How to Play the NFL Bowl Games on FanDuel and DraftKings
Did you really just click on an article to get some DFS advice for the Pro Bowl? Obviously, the answer is yes. But don’t worry: this is a judgement free zone. After all, I just spent several hours researching the Pro Bowl in order to provide you with this information. The past two years both FanDuel and DraftKings have offered NFL contests that include the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl. The reason they do this is that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) requires that at least two games are involved in order for a paid fantasy contest to be legal.
Let’s be honest: watching the Pro Bowl is not very exciting. In fact, unless you are a Falcons or Patriots fan, neither is the Super Bowl. Having a couple players in each game, though, gives us a rooting interest. But we want to be smart about it; the idea isn’t to just throw our money away in order to have something to root for. There’s actually a decent edge in these contests if we commit to not making the same dumb mistakes as our opponents.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this article, let’s talk about some of the basics. If you’ve played NFL DFS this season, I don’t need to explain how the Super Bowl is going to work. The Pro Bowl is a different animal, though. It is an All-Star game that can most accurately be described as “a football like activity.” In the past, offense reigned supreme in the Pro Bowl, as defenders tend to be reluctant to go all out to make tackles. If you look back through Pro Bowl scores, you’ll notice a distinct drop in scoring around 2013. Starting in 2001, here are the final scores for each Pro Bowl (total in parenthesis):
2001: 38-30 (68)
2002: 20-45 (65)
2003: 52-55 (107)
2004: 27-38 (65)
2005: 17-23 (40)
2006: 28-31 (61)
2007: 30-42 (72)
2008: 30-21 (51)
2009: 34-31 (65)
2010: 41-55 (96)
2011: 41-59 (100)
2012: 35-62 (97)
2013: 22-21 (43)
2014: 32-28 (60)
2015: 49-27 (76)
If we throw out the 17-23 game in 2005, the three most recent Pro Bowls featured two of the lowest totals of the past 15 seasons. The other game (last year’s contest) posted a decent total, but it was nowhere near the 90-point games we were seeing from 2010-2012. What happened in 2013? The NFL made several rule changes. Some of them were noticed by the masses, while others flew under the radar. The past three seasons, the roster format was different. Instead of the traditional AFC versus NFC, NFL legends such as Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, and Michael Irvin drafted teams from the pool of available players chosen by fans. This year, the NFL is returning to its old AFC versus NFC format, but the change in formats wasn’t wasn’t the reason that scoring dropped off.
The other rules had far more impact on the game’s scoring, so those are the ones we need to focus on. Here they are:
1.) There is now a two-minute warning at the end of each quarter. The ball then changes possession at the start of the next quarter. This encourages teams to run a two-minute drill.
2.) There are no more kickoffs. The ball is instead placed at the 25 yard line after scoring plays and to begin each quarter.
3.) After incomplete passes, the game clock will re-start at the signal of the referee (except inside two minutes). This shortens the game down just a bit.
4.) Defenses are allowed to play “press coverage” and “cover two.” In previous years, only man coverage was allowed.
The last two changes seem to have had the biggest negative impact on scoring. When the NFL made the change to allow press coverage and cover two, they still didn’t open things all the way up for defenses, though, which brings us to this, the piece of info that will give you the biggest edge on the slate: teams are allowed to play cover two, but they are NOT allowed to play nickel or dime defense. For those of you who are not familiar with those terms, a “nickel” defense is when a team uses five defensive backs. A “dime” defense is when they use six. Both packages have become increasingly popular in response to shutting down tight ends.
If you are following along, you already know what I’m about to say. Your TE should definitely come from the Pro Bowl and not the Super Bowl. In fact, on DK, I would strongly consider using two TEs. Here are TE scoring lines from 2013-2015:
2013: Jimmy Graham 5/51/1, Tony Gonzalez 3/50/0, Jordan Cameron 3/27/1, Jason Witten 2/21/0
2014: Jason Witten 4/32/0, Jimmy Graham 3/30/2, Greg Olsen 3/52/2, Martellus Bennett 5/25/0
2015: Delanie Walker 3/80/1, Tyler Eifert 1/11/0 (injured), Travis Kelce 5/91/2, Gary Barnidge 1/28/0
In the three years above, we have 12 different player scores. If we remove Tyler Eifert (who left the game injured), we have 11. Using DK scoring, the scores above translate to: 16.1, 8, 11.7, 4.1, 7.2, 18, 20.2, 7.5, 17, 2.1, 26.1, 2.8.
Of those 12 scores, Jason Witten owns the 4.2 and 7.2, and Gary Barnidge owns the 2.8. If we avoid non-athletic TEs like Witten and Barnidge, we have a pretty good chance of our TE reaching at least eight points with upside for 20+.
To drive this point home a little further, let me explain why playing athletic TEs works. Without an extra defensive back, the outside linebacker or defensive end is responsible for covering the TE. This year, Carlos Dunlap, Cameron Wake, and Leonard Williams are the AFC DE/OLBs. Does anyone think they stand a chance covering Jimmy Graham or Greg Olsen in the open field? Nope. On the NFC team, Michael Bennett, Everson Griffen, and Cliff Avril are the DE/OLBs. Are they going to run with Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker in the open field? Again…nope.
Just for fun, let’s break down Delanie Walker’s 55-yard touchdown from last year. Below is a pre-snap picture. Team Irvin (Walker’s team) is on offense. I’ve circled Julius Peppers #56 on the left. He’s tasked with defending Walker on this play. Team Rice is using a single-high safety in the middle of the field and the other safety (circled on the right) is creeping into the box in anticipation of a run play.
After the snap, you can see Walker emerge into the picture. He’s circled on the left. The single-high safety is playing the left side of the field, as the right safety retreats into coverage. Team Rice is playing zone here, and Peppers is supposed to hand Walker off to the safety. You can see the other two linebackers holding their zones, as well.
Winston identifies the soft spot in the zone as the safety is playing too deep. Walker just needs to run a simple slant here, and Jameis Winston needs to deliver the ball over the top of Peppers.
It’s difficult to see here, but Winston easily delivers the ball over Peppers.
Once Walker catches the ball, he simply has to outrun the safety for a 55-yard touchdown.
That was almost too easy. Obviously, we are playing a TE from the Pro Bowl this year. Our options are Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, and Delanie Walker. All four fit the mold as athletic TEs who should easily exploit the soft spots in cover two zone. Let’s run through the other positions and see if there are any inefficiencies we can exploit.
This one is really easy. Looking at the data from 2013-2015, we have stat lines for 18 different quarterbacks. Of those 18 quarterbacks, the average stat line is 9.6 fantasy points. That includes passing and rushing points for every QB. Looking at the individual stats lines, only two QBs exceeded 12.5 fantasy points. Those QBs were Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson. Stafford needed 25 pass attempts to accomplish that feat. The average amount of attempts for a QB over the past three seasons is 15. Russell Wilson did it a different way; he had just 12 attempts, but he managed to toss three TD passes.
Considering that the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl are Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, I think you already know the answer to this question. Tom Brady’s yardage prop for the Super Bowl is 310.5. I do not see a yardage proposition for Matt Ryan yet, but I’ll be shocked if it is lower than 285 yards. None of the Pro Bowl QBs are going to come anywhere close to those yardage totals, so look to the Super Bowl to fill your QB slot on the Bowl Games slate.
Over the past three seasons, 25 different players have carried the ball in the Pro Bowl (that number includes both RBs and FBs). Of those 25 players, Mark Ingram had the most carries in a single game with 11. He’s the only player to reach double-digit carries. The average number of carries for a RB over the past three seasons was 4.16 (including FBs pulled this number down a little). The average fantasy score from rushing yards and TDs only (not including passing stats) was just 2.5 fantasy points. In fact, only five players topped four fantasy points. There was also just one rushing TD scored out of the entire group.
Things aren’t as bad for Pro Bowl RBs as the previous paragraph makes it sound, though. However, the way we deploy them will depend on which site we are playing. On FD, you only receive a half point per reception, as opposed to one point per reception on DK. That makes a huge difference here. Of the 25 RBs from our sample, 20 of them caught at least one pass. Of those 20, the average number of receptions is 2.5. There were a total of 53 passes thrown to RBs in these three games. RBs totaled a 53/533/4 over three games. If we sort by DK points, including receiving stats, there are nine RBs who topped 10 fantasy points. The three best scores belong to Darren Sproles (18.1), DeMarco Murray (16.2), and Doug Martin (15). Other RBs who topped 10 fantasy points are: Justin Forsett, DeVonta Freeman, Todd Gurley, Alfred Morris, Mark Ingram, and Chris Ivory. Of those 10, four scored a TD. The others needed heavy involvement in the passing game except for Ingram, who rushed for 72 yards on 11 carries.
We have quite a few options to choose from in the Super Bowl, as both the Patriots and Falcons use the RB by committee approach. The pricing on the Pro Bowl RBs is enticing if you can manage to collect a TD or several PPR points. I’d rather play the Super Bowl RBs if I can afford them, but since salary cap is a thing. I’ll have a sprinkling of Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarco Murray, Melvin Gordon, Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi and especially Darren Sproles.
Over the past three seasons, 23 wide receivers caught at least one pass in the Pro Bowl. Of those receivers, Allen Robinson is the only player to top 100 yards. He managed to do that on just two catches, both of which went for 50+ yards. Of the original 23 receivers, just nine managed to top 50 yards. Looking at PPR results, just four players managed five or more receptions. The other 19 are clustered at three or less. The receivers who have done well are the type of players you would expect. Emmanuel Sanders, Josh Gordon, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and Jordy Nelson fill out that list. All of those players are high-volume options in their normal passing attack. They obviously have the skills to win in man coverage or exploit the soft zones in cover two.
The type of receivers that have performed poorly also include plenty of big names: AJ Green has yet to score 10 points in either of his trips to the Pro Bowl; Antonio Brown had a 1/39/0 game; Odell Beckham had a 1/14/0 game last year; and even Dez Bryant only managed a 2/12/0 line.
If you can afford them, the wide receivers from the Super Bowl are your best options. The volume of plays they’ll receive gives them the best chance to succeed. Julian Edelman, for example, is a near lock on this slate. The Falcons allowed a 5/80/1 line to slot receiver Doug Baldwin two weeks ago, and a 6/82/0 line to Randall Cobb last week. Even fringe players like Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu have a better chance to succeed than the Pro Bowl WRs. I’ll still be taking some shots on guys like Jarvis Landry, Emmanuel Sanders, and TY Hilton. The superstars like Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Dez Bryant are tougher to use; if you’re reaching up to that salary level, you are paying the same price as the Super Bowl WRs for players who will only see around 50 percent of their teams’ snaps.
We already covered TE, so we can skip that position. That brings us to kicker. “The Pro Bowl is high scoring, so should I take a kicker from there?” No. Absolutely not. If you haven’t noticed, Pro Bowl kickers do not get to bring along their long snapper and holder. Over the last three seasons, six field goals have been attempted. Only two of them were made (both by Adam Vinatieri). Kickers have managed to make 17 extra points during that span, but that’s not exactly what we are looking for in a kicker. The odds of either Pro Bowl kicker even attempting a long FG are slim, and the odds of making it are even slimmer.
Finally, we get to everyone’s favorite position. The Pro Bowl defenses are marked all the way down to $1,000 and $1,200 respectively. Are they worth taking a shot on? First of all, there are no kickoffs in the Pro Bowl. There are punts, though. Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyreek Hill are the two returners for the game, and while there’s a small chance that they could run one back, we have to remember that players who don’t usually play special teams will be out in kick coverage. Both coaches will likely instruct their punters to kick the ball out of bounds to avoid any chance of a return. We’ve only seen an average of around three punts returned per game over the last three Pro Bowls.
Despite a total of 18 turnovers across the last three Pro Bowls, there has not been a single defensive TD. After a turnover, most of the players simply take a knee or run out of bounds instead of trying to attempt a return. These games usually feature plenty of sacks and interceptions, though. Over the past three seasons, every team has given up at least 21 points, which awards them a big zero in the points allowed category. Some have given up more, which results in negative points. The defensive scores over the past three Pro Bowls have been 11, 14, 3, 1, 13 and 2. If you can identify a team with a strong pass rush, or if you feel like one of the QBs is going to throw multiple interceptions, it is absolutely worth targeting a defense in the Pro Bowl.
Thank you for reading, and good luck in your contests. If you would like to view the stats I used to draw my conclusion here is a link to the 2016 Pro Bowl rosters, along with stats for 2013-2015. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.
Sunday Update: Thank you to everyone who has read and provided feedback. I had some more time to research this slate and I wanted to add a few quick thoughts.
1.) New England and Atlanta tied for 15th in the league with just 34 sacks in 16 regular season games. Tom Brady was only sacked seven times this season while Matt Ryan was sacked 37 times. In the interception department, Tom Brady threw just seven interceptions this year. Matt Ryan threw 37. It feels like both teams will do a good job protecting the QB and taking care of the ball. The Pro Bowl defenses have a much better chance at generating sacks and turnovers. My suspicion is they’ll be low-owned as the masses are going to think that a high scoring Pro Bowl is bad for defenses. In the article above, I quoted DraftKings prices for the defense. On FanDuel both of the Pro Bowl defenses cost $4,000. I still think they are in play on FanDuel. In fact, they’ll be somewhat contrarian there.
2.) On DraftKings I have quite a bit of Darren Sproles in my lineups. I certainly don’t have an issue with any of the Pro Bowl RBs. With both New England and Atlanta using multiple RBs it isn’t necessarily a given that the Super Bowl RBs outperform the Pro Bowl backs by a wide margin.
3.) I have a feeling that Andy Reid possibly has a trick play drawn up for Tyreek Hill. Players like Hill who excel with the ball in space do well in the Pro Bowl. Hill is only $1,900 on DraftKings. All it would take to achieve value is a WR screen for about 40-50 yards.
4.) Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay times pointed out that Mike Evans wants to win so he’ll get paid $64,000 instead of $32,000. He’s an intriguing play if he truly is extra motivated.