Exclusive Fantasy Advice from DT Shaun Smith

Home Field Advantage in Fantasy Football

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Since there's so much uncertainty about whether to include home-field advantage in the decision-making process when setting weekly fantasy line-ups and what weight to give it, we decided to take a closer look at the subject and see if the facts support it. Empirically speaking, having played in countless fantasy football leagues the last 10-15 years, we've noticed that running backs playing at home tend to outperform ones playing on the road but are there facts out there to support this gut feeling and what about the other fantasy positions?

There doesn't seem to be a wealth of information out there based on actual data as supposed to supposition but there have been a few studies done that offer some insight. Ultimate Fantasy Football Strategy carried out a study of the 2006-2008 NFL seasons and found that RBs playing scored 8.04% more points at home versus on the road. This makes sense considering it's been shown that home teams win around 57% of their games (reference: Sports Data LLC) and teams with a lead often play conservatively late in the game. But when it comes to the other skill positions the home-field advantage was less obvious. QBs playing at home enjoyed a 4.68% increase in fantasy point production, while WRs actually averaged 1.69% more on the road than at home. Another study by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective analyzed 10 seasons of game data and found that home-field advantage varied significantly from team-to-team, which they attributed to differences in the stadium acoustics and crowd noise.

This suggests that if a fantasy player plays for a team that enjoys a big home field advantage, like the Seahawks or Ravens, playing at home can provide a significant boost to a RB's or QB's fantasy stats, while players playing for teams with less significant home-field advantage may not benefit much at all. We've come up with home and away forecast adjustments based on combining these two studies. We won't bore you with terms like regression analysis, p factors, or variance (we don't even know how to calculate these), so we just compared each team's home point differential to the average of all 28 teams studied to come up with a "stadium factor" which we multiplied by the percentage increase in production for each position when playing at home. Our model is far from perfect but does provide a quick and easy metric you can apply to adjust your forecasts based on whether a player is playing at home or on the road. The following tables are for RBs and QBs (we didn't bother with WRs since the difference in production was minimal between home and away):

RB Table - Home/Away Adjustment

QB Table - Home/Away Adjustment

Since not all of us have the time to microanalyze our roster on a weekly basis, you can generalize and assume you'll probably get an extra 1-2 points from your RB1 and maybe an extra point from your QB1 when they're playing at home. This isn't really enough of a difference to weight it that highly in your calculations, as other factors, like how the player's been performing and the strength of the opponent, are likely to play a bigger role in the player's production. As for WRs, the difference between home and away looks statistically insignificant, so you can safely ignore home-field advantage. The bottom line is: if you're on the fence between which RB or QB to start, letting home-field advantage be your deciding factor can pay dividends.
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No we haven't lost our focus! This really IS about fantasy football! As everyone knows, the winner in a fantasy league isn't always the owner who drafts best. Sometimes it's the one who fell asleep on the couch on draft day and ended up with a line-up of scrubs but made all the right calls in-season on which players to pick up. So are you a pick-up artist or do you get beaten to the punch by more aggressive owners who seem to identify up-and-coming stars before you do?

It's human nature to keep a high-profile veteran in your line-up too long hoping he'll return to last year's form but at what point are you better off dropping him to add an ascending talent? Sam Waters of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective points out a common error many fantasy owners make: basing their estimate of a player's value on what they did last season as opposed to what they've done recently. Clearly, you're not going to drop a prized first round pick after a few weeks of underperformance but if you have a fringe starter who's not living up to expectations the price of dropping him and picking up a rising player isn't that steep. So how do you know whether a player's "broken out" or has just had a flukey performance or two?

There are no set answers for that question but a few things to consider are:
  • Is the player getting starting reps?
  • How good were the defenses he performed against?
  • If he's a RB, is there a trend of increased rushing attempts?
    If he's a WR, is there a trend of increased targets or catches?
  • Does he have good match-ups going forward?
There's no sure-fire way to predict future performance but a good strategy is to reserve a portion of your bench for weekly waiver-wire pick-ups.

It's worth remembering that a team made up of a mix of stud starters without much depth still has a greater chance of making the fantasy playoffs than one composed across the board of mediocre players, since most leagues don't award points to your bench unless the game ends in a tie.

So don't be afraid to be a pick-up artist and take a few chances throughout the season to upgrade your line-up!
Shaun Smith is a standout defensive tackle who played nine seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans.
Retired DT Shaun Smith
Photo of Shaun Smith © Shaun Smith
This week injuries and a suspension have created some opportunities for a couple of back-up running backs. I really like Browns RB Terrance West this week. He's a slasher and runs hard like he's got something to prove - and he does since he'll be making a case for the starting RB job. I think he can be effective this Sunday and get after the Saints defense, which can be exposed by the running game. Another guy I like is Ravens RB Justin Forsett, who I think will step into the starting job vacated by Ray Rice. He's a guy who showed some talent a few years ago with Seattle but has bounced around the league as he battled injuries. He's the perfect fit for Rice's role in the offense - a little guy who's a slasher and a dual threat who can catch out of the backfield and get some receiving yards for you. Bernard Pierce had a chance to show what he could do last year and he ran for just 2.9 yards per carry, so despite all the coach-speak, I think Forsett's the guy they'll depend on most. He's got a nice match-up with the Steelers, who had problems stopping the run last year. My final pick at RB is Frank Gore. He runs the ball hard and I think the Niners will pound the ball on Chicago and Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde will be a devastating 1-2 punch. Chicago's run defense was really horrible last year, and I don't see that changing much, so he's a great start this week.

There are several guys I'd sit this week. I don't like Trent Richardson's prospects this week. I think he's a bust. He produced his rookie year with 1,000 yards but didn't do anything last year and looked hesitant hitting the hole last week against the Broncos. I think Ahmad Bradshaw will take a lot of carries from him and they're up against an Eagles defense that's playing good against the run. I'd also sit Ryan Mathews against the Seahawks top-ranked run defense. Eddie Lacy had a tough game last week against them and I don't think the Chargers' running backs will do any better. Finally, I'd sit C.J. Spiller this week. Last week it took the Bills offense a while to get going and Miami's defense played well against the Patriots, causing turnovers.

There are a couple sleeper defenses I like this week. The Jaguars are playing well up front and it was actually the offense that allowed the Eagles to get back in that game not the defense. I like the match-up against the Redskins, who couldn't get going against the Texans attacking defense. The Redskins have a first-year head coach in Jay Gruden and there was a lot of confusion on their part getting calls into the game and a last-minute healthy scratch of Santana Moss, who's rumored to be on his way to Cleveland. The other defense I like this week is the Dolphins. Cortland Finnegan and the rest of their secondary is playing real well and I think they'll pick off a couple of Manuel's passes. They should dominate this game so be sure to start them.