rely on passing down ability to contribute early.

I expect CIN to play in higher-scoring contests early this season and have adjusted their defensive allowances accordingly.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland’s passing offense has nowhere to go but up. I anticipate that they will be much more competitive this season (Vegas projects them at 5 wins) than last, and as a result, score more points.

The Browns still own one of the best OL units in the NFL, and I expect their run game output to increase as a result of better game scripts.

Defensively, Gregg Williams should improve the team’s overall ability to rush the opposing team’s passer and generate turnovers. CLE is freakishly athletic across each position, particularly at DE (Garrett, Ogbah).

CLE was an absolute sieve for TEs in 2016 (ranked 32nd in adjusted DK Points allowed), and have no option but to improve. Scheme and personnel improvement should assist with a heavy regression toward the mean, however I expect they will still be a prime target for TEs in DFS and weekly leagues.

Denver Broncos

Denver brought in a strong defensive Head Coach in Vance Joseph following Gary Kubiak’s retirement. I expect he will allow Mike McCoy, returning to his former role after a stint in San Diego, to work the same magic he did in his prior stint with the Broncos. I think McCoy’s return is a good sign for the DEN passing game.

Overall, I expect the DEN passing game to improve. Trevor Siemian enters his second year as the full-time starter, and the WR group of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still one of the most potent combinations in the league. TE AJ Derby enters his first full season with the team, and I expect him to be a healthy contributor in the mold of Hunter Henry last season for San Diego.

While DEN still has a suspect OL, scheme improvements under McCoy (who did well with poor OL personnel in San Diego) should improve output in the run game. Additions of Jamaal Charles & De’Angelo Henderson boost offensive flexibility, which should show in point production.

Defensively, DEN should be just as stout as they’ve been in past seasons. In 2016, teams were forced to attack their LB group with RBs and TEs in the passing game. In cutting TJ Ward, however, I believe their pass defense will suffer to some degree, and have accounted for that in the Roster adjustment at WR. I’ve also given the defense an overall tweak backward due to the coaching change. Losing Wade Phillips is tough for any unit, even with a sharp mind like Vance Joseph taking the reins.

Houston Texans

It’s difficult to forecast any real change for the Texans in 2017. Their roster, for all intents and purposes, remains static. I expect this team to continue playing conservative, defensive football while QB Deshaun Watson develops behind Tom Savage.

At Running Back, D’Onta Foreman provides an excellent one-two punch to starter Lamar Miller. It’s entirely possible that Foreman supplants Miller at some point this season (via injury or performance) and becomes the full-time starter, with Miller remaining in a pass-catching role.

Overall, I expect Houston to be somewhat better than 2016, and contend for a Wild Card spot. In the first quarter of the season, they face three stout offenses that will stress their ability to contain the passing game, and I’ve tweaked their Defensive allowance to reflect this.

Indianapolis Colts

I’m not sure what more needs to be said about the Colts with Andrew Luck shelved for an indeterminate amount of time. The schedule to open the season is merciless. I’ve adjusted their positional outputs down to near bottom-of-the-league to reflect Scott Tolzien as the starter against a nasty schedule.

Defensively, I expect they will be gashed in the run game via a combination of weakness and clock-killing. “Lead” DB Vontae Davis is nursing an injury, as well, which opens their secondary up to further exploitation.

Jacksonville Jaguars

We all expect the Jaguars to transition into a run-heavy, boring offensive scheme to hide QB Blake Bortles and “improve” their chances of winning games. I don’t believe they’ll be able to maintain script, however, when they fall behind. In this sense, the Jaguars will likely just wait longer to go pass-happy in a catch-up effort.

The JAC OL group is still very poor in the run game, and will stifle whatever talent Leonard Fournette brings to the table.

Defensively, Jacksonville added oodles of talent (AJ Bouye & Calais Campbell via Free Agency, Myles Jack via health) to an already salty personnel group. The proposed run-heavy game script theoretically reduces play volume against the defense, thereby reducing fantasy production.

Kansas City Chiefs

I don’t forecast much change in the Kansas City offense or defense since the team remains relatively static from a personnel perspective.

Kareem Hunt, drafted in the 3rd Round, upgrades the RB unit with his athleticism and yard-creating ability. On the flip side, the loss of Jeremy Maclin will affect their WR group negatively, and I expect KC will lean more heavily on TE Travis Kelce, as well as RBs Hunt & West, to move the offense downfield.

Defensively, losing Dontari Poe to Free Agency may cause issues in their ability to defend the run game and disrupt the QB. Outside of CB Marcus Peters, KC offers secondary WRs the ability score almost at will if the pass rush doesn’t get home.

NOTE: If SS Eric Berry is indeed lost for the season, I expect adjusted points allowed to TEs to bump considerably (2-3 adjusted points per game), which bodes well for upcoming TEs Zach Ertz, Hunter Henry, and Jordan Reed.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have the appearance of a Super Bowl dark horse, given the additions made on offense and defense this offseason. They also return two significant starters (Keenan Allen & Jason Verrett) that were on IR during the aFP measuring period. Overall, I expect LAC to score a lot of points and force their opponents to keep pace.

The most significant offensive bump comes at WR, where the return of Keenan Allen should cause fits for opposing secondaries. He, alongside Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin, create havoc at each level with their blend of speed and size.

Defensively, Verrett’s return bolsters an already stout pass defense that ranked 3rd against WRs during the measurement period. Brandon Mebane, added in Free Agency from Seattle, provides a solid run-stopper that can occasionally get after the passer. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram round out one of those nastiest front fours in the NFL.

Despite their defensive strength, I expect they will yield slightly more adjusted DK Points to their opponents who are playing from behind.

Miami Dolphins

Overall, I’ve adjusted the Dolphins in the light of them being a lower volume offense that is still efficient and productive. They have a flexible personnel group that can win many different ways, and a sharp mind in Adam Gase to maximize that flexibility.

While many dislike Jay Cutler, the fact remains that he is an upgrade over injured incumbent Ryan Tannehill. His ability to operate (very well, I might add) within the Gase system in Chicago with a similar personnel grouping gives me no pause about using Cutler in DFS or Weekly leagues. If he remains healthy, he can certainly flirt with a Top 12 finish.

Miami’s WR grouping is lethal. I believe DeVante Parker will take over the WR1 role in this offense (his rightful place) while Jarvis Landry moves into the complimentary role and Kenny Stills remains in the lid-lifter role. Overall, I believe each WR will be useful in DFS this season, but timing the correct week may be difficult.

Defensively, lower play volume will prove favorable by limiting the opportunities opponents will have on offense. I don’t believe MIA will improve from a defensive efficiency standpoint. However, playing with a lead, and at a slower pace, should help regress their adjusted allowances toward the mean.

New England Patriots

In the grand scheme, I don’t see New England changing up much from a production standpoint this season. What I have done, however, is reallocate their adjusted production away from RB and toward QB, WR, and TE. This is to reflect my belief that they will score more TDs through the air this season than last.

Defensively, I’ve made no adjustments to their allowance. For the most part, the Patriots appear agnostic when it comes to defensive talent, and instead win due to excellent game-planning. Much of their defensive success is predicated on being ahead and forcing opposing offenses into one-dimensional game-plans.

New York Jets

We all know the lay of the land here. NYJ are going to be pitiful. Does that mean we can’t pick our spots with them? Absolutely not. Week 1 offers one of those rare opportunities with Powell.

Clearly, with the release of Eric Decker and injury to Quincy Enunwa, we must downgrade projected WR output to near bottom of the league.

No matter how you slice it, Josh McCown is an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, etc. So long as he can stay upright, this offense won’t be horrific and shouldn’t get blown out. For that reason, I’ve given the offense a bit of a boost for at least the first part of the season.

TE sees the most significant boost in my projection, and that is due to Chan Gailey leaving the team. I’d add a more optimistic boost, but expected target hog Austin Seferian-Jenkins is suspended the first three games of the season.

Defensively, I believe that they can’t be any worse than last season. I do think teams will tend to run more against them as they salt away leads.

Oakland Raiders

Oakland are the poster child for regression heading into this season. Per pythagenpat calculations, the Raiders won 3 more games than their offensive production and defensive allowance predicted.

That said, I don’t expect their offensive production to change much outside of game script differences, where they should play from behind more than last season. This will require more passing, and I’ve adjusted their passing game output to reflect this.

Conversely, with the team playing from behind more frequently, I’ve adjusted defensive adjusted projections to reflect opposing offenses playing from ahead.

OAK are still very poor defending the TE position, and I expect teams to continue exploiting this either with TEs (TEN, WAS) or RBs (NYJ, DEN).

Pittsburgh Steelers

The bottom line for me with the Steelers is this: they now have a full compliment of offensive firepower with Martavis Bryant’s return, and I expect they will be a high-scoring, explosive offense. The flipside of this is that I also expect Le’Veon Bell’s receiving production to regress somewhat with more being given to the WRs and TEs.

Conversely, I’ve modified defensive adjusted projections to account for the Steelers having leads, forcing opposing offenses to throw more frequently and amass garbage time stats.

Tennessee Titans

I have concerns about Marcus Mariota early this season. Early indications are that he is still somewhat limited due to the lower leg injury he suffered late in 2016. Due to this, I’ve tempered my enthusiasm for the Titan passing game to some degree, and have projected the run game with a slight increase in usage as a result.

Given the early season slate, tough defenses (JAC, SEA, HOU) will pose a threat to overall productivity at each position. The Titans relied upon incredible efficiency in 2016, and the defensive schedule ahead of them will defray that efficiency somewhat.

Defensively, they face a Jekyll & Hyde schedule. Two teams (OAK & SEA) are highly productive in both the pass and run games, while the other two teams (JAC & HOU) will play sluggish, ugly schemes hoping to outlast the Titans. For this reason I’ve kept their adjusted allowances relatively static at each position.I badly wanted to adjust Cincinnati’s offensive projections up into the Top 12 range, but the continuing issues with their Offensive Line concern me enough to leave them mid-pack.

NFC Version Coming Soon!

About the Author

  • Josh Hornsby (joshadhd)

  • Josh Hornsby leads engineering research & development teams in the oil & gas industry. His background in new product development, combined with nearly 20 years of data-driven fantasy experience, compels him to think outside the box. Josh loves to challenge popular thinking and typically does so with numbers and visualizations in hand. You can find him on Twitter @FantasyADHD.


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  • Cameron

    RG Co-Founder

    • 2014 FanDuel NFL Survivor Champion

    • 2016 RG Season Long Champion: NFL

  • dollaz916

    I’m lost

  • sbolomo

    @dollaz916 said...

    I’m lost

    I thought I was the only one.

  • dollaz916

    Could have gone into more detail but hell of a tool! Great job. I had to read it a few times.

  • Maddad2020

    Rather than update this information, it may be better to actually read and rewrite some of the facts and projections for some teams. Example would be that DeShaun is no longer developing behind Tom Savage. He starts and will start the remainder of the season unless he falls apart. Also, the wk 3 Off/Def projections for the Panther Saints game were waaaaay off base. In fairness, there is useful information in team analysis but stats and projections rarely follow actual game script week to week which is helpful to remember when building a roster.

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