It’s finally here! Fantasy football is now under way at DraftKings and FanDuel.
Technically, the official NFL season doesn’t start until September 10, when the Patriots and Steelers square off against each other. But you can already start building your rosters for the season’s first slate of games. In addition, you can enter hundreds of preseason contests at DraftKings.
If you’re new to fantasy football or getting reacquainted with it after taking a sabbatical, I recommend that you stick to playing cash games for now. By “cash games,” I’m referring to 50/50s and head-to-heads (H2Hs).
The alternative is to enter tournaments. Those are the contests with huge guaranteed prize pools, some of which spiral up to $1 million or more.
I admit, the prospect of winning a piece of that pie is exciting. But here’s a tip: tournaments are tough to win. You’re competing against tens of thousands of daily fantasy players, many of whom are very experienced and incredibly savvy.
Cash games are a different animal. The fields are smaller, which means you’re competing against fewer DFS players. Plus, a much larger percentage of the field gets paid. So your chances of finishing in a position that earns a payout are far better.
Of course, your odds of cashing depend on whether you know how to build high-scoring rosters for these types of contests. I’ve got you covered. Here are my top 10 cash game strategy tips for daily fantasy football.
#1 – Pay Attention To Point Scoring Differences At DraftKings And FanDuel
DraftKings And FanDuel use different point scoring systems for fantasy football. That means you need to make slight modifications to your draft strategy based on where you decide to play.
Here’s an example…
DraftKings awards 1 point for each reception. FanDuel only awards half a point (0.5). Suppose you have a pass-catching phenom like the Steelers’ Antonio Brown or the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas in your lineup. You’re going to earn more points for their catches at DK than you would at FD.
It boils down to a matter of value. And when you’re competing in 50/50s, double-ups and head-to-heads, you want to squeeze as much value as possible from every salary dollar you spend.
Want to see more differences in the number of points awarded at DraftKings and FanDuel for specific actions? Check out this side-by-side comparison.
#2 – Learn How 50/50s And Head-To-Heads Work
50/50s and H2Hs are simple to understand. A double up, or 50/50, is a contest where the top half (or nearly so) of the field gets paid. Everyone in the top half wins the same amount, typically twice the entry fee less 10% for the DFS site’ rake.
A head-to-head is basically the same as a double-up. The only difference is that you’re competing against one person.
Here’s an important concept to remember when it comes to these two contest formats: if you finish in the 50th percentile – i.e. you barely make the top half – in a 50/50, you’ll win. But if you take your score and apply it to individual head-to-head contests against each of your opponents in the 50/50, you’ll only break even. You’ll end up winning 1 game more than the number of games you lose, and the rake will consume that victory’s profit.
The lesson? Make sure you’re able to consistently finish higher than the 50th percentile in double-ups before you venture into head-to-heads.
#3 – Set Ranking Targets For Each NFL Position
In cash games, player consistency is an asset. You want to know that your quarterback, who performed well during his last few games, won’t suddenly choke this Sunday.
The good news is that performance at the QB and RB positions is relatively stable, especially in the top ranks. Both positions see a lot of action, which tends to smooth out the variance in performance. The bad news is that other positions offer less consistency.
The easiest way to minimize variance in cash games is to focus on the top-ranked players in each position. As a rule, they’re going to be more consistent on the field than their lower-ranked peers.
To put this tip to practical use, if you’re looking for a tight-end, make sure he’s in the top five. If you’re looking for QB options, pick someone ranked in the top ten. Need a running back? Focus on the top twelve.
#4 – Play Large-Field 50/50s
Some 50/50s involve only 4 players. Others involve hundreds. You’ll even find large-field double-ups with tens of thousands of players, like the big one each week at DraftKings.
Here’s the important thing to remember when deciding how large a 50/50 should be: the larger it is, the less variance you’ll need to worry about. (Remember, low variance is a positive thing when you’re competing in cash games.)
Here’s a simple example to illustrate the point…
Suppose you’re playing in a small 50/50 with 5 other players. In that scenario, you’re exposed to a lot of risk. Three of your opponents might field high-scoring rosters, causing your team to finish in fourth place or worse. There’s very little margin for error.
But suppose you had been competing in a 300-player 50/50. A few high-scoring rosters wouldn’t affect whether you finish in the top half (not much anyway). Why? Because you can place 149th in the field and still win. Beating the top 3 or 4 team owners wouldn’t matter.
Bottom line: I strongly recommend sticking to large-field 50/50s when you’re getting started in fantasy football. The cash prizes aren’t jaw-dropping, but you stand a better chance of winning.
#5 – Spend Big On Your Quarterback
Remember when your parents told you to spend your money on quality items because you’ll get more value from them than cheaply-made items? That’s how you should look at the QB position.
Your quarterback is the most important player in your lineup. Don’t be afraid to spend a healthy chunk of your budget to roster a stud. This is not the place to scrimp and save.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in fantasy cash games is players trying to conserve their budget by picking cheap QBs. They’re shooting themselves in the foot. Consider: Drew Brees is expensive. But he’s a reliable fantasy points machine, which is why so many experienced team owners roster him.
#6 – Spend Big On Your Wide Receivers
Wide receivers are nearly as important to your fantasy NFL rosters as your QBs. They’re consistent, turning in a predictable number of points each Sunday. They’re also more productive (on average) than players at other positions.
The majority of your fantasy points are going to be produced by your quarterback and receivers. Be ready to spend a considerable amount of cash to field a few studs.
#7 – Remember This Rule: High Floor, Low Variance (HFLV)
This is more of a high level cash game strategy rather than an “in the trenches” draft tip. But it’s a key to doing well over the long run, and thus worth committing to memory.
You want players who pose a high floor and low variance.
A player’s “floor” is the lowest number of points he’s expected to deliver. As a rule, players who touch the ball frequently tend to have higher floors than players who rarely touch the ball. For example, DeMarco Murray crushed this category in 2014 when he was on the Cowboys (he now plays for the Eagles). Not coincidentally, he carried one of the highest floors of the season.
We’ve already talked about variance in the context of player performance. In short, you want players who perform consistently from game to game. Unlike a tournament, where you can take big risks, cash games warrant drafting players who are reliable point scorers.
High floor, low variance. Memorize that rule.
#8 – Use Points/$ To Narrow Your Draft Selections
In fantasy NFL 50/50s and head-to-heads, you need a certain number of points to finish in the top half of the field. At FanDuel, 125 points will usually put you in winning territory. (Keep in mind, that’s an estimate. I’m not making any promises.) At DraftKings, you’ll need approximately 160.
With those figures, you can calculate the amount of money you’ll spend on points for each player you draft.
Let’s take a look at an example.
DraftKings gives you $50,000 to build your roster. Assuming we need 160 points to win a 50/50, we should plan to spend $312.50 per point (that figure comes from dividing $50,000 by 160).
Take a look at Vikings’ RB Adrian Peterson. He currently has a salary of $7,700 and turned in an average of 11.3 fantasy points per game during the 2014 season.
Is he a good value? Well, let’s see…
Dividing $7,700 by $312.50 gives us 25 points (I’m rounding up to keep the numbers simple). That’s a far cry from the 11.3 we can expect from him. Putting him in your lineup means paying a large premium.
In contrast, take a look at the Eagles’ Demarco Murray. His salary is $6,700 and he turned in 24 fantasy points per game in 2014. Dividing $6,700 by $312.50 gives us 22 points (again, rounding up). That makes him a better value than Peterson. He’s actually a bargain.
Note: this formula isn’t a guarantee of anything. But it will reveal whether you’ve identified good values or you’re overspending for points.
#9 – Check For Last-Minute Injuries
This tip is important regardless of contest format. Whether you’re competing in a large-field fantasy NFL tournament or a small double-up, you should always check for last-minute injuries.
A late scratch by a key player on your roster can destroy your chances of winning.
Having said that, checking for injuries is arguably more important for cash games than it is for tournaments. Why? Because in a cash game, you need every player to perform as expected. You can’t afford to have even one sitting out.
By contrast, you have to take bigger risks to cash in tournaments. That usually means drafting players you hope will turn in breakout performances. If one or two blow up, you could conceivably finish in a winning position if another of your players spends the game warming the bench.
Either way, whether you’re competing in a cash game or tournament, always check for late injuries. It’s quick and easy to do, so there’s no reason to avoid it.
#10 – Learn How To Manage Your Bankroll
“Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” – Benjamin Franklin
Obviously, Ben wasn’t talking about fantasy football. But he brings up a good point that can easily be applied to daily fantasy bankroll management.
Your individual wins and losses aren’t as important as knowing how to manage your money over the long run. As you may have discovered, weekly fantasy football is addicting – and doubly so when things go your way.
It’s hard to stop when you’re winning.
Having said that, it’s crucial that you put a few rules in place with regard to your bankroll. Otherwise, an extended losing streak could suck up your profits along with the rest of your money. Better to form good habits when you’re first getting started.
Here are two quick recommendations:
1. Allocate 80% of your bankroll to playing 50/50s, double-ups and head-to-heads. Use the other 20% to compete in tournaments.
2. Commit no more than 10% of your bankroll during any single day.
If you have $500 in your DraftKings account, spend $400 on cash games and $100 on tournaments. But don’t risk more than $50 a day – at least, until your bankroll grows.
As you gain experience, it’s fine to tweak those parameters. The point is to have some rules in place to prevent you from blowing through your cash before you find your footing.
I could literally write a book filled with tips on winning fantasy football 50/50s and head-to-heads at DraftKings and FanDuel. But the 10 suggestions above are the ones you need right now to get started.
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