An Introduction to Cash Games in Daily Fantasy Football
I was never very good at Risk when I was a kid.
Whenever I wanted to mount an attack to try to take a new territory, I'd get all skittish. I was afraid that doing so would leave me vulnerable to complete obliteration at the hands of my devilish sister. She. Was. Ruthless.
As such, I was always hesitant to take chances on something that had even the smallest chance of failure. Shockingly, failing to take risks in a game called Risk doesn't turn out too well. Whoda thunk it?
This risk-averse mindset can certainly be a hindrance in several aspects of life. Playing cash games in daily fantasy football is not one of them.
Cash games are contests such as 50/50's or head-to-head contests where about half of the field will get paid. In order to win, you either only need to beat 50 percent of the competition or to beat one opponent. This lends itself to a less risky approach than when you're in a tournament, where a significantly smaller portion of the field gets paid. Sure, you'll still need to take some risk, but that's greatly reduced.
The question becomes, though, how exactly do you beat half of the field? Let's run through some more basic strategies you can use when you're playing in a 50/50 contest or a head-to-head in order to give yourself a better chance at success.
Favor Floor Over Ceiling
Throughout this piece (and any discussion on cash-game or tournament strategies), we'll be using the terms "floor" and "ceiling." That's simply because they are two of the most important factors when you are formulating your strategies in any form of fantasy sports. This is especially true in daily fantasy football.
No matter what kind of lineup you're filling out, you must consider both floor and ceiling. You basically never want to roster a player whose floor is zero points -- not even in a tournament -- simply because you don't have to. You have an entire player pool from which to choose. The big thing that changes between cash games and tournaments is how you weigh the two factors. In cash games, we're favoring floor while still looking for players who could have a huge game.
Let's look at an example of what this means. Two wide receivers have the same projection -- 13.0 FanDuel points -- heading into a certain week. Player A's floor projection (the minimum mark they should be expected to hit 84 percent of the time, or one standard deviation below their mean projection) is seven points with a ceiling projection (the maximum mark they should be expected to hit 84 percent of the time, or one standard deviation above their mean projection) of 19 points. Player B, on the other hand, has a floor projection of two points with a ceiling of 24. While Player B has the higher upside, their floor is also frightening. In a cash game, I'd be far more likely to roll out Player A, even if he's less likely to post a two-touchdown game.
Thankfully, you don't need to create your own projection intervals. numberFire's weekly projections include a 68 percent confidence interval for each player. This means their actual output will fall between that range 68 percent of the time. Thus, the player will exceed the floor 84 percent of the time and fall short of the ceiling 84 percent of the time. When you see a player whose floor projection is higher than others, he should be in strong consideration for your cash-game rosters. You want that safety whenever you can find it.
Where Can You Find Safety?
Telling you to "favor safety over upside" isn't going to do you a whole lot of good if you don't know where to find said safety. Great job, Jim. You blew it.
Well, let's rectify that. There are plenty of ways to find safety, but the easiest for skill-position players is volume.
In a running back, I'm looking for a guy who is firmly entrenched as the team's top option in the backfield. Timeshares can be heavily dependent on the "hot hand" and game script, and those aren't things I really want to deal with when I'm looking for safety. If this guy is seeing carries and -- preferably -- seeing targets, too, then his floor projection should be fairly solid.
With wide receivers and tight ends, I want as many targets as humanly possible. If there's a wide receiver seeing 10 or more targets per game, they will very rarely be a bad cash-game option. Even if this guy isn't a huge home-run threat, the volume they will see is exactly what you're looking for with regards to safety.
For tight ends, this may result in having to pay up at the position. There simply aren't many guys here who see a high volume of targets. If you can find a guy who does at a lower price, great. Feel free to roll them out. Unfortunately, the odds of finding that aren't exactly large.
Cash Game Roster Construction
By nature, some positions see more game-to-game volatility than others. This needs to be a factor in your decision-making processes.
Quarterbacks are the best example of this. In one week, a guy can go out and post 30 FanDuel points. The next week, he can go for 10. It's simply how the position works as quarterback output is highly dependent on the matchup. There are very few quarterbacks on whom you can rely for a solid performance week in and week out.
As such, I'm far more likely to use a high-priced quarterback in a cash game than I am in a tourney. Volatility is great in a tourney, but I want that high floor in a cash game. If that means I need to pay more in order to get it, I'm okay with doing so. The volatility at the position is such that a nice floor isn't easy to come by. This makes paying up more tolerable.
I'm also more willing to pay up at running back in a cash game. Think about the differences between running backs and wide receivers. A great running back will have the ball in his hands 20 to 30 times per game. A great receiver will likely have it less than 10 times. This leads to much more predictable outputs at the running back position than at wide receiver. Therefore, a higher price tag on a running back is more appealing when it comes to cash games than in tournaments.
This doesn't mean you're not going to find cheap running backs who are viable in cash games. If a top back goes down, and his back-up is in a good spot to succeed, you should absolutely consider them. Additionally, if there's a running back who sees closer to 15 to 20 carries per game as opposed to 20, but they're cheaper and in a good matchup, there's nothing wrong with that. You just don't want to inherit an unnecessary risk of using a low-volume back who may get blanked completely.
Wide receiver is the most difficult position to balance in cash. Since I've endorsed "paying up" at both quarterback and running back, you've got to pay down somewhere, right? I have absolutely no problem with paying up at receiver in cash, either, but I do think there are places in which you can save some salary.
There are several different types of receivers who see a heavy volume of targets. The first group is the elite guys. They're the ones who are seeing a lot of targets at all depths and are often able to convert them into receptions. They'll get the catches, but they'll also get you crazy per-catch and touchdown production. Those are the guys who are going to cost a bunch.
There's another tier, though, that won't be quite as expensive. These are the guys who are catching passes on shorter routes. They're typically some slot receiver who nets 8 to 10 targets every game and you know is going to be involved in the offense, even if they don't necessarily have the same deep-ball potential. This will allow you to snag them at a lower cost, giving you more flexibility to pay up at other positions.
As with running back, you'll also see receivers thrust into larger roles. If a team's top wideout goes down, those targets are going to go somewhere. Take advantage of that as the No. 2 option's price isn't likely to reflect the volume he is likely to inherit.
Why You Still Need to Consider Ceiling
Throughout this, I've been telling you to focus on a floor projection. That is not meant to say that you should totally forgo looking at ceiling.
Every week, I know I'm going to whiff on at least a couple of calls. Injuries happen, game script goes differently than I expected, and I'm just flat out wrong sometimes. I need to find ways to make up for my mistakes once I make them. I can do that through still considering a player's upside.
This is largely applicable with lower-priced players. When I'm deciding between two players who cost about the same and are at the low end of the position, I'm willing to look more carefully at the upside. If the person ends up near their floor, then I'm not losing out on a whole lot with the low salary. If they hit their ceiling, however, it can help make up for areas where I may have made mistakes earlier. I'm not going to go crazy and take on a person with no floor, but the ceiling does need to have some consideration at the same time.
I'll also use upside to break ties between players in my head. For example, Player A has a slightly higher floor than Player B. However, Player B has stupid good games where he pops off for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns every now and then. In that instance, I'm willing to sacrifice a slightly lower floor in order to claim that upside. If he has one of those big games Sunday, then I will have a lot more leeway elsewhere to make a mistake. Although his floor is lower -- as long as the difference isn't drastic -- it's more than tolerable.
Balancing floor and upside can be a difficult task, especially from the get go. However, through focusing on it at all once you first start, you will already be putting yourself ahead of other people just getting their feet wet. Eventually, though, you'll find your preferences on salary allocation and roster construction, allowing yourself to focus elsewhere and take your cash-game skills to the next level.